Throne of Bhaal Novelization
Imoen shifted from side to side on the thin straw mattress that served as her bed. Melissan had not been exaggerating when she claimed the monks within the monastery lived a sparse, barren existence. Apart from the none-too-comfortable sleeping mat, there were no furnishings in Imoen's room. The walls were smooth, bare white stone--just like every other wall she had seen since entering the sanctuary.
Imoen had been surprised to find the interior of the monastery was nothing more than a collection of single-story stone barracks lining either side of a large, open courtyard. In the cente of the courtyrd was a single stone tower, just slightly shorter than the thirty foot walls surrounding Balthazar's simple keep.
Melissan had introduced her to two of the order's members, Brother Regund and rother Lysus. Imoen found herself fascinated by the intricate tattoos covering the shaved heads and faces of the two men. She was dying to ask the significance of the glorious designs, certain they carried some deep religious significance. Remembering how she had embarrassed herself in front of Melissan with her earlier erroneous observations and comments about Balthazar and the monastery, she was willing to let her curiosity go unsatisfied.
Balthazar, the monks had explained after the brief introduction, was temporarily unavailable. They had assured Melissan that they would see to Imoen's comfort and safety to the best of their abilities.
It seemed to Imoen as if Melissan had found Balthazar's absence particularly troubling, but the tall woman had merely nodded her head in acceptance of the news.
"Go with these men," she had reassured Imoen. "They will take you somewhere safe. I have business to attend to, but I will come see to your comfort once I am free."
Though she was reluctant to leave Melissan's side, Imoen had followed the two men without protest into the solitary tower jutting up from the center of the courtyard. They led her through the tower's only door and up a long staircase to the windowless second floor. The floor consisted of nothing but a long, dark hallway and open oors that led into half a dozen rooms--all empty except for a single torch and the straw mats Imoen now struggled to find a comfortable position on.
"Here in the meditation rooms you can rest without fear," Brother Regund had assured her.
"the members of our order will patrol the entrance to the lower floor to ensure our safety," Brother Lysus had added. "We will see that no one disturbs you until Balthazar has returned. Our leader will be most eager to speak with you."
And on that rather ominous note, they had left her alone.
Time passed slowly for Imoen when she was by herself. If the austere surroundings were supposed to inspire peace and contemplation, hey weren't working for her. In fact they seemed to have the opposite effect. She was restless and bored, her quick and curious mind anxious to find anything to draw its attention.
Without the benefit of windows to see the passing of the moon outside, Imoen couldn't even estimate how long she had been cooped up here. An hour? Four? She wished again that Melissan would come up to visit her. The taller woman had mentioned something about speaking to Imoen once they were safe inside, but she hadn't come to check on Imoen yet.
Perhaps she ws busy with more important matters. Or maybe, Imoen suddenly thought, the monks below would not allow Melissan inside the tower until Balthazar had returned.
The idea seemed preposterous at first glance, but the more she considered it the more plausible it seemed. Imoen had assumed that Melissan and she were guests, but the more she thought about the words and actions of the monks who had greeted them upon their arrival the more Imoen began to suspect she might be a prisoner.
Something about the guards had made Imeon nervous. Their strange tattoos had unnerved her, but it was more than that. Their words were spoken without emotion or feeling. Their faces were lined with intense focus and concentration, but Imoen couldn't even began to guess what the object of their attentions might be.
Their eyes didn't roam across her body like those of other men. They didn't even sneak quick peeks at her when they though she wouldn't notice. When they looked at Imoen, they stared directly into her eyes, as if they were peering into her very soul.
In many ways, Imoen realized, the monks reminded her of Sarevok. Determined, intense, inscrutable, and cold. Not really alive, but merely going through the motions of life. As if the passions and fires of the world could not touch them.
Imoen shivered. The monks were religious fanatics, she decided. That was what bothered her. They served some higher purpose, some unknown code of belief she would never understand, and now she was in their power, trapped inside this inescapable tower until the mysterious Balthazar arrived to . . .
No. Imoen shook her head and laughed. It was preposterous. Bored with the dull surroundings, her mind was working overtime. Fashioning bizarre conspiracies out of the thinnest of threads. Melissan wouldn't have brought them here if she felt there was any danger. No, Imoen decided, she was not a prisoner. Still, she had to admit, the monks were odd.
Her guards' fanatical obedience to some unkown higher authority that had so trouble Imoen only moments before now reassured her. There was no chance one of them would creep up later while she slept to paw at her with filthy hands. More importantly, he knew she didn't have to worry about these men betraying her for gold or out of a mad hunger for power. In her situation--hunted, hated, alone except for Melissan, a woman she didn't even really know--Imoen realized the religious devotion of Regund, Lysus, and their comrades might be the best protection she could hope for.
She shifted once more on her sleeping mat. Her body ached from the long ride across the desert. She felt fatigue in her muscles and joints. Een her bones were tired. Her mind, exhausted by the convoluted track of suspicions and reassurances it had just traversed, finally grew quiet. Lying still, Imoen felt the silence of the tower seeping into her body and spirit. She welcomed the peace it offered, and within seconds Imoen was snoring softly.
With the climbing claws strapped to her hands, Sendai scaled the smooth marble walls of Amkethran's monastery as easily as most women would ascend a gently sloping set of steps. At the top she crouched low and scampered along the edge of wall, oblivious to the thirty-foot drop on either side.
She moved without a sound, silent as a shadow. The courtyard below was bathed in darkness, but the drow's eyes were able to study the layout of the buildings and the placement of the guards.
Several of Blathazar's monks were standing at full attention near the base of a tall tower in the center of the compound Had her target been a drow matriarch, Sendai would instantly have dismissed the tower as too obvious. That was how the drow mind worked. The guards would be mere bait to lure her into the structure that would then collapse and kill them all. She knew surface dwellers were simple fold, that they were not devious enough to set such a trap. Or perhaps they merely lacked the will to sacrifice dozens of their own followers' lives to catch an assassin.
Whatever the explanation, Sendai could not help but feel her talents were wasted and unappreciated by these pale-skinned amateurs. Back in Ched Nassad, the Underdark city of her birth, the professional assassin had been respected and feared for her talents--not vilified and scorned.
As she studied the movements of the guards, plotting how she would slip past them and into the tower, Sendai couldn't quell the anger stirred up by the recollections of her homeland. Anger for all she had lost.
A daughter in the minor noble house of Knenafin, she had been born with the character traits of most drow females: She was ambitious, ruthless, sadistic. Sendai was also wise enough to see that her chances of political advancement were slim. She lacked the devotion to Lolth required of a priestess. So she had chosen a different path to make her name, though one perfectly acceptable in drow culture.
It hadn't taken long before Sendai's considerable skills in discreetly eliminating her foes and rivals drew the attention of Ched Nassad's more powerful matriarchs. Just barely past her twentieth year, she had already become the darling of the ruling mothers. Each sought to use her for their own purposes. They tried to entice her loyalty with offers of power, slaves, and wealth. In typical drow fashion, Sendai had managed to play the dangerous game of serving no one house in particular, maximizing her opportunities--and her enemies.
Sendai, young as she was by drow standards, had already become a master of the political game. She managed to avoid the pitfalls, forming alliances when necessary and breaking them when it proved advantageous. In Ched Nassad the name of the assassin Sendai was often whispered as a rising star, worthy of both fear and respect.
The priestesses had ruined it all. The Spider Queen was a jealous god, she would brook no rivals in her domination of drow society. Knowing this Sendai had kept her father's identity secret. Any of her close family who could have exposed her had already tasted the edge of her poisoned blade, including her mother.
In the Underdark secrets are many, and none can stay buried for long. Somehow the Temple learned of her tainted Bhaalspawn blood, and the priestesses came to take her to their interrogation chambers to test her loyalty. Sendai had experienced torture in her young life--it was almost inevitable given the nature of drow society. But she was not about to submit herself to the unimaginable sufferings of the Matron Mothers. Not when their interrogations would likely end with the decision that the offspring of Bhaal was too dangerous to live among them.
So Sendai had fled. She spent a year as a fugitive, moving from Ched Nassad to Menzobarranzan to Ust Natha, seeking some corner of the uNderdark where she might find refuge from the priestesses' pursuit. The web of the Spider Queen wove its reach through every city and nolbe house of drow society, and finally Sendai had been forced to flee the Underdark, exchanging the glorious world of caverns and tunnels for painfully bright and open skies.
There Bhaal's Annointed had found her and offere her the chance to join the Five. The opportunity seemed like a task worthy of Sendai's considerable skill--slay the Bhaalspawn, assassinate the offspring of a god, but the idea was far more grand that the actual act. Most of Sendai's targets were not even aware of the immortal heritage. They lived petty, pointless lives. Ending their existence was almost a favor. Even the nobles and powerful merchants in the surface dwellers' society were easy prey and did little to sate her lust for a challenge.
Sendai fought a never-ending battle against complacency, fearing her skills would atrophy or her technique would become sloppy. She needed to stay in top form, for once the Fiveh ad eliminated the last of the Bhaalspawn, she intended to turn her poisoned blade on her co-conspirators. There was a challenge worthy of her, a true test of her abilities. Every assassination until then was nothing but a pale imitation of the artistry she knew she was capable of. The drow, her dark skin and clothes virtually invisible atop the monastery wall, shook her head in disgust. In the past she would have never let her mind wander while in the middle of a job. More proof she was loosing her edge. She refocused on the task at hand and leaped from the wall.
She landed softly on the ground, absorbing the impact by tucking into a ball and rolling through the momentum of the thirty-foot fall. She sprang to her feet to see if any of the guards had heard the faint noise of her unorthodox entrance. For several seconds she stood still, her keen drow ears straining to pick up the sound of an alarm or feet rushing over to investigate.
Hearing nothing, she approached the tower. Sticking to the shadows and dark corners, she crossed the courtyard right beneath the noses of the monks standing guard, invisible as a ghost. She couldn't help but laugh silently at their earnest, ineffective vigilance.
The two monks by the tower's only door were more problematic. Their deaths had to be quick and silent, lest they alert the others. The hooded lanterns the sentries held in each hand complicated her task. Twin beams of light shot out from the burning lanterns, cutting across the courtyard and clearly visible to all the other guards patrolling the area. If anything happened to those beams of light--if one of the lanterns was dropped, even for an instant--someone was sure to notice and come over to investigate.
Standing motionless in a dark shadow not ten feet from the tower entrance, Sendai briefly considered the best way to eliminate the monks without alerting the entire order to her presence.
Moving slowly so as not to reveal herself, she drew two tiny feathered needles from her belt. From another hidden pouch she produced a small crystal vial. She removed the stopper and cautiously dipped the tip of each needle into the clear liquid. Taking great care to not accidentally prick herself with the poisoned darts, she placed the first needle in her open palm. She brought her hand up to her lips and gave a single soft puff of air, sending the dart silently on its way toward the closest monk.
Another gentle breath sent the next dart on its way toward the second target. Sendai waited for a few second to give the poison time to work, then slipped from the concealment of the cloaking shadows and made a quick dash in the cover of the tower door.
Safely hidden from sight once again, she paused and listened. There were no cries of surprise, no shouts of "intruder," nothing to indicate anyone had noticed the slim figure that had infiltrated the monastery. Confident she had not been seen, Sendai turned her attention to the guards standing motionless next to her. This close, she could see her darts had both found their marks. She deftly plucked the tiny weapons from the necks of the paralyzed guards and replaced them in her belt.
The eyes of the monks follower her motions, but every other muscle in their bodies was rigidly locked in position. Their partly extended arms still held the lanterns, their unresponsive finders still wrapped tightly around the handle. Soon the poison--a derivative of the drow sleeping poison that Sendai had devised herself--would work its way to their heart and lungs. The muscles pumping blood and oxygen through the monks' bodies would seize up, become as rigid as the other muscles in their motionless forms. The guards would slowly suffocate where they stood, unable to call for help, unable to even collapse in a heap once they died. Sendai knew from previous experience that the frozen fingers of their corpses would have to be broken off the make them release their grip on the lanterns. Either that, or the lanterns could be buried with them.
The macabre thought brought a slight smile to Seandi's face, and she slipped silently up the stairs to complete her mission. As she had suspected, Sendai found no guards inside the tower. The lower level was deserted.
Without a sound, dagger drawn, the drow assassin crept to the chamber at the top of the stairs. The doors were all closed, the hallway dark and empty, except for one of the heavy portals. The soft light of a burning torched seeped out from underneath.
Sendai approached the door and listened, her keen ears picking up the distinctive sound of a young woman's soft breath. With a touch so delicate as to be almost imagined, Sendai gently opened the door.
The orange glow of the flickering torch forced the dark elf to avert her eyes, but not before she noticed the young woman resting on the sleeping mat in the center of the room. Shielding her eyes against the firelight, Sendai slipped across the room and extinguished the torch. The darkness was absolute.
Imoen woke with a start, her breath escaping in a terrified gasp. She was surrounded by darkness, and beneath her she felt only a cold, unyielding surface. She had half scrambled to her feet before she remembered where she was, safe in the meditation rooms of the Amkethran monastery. The faintly burning torch must have gone out when she had drifted off to sleep.
The young woman tried to laugh off her momentary panic, but she could only muster a half-hearted, nervous giggle. She had been having a nightmare. That much she remembered. The exact nature of the dream, however, she couldn't recall.
"Fire," she whispered to herself. Most of her nightmares were f fire, the devouring flames of her unholy, immortal father. She wondered if Abdel ever dreamed of such a blaze.
She shook her head to dispel such glooming musings and tried to get her bearings in the absolute darkness of the room. She took her best guess at the direction of the torch, then took a single hesitant step. Imoen froze.
Someone was in the room with her. Imoen didn't hear anything, there was nothing to hear. She felt someone watcher her with great interest. She could feel the heat of her gaze, she could sense the lusting in her eyes. For a brief second her mind conjured up an image of Brothers Regund and Lysus, standing motionless in the dark and leering at her as she stumbled unawares around the room.
"Who's there?" she whispered, as if she could dispel the intruder with her soft words.
"Do not be afraid," a husky female voice whispered. "You will feel no pain."
"Melissan?" Imoen asked, knowing full well the tall woman was not the speaker.
The invisible intruder laughed gently. "No, my pretty Bhaalspawn. She is conveniently absent."
Imoen understood. "You are one of the Five." There was no fear in her voice, no anger. Only weary acceptance. She had not expected it to end like this, but she was ready to face watever destiny fate held in store.
"I am Sendai," the voice purred, drawing closer.
Imoen hesitated a heartbeat, her fingers stealthily wrapping themselves around the hilt of the dagger tucked into her belt. She could try to scream, but what would that accomplish? Even if anyone heard her through the thick stone walls of the room, could they get here in time to save her? No Imoen decided as she slowly drew her knife. She was on her own. Melissan would not come charging through the door at the last second to save her. Abdel would not suddenly arrive at the monastery and rush to her rescue. She would have to save herself or die in the attempt. Without warning, she lashed out at the darkness with her tiny blade.
"Alas, little one," the throaty voice chuckled. "I am not there."
"You won't gain anything by killing me," Imoen declared, spinning to slash at the blackness behind her. "Whatever part of me belonged to Bhaal has long since vanished." She leaped forward, stabbing blindly at where she guessed her would be assassin might be.
"Do not struggle, child. It will make things more difficult."
"Abdel took Bhaal's taint from me," Imoen said, still vainly flailing away at the impenetrable gloom. Her words ere punctuated by the swish of her blade as it sliced only air.
"We have plans for that one," the voice assured her.
It sounded as if the assassin was right in her ear. Imoen swore she could feel the hot breath of her killer tickling her skin. But when she thrust her elbow back there was nothing to connect with.
"You may kill me, but Abdel will avenge me. He'll kill you . . . all of you. You have no idea how strong he is." Imoen warned.
"Yes, my pretty young girl, we do. The news of your death will break his warrior spirit."
Imoen felt the blade plunge into her back, skewering vital organs as the assassin struck with uncanny, lethal accuracy. Her screams of agony were nothing but a silent rush of air and a faint gurgle of blood as Sendai mercifully slit her throat.