Life was good... no, it was wonderful, after Irenicus was finally and irretrievably dispatched. I could have had the world, but I only needed a small part of it to make me happy, so I returned to the quiet island town of Brynnlaw, as I had planned, to live out the dreams that I had formed when passing through this place, dreams that I could finally make into reality. The citizens of Brynnlaw welcomed me to a degree I was not expecting, for I had broken the scourge of the Cowled Wizards, courtesan's guild and pirates who had dominated their town. The Cowled Wizards had been slain by Irenicus' hand, I had taken care of the pirates and Lady Galvena of the so-called "Festhall," and Brynnlaw's mayor, as Ginia had recounted to me, had been murdered by the pirates when they arrived and his body unceremoniously given to the sea. To fill this void of leadership, I was unanimously appointed as the mayor of Brynnlaw. I didn't expect this and I am not the power-craving type, but I decided I could make life much better for Brynnlaw and fulfill the promise the former asylum held much more easily if I accepted.
My first act as mayor was to remove all traces of the ugly past of The Residence For The Magically Deviant, also known as Spellhold. My travels had found me a great deal of wealth as its consequence, so I purchased it and its lands from the Cowled Wizards. Fearing my status as an archmage and a public-relations fiasco, knowing of my support from the entire town and powerful entities within Faerun, they did not outwardly oppose this. Although many of the inmates had been slain by Irenicus in his final vengeful action there, there were several still alive, kept in hidden isolation as punishment for imagined "offences." I sought healers of the mind for these tormented people, and most were able to recover. I had noted when I first came to here that the same anti-magical wards that prevented the inmates' escape would also prevent the miscasting of acolytes from affecting the outside world... a perfect structure in a perfect location. So, in order to help the healed former inmates find a sense of purpose, I hired them to help rebuild this former asylum into the school of magic I had planned. Those who were beyond help were sent to a far gentler and more humane accommodation recommended by a friend on the Amnish council, one who had always despised the Cowled Wizards.
I found a cozy place to call home, the domed former home of Perth The Adept on one of the upper terraces, though I still traveled occasionally, much in trying to arrange some sort of accord between the Drow and the surface-dwelling races to bring peace to the Realms. But I found the Drow hopelessly devoted to this way of life, and eventually had to conclude that rare exceptions like Drizzt and Solaufein are some sort of mutation of the Drow psyche that can neither be predicted nor encouraged, and that the Drow will eventually drive other races to destroy them (which could be very easily done by pumping a sufficient quantity of strongly poisonous heavy gas into the Underdark, or drilling deep through the seabed into the Underdark and drowning those who don't escape into the surface world to be slaughtered. Eventually this will happen, and none of them seem the least bit concerned about it.)
I spent more of my time on the island as the months went by. The endless summer evenings were spent watching the sun sink beyond the horizon, chatting over tea with interesting people who visited; even Elminster dropped by, and we had a long chat about the state of the world; he seemed remarkably pleased with what I had done, so I completely missed the undertone of his comment about others who share my heritage. I adopted a cat. I caught up on my reading. I enjoyed simply living, and the simple pleasures of a walk by the sea or up into the hills to feel the wind on my face and see nothing but rippling water to the far horizon, having a roof and fireplace to call my own, or a good book awaiting me in a soft chair on a quiet, fragrant evening, and seeing a quiet future ahead of me training interested students from all walks of life and corners of Faerun in the magical arts.
With the bitterness of the island's past a fading memory, Ginia and Ason returned home and Ginia sought me out to thank me for giving her back her place in the world. I saw her several times after this as well, and we gradually discovered that we liked each other; I began to court her in a gentle manner and this developed into what I, for lack of a better word, may call "love" or at least its promising beginnings.
But my thoughts of settling down with her and any hope of lasting serenity died along with her and Ason in the scuttling of their ship during a storm-tossed night on the Sea Of Swords, a senseless act that took their lives and those of other citizens of Brynnlaw returning to their homes and families, and soon afterwards this tranquil and satisfying life, the first inner peace I had known since Candlekeep, disappeared as did my bitter tears into the vastness of the sea when I knew that they would never return again.
Some find no pleasure in simple comforts. Their desires run deeper and are not so easily sated. These desires can fuel the heights of heroism, creativity and prosperity, and, if not properly directed, the depths of cruelty, tyranny, greed... and murder. Five of those who are neither easily sated nor properly directed happen to be my so-called "siblings," and it also because of them that the tranquility of my life has shattered into pointed shards that I will bring to bear on them for helping to destroy my contentment, for Ginia's ship was sunk as a random act of violence by mercenaries heading for Athkatla to make war upon it, under the employ of another Bhaalspawn.
I was sent here by Queen Ellesime, the beautiful elven ruler of Suldanessellar, on my most recent visit. It was not a pleasant one. My heritage, having relaxed its grip briefly, now tightens it further. I don't see anyway out of this place, but I would not have been sent here if there were not a purpose to it all.
There is no one to talk to here, no way out, nothing but forest and rain... and stone heads. I clear my throat and glance around, as if embarrassed to be seen talking to a statue though I have talked to plenty of them before this, and there is probably no one for a days' walk from this place; it seems far from everywhere and everywhen.
When I speak to one of the statues, its eyes blaze with fire and it talks of Bhaal, and prophecy, and fate, and death. Then it says no more, and I am back where I started.
Footsteps approach me... my breath quickens. I have grown unused to this in my quiet time.
She who appears is quite pretty; dark-haired and light-skinned. But there is nothing pleasant in store for us. Her name is Illasera, she is a Bhaalspawn, and she wishes only to end my life.
So, for the first time in months, another death stains my hands. Illasera was certainly not the challenge I expected her to be and I disposed of her quite easily and with more than a few regrets; she leaves some nice armour and a +2 dagger behind, but while I gather her few belongings, I wish only to be home again. My world dims and goes black...
...and I am yet again in the Abyss, in the realm of my sire. I am not in the same place I fought Irenicus in; it has changed somehow. Shields of shimmering magical force block many of the paths out, and the rock has been inlaid with an intricate whirlpool of carved stone. But most strikingly of all, there looms before me a Solar, a large female of pure light and radiance. Like most other powerful beings, though, she offers "guidance" and so forth but nothing really useful. I imagine I'll be fending for myself as I always have. She is gone...
Then before me appears the grim visage of Sarevok, my "half-brother" in the essence of Bhaal, whom I have slain three times already. His eyes still glow with an enraged radiance, but I can see he is different. Whenever I hear that prison reforms criminals I smile to myself knowing that, for many, it merely makes them worse, but I can tell immediately that the prison of the Abyss has changed Sarevok and I will no longer be slaying him. For a piece of my essence, of that which makes me a child of Bhaal, he will tell me a way out of this place. I will think upon this.
Perhaps you remember, journal, with your fading paper mind, how I thought that the imps in the City-Of-Caverns were "cute"? Well, they have nothing on Cespenar, an Imp who thinks he's my "butler." Apparently he thinks I consider this Abyssal corner to be a comfortable place to live, but he could make the stay more bearable. Apparently he worked for Bhaal before as well. He offers to upgrade my Cloak Of Protection +2 if I find scrolls of Improved Haste and Invisibility, but I don't have them at the moment. I still have the paladin's sword Carsomyr and this could be upgraded with a pommel gem called the Eye Of Tyr as well. He says he knows a lot of other "recipes" too. Currently, the only recipe that interests me is one for getting out of this place.
Other than Sarevok and Cespenar, nothing else lives in this corner of the Abyss. I talk to a Fate Spirit, who can summon anyone who my destiny may interact with; possible traveling companions on the severed threads of opportunity that I never knew. But I am resolute that my pain is mine alone and not selfish enough to share it with anyone... even with Sarevok, who is willing to travel with me. He has suffered enough: three deaths at my hands have paid any price required for his plans of world domination. I submit a fraction of my essence to him and let him down as gently as I can. As I did with Solaufein, I feel a gentle tug of wanting to travel with him... perhaps he can be reformed; then again, he probably already is. But he is conscious now, and living, and getting the second chance few others do; I will leave him with the hope that he will find the simple pleasures that I did. I am a stranger to the emotion of hatred; I have only room for forgiveness and I kill only to defend myself. I forgive you, my half-brother in essence. Live, for you have finally learned the pleasure of simply existing.
In turn for the donation of a fraction of my essence, he is able to open one of the magically barred passageways. I must complete five challenges, and the first to be able to leave this place. I wonder what they might be...
I blunder into the first one with almost no spells memorized, and confront an ex-Bhaalspawn who dies before me. A few Kobolds and Doppelgangers appear, but the doppelgangers' attacks aren't magically enchanted so fail to damage me. Two Drow warriors also appear, and I know from experience that they will see me when invisible and carry +3 weapons. I raise a Fireshield and cast Blur. They do hit me a couple of times, but the more they hit me, the more they injure themselves, and I regenerate quickly. When all are dead, "Retribution" reappears... and I feel that something inside me has changed. I can now return to this Abyssal plane whenever I want to. It will be my "home away from home" for the time being.
I know something else as well: the bonds on my abilities have evaporated like so much morning dew. I haven't risen a level in months, but I do now. I can now practice my use of Darts (not that I ever would, of course) and memorize Level 9 spells. I also gain a new ability of my choice. I have a very difficult time choosing between being able to memorize an extra spell of one level, Energy Blades, Dragon Breath, Comet, Summon Planetar or Summon Fallen Planetar, but I gradually decide on Summon Planetar, knowing that having an ally to distract enemies with has long been one of the better tactics I know of.
I don't stop there. I still have a Potion Of Genius somewhere in the emptiness of my old reliable Bag Of Holding. I drink it, wincing at the bitterness (how ironic that Genius brings bitterness in all its forms.) Cespenar glances over my shoulder as I furiously dig through a scroll case while the potion takes effect. I commence incantation in concordance with the magical theorems of Demograth 1132 DR. Oops... I seem to be getting carried away with the potion's effects again. Scroll after scroll disappears in wisps of magical energy that embed themselves into my spellbook. Cespenar's beady eyes bug out as the incantations fly faster and scrolls evaporate; well over a hundred thousand gold pieces' worth of magic is exhausted, enough money for a fine house, a lifetime's wage for a servant... or just enough magic that I might live through what is to come.
I lose count from the focus of mind required to ensure that no spells are lost or wasted. I check my spellbook afterwards. My one high-level spell (Summon Planetar) has turned into fourteen of them. All of Ribald's stock of level 9 spells is scribed without error, and I can rest now. The 9th level spells I know now: Absolute Immunity, Black Blade Of Disaster, Chain Contingency, Energy Drain, Freedom, Gate, Meteor Swarm, Power Word: Kill, Shapechange, Spell Trap, Spellstrike, Time Stop and Wail Of The Banshee.
I'm most curious about Summon Planetar, so I memorize that and rest. I find I can then leave this place, so I do...
...and, as Sarevok promised me, the way out is not going to take me where I want to go, but instead where I need to be. The powers that be seem to need me in the besieged town of Saradush, where two Bhaalspawn are in contention: Yaga Shura who is attacking the town with an army of Fire Giants, and Gromnir Il Khan (somehow this name is familiar to me) the mad ruler, who has locked himself away in his castle. A woman by the name of Melissan and some townsfolk confront the guards to Il Khan's castle, but they are not permitted entry. It seems that Melissan, for all her "good intentions," was the cause of this by attempting to protect the Bhaalspawn by bringing the treacherous Gromnir Il Khan to this place.
Several of Il Khan's guards are orcs. The guards don't take a liking to my sudden appearance and attack me as the peasants disperse. Once the peasants are far enough away I hurl a Skull Trap into their midst, and three of them lose morale and run away. I pick off the remainders with the Sling of Everard and the Staff Of The Magi. The humans carry +2 Halberds so I Stoneskin and am able to finish them all easily, especially in their dispersed state. While wandering about the town afterwards, I am struck by one of the fiery bombardments being hurled into the place. This is not a good place to be outdoors. I seek the Temple Of Waukeen in the south of the town.
The priestess is very helpful. She knows of a way into Il Khan's castle, but it is a treacherous path through a crypt. From her words, it sounds as though Vampires live there. She gives me a key to enter into the crypt. Taking her advice, I buy five vials of Elven holy water from the temple, and depart.
My next stop is at the Saradush tavern, where I have heard that the tavernkeeper will still deal with outsiders. I sell off quite a few nice items: the Cutthroat +4 blade I retrieved from Bodhi's lair, the Sylvan elven chainmail worn by Illasera, the +2 halberds from Il Khan's guards and some gems. He has many trophy-class weapons for sale, but none of them match what I already have and he isn't selling spells. I'm back to about 124,000 gold pieces, so I am not wanting for anything.
After talking to the innkeeper, I notice someone familiar... Viekang, the man from the Trademeet tavern who vanished when I tried to talk to him. He's a little more settled now and doesn't vanish, and I am finally able to get an explanation for this mysterious event: Viekang is a Bhaalspawn (who isn't these days) whose essence gave him the ability to teleport randomly and involuntarily when he was afraid. He doesn't have much useful information for me though. A man named Peltje tells me that the crypts are full of vampiric ex-courtesans who prey on the tavern's patrons, and then leaves in a tremendous hurry. Another man named Hectan seems friendly enough, but only responds that he knows nothing of the answers to my questions.
Two of Il Khan's soldiers don't take a liking to me questioning their harassing of a waitress (this Ring Of Human Influence doesn't help the situation any) so I take them down. They are easy kills as I still have several Stoneskins active and I can easily stay away from them with the Boots Of Speed; they carry no ranged weapons. I am astounded at how well they are outfitted: all their weapons are +3 enchantment, and their armour is magical. Armaments that would be killed for in the areas around Baldur's Gate are as common as water in these areas.
Exploring the inn further, who should I find but Volothamp Geddarm, aka Volo, the famous renegade chronicler of the Realms. He seems surprised that I travel alone, and though he is happy to see me, he is clearly involved in his writings. I take my leave of the Saradush tavern, though dreading what lies ahead. If powerful warriors with heavily enchanted weapons can't get rid of the dangers in the crypts, I wonder what chances I stand.
I wander about the town until I find a place called the "Arcana Archives." Now, this sounds like the kind of place I could find something useful to me. The proprietor, a Lazarus Librarus, has nothing to offer me: his spellbook was stolen and he suspects the man Hectan who had no answers or me in the tavern. His only clue to the identity of the thief is a track of muddy footprints from his window, too small to be the suspect's.
Of course, when I return to the tavern, Hectan denies any involvement. He doesn't have the book on his person in a pickable place, either, as Lhaeozarus (my ferret familiar, dear journal, in case you have forgotten) soon discovers. Neither does the tavern cat (the only one I have seen so far with a name.) I speak to everyone else there, but there are no other clues. The male courtesan doesn't like me speaking to him at all, and says I will scare away his "clients."
I return to the streets of Saradush. Night has fallen but the bombardment continues. I encounter yet more of Il-Khan's soldiers; these seem intent on hanging a few harmless elves. For once my heritage works to my benefit, and they scatter when I threaten to show them the wrath of a Bhaalspawn. The elves are in need of somewhere to stay; I will keep this in mind.
I am in luck with the next person I talk to: Squip, a small boy that I happen to encounter just after helping the elves. His feet are muddy. He demands a thousand gold for information on the missing spellbook he was paid to steal, but I get away with giving him only five gold pieces... the innocence of childhood. Hectar is still in possession of the book, it seems. Hectar does admit to have stolen it, but only to try and find a way to teleport out of Saradush. He advises me that he will trade the book for a teleportation scroll from Lazarus. Lazarus is only too happy to provide this, but warns that using this scroll will be certain death because of the wards that the attacker Yaga Shura has erected. I can choose to warn Hectar of this, if I so desire.
I've seen and caused enough death, so I do warn him, and surprisingly he makes the connection that I have nothing to gain by warning him after I've obtained the spellbook, and decides to not use the scroll after all. I return to Lazurus Librarus and I am stunned by his selection; I didn't have to keep the scrolls from Ribald at all. I purchase the 9th level spells Imprisonment and Wish, a handy potion case where I can keep potions to free up space in the Bag Of Holding, and scrolls of Invisibility and Improved Haste, as Cespenar had promised me an upgrade to my Cloak Of Protection +2 with them.
I enter the crypts cautiously. They appear more like a dungeon, with heavy wooden-doored cells everywhere. Many are unpickably (to Lhaeozarus at least) locked, nor can I force them. With a death-sigh, a spirit in tattered rags appears and vanishes. Clearly some disturbing things have occurred here in the past. I find a human skull, charred and covered with tooth-marks, in a barrel near where the spirit arose.
Then I encounter a few of the vampires I had heard of. There are only three at first, and I manage to break them apart from the rest of the group. I can easily melee them without incurring much damage though my few remaining Stoneskins disappear quickly. Their Dominations are blocked by the magic resistance and very low saving throws provided by my items, and they fall quickly. Of course, no Amulet Of Seldarine could ever persuade me to remove the Amulet of Power that confers immunity to their Level Drain.
Further on, I encounter the same, ragged Prison Spirit again. It motions with spectral fingers tracing a semicircle around its neck as if seeking a necklace or something similar. Through a secret door, I then encounter quite the challenge: a vampiress by the name of Phlydian and another vampire. She is very strong, highly magic-resistant and regenerates so quickly that if I miss at all, she will go back to Uninjured status. I read a Protection From Undead scroll (I have six of them for just such an occasion) right after she makes her little speech, and both vampires ignore me. I then cast Tenser's Transformation to improve my damage and make my THAC0 low that I can hit her with every strike, switch to the more damaging Staff Of Rhynn, and try to keep up with her endless racing around. A couple of hits of Improved Haste from a Ring of Gaxx gives me enough extra attacks that I am able to take her down eventually, for 19,500 experience points. I notice it has now been one day since I returned to the fray and fury of adventuring, and a very busy one it has been.
I now have the necklace and skull pointed out to me by the phantom prisoner. I can't find a body to reattach it to... but I remember that the necklace came from a chest. I place the skull and necklace back into the chest and the spirit once again appears... I then equip a vial of the elven holy water that I bought and apply it to the tomb. The spirit is at last at peace, but before departing this world beckons me to follow (which I do without hesitation; I doubt it would lead me into a trap after the favour I have done for it) and opens one of the doors I was not able to before and vanishes forever. There is a vampire in the cell, but it was probably there before. I kill it easily as my Protection From Undead scroll is still active, and in a container find a Bronze Ioun Stone, which enables me to memorize another 7th level spell. I'm already wearing one that gives me 10% more Hit Points and takes 1 off my THAC0, so I'll just keep this one in the Bag for now.
Nothing is left to do here, so I descend from this area. I pass a fellow Bhaalspawn named Asmay Jahag heading out the way I came in, escaping from Gromnir's soldiers. She warns me that the area beyond is heavily trapped and that some of the traps are proximity-triggered. This does not sound good. I cast Stoneskin to absorb anything that the traps might deliver.
Through the door, a group of dual-wielding human fighters, orc fighters and human thieves aren't very pleased to see me. A Skull Trap in their midst softens them up for later pummeling. The first two I deal with are the thieves, as their backstabs are wasting my Stoneskins. They fall easily to the Staff. Half of the group has lost morale and is running around randomly, so I can concentrate on the remaining ones. They don't last very long; only the thieves even have weapons that can damage me. I accidentally step on a trap that casts Dispel Magic on me and clears off my Stoneskins, I am glad it was not worse.
I cast Summon Hakeashar to get an ally that will trigger traps and be resistant to their magic. Further along the same corridor, I meet a prisoner, and free him. My reputation would increase, except is it at its maximum. I am attacked by more human fighters and a thief, and orcs. I throw another Skull Trap their way to start the process. The thief goes invisible, but I can bring him out of it with Detect Invisiblity. However, he goes invisible several times (and kills my Hakeashar,) so I cast Protection From Magical Weapons and slay him, invulnerable to all of the enemies, who fall in short order.
I free another prisoner, then at the end of the hall is a female mage whose defenses go up immediately; I trigger Spell trap from the Staff Of The Magi. She casts Time Stop, but the Spell Trap is up first. She throws a couple of Symbols at me but my saves are far too low to notice. I use the Staff's lightning bolt/fireball. Remembering the experience with the Spellhold Beholder, I aim carefully. The lightning bolt rebounds several times and completely destroys her Mislead. She casts Finger Of Death; the Spell Trap absorbs it and I get a Summon Hakeashar back, which I use immediately. She destroys the Hakeashar, but while she's wasting her time with it I've Breached off her protections and attack her with the Staff. She must have been weakened very much by the fireball as she is dead on the first hit. I level up to 19.
My new level gives me another high-level ability. I already have so many advanced spells that I doubt I will use them all, so I instead choose to memorize an extra 6th level spell over and above what I should be entitled to. My THAC0 decreases by 1, which is always welcome, I get another Hit Point, and I can memorize another 8th level spell. For the extra 6th level spell, remembering the frustration the thief gave me, I choose True Sight. For the 8th, I choose Symbol: Stun. No point in choosing Symbol: Fear when I would have to chase the fearful, and undead are immune to fear.
I don't rest yet, but I will have to as I am getting low on memorized spells. I continue into an area with several Elite Orcs and Orogs. They are not so "elite" that their weapons can get through the immunities granted me in the Abyss, and they're slow movers who fall to the Sling. There are no traps here on the floor, but a chest with a lightning trap holds a Wand Of Lightning, of course. I Stoneskin before I open it and with that and the Spell Trap active, there are few traps I need fear. The lightning bolt restores a third-level spell to me: Agannazar's Scorcher. I finish off all the Orogs and Orcs. There are two sets of stairs I can take out of here. One leads up, one down to the sewers, not a sweet-smelling place. I decide to take the upper stairs in the hopes that they will lead outside, so that I can sell off what I have collected and rest.
Whoops! A palatial interior wasn't what I expected, nor several of Il Khan's soldiers, including a mage. But I am not about to back down now. My Spell Trap is still active, so I cast Summon Planetar immediately. Planetars are such beautiful creatures, I think as it appears, and here I am using one as battle fodder. Luckily it has high hit points and a strong sword. It gets stunned by Symbol: Stun from the mage, but is magic resistant enough that everything else the mage decides to throw at it bounces right off. Meanwhile I throw my last remaining Skull Trap as far back as I can to avoid injuring it while it absorbs everyone's attacks. The mage casts Sunfire and injures most of his own group. One of the fighters and the archer at the back decide its to leave, and the mage becomes an easy kill with the Staff dispelling his protections. Of the original group, there are only three bodies. I check the basement and find one of the soldiers who fled, and outside the archer and another soldier. They are not fleeing any more, so I don't hesitate to show them the Staff. They are not as well-equipped as the others; their weapons are not magical, or not magical enough. I don't take any damage ridding Faerun of them, but I'm again stuck by one of those annoying fiery bombardments. I return to the interior. An ornate spiral staircase leads upwards, and other than the path into the sewers there is no other way. I imagine that Gromnir Il Khan himself is there, and I wonder what sort of defenses he has. Now that I have a path out, I will find out later.
I return to the Saradush tavern and sell off twenty-three thousand gold pieces worth of scavenged weapons, armour, potions and whatnot, and rest. Then I return to the castle and the second floor, where I know Gromnir lies in wait.
I am not disappointed; Melissan is there with Gromnir, who is a half-orc. He has had her arrested and claims that she is playing Bhaalspawn against Bhaalspawn, and is the source of all of this trouble. But Gromnir Il Khan is mad... yes, mad like a fox and I am now very suspicious of this "Melissan" and her "good intentions." What better way for a Bhaalspawn to eliminate the rest than by the trickery of helping them? I will be very suspicious of this Melissan in future and do whatever I can to avoid assisting her plans. I will also see if she is a Bhaalspawn herself; if she is, there is no further proof required.
I don't have a chance to reason with Gromnir Il Khan and try to convince him that I understand his point of view and am willing to talk. He says that I am an assassin who has come to kill him and attacks me. He has two mages with him, two archers, and two thieves. I cast Symbol: Stun halfway between the two mages and one of them is stunned. I then raise hobgoblins with the Wand Of Monster Summoning to distract everyone else, then a Hakeashar to deal with the uninjured mage and Mordenkainen's Sword, which I immediately send after Gromnir himself as he is a well-armoured fighter dual-wielding flails. The hobgoblins are destroyed with a Death Spell but they have served their purpose. Three of the enemies attack the Sword, which is oblivious to them, while the Hakeashar drains one of the mages down to nothing; his Death Spells are exhausted so he has nothing to get rid of it. Eventually he is whacking it with his Staff. Meanwhile I dispose of the Stunned mage and one of the thieves, then the remaining mage when he has no spells left to cast. Gromnir has high hit-points and many potions of healing and is a powerful fighter, so I Maze him and get rid of the remaining archer and thief to avoid having to deal with all three of them at once as the Sword has unsummoned.
I can relax for short time. I leave a little present for Gromnir Il Khan: a hovering Skull Trap near the point he was Mazed at. I meander about the room slowly, picking up items left behind and trying to remember what they do and are. While I do this, I count off the time elapsed since Il Khan's mazing... four rounds pass (I guess that he wasn't as smart as he thought he was) and a few more, and then a few more... I begin to suspect that this "Hah! Good fun!" is not an attempt to sound modest but is instead a true expression of his intelligence. Eventually he pops back into view and the Skull Trap causes over thirty points of damage to him, and he quaffs yet another potion. He's easy to keep away from with the Boots Of Speed, though he is wearing some mighty fine armour that's hard to get through and must have a very high Dexterity as well. He must have also bought all the healing potions in Saradush. Eventually his morale fails and he evades me. Being much faster than him, and not having to be concerned with defense, I switch to the more damaging Staff Of Rhynn, and he is soon dead.
Melissan then reappears. Oh, no, another Bhaalspawn is dead and you've shown up just a bit too late to help them! Tsk tsk! I don't think I need any more convincing about her: she is clearly orchestrating this whole ordeal. Concrete evidence may be what I need to show to others, but I am convinced. One of us will be dead at the other's hand by the time this is all over, and I will be doing what I can to make sure it isn't me. She tells me of Yaga Shura, who is a regenerating Fire Giant (which explains why Fire Giants are sacking the town) and how I must go about killing him. That's right: get me to wipe out all the competition for you while you sit back looking "helpful." When she is gone, I check Gromnir's corpse. His armour was +2 Full Plate, and he wielded +3 and +4 Morning Stars. They will sell for a good coin at the Saradush tavern. He was also wearing a helmet that greatly reduced blunt damage, which is why the Staff hardly worked on him. He also dropped another Ioun Stone that gives a benefit to Save Vs. Death and Armour Class, a Rogue Stone, some gold, and an unused Potion Of Extra Healing.
I explore upstairs, and find myself outside on the Saradush ramparts. Soldiers are still fighting and dying, with new ones turning up. Returning to the tavern, I sell off yet more gear and I'm now over 166,000 gold pieces. I don't think I will be worrying about money for a long, long time. I explore Saradush before I leave it, seeing what it has to offer. One of the few places I haven't visited is the home of Countess Santele, but it is empty. When I enter the militia quarters, which looks a lot like the Sea's Bounty tavern in the Athkatla docks, a young man named Mateo is being arrested for the alleged crime of unlocking a magical gate to allow Yaga Shura's army into the town. Countess Santele is there as well. There appear to be three possible suspects in this treachery, and the Captain isn't convinced that Mateo is the guilty man. I indicate that I will see what I can do. I speak to Mateo. He was the friend of Ardic, the son of Countess Santele, for a very long time; he can't understand why she is accusing him and thinks that she may be under some sort of persuasion or duress. He suggests I speak with her directly, which I do.
Countess Santele tells me that her son was kidnapped by the third suspect, a merchant by the name of Kiser Jhaeri, to force her accusation of Mateo. He continues to hold Mateo even afterwards to force her silence. She suggests I speak to Kiser directly, though I fear I will get her son killed if I meddle in this. There seems little choice, however. Kiser's home is close; I check all the rooms carefully upon entering, fearing an ambush, but there is no one there save Kiser and myself, and the story becomes even more complex when I speak to him. He says that a mage named Errard is the real culprit. Errard... Errard... ahh, I remember that he was the one on the ramparts of Saradush when I went upstairs in Gromnir's castle.
I don't leave Kiser's home. I look like I am leaving and he thinks I am gone; instead the Staff's invisibility gets me by him and into his basement, the only place I hadn't searched. While it appears very similar to the ranger Merella's cabin in Imnesvale, two guards are posted in front of the only door other than the one I entered through. Invisible, I open it gently, as if I were a gust of wind, and slip into the room before one of the guards decides to close it. Safely inside and unwatched, to another observer it would appear that a ferret appeared from nowhere and began snuffling up and down the wall. She finds a secret door, exactly where I expected she would. But, it is secured by one of those locks that can neither be Knocked nor picked. I will have to resort to Kiser's plan.
I don't resort to this plan. Instead, I tell the mage Errard that I was sent by Kiser to kill him. I am convinced that Kiser is the guilty man and is just trying to hide it beneath a web of lies; there is no excuse for kidnapping and only a coward would do this to save his own skin. Errard divines the location of Ardic, and indeed he is being held within Kiser's home. When I return there, Kiser is no longer upstairs. He confronts me in the basement with his guards, and an orc, and attacks. A quick Skull Trap in their midst and Kiser is already fleeing. I pursue him quickly into the secret passage, closing the door behind... and run right into another mage in the process of casting True Sight to bring me out of invisibility! I duck behind the wall to avoid detection. She awaits just beyond it but is unaware of my location. I throw on the Cloak Of Non-Detection and confront her. Frustrated by my lack of appearance, she casts True Sight again... giving me time to get a good whack in. I score a Critical Hit and she is Near Death already. She manages to get a Mislead off, but is a Nearly Dead clone of her Nearly Dead self and both her and it go down quickly.
I finish off the remaining humans and the orc; the thieves are the most frustrating with their endless popping into invisibility. I can find them by casting a Fireball from the Wand Of Fire in their general direction; they then drink a Potion Of Extra Healing and the healing effect is visible. But they remain invisible and can still backstab me. However, wearing the Boots Of Speed, I find I can frustrate their backstabs by changing direction quickly... my Dexterity is that of a master thief, and before my sacrifice in the Abyss was superhuman, that of a halfling or elven master thief. When a wasted backstab makes the thief apparent to me, I whirl in one quick motion and take the side of his neck with the Staff, and that is enough battle for him. He flees. While he is randomly running about and muttering gibberish, the human fighters are next. I slay one outright and the other and the orc also lose morale for a total of three at once. They are easy kills in this state.
I find one remaining thief upstairs where he fled, and take him down. Kiser, however, eludes me. He finally turns up in the furthest end of the twisting secret passage that parallels the wall of the basement. He goes invisible, I am able to bring him out of it with the same technique I used before, and he's out of potions. Though I later find he wields a +3 short sword, he's dual-wielding it with a dagger so I am confident he won't get a hit on me, and he doesn't; thieves have terrible dual-wielding skills. Among his possessions he drops is a very strange and interesting item: a Shakti figurine. For a short period daily, it can transform me into a hasted, armoured warrior with specialization in his +4 shortsword. I wonder if this will be useful to me...
I don't leave Saradush immediately, but instead sell off unneeded items. I haven't scribed Wish yet, and like Limited Wish, it helps to be wise when casting it, lest a poor wording lead to an unpleasant wish. Temples are places of wisdom, so I buy out the stock of Potions of Insight at the Temple of Waukeen in town, as one never knows when they will come in handy. I also pick up a few Potions Of Genius to help my scribing accuracy.
I return to the Arcana Archives to see what I missed. As I do I remember that Viekang was stranded in Saradush because of his inability to be afraid, so I buy a scroll of Horror, as well as both of the Bigby's Hand spells available. I return to Viekang, and target him with the scroll of Horror. He becomes terrified, but is glad instead of angry, and teleports elsewhere. I received some experience and soon do the same myself, returning to the Abyssal pocket plane.
Cespenar is glad to see me (or is that just what he was created to be?) I remember that he had offered to upgrade my Cloak Of Protection +2 if I found a scroll of Invisibility and Improved Haste, and he does, making a Cloak Of Protection +2 that can cast Improved Invisibility and Improved Haste twice a day on me. He also mentions that he could do something interesting with the Bronze Ioun Stone if I happen to find a Circle Of Netheril.
I change a couple of spells and rest in a dreamless doze. Though the "half-brother" I never knew, whose life I took and returned to him stands with fearsome sword not ten seconds' walk from me, I feel no fear from him, and sleep easily. When I awaken, a delicious meal prepared by Cespenar awaits me; his "recipes" are also of the edible kind. To have worked for Bhaal and not been killed for his "cuteness" he must have some surprising skills, of which he will probably keep many secret, for a butler is also a confidant. As I eat, I glance over my shoulder and catch Sarevok sniffing at the aroma; his mortality has returned to him and with it the pangs of hunger.
I motion with a hand and he joins me. He probably hasn't eaten since his revival, but always the stout-hearted fighting-man, never a complaint would he utter. He eats enough for the two of us, but there is still plenty. And then I see something that I have never seen before and would never imagine to have seen from him: he smiles slightly at the generosity I have shown, before returning to his "post" by one of the magically barred gates to await my return; if I died in points unknown he would stand there forever. I relax for a few moments while Cespenar removes the empty dinner service, and then depart for the North Forest, to find what makes Yaga Shura invulnerable in the hopes of destroying it and him soon afterwards. Before I go I instruct Cespanar to ensure that Sarevok receives the same treatment that I would be entitled to; I have no wish to inflict hunger on anyone.
After the confines of the Abyss and Saradush, it is good to be out in the open wilds, but as noted previously, good things don't last very long for me. I blunder into a group of Yaga Shura's soldiers murdering helpless merchants whose carriage they destroyed. I immediately cast Symbol:Stun at the larger group and stun all but two of the soldiers. Mordenkainen's Sword is next for an indestructible ally. I order the Sword after the ones who were not stunned. I raise Ogres with the Wand of Monster Summoning and set them to work on the ones that were. There are still several more including some archers away from the stunned group, and I am unable to prevent two of the merchants' deaths. Then I find that none of the soldiers can even damage me with the weapons that they carry. I raise a Fireshield and let them surround me. Even when their weapons pass right through me harmlessly, the Fireshield notices and damages them, and they are too stupid to realize that they are killing themselves. Soon they all fall.
One merchant remains, and he is grateful to still be alive. He sells me an Obsidian Ioun Stone. I make my way to the east, across a narrow stepping-stone bridge over a river. Two Fire Giants await me on the other side. They are immense and carry heavy hammers. Instead of tangling with them, I merely backtrack to the halfway mark of the bridge. Fearing water and as dumb as their own hammers, they can attack me with nothing but foul language in their guttural tongue while I riddle them with Sling bullets. Whatever gets the job done... when the first falls, the second makes his retreat.
Across the stepping-stone bridge, several more soldiers await, but they offer little challenge; they aren't as well equipped as Gromnir's lackeys and can't damage me. Beyond them is a wooden bridge with yet more soldiers. A mage is just on the other side of it. The mage Stoneskins, but the Staff takes it away and I Magic Missile him to stop whatever he was planning next. He then casts Shadow Door and becomes invisible. I don't want to waste a True Sight on him as he is obviously not very powerful so throw a Skull Trap where he was last. He dies, and three of the soldiers with him. Further on, yet more soldiers, two more Fire Giants, and two confused Clerics of Talos. I go invisible to consider my options, but strangely, all of them can't see me enough to attack, but know my location and clump around me, seeking me out. I narrowly escape being completely surrounded. The clerics seem only interested in casting Heal, which is frustrating as it takes a long time for a mage to do damage if he doesn't feel like exhausting all his spells at once. And the Talassians are a chaotic bunch: when I lead the two Fire Giants back to the stepping-stones and their hydrophobic doom, the cleric that follows attacks the Fire Giant. I cast Improved Haste from Cespenar's Improved Cloak as I want the Fire Giant kill to be mine: it lasts far longer than that from the Ring Of Gaxx. The cleric goes down next but isn't worth much experience; probably just a healer; strange for a Talassian. The second cleric casts Animate Dead when I encounter him, and then turns on his own skeleton ally. Strange crop of clerics the Talassian faith propagates. Soon cleric, giants, soldiers and skeletons are dead. The mage dropped two Potions Of Superior Healing (which I had not seen on an enemy before this) a Staff Spear +2 and some gems. I hadn't given him a chance to use any of it. The rest have a few minor gems and small amounts of gold.
There is only one cleric left, a female. She doesn't attack me, but instead follows me around, even though she is clearly an enemy. I don't kill except in defense of my life, so I let her live. I notice that I have gained a level; I am now at level 20. I choose an extra 7th level spell as my high-level ability, and put Mordenkainen's Sword in there. For the 6th and 9th level spells I earn from gaining a level, I choose Mislead and Time Stop respectively, then leave for the Forest Of Mir, where a ruined temple to Bhaal stands, where I will find answers.
I very nearly don't make it into the temple door... when I arrive, I am confronted by a shade who claims to be Gorion. I don't believe him for a moment and he reveals his true nature as a Master Shade, but his minions, several Vampiric Wraiths, Swamp Horrors, and two Devil Shades are more than a match for me. Immune to my invisibility, they move as fast as I can and are relentless. If not for the Amulet Of Power's provided Level Drain immunity, I would not last a minute. I cast Protection From Magical Weapons to prevent attack while I Breach the leader's Fireshield Blue, but he merely puts up another one. I put up a Stoneskin and consume several healing potions to offset the damage. I then try the tactic of eliminating the Master Shade to see if the rest fall. While magic-resistant, he is vulnerable to fire. I use the column of fire from the Wand Of Fire on him, circling him to cut through his massed shades with the flame, but they are immune to it. I focus on him, dispelling his Fireshield with a hit from the Staff to some degree of hurt, and go to work on him with a hit of Improved Haste from the Ring Of Gaxx. He gets down to Injured before I have to back off. I take him down with the Wand Of Fire, casting Protection From Fire on myself first and targeting him while he is right in front of me to see if his minions are vulnerable to this. He dies and I gain 30,500 experience from it. However, the wraiths and horrors are still relentless. I cast Improved Invisibility to improve my Armour Class, and Blur to improve it more. I am still getting hit. I can get away from the Devil Shades now; they finally can't see me. I separate the Vampiric Wraiths from them and find that they can't hurt me at all. They are easy kills, and the Devil Shades fall to the Staff after I re-Stoneskin and equip the Girdle Of Piercing to improve my Armour Class against their attacks. Only afterwards do I think how much easier a Protection From Undead scroll would have made this! But I had not kept one handy, so was forced to improvise. I will ensure I keep one very accessible for the rest of this temple.
However, I will not be returning just yet. So close of a defeat weighs heavily on me and I should have rested to memorize spells before coming here. The temple has been here for hundreds of years; it will be here in a few hours.
I return to the Abyssal pocket plane and rest, then back to the temple with a full complement of spells, some more healing potions from my Abyssal stash, and a Protection From Undead scroll at the ready... this scroll turns out to be the wisest of the precautions as just inside the door are a Skeleton Cleric, two Skeleton Warriors, two Skeleton Assassins and a Skeleton Mage, like some bony adventuring party lacking only a Skeleton Bard to inspire his comrades with anti-heroic sagas of battle played on his bone xylophone. The Cleric mistakes me a for Bhaal for a moment, but quickly realizes that I am not. I immediately read the Protection From Undead scroll, and they become as harmless as they were before being raised into undeath. I send them back as quickly as I can before the scroll's effects wear off, drinking an Oil Of Speed to double the number of whacks I can deliver. Not wanting to waste the scroll's effect, I tear around looking for more undead to smite, hoping there are no traps about, and find a pack of ghasts and mummies to the east. They last less than a minute.
I can't find traps on my own and Lhaeozarus is becoming woefully inadequate for the job, being stuck with beginner thief abilities. Reaching deep into my pack, I retrieve the Iron Horn Of Valhalla and summon a level 9 warrior for the job. As mentioned before, I don't feel badly about killing him as he just wants to return to Valhalla as quickly as possible, for endless feasting without worrying about gaining weight, while telling the same old dusty war stories for the thousandth time. He wanders around but doesn't set any traps off; there don't appear to be any at all. He does run into a pack of Mummies and Ghasts, and as my Protection From Undead is still making me invisible to them, they all attack him. I grab the Staff Of Rhynn and send them back to the grave. The Scroll wears off as I am meleeing the last Mummy, and I find it can't even damage me.
On this upper level of the temple I encounter a cleric of Bhaal, one who should have died hundreds of years ago, yet does not seem undead like the rest of the denizens of this place. She identifies herself as Nyalee. Yaga-Shura is her adopted son, and his betrayal of her causes her to assist me in my quest. I doubt that she would have otherwise. Yaga-Shura's invulnerability and regeneration is caused by an enchantment that allowed his heart to be kept separate from his body. Nyalee is under the same enchantment, but hasn't used it for any worse purposes than hanging around an old abandoned temple for centuries; yet Yaga-Shura stole her heart (not in the romantic sense; she was his adoptive mother after all) and is keeping it, with his, in the Marching Mountains. He will live while it lasts. Nyalee will destroy it when I return it.
I search the temple carefully, as I find it strange that there is so little in it. Hidden behind a standing floor tile on the lower level at the northeast end I find a gem I have never seen before: a Nymph's Tear, as well a Laeral's Tear necklace and a more common ring. I don't doubt that this nigh-unique item will be useful to Cespenar in one of his "recipes." I depart for the Marching Mountains and whatever dangers that they may hold.
Refreshingly, I'm not immediately attacked when I arrive at the right place. I don't doubt it will be long, so explore invisibly. I encounter a strange group of animals in the northeast, including a spellcasting rabbit. Though I am fearful that any rabbit who could cast spells will suddenly leap forward and bite my head off should I annoy it enough, when one of its companions is slain, it zips out of sight so quickly that my eye can barely follow it, and the rest leave as well.
There are three Fire Giants here, and they wield powerful-looking axes. Clumping them, I cast Cone Of Cold on them (as they are naturally immune to fire.) Now they are angry Fire Giants, but they can keep up with the Boots of Speed as I swerve between them and pelt them with Sling bullets. This geography here isn't really conducive to running around, so I raise a Mordenkainen's Sword and put it to work on the Fire Giant who's separated from the rest. Of course, he can't damage it. He loses morale and runs away, and the Sword and I corner him and continue the damage. A good hit from the Sword, and the Fire Giant is chunked... ugh... I am coated in gore and this is not a good day. I resolve to use the Sling to finish them off from now on.
I finish the next Fire Giant completely with the Sling. It takes a long time, and a lot of running, but it is worth it. Continuing up the path I encounter two Burning Men. They look a lot like Fire Elementals, but they are regenerative, and though I raise my Fire Resistance with the Ring Of Fire Resistance and Ring Of Fire Control, they don't get injured easily and I still do. I decide they are not what I seek and therefore not worth the effort, slip into invisibility and enter the structure at the end of the path.
I enter still invisible to most eyes. This is a good thing: I can't believe my own eyes at the number of Fire Giants in here. There must be at least six of them. Two Elite guard the wings and four more the main atrium. I have a second Mordenkainen's Sword memorized. I raise it, and while they pick on it, I Improved Haste myself and start whacking at them with the Staff Of Rhynn. When one becomes angry at me for hitting it, I merely run away, and he goes back to picking on the immune Sword. I carefully check between hits which is the most injured and pick on that one. Before the Improved Haste has worn off, one of the Elite Fire Giants is dead (for twenty-six thousand experience) and two are hurting badly. They are immune to fire, but I have a barely-used Wand Of Lightning in my Bag Of Holding. I careen lighting bolts off the Giants and the walls, and then tear off as they pursue me.
There is a very hot slag pool in the middle of the atrium, and it's painful to even stand near. I notice that some of the Injured giants become Barely Injured chasing me across it. Damn... their fire resistance is so high that fire heals them, and... and that is when I have the insight that lets me know that this will be an easy battle.
I haven't taken off my Ring Of Gaxx since I lost its twin, somewhere between the Abyss and Brynnlaw. Athkatla I think, after I slipped from my usual demeanour, finally able to relax and enjoy myself, in a raucous party paid for the Council where there was entirely too much mead. But such was my desire to return and the Rings were such a part of me that I didn't notice for days, until Brynnlaw. I suppose that there is now an Athkatlan beggar who has grown rich with a circus act of being shot with poison arrows, oblivious to the poison and the wounds of the arrows that close in seconds. I hope that it has found as good a use. But now I remove the remaining one. It has been a long time since I wore the Ring Of Fire Control, and probably as long since the Ring Of Fire Resistance, but now I wear both. My natural fire resistance as one of the Abyssal gifts is 20%, and the rings increase this by 50% and 40% respectively, to 110%. Now I am like the Fire Giants. To become even more so, I cast Resist Fire on myself. My fire resistance goes as high as it possibly can. I stand in the sweltering mass of red-hot rock and metal. The pain is tremendous at first, but soon disappears completely, and the warmth becomes almost pleasant. I feel the energy of the heat rushing into me... healing me. I gain back lost hit points.
I melee the rest of the Fire Giants, occasionally using the Sling, and manoeuvering so that I never face more than one at a time. When one of them hits me (and do they ever hit,) I go back and stand in the fire pit, sucking up its heat and keeping the Giants out of it, where they would heal. When they are all close to death, a couple of hits of the Wand Of Frost and Wand Of Lighting do them in. I could save the wands, but I want to get this over with and finish them. I level up when the second-last one falls. When the last one is dead, I can relax a little. I choose a new high-level ability: an extra 8th level spell. I fill the empty slot with Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wilting. I don't gain any other spells, even though I have leveled up. I imagine that being at this high level means that new spells will be fewer and further between.
A staircase surrounds this river of lava and I ascend it. A sharp click, and a trap casts a spell at me... I focus my thoughts and its magic careens harmlessly away. I slip again into invisibility and scout the area. There are several more Fire Giants in a chamber to my right. A container sits in another pool of semi-molten rock and metal. To my left is a mirror image of that chamber, with an identical container. When I open the container, a fireball shoots from the wall and engulfs me, but I am still immune to it. The room is suddenly filled with Salamanders and Fire Trolls. I'm curious as to what I have found, so I leave.
One of the items I retrieved from the container is a girdle. It looks interesting; I identify it, and it is a Girdle Of Fire Giant Strength. I've been wearing the Girdle Of Frost Giant Strength for a long time now, and it comes off to be quickly replaced with the new one. Now my strength is 22 while wearing it, and correspondingly my THAC0 is reduced. An amazingly enchanted and powerful two-handed sword was in there too; called the Psion's Blade, it grants immunity to psionics, very handy for fighting Illithid. But this is of no consequence to me as I can't use it. There was also a wardstone, and I find that it fits effortlessly into a hemispherical dome in one of the chambers guarded by the Elite Fire Giants that I slew. There must be an equivalent in the chamber guarded by more Fire Giants, in the container I haven't yet inspected. I find a page of a tome called "Elminster's Ecologies" detailing some of the odd variants of creatures; I don't doubt that I will find several if not all of them nearby, the page's placement being so coincidental.
I notice that one of the magical fields of force that blocked a doorway in the upper are has now vanished. Several creatures are in there: Fell Cats, Salamanders, and a Flaming Skull that looks a lot like Kangaxx did. This one merely casts fireballs and Agannazar's Scorcher rather than endless Imprisonments. I lead those that are fast enough to follow back to the fiery pit by the entrance, and melee them all with the Staff while healing from the heat. I then pick the second wardstone from the container guarded by Fire Giants. Two hideous Bone Fiends appear. They can't injure me, but regenerate and I miss them with most attempts. I cast Tenser's Transformation and never miss again. Once they are down, I run into one of the Fire Trolls.
Unfortunately, it calls for assistance. Suddenly there are Fire Trolls, Fire Giants and Fire Salamanders everywhere. I drink an Oil Of Speed just to stay way from them. I haven't used the Wand Of Cloudkill in a while; I launch one into the middle of the room and skirt the perimeter of the gas, leading them through it. Though many are somewhat magic resistant, they are not resistant enough and take heavy damage trying to catch me.
But I don't want to tangle with the Burning Men. They are beyond difficult, I am out of spells that would help me take them down, and they regenerate quickly. Yaga-Shara must draw his infernal power in such a manner. I avoid the Burning Men and instead concentrate on the other denizens of this hot place. For the next several hours, my life becomes a hell worse than the Abyss; at least there I have a sort of family, clean sheets, good meals and a butler. I get smacked around by an Adamantine Golem; I go stand in the fire. I get slashed and burned half-to-death by a Fire Troll; I stand in the fire some more. The healing is as bad as the hurting but at least I live through it. The worst of all is the Adamantine Golem: like my current state, its fire resistance must be over 100%, and like others of its kind it's incredibly resistant to physical damage. I can plink it with sling bullets and the occasional whack with the Staff for many minutes, then get hit once by it and have to go stand in the fire again, and it will do the same, each lick of flame taking it further from "death," if such a thing happens to golems, and forcing me to redo my handiwork.
Finally I take it down by making sure it doesn't either hit me or wander near the fire pits to heal. I am exhausted by the efforts, and it is only made worse by not being able to think of anything but returning the peacefulness of home, to Brynnlaw. There is very strange type of golem here called a "Magic Golem," composed of pure magical energy. According to the pages of the tome of Elminster, it is invulnerable to magical weapons and spells. By this, it proves to be an easy kill: I simply use the Wand of Monster Summoning to raise allies with normal weaponry. Five Gnolls appear and the Magic Golem is dead within seconds. I doubt anything I encounter further in the place will be as easy with the correct tactics, unless one counts the Clay Golem that tried to follow the Adamantium one's lead, and killed itself by standing in the fire.
With my path clearer and the Burning Men left behind to wonder where I went, I can try to determine my next move. At the farthest end of the complex, a tall stairway stretches upwards, but I cannot climb it. When I use the wardstones I found on a device near its base, it then becomes accessible. I have no idea what I will find up there, I am frightfully tired, and I am running short of spells. I decide I will rest first, lest I encounter something I can't deal with and pay the ultimate price. I also badly need to get rid of excess things that I can't use that I am carrying around. I slip into invisibility and return to the outdoors; I am fearful of using my ability to return to the Abyss inside lest this place be warded and I become shredded by the attempt. The coolness of the air wafts the sticky heat of the place from me and I feel better already. In scant seconds I have returned to my "home" for the time being.
Cespenar does seem to have a use for the Nymph's Tear that I found, but only for a Druidic item. I will have to find the Circle Of Netheril that he speaks of. I carefully organize my things, finding several that I had forgotten to sell off earlier. I decide to keep Gromnir's helmet and the +6 studded leather armour that acts like the Boots Of Speed when worn, for what reason I cannot say, but they seem like artifact items that belong in a museum, not a pawnshop. I return to Saradush and its tavern.
First, I unload loose ammunition: twenty Fire Arrows, twenty +2 bolts, twenty Sunstone bullets, ten +1 darts. I decide to keep the Darts Of Wounding; poison can come in very handy against wizards and downed trolls. Next, into the potion case, I retrieve and sell four Potions Of Invulnerability from Fire Giants, ten Potions of Invisibility from thieves, and a red Potion Of Strength from who knows where (it is surprising how much one accumulates by the life I lead.) Next, from the scroll cases, three scrolls of Identify, two of Protection From Energy, one of Sphere Of Chaos and Infravision. From the gem bag, four Star Sapphires, three King's Tears, three Emeralds, three Black Opals, three Horn Corals, two Laeral's Tear necklaces, and several minor gems. Finally, from the Bag Of Holding: two +2 two-handed swords from the Skeleton Warriors, two suits of Full Plate, a +1 two-handed sword, +1 leather armour, a +2 dagger, a +2 short sword, a +1 katana, the +2 Staff Spear from the Yaga-Shura mage who never got a chance to use it, a suit of Elven Chain, and some non-enchanted weapons.
I do have more I could sell, but somehow I can't bring myself to sell the +5 Psion Blade, one of the suits of Full Plate, the Girdle Of Frost Giant Strength, or the Boots Of Etherealness. I have other plans for them... nor can I part with the Bladesinger Chain +4, though the tavernkeeper offers over sixteen thousand gold pieces for them, nor the Staff Of The Woodlands. These are museum pieces, or specimens of high enchantment for acolytes to study and emulate, not trinkets to be haggled over in smoky taverns. My business concluded, I return to Saradush and see if the Temple has anything to offer me. I have close to two hundred thousand gold pieces now. Though the Temple has nothing, I remember the plight of the homeless elves and ask the priestess to take them in, which she agrees to. I return to the Arcana Archives to see if there is anything worthwhile there.
This time I take my time and cautiously check what is available and what I have already. By being careful in my checks, I am able to buy two spells that I still haven't scribed: Animate Dead and Spell Trigger. The latter sounds very interesting; it allows me to choose three spells of 6th level or lower that are cast instantly when I choose. This could prove very useful with Lower Resistance, as it is a spell that usually requires several applications. I haven't used any contingencies, triggers or sequencers until this point, but my travels are taking me to ever more difficult battles and I had best adapt by using what is available to me. My carefulness also prompts me to check the status of my Wands. I dig through the Bag Of Holding and I am stunned what I have been carrying around all of this time: three Wands Of Lightning, two of Frost, two of Cloudkill, two of Fire, one of Absorption and one of Wonder. Several of these are fully charged and I had completely neglected that I had them. I resolve to be more organized in this, and carefully note how charged or discharged they are. I separate the two Monster Summoning, two of the Lightning, and one each of the Frost and Fire for recharging. I sell all of them to Lazarus Librarus for six thousand gold pieces, and he recharges them to maximum capacity; I then buy them back for roughly sixty thousand. Now, finally, I am prepared for what may lie ahead. I also buy out all of his Oils Of Speed, giving me thirteen of them in total in my potion case. I still have a hundred and fifty thousand gold pieces, so I am not wanting for anything; I already have what I need back in Brynnlaw and I will see to it, though it will take a lot of gold to make it into the place I would like it to be.
Strangely, though he sells every type of scroll I have ever seen and many I haven't, I note that he does not carry any scrolls of Protection From Undead, nor were any available at the Temple Of Waukeen. I am glad that I stocked up on these useful scrolls when I was in Athkatla; they seemed almost common there, available from every temple. I still have six of them in my scroll case. I resolve to save them only for dire emergencies, since they don't seem to be available easily. But for the ultimate in rarity, I have only one Protection From Magic scroll. I never found another from the two Ribald sold, and the first allowed me to obtain the Staff Of The Magi that has served me so long and well, and saved my life far more times than I could ever hope to remember.
Wandering the streets of Saradush again, I pass Gromnir's guards' barracks. Their leader is dead, and I am curious what I will find in there. I was not able to force the door previously, but now that I have the Girdle Of Fire Giant Strength, I am successful. There is no one else in the barracks. Aside from a few minor gems, a Potion Of Extra Healing and some gold, I find a key that gives access to the sewers of Saradush, as their grates were previously inaccessible. Wondering what could be down there, and soon regretting that I did, I descend.
There are a few enemies down here, including a mage. He casts many protections when I see him, but a tap with the Staff dispels them. He then casts Protection From Magical Weapons and I can't Breach it off, so I hit him with the Wand Of Lightning and ruin whatever spell he had planned for me. A Duergar with a strong hammer is next; I Stoneskin in case I am hit and take him out with the sling. A couple of Elite Orogs are no more difficult with the Boots Of Speed allowing me to keep my distance. All of this time, Orc Archers have been shooting arrows at me, but being normal arrows, they zip right through me without damage. The archers exhaust their arrows and have to resort to fistfighting. They go down easily with the Staff, and I make level 22 when they fall.
This is a good level-up. I gain a 6th and 9th level spell slot. From my practice at fighting, my THAC0 goes down by 1. My lore increases by 3, and I finally have one hundred hit points, as long as I keep my Ioun Stone in place. For my high-level ability, now that I finally have enough spells to make it worthwhile, I choose Improved Alacrity. This powerful assistant to casting will allow me to cast spells in quick succession without pauses, for difficult battles.
These sewers seem to have been designed by the same architect of the sewers of the Temple district of Athkatla; they seem remarkably similar. Remembering the creatures that lived in the centre of the Athkalta sewers, I seek the centre. There, two Duergar, two Orogs and two Orc Archers are at work, the dwarves hammering away at the walls of the central pit. Suddenly, there are Shadows and Shadow Fiends everywhere, at least fifteen of them, released by the work going on. The workers can't decide whether to attack me or the shades, and they take heavy losses. But I know just the thing for shades, and equip the newly-charged Wand Of Fire. Twice it coughs a Fireball into their midst and the few remaining Shadows are easily disposed of, as are the remaining workers when they decide to attack me.
I next encounter another of those fiendishly fast Shade Devils. I get knocked around a bit by it, but the Staff eventually puts it down. I gulp a Potion Of Extra Healing and the Ring Of Gaxx will take care of the rest. Then I run into two Umber Hulks... quite the variety of monstrosities in this place. My saving throws are low enough that I am not concerned with their Confusions, and by wearing the Girdle Of Bluntness I am able to easily dispatch both of them; I am only hit once. Where Shade Devils are, Shadow Fiends are bound to be, and there are six or seven of them there. They can't touch me at all; they fall without myself taking a scratch of damage. I find another Orc Archer, a Duergar Sapper and an Umber Hulk at the north end of a Sewers. I draw the Orc Archer out and then melee him oblivious to his +1 arrows, which he hardly even tries to use as he is too busy trying to back off from this relentless mage so that he isn't shooting his bow point-blank. The Umber Hulk is next, following the tactic from before, then I use the Sling on the Duergar. I'm amassing quite the collection of +2 hammers and +1 arrows.
Not expecting anyone difficult to remain, I blunder into yet another Yaga-Shura mage with a Duergar Sapper and Orog Elite companion at the southeast down a dead-end. I haven't the spells for this, so I do the one thing I can to get spells back without needing to rest: Spell Trap. I then let the mage unload a few on me to see what I pick up while staying away from the other two. I get a Breach... great. I Breach off his Protection From Magical Weapons and send a fireball their way to break up further spellcasting. To distract the other two, I raise a pack of Gnolls with the Wand and go to work on the mage. By the time he's dead, I also have a Protection From Magical Weapons and a Mordenkainen's Sword back. Surprisingly, the Gnolls kill the Duergar for me; he is not wearing any armour so they hit with almost every strike. The Orog Elite takes only two sling bullets to fall.
I look around to see if I have missed anything, remembering the secrets in the Athkatla sewers and figuring that the same architect may have placed a similar secret here. Indeed, I do find one: a secret door on the northeast wall. I also find a lost Orog Elite who ran away from a previous battle with me; he is near death and falls quickly. Unlike the others, he wielded two +2 short swords. But though the Orog falls before me, the door does not. It won't budge even with my strength of 22, and Lhaeozarus can't pick the lock; I thank her for always doing her best for me and give her a snack while I consider wasting a Knock scroll on this thing.
Eventually I succumb to temptation, and Knock the door open. A blandly rectangular chamber lies beyond, and the chaotic and dissonant screams of... six Mutant Gibberlings? A bit of a letdown, I'd say. Even worse, the inviting stairs up only lead to the passage to Gromnir's castle that I had taken earlier. Ah well.
I search the remainder of the sewers, encountering one more Duergar Sapper and one more Orog Elite. Each falls quickly to the Sling. Well, the Duergar doesn't fall quickly enough, so I hasten the process with the Wand Of Lightning. I leave the sewers of Saradush forever it would seem, and sell off collected items at the tavern: 160 +1 arrows, seven +2 Warhammers, six suits of Studded Leather +2 and Plate Mail, six Composite Long Bows +1 (and I remember that in all the lands of Baldur's Gate, I only ever saw one of these; now I sell six that I picked from the corpses of enemies in a hour or two,) five +2 Battle Axes, two +2 Short Swords, a +1 quarterstaff, a scroll of Identify, and some minor gems. And then I leave Saradush as well, though I may return to sell more items.
I return to the Abyss. The things I decided not to sell go into a chest, and I carefully go over my inventory of spells while I relax and memorize a few new ones. Lhaeozaraus comes out of my pack and scampers around. Cespenar and her lock gazes for a while and I think they are either preparing for a fight, or in love; then I realize he is speaking telepathically to her as I do and no one else could, and I can't hear their conversation. Hmph. A few minutes later he returns with a small bowl and Lhaeozarus munches away contentedly. Another of the myriad abilities of the butler of the gods is revealed. Lhaeozarus curls up in a ball beside me and sleeps when we are done; Cespenar has made her feel at home here, and seeing how relaxed she is I soon drift into sleep myself.
A shining and very large hall stands at the top of the stairs, and it is stuffed with Fire Giants. I am invisible to them, of course, so I scout the area looking for any place out of their gaze to make my preparations. There is none. There are, however, a couple of Fell Cat sentinels here who object to my presence, invisible or not. They can't damage me, but they alert the rest. Now the Fire Giants are on the move. Their leader, named Berenn, can cast priest spells. He summons a Fire Elemental. I Magic Missile him to stop his next spell, and raise a few Gnolls with the Wand Of Monster Summoning, fearful that he may have a Death Spell that will remove what I plan next, and that will distract them for a bit. I will eliminate Berenn first, as it is unlikely there are other spellcasting Fire Giants around. Casting Improved Alacrity, I follow it in immediate succession with both Mordenkainen's Swords, then I Haste them and myself, and cast Tenser's Transformation. We go to work on Berenn and he lasts not thirty seconds; curious as to what he dropped I pick it up immediately. Aside from a few very nice gems, he holds a Baalor Claw, probably useful to Cespanar in his "recipes."
I send the Swords into the clump of Fire Giants who happily smash away and do absolutely nothing to them. While they are at work, I hit the whole clump with several discharges from the Wand Of Frost. Two of them are so weakened by the hasted Swords and the repeated hated cold that they fall. I bash away at the remainder with my Improved THAC0. By the time the Swords unsummon, there are only five giants remaining and none of them are in very good shape. When they turn on me, I cast Protection From Magical Weapons, followed by Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wilting. Another one drops and two lose morale and run away. Keeping away from the ones that are still hostile, I Improved Haste myself with Cespenar's "recipe" cloak and turn the Sling on the fleeing ones, hoping to drop them before they randomly wander into a fire pit and heal themselves.
By the time the Improved Haste wears off, only two Fire Giants remain, one an Elite. They are still easy to keep away from, though it takes a lot of running around. I find I can reduce the running around when only one remains by going behind one of the braziers on the northeast of the hall. He can't reach me over it. Though there's no place where he can't reach me at all, I can just move backwards or forwards a bit and force him to walk all the way around the brazier again to be in reaching distance, while I plink him with Sling stones. Soon he is down. However, he is not the last of the Fire Giants: the two guarding the door were unable to enter the fray, being stuck there as the main door is closed, and the smaller doors I entered through are not large enough to permit them passage.
I reached level 23 when the last Fire Giant fell. I don't get any more spell slots, but I can choose a high-level spell ability, and go with Energy Blades. I like the sound of Dragon Breath, but it doesn't seem to have any use in this hot place. I will choose it at my next level-up. I gain one hit point and my Lore increases by 3. I check the area; the containers in the fire pits hold only gems (one a King's Tear) and gold. I see no heart of Yaga-Shura or his mother anywhere. Clearly there must be more to this place. I check more carefully. Something is in the brazier at the rear of the hall, the largest one. I check; it is the burning heart of Yaga-Shura.
Two huge doors at the back of the hall are closed but unlocked. They are far too heavy for any ordinary human, but wearing the Girdle Of Fire Giant Strength, I am able to pass them. I am greeted by a rather angry woman, a concubine of Yaga-Shura, though she is only a normal-sized human. I would be angry in this circumstance as well, depending on Yaga-Shura's... preferences. I release her bonds and she tells of Nyalee, who I knew about already, and that Yaga-Shura is obsessed with a huge golden chest in his bedroom, which I didn't. She leaves, still angry, and cursing me should I ever tell of her confinement.
This is Yaga-Shura's domain and I am close to the source of one of the most powerful Bhaalspawn's immortality. I expect that this area will be heavily trapped. I throw on a Spell Trap to catch anything headed my way. Near where the concubine was chained, a hemispherical container halfway up the wall succumbs to Knock (as I finally decided to memorize this;) it yields a page from a book on Stone Golems and a Bag Of Plenty that makes +1 sling bullets. I already have the Sling Of Everard, so I'll just sell this. The trap of the container also casts a spell at me, but I don't know what it was as it gets absorbed by the Spell Trap.
The "chest" is impossible to miss: a vast golden dais rising from the centre of the next room. I waste no time in finding the recessed container in its centre and removing the heart of Nyalee, and a page from Yaga-Shura's journal. Further into the room: three Burning Men. One has a name (Ibix) and casts spells; he calls himself "The Prince Of Fire" and can't be hidden from. The place is also covered in traps, and then they strike I feel the sting of poison though the Ring Of Gaxx saves me from its effects. Well, good on you, Prince. Reign well in your now-empty kingdom. I have everything this horrid place could possibly provide and men who perpetually burn (and stink from it) are creepy to the point of horror and make me nauseous. The Boots Of Speed leave them far behind and I am soon outdoors, heading back to the Temple Of Bhaal and Nyallee.
I read Yaga-Shura's journal while stopping to rest briefly on the way. It is deepest night, still hours before sun, when the abandoned Temple Of Bhaal looms into view, a place of blackest intent that makes the night around it seem light in comparison; a thoroughly creepy place at the creepiest time of night. I wonder what sinister rituals took place there in the past, how many innocents were sacrificed to my "father" and what sort of pain that they endured, for what? He died as a mortal and the all the rituals, sacrifices and prayers did nothing.
Nyalee is still awake. I approach her with some hesitation. My Spell Trap is still active and was all the way from Yaga-Shura's domain. I feel that she will turn on me when I have given her back her heart and Yaga-Shura's for their destruction; she has nothing to live for and will probably welcome death when it is something she can have.
She doesn't disappoint me, but the battle that follows does. I don't enjoy killing a mother whose return of her heart gives her the love for her son back, but I have little choice. After completing her ritual, she realizes what she has done in the betrayal of Yaga-Shura and calls forth two Shambling Mounds, a Nymph, and a couple of Spiders. I summon a Planetar and get to work. This place is sick with undead; no matter how many of them I slay there are always more, and several Ghasts and Mummies wander into the battle as well. I distract Nyalee with the Wand Of Monster Summoning and cast Magic Missile on her twice to prevent her casting anything else. I notice she is magic resistant enough that a couple of the missiles are ineffective, so I cast Lower Resistance on her and stay away from the Shambling Mounds while the Planetar deals with the undead and the Gnolls distract Nyalee from me. When enough Gnolls are dead I raise Ogres and set them on the Shambling Mounds. I am unconcerned whether they will damage it, just that they will keep them away from me. A couple of Staff whacks and Nyalee is Near Death, and an Ogre does her in. Now for the undead; a Wand Of Fire fireball damages them all severely. I then try the Staff on the one Shambling Mound remaining (the Planetar must have taken care of the other one) and I have found the first enemy I have ever seen that is immune to blunt damage, and an animated pile of organic material of all things. Nothing goes through organic material like acid, so Melf's Acid Arrow is my next spell, and I plink the Shambling Mound with the Sling while leading it around the temple. For quite a few rounds the acid damages it, and then I hurl a Skull Trap into the midst of the undead horde who follows it. Mummies, ghasts, and Shambling Mound all are struck dead.
I search the remainder of the temple carefully. Aside from a Spell Shield scroll on the body of Nyalee, a spell I didn't have (and didn't miss) there is nothing save the few minor gems and gold dropped by the Ghasts and so forth. I don't leave immediately; for some reason I find the temple intriguing, especially in the dead of night, now that it is finally cleaned out. Gargoyles and devils adorn the parapets, and a mist hangs thickly in the twisted trees beyond, billowing and glinting in the moonlight. The night is alive with sound, but I doubt its emitters are all living; the dead do not sleep easily in this place.
I return to the Abyss, change a few spells, and I do not sleep easily either. Cespenar didn't seem to have any recipes that used the Baalor Claw. The events ahead weigh upon my mind. Yaga-Shura will be certainly a tough opponent, and I awaken several times in trying to drift off to sleep with night terrors of him summoning twenty or thirty Burning Men and then blocking all the exits.
I leave as soon as I awaken. I don't say goodbye to Sarevok or Cespenar; I am too focused and grim. I don't know where the infernal portal will put me if I'm not specific, so I choose the devil I know, and return to the Temple Of Bhaal grounds. I walk sixteen hours to Yaga-Shura's camp resting briefly on the way to ensure that I am not too tired when I get there. I will have eight hours to do whatever I must before I become tired again.
When I arrive, innocents are fleeing the wreckage of the invaded Saradush through the camp and Yaga-Shura's soldiers are cutting them down. I return the favour. How could Saradush have been invaded? I cleaned out the sewers... but a section of the outer perimeter has collapsed and the town is in flames. So this is why Yaga-Shura had so many Duergar with strong magical hammers working for him: tunneling under the perimeter wall and collapsing it to let a horde of Fire Giants in.
And just over a long stone bridge, there he is! A giant among giants, his hair and beard are as fiery as a glowing ember and his booming voice quakes the earth when he speaks to me. To imagine that he was indestructible as well... I thought that I would have to search for him, but I have immediately found his camp, for he probably still thinks himself indestructible. Many of his human soldiers are here as well, but they are not my quarry, though they may prove annoying when I deal with Yaga-Shura himself. I throw a Skull Trap at him to start the process and injure his followers. He is amazed that I managed to injure him, amazed enough that he leaves... I don't waste time awaiting his inevitable return. Casting Improved Alacrity, I follow the tactic that worked so well against the other Fire Giants by casting Protection From Magical Weapons to that my casting is not interrupted, then raising two Mordenkainen's Swords and applying Haste to all three of us. Yaga-Shura returns; he has brought reinforcements: a mage, a cleric and several soldiers. More soldiers also arrive from the south, including another Fire Giant.
I send the Swords to deal with Yaga-Shura himself and summon a Planetar to deal with the soldiers, then a Skeleton Warrior. I deal with the reinforcements, first concentrating on the mage. One of the Fire Giants charges me, so I Stoneskin and finish off the mage trying to ignore the elemental fire damage that gets through the Stoneskins from his fearsome hammer. I have to retreat across the bridge to heal and then cast Improved Haste on myself from the cloak. I deal with a couple of soldiers and a cleric there. Meanwhile Yaga-Shura is getting pounded by the Swords and is probably very injured by now. The Skeleton Warrior is gone, and probably the Planetar too, but they have served their purpose. A Fire Giant crosses the bridge after me, and I hit him with the Wand Of Frost, scoot around him and check Yaga-Shura. I lead him over the bridge and hit him with the Wand Of Frost twice. Now he is Badly Injured. Things are progressing well. Now he is... Uninjured? What? Oh, no: I have disregarded one of Yaga-Shura's clerics, thinking he was just another soldier, and he completely healed Yaga-Shura. I am running out of offensive spells, and more soldiers have arrived, including another Fire Giant. All seems lost... I may have to return later.
No; there will be no later. I will finish Yaga-Shura, and I know how to do it. First, I zip past Yaga-Shura and get rid of that annoying cleric with a Wand Of Frost and a goodly tap from the Staff; he was already injured. I then cast Simulacrum. Now there are two Elmonsters, and each holds a Wand Of Frost, the bane of fire-dwelling creatures. Yaga-Shura advances on me but is hit twice with each round by the icy blast, and is already Injured by the time he makes it across the bridge. Several of his allies accompanying him drop from the extreme cold. Mirrored Elmonsters make a semi-circle around him and repeat the process again, and again. Growing steadily weaker, frost in his beard making him look old, by his third attempt to cross the bridge he is about as Near Death as he can be. I cast Chromatic Orb on him. and the mighty Bhaalspawn is finished with a first-level spell; he falls...
... and I am no longer in the clearing near Saradush, in Yaga-Shura's camp. Instead, the Solar who greeted me earlier has returned, to my "home" in the Abyss, where I now stand. Her information before was vague, but I can't say that now... it is revealing, perhaps too much so. I am not prepared for what I see, but I see it nonetheless, and must deal with it as best I can.
If a Solar tells you something, or shows you something, you are supposed to rest assured that it is the truth, and a more absolute truth than it is often possible for a human to deliver, seen from the grander perspective of being an important entity in the cosmos. So it is said. Gorion wrote in the note he left to me in the Candlekeep chest that my mother was his friend and lover, and now she appears... my mother... the mother I never knew. But she was no friend or lover of Gorion: her name is... was... Alianna, a priestess of Bhaal. I was to be killed shortly after my birth in a ritual to restore Bhaal through blood sacrifice, the same sort of blood sacrifice that Sarevok sought ascension from. My own mother was going to kill me to return Bhaal to power.
My father was an adventurer then, a Harper working towards good ends to keep the Realms safe; this much I know, and he or some far-away essence of him tells me that he and his companions raided the temple and stopped the ritual. Gorion himself killed my mother. Most of the other Bhaalspawn were killed. At least one was not: Sarevok, my "brother." Or is he really my brother? Was he another child of Arianna? Gorion could only save one child; Sarevok was left behind by Gorion, but I was saved. The child Sarevok who appears identifies this... abandonment and subsequent raising by foster parents in the Iron Throne as the source of his resentment and descent into evil.
But as a good thief's trained eye can reveal a deceiving illusion, so can a mage's mind, though the deceit is not overly camouflaged. Arianna, my "mother," of all people would know the years of these occurrences, and especially so as a follower of Bhaal. The Time Of Troubles took the life of my "father" only eleven years ago, and it lasted only three years. I would be at the most fourteen years old if, as my "mother" said, that it was IN the Time Of Troubles that Bhaal whispered to her that she was to bear one of the Children.
A simple word of two letters, spoken, for a moment moves a breath of air and disappears into diffusion and fading human memory. Yet it is there and should not have been; being minor does not change that it was spoken, and this fading human's memory shall seize and preserve it because this fragile breath of air makes all the difference. I disbelieve all of this. My father Gorion did not kill my mother; they are shades all, shades to deceive me and I shall not believe them. The Solar as trickster: now I have finally seen everything. But this Solar could be different. What if an evil Bhaalspawn had triumphed and inherited this domain? She would still be the one to greet him or her and guide them to a possible ascendancy, one that I don't want. So this Solar could be capable of deceit if it had been told to do so, but lying not being in its nature, does a poor job of it.
For the second time, one of the magically barred passages in my Abyssal "home" is opened, and I suddenly realize their meaning: there are five passages, five powerful Bhaalspawn. Each time I defeat one, I will face another challenge in this place. I may also gain another ability, as I gained the ability to return to here at will when the first challenge was completed. When the shades of a past that never was and the Solar are gone, I am returned to the former field of the battle with Yaga-Shura. And who should appear but Melissan, who conveniently, for the second time, arrives just after the battle is over. Also conveniently, she was unable to save Saradush and its Bhaalspawn are all dead, not that they proved any threat to her plans. I am rapidly losing patience with her lies and deceptions, but no matter how rudely I try to break her facade she is determined to keep me on this path. She tells me that I should journey to Amkethran and meet with a "friend" called Balthazar who runs a temple there. So, I will do so, but on my own time. I have nowhere else to go without following her "plans" but I will take my time about it.
Yaga-Shura's armour and weapon are museum-quality works; his hammer is a +4 that provides Level Drain Immunity. I gather a few other minor jewels and items from the bodies, including a +2 mace from the mistaken cleric. The giant's tents still stand; they are the size of houses. An open stone stove, with two whole cattle impaled on a spit and a pot large enough to seat three people, could have a roof put on it and be a comfortable cottage, it is so vast. Other than that I find on the ground, there is nothing else. I return to the Abyss.
I notice upon arriving that I can level-up. I am now level 24, gaining a 7th level spell (for which I choose Mordenkainen's Sword, rapidly becoming a favourite of mine) another hit point and three to my Lore. For my high-level ability, I choose the spell Dragon Breath. It looks devastating, and since I seem to be finished with fire-dwellers for now, it may make a good addition to my spellset. In no hurry to complete Melissan's little "tasks" and unable to return to Saradush, I rest, which will also prepare my spells should I need them in the next challenge I face in the Abyss.
The next challenge would be nigh-impossible without the allies I am able to summon. The Solar's deception has gone from mere words to active threats. I face a group that would have been mine had I been the one "left behind" and Sarevok taken in by Gorion instead. The leader is a version of myself, but a fighter in black armour. His allies are Semaj and Angelo, the mage and fighter/mage allies of Sarevok in the battle that finished Sarevok's campaign, and Tamoko, the fighter/cleric lover of Sarevok (the one, I suspect, that he truly loved. I did not fight her then; instead I convinced her to not throw her life away in futile effort to save Sarevok from the inevitable.) My evil twin uses Greater Whirlwind and I can barely keep away from him. He has enough attacks per round that I had best avoid him completely. His single-minded pursuit of me proves to be his undoing. I employ the technique that worked so well against the Fire Giants: three hasted Mordenkainen's Swords and a Planetar carve his friends to mincemeat while I need do little else but keep away from him; I try to Maze him but he is somewhat magic resistant. I help the process with a couple of Staff taps to Semaj to dispel his protections and immediately have the Planetar cast Insect Plague on him to prevent any future spellcasting.
When the allies of "Elmonster" are dead, I cast Protection From Magical Weapons. His sword slips uselessly through me over and over again, and I can manoeuver the Swords and Planetar into position, walling him in. Substituting a Sword for myself traps him, and he is killed rather messily. Phooey. He was never me in any possible past, present or future; I disbelieve it. My enemies' weapons, armour and bodies disappear... so does the entire challenge area, and this I can't disbelieve: it becomes a mountain oasis, rippled stone under my boots and green large-leafed plants surrounding clear pools. The air becomes suddenly cool and fresh, losing the Abyssal taint of sulfur and death. All of the Mordenkainen's Swords and the Planetar are here too; none have taken so much as a scratch. I am only slightly injured. This is a very pretty place, for the Abyss, and it makes it a little more bearable. The allies start disappearing as I gaze in wonder around this place that appeared from nowhere. Soon, I am alone for now... the water looks invitingly cool. I step slightly into it, and I am healed. My wounds, though slight, vanish instantly. I will rest here from now on; it reminds me greatly of the foyer of the Suldanessellar palace with its large leaves and running water that brought me such peace when I needed it.
But there is one body remaining, that of Tamoko. Any armour that she wore and weapon she wielded are gone. Strange that she remained here when the others disappeared, the one who I had spared before. But she is merely a shade of a past and present that never was. I don't know what happened to the real Tamoko.
I call to Sarevok and he approaches. His eyes are wide with the change wrought to this place, until he sees Tamoko's lifeless body. He recognizes her immediately, and for the second time I see something I never expected from him: the man who butchered hundreds and planned to butcher thousands, whose only goal was a wave of blood to wash over our world, is fighting back tears over a solitary human body. He really did love her... I have found a heart in centre of the stone that once rested in his chest. I calm him somewhat by explaining that I don't think that this is a Tamoko who ever was or would be, but I need to know, and only he can tell the difference, and I ask him to.
He is still hesitant approaching the body, and stoops before it. He removes a gauntlet and touches her shoulder as a father would his newborn child. He turns her slightly. His bright eyes suddenly shine and he snaps upright, and almost knocks me off my feet moving me into position. He thrusts an extended gauntleted finger towards the shoulder he had touched, and explains in his booming baritone that this is NOT Tamoko; she had a crescent-moon birthmark on her right shoulder that is missing. With this evidence, I need not fear the shades of things to come from this point on; they are mere illusions sent to deceive me of the way of things.
But sadness and doubt descends over Sarevok on his pronouncement thereafter; whoever she is, she is similar enough to the real Tamoko, whom Sarevok may never see again, that we will pay her the last respects she never had. Borne respectfully on a bier, Sarevok says his final farewells to his only love, and as the flames of her cremation rise ever higher from the Abyssal fire pit on which the bier was lain, the weight of the years and the losses presses down on him and he can stand no more, and breaks down. I grasp his shoulder to let him know that I stand with him, and can barely restrain myself from joining his wailing anguish.
But as he is doubled over and his eyes averted at the height of his pain I clench my jaw shut with great effort to avoid crying out from the horror of the briefest glance of a crescent-moon birthmark on her right shoulder showing itself through the consuming of her flesh, and vanishing into the inferno, and surely I shall never know the answer to this mystery though it shall haunt me to the end of my days, nor answers to many of the questions of the enigmatic universe we live in.
When it is done, I ask Cespenar to collect the ashes out of our sight in something appropriate; Sarevok swears that he will return to Kara-Tur to bury them with Tamoko's ancestors someday. He says many other things too, but each softer and stranger than the last. I reassure him in gentle tones, while guiding his faltering step to the beautiful mountain oasis that has just been created for me; I throw a backward glance at Cespenar on the way there and know that only a wave of my hand is required for my wishes to be carried out. When our ponderous step finally carries us there a comfortable bed has been prepared, and Sarevok rests, emotionally drained and exhausted. The water of the healing pools is but an arm's length away, and I touch the cool, clear water to my brother's feverish brow in the hopes that it will soothe the pain in his mind as it did the wounds of my body. He sleeps now, blissfully and without terrors. The debt of years is paid.
I depart the Abyss for another oasis, one on the way to Amkethran, but not before ensuring that Cespenar will attend to Sarevok and watch over him well.
Battle is not always glorious; sometimes it is merely horrible, and sometimes it is better to avoid it altogether. This latter statement I discover firsthand at the Oasis that I pass through on the road to Amkethran. Hundreds of Tethyrian soldiers are camped there: humans and elves, warriors, clerics, archers and mages. Their leader confronts me, and I am stunned to learn that they are all awaiting my passage through this place as they believe me to be the Bhaalspawn responsible for the fall and destruction of Saradush. They will not listen to reason or any explanations. They are simple soldiers who have been employed in this by a sadly mistaken monarchy who believes this to be for the good of the Realms, as I discover in a bounty notice that I pick up from a table while passing through their camp; I will demonstrate this error to the Tethyrians at next opportunity, and it will only further my case that I invisibly passed through their encampment without killing, or even injuring, a single one of their soldiers.
Though they are blind to me, they can still hear my passage and there are many of them. I am surrounded and trapped, unable to push my way through the throng. If I become visible, I will have to kill them to stay alive and escape. I don't want to hurt them, so I give them something else to focus on that is visible to draw them away from me, something non-damaging: I cast Summon Hakeashar. They quickly leave to put the Hakeashar down and I am free to make my escape and continue to Amkethran without stopping, though it is becoming rather hot the further I progress.