Chapter 2 : Lost
Imoen awakened to the cries of a bird of prey. She opened her eyes to find the Sun piercing her eyes. Squinting, she could barely make out a small speck circling high up in the sky, coming into and out of view behind a set of ominous spokes that reached out from beyond her view to meet in the center.
"Well I survived another day!" thought she to herself. "I guess I'd have to disappoint that vulture today."
For the second time in her life, Imoen found herself in a round cage that has barely enough room for one. The cage was hung on a long tall pole many feet high up from the hard rocky ground of the Kazhan Desert. This time however, there was no door : the bars were welded shut to ensure that there was no opportunity for any thievery from her. Her jailers, the Kazhan barbarians (as their black turbans and bone armour identified them) , were long gone. The men of the caravan she was travelling with were all dead, while the women were taken as pleasure slaves. But she was a witch with magicks. There was no question about what fate they wanted her to have.
Imoen struggled to sit up, and rubbed her dry eyes. Her mouth was parched and she was thirsty beyond imagination. All her belongings were gone (save one precious whistle hidden in her boot), taken by the raiders. Her magicks have been spent defending the caravan from the raiders ambush. There was nothing left but to wait for the inevitable.
And so she waited. She scanned her surroundings, as she had many times for the past few days. North, South and East of her prison were rolling rocky hills, beyond which the Great Spinal Mountains with its ice-tipped peaks posed as a strangely out of place background to this forsaken land.. There was nothing alive the hills, save the occasional sick-looking scrubbery which had managed to eke out a precarious existence amongst the wind-scarred boulders. West of her the great flat expanse of the Kazhan Desert stretched as far as the eye could see. It was devoid of anything, for its cracked, weather beaten ground had long swallowed into oblivion any thing foolish enough to tread it.
Imoen sighed at the thought of dying in such a horrible, horrible place. For she had overcome the fear of death, and would cry no more.
She had been very afraid and desperate in her first day in the cage, and her thoughts were all about what she could have done differently to avoid this fate. The raiders had swept into the caravan from all sides as it negotiated a narrow valley in great numbers. The escort were wholely inadequate (perhaps this was the mistake?). She had defended the caravan the best she could (perhaps I could've escaped by sneaking quietly out? No! How could I do that leaving the poor innocent travellers?!) Being mighty in magic, she slew a great number of the raiders with mang devastating spells. But that only drove the raiders, barbarians they were, wild with revenge and they finally overwhelmed her with sheer numbers once her spells were drained (perhaps if I could have fought better?). The long list of "perhaps" replayed itself over and over again in her mind, till she tired of it and fell asleep.
The thirst began to bite hard in the second day, and she panicked again. She banged on the floor, in a futile hope that it would come off. She tried to bend the bars till her hands were bloody but it didn't budged. She screamed for hours for help but no one came. At the end of that day, she wept away the last of her tears and fell into a troubled sleep filled with nightmares. But the only thing she remembered about her dreams was that Irenicus was laughing at her.
The third day, she tried to put the thoughts of the devil thirst out of her mind by thinking about other things. She thought about Gorion, and how she had loved him as a father. She tried to remember her mother, but she could not find any image of her in her mind, even fleetingly. She thought about the wonderful times she have had in Candlekeep which brought a feeling of sadness knowing that she would not see the place again.
She thought about Elminster, and regretted not listening to his advice about avoiding the Kazhan Desert. She had bet that there would not be trouble, but he had an older and wiser head upon his shoulders. He must be waiting impatiently for her arrival by now. "Elminster wins this bet!" she thought. "Though he would have a hard time collecting his winnings!"
She thought about Jaquer Whiteshield, the flamboyant Knight of Radiance Order which had suddenly entered her life a few months back. She thought he was handsome, and so wonderfully courteous to her that he almost swept her off her feet.
Ah, Jaquer! He had tried to make a Lady out of her, and she had resisted. But he was such as gentleman that she could not help but liked him. What was missing, she mused, was an opportunity for Jaquer to save her as a lady in distress.
"Well I am distressed now but Jaquer is nowhere near! I guess I would never become a Lady now!" she had told herself. "Poor Jaquer is going to be so disappointed! But I am certain there are many ladies out there for him!"
Most of all, however, she had thought about Felden.
Save the last few years, they had been inseparable. He had been "little brother" to her as long as she can remembered, and she reflected ironically that a twist of fate had made them siblings. For they both carried the essence of the God of Murder Bhaal in them. Though they have since cast away the essence and freed themselves from this curse, their relationship had not changed. After all, what a little god-like essence has to do with one half score years of adopted siblinghood?
She remembered Felden had been a sickly child. He was frail and quiet, and was the favourite victim of many bullies. But he was unbowed, and took the abuses without shedding a tear nor raising a hand in retaliation. So Imoen became "big sister", and protected him with her pugnaciousness. Felden was also a gloomy child and was often in need of cheering. This she had taken the task herself, bringing laughter back into him with her lighthearted outlook of life.
They were always together, whether in play or in school. Imoen smiled when she remembered their favourite activity : concocting hilarious revenges upon his tormentors, many involving loss of hair, permanent joining of bodily parts, and unexplained disappearance of sentimental things.
But to her (and everybody's) eternal surprise, in the years after their tenth, Felden grew taller and stronger than anybody of their age. Though he remained a quiet person, and kept mostly to his own (save Imoen), the number of his tormentors dwindled rapidly to none. Their roles changed, and he became jealously protective of his "big sister" (and many unwanted advances were thwarted with broken bones to the advancer). Cynical though he was, he did developed a wry sense of humour which Imoen had cheekily claimed credit for (after all, she said, she had been his only source of humour knowledge).
Imoen was extremely proud of her "little brother". With that thought, she found herself missing him dearly.
She suddenly remembered that it was almost exactly a year since they parted at Candlekeep. "Oh the gift!" she almost shouted with her parched lips. She reached inside her boot, and took from a small hidden secret compartment the silver whistle that Felden had given her in their parting. She caressed it, and closing her eyes, felt his embrace once more in her mind. Then she put it upon her mouth and blew it.
A musical tone rang across the quiet desert air, and lo! a loud cry of an eagle responded! The circling 'vulture' streaked down in the straightest of line towards the cage and landed gracefully on the edge. It was almost half the size of Imoen, and upon its neck was a small silver scroll-tube.
"I must be hallucinating from thirst!" exclaimed Imoen. "But now is not the time to think gloomily!"
With hands shaking both from hunger and excitement, she opened the scroll tube and slid out the scroll that was inside. She unrolled it, and words cannot describe her joy when she saw Felden's spidery writing on it.
I hope this has reached you in good time and Thashik here has not failed in his promise to deliver it ere the year is over since our parting! I have sent it to find you in Waterdeep, and failing that, to Elminster for directions.
I hope you are keeping well, and has no more dark dreams. I am hale, though weary from travels and deeds (though they are none too exciting I am afraid). I have gone South to Rashemon to see how our hamster-mad friend was faring. He is now famous beyond his own comprehension, but worry not! For he remains as mad as ever, and lovable still. We travelled together for a while, kicking the butts as he would say, of a slaver gang. We parted after that. He and Boo send their warmest regards to you too. He was very happy about your hamster pet, and was honoured to have you name it after him!
I have planned to head for Waterdeep to see you, but word has reached me about a dark evil that has arisen in beyond the Spinal Mountains up in the North. The King of Thagadorin has issued forth a call for heroes to defeat this evil threatening his Kingdom, but none has answered last I heard. Of course, Thagadorin has been extremely unkind to its neighbours for more years than I care to remember, so I am not to surprised. But the old line of Kings has just ended (the last slain by a member of his household I heard), and the new King seems sincere in his attempts to turn away from their old ways. I have decided to answer his call. Besides, I have heard some disturbing rumours about this new evil sweeping the North Lands.
I guess there is no rest for the weary, for I am Ivery/I weary, Imoen. This burden of mine hangs upon my neck like a millstone and I need rest and distractions ere it drives me mad. Each deed I do seemed pale in comparison to what I could have done.'
My thoughts were often with you and your words in Candlekeep. Forgive your little brother again for sharing this burden with you. But you are the laughter that I need, and I long for it.
Her stomach sank as she read these words. She tried to swallow, but her mouth was dry. She looked at the date : it was written almost a month back.
"I can't die here!" cried she. "I can't leave poor Felden alone in this world, he will go mad!"
While she was reading, Thashik had poked its head into the cage and was tugging at Imoen's sleeve. She took notice finally. "Thashik! You must help me!" cried she. The eagle kept on tugging, as though as it was trying to tear off her sleave.
"What do you want?" said Imoen puzzled. "I can't go anywhere!"
Thashik let go, and then pecked at a lose strand of her sleeve. It began to pull at the strand, slowly undoing the knitting.
"You want a piece of my tunic?" guessed Imoen. "For whatever! Here, take it! But you must go find me some help!" said she as she tore out a piece of her tunic, which was a struggle for she was extremely weak. The eagle took it in its beak, and before Imoen can say "quickly", shot off in a straight line towards the rocky hills.
Imoen stared at Thashik as it rapidly disappeared from sight, bewildered. She was suddenly hopeful, but with hope comes the fear of death once more. She shivered though it was unbearably hot. To keep her mind off death, she read the letter again, and again, and again. Each time, she grew more and more worried about Felden. All this while, the Sun kept beating on her, and she began to faint.
"Oh you blasted bird!" cried she in desperation after a half hour. "Come back soon else I'll be mad from worry or dead from thirst!"
As if on cue, Thashik reappeared, his beak holding the torn piece of tunic. "You wonderful bird!" cried Imoen in joy for the tunic was wet. Grabbing the cloth from the eagle's beak, she squeezed every little bit of water from it into her parched mouth, savouring every drop like the sweetest of honey.
"Thank you, Thashik!" she patted the eagle. "Sorry! But you have to make another trip with a larger piece for me!" And so she tore a large piece of cloth from her tunic, and sent the bird away with it for more water. Thashik ended up making many trips, and Imoen finally drank her fill. By this time, the Sun was setting on the horizon in the West behind the Kazhan Desert expanse casting a reddish hue across the land.
"Alright, now we have to think about how to get me out of here," said she to the eagle. "Staying here is not going to help even with water! I need to eat!"
She ran her fingers on the bars. "Brass!" thought she. "Soft enough to be cut through if I have a sharp piece of iron. Now..I know!" She brightened up, and quickly gave instructions to Thashik which was obediently perched outside the cage.
"Fly East about a league or two," she told the eagle. "You should find the remains of a caravan. I doubt if there will be much left of anything valuable, but you will find many pieces of broken weaponry which the raiders would not take. Go find some and bring it back for me! And hurry!"
Thashik let out a shriek, understanding, and flew off towards where Imoen was pointing. By the time it got back, the Sun has finally disappeared far below the horizon. The half-moon was shining brightly against the backdrop of Southern Stars (which Imoen was unfamiliar with). In the moonlight, Imoen saw that Thashik again had not let her down, for in its beak was a broken spearhead.
"You are sooo clever!" she shrilled in delight, taking the spearhead. Thashik flapped its wings , clearly pleased with itself. "I wish I have animal friends like Felden do!"
Her destiny suddenly back in her hands, Imoen found renewed vigour though she was famished. "Ouch!" the spearhead nicked her as she tested it with her finger. "This will do! Now to work!"
Picking the bar with the widest separation to its neighbours, she began to saw her way out. It took her almost the entire night, for it was a thick bar. She rested often, and her palms were scratched and bloodied by the time she was done. She stuck Felden's letter into a pocket and crawled her way through, and made her way to the pole holding the cage. She climbed slowly down. The splinters of the rotten wood pole bit into her hurt palms, but she cared little being too joyous to be finally free of the cage.
When she reached the bottom, she was so tired that she immediately fell on the ground and slept.