Authors: Philip Athans
Baldur’s Gate, Book One
By Philip Athans
“Torm save me,” Abdel called and sliced his sword back to his left, then right. The spider paused, and Abdel rolled all the way over to one side, hoping to escape the web. Hair was pulled painfully from his arm, and a strand of web stuck to his neck. He was a fly now, a meal for this eight-legged predator, and like a fly, his desperate struggles only served to cement his captivity in the sticky web.
“Hold still,” the spider said, and Abdel flinched at the sound of its voice. It was a sound like glass being drawn across steel, and it set Abdel’s hair on end as much from the sound of it as from the horror that such a creature had the power of speech at all. “Hold still, human, and let Kriiya drain you. Let Kriiya drain you dry.”
For my two girls.
(Im still a regular person.)
Abdel is all mine, but every other character in this book, the beginning, almost all of the middle, and the end of the story is based on the brilliant work of the creators of the Baldur’s Gate computer game from Bio Ware: James Ohlen, Lukas Kristjanson, Eob Bartel, Ray Muzyka, John Gallagher, Scott Greig, and the rest of the Bio Ware Baldur’s Gate team. And thanks to Interplay’s Black Isle Division. Thanks guys, it was fun!
And, I must of course acknowledge my editor Jess Lebow. (Okay, I put your name in the book. Now where’s my five bucks?)
The blades came together so hard they threw out a blue-white spark bright enough to burn its gentle arc into Abdel’s vision. The impact sent a shudder through the heavy blade of his broadsword, but he ignored it and pushed back in the direction of the attack. Abdel was strong enough and tall enough to seriously unbalance his opponent. The man stumbled backward two steps and brought his empty left hand up to keep from falling. Abdel saw the opening and took full advantage of it, flashing his sword across his opponent’s open midsection and slicing deeply through chain mail, flesh, and bone.
Abdel recognized two of the four men who were trying to kill him. The men were sellswordshired guards and thugsjust like Abdel. They had obviously been paid, but by whom and for what reason, Abdel couldn’t fathom.
The man Abdel had killed took ten or twenty seconds to realize he was dead. He kept looking down at the deep gash that had nearly cut him in two. Blood was everywhere, and there was a hint of the yellow-gray of entrails. The expression on the man’s face was nearly comical: surprised, pale, and somehow disappointed. The look of it made Abdel’s heart leap, and he couldn’t tell if it was from the horror or the pleasure of the sight. The pause was enough, though, to allow another of the bandits to step in and nearly gut him with one of the two small, sharp axes the mercenary spun madly in both hands.
“Kamon,” Abdel said as he skipped back half a step to avoid the second axe. “Long time.”
He’d worked with this one before, a year ago, guarding a warehouse in Athkatla that was storing something a very long and increasingly bizarre parade of thieves were intent on stealing. Kamon’s trademark was this fast and furious, though not terribly exact, twin axe attack. A short, stocky man, he was a fighter many less experienced opponents underestimated. Anyone who’d been fighting as long as Abdel had, though, could tell by the man’s quick, crystal blue eyes that he was a smart and capable fighter.
“Abdel,” Kamon said. “Sorry about your father.”
It was an old trick, older even than Gorion, who sometimes seemed to Abdel to be the oldest man ever to walk the streets and trails of Faerun. Abdel could see his foster father out of the corner of his eye. Gorion was on his feet, fighting, but as usual trying not to kill the banditwho was obviously not as considerate as the older man. The dark complexioned bandit with the elaborately covered headscarf was coming at Gorion with a scimitar too fast, too out of control. Gorion was able to keep him at bay with his heavy oaken staff, but for how long?
Abdel let Kamon come in with his right-hand axe and caught it with his blade just under the head. The broadsword’s sharp edge cut into the axe handle, and Abdel pulled up but not out, and the axe came out of Kamon’s hand so quickly it left a red burn on the bandit’s palm. Kamon cursed and backed up three quick steps. The loss of one of his weapons surprised him, caught him off guard maybe, but Kamon was experienced enough to keep his eyes open. The axe was still stuck on Abdel’s blade.
Abdel knew he shouldn’t stop to try to pull the axe off, but when he heard the crunch of gravel behind him he did it anyway. He was hoping Kamon would do the obvious thing, and Kamon obliged. The bandit came in fast with the other axe, swinging low to cut his victim at the waist.
Abdel pulled his knees to his gut, keeping his sword across his chest to protect him. His feet came off the ground, and he fell onto his backside at the same time the big halberd blade came down from behind him. The crunch of gravel was the heavy step of Eagus, the first of the bandits Abdel had recognized when they first presented themselves on the road. Eagus still bore the scar on his face from that bet he’d lost to Abdel in Julkoun eight months ago. The memory made Abdel smile even as he was suddenly drenched in thick, hot blood.
Eagus’s blow, meant for Abdel, had split Kamon’s head in half from crown to chin. Abdel was disappointed only because now he wouldn’t be able to ask Kamon if he ever found out what it was they’d been guarding in that warehouse.
Still curled in a ball, Abdel swung his feet up and brought his sword back, the hand axe still stuck awkwardly to the blade. He was hoping to gut Eagus from behind while the halberdier still had his weapon stuck in his friend’s head. Halfway up a burning pain drove the breath from Abdel’s lungs, and he instinctively dropped to his left.
The fifth bandit, the one who had been hanging back, had fired a single crossbow bolt into Abdel’s right flank. Abdel tore it out, pulling some links loose from his chain mail tunic and roaring at the pain. He made eye contact with the crossbowman just long enough to send the man scurrying backward in fear. The sellsword could only hope the crossbowman was scared enough not to shoot him again. Abdel had more immediate problems.
Eagus swore as he worked at wriggling the blade of his halberd out of Kamon’s head. He had to stay close to the halberdier, but Abdel gave himself a handful of seconds to check his father’s progress. Gorion was holding up well. He was letting his opponent tire himself out with one hopeless lunge of a scimitar after another.
“We can go on like this forever, Calishite,” Gorion said, guessing the man’s origin by his peculiar dress and choice of blade, “or long enough for you to tell me who hired you and why.”
Abdel grabbed Kamon’s axe free of his sword, keeping track of Eagus’s hurried progress with one eye while keeping the other on his father.
The Calishite sellsword smiled, revealing a tarnished silver tooth, and said to Gorion, “We were paid extra, sir, not to say. You can give us your ward, though, and maybe live.”
There was a sound as if someone had tossed a maidens-thigh melon from a guard tower, and Eagus’s halberd was free. He swung the polearm up and around, spraying Abdel and the road with more of Kamon’s blood. Abdel threw the axe, and Eagus dodged it easily. The throw wasn’t meant to kill but to force Eagus off balance, and Abdel knew there was only one way, and one second, in which to test the success of this method.
Abdel came in fast, leaping really, his feet leaving the ground for a risky half second. He speared at Eagus and felt his blade sink home through a gap in the bandit’s rusted armor before he tucked his feet back under him. He meant to stand and drag his blade up through Eagus’s guts to disembowel him, but Eagus wasn’t quite as off-balance as he could have been. The bandit slipped gingerly off the tip of Abdel’s blade. There was blood, and Eagus was obviously in pain, but he fought on.
The halberd came down hard again, and Abdel almost didn’t have a chance to get his sword up to block it. His broadsword blade bit deeply into the thick wood of the halberd’s pole, and this time it was Abdel who was disarmed. Eagus, his yellow teeth showing through the brown and gray mass of his ill-kept beard, had the advantage of leverage. Though the act of twisting the long, heavy weapon out of Abdel’s strong grasp obviously caused Eagus pain, opening his wound yet wider, the sword came free of Abdel’s grip.
Eagus allowed himself a coughing laugh when the broadsword fell from the halberd. He wouldn’t be as encumbered as Abdel had been, and he took full advantage of it. Abdel could still hear the ringing of steel that meant his father was yet engaged with the Calishite swordsman. He would have to fight Eagus alone, and without his sword. Eagus, maybe a bit fatigued now, maybe having lost too much blood, came in too slowly, too clumsily, and Abdel was almost disappointed when he easily batted the halberd away with his arm. The force of Abdel’s blow meeting Eagus’s nearly broke the young sellsword’s right forearm. It hurt, but Abdel ignored the pain and kicked up with his left foot, slamming the toe of his sturdy boot into Eagus’s seeping wound.
Eagus shrieked and dropped, his knees falling out from under him like dry twigs. Abdel pulled out the dagger Gorion had given him as a coming-of-age gift, the one with the silver blade. He cut Eagus’s throat, watching the man’s eyes as his life fled him. Abdel smiled at the sight, though he knew Gorion wouldn’t approve. That’s when he realized Gorion was still fighting and there was
The crossbowman stepped out, dark eyes slitted against the midmorning sun, padded leather vest creaking with every movement. His long red hair fluttering greasily in the breeze. He aimed carefully at Gorion.
Abdel screamed out, “Fa”
The crossbow released, and the heavy steel bolt shot through the air with a hiss.
Embedding itself deeply into Gorion’s eye.
Abdel knew, before Gorion’s twitching body hit the gravel road, that the only father he had ever known was dead.
Red filled his vision, a ringing filled his ears, there was the stinging taste of copper in his mouth, and Abdel went mad. He ran at the Calishite swordsman first, simply because he was the closer of the two surviving bandits. Abdel’s heavy silver dagger was out in front of him just swinging back and forth as if he was working a field with it. The Calishite danced back and brought his scimitar up.
There was a clang of metal, and the Calishite pronounced the first syllable of the name of some forgotten god as Abdel’s sturdy blade slashed through the finely wrought scimitar. Two thirds of the curved blade spun wildly off into the brush at the side of the wide gravel road, and the Calishite couldn’t help but watch it spin away as he continued to back up and out of the reach of the slashing dagger.
The Calishite’s foot dropped an inch and a half into a wagon wheel rut in the road, and he fell backward, off balance, enough to be saved from the next slash that might have taken his throat out.
Growling in feral, incoherent rage, Abdel came forward and slashed again. His arm vibrated from the sudden resistance along the blade of the heavy dagger.
The Calishite probably saw his broken blade bounce once after it hit the ground before the world spun and something wet and sticky splashed across his face. His severed head might have lived long enough to experience that, but he was dead before his head and his body hit the ground.
The crossbowman didn’t bother to wait long enough to curse or beg or be horrified. He wasn’t the smartest man on the Sword Coast, far from it, but he was more than smart enough to know when to turn around and run for his life.
Abdel, still wild with a murderous frenzy now wholly out of his control, chased the man down and butchered him into a mound of bleeding meat. Finally spent, the foster son of Gorion of Candlekeep collapsed onto a pile of leather, gore, and crossbow parts, and he wept.
Abdel had been selling his strong sword arm and experience up and down the Sword Coast for years, and had spent the last tenday escorting a merchant caravan from Baldur’s Gate to the library at Candlekeep. The massive monastery had been his boyhood home, the closest thing to a real home Abdel had ever known. It was there that Gorion, a kind but stern monk, had raised Abdel in the worship of Torm, god of the brave and the foolish, and had tried to instill upon Abdel his own love of the written word and the history and traditions of Faerun.
Abdel had studied hard, but his mind wandered, and both he and his adopted father soon came to realize that he would never live the life of a monk, cloistered away copying the great texts, storing away the knowledge and experience of others. Abdel sought his own knowledge, his own experience, and he found it in the world outside the protective walls of Candlekeep.
It seemed to frighten Gorion somehow, Abdel’s need to fight, to kill, but he seemed also to have some deeper understanding of it, as if he expected it of his foundling son, though he could never really condone it.
Abdel looked nothing like this man who was not truly his father, and it seemed to surprise no one who knew them well that they didn’t think much alike either. Where Gorion was thin of frame, bookish, and rigid of posture, Abdel was powerfully muscled, with chiseled features and ink black hair he kept long to flow with the same fluid grace as his body. Abdel was nearly a foot taller than his adopted father, almost seven feet tall, and probably outweighed the monk threefold.
They hadn’t spoken much in the last several years, but when Abdel was offered the spot on the caravan from Baldur’s Gate he jumped at the chance not only because his purse was growing light from some lean times, but because he truly wanted to see his father again.
Their meeting had been oddly emotional from the moment Abdel stepped through the gates of Candlekeep. Gorion was happy to see him. Maybe Abdel had spent too much time with sellswords and hired killers, but it seemed to him that Gorion was almost too happy to see him. They had talked of many things that first evening. Gorion was always curious to hear Abdel’s stories of battles fought and won, of greedy merchants and marauding orcs, or seaside taverns and the warrior’s camaraderie. This night, though, Gorion seemed detached, preoccupied, and nothing was more unlike Abdel’s father. The young sellsword got the feeling his father needed to tell him something.