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Series: Baldur's Gate (2)
Characters (so far): Jaheria, Aerie, CHARNAME (Christian), Yoshimo, Minsc
Word Count (this part): 6075
Rating: PG
Summary: The companion who was with him the longest. The companion who reminded him so much of himself. Both broken in different ways, looking to pick up the pieces.
Prompt: Re-purposed failed NaNoWriMo entry

For NaNoWriMo 2013, I attempted something a little easier by going the fanfic route. It still didn't work, as I got swamped in course work, and eventually I lost steam/interest. But with this summer of projects, I decided I wanted to go back to it, give it another try. After all, Aerie is far and away my favourite of the female companions in the Baldur's Gate series, and Jaheria is close behind her, and I've always wanted to tell a particular story with those two.

This is the first "part" of said story. For this first part, it's a treading of old ground to introduce our two principle characters, Jaheria and Aerie. Starting in the next part, things start to take off in slightly different directions, but, for the most part, this is a retelling of the second game (and expansion) through their perspective.

“...So you're telling me, after everything that's happened, you want to go to the circus?”

“Look, I know how silly that sounds, but it's not like that.”

Jaheria sighed, put down her purchased supplies, and placed her hands on her hips. “Alright, Christian. What is it like?”

Resting his arm on the hilt of his flail, the other hand lazily bobbing in the air as though he were conducting his report, Christian explained. “While you and Yoshimo were here getting supplies, Minsc and I were looking around, sussing out just where we were and what's going on.”

“We were doing that here, too.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know. I understand merchants hear a lot of stuff, they're like tavern bards, but there's stuff you learn just by looking around.”

Jaheria rolled her eyes. “Advice I gave you when we first met and went to Nashkell. It's good to hear you still remember.”

“Anyway, what we found out was that the circus, eh? Everyone who entered that main tent didn't come out. Some of the folks running the stands went in to see why everything was so quiet, and they didn't come out, either. Then some curious locals, then some of the watch, and now they've posted guards on the tent flaps and are keeping people from getting in.”

Jaheria turned aside, thinking on this, before looking back to Christian. “And you want to go in, yourself,” she assumed with a flat tone, frowning.

“Look, when we got there, there was a kid. A kid was crying and wailing for his mom. And you know Minsc; he's chomping at the bit to get in there and get that boy's mother, and kick whatever's behind all this in the butt.”

Jaheria looked Christian in the face. She could tell from his eyes that he was of the same mind as Minsc. “If everyone who has gone in hasn't come out...it will be very dangerous. And after everything we just went through...the escape from Irenicus's dungeon...and everyone he's taken away from us...”

Christian slumped his shoulders, and reached out to take Jaheria's hand. “I know. We really should find the nearest inn and rest, but everyone in there has been in there for too long as it is. I can't rest on this. Besides, we're strangers in this city, literally having just popped out from the ground. And we are way too far gone from Baldur's Gate for any of our exploits there to matter to these people. Doing this for them, saving everyone in that tent, it could be the clout and respect we need to survive here.”

Jaheria looked Christian in the face, eyebrows quirked. She was honestly impressed with the logic in that. She didn't take his hand, but her expression softened. “I see...that would be...it would be nice to be respected enough not to get our pockets picked in our sleep.”

Christian beamed, and put his hand to his side. “Minsc and I are definitely going in. But you're right, after everything that's happened back there...you don't have to come with us. We'll meet you and Yoshimo at that Copper Cornett place--”

“No. I made a promise to your foster father to watch over you. I owe it to him, and to...Khalid.”

Christian's hand twitched, and he chewed his lip.

Yoshimo approached from the back of the shop, several large map scrolls under his arm. “I overheard. I respect that you offer me that out, but I would rather come with you. If three of us are going in, might as well make it all four, isn't that so?”

Jaheria nodded. “All of us or none of us. And considering you two...” Jaheria nodded towards the door, where Minsc was waiting, bouncing on his heels. “We need to purchase Yoshimo's maps. We'll meet you at the tent.”

Christian let out a sotto voiced “Yes!” before rushing to the door. “You hear that, Minsc! We're going to the circus!”

Jaheria groaned as the large berserker man and the smaller half-elf whooped and cheered behind her at the doorway, a small hamster bouncing on Minsc's shoulder. She buried her head on the counter and let out a very tired sigh. She cracked open an eye to see Yoshimo looking at her.

“...You met us at sort of a weird time...” she muttered.

“I could tell from what happened back in the dungeon,” Yoshimo said, almost sagely. “But I've travelled alone a lot to find I might have some fun with this group.”

Jaheria rolled her eyes, and stared back at the counter. Alone...travelling alone...she never did that before, really. She always had Gorion and Khalid, Khalid at least. And now...she planned on sticking with Christian and Minsc for the long haul; after all, they had plenty of reason to stick together for now. But when that reason was resolved...it would probably be a long way away, but the possibility of being alone after that was definitely there.

********

Jaheria looked about the interior of the tent. The guards were willing to let a group of four sword wielding adventurers in to investigate at their leisure, or, more appropriately, peril. She frowned. “I suppose I'm not the only one who feels this is a lot bigger on the inside?”

Christian looked about as well. Rather than the dirt of the large circle in the middle of the marketplace where the big top was set up, they were standing on an elegant, marble walkway that branched into a sort of trident shape, over a pool of clear water, shining in the purple and green light from the oddly coloured torches. Around them were huddled bodies, shivering in fright. Only a few of them were human. Dogs, cats, gnolls, kobolds, even large spiders were also among the crowd. A pair of bears were clawing at the side of the tent, trying to make an opening.

“Well, the perimeter's about as large inside and out,” he finally noted. He tilted his head up, towards the tiled ceiling. “But I assume you mean height wise?”

“Yes. The tents are high, but not usually high enough to warrant stories. Or the foundation for palace like levels.”

“Everyone, Minsc hates to interrupt, but Boo is acting verrrry twitchy and looking at that beast.” The bald Rashoman warrior drew his great sword, and cautiously stepped towards the centre, where waiting was a large ogre, towering above even a man of Minsc's six foot stature. Christian and Jaheria stepped forward right behind him, while Yoshimo continued to look about the tent.

The ogre let out a gasp. A rather....airy gasp. “Who are you?” it...she asked, in a very clear and gentle voice. “Oh...whoever you are, you must flee this place at once!” she warned, her voice getting higher in worry. “He's...he's killed everyone else who has come into this place!” The ogre hunched over, and started to twiddle her thumbs rather nervously. “A...almost...the watch, and some of the braver looking—it...it doesn't matter! Please, run!”

All three stared at the beast as it looked on them with timid worry. Christian stood up straight, his arms resting on the hilts of his weapons. “Okay, cool, whatever, I'm just rolling with it...” he muttered.

“Whaaaat...” Minsc let out, blinking. “This ogre speaks much more prettily than any we've ever encountered before...are you really an ogre, Miss?”

The ogre actually blushed. “Ah! N...no, I'm an elf! An Avariel, to be precise. Well, obviously I don't look like one, and to be honest, even if I did, I'd still be missing...” she rambled, before she trailed off, muttering under her breath, looking away.

Jaheria sighed, and folded her arms. “We thank you for your concern, but I don't think fleeing is actually possible.” She thumbed towards the bears. “Otherwise they would have left some time ago.”

The ogre frowned sadly. “Then...” Her eyes widened and seemed to light up when she took a better look at the three in front of her. “You...wouldn't happen to be adventurers, would you? Maybe you could help!”

Christian grinned, and thumped his chest. “Gladly!--”

After you tell us what exactly happened here,” Jaheria interrupted. Christian laughed nervously, and nodded in agreement.

The ogre nodded, but still looked this way and that, fretting. “It...it would be easier explain if we could dispell this illusion on me. But that's what this all is: illusions. Powerful, powerful illusions!”

Jaheria nodded. “Somehow, I suspected as much.”

“The one behind this all is Kalah, the circus illusionist. Only, he couldn't do anything at...THIS level, before. My uncle and I tried to dispel the illusions, but I wasn't strong enough to do it alone, and Kalah took my uncle with him to those upper levels before he could really get started.”

“Well, what do you expect us to do?” Jaheria asked, frowning.

The ogre bowed her head, still twiddling her thumbs. “I-if you could free me from these chains, I could guide you through the illusions and into Kalah's chambers. If we can disrupt his magic at the source, everything might just return to normal.”

Minsc let out a boisterous laugh. “Chains? I see no chains that bind you, but perhaps that is part of the illusion! This Kalah is quite the clever trickster, but he made a fatal flaw: no chain can hold back a woman of your strength! Just take them with your large, mighty hands and give them a good, hard pull!”

“Ah, Minsc...” Christian interjected. “That'd work with you, but she's not an ogre. I don't think she has large, mighty hands.” He turned to the ogre with a smile. “We'd like to help, but how are we supposed to do that?”

“After he chained me here,” the ogre explained, “Kalah left, but my uncle was able to take the key and throw it to me. One of Kalah's illusionary minions caught it, though, and is guarding over it. It's enchanted to look like an Amish longsword, but it's actually a large key.”

“Wait, minions?”

The ogre nodded. “Not everyone in this theatre are enchanted innocents. Some of them are illusionary constructs Kalah made to ensure no one bothered him. The ones with the key were human looking, but...”

Christian looked about the tent. Even though the majority were twisted and disguised as various animals or monsters, there were still quite a few who looked human, elf, and dwarf. He sighed. “But how are we gonna tell which one it is,” he noted, concluding the ogre's thought.

“It's them,” Yoshimo spoke up, gesturing towards two noble looking humans huddled in the far corner of the tent.

Jaheria looked towards the two, before looking to Yoshimo. “How could you tell?”

“The way they're hunched over,” he explained. “They look like they're in positions of supplication, but the one on the left is lifting himself up a bit on his left leg; he's ready to pounce if anyone tries anything stupid. And the one on the right has his hand very close to his hip, and his clenched fists are actually not closed all the way. He's gripping on to something.” He looked to the group. “Perhaps a weapon. Or a key. Or a key disguised as a weapon.”

Christian looked at Yoshimo. Then to the two nobles. Then back to Yoshimo with a grin. “Impressive...!” The ogre nodded, and even gave Yoshimo a little applause.

“Well, nothing else for it but to get the key!” Minsc boasted, resting his sword across his armour plated shoulder.

As the four approached the two crouching “nobles,” Christian smirked, looking towards the others. “Shouldn't be too hard. The thing about illusions is that they only really affect you if you're swayed by the illusion itself. If we know it's fake, we've got nothing to worry about.”

Right away Jaheria winced, knowing that was the absolute wrong thing to say at this point. Sure enough, her point was proven when one of the “nobles” suddenly lunged up from its position, swiping a dagger across Christian's head.

The half elf kept looking towards the group, eyes wide and lips tightened in surprise and alarm, as a few blonde hairs freshly cut by the dagger drifted past his face. He turned towards the noble, taking his flail from its holster on his right, and gave it a good swing against the noble's head.

The noble staggered back, its head disintegrated into shadowy particles. Christian smirked, but his face fell flat when the body expanded and dissipated into shadow, before reconstituting in place as a small, lanky creature of black mist. The other noble soon took on the same shape.

Minsc rushed at the other shadow, and with a mighty bellow cleaved it in twain. Likewise, the shadow creature reconstituted into one piece, albeit smaller than before.

Yoshimo drew his sword, and spun it in his hand as he lifted it to his face. “Allow me, my large friend,” he insisted. He closed his eyes, focusing on the curved, Kara-tur blade in his hand, as it began to glow a dull blue. “We men of Kara-tur enchant our blades with the essence of our ancestors. Thus, they can cut through anything.”

With a flick of his wrist, his blade sweeped across the shadow creature's chest, causing it to howl as the gash refused to heal. “Even magic.”

Ignoring the other three adventurers, the shadow creatures pounced upon Yoshimo, who parried each swipe of their claws, but failed to gain another opening to attack. Jaheria looked at her scimitar, and frowned. Then she closed her eyes. Then she started to speak in an elven tongue, as her sword began to glow a forest green.

With a flourish, she lifted her sword high, before lunging at one of the shadows and swiping her sword across its back. The shadow shrieked, and started to fade away into nothing, its own sword clattering to the floor. Now no longer outnumbered, Yoshimo managed to resume his attack, plunging his sword into the other shadow's chest, causing it to halt, shudder, and then also fade away.

Christian frowned, and rubbed the back of his neck. “Wait, how exactly does that work?”

“Mundane weaponry cannot be used to dispel illusions,” Jaheria explained. “It's probably why no one before us managed to stop this Kalah. I enchanted my sword to allow it to slice through those shadows, and, as Yoshimo explained, his sword was already enchanted.”

“So, what you're saying is, magic must defeat magic?”

“...Pretty much, although for some reason I feel like slapping you upside the head for that.”

“At this point, I suggest we probably return this to the elf-ogre,” said Yoshimo, crouching down to collect the Amish longsword.

********

The ogre's eyes lit up as she saw the four return, the half-elf in front carrying their prize. “You have the key!” she cheered. “Or—rather, the sword—please, give it here, so I can undo this illusion?”

Christian nodded, and handed the sword over, hilt first, although it didn't quite matter. The ogre took the blade, and took a deep breath. Then, she took it to the locks on her chain. From an outside perspective, it'd look like the ogre just stabbed herself in the gut. But the ogre knew better.

With a heavy clatter, the chains fell around the ogre's feet, before shattering into ether. The ogre's form began to change, shrinking in height until she was a full head underneath Jaheria, and a half-head beneath Christian and Yoshimo, making her the shortest of the bunch. From her scalp grew long, wiry blonde hair, and yellow and orange robes covered her body. She reached up with small, delicate hands, to touch her face, run her thumbs along the painted tattoos, and she nearly collapsed with relief.

“My hands...my skin, it's all real again!” she cheered. “Oh, thank Baervar...” She caught the curious look from Jaheria, and she quickly righted herself. “C...come, we must find my uncle, and stop Kalah before he can do anymore harm!”

“I think you promised us an explanation for everything that happened up to now?” Jaheria reminded. “We can walk and talk.”

The tiny elf nodded, and led the way towards the marble staircase at the far end of the tent dimension. “Yes...yes of course. Ah...Kalah was the circus illusionist. He was usually a crowd pleaser, only, recently, his act became a lot more...comical. And not intentionally so; his magic was slipping. It was no different, today; he tried to perform his act, as he always did, but he failed, and made a fool of himself. The audience thought that was his act, so they laughed.”

“So he lashed out in spite and revenge?” Christian asked.

Aerie nodded. “With an exasperated howl, he took out a lamp from his costume, and held it up high. He didn't make any specific wish then and there, but he must have planned this, because he shouted, It is time! A genie emerged from the lamp, and then quickly faded again with a laugh. Suddenly, Kalah was throwing magic all over the tent, and everything started changing.”

Jaheria glanced behind herself, taking one last look amongst the crowd of enchanted, frightened spectators, before she followed the others up the spiral, marble staircase.

“My uncle and I tried to counteract Kalah's magic,” Aerie continued to explain, “but, before we could do much, Kalah had some of his minions grab my uncle and drag him away. Whether to spite me or to spite him, he chained me up, turned me into an ogre, and was about to take the key with him. In one final desperate act, my uncle took the key and tried to throw it to me, when it was intercepted by two of Kalah's minions, who became my jail keepers.”

The party stopped, as a large, marble door stood in their way. With no handle, and pushing the door not working, Minsc attempted to break it down with a few powerful shoulder tackles, but to no avail. Aerie stepped forward, and gently took the large man's shoulder, urging him to step back. She pressed her index fingers and thumbs together, forming a triangle with her hands, peering through the opening at the centre of the door.

“Veritas... Credo... Oculous...” she whispered. Her hands glowed for a second, then the door, before it began to dissolve and disappear. Aerie looked to the rest of the party, smiling as though asking for approval.

“Did your uncle teach you that?” Jaheria asked with a facinated look in her eyes, as they continued their climb.

“Yes. He taught me much about magic. It might be why Kalah took him away; I can't dispel these illusions on my own, but, working together with my uncle, I'm sure we could undo even this genie's magic.” She frowned. “Well...that, and my uncle and Kalah never really got along to begin with, so...”

Aerie once again trailed off, muttering under her breath, twiddling her thumbs, as the party crested the stairs and onto the next landing. It was a large, marble room, fountains with running water flanking the doorway they passed through. Artistic architecture and sculptures decorated the room. And, in the centre, a band of six shadow creatures looked up to glare with solid red eyes.

Christian unholstered his flail, and started to wind it up. “So, Jaheria, does that spell of your's work for other weapons, too, or just your own sword?”

“Leave this to me!” Aerie offered, before miming the action of holding something in front of herself.

The shadow creatures shrieked, and began to charge forward. The rest of the party quickly stepped between them and Aerie, desperately trying to hold the six creatures at bay with just their four bodies.

“Encantus, Pulcher, Imperium!” Aerie chanted, as a tail of fire started to spin in her hands. She opened her eyes, and looked forward to the others. “Everyone, get out of the way!” Aerie shifted backwards, holding her hands to her side, as the fire grew larger, and larger... “Fireball!”

Aerie threw her hands forward, as the fire burst from her hands in a concentrated ball of magic. Jaheria quickly dove aside, dragging Christian with her, while Minsc and Yoshimo dove in the other direction. The fireball hit the two shadows in the centre, before it burst into a huge torrent of flames. All six shadow creatures shrieked, and, when the fire settled, there was nothing left.

Christian looked to Aerie in amazement. “That was incredibly powerful magic!” he noted. “Six in one blow!”

Aerie blushed, and rubbed the back of her neck, as Yoshimo nodded in approval, and Minsc stared in wonder. Jaheria, however, was not so impressed.

“That is the most reckless spell to throw out in close quarters,” she pointed out. “Had we not been able to hold them off for you to complete the incantation, they would've been right on top of you. And if we weren't fighting mindless shadow constructs, they would've also followed your advice to get out of the way.”

“Oh...” Aerie looked down, dejected. “I'm...I'm sorry...”

Jaheria sighed, and shook her head. “But, it got rid of all of them at once, and this would be your first real use of combat magic, yes?” Aerie nodded. “Then I can't blame you for lack of coordination. That's something that only comes with time and a lot of practice. So, thank you, just be a little more careful with your spell selection in the future.”

“O...okay!”

********

Yoshimo and Aerie proceeded to investigate the room; in addition to the stairs they just took, the room had several more flights leading up. By the logic of this circus, only one was likely the way up, the others leading to a trap, possibly a plummet back down to the ground floor. Soon, however, a way up was found, and the five made their way up to the top floor.

In the top most, circular room, waiting for them was another horde of shadow beasts. On the far end of the room, sitting on a large, opulent throne, was a giant ogre, hand resting on the pommel of a large sword embedded in the floor. At the ogre's feet was a large mound of wriggling yellow jelly.

“It's him,” Aerie breathed out. “It's Kalah.”

Christian blinked in confusion, looking between Aerie and the large ogre. “That's Kalah?”

“He must have used his magic to give himself a new, more imposing body,” said Yoshimo.

“Well that's obvious!” said Christian.

The ogre, Kalah, flashed a smirking grin, his eyes honing it directly on Aerie. “Ah, my beast. You have led these good people here quite nicely.”

Aerie recoiled in insulted surprise. “What? I...I'm not...”

“You're not what? A beast? But you are all my beasts. Didn't you see the zoo when you came in? And in a moment, you'll join them.”

“What did you do to my uncle!?” Aerie yelled at the ogre, when the jelly suddenly twitched and burbled.

“Aerie...?” came a weak voice, from the direction of the jelly. “Is that you? It's hard to tell, when you're stuck in a form that doesn't have eyes. Or ears. And can only sense things through vibrations.”

“Oh that is messed up!” Christian glared towards Kalah. “You're the only beast here, Kalah!”

“Ooh, this one's got spirit!” Kalah laughed, clapping with two large, meaty hands. “You'll make a fine doggy. Now, let's get this circus going! Go, my beasts, and tear each other apart!”

The shadows began to rush the party. “Be careful, everyone, not all of these things are real!” Aerie called out in warning.

Christian took his other weapon, his sword on his other hip, and lashed out at a shadow that lunged at him. The beast dissolved on impact, while Christian looked to the tiny elf. “I thought all of these things weren't real! I mean...you know, illusions!”

“Some of them go beyond that,” Aerie warned. “There's some that won't harm you, but will try to distract you for the others to get you!” Her eyes glinted, some lingering magic from when she detected the illusions of the stairs.

Kalah smirked, and moved to rise from his seat, when the jelly suddenly pooled around his feet, and held him in place. Kalah squirmed, grunting in exasperation, before he started cursing and flailing at the jelly. “Damn it, Quayle! Stop! Holding! Me! BACK!” The ogre lifted his hand, a ball of fire beginning to form.

“Uncle!” Aerie shrieked out in fear.

“Disrupt his spell!” Jaheria called out over the din of the men fighting off the shadow beasts.

Aerie whimpered, and nodded. Recovering and thinking quickly, she focused on a quick staple spell, a Magic Missile. Three balls of magic force slapped into Kalah's hand. The fire dissipated, and the ogre scowled towards the party.

“Sir Christian! I've made you an opening here!” Yoshimo called out to the half-elf, gesturing to a small gap between the shadows.

“Much obliged!” sheathing his sword and taking out his flail, Christian muscled his way through, taking a few scratches along his face and hands for his troubles, before he was barrelling down towards Kalah. The ogre lost that scowl, and instead looked in fear, as he pulled on his legs, desperately trying to free himself from the jelly's grip. In one last, desperate act, he began to focus on another spell.

“Christian! That spell you were asking about?” Jaheria called out, before holding up her sword, already glowing forest green. The blade began to lose its glow, as a similar glow began to form on the head of Christian's flail. “It does work on your weapons, as well!”

“Then this oughta be good!” Christian leaped towards Kalah, spinning his flail behind him, before swinging it down on top of the ogre's head.

The flail phased through the top of Kalah's head, but the ogre tried to lean back as far as he could. Suddenly, there was a powerful noise, a WHOMP, and a crack of bones. A high pitched, nasal shriek of pain emitted from the ogre, soon turning into a cry of “NO!” The shadows suddenly shuddered, before blinking out of existence, one by one. Then, the whole room began to crack like glass, before there was a loud, shattering noise, as everything turned to black.

****

Jaheria rubbed her eyes, adjusting as light was finally starting to hit her again. She glanced around; they were in what a circus tent was probably supposed to look like, with them standing in the centre ring. The seats were full of scared and confused citizens. Yoshimo and Minsc were close by, looking just as disoriented, while Aerie was beside her, having collapsed to her knees, hand on her chest to catch her breath.

“Christian...?” Jaheria called out, her vision still hazy. Finally, her eyes adjusted so that she could see Christian right in the centre of the ring, standing over the broken body of a grey haired gnome with a caved in chest.

“No!” the gnome wheezed out in pain. “This isn't what was supposed to happen...this isn't what was promised to me! I planned this for...too long, to have it all ruined by some upstart adventurer! I just...I just wanted to be respected...”

Christian stared down at the gnome, putting away his flail, his face calm but stern. “So this is who you really are, Kalah...small, pathetic...”

“Don't you...mock me. I am Kalah, the illusionist. I was made a clown-mage for the sick pleasure of tall folk like you. I bided my time...when I was promised a world where I could rule. In Amn, a mage is a criminal, and a gnome is a spectacle. But in...in this tent...in my world...I was the master. No one would dare laugh at me...”

“Kalah...” Aerie spoke up, looking up from her slumped position, looking to Kalah with such pity in her eyes.

“Is that...Aerie?” Kalah coughed up a bit of blood. “Don't you...dare pity me, girl. Pity...coddling...it's as bad as...their jeering...” With that, Kalah coughed once more, before his body finally collapsed, dead.

Jaheria and Aerie both approached the body, Yoshimo and Minsc behind them. Jaheria knelt down next to the corpse, while Aerie folded her hands in prayer.

“It's true, after he lots his touch, he was made a fool. Even before then, very few in the circus even cared to notice him.”

“He answered by torturing them and killing many people,” Jaheria reminded.

“I...I know that! I'm not confusing forgiveness for sympathy. What he did was horrible. And yet...I just wish there was something I could've done, to prevent this from happening, to keep him from going this mad...”

“Don't trouble yourself over it,” came an old, nasal voice. Another gnome stepped to Kalah's corpse, this one with long, white hair, and a long white beard, a ratty old top hat, and small spectacles. The gnome gave Kalah's corpse a prod with his foot, before he looked towards Aerie. “He was beyond pity or help even before he lost his magic.”

Aerie's mood lifted, as her eyes widened and glowed, and her lips turned into a broad grin. She grabbed the gnome in a tight embrace. “Uncle Quayle! You're okay!”

Christian recoiled in surprise, looking between the two. “That's her uncle?”

“Probably in the honourary or adoptive sense,” Yoshimo observed. “More out of affection than actual relation.”

“Well that's obvious!”

“Of course I'm okay!” Quayle boasted, warmly returning Aerie's hug. “Kalah was bound to trip over himself eventually. I decided to make use of the fact that he hated me so much he'd rather torment me than kill me outright when he had the chance.”

Aerie disengaged the hug, to smile up to the others. “Everyone,” she said, her arm around the gnome's shoulders, “this is my uncle, Quayle. He taught me everything about magic, both arcane and clerical.”

Yoshimo bowed respectfully to the gnome. “It is an honour to meet the teacher of such a talented young magician.”

Christian rubbed the back of his neck with a grin. “Yeah, nice to meet ya.”

Minsc held out a fist with an uprised thumb, grinning down at the gnome. “Well met, teacher of justice!”

Jaheria was...not as enthusiastic in greeting the gnome. “Hello again, Quayle...”

“You two know each other?” Aerie asked, looking between the half-elf and the gnome.

Quayle smirked, and adjusted his spectacles. “In my old adventuring days, I sometimes contracted myself out to the Hapers. So I've had some chances to work with this fine young woman, yes.”

“What was he like?” Christian asked.

“He was...”

“What do you neeeeeed?”

“You grunted?”

“Who taught this chimp to talk? What they can do these days...”

“Incredibly sure of himself and his intellect. Perhaps overly sure.”

Quayle laughed, and puffed his chest. “Well, you know what they say: when you have it, be sure to show it to the world.”

“I always thought that referred to a killer bod than a killer...intellect,” Christian muttered, before Minsc slapped his shoulder, and pointed to the crowd with a shake. Indeed, the audience was starting to file out, with the exception of a small child, the same child Minsc and Christian wished to tackle this adventure for, rushing into the tent leaping into the arms of his mother.

Christian smiled as he saw that, and that the crowd, though dazed and confused, were, as a majority, unharmed. “Looks like our work here is done. We should probably be going.”

“We cannot thank you enough,” Aerie said with a sigh of relief. “If you ever see our circus in your travels, please, visit us again.” She looked towards Jaheria with a smile. “I guess I'll have to ask my uncle all about the adventures you two had,” she said with a nervous giggle.

“Actually, Aerie...” Quayle disengaged the side hug with the elf. “Why don't you ask her, yourself? I think this would be a great opportunity to...strike out into the world.”

“Wh...what? Uncle, are you sure...?”

“This is going to take some time to clean up. And, I know quite well how much you suffered in this circus, Aerie. These seem like good folk, and I can definitely vouch for that woman's character. If they'd have you, they'd make much better teachers than I.”

“Oh Uncle...you were the brightest spot this circus had to offer. The wisest, kindest man I ever knew.”

Quayle let out a melancholic chuckle, and shook his head. “I wasn't always, as Jaheria, there, can attest. No, you changed me, Aerie. My adventuring days were over, but you made the ones after that so much better.”

Aerie pulled Quayle into one last hug goodbye. “I'm going to miss you.”

“Then you'll have to visit me, and tell me all about what you've learned out there!” Quayle patted Aerie's back. “And maybe...if you find happiness out there, maybe the pain of...that, will lose its sting.”

The two parted, and Aerie stepped towards the party. Her eyes widened in realization, before she shrank down, smiling awkwardly and curling up into a standing ball. “I...guess my goodbyes with Quayle were a bit presumptuous. Um...if you would have me, I would love to travel with you.”

Minsc let out a boisterous laugh. “Ah, young Aerie, Minsc and Boo would be most welcome to you accompanying us! Boo cannot contain his excitement to be travelling with a mage as fine as you are! Ah, it is like old times again!”

Christian grinned, and nodded. “I'd love to have you come with us; talent like your's doesn't come every day, and...you definitely seem like nice company to have around!” Aerie blushed, as Christian looked over his shoulder, to Yoshimo. “What about you?”

Yoshimo glanced side to side, wincing uncomfortably. “I do not argue she is a bright eyed young lady with much potential. Which is why I do not think it'd be wise for her to accompany us. Our enemy is powerful beyond most measure, and I cannot, in good conscience, ask her to risk her life like that.”

“I'm in agreement,” said Jaheria, arms folded. “She's too inexperienced. The moment we walk out the city limits, she'd be in way over her head.”

“Jaheria...” Christian turned to his old friend. “A year ago, when I stepped out of the walls of Candlekeep, Imoen and I were in way over our heads. It was only because of your guidance, and the help of everyone else, we managed to survive, let alone bring justice to the city of Baldur's Gate.”

“So what are you saying? That's she's like...”

Christian nodded. “That she's like me, yes. Besides, as Yoshimo said, Irenicus is incredibly strong. We could use the talents of a magical prodigy, and, like you said, the only areas she's lacking in are team coordination and practice. And she'll get plenty of both with us.” He turned to Aerie with a grin. “That is, if all this talk of danger and enemies hasn't scared you away.”

Aerie grinned at the party, and bounced on her heels, hand clenched in excitement. “Not at all! In...in fact, I want to help in any way I can, now, more than ever!”

“Then allow me to welcome you to our merry band!” Christian insisted, sweeping his arm towards the exit to the big top. Aerie and Minsc cheered, as they proceeded out into the city lights.

“We should probably be certain of where it is we're going next, first,” Yoshimo reminded.

“Ah, yes...excuse me, uh, Mister Quayle?” Christian called out to the gnome.

Quayle adjusted his spectacles and gave Christian a wary look. “You grunted?”

Jaheria smirked. Claims of being a changed man or no, some things just never changed, she guessed.

“Ah...do you know which way it is, exactly, from here to the Copper Cornett?”

“...I'll assume this is just a result of you being new in town and that you are still good company for Aerie, and tell you to take the northwest exit out of this district. Big place, even an idiot couldn't miss it.”

Christian bashfully rubbed the back of his neck, nodded with a mumbled “thanks,” and rushed out the tent, Yoshimo quick behind him. Jaheria chuckled, shaking her head, walking off after them. She stopped to look over her shoulder to Quayle.

“Do not worry, sir. Christian and Aerie, they are both in good hands.”

Quayle smirked. “Your hands?”

“Who else.”

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