I hereby disclaim: Baldur's Gate and all things related to it belong to Wizards of the Coast. Except Maera. She's mine.
Maera had run. She wasn't proud of that. But Gorion had told her to run, and instant obedience had set her to flight long before her mind could object. And in truth, she had been afraid. Of the armored man, with his massive two-handed sword and impossibly deep voice. Of the pale woman with her elf-like eyes. Of the pair of ogres that towered over them.
So she had run. She was already beginning to wonder if she could ever forgive herself for it.
She had been hiding in the bushes for an hour or so when she realized that Gorion hadn't come and found her. The thought sent fear slipping down her spine like ice. What had happened to him? Was he hurt? Did he need her? She imagined him lying wounded there in the circle of stones, and she despised herself for the sick fear that would not let her stand and return to his side.
She refused to even consider the other possibility.
She jumped at every sound that night, too terrified to sleep. As dawn stained the sky golden pink, she knew she would have to do something. She couldn't stay here, and she couldn't go back to Candlekeep. Even if the Readers bent the rules and let her back in, there'd been the man in the barracks with the knife. If he had gotten in, who else could? She shivered. She wasn't safe anywhere. Not in the Keep, and certainly not out here. She fought down a wave of hysteria that said curling up and crying like a child was the best way to handle the situation. "Okay, think," she whispered aloud to herself. "Gorion said he had friends to meet. At the Friendly Arm Inn." She began to dig into her pack for a map. "Okay, where is that?" A snap in the bushes – she froze, hand hovering over her sword hilt.
The figure who stepped into view was short and skinny, her hair pulled back into a messy tail, her blue eyes wide. Maera felt her knees weaken. She had never thought Imoen could possibly be such a welcome sight. Almost as one, the two young women threw themselves into each other's arms. "You're alive!" Imoen said. "Oh, Mae, I am so sorry!"
Maera pulled away. "Sorry?"
The relieved smile slid from Imoen's face. "Oh gods, you don't know." She took Maera's hands in hers. "Gorion's dead, Mae. I found his body about a mile north of here."
Maera felt her hands slip, nerveless, from Imoen's. "Oh." It was all she could think of to say. Imoen hugged her again, and Maera let herself lean limply against the smaller woman. "What are you doing here, Im?" she mumbled. "Why did you leave the Keep?"
"I didn't wanna be there anymore if you weren't," Imoen replied. "I figured wherever you and Gorion were going had to be more interesting."
Her spine stiffening, Maera stepped back, sudden anger flaring. "Interesting? This is not a sightseeing trip, Imoen! People are trying to kill me!"
Imoen crossed her arms and jutted out her chin at a perilously resolute angle. "You're my best friend, Maera. We've known each other for half our lives!" Tears shone in her eyes. "When I found Gorion, I was scared sick that you'd been killed too. I've been looking for you for hours! So even if I could, I'm not gonna leave you."
She stared down at her friend, who looked, despite the bow slung on her shoulder, so small and helpless she would probably be easy pickings for an angry rabbit. Gorion had already died protecting her and if he couldn't survive it, how could Imoen? How could she? The instant the words came into her mind, a wave of nausea washed over her. "Go home, Im. While you still can."
Imoen's chin quivered so hard it was a wonder she could speak at all. "You don't always get to tell me what to do, you know."
Maera heaved a shuddering sigh. "Okay. Okay. I just…I don't want you to get hurt. You're…you're all I've got left right now."
"That's why I left the Keep," Imoen whispered.
Neither of them spoke for a moment. A bird began to chirp in the tree overhead, and Maera hated it. How dare it act like this was just another morning? "Where is he, Im?"
They tramped northward in silence. Maera didn't recognize any of it; between the dark and her fear, she hadn't paid the landscape any attention. But she did recognize the stone circle. She had a feeling every detail of the place would remain in her memory for a long time to come. A bush had been singed by magic fire; the soft earth was churned up by the struggle. The pair of ogres lay dead near the edge of the ring, and Maera felt a surge of pride. That was Gorion's handiwork. Take that, she thought to the armored man. "There were four of them," Maera said. "Those two, and a man and woman. I wonder where they are."
"Well, they didn't find you," Imoen responded. "Maybe they were too hurt from fighting Gorion and they had to withdraw. Fight another day and all that."
Maera swung around on her heel and saw him then. Near the center of the circle, almost the exact spot he'd been the last time she'd seen him standing, Gorion lay crumpled on his side. He seemed so small. She approached him slowly, and sank to her knees beside him. There was blood in his gray hair and beard, but his eyes were closed and his face seemed peaceful. His robe was stained with so much blood she couldn't tell where the fatal wound had occurred. Her hand hung in the air, outstretched towards his face, but she couldn't bring herself to touch him. He'd be cold.
She had never called him Father. He had never wanted her to. But he had been the only parent she'd ever known, and he'd been a good one. His was the first voice she remembered. Gentle, kind-hearted, and patient as a mountain, he had reared her, tutored her, and loved her. When she'd had nightmares, he comforted her; when she misbehaved, he disciplined her. When she had become a woman, he had calmly explained the processes involved, letting her know there was nothing to fear in growth and change. And when she'd been caught exploring those changes with Dreppin the stablehand, he had, with less calm, let her know that her favors were not to be lightly given, and that caution should be her watchword. How a bachelor sage of his years had managed to keep up with a precocious and at times difficult young girl had always been the talk of Candlekeep. "I don't know how he does it," she'd heard the Readers say again and again. They had clashed, certainly, but he had been her constant, and she had loved him for it. The Keep was the only home she'd ever known, but she had been prepared to leave it behind without a backward glance, knowing she could rely on his wisdom and experience. But there was nothing left now, just a body that looked like him.
She was crying before she actually realized it, great wracking sobs that hurt her chest and left her throat raw. Imoen knelt beside her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders, and she lost herself in the flood. Gorion was gone, Candlekeep was closed to her, and she didn't know what to do next. Where would she go? What would she do? And why had he died protecting her? Who could possibly want her dead? "I've never DONE ANYTHING!" she screamed, the sudden shout startling the birds in the nearby bushes. "Why kill him because of me? Why?" She huddled against Imoen, grief and anger battering her like sea waves.
Eventually, the tears ran out. Her head ached fiercely, and her abdomen was sore from the effort of weeping, but at the same time she felt numb, as if it were someone else's body. "We should bury him, Im," she said. "But I'm not sure how. We don't have a shovel or anything."
"We'll improvise," Imoen said firmly. She looked about them, biting her lips with hard thought, and when her eyes lit on the dead ogres, she nodded to herself and got up. Wrinkling her nose, she yanked off their helmets. "The ground's soft. Hopefully these will do well enough."
They set to work, and it felt good, despite the headache. The helmets were imperfect shoveling devices, but they did well enough that they were able to rough out a reasonably deep hole in the space of a few hours with a minimum of abrasions. Imoen gently rolled Gorion onto his back, revealing the gaping wound in his chest that had killed him. Maera was about to take his shoulders when Imoen halted her, pulling a scrap of parchment from the pocket of his robe.
"What's that?" Maera asked.
Imoen glanced over the elegant script. "It's a letter. Signed 'E'," she said, handing it to Maera. "I…may have…already read this yesterday."
Maera snatched at the letter. "Imoen!"
"What? It was on his desk, in plain sight!"
"You don't read other people's letters, Im. It's rude." The letter in question was brief, to the point, and raised just as many questions as it answered. "'What we have long feared may soon come to pass'? 'The other side will move very soon'? This 'E' guy is good at cryptic." She gave Imoen a hard look. "Or maybe he was afraid of people reading his letter." Imoen stuck out her tongue. "He mentions the Friendly Arm Inn, too. Whoever Khalid and Jaheira are, everything seems to be pointing their way." She tucked the letter into her pocket and looked down at Gorion. "We still have to finish here, though."
They gingerly placed Gorion in the grave they had dug for him. "I've never done this sort of thing before," Imoen said. "I guess we should say some words, huh?"
"Yeah." Maera stared at her foster father's still form. They had crossed his arms to cover his chest.
Imoen pursed her lips, then addressed Gorion's grave. "I'm sorry about the times I stole stuff from you. Thank you for always being nice to me."
A chuckle hovered somewhere in Maera's chest, but she knew it would be stillborn long before she would be able to give it voice. "This is my last chance to talk to him," she whispered. "And I have no idea what to say." Imoen hugged her fiercely once more, and finally, amid the jumbled confusion in her mind, she found her words.
"I will never do anything you wouldn't be proud of. I swear."
They stood in silence for a moment longer, then began to fill in the grave. "The Friendly Arm Inn is northeast of here," Maera said. "If we travel east, we'll run into the Coast Way eventually. Then I guess we go north."
"Puffguts said the Friendly Arm was huge. It used to be a castle or something. I think we'll have a hard time missing it." Imoen glanced sidelong at her friend. "What do we do when we get there?"
"Find these friends of Gorion. Maybe they'll know why we were attacked, or at least be able to help us find out." They patted down the dirt, and marked the grave with Gorion's discarded staff.
"And then what?"
"I dunno, Im. It would seem we have the whole world before us." They shouldered their packs, and turned their faces east, away from the sea, away from Candlekeep, and towards the road, and the uncertain future.