I return to the house, knowing full well that there is going to be an ambush...and I am not disappointed. I had sworn long ago to never trust the Cowled Ones, and two Cowled Enforcers appear, with five Amnish Legionaries. I simply go invisible and Summon Hakeashar. The Legionaries non-magical spears can't touch it, and it drains most of the Cowled Enforcers' spells, until one of them casts Death Spell on it, which kills summons so can't be resisted by it. They are drained. I fire a Cloudkill into the centre of the room and the Cowled Enforcers fall. The Amnish Legionaries are all severely injured. I get jammed into a corner by them when invisible, so simply cast Monster Summoning I to draw them across the room away from me. One Skull Trap fells three of the five, and the other two go down to the Sling and Staff. Every man-jack of them is wearing Full Plate Mail, and one of the Cowled Ones drops a Laeral's Tear necklace. I lose no reputation and sell the goods off, along with some other items I still had from beforehand, and am up to 116,000 gold pieces. I stop off at the Adventure Mart, buy all Ribald's Oils Of Speed (knowing how short the Improved Haste duration is) and a Symbol: Stun scroll from Lady Yuth.
Having satisfied both my vows of anger at once, I will return to calmer acts of goodness. I had to leave the mainland anyway...this seems as good a time as any. I drop a few more unneeded items into the hollow lion's head in the Promenade. Soon I will meet with Aran Linvail and depart Athkatla, probably for a very long time.
Before I leave, there are two more places I would like to sate my curiosity about. One is a Guarded Compound in the Temple District; I can obtain no more of a description. The second is a locked area in the sewers there. When Tazok fell for the second time in the Windspear Hills he dropped a "Sewer Key". I had found this locked door previously, and there were no sewers in Firkraag's lair. This must be the key for this area.
First, I check the Guarded Compound. When I enter, a mage and a thief "greet" me, saying the wards are down and any riff-raff (such as I) can wander in. They then disappear upstairs...I have a bad feeling of a trap walking towards the stairs, but I have long known that the Boots Of Speed give me such a quick and light step that I can often walk right over traps without setting them off. Nothing happens, and I go to the upstairs. There is the mage, thief, and a few others there: a cleric, an Orog, a Minotaur, and a dual-wielding fighter. Clearly this Guarded Compound is something unsavory. I throw on the Cloak Of Non-Detection, go invisible, clump them and send a couple of Skull Traps their way. The mage and thief go down, which is good, as the thief turns out to have 8 more invisibility potions. The cleric is next with the Staff dispelling his Blade Barrier and then helping his spirituality by moving him closer to his god. After that the remaining opponents fall to the Sling, though the Minotaur has an insanely low Armour Class for not wearing armour, and he and the Orug drink potions when they get nearly dead. I stomp a trap that spills acid on me and holds me for a second or two, but I get better.
When they are down, I can't believe the treasure trove. Nearly all of their weapons and armour are magical. I find an amazing katana on the body of the dual-wielding fighter: Celestial Fury, a +3 that stuns with every strike if targets fail their Save Vs. Spell and does a few other nice things too...one of those weapons that it's almost worth Dual Classing for, but I fear I have come too far to be able to do that. There are chests and tables all over, some trapped, so I throw on the protections (Belt Of Inertial Barrier, Cloak Of Displacement) and open what I can. I run out of Knocks and there are many I can't force, but this place was a gold mine in every sense of the word.
I visit my old friend Roger the Fence in the sewers on the way to the hidden area, and sell it all off.
Their Psionic Blasts and Dominations are spells. I am well-prepared. You may remember how I had desperately pushed to reduce as many of my saves, such as Save Vs. Spells, to 1 or less through magical items such as the Rings of Gaxx and Staff Of The Magi...if for no other reason than to face these creatures. Without them, I would not last ten seconds. With them, I am almost immune. I say almost as there is no defense from the temporary loss of five Intelligence points if physically touched by one. I will be touched by a few, as there is no way I would ever let go of the Staff and the two critical points it removes from my Save. Vs. Spells. I ascend the stairs...slowly.
I emerge into an empty circular room, garishly decorated in some alien scheme. The next room is not empty. An Illithid has dominated several humans: two fighters, two archers, a cleric and mage, and has a pet Umber Hulk. At this point, the Umber Hulk is the most dangerous to me: its Confusion carries a penalty to its save of -2, while the Illithids' Psionic Blast carries no penalty that I know of. Wanting it out of the way immediately, I cast Chromatic Orb. As I proved in the D'Arnise Hold, Umber Hulks have poor saving throws, and its glowing life-force emerges as it dies. Illithids and Umber Hulks' spells are innate abilities, like those of Beholders having no casting time, and this is what makes them so dangerous. Even briefly popping out of invisibility is enough time for them to discharge their energies towards me.
I kill the Mind Flayer with the Staff and ignore the humans for now. Perhaps their domination will lift when the Illithid are destroyed. Through a door and then a narrow hallway, another round room holds many Illithid and Umber Hulks. Cloudkill worked very well on the Umber Hulks before. Casting Blur improves my saving throws by 1, so I do. I discharge a Cloudkill into the centre of the room. Several Mind Flayers immediately lash out their Psionic Blasts but I am immune. The Umber Hulks manage to throw some Confusions at me but I make my saves...I would have to roll a 1 of 20 to fail. They die immediately after. While the Illithid are magic resistant, the poison of the gas is biological rather than magical, and they are susceptible. There is another room to the north of this; there must be more Illithid there. I go invisible right in the centre of the gas so the Illithid will cluster there at the point they last saw me, then run north. Yes, more of them. I go visible by whacking one (unwielding the Staff would be a truly stupid action) and then lure them south into the centre of the poison and go invisible again. They all take heavy damage and all the Umber Hulks are dead. Surely Cloudkill is my favourite wand at this point. Such a useful spell! I finish the rest with the Staff, popping back into invisibility after each strike, or when touched by one, which reduces my Intelligence to 14 for a short time. I don't want to risk it going any lower.
When I return to the northern round room, only one remains and it is the leader. Although it is an Illithid, it sounds like a Hobgoblin, saying "Spare no one!" and "No-o-o...." in a trembly voice when injured. It dies without incident. In the central vat, I find a Wand Of Wonder (good to sell, terrible to use: its effects are random and can be fatal to the mage who wields it) a scroll that details what the Illithids are up to, and the Hammer Of Thunderbolts +3. This is the hammer that is the major component of the superweapon Crom Faeyr...which...ah well. It will sell for a good sum. On the way out I deal with the humans. They are still dominated and must be dealt with by Staff and Sling. None of them have anything worthwhile.
I emerge, squinting, into bright sunlight. The first person I see through the haze of light is a Priest Of Talos, a Talon, hawking his temple and god in the Temple district, as other temples hawk their gods...a bazaar of the spirit. It is said that Talos is evil...but these people haven't bothered me, so I let them alone. Be there a Talos, I can't think of anything less evil: without rain and the storms that occasionally accompany it, plant life would die and everything else along with it, other than magically animated creatures or all things bizarre. The destruction of a storm is random, not directed. Evil is malicious intent, storms...they just are. We are just too small and fragile to matter to one; like a man accidentally stepping on an ant he didn't notice, there is no directed intent. So I throw a friendly nod to him as I pass and he returns it, and the same nod and return to the priest of Lathander, for the creative energy that allows me to exist and life to renew, and same nod and return to the priest of Helm, for the nobility and honour that can exist within us, fragile beings though we are. And in my mind I say goodbye to them, goodbye for now and perhaps forever...may you find that god you claim to know, whatever it may be. And I leave Athkatla and don't look back.
It's hard to shake the relaxation of the voyage, and I find myself exploring casually for now, discovering the terraced town of Brynnlaw to be among the prettiest places I have ever been. With the moon reflecting off the sea to the horizon as I climb ever higher the terraces that ensure everyone has a good view, and all the town bathed in the iridescent blue of night, I want to give up my traveling and live here a while. Perhaps I could finally fulfill one of my dream goals, booting the Cowled Ones out of Spellhold, and turning it into a school of magic...it would make a perfect place from the powerful wards that prevent imprisoned mages from leaving or sending magical energy to the outside world. I wouldn't just teach mages, either. I'd teach fighters the value of Stoneskin, and thieves the subtle joys of Improved Invisibility, all the while taking in that far-off horizon and the smell of the sea air...ah...
Unfortunately the place is run by pirates. Fortunately they are rum-soaked idiots who can barely hold their swords without falling over. I am attacked by several and if they are lucky in melee, they might get one hit on me before I send them to whatever hell pirates go to (probably a place just like Faerun, but without any alcohol.) There doesn't seem to be a shop here, but I manage to find one in the northwest on the second terrace up. There is no sign so I just have to blunder into it. I sell off some dead pirate gear. I also find a Temple Of Umberlee. I happen to check whether the irritable priestess has anything interesting to sell, and she does: the Girdle Of Bluntness. It improves my Armour Class by 4 against blunt and crushing weapons, such as staffs, flails, maces, and golems' fists. I have been looking for something like this for a while. I also buy two more Protection From Undead scrolls...one can never have too many.
A young boy named Ason picks 10 gold pieces out of my pocket...I ask him why he does it, and he replies that he will be beaten if he doesn't, then leaves. Later, I meet his sister, a pretty girl approaching womanhood by the name of Ginia, and she has explained just what has gone on in Brynnlaw: the pirate lord Desharik was driven here by the loss of a battle. He killed the mayor, dumped his body in the sea, and the pirates stole her father's home. He was killed trying to break into it, and the pirate lord's right-hand-man Chremy is now her slaveowner, forcing her to sell herself, and her brother to pick pockets. I confront Chremy; he makes the mistake of fighting and dies not having touched me, and I don't need anything but the Staff. I talk to a smuggler named Calahan and he will ship them out for 100gp apiece. I have too much money so it's no loss, and Calahan...Calahan...ahh, an old friend...Calahan from Ulgoth's Beard. I guess I'll always find the salt in pretty seaside towns. Turns out he was kicked out of Ulgoth's for his tales about Mistress Malory, though as tall as they sound Calahan's tales always turn out to be the truth (like the one he told about Mendas of Waterdeep being a bad sort...turned out he was a Greater Wolfwere, but I didn't get to find out until I had to wipe out his clan and then him too.) Nice to see a familiar face here.
I end up finding a whole barful of familiar faces at the local focus, the Vulgar Monkey tavern. I met all these sailors back in Baldur's Gate city, in Jopalin's Tavern. They were sailors then but are calling themselves pirates now, though a lot more sociable than the ones I met outside. There is a mage here named Sanik who appears to have some information for me, but an assassin dimension-doors in and kills him before he can give it to me, then attacks me. He goes down easily with the Staff. The innkeeper is so incensed that someone would try an assassination in his place that he breaks his usual innkeeper's silence and tells me that Sanik was murdered for falling in love with a courtesan named Claire and announcing she was his wife; he was planning on leaving with her. She is at the Courtesan's Guild, run by a woman named Galvena. I pay a courtesan 100 gold pieces to get me into the guild on the premise of sleeping with her, but instead ask her where Claire is. She isn't sure, but hopes I will kill Miss Galvena for her. I'm sure I will have to.
I explore the hidden areas of the "Festhall". Two guards confront me but I convince them I am their superior as I have the medallion from the body of Chremy that employees here wear. I enter a room that turns out to be Miss Galvena's bedroom and the Guard Captain attacks me. He is using a mace so I try out my new Girdle Of Bluntness and handily wipe the floor with him with the Staff, no invisibility required. I can now outfight most of the fighters I run into. I find a key on the shelf for all the doors in the premises.
I have underestimated this Guard Captain, as even though I just killed him, he reappears when I leave the room for the hallway. All three guards attack me, but they are easy with the Staff and Sling. One drops a +2 halberd. I had still outfought him in melee with the Staff, as I had reworn the Girdle Of Piercing. I hope the Captain will stay dead this time. I descend and find Lady Galvena and a mage named Vadek. They are about to kill Claire, but try me first. They don't get far. Vadek doesn't even have True Sight and wastes most of his spells when I pop into invisibility. Another notch on the Staff. Clair wields a +2 flail, but the Girdle Of Bluntness leaves me untouched by her in melee, and her leather armour crumples beneath Staff blows. Claire guides me to the docks and a friendly elven Captain Golin, who tells me the two ways into Spellhold are either with a wardstone from Perth The Adept, a Cowled Wizard who is a little touched, or pretending to be crazy. I like the thought of it being necessary to rid the world of another Cowled Wizard, so I think I will try that method. As he is Adept, I will put the Cloak Of Non-Detection on when I meet him. Sime is STILL here, and still in shock, saying nothing but "Saemon looks nervous. See what he wants." So much for advising me; I am on my own. I have always been.
I find Perth in an ornate, domed home on the high terrace, east side of town. He is insane but adept, casting True Sight (yes, I wore the Cloak) throwing up a Spell Trap and Sequencer, then a Simulacrum. Not knowing what else he has up his sleeve, I simply whack him once with the Staff to get rid of his Stoneskins, cast Summon Hakeashar, and then relax invisibly in a corner while he is sucked dry of spells, injures himself with a fireball that kills his Simulacrum (I love it when they do that,) then gets killed by the Hakeashar's tiny 3 hit point attacks. Were I not at my limit, I would have received 20,000 experience points for him, pushover that he was. I Knock open a chest and find nothing interesting. I retrieve the wardstone from his body and a strange book called the Book Of Infinite Spells which gives non-wizards spells written in plain Common so anyone can cast them once a day. Rather like what I wanted to do with my school of magic: give the power of magic to non-wizards and well as dedicated mages (whom I would handpick to try to ensure that they wouldn't abuse it.) I will have to keep this, if for nothing but sentimental value.
At the far northern reach of Brynnlaw is a nearly hidden pathway that leads to Spellhold. I am not afraid of what I will find there. I cross over a bridge to the feared asylum: its proper name is the Residence For The Magically Deviant. I have to fight a few Lizard Men (very easy; I take on all four at once with only the Staff and wearing the Girdle of Piercing) and an Air Elemental. The Elemental makes its save vs. the Staff Of Air +2 and kicks me around a bit. Back in the bag goes the Staff Of Air and I kill the Elemental with the Sling.
I enter the asylum and speak with "the co-ordinator". The voice is unmistakable: it is Jon Irenicus in disguise. He claims this is a benevolent place, and I meet several inmates: Dili (a child who can shapeshift), Wanev (the last co-ordinator, who still thinks he's in control and gives me some "memos") Naljier Skal (an embrogued bard who can conjure gems,) and Aphril (who can not only see extraplanar creatures, but can make them partially visible to others...an unnerving experience.) There are two more, but I already know them. The first is Tiax, a Cyrician though harmless, that I had met in Baldur's Gate. He had humourous delusions of grandeur, and invited me to help his tiny self rule the world. Rather glad I declined. The second is Dradeel, the elven mage who was a close associate of the famous Balduran, founder of Baldur's Gate. I had found him hiding in a hut in the midst of an island full of werewolves on the quest for Mendas of Waterdeep (who wasn't) that I mentioned earlier. The last survivor of Balduran's associates, he had been trapped there for a longer time than I care to imagine, perhaps hundreds of years. I had freed him by retrieving his spellbook from Balduran's ship, which was guarded by demi-canines of all varieties. Obviously he never got over the experience. He rants a little about dogs and wolves, then gives me a recipe (he was an amateur chef then too.)
At this point, things get a little bit strange. Imoen, whom I came all this way to find out about, is there. Irenicus finally reveals himself (as if I hadn't guessed) and I get to find out about Saemon Havarian's second treachery towards me: he had slipped a spell component into my food during the voyage. Irenicus is able to render me unconscious with a simple, silent cantrip. I don't even get a saving throw.
When I awaken, I feel like Irenicus' in vitro subjects did, back in his underground lab. He speaks to me through the walls of the jar. He says that Imoen is another child of Bhaal. To many, this would make her my sister, and I say sister rather than half-sister as Bhaal sired many children from all the humanoid races during the Time Of Troubles, but always they were as their mother: the children of elven mothers were completely elves, those of the dwarven mothers completely dwarves and so forth, and of half-human mothers (such as half-elves and half-orcs) were also half-elves or half-orcs. Call this a callous and overlogical interpretation, but this would indicate there is no connection between the children of Bhaal, no siblinghood whatsoever. They are related by divinity but not biology, being as if they were magically spawned asexually from their mother, though bearing some essence of the dead "god" but not his true paternal heritage. So Imoen is not my sister. She is a child of Bhaal, I am a child of Bhaal, but saying that she is my sibling assumes a normal parentage, which this certainly was not.
He also expects me to die. He casts a spell the likes of which I haven't seen before, and the Shadow Thieves in other jars lining the lab fall, one by one, as if struck by a Chromatic Orb or Finger Of Death. At least their deaths are instantaneous and painless. Now I know why Bodhi was "recruiting" them: thieves are anonymous, often using false names and living in hiding, and no law enforcers will investigate the disappearance of thieves, being glad to be rid of them, so they are spell fodder for Irenicus that no one will miss...no one but their leader and their fellow thieves. When they are all dead, I fall too, but I don't die...
Instead I end up in Candlekeep, but not like I remember it. This is a Candlekeep so far removed from reality as to be outside of all the planes that are or ever were. I gradually come to the realization that I am not dead or in another place, but in some sort of a dream of dementia that a dying mind would produce...this scene is familiar to me from previous normal dreams I have had. Imoen calls to me; in order to enter the "library" to find her, I have to sacrifice something to the demon who guards the door. I choose to sacrifice one point of my Wisdom. I enter the library, and Imoen tells me to "find the beast and lead him to me" Leaving the library, I find the beast she refers to: Bhaal himself, appearing just as Sarevok did. I lure him into the library and Imoen announces that he can now be defeated. I turn the Sling on him, and he falls quickly without me being hurt. However, Imoen screams "not again" and disappears, and just before I awaken, I suddenly know what Imoen is: I am visualizing my own "soul" in the only way I can, having found that Imoen's springs from the same source. Her disappearance marked the success of Irenicus in sucking the essence out of me.
When I come back to reality, Irenicus announces that he has indeed stolen my "soul", and that I will wither and die now; he is not lying: my Bhaalspawn abilities have all vanished. No Cure Light Wounds and Larloch's Minor Drain (no loss) but no Horror either. Bodhi escorts Imoen and I to a dungeon beneath Spellhold to have a little "fun" with us, then departs. I explore, first to the west. As I climb the stairs I feel strange; it must be the hollowness of having my spirit removed. I find a small room with some annoying gibberlings and a few items. Just to the west of there further along the hall, a puzzle room, lined with statues, and a chest in the centre filled with assorted items. Each statue has a riddle, and an item placed into the statue's arms answers it. The riddles are easy enough, but the whole puzzle is made even easier by all the items except one (the boots) already being in the chest in the correct order, counterclockwise from the door. Well, they were testing insane people here...they couldn't be that difficult to challenge. When I am done with the puzzle, I have earned an Ioun Stone and a strange gem in addition to the one I found in the gibberling room. They must be portal keys out of here.
Further along the hall is chamber with many Mephits, a Rukh Rakshasa and a glimmering portal. I clump them and one Skull trap kills all the Mephits; the Rukh is immune so falls to the Sling. When I touch the portal, a Pit Fiend emerges...but no problem. This one doesn't stun or death-gaze, so I lead it back down the hall to the puzzle room. Its wings are too wide for it to fit through the door, so is helplessly stuck there while I rain Sling bullets on it until it sinks back to the Abyss. When I touch the portal again, expecting another enemy, a Djinn appears instead and rewards me with...a nice suit of armour I can't use. Argh!
I continue. Another puzzle-room has a statue in the middle and faces along the walls asking me to put my hand in their mouths. When I do, I am teleported into the walled-off statue chamber, and the statue asks me riddles. They aren't very hard (come on, I have a 19 Intelligence...challenge me!) When I finish I gain a Ring Of Regeneration. No use to me now, though the one Lhaeozarus picked from Ribald was about the most important item I had when I began this trek through Amn. Beyond that, a group of Yuan-Ti including a mage. I draw them out individually and cut them down with the sling. I can melee them one at a time with little damage that I recover in seconds from. The mage falls to the Staff, and I continue around the sharp bend..and stop dead in my tracks, my heart racing. Through the walls are huge hydraulic pistons...the opposing walls of this hallway are like teeth that merge together....when they close. I was steps from instant death, and only my wits saved me. I simply backtrack to the chamber I was first brought to and try another stairway. There is a Clay Golem in the room at the top of the north stairs. I decide to test something; I throw on the Girdle Of Bluntness, and engage it in melee combat with the Staff. I beat it handily, with no invisibility or spell protections. When it hastes itself, the Staff dispels the haste on the next strike and the Girdle makes my Armour Class -12 against its fists. I find a Bag Of Holding here, but I already started out with one in Irenicus' dungeon for some reason. Good thing too: it would be ridiculous to only get one now, this late in my quest of discovery. I leave it but instead take some magic ammunition that is useless to me but saleable.
I descend a level. The most noticeable thing in the room I am in is a tome, raised from the floor on a pedestal. When I read it, a Kobold appears. I think I can predict what will happen: I will read it a few more times and face progressively more difficult enemies, until I am overwhelmed and fight for my life against something awful, and then I will get some more armour. I leave the tome alone. A Wandering Horror is here; it throws a Death Fog. Having had the bad experience with one before and knowing invisibility is useless against them, I stay right away and use the Sling. South are some Yuan-Ti with mage, I lead them north into the Death Fog the Horror left and they all take some damage. I cast Sunfire which kills one and leaves the rest near death, and they go down easily. I find two excellent spell scrolls here: Simulacrum and Spirit Armour. Spirit Armour sets base Armour Class to 1 and improves all saves by 3! Nice...I should have found this earlier. Simulacrum makes another me...just what the world needs, for a short time. It's only 60% of me, but enough to act as a good distraction to enemies.
South through a long, dark hallway and then west (there is a door to the south I will check later) is an empty room...with spikes on the floor of the doorways. Must be a trap. I go invisible as I enter the room, the doors rise to trap me, and several Umber Hulks appear. And we all know what works on them, right? I fire the Cloudkill right at my feet, knowing that I may be slightly injured but cannot die instantly. I pop out of invisibility to lure them to me, then back in and run from the cloud. They all die in seconds. The doors open, there are more Hulks in the next room, I lure them into the cloud and they fall instantly as well. This hall leads to stairs out...I have still have more to explore. The door to the south I bypassed contains Greater Mummies, Skeleton Warriors and a Lich in a clump. I throw a Skull Trap into the clump which injures all the Greater Mummies, then leave to see who follows me. The Greater Mummies do. I can melee them with the Girdle Of Bluntness on as they attack with crushing damage, and I am immune to their diseases with the Rings Of Gaxx. When I get injured, I just use the Sling on them; they are slow movers and I can get two bullets off before I have to make distance. They are highly resistant to the piercing damage of the bullets so use the Staff when I can. The Lich unfortunately stuns me with Symbol: Stun. Luckily, the Staff is equipped so I am invisible to the Skeleton Warriors while it empties its spell arsenal for which I make all my saves. I will recover. I Improved Haste when I am freed and use the Staff to ensure the Lich won't. I find I still can't melee the Skeleton Warriors without taking a lot of damage, so I keep invisible between whacks to take out the archer, then use the Sling on the one with only the sword.
Several of the clay pots here and a strangely civilized drawing room hold a few saleable items, but nothing I can use. Passing into a large crypt with two huge statues, I see a central sarcophagus...and a vampire by the name of Dace. He tells me escape is useless before he attacks me, and mentions that only his hand can open the way out, and that some Kobolds hold a crystal shard. Realizing that even mediocre vampires can be difficult, I use my emergency reserve Disintegrate, crossing all the digits that don't interfere with my spellcasting. As with the Efreeti, I am successful and he dies instantly, transformed to dust, his Gaseous Form retreating to its coffin. Not knowing when I would meet another vampire, I had made sure I always had at least one set of stakes, and I use them, finding that his hand comes off and I can carry it with me, so it must be a portal key as well given his comment about it. His apparition appears and thanks me for finally delivering him to rest...why would he do that? Ah, I understand...he was the co-ordinator of the asylum that Bodhi had mentioned tested his inmates with this place, the builder, and she made him a vampire against his will.
This has certainly been the busiest day I have had so far judging by the volume of my writing...I am not tired in the least but I am running short of spells. Perhaps I will rest soon.