It was chilly for a spring night, and the rain didn't help. Tamoko huddled deep in her heavy cloak, glancing uneasily at Sarevok, his face dimly lit by their small highwayman's lamp. It didn't matter how many times she asked, or how he phrased the answer. She still didn't know why they were here.
Their visit to Candlekeep the previous year had wrought some change in him, and every passing day made it harder to ignore. He could not keep Bhaal from his mind or Alaundo from his lips, it seemed. She might have called it an obsession, if she had not known him so well. But she knew his mind, in all its churning, seeking, and grasping, had simply found its focus, the one thing above all else he could turn his considerable attentions to.
She wished profoundly that it could be something else.
It was not just Bhaal, or Alaundo. It was the girl as well, the girl from Candlekeep he called his sister. Tamoko did not like to fancy herself jealous, because he expressed no desire for her, and he certainly had not vacated her bed. If anything, the change ought to be counted a positive in that regard. Some months before, he had declared himself tired to hiding their affair from Rieltar, and in the expected shouting match, the old merchant informed his foster son that he had greater aspirations for him than 'some harlot foreigner who can't keep her legs shut' which had earned a dismissive laugh from Sarevok.
"Strange how your opinion turns, father," he'd said, disdain making a mockery of the title. "You liked her well enough when she was in your train for all the other rich old men to lick their lips over. She may be a prop to you, but she is more to me, and my life is not yours to chart. Not anymore, and not ever again." Ever since, Tamoko had been on his arm for all of Baldur's Gate to see.
She had never given much mind to being his secret. After all, she had secrets enough of her own, kept and carefully shepherded, and she was hardly the sort to barter her lover's name for any kind of concession or special treatment, much to Sarevok's exasperated amusement. All the same, it was gratifying to see the fine ladies of Baldur's Gate curl their lips and narrow their eyes when she, a nobody from nowhere, entered a room with him. More than that, though, it was the outward sign of everything she had felt in those hidden nights and over-too-soon mornings – that she was his, body and soul, and they belonged together, each made sharper and stronger by the other. And now the mornings could last as long as they liked.
But still there was the girl.
Sometimes she would walk in at the tail end of conversations, when Sarevok was in conference with Winski Perorate, and she would hear her name – Maera. It was scribbled in the margins of his journals like an invocation, and doodled on scraps of paper like a totem. He was an orphan, she told herself – of course his mind should turn to family, even if there was no explanation of how they were related that made even the slightest sense to her. She kept her confusion on this point to herself, however. He had plans she could understand; plans to raise up Baldur's Gate over Amn, the Iron Throne over Baldur's Gate, himself over the Iron Throne, and those she could devote herself to without question. For he was the most brilliant man she had ever known, sly and subtle, and she had no doubts at his fitness to rule.
She still didn't know what those plans had to do with why they were on the Candlekeep road that night, the cold rain trickling down from the heavens, with a pair of half-ogre hirelings grunting to themselves behind. "You will see," he had said softly, as he often did these days, and she had begun to fear that she never would. It was what he wanted, though, so she waited with him, hand anxious at the hilt of her katana, while the night deepened.
At last there was movement ahead, and Sarevok smiled to himself, slipping down the visor of his horned helmet. Tamoko tried not to let her distaste show. She hated that thing. When he wore it, he looked like a stranger.
Two figures were visible in the gloom, carrying a dim lamp not unlike their own. It was a man and a woman, the former clad in long robes and moving with the careful stride of active age, and the latter with a spring of youthful nerves in her step. Tamoko felt herself stiffen. Was that-?
Sarevok stepped towards them. "Hand over your ward, old man."
A flare of light from the lamp caught the man's face in the shadows of his hood, and Tamoko saw him close his eyes with resignation, as if he had been expecting this. "I will do nothing of the sort," he replied, his voice steady.
At his shoulder, his female companion shifted her weight, her hood slipping back just far enough to make out her face, and Tamoko's heart sank. It was. "Gorion," Maera muttered, "what's going on?"
Without taking his eyes from Sarevok, Gorion reached back a hand to squeeze Maera's wrist. "Leave us be," he said. "We are simply travelers in search of warmth and dry for the night."
"Don't lie to me, sage. Give me the girl, or I will take her from you." The old man straightened by a faction, but the shift in posture seemed to change everything about him. Tamoko wanted to cry out a warning – there was power in his bearing, and magic in the air around him – but Sarevok seemed unconcerned, sliding his greatsword from its sheath.
Gorion spared a glance over his shoulder at Maera. "Run, my child."
She shook her head, afraid but unwilling to give it quarter. There was something to admired in that. "No."
Something crackled in his eyes, something so fierce it took Tamoko a moment to recognize it for what it was. Her defiance had never earned her such a look. All she had ever seen was bitterness and resentment. Anger, when shone through the glass of love, hardly looked like anger at all. Was that how fathers were supposed to look at their children? "Maera," he snapped, voice like a whip, "GO."
That was all it took. She stumbled back on her heels, eyes wide, turning to make for the road. Sarevok growled with frustration, raising a fist that brought the half-ogres to his side, but before he could take a step, fire burst from the sage's hands, impervious to the rain, following by a flash of magical energy so bright Tamoko had to turn her head lest she be blinded. But the roars of pain and wet, heavy thumps told her the half-ogres had already outlived their usefulness. Sarevok gave a hard, ragged cry, and her vision returned to see him clutch his side, wounded by the mage's fire. All admiration and uncertainty vanished; no one had the right to hurt him and live.
But before she could even draw her katana, it was already over. Gorion didn't even cry out when the greatsword pierced him. He simply crumpled to the ground, his blood dripping from Sarevok's sword, mingled with the rain. He stood over the old man, breathing heavily, one arm pressed hard to his wounded side. "Sarevok!" She hurried to him.
"Get her." The words issued from between gritted teeth. She moved closer, saw the scorches on his armor, and instead took the sword from his weakened hands. How he could wield that thing, she did not know. It was so heavy she had to immediately rest it on the ground. His eyes flashed, both at her heel dragging and at her treatment of his weapon. "I told you to go after her!"
"You are wounded," she said. "I will not leave you."
"This was my chance!" he half-howled, ripping his helmet from his head in frustration. She clenched her jaw, tugging at the straps of his breastplate. Burns by magic were even worse than their mundane counterparts.
"What does it matter?" She didn't look at him, too busy with the stubborn armor, and irritated with the stubborn man wearing it. "Her guardian is dead, and she is obviously no woodsman. She will die in the wilderness and that will be the end of it!" At least she could hope so.
"Don't you see what it matters?"
"No!" With a jerk, she finally loosed the breastplate strap and glared up at him. "No, I do not see! Why are we here, lurking like bandits in the night? Who is she, Sarevok? Why is she so important? You have such great plans; what does some librarian's brat have to do with any of it?"
He looked down at her with heavy eyes, pain finally catching up with the anger and adrenaline. "I've already told you, Tamoko. She is my sister. And she either will be my greatest ally, or she will be the one who kills me."