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Professional Evil


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I wrote a short story long, long ago about the evil party I took through BG1, led by a nameless, somewhat cold-hearted Thief. My old computer died, and sorting through the stuff I managed to salvage, this BG2 sequel of sorts was unearthed. Missing some bits - like, a beginning and an end - but it's a neat little sumup of the beginning of the Firkraag quest, in the Windspear Hills...




The last one takes a fireball to the back as he runs. Edwin’s aim has improved, no doubt – only Korgan gets caught in the blast this time, and even then it’s only on the fringes.


And that’s when it all goes wrong.


Suddenly, these aren’t ogres – there’s a dizzying moment, like vertigo, or heat-haze behind your eyes, and suddenly these aren’t ogres at all. They’re humans. Warriors. Gods, they’re paladins. We all recognise that symbol. We’ve had run-ins with these pious windbags before.


The Order of the damn Radiant Heart. And to think we were trying to keep a low profile. So much for a job that would get us out of Athkatla for a while until the heat died down – the only saving grace is that there’s no witnesses out here.


I hear a yell from Viconia. Scratch that. There’s a witness alright. And he doesn’t even run, which saves us a bit of time. But I’m glad we don’t kill him out of hand. He makes an offer – too good to refuse. Fills in some details, too. So much for this ‘Lord Firkraag’, The job’s a bad one, it seems. We’ve been had. The old man here’s pretty bitter about something. He’s even going to step in on our side, fix things with the Radiant Heart. All we have to do is sit tight in his hut and make sure his daughter’s alright.


Wait, what?


I have to pull a double-take. Someone entrusting the safety of their house and home to us is fairly unusual. Someone entrusting us enough with their daughter, now THAT’S a novelty. He clearly has no idea who we are, but… it’s worth playing along. If the old coot can come through for us, and then he comes back with whoever and his daughter’s safe and sound – no rapes, not dead – maybe we can pull the old ‘victims of circumstance’ defence for all it’s worth and be able to sidle back into the city, past problems or not. And besides, it’s a nice hut.


I notice with a little relief my crew manage to settle. Edwin crawls into a corner and starts poring over some scroll. Every so often he looks up to give us a suspicious glance or two. You’d think he was hiding something. Korgan’s boot-soles are resting on the table within minutes as the Duergar starts sharpening an axe – it’s not one remember him having, but then he’s got lots of axes. Viconia runs a finger along the mantelpiece, giving the residue of dust on her finger a critical look.


Which leaves me with the daughter. Iltheya, that’s her name. She asks mine and I kind of wish I had one to give her.


She smiles. It’s pretty. “That can’t be. Everyone has a name.â€Â


I did have a name once, that’s true. But I threw it away. Didn’t fit. Whoever that name belonged to, it wasn’t me. The man my old tutor wanted me to be, maybe. I can’t believe he managed to fool himself for so long. Him, and Imoen…


It clicks, then. Yeah, this girl reminds me of Imoen. Little innocent Immy. Reminds me why I’m on this damn trip. Ten thousand gold – would have got me to the island a bit faster. Guess it’s not to be, sis. What a mess.


This girl thinks I’m some kind of hero. I’ve seen that look before. Usually it gets replaced pretty quickly with disappointment, anger… even fear. Can’t do that this time. Don’t have the heart to set her straight. Too much like Imoen.


I cast a casual glance to the far side of the room, where Viconia’s sizing the girl up behind her back, most likely marking the parts of her body that’ll react the most painfully to a branding iron. I give the delicious drow a smirk, which isn’t exactly appreciated… but you’ve got to get your stress relief when you can, as they say.


Guess what? I’m sleeping alone that night.


Or am I? It must be near dawn when my usual dream about the red river gets interrupted. Someone’s here. There’s a scream of fright – either Edwin or the girl. There’s an axe at my throat, and surprise, it’s not Korgan’s.


They’ve got us cold. I can’t believe how banal an ending this is. And then one of them speaks. It’s a woman’s voice. I don’t see the face. But she’s pleased about something, and it’s not our deaths. She’s taking the daughter… and gives us an invitation to get her back. Gives us that name again. Firkraag.


What kind of stupid game is this Lord playing?


And then they’re gone. Some magic. One big set-up after another. Our chance at a nice cushy pardon from Athkatla’s just gone up in smoke. We all know it's time to get out. We get armed and armoured as fast as we can, packed to get moving, to get the hells out of these Hills before the old man comes back.


So when the door bursts open a few minutes later, we’re so fired up our weapons are drawn before we can think. But there’s a lot of them, and for the second time in one night we’re taken by surprise. In more ways than one.


It’s the damn Radiant Heart. About six days too early. On patrol or something? Were they following us, even? They don’t take kindly to the weapons. They don’t take them kindly, either, no matter how politely I just surrendered. One big moron makes me eat tabletop, none too gently. I’m getting angry, now. Trying to stay calm. It doesn’t matter. We can talk our way out of this.


And then someone marches in and I realise that’s not going to happen. Bad call, I tell myself. Bad call. I’m wishing for my sword back so badly it nearly hurts.


Because it’s Anomen.


“Villain! What have you done with Master Windspear’s daughter?â€Â


Old Windspear said he was going back to Athkatla – he must have run into Anomen and his goons. I can’t believe this is happening again.


I’m not saying I didn’t kill his sister. I did. But it was a misunderstanding. She came at me with what looked like a knife, for crying out loud. If someone comes at me with a knife, I don’t care if they’re a 20-foot-tall storm giant or a teenage girl, I’m going to kill them. And be proud of it, too. If she’d had just stayed still and hid under the bedclothes like a normal girl, if she hadn’t kept that spoon under her pillow for whatever reason, I wouldn’t have harmed a hair on her head, honest to gods.


I don’t hurt little girls without a very good reason. Ask Imoen.


The fine detail of professional ethics are clearly lost on this oaf. I wouldn’t imagine he’d even give me a fair trial, let alone a chance to explain – not that he ever could get us into the courtroom. Not enough evidence. Is this what the Order of the Radiant Heart is coming to? If a man’s smart enough to cover his tracks in the eyes of the law, it’s good enough for me… but not someone as blinkered as Anomen.


“Brother, disarm them. They will be taken back to Athkatla, there to be tried before the sight of Torm, Tyr and Helm, and may the divine light of justice shrivel their black hearts!â€Â


Paladins. They ALWAYS talk like that. And then he marches out again, shouting something to the rest of the bunch outside, leaving a handful to round us up. It’s now or never. I’m just praying to my dead father that the others realise it too.


And maybe they do. There’s some reluctance on Korgan’s part; there’s that mad glint in the eyes I’ve come to know. The idiot in the nice shiny armour trying to ‘disarm’ us – hope he bought a bag of holding – clearly doesn’t recognise a danger signal when he sees it, because he follows up with some rather harsh invective. I don’t quite catch what he says, I’m not concentrating on him. I’m too busy waiting for The Moment.


“The axe. Give it. Now.â€Â


Korgan just looks the knight up and down, and with a grunt pulls his axe out of his belt, hefts it thoughtfully, and tosses it up into the knight’s arms.


Now, it’s said that if you’re ever caught in front of a hissing snake, you can’t take your eyes off it for a moment because as soon as you do, as soon as your attention wavers, it’s going to bite you. Our young, brash knight here clearly doesn’t know this from the way his eyes followed the axe, and he isn’t going to have a chance to learn it either, not unless these clerics have some kind of spell that can put all those entrails back in proper order after Korgan’s other axe opens up your stomach right through that fancy, shiny armour.


The knight goes down, shrieking, and Korgan’s covered in blood. It suits him. Everyone – everyone, that is, with a plumed helmet or a tin-can jerkin – is standing, mouth open, eyes wide.


The Moment.


The moron holding me down on the table top has gone slack with shock, and his exposed chin makes a perfect target for my dagger as I bring myself around and upright. As he struggles to take stock of the situation with three inches of steel shoved into his brainpan, I’ve already gotten a foot planted ready to push him to the ground as I pull my sword from his belt.


Sometimes I really wish there was a way to watch myself do this stuff. I reckon that looked good.


A gurgle of pain from one angle and a sudden stench of burnt flesh from another tells me Viconia and Edwin have similarly dealt with their dance partners, and a quick glance around shows Korgan’s helpfully disembowelled another up-and-coming model of chivalry. That leaves two, and while Korgan and I move to deal with them Viconia’s running for the door, slamming it closed and spiking it shut. By the time the boy wonder I’m duelling with starts wondering why he can’t breathe, Edwin’s snatched up the rest of our weapons and gear and he’s dumped it on the table. We’re fully armed in a matter of moments, and no-one’s said a word.


You see? That’s teamwork. That’s how professionals fight.


Even so, it’s pretty clear that with an army of paladins outside, things look grim; but we’re not put off by the odds. Even Edwin, who under normal circumstances I’d expect to be begging to turn Council’s Evidence by now, looks ready to bake a few tinheads. One very important thing to learn about any friend is how to manipulate them. In this case, our noble hunters have done it for me. Maybe he’s got no conscience, no morals and no regard for any skin but his own, but by gods if you hurt Edwin’s pride you’d better be ready to deal with a riled Red Wizard. His eyes are burning with sheer outrage. Somewhere inside my head, I’m laughing.


Of course, there’s more injured pride at stake than Edwin’s. We’ve just killed two of the Order’s knights and five of their peons. Not to mention the six or so yesterday. And Anomen’s little sister, bless her severed head. And they’ve never forgiven us for that cup debacle…


Funny how grudges just seem to stack up. Wish I could stick around and give them the chance to add a few more, but I don’t have the time.


They’re breaking down the door. They don’t have the sense to start shooting through the windows – they’re doing this the honourable way. Fine by me – professional beats honourable every time. I give Edwin the word and grab the flask from my pouch. The stuff inside tastes like pepper, which is kind of funny considering what it is.


Money well spent. They get through the door and then the world turns white-hot.


When the dust clears and whoever’s still alive gets back up, they’re not going to find us. They’re going to find an empty hut with a hole blasted through one wall – empty, that is, except for four flasks that up to that point contained potions to protect from fire. Sorry, Anomen. You can patrol these hills all you like, watch the roads and scout the hills, but there’s a Lord Firkraag I need to kill before I’ll let you get me. There’s even a girl that’s in trouble. You can understand the girl part, right?


Reminds me of Imoen.

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