I explore Amkethran, and encounter its mayor. His daughter is about to be executed for stealing bread for the poor by two members of the occupying army, though whose is unsure. She admits to having stolen bread, but I can't watch her put to death for something so trivial. Neither can I interfere violently with the law here, as I am unfamiliar with it and indeed laws are this harsh in some areas. Instead, I pay off the soldiers with four thousand gold pieces. It's a trivial amount considering what I have. Her grateful father repays five hundred of it and gives me part of an enchanted cloak, which was once the property of Montolio, the tutor of Drizzt Do'Urden. It requires a clasp still, but I will keep in case I happen to discover such an object.
The first stop in a new town is always the tavern and inn, and this one is like most of the others, a low and smoky mixture of all levels of Amkethranian folk. When I enter, a nobleman named Marlowe tells me that he is in dire need of help and asks me to meet him at his home nearby for details. I talk to the innkeeper Zakee Rafeh, who is eager to answer my questions and a very knowledgeable man indeed. He knows much of the people of the area and beyond; many weary travelers must call the Zephir Inn home for a night as their first sign of civilization after a long trek through inhospitable desert.
Balthazar, according to him, is a Bhaalspawn. I search my memory wondering whether Melissan told me this already, but it doesn't seem so. Perhaps I was told but did not remember as I was not familiar with his name at the time. He also knows of Melissan and wonders why she is protecting Bhaalspawn. He knows of other names: Sendai, a drow whom Balthazar seems destined to battle, and Abazigal, who seems to be either a dragon or a dragon-fighter; his knowledge is hazy. I sell off quite a few items that I have collected to him as well, but he has nothing worth buying. His stock consists of completely non-magical weapons and armour, a sight I haven't seen since Athkatla.
Returning to Amkethran, I again explore the village, in no hurry. I pause to watch a group of mercenaries practicing. Their trainer summons Umber Hulks and Minotaurs. They are dispatched in a hail of arrows usually before reaching the first of them. When their arrows are exhausted they draw their blades and practice their swordsmanship on the monsters. Then I see someone who leaves a bad feeling wherever he goes: Saemon Havarian. It seems he's involved in the smuggling trade here and is double-crossing as usual. I refuse to help him. Me manages to draw me into it as usual by telling the other smugglers that I have their stolen wares and then leaves. Good riddance to bad rubbish. I take on the mercenaries easily; their swords can't damage me. I immediately sell their armour, swords and helmets to the innkeeper. There is a Temple Of Waukeen not far from here, and I decide to visit there.
In front of the temple, the priest, a dignified and somewhat elderly man, confronts one of the many monks around here and demands to see Balthazar. He speaks of suffering in the village; that everyone is too poor to buy food and that Balthazar is concerned with nothing but building his army. These monks aren't as friendly as others I have known, certainly not the quiet introspective types, and this one decides to battle the old priest. I'm certainly not going to stand around and let this happen, but if I attack the monk, I could ruin whatever small trust Balthazar has in me and forfeit any quests that I may need. I am at a loss what to do, and it seems inevitable that the old man will die before my eyes. His beloved Waukeen will not save him for she could not save herself; she is missing, though temples and even entire towns are still dedicated to her, such as the town of Trademeet, and... and suddenly I know how to save him, from someone I met in Trademeet, and wished that I hadn't.
The monk prepares for battle; his concentration is great as he pushes magical energy through his body, transforming his feet and fists into enchanted weapons powerful enough to shatter stone. I put on the Ring Of Human Influence, as persons of extreme charisma demand attention. The monk prepares to strike.
His concentration is shattered by a tap on the shoulder. "Wow. Are you a real monk?" I ask, trying to sound convincingly stupid. He glares at me with a face clenched as tightly as his fists, but my foolish question seems genuine when bolstered by extreme charisma, so he does not attack me, perhaps thinking the village idiot has stolen a mage robe to shade himself. He says nothing. Now he must prepare again. The priest has finished casting. The monk again faces his quarry. I tap him again.
"What's 'qi'?" I ask him in wide-eyed foolish wonder. The priest's mace bonks him in the head while he is distracted. He yowls and grasps the sore spot with both hands. The priest continues swinging as the monk tries to both dodge the blows and rub his bruised head. The monk prepares for battle once again.
Tap tap... "How come you guys shave your heads?" Bonk.
Tap tap... "Can I be a monk? I heard it's real neat." Bonk.
Tap tap... "How do you kick so high?" Bonk.
After a few more rounds, a Balthazar mage suddenly teleports in, drawn by his companion's suffering. Surveying the situation, he sees an old priest in perfect health, a young, fit monk with bruises all over him, who is moaning and grasping his head, and me, so I still take the blame for all the monk's bruises, though I get nothing more than a warning as this is a "trivial matter" compared to others Balthazar must deal with. The mage teleports his injured companion away and I doubt they will ever get the true story from him. I laugh as I haven't in years, great belly-shaking bouts of pure, unpolluted mirth and temporarily forget my situation. The priest is thankful to have been saved, as he thought he was surely dead. I give him a thousand gold for to aid the starving Amkethranians and he rewards me for my trouble with an oaken ring. It's a druid's item, but it could still find a useful place in my planned museum of enchantments, as Cespenar already indicated that it could be fused with the Nymph's Tear I found earlier.
I visit the temple, and, noting that Illithids had been mentioned earlier, stock up on Potions Of Genius. I buy out all of their Potions Of Superior Healing as well. While searching for a way up to the upper levels of the town and Marlowe's home, I blunder into a cavern, where the smugglers hide. A party of monks is there and they are closing the smugglers' lair. I don't interfere, though I could be persuaded to if the monks became violent, but there is no bloodshed and both monks and smugglers leave quietly. There are several chests at the north end of the cavern and an intricate crane mechanism in the centre, clearly made for the transport of smuggled goods from somewhere below. I imagine that something rather valuable must be hidden in the chests of smugglers, and they must be well-trapped, so as I am due for a rest anyway, I throw the Spell Trap up from the Staff and open what I can, but it is just imagination: there is nothing valuable. There are some nasty traps, including one that shoots repeated bolts at me, but I simply leave the cave to where the bolts cannot follow and drink a healing potion.
I must find a way to the top level of the terraced homes of Amkethran (which makes me homesick for Brynnlaw yet again.) Following the intricate path of the walkways and ladders leads me into a home on the east side of the village, and I am able to navigate the roofs to the summit. I find an interesting shop along that way that sells both weapons and arcana, it seems, so I decide (of course) to see what there is for sale there.
And, who should I find but Lazarus Librarus from Saradush. He has relocated here due to the sacking of the town; I doubt he will get as much business, but at least he lived through it. I find another spell I haven't learned yet (Protection From Electricity) and buy it. It probably won't do me any good, but at least it's there if I need it. His co-proprietor is a gnomish smith named Kerrick, a strange little man who runs a large engine that seems to make armour out of cloth. He expressed interest in the Silver Pantaloons I've been hauling around since Athkatla, still having not found a use for them. He seems to want me to find a Bronze pair. Other than this, he has nothing to offer me. He also mentioned a Gold pair... Gold, Silver and Bronze...
I invert the Bag Of Holding. I've never done this before, and a small mountain of items falls out and piles up to my waist with a loud crash. I dig through the items: a Cloak Of The Stars, a Wand Of Wonder, three sets of vampire stakes, several Illithid Control Circlets, and midway through the pile are the Golden Pantaloons from the fop nobleman who mistook me for his laundry service in the Friendly Arm Inn. They have served me well on the few occasions I wanted to appear fashionable without looking overly wizardly; the last time I wore them was the Council fete at which I overimbibed. I return all the items back to the Bag and place the Golden and Silver Pantaloons in last. I don't doubt I will be returning here, though as Kerrick is an armourer I'll probably end up with another useless item, but it may end up in my museum if it is good enough, and I am curious as to what it might be.
Marlowe greets me as I enter his home; he has been expecting me. He tells me that his daughter Malla, who lies near death, has been pursued by a lich named Vangoethe, who stole her soul as she is a virgin and he required it for some arcane ritual or rite he was planning. Vongoethe haunts the cave where the Amkethranians bury their dead. He will tell the monk guarding it to lower the wards to permit me entry. I travel to the cave and the monk does allow me entry. I step through into the dark coolness of the cave, heavy with the must of decay, but not before I equip a Protection From Undead scroll in an easily accessible place.
A circular platform inlaid with the stone calendar of an extinct culture dominates the cavern. Around the walls on raised platforms lie the tombs of the dead. Four tables also occupy the platform. I turn one, and the lich Vangoethe appears. Unlike other liches, he is willing to speak instead of merely fighting anyone who crosses his path, and speak he does. Marlowe signed a pact with the lich for twenty years of wealth and success in return for his soul at the end of this time, but slipped up in his end of the bargain, so the lich took his wife instead and the cowardly Marlowe fled with his daughter. Now, he uses his daughter's life as a shield against the consequences of his infernal bargain.
I return to Marlowe's home to see if this is the truth. Is it? Indeed, that it is. He accompanies me to the lich's domain at my insistence that others stop paying his debt. The lich will return Malla's soul to me; I can keep it or return it to her. Marlowe asks that I return it as a final favour to him and I agree. He is instantly slain and the lich vanishes whence it came. I feel no remorse; Marlowe should have known better than to make foolish bargains with liches and his wife's life was lost because of it.
Outwardly, the gem in my hand resembles a Star Sapphire, but the lich has performed a Soul Trap on this particular one and the essence of Malla is somewhere in there. If I wore it as an Ioun Stone it would raise my Constitution and Dexterity, undoing the effects of the Abyssal test and making me naturally regenerative. But just by knowing that it is the wrong thing to do, I find I am unable to use it. It is Malla's soul and I have given my word to her dying father, a man who undid his past mistakes and faced his destruction quite bravely.
I return the trapped soul to Malla and she awakens. I do the right thing for her, giving her five thousand gold pieces to get started on a life of her own and we depart her former residence. I am curious about those crypts in the cave of the dead, and the lich is gone, so I return there. Rickety ladders ascend to the vertical coffins. I climb one carefully. Opening the coffin yields... a trap. My Spell Trap is active so it won't be fatal though it may hurt a bit. The coffin is empty and it looks like a tunnel leads into it. I step through...
...and I immediately appear just outside another coffin on a different platform. This is a strange place. I open the coffin on that platform, another trap goes off, and I am on a third platform. Eventually I am on a platform with a coffin I can't open. I can't force it either. I cast Knock, and it fails too. I will need a key to get inside it.
I return to the raised podium and twist another of the four tables, as one had made Vangeothe appears. Four Greater Fire Elementals appear. I don't take a scratch disposing of them all, though it takes a long time with the Sling. I merely lead them to the crypts and ascend the ladder. They can't climb it and mill about the base while I pick them off. When I descend the ladder, I slip and fall to the ground. I black out briefly, but am uninjured when I arise.
The next table yields four Fission Slimes. I only ever met one of these before, in the dungeons of Durlag's Tower, but I remember that if they are not killed with fire, they multiply. I turn the fire column of the Wand Of Fire on them, and walk so that it cuts through them all. Another hit and a Fireball and they are all gone. From the next two tables come two Ice Golems, which I have never seen before, and four Greater Air Elementals. I use the same technique on them that worked so well on the Greater Fire Elementals, and the only damage I suffer is from falling off the ladder yet again.
Though it seems that things were being unlocked and disarmed with the last turn of the tables, the locked casket still eludes me. There is nothing more to do in this cavern, it seems, so I will have to wait. I visit the ex-smuggler's lair again to see if what I had done in the caverns has changed anything there; it has not. Time to continue with the grim business at hand, made grimmer by the priest of Waukeen, who confirms that Sendai is a Drow Bhaalspawn and Abazigal fearsome, though to what degree I am not sure. I return to the tavern and rest, so that I may awaken and depart in the early morning before dawn's first rays smite the land.
I stop dead in my tracks; this isn't the Cloak Of Mirroring. I must have grabbed the wrong cloak, but which cloak? I never had a cloak that did this. I put it back on again and the Drow approach me. I am encased in a sinewy ball of writhing magical energy exactly as if I cast Spell Trap. At that moment a spell from the Hive Mother strikes me, but the sphere absorbs it. It doesn't reflect it back, but I am unharmed. At least it's working. I throw a Skull Trap south, and three of the Drow take damage from it.
I only have to raise one Mordenkainen's Sword to deal with the Drow, and they all attack it while I bash them. I briefly interrupt this to raise a Hakeashar to deal with the wizard. When it drains her spells, I return to bashing. By the time the Sword is gone only two Drow are left and they are easy to keep away from and use the Sling on. They drop a few nice swords and magical crossbows. Next, I lead the Elder Umber Hulks into the open area and Sling them to death as well. Only the Hive Mother remains. I send the Hakeashar ahead and prepare to do what I must, but she slays it with a Death Spell. Sigh... I reach Level 25; I can pick another 8th level spell, gain another hit point and three Lore.
I am ambushed by another Drow group returning the way I came to scout for a better approach to the Hive Mother: it is led by the "lonely woodsman." I raise a few Ogres to deal with the mage, then another Mordenkainen's Sword. There's an Efreeti following me around as well, but if I wear the Cloak Of Mirroring its spells can't affect me much and its weapon is useless against me. I take the mage down with True Sight to dispel her invisibility, Breach to get rid of her protections and the Staff to dispel what remains. Then I can finish the rest of them, concentrating on whatever one is injured. However, though I think a Planetar would be helpful I can't raise one: all my 9th levels spells are gone, though I haven't cast a single one. This was probably due to the Beholder. I will have to rest soon. I also have a lot of goods I could sell.
But where I will rest, I don't want the Hive Mother suddenly visiting. I must finish her. I put on the oddly different Cloak Of Mirroring and confront her. I immediately raise allies with the Wand Of Monster Summoning; I can cast no spells when the Anti-Magic Ray takes effect and it dispels all of my protections. As well as the standard Beholder fare, she has a complement of wizard spells such as Chain Lightning, Magic Missile, and Stoneskin... and Maze... eaagh. As she is a Beholder, magic is innate to her and she never runs out of spells. I use more hits of the Wand Of Monster Summoning than I ever have before in one battle, as I must stay close to her to dispel her Stoneskins with the Staff Of The Magi lest she be undamagable, and I don't want to get Mazed. When she has killed most of the allies, I raise some more. We gradually wear her down, and she is dead in the first try. I pant and pant and miss Brynnlaw when the long battle is over.
The "woodsman" is dead, so I explore his cabin. It is empty; a few minor treasures and some magical weapons and armour are in the chests and upright cabinet. Lhaeozarus doesn't find any traps, so I chance it and Knock and force them. A fire burns merrily in the open stove, the beds are clean and neatly made; it looks like home, one of many that I have inherited through killing the occupants. The life of a child of the Lord Of Murder is like that, even with good intentions. I am suddenly overcome with tiredness, and I pull the door closed behind me to keep out whatever denizens of the night can be found in this area, collapse into bed and rest until mid-morning.
Further along, yet more Umber Hulks, Sword Spiders, Mutated Spiders and a Wraith Spider await. All but one of each Spider fall to another Cloudkill; they are Staffed into oblivion. I stand before a long, gleaming bridge, high above a chasm. It is adorned in strictly Drow fashion, and I wager that it is coated with traps. I would have lost my wager; there are no traps but instead a group of Mutated Spiders. They move very quickly and attack madly fast. A Fireball in their midst kills two outright and puts two Near Death. I Staff the two near-dead ones and try to keep away from the others. The Girdle Of Piercing is very helpful against their attacks.
There are two possible paths here. On one of them is an upright container that I can't open, nor can I enter the door nearby. The other just has a door. I have no choice but to enter there. Approximately a dozen Drow are inside and they aren't pleased to see me at all. Unfortunately I badly overdo it with three hasted Mordenkainen's Swords and the Improved Haste from the cloak for myself, thinking that this is the battle with Sendai. The Swords carve the Drow to mincemeat; each lasts no longer than a few seconds against the trio of killing machines. When all of them are dead, I collect their magical weaponry and mutter to myself, wondering what I will do next. One of them dropped the key to the other areas I couldn't get to before this. But a whisper of conversation, perhaps carried by the ventilation of the place that brings fresh air from above, strikes my ear: Sendai it seems was meeting with a monk, probably of Balthazar's temple, and they will do battle eventually.
The vertical "container" I couldn't open before turns out to be a door. The passage beyond looks bleak. I will try the other one. I regret it. There are many more of those horrid Mutated Spiders with their fast attacks, low THAC0 and relentless speed, and I take a lot of damage disposing of them. I end up using the Wand Of Fire and throwing a Skull trap into the mass of them just to dispose of them as quickly as possible. There are other spiders here too: several Sword Spiders, a Phase Spider or two and a spider with a name (though I can't recall it) who is very hard to hit, protected by Spell Turning and casts Heal on herself when injured, so she takes a long time to kill. None of these other spiders can damage me, though. I make level 26 in this area, but get nothing for it but three Lore and one hit point.
Another bridge looms before me, and the other end of it is packed with Drow Warriors. I don't have any good spells, Drow being magic resistant, and I foolishly used all the Swords I could raise. I take out whom I can with a Skull Trap and a few Wand Of Fire hits while dodging them. Then I raise a Fireshield, cast Protection From Magical Weapons and let them surround me. Even when their weapons zip right through me, the Fireshield damages them. One of the Umber Hulks and another Drow drops dead. But I am almost out of good spells, a few more Drow arrive to join them, and I still haven't faced Sendai.
So I slip into invisibility and leave, muttering all the way back about my foolishness at not saving my spells. What if the Drow trackers follow me? Silly wizard I am. I not only close the cabin door, I lock and ward it from the inside. Then, I change a few spells, getting rid of Resist Fear for another Melf's Acid Arrow, and most significantly getting rid of Shapechange for Dragon Breath.
It looks like a lich "lives" here; Orduvall seems to be his name, but liches are liches so I may be a bit hazy in the recollection. I haven't fought a lich in a while, but I haven't forgotten how to. I throw a Spell Trap up even before I enter his domain. When I see him, I immediately hit the Wand Of Monster Summoning (I really get a lot of use out of that wand.) The lich will inevitably cast Time Stop and waste several of his best spells on the worthless monsters, and that is just what he does. When they are dead, I raise a Hakeashar as he's wasted his Death Spell so can't get rid of it, and sit back to watch the fun as the frustrated lich heals the Hakeashar with every attempt to harm it. The Hakeashar lasts the duration; it disappears when the lich has exhausted his repertoire down to first and second level spells. He has just enough to make my Spell Trap go away, and then he is drained and as vulnerable as he can be; shambling skeletons are rather easy to keep away from. I weaken him a bit with the Sling and then smash him down with the Staff. He gives 22,000 experience and drops three interesting items: a Drow Wardstone, a named heart called the Heart Of The Damned, and a gem called the Eye Of Tyr that I remember could be used to complement the holy sword Carsomyr. I also plucked a Skull Of The Lich item from a container in his area while killing time while the Hakeashar was working on him; I don't know what this is for.
I almost miss another area, which is entered near a large machine that looks like a Spelljammer, and it's packed with Derro Berserker dwarves. There are about twenty of them and each of them goes into a Berserk state when they see me. It is a large open cavern, so I don't have any trouble keeping away from them. I want to save my spells for Sendai and her troupe, and the Berserkers won't be magic resistant, so I use the Wand Of Fire on them several times when they are all bunched together chasing me. Several of them go even more berserk and attack their fellow dwarves. I bash a few with the Staff, plink a few with the Sling, and eventually they are all dead. I level up yet again to level 28, and earn a 7th level spell slot, another hit point and 3 Lore. I fill my Bag Of Holding with their gear and the things I found before and return to the cabin to dump the items in a chest.
I stumble around the underground complex for a while, lost in the unfamiliar surroundings, before progressing. I enter what seems to be the heart of it. A drow priestess recognizes me, but she is not Sendai. She teleports away and challenges me to pass. In a small adjoining room, there are Greater Earth Elementals. There isn't enough room here for manoeuvering, so I lead them out one at a time, wear the Girdle Of Bluntness and Stoneskin, and melee them both handily, though it takes a while for them to go down. The next resident in there is an Earth Elemental Prince named Ogremach. Yikes! He is not only very fast and very strong, but also casts Stoneskin on himself and dispels mine with a touch! I take a couple of nasty knocks. But I live. He doesn't. I only have one Mordenkainen's Sword left, so I will have to rest again. You know, journal, what I will be putting in that 7th level slot when I incant before resting... Mordenkainen's Sword has served me better than just about any other spell. I raise that one remaining Sword and Haste both of us. With myself dispelling his Stoneskins with the Staff as fast as he can raise them, and the Sword soaking up all his damage and being none the worse for it, he dies easily, for 56,000 experience.
I need to rest, but I also know that there are yet more enemies just around the corner, and they won't include Sendai; she would have much larger quarters. The Demon Knight, Abishai, Hive Mother Beholder, Vampire and Drow priestess Diaytha are the enemies. I put on the Cloak Of Mirroring and try to get off as many spells as possible before the Anti-Magic Ray will inevitably make this impossible, so cast Improved Alacrity. I immediately Disintegrate the vampire (and luckily it works; Maze would have been next if it failed) then cast Dragon Breath in the middle of the room. The Hive Mother and Diaytha are stunned and the latter is severely injured. I summon a Planetar and have it cast Insect Plague at the Hive Mother, and drop two Magic Missiles on her while she is down. The Planetar gets to work on the Demon Knight and Abishai and slays one outright with its vorpal blade. Meanwhile I dispel the Hive Mother's protections and get to work on her, rasing Dire Wolves with the Wand Of Monster Summoning to keep her distracted. The Planetar has killed both the demonic creatures but is terribly injured in the process, so I cast the Mass Cure ability I picked up in the Pocket Plane and heal both of us. While it Flamestrikes the Hive Mother I deal Daiytha the death-blow with the Staff, and the Hive Mother falls soon afterwards to our melee attacks, still concentrating most of its efforts uselessly on the Dire Wolves.
I check the area carefully afterwards. Daiytha dropped a nice shield; too bad I can't use it. But my work here is done for now. I return to the cabin, again unload a pile of items into the waiting chest there and rest. I like this home-away-from-home, though it lacks the service of the Abyss. I ensure that I pick a new 9th level spell since I can; I haven't tried Energy Blades yet, so I think that I will do so.
I have no trouble with him at all. I cast Stoneskin and raise a Fireshield after he uses his Greater Whirlwind; he basically kills himself with his nine or more attacks per round when he hits me through the Fireshield. He quickly exhausts my Stoneskins so Protection From Magical Weapons is next and he can't exhaust that; it lasts the four-round duration, but he does not. When he is dead, the geas the Spectator Beholder placed on the remaining Drow as the result of our wager slays every one of them. I yammer for a bit with the Spectator; he certainly is an intriguing Beholder. Many of them are as intelligent, just not as friendly as this one. Here would be an interesting traveling companion: a creature whose magic never needed to be memorized or scribed. I could show him how to learn new spells, and he could show me how to cast mine more often. But he has his path to follow and I mine, and he must make his way separately. I wish him well and he is gone.
Sendai, as Drow often do, is working with the Illithid. I immediately recognize the familiar garish design when I pass into the area adjoining where the challenge took place, and almost as immediately drink a Potion Of Genius. There is also an Umber Hulk here, so on goes the Girdle Of Bluntness and I Stoneskin to avoid too much damage; I get drained only once while disposing of both of them. A recessed container here contains a vial of pure mercury metal, and I wonder what Cespenar could do with the shimmering liquid. I don't inspect it further as mercury causes neurological damage, just the kind of thing a mage would like to avoid.
In two tiny adjoining chambers, little larger than closets, are Vampiric Illithid. They regenerate quickly, so quickly that any damage I cause is gone by the time my next strike comes. I would have to cast several spells to bring it down, and they do not seem to be important creatures, so I leave them alone and continue on. There are several more Illithid in the next circular chamber and an Umber Hulk. I get drained twice by the Illithid but then only have to keep away from them until it goes back up by five points. I get two critical hits on the Umber Hulk and it is dead, removing the fastest threat. I return to the other Illithid and try not to engage them more than one at a time; several hits in a row would be instantly fatal.
These Illithid are smarter than the ones in the Underdark; they heal themselves when injured but aren't magic resistant to it as the others were. The Ularthid does so, but it doesn't help it much and by concentrating on just that one and keeping away when I am hit until the effect wears off, he is soon down, and the last of the group has a name: Mithykyl. This must be the leader of them, the one directly in league with Sendai. But though Mithykyl in name he is not mythical in abilities and soon, when I finally can catch him after his morale fails, joins his fellow Illithid in wherever they go after death, perhaps some garish and silent Valhalla with fresh brain always on the table and all the talk and laughter taking place over telepathy.
A large wooden door now stands before me, and I am sure I have reached the final step. Sendai awaits within. I am rested and have a full complement of spells, so press on. Indeed she is there. She has prepared a little "surprise" for me, and around the seven radial platforms of the circular chamber she summons seven statues, seven clones of herself; she then vanishes and the first statue comes to life. It begins casting priest spells. I could unload spells on it, but I hesitate: there are six more Sendais to deal with after this one; I can't do anything to the statues before this "Sendai" is dead. I will have to conserve my spells, as I will be dealing with the real Sendai after this. So rather than going all-out, I simply hit the Wand Of Monster Summoning (yet again) to raise some disposable friends for "her" to waste spells on. Some Gnolls appear and she hits them with Insect Plague. A few continue to attack her regardless. But I find that her armour class is ridiculously low; I can't hit her with the Sling except on Criticals, and need to roll 15 or better to hit her with the Staff, even with a Strength of 22. When the Gnolls are gone I raise Dire Wolves to distract her and slowly wear her down... the effort is maddening and I would love to cast something but know that it could cost me my life in the long-term, and then the bloody bitch statue heals itself completely when it is Near Death and I have to start again. Luckily it is completely out of spells. When it gets Near Death again it starts to heal itself; finally I can stand no more and Magic Missile does it in.
Immediately another "Sendai" arises from a statue. This one is a mage instead of a priest. I don't need to alter what I do much; the Wand Of Monster Summoning again raises allies. Two Drow warriors accompany the statue Sendai as well. It casts Time Stop and then Gate. I am far enough away that the Pit Fiend turns on "Sendai" instead of me; the foolish statue didn't cast Protection From Evil first. It wastes most of its spells getting rid of the Pit Fiend, for which the Drow join in. I pelt them with sling bullets while they do this. When "Sendai" is out of spells I keep her and the Drow away from me and bring them down with the Sling. It's a long process, but I don't get injured by it. Knowing that another "Sendai" will arise when this one is slain, I make sure that she is the last to fall so that there are no other enemies to worry about in addition to whatever may appear. Two Sendais down, and five to go.
The third has a Drow mage and warrior companion, and is a dual-wielding thief. She goes invisible many times, so I decide that True Sight is the way to go regardless of future considerations; those backstabs could hurt and I am out of Stoneskins. The mage knows hardly any spells and a hit from the Wand Of Monster Summoning is enough to take her limited abilities out. This "Sendai" tries to go invisible to backstab me several times; I just run around and change direction frequently until True Sight kicks in and dispels the illusion. As I did before, I make sure to take "Sendai" out last. Three are down, with four to go.
The next "Sendai" also has a weak Drow mage and warrior along, so the same tactic works perfectly. This "Sendai" is a dual-wielding fighter, easy to keep away from. Five are down, two to go.
"Sendai" six is an archer, who wields a strong bow with +3 arrows it would seem. Ouch. It also has the complement of Drow warriors. The Wand Of Monster Summoning again distracts it from me while I deal with the Warriors.
Number seven is also a thief; and the Wand Of Monster Summoning prevents it from backstabbing me by distracting it with monsters. I also cast True Sight when it is weakened so that it lasts the remainder of the battle. It continues to try to go invisible but the True Sight brings it back into visibility seconds later before I am backstabbed. Number seven, the last statue, dies...
The real Sendai appears in the centre of the chamber at the point she vanished from. She doesn't get much of a chance to be angry; this is the moment I have been struggling through all the other battles for. She is attacked by four Hasted Mordenkainen's Swords, a Planetar and an Elmonster that dispels her protections and casts Breach to bring down her Protection From Magical Weapons. She can't drink potions fast enough to deal with the barrage, can't cast any spells while getting terribly beaten, and is mincemeat within twenty seconds. As she dies, she reaffirms her faith that the prophecy will continue to happen regardless of my influence; I haven't felt as good killing almost anyone as I did finally getting rid of her, but still when I look down at her Drow form with the breath leaving her body for the last time, I wonder if Solaufein is alive and well...
As I expected would happen, now that another Bhaalspawn is dead, I reappear in the Pocket Plane and the Solar greets me. I am treated to a counsel with myself, another illusion of the Solar, and I am told that my purpose is to prevent the occurrence of the Prophecy, that I am not destined to be one of the Bhaalspawn who cause the return of Bhaal. The prophecy will come to pass if I fail, and only I can stop it. Well, this much was obvious to me from the start: all the other Bhaalspawn I have met were either completely powerless to do anything or working diligently as part of the prophecy to fulfill it. At one point the Solar asks me why I am doing this, and although I expect a snappy answer, I open my mouth to speak but no words emerge. Why indeed. I would much rather be at home; I miss Brynnlaw with every fibre of my being and I have a life to lead there, a life that does not include very much of clambering around smelly holes in the ground and meeting things best left to bad dreams. But what if I did? What if I just packed up and went home? Could I live with myself after that? Would any of it mean anything when my "father" returned and smote the land? Would Brynnlaw be excused because of distance? No, nothing would be. And so I decide, and tell the Solar that I am doing this because it is the right thing to do, and not only for myself. I could not live in comfort knowing that others suffered and died for my inaction. And so it shall be, and I am transported from the Abyss.
There is a Bhaalspawn, or so I suspect, that I really don't want to see right now, and happily, I don't. When I return to Sendai's chamber after the brief Abyssal respite, Melissan does not suddenly arrive and say something to the effect of: Oh gee, another Bhaalspawn dead, and after all her hard work too. Neither does she arrive when I emerge, finally, into the outdoors and seek the shelter of the cozy cabin. I should like it if she never appeared anywhere again, but I remember that I still have to deal with Abazigal before receiving any further lies and schemes from her, so I probably will be spared having to look at her until then. Not that she's terribly unattractive; I wouldn't throw her out of bed but something tells me I'll end up having to throw her out of the Prime Material.
But first, there is much to do. Schools of magic and museums of enchanted items don't build themselves, you know. I've had just enough of prophecies and death and gods and cosmic hoodoo for a couple of days. I haven't had enough of quiet, walking in the tranquil wilderness, good food, and a soft bed: things that make me happy. In the coziness of the cabin, a soothing fire melts the pain and death away, and I carefully arrange the items I found in the lair of Sendai. There are quite a few of them, and this will take several trips.
And so I walk, south to Amkethran to be sure, but instead of the expected heat, the night has come, and a cool breeze makes the walk a pleasure. Eight hours after departure I arrive and seek the tavern and the friendly innkeeper. We get right down to business, and I sell: fifty +2 Katanas from the Drow warriors, thirty-two suits of Elven chain Mail +1 from them as well, three +3 Longswords, two suits of +3 Leather Armour, two suits of +1 Leather Armour, a suit of plain Elven Chain Mail, a +3 Shortsword, a +3 Dagger, and that old Cloak Of The Stars I've hardly ever used. I went in with just over one hundred and seventy five thousand gold; I now have a hundred thousand more, and there will be yet more...
The I return to the Abyss and see what Cespenar has to offer. With the Oaken Ring and Nymphs' Tear, he fashions a druidic ring. Though it costs five thousand gold to make, it is a museum-quality artifact, though perhaps I will end up donating it to a worthy druid I meet. Cernd was one such; he was a friendly and sociable sort, who gave Druidism a good name with his contagious enthusiasm for the natural world. I could summon him to here and present it to him if I wanted, but my life is not for a druid to share: a druid needs a forest to tend, clean water and air, not smelly dungeons and strange magics. So do I at times. Perhaps I will see him again someday when all of this is over. And the holy avenger Carsomyr neatly holds the Eye Of Tyr applied to it by Cespenar, which makes it a +6 enchantment weapon, surely still one of the most powerful I have ever seen even with the one I have encountered recently. Perhaps I will meet a worthy paladin to bestow it upon, though I am not so sure about the ones I have met so far; it may just end up in my museum.
But I do see Sarevok. He looks fit, well-fed, well rested... and happy. He has changed. Whatever possession he was under for these years is gone, and we can be brothers, albeit in a way far removed from others; the last family either of us has. I don't remain in the Abyss long, but do stay long enough to relax and enjoy a dinner prepared for Sarevok and I by Cespenar, and I find it amazing that can we talk about things that took place before, and stranger, laugh about them, as though they happened to different people. When Sarevok is resting after dinner, I unload a few more items into the containers here, and then depart for the cabin to retrieve more saleable items.
It is twelve hours' distance from Amkethran. The land slopes upward the closer I approach, until it is hilly, bleak desert tor, baked by the sun and its sands stripped to bare rock by the incessant howling winds. The lair of Abazigal is an ominous structure and I feel that little good will come of being here, but I press on. A tremendously large foyer lies at the entrance, with wide stone steps like those in front of a courthouse ascending to it. Its flooring is an intricate weave of patterns, and colonnades flank the sides. Truly an impressive place... who or what could possibly dwell here?
There is only one person here and he is not pleased to see me. He identifies himself as Draconis, and, as I did with Gromnir, I have a twinge of familiarity on hearing this name. He is the son of Abazigal, and although he at first thinks that I have been sent by the monks of Balthazar, he realizes that I am a Bhaalspawn as is his father. He goes hostile. Although unarmed, he is a mage of some worth. He casts Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wilting at me and summons a few Invisible Stalkers. They can't touch me, but the Wilting does. Ouch! I raise a few Ogres from the Wand, heal myself and cast True Sight to get rid of his illusions. To raise an ally that can damage him but is resistant to his magic, I cast Animate Dead and a Skeleton Warrior appears. Draconis' further Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wiltings do nothing to the Skeleton Warrior, and he dies quickly...
...or at least, he decides that appearing as a human is not getting him anywhere, so reverts to his true form as a Brown Dragon. With wings? With wings. However, I have dealt with Dragons before. He has cast Protection From Magical Weapons and who knows what else, so I raise a few monsters with the Wand Of Monster Summoning, and get to work. I raise a single Mordenkainen's Sword to hold him off, and get it close to him. Then I start with Lower Resistances, two of them. His Wing Buffet knocks me back but I don't fall unconscious and return to the second casting, making sure the Sword is close to him. When they are cast, another Mordenkainen's Sword so that I am not left exposed if the first one is slain. Meanwhile, he has raised more Invisible Stalkers than I thought the Plane Of Air could hold. Good thing they can't damage me.
But things begin to go awry: this dragon doesn't play by the rulebook. The first thing I notice is that the Mordenkainen's Swords can't damage Draconis: he is immune to slashing damage. A dragon immune to slashing damage is a thing I haven't heard of before. I am still confident I can use magic to defeat him. The second thing that goes awry is that he can become invisible, and non-detectable, seemingly at will. I remember that this is something that Brown Dragons were capable of, but I've already cast True Sight before this. While invisible he raises a few more Invisible Stalkers. I stand between the two Swords. I have to stop his spellcasting somehow. I summon a Planatar; I wasn't planning on using up all the best spells so early I needn't cast True Sight via the Planetar as Draconis is back. When Draconis reappears, the Planetar casts Insect Plague on him. As he's picking on the Swords, I unload Greater Malison on him, as his magic resistance is nearly gone. It passes and his saving throws are lowered.
But again, things go awry as Draconis is not playing by the rulebook. When I cast Finger Of Death, he fails his saving throw and I expect that the battle is over. His glowing lifeforce escapes his body... and nothing happens! He's still alive. I am becoming very frustrated and decide I don't care what he's carrying; I just want him out of the way. I cast Disintegrate. He fails his saving throw again. A small pile of Draconis dust appears and settles to the ground... and nothing happens again! He is still Barely Injured and I am running out of ways to injure him. He must have a Death Ward active, but he didn't ever cast it.
I raise another now-useless Sword just to keep him busy, and start unloading all the damage spells I have on him: Abi-Dalzim's, Magic Missile, Skull Traps. While I am at it, the Planetar does the same thing. We get him down to Badly Injured when I am nearly out of spells. He heals himself completely. My Planetar vanishes. Lower Resistance expires and his resistance returns to normal.
I am completely screwed. I'm not running away... no. I will face him as best as I can and when the history of the Sword Coast is written... I... probably won't be in it at all. I cast Stoneskin, Tenser's Transformation, drink an Oil Of Speed, and prepare for the inevitable. I grip the Staff and clench my teeth, rush headlong into the battle. I bash away at Draconis hoping to at least injure him. I do; not enough. I run away a bit, heal, and return. I throw a few Monsters in the mix.
I don't even get a chance to approach Draconis a second time. A shower of acid engulfs me. I am instantly blinded, which is a good thing as I really wouldn't want to see myself dissolving. Though I had thought it would be painful, the acid kills all the nerve endings after only a few seconds of stinging; I have already gone into severe shock and all my body can do for me now is flood itself with painkillers to make the end bearable. I know I will not survive this. I fall on my side to avoid crushing Lhaeozarus. I search my mind for our telepathic link and break it forever... she resists, finally showing some emotion; did it have to come to this? I shout at her in my mind to let it break.. let it go I command you and run! and with the quickly fading link between us, the last vision I have, I see the darkness inside my pack give way to a scuttling across the tiles and then a new darkness as she has found safety inside a crevasse somewhere... she is safe and the link between us is gone. I see no more, as my eyes dissolve into clear fluid and run out of my skull, and my flesh liquifies, sloughing off of me in semi-solid, hissing, steaming chunks borne on a river of blood, then even the bones soften and begin to liquify and I am no more than a puddle of mush. But this is long after I have lost consciousness into a dreamworld where my father Gorion beckons me to join him in a place of light and nature and magic... is this Elysium, or Arcadia, or merely the hallucinations of a dying mind, enraptured on its own painkillers... ?
...and with a jolt to my senses time unwinds itself, smashing me into another reality as a wave smashes flotsam into rocky breakwaters, and I am back again in the lair of Abazigal, and Draconis is here, casting True Sight to try to bring me into the world of the visible. I have somehow returned to just before the battle. This has happened a few times before to me, such as when I fought the Twisted Rune in Athkatla and found my Protection From Magic scroll was faulty. So you won't play by the rulebook, eh Drac? We'll see about that. I leave and don't look back. As soon as I am clear of the roof of the foyer, I warp back to the Abyss. I slam down my spellbook and rip the remnants of an uncast 9th level spell from my mind, and memorize a new one. I am muttering to myself again and shaking with anger, and when I turn around I find I have an audience: Cespenar and Sarevok are eyeing me inquisitively, not really knowing what to think that I seem to be losing my usual coolheaded demeanour. I tell them not to worry; it's nothing they did and that I will soon be over it, just having a bad day. They look at each other briefly and seem satisfied by this. Sarevok has already died three times (that I know of) so I think he would understand.
I rest fitfully, and awaken unrefreshed. I leave immediately.
Three more hits later, only a few seconds, and he is dead. He doesn't change forms either. I don't get any experience for killing him, but I really didn't kill him. I simply drained his intelligence to the point where it would have been negative. As it is impossible for a living being to have a negative intelligence, the universe itself stepped in and negated Draconis' existence, preventing him from doing anything further. As I watch, though, he shapeshifts even in death, and I shapeshift in life, regaining my normal form. His head becomes that of a dragon, and I find I can pick it up, like a trophy. I do so, and bear it to the wide arched entryway at the far end of the ornate foyer, chuckling slightly to myself.
Down a narrow passage, a human calls out to protect Abazigal from my reaching him, and several Lesser Earth Elementals and the Greater Werewyvern that was the guardian human attack me. I immediately raise a single Mordenkainen's Sword for them to focus on. While the Werewyvern pummels it, I find that its regenerative powers are truly insane. It will go from Injured through Barely Injured to Uninjured in scant seconds, perhaps four. So, having saved my spells I am able to do to it what I had planned for Draconis, casting two Lower Resistances, then Greater Malison, and doing it in with a Finger Of Death. I send the Sword after the massed Lesser Earth Elementals and pound them with the Wand Of Fire while they uselessly attack it. As the Sword is completely immune to fire it doesn't notice. I finish the rest of them with the Staff, and make level 30. I gain nothing for this but three Lore and one hit point.
There are several pools in this cavern, and as underground pools are, they are fed by a spring. I peer into them and can make out that they extend downwards. In one of them, a glow can be clearly seen at the other end. I don't know why I do this, but I jump into the water and swim to the other end. I am only slightly underground here; roots project through the roof of this cavern and it looks very similar, with the pool at one end, to the secret room I found in the Sea's Bounty tavern in the Docks of Athkatla. Five Frost Salamaders guard this grotto, but they are slow movers, though I must be careful to stay away from the long-reaching spears they wield. I hit them with a couple of Fireballs and Sling them down. When only two are left the fire column from the Wand does them both in. There is a passage beyond this grotto, and I take it.
I find myself in a well-furnished room, totally cut off from the rest of the world by the narrow tunnel and the water. I would discount this as madness were I not confident I was not mad. Two hideous Bone Fiends are here. Isn't anyone ever pleased to see me? They can't damage me at all; I raise a Skeleton Warrior to help me take them down, as its THAC0 is low and it has a magical weapon; the Bone Fiends are very hard to hit and also regenerate. The irony of summoning one skeleton to get rid of another is not lost on me. I found a flask on the corpse of the Greater Werewyvern, and I fill it at the spring pool here, leave and swim back through the passage to whence I came from.
There are four pools, each with a passage from them. I've already taken one, and two would not be wise as they are very deep, and I would not be able to make it to the other end without air. Two large pointed-arch doors to the north and east can't be opened by be either. One is trapped with a Finger Of Death trap, but I am only mildly injured by it. I have only one possible path, so I dive into the one pool I can reach the other and of that I haven't been in yet. I swim towards the beckoning light at the other end, as in the stories I have heard from those have died and been raised.
I emerge into the realm of those awful Kuo-Toans that I can't stand, there are many of them here, but I don't take a scratch in disposing of them. I raise a Mordenkainen's Sword for them to deal with. They are lined up in the passage to the chamber I am in trying to get to me, and the one at the back is a priest. So I turn the fire column from the Wand Of Fire on him and it cuts through the line amassed to try to get through to me. Every one of them is injured by it, and I Magic Missile the priest to prevent his next spell. I bash the remainder with the Staff and send the Sword ahead. In a second chamber, two draconian but transparent heads arise, and these are Greater Water Elementals. They lob fast-moving and very damaging water attacks, but the Sword is invulnerable. I raise another one. I remember that Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wilting affects water and plant creatures more strongly than others, so move the Swords out of the way and cast it between the two Greater Water Elementals and a Kuo-Toa Captain whom I've disregarded until this point, and the Elementals are damaged enough that they die shortly thereafter.
The next chamber holds two more of the Greater Water Elementals, and I find that if I Stoneskin, it nicely absorbs their damaging water attack should they happen to focus on me. They fall quickly. Two more of them reside in the chamber to the west of this, but there is something different here: an Olhydra. Though it looks like a Water Elemental, it is a deep violet colour and has what appears to be a Blue Fireshield up. It doesn't seem to do much. The Sword and I dispose of the two Water Elementals, and the Sword then attacks the Olhydra on its own. It gets stunned, though I had through nothing could stun a Mordenkainen's Sword, and the Olhydra begins pounding on it. So, I need only keep far away from it; opponents foolish enough to approach it I see would meet a very sorry end. It's very hard to hit with the Sling, but after a rather long and boring battle I take it down for 27,000 experience points without injury. When it dies, it completely vanishes. However, it doesn't drop anything that I require, and I suddenly feel badly knowing that it was harmless if one merely stayed away from it and I could have left it alone; it was a rare creature, albeit a malign one.
There is only one more circular chamber in this area, and a lone Kuo-Toa Whip guards it. I dispose of it easily, and the first human being I have seen in quite a while is here, imprisoned. I force the cell door open and speak with him. He is a monk of Balthazar's temple, and he has been here for quite some time, probably being tortured. He is in horrible condition. He gives me a rope that I can use to navigate the longer tunnels that he hid within the folds of his robes. He is trembling as he hands it to me; he is barely alive. He also speaks of a dragon that guards Abazigal's sanctum, and that it is under a geas to serve Abazigal. A scroll to reverse the geas was stolen from him, and can probably be found somewhere in this place. He dies, having maintained his existence only by force of will and inability to abandon his mission.
When I return to the central chamber from whence all pools lead, it is through one of the large doors, which is now opened as it was only locked from one side. The contents of the flask allow me to breathe underwater and the rope given to me by the sadly dead monk will allow my return. A strange method of conveyance for a mage, but I will adapt as required.
The cavern I emerge into is much larger than I expected. Its floor is covered with sharp stalagmites and one end is dominated by a Dragon named Fll'Yissetat, clearly the one I been warned of. But she makes no move to interfere with me, saying only that I must "bow before Abazigal" in a mindless repetition. A sad fate for any dragon. There are several pools here, but they all seem to lead to the same area, except one...
...and this is a strange area indeed: a twisting, crenelated cavern with hovering eyes bobbing up and down. Resembling the Wizard Eye spell, they are everywhere. But I am invisible when I explore and though they are many eyes, none can see me. There are several types: Eagle Eyes, Sentinels, Vigilants, Seekers and Observers. Some are hostile, some neutral. There are also three petrified adventurers here. I found a couple of Stone To Flesh scrolls in the place already, and I already had one. I will make sure to clean out the enemies here before I use them to restore the adventurers.
I finally find an area with only one eye in it, and start it off with a good whack from the Staff. An Eagle Eye it is, and its rate of fire of electrified bolts and darts is impressive. But I am Stoneskinned and it absorbs all the damage. I raise a few Ogres as a distraction and move on to another Eye. I turn the fire column on it; they don't have many hit points thankfully. The Sentinel eyes cast Monster Summoning III many times, but the monsters that appear can't damage me. A Fireball or two and monsters and eye are dead. There is large clump of them all bunched together in a corner at one point; a Skull Trap followed by a Fireball slays all of them and I can deal with the rest individually.
There are only two eyes left here, but they aren't hostile. Still, they have to go. When I whack one, a mage appears by the name of Iycanth The Mad. Rather, the eyes summon him. He wonders why I am messing around with his "friends" and would like me to find a lost eyestalk for further assistance. Noting that this may be beneath me, he suggests that I subcontract this to the petrified adventurers, and Iycanth and eyes vanish.
I equip a Stone To Flesh scroll and read it while focusing on the one who appears to be a halfling thief. Though these scrolls usually only restore one creature, all of them are brought back to life. They are indeed young and inexperienced adventurers, but I'll try not to shatter their hopes. Their names are Nanoc The Barbarian (a human barbarian,) Tim Goldenhand (an elven mage) and Bondari (a halfling thief) but I am not sure of his last name as he changes it when explaining how he got here. I give them the quest to retrieve the eyestalk, telling them that it is a vital quest for the good of millions, and they are off. I wait confidently for their return. I was a young man myself once, and enthusiasm can overcome the shortcomings of inexperience, sometimes.