Out of a Game and Into the World

"Fred? Why does your wizard box ... all right, all right, tell-a-vision ... treat magic as if it were something out of a bad story?"

I groaned at the question. Imoen doesn't ask philosophical questions very often, but when she does, they're always the hard ones.

"What's wrong?" Imoen asked, then giggled and poked my chest with a fingertip. "Am I making you work your brain?"

Lada looked up from her knitting and grinned at me. "She asked you the question, so don't even try to drag me into it."

"Gee, thanks," I shot at Lada, who stuck her tongue out at me before returning to her knitting. "I'll take you up on that later," I added, getting a brilliant blush from her in response. I turned my attention to Imoen and thought about my answer for a moment. Apparently, she saw the look on my face, because she sat up and rested her chin on her fists, while looking at me with the Big Eyes. She must have practiced – a lot – on her sister, because she had that look down cold. I dredged up one of the many tacks I'd thought of in the days since her arrival, and decided to go with the personal answer. "Remember the condition the two of us were in when you arrived here?"

"Remember?" Imoen answered. "How could I forget? Both of you looked like you were on your last legs, like you'd been suffering from some kind of disease that made you so weak you could barely care for yourselves!"

"We were," I said, as Lada nodded in agreement. "We were both suffering from a disease that kills slowly, by making the victim too weak to care for himself, while simultaneously, wracking him with unending pain that, if he's lucky, becomes so normal that he wouldn't notice if a wizard were to cast a curse of pain on him."

"That sounds like a curse all by itself," Imoen said. "And you both had it?"

"We did," Lada said, "until you made that wish."

"That's how rare magic is in this world," I said. "We don't even have priests who can cure diseases or heal injuries the way you can. If other people were to learn of your powers, I wouldn't be surprised if our government were to try to imprison you so they could study you."

"No!" Imoen cried, curling up and hugging her knees to her chest. "Never again ... never again."

I drew her into my arms and hugged her tight, while Lada put down her knitting and moved to her other side. While Imoen buried her face in my chest, sobbing, Lada gently took her hands and suggested, "Why don't you tell us what happened? It might help."

Imoen clung to me, shaking and sobbing, while Lada gently stroked her hands, for several minutes. How long, I don't know, and don't particularly care. It was long enough, and that's all that matters.

"I ... I don't know," Imoen said, her voice shaking. "It's a long story, and not a very happy one."

"Imoen," I said, my voice as gentle as I could make it, while I raised a hand and stroked her hair, "we know that already. You wouldn't be so unhappy if the story were a happy one. And ... ," I paused, not sure how to put it, then decided to just plunge ahead and hope I didn't terrorize her by doing so, "... you know that box I spend so much time in front of? The scribe, accountant, music, and everything else box?"

"Your ... com-pewter?" Imoen asked, looking up at me.

"That's right," I said, smiling in what I hoped was a reassuring expression. "I can also play games on it. One of the games that I play on it is the story of two young people who grew up in a place named Candlekeep, who were forced to flee when a villain named Sarevok murdered the foster father of one. They eventually hunted him down and stopped his mad plot to become the new God of Murder."

"A ... game?" Imoen asked, pulling away and staring at me in shock. "A game ? Our life, made into a game ?"

"It's more like interactive storytelling," I said. "You can change parts of the story to make it more heroic, to ease the characters' suffering, or to make them pursue any number of goals. But the important thing is, the story in the game is just that: a story. It's not you." I took a deep breath and placed a finger on Imoen's lips, just as she was about to speak, and said, "And another one tells about your battle against Irenicus. It wasn't specific about what he did, but we know that he tortured you. You don't have to fill in the details. All you have to do is understand that we know, and that you are safe with us. No matter what, we will be a safe haven for you. Always."

Lada rolled her eyes, and Imoen lowered her head, her hair fell around her face, and her shoulders began to shake. I reached out to rest a hand on her back, and I felt the spasms coursing through her. It was sobs, or so I thought. But soon, the sounds she was making grew loud enough that I could tell that it was laughter – bitter, pained laughter, of the kind I'd experienced myself when remembering my ex-wife, or my parents.

"A ... safe ... haven?" Imoen grated out between spasms of laughter. "There ... is ... no ... safe ... haven." She raised her head and looked at me, her eyes haunted, and hissed, "I am a child of Bhaal . My father was the God of Murder ! There is no place in the world that is safe! Not for me, and not for anyone close to me!"

"No place in your world, you mean," I said. "We're not in your world. Even if one of your siblings managed to take Bhaal's place, that's not in this world. The only one who might be able to find you in this world is Elminster, and that's only because he's Mystra's Chosen. Without Mystra's help, no one ... not even another God ... will be able to find you."

"You hope," Imoen said softly. "But will it be as empty as my hope that Penelope would turn back from the Darkness?"

"Well ... ," I started, thought a moment, then asked, "Imoen, what happened just before you came here?"

"Just before ... ," Imoen closed her eyes, shuddered, and said softly, "Penny and I had just managed to reach the surface ... I still don't know where we were. All I know is that it was bright and sunny, and we came up in the middle of a battle between a wizard and a bunch of assassins. He must have been Irenicus, because as soon as he killed the assassins, he started ranting about how he was going to take us back for more experiments. I started to fight back, when a half-dozen wizards teleported in and announced they were going to take in everyone who was involved in illegal use of magic. I was so scared, I called out to Mystra to protect me. The next thing I knew, I had teleported into your room, without casting a spell of my own."

"There you have it," I said. "Mystra sent you here. That means She must believe you're safe here. Admittedly, appearing in my lap was kind of a shock – for both of us – but that's the kind of shock I can live with, as long as it means you're safe."

"But, why?" Imoen asked. "Why would you care about me, or about Mystra, or any of it?"

Lada grinned at me, behind Imoen's back, as if to say, "Let's see you get out of this ."

"Lots of reasons," I said. "Starting with you."

"Me?" Imoen asked, sitting up and looking at me suspiciously.

"Yes," I said. "You. That game I told you about? The number one reason I enjoy playing it is because of a certain perky little sister with the personality of a hyperactive squirrel on a sugar rush."

"The ... ," Imoen started, trailed off, then began giggling. Her giggles quickly changed to laughter, and she poked me, several times, while attempting to speak – each attempt hijacked by another bout of laughter.

"Don't you mean ferret?" Lada asked.

"Hmmm," I said, watching Imoen dissolve into laughter again. "She rather is acting like Kiki right now, isn't she?"

Imoen tried to say something, lost it in another peal of laughter, and settled for sticking her tongue out at me.

"Careful," I teased. "You don't want to be making offers like that, do you?"

Lada clapped a hand over her mouth and turned red, obviously trying to hold back laughter.

"Offers?" Imoen managed to get out, as her laughter began to wind down.

"Uh-huh," I said, nodding gravely. "You may have noticed, since you healed us both, that we're rather ... openly affectionate."

"I would have said, fucking like bunnies," Imoen murmured, not quite softly enough. Lada turned a brilliant crimson, while I grinned in shameless agreement.

"And so," I said, "we are more than happy to welcome you to join us. At your own speed, of course, and without any pressure one way or the other." I winked and added, "Of course, if you're going to put out an open invitation like that, don't be surprised if you get teased about it."

Imoen looked at Lada and asked, "What about you? Doesn't that bother you?"

Lada eeped, then squeaked out, "N-no. Why should it?"

"Isn't he your man?" Imoen asked.

"Well, technically," Lada said, "I'm his, but, I don't think that's what you meant."

Imoen looked between me and Lada, confusion obvious in her expression. "What? Technically, you're his?"

"Yeah," I said. "I suppose it's not that obvious, but Lada prefers being submissive, and I prefer being dominant, so she's my pet and I'm her master."

"Can I just say," Imoen said, "that that's just freaky?" She looked at Lada and asked, "Is that for real? You like it that way?"

Lada blushed and sputtered, then nodded and said, "Uh-huh!" She hesitated, then added, "I don't know why I said that. What I usually say is, he's his own man, he's not mine."

"Freaky," Imoen said, shook her head, and looked at me. "So, you're interested in me because of your game, huh? Why?"

"I have a weakness for genki girls?" I suggested. "Or would you say I have a weakness for the little sister type?"

"Genki?" Imoen asked, looking to Lada for a translation.

"It's definitely the little sister type," Lada said, "um, I certainly wasn't genki, um, genki, um, perky, hyper, cheerful ... I'm missing something, Fred?"

"Can't forget, cheerfully brave in the face of impossible odds," I filled in.

"And you ... see that ... in me ?" Imoen asked. She looked into the distance and mused, "Was I ever like that?"

"I suppose it doesn't seem like that now," I said, reaching out to take her hand. "But try to remember back to when you were just leaving Candlekeep. For that matter, remember back to before you left, when you were dodging Winthrop's chores in favor of finding out what interesting things were behind locked doors."

"There were lots of interesting things," Imoen said, chuckling softly as she wrapped her fingers around mine. "Old Puffguts never did figure out where I got off to when I disappeared." She frowned and whispered, "If only Penny hadn't been able to."

"Lada's right, though," I said. "As much as I find genki girls to be cute and all, they've always seemed to be too full of energy for me – at least, until now. But the little sister type? I seem to attract them the way honey attracts bees. Don't know why, but even when I'm romantically interested in someone, she always seems to think of me as the big brother type."

"And you'd be horribly disappointed if I did, too, wouldn't you?" Imoen teased, while grinning shamelessly at me. "So what other reasons did you have for caring about me, or my situation?"

"The second most important reason is who I worship." I chuckled softly. "Most other people in this world would probably think I'm crazy, but it works for me, as much as worshiping any God does in this world."

"So ... that's where you disappear every day at sunrise and sunset?" Imoen asked.

"That's right," I said. "That's why I kick both of you out of my room, twice a day. I do it so I can pray to Kelemvor."

"Kelemvor ?" Imoen blurted, staring at me in surprise. "Kelemvor? Are you serious? Gond, I could see. Oghma, I could see. But, Kelemvor ?"

"That's right," I said. "Admittedly, I've only been following Kelemvor for a year or two, but even before Him, I followed Inpu, one of the Gods who wasn't copied by the Mulhorandi pantheon. Even as a kid, I followed Inpu. He is the God who watches over, guides, and protects the dead in their journey from this world to the next. Given how much the Gods respond to their worshipers in this world, worshiping Kelemvor makes just as much sense as worshiping any God who is native to this world."

"So why does that make any difference as far as me?" Imoen asked.

"Given that I worship Kelemvor, that means I also recognize the other Gods of your world, right?" I explained. "That means I'm already known to Mystra, since she's both the Goddess most likely to notice this world, and Kelemvor's ex."

"Kelemvor's ex?" Imoen asked. "Since when? The last I knew, they were still lovers."

"Not for long," I said. "According to what I've read, Kelemvor is undergoing, or is about to undergo, a severe change that will split them apart, permanently. And, yes, you can thank Cyric for that."

"Damned pissant Zhent, never should have been made a God," Imoen muttered.

"Maybe so," I agreed, "but you have to admit, he fills his role perfectly. Although, stealing the portfolio of Intrigue from Mask was a case of Mask tripping himself up, not of Cyric being better for the job."

"Stealing ... huh?" Imoen asked, staring at me like I'd grown a second head.

"It's 1368 in your world, right?" I asked.

"Yes ... just after Shieldmeet," Imoen said. "I think, anyway. I don't know how long we were prisoners."

"Right," I said. "Cyric is currently trying to usurp the positions of all the Gods, and as part of his plot, he charged Kelemvor and Mystra with failing in their duties as Gods. Since Mystra was able to send you here, either she hasn't been imprisoned yet, or Mask already helped her escape from her prison. If she hasn't been imprisoned yet, then Kelemvor hasn't changed yet. If she has, then she and Kelemvor are no longer lovers, but she still loves him, even if she feels that he betrayed her."

"Uh ... you're going to have to tell me all about this later," Imoen said. "For now, I'll just believe that Mystra sent you here because you worship Kelemvor."

"No problems," I said. "So, those are the two primary reasons, I'm sure. I'm fascinated by you, and I'm someone that Mystra knew she could count on."

"All right," Imoen said. "So what do we do now?"

"Good question," I said. "Thanks to your wish, we're both in perfect health now – well, except for Lada's blindness, so we can't honestly justify living off our disability pensions...."

"So, why not go adventuring?" Imoen asked, grinning.

"Because this world doesn't offer the opportunity to do so," I said. "Maybe a couple hundred years ago, but now? You'd end up in jail for vagrancy, at the very least."

"You're kidding, right?" Imoen asked, looking from me to Lada. "He's kidding, isn't he?"

"No, he's not," Lada said. "My disability isn't in jeopardy, but, it would be nice to try working. But we need to find someone to get papers for Imoen. But that takes money."

"And contacts," I said, "which neither of us have."

"Papers?" Imoen asked.

"Yeah," I said. "Papers. Identity documents. Birth certificate, social security card, passport or driver's license or state identification card, all that kind of thing."

"Which reminds me," Lada said, "we don't look like the pictures on our IDs any more, honey." She laughed. "And when do our clothes show up?"

"Let me check," I said, studiously ignoring Imoen'g giggles as I opened Firefox and checked the package tracking information on the UPS website. "OK, according to this, our Hot Topic order should be here today sometime, our Walmart order will probably be here tomorrow, and our Pegasus Publishing order just made it to New Jersey."

"Hot Topic?" Lada squeaked, her face turning a lovely red. "Good thing our medicine bill has gone down."

"Yup," I said, grinning shamelessly. "Hot Topic. After all, I have to make sure that there are clothes in the house that will go with both auburn and pink hair."

"Purple," Lada said, looking at her braid.

"Oh, you want purple?" I asked. "OK, I'll order that next time. I ordered pink for Imoen."

"You're going to dye Imoen's hair pink?" Lada asked, looking and sounding confused.

"You got pink hair color for me?" Imoen squee'ed, practically bouncing with happiness. "Thank you!"

"I remembered," I said, laughing softly. "And I thought you'd like the surprise. So, there'll be hair color, some cosmetics, and a few items of clothing in today's delivery, and a whole lot more clothes tomorrow, and it looks like the rest of our clothes should be here by the end of the week."

"Good," Lada said. "I've got cabin fever."

"We'll get out of here for the day, just as soon as we have enough clothes to not get arrested," I said. "I could get away with wearing my robe, but I'd probably end up smelling like a sweaty racehorse by the end of the day."

Lada snorted and shook her head, a smile on her face.

"It would suit you," Imoen laughed. "Although I think the proper color for a priest of Kelemvor is gray, not brown."

Lada groaned and pinched the bridge of her nose.

"What's wrong, love?" I laughed. "Afraid she's giving me ideas I didn't already have?"

"For that, you get to frog your sweater yourself," Lada humphed.

"But it's so comfy!" I protested, laughing. I wrapped my arms around myself as I said, "I could do this with it!"

"Twice!" Lada shot back. "It was too big for you before!"

"You mean that orc-sized sweater?" Imoen asked, looking at the two of us as if we were crazy.

"Yup," I laughed. "That's the one."

"Mmmm," Lada whimpered. "Whimper. It's not even half-orc sized? It's full orc sized? Waaa!"

"That's right," Imoen said, giggling maniacally. "And you knitted that yourself? You must really love knitting!"

"She does," I said. "It keeps her sane when dealing with me."

"Now that," Imoen teased, "I can understand. You're male, and you're utterly bonkers. Of course she needs something to keep her sane."

I stuck my tongue out at Imoen. She giggled and winked at me, then teased, "So, does that promise go both ways?"

"I'm going to pick up my laptop, and go kill things," Lada announced, putting her knitting away. "I have a troll to level."

"A troll?" Imoen asked, peering at Lada, confused. "Trolls are for killing. Nasty things, too. They only die if you use fire or acid on them."

"My troll has teal hair and is very cute, thank you very much," Lada humphed. After a moment of holding her expression of injured dignity, she gave up and collapsed in a fit of giggles.

"She's talking about World of Warcraft," I told Imoen. "It's another game. In that game, you can play a troll, and they're nothing like the trolls you're familiar with. Well, other than being cannibalistic, berserk, and healing damned easily."

Lada nodded, trying hard to hold in her giggles. "The best way to a man's heart is between his third and fourth rib. And when enraged and in heat, a female troll can mate up to forty times in a single night."

"... ow," Imoen whispered. "That's just ... ow."

"Which part of that?" Lada asked, trying hard to look innocent.

Imoen looked at Lada for a moment, then fell over laughing. "You ... you ... ."

"I think you broke her," I said, doing my best to look grave. "Now you're going to have to fix her."

"I was going to go kill murlocs so you could do that," Lada squeaked.

"You broke it, you bought it," I intoned. "Of course, she might need double the fixing, after all this."

"I'm right here!" Imoen protested, then collapsed in laughter again.

"You're absolutely right," I said, and bent down to kiss Imoen. She gasped in surprise, then wrapped her arms around me and returned the kiss enthusiastically.

"I'm missing someone," Imoen announced, when we came up for air. "Lada? Come here."

Lada blinked, like a deer in headlights, and nodded, as I reached out for her hand. I gave her a gentle tug, and she stumbled into Imoen's arms.

Imoen kissed her, just as enthusiastically as she had kissed me, then announced, "Mmmm. I think I'm going to have to work on my technique. You don't seem as excited as Fred."

"I think she's scared," I whispered to Imoen. "Every girlfriend she's ever had before, turned out to be a raving psychopathic bitch. I think she's afraid she's going to turn you into one, too."

"She's going to turn me ... ?" Imoen asked, then laughed and gave Lada a quick peck. "You, my dear, have no idea!"

Lada's eyes got wider, and she whimpered. "Raving psychopathic bitch?"

"That's the way you've described them," I said, grinning. "Trust me, if anyone was going to turn Imoen into one of those, it would have been her recently-deceased brother."

"Or Penny," Imoen said softly, and hugged both of us tightly. "Sarevok ... he was nothing ... just ... hold me?"

Lada and I both wrapped our arms around Imoen and hugged her tightly between us.