Full of youthful enthusiasm and poor judgement, they figure that the high-level mage must be holding a lot of treasure, so decide to attack me. Without even trying to, I turn into the Slayer and do what Slayers do. I don't lose any reputation because this was not a voluntary act. It probably happened because I am so tired that I am starting to hallucinate. For example, I see Lhaeozarus hovering nearby; ferrets don't fly. Oh, wait; I did that. I should let her down.
But just as my grogginess becomes unbearable, I am snapped back in time in the same manner I was in the battle with Draconis. Yet, I wasn't dead. Ahhh, I understand: one of these adventurers has the same power, probably the thief Bondari as this seems to be the leader. Now the three adventurers appear again, but this time they decide that attacking me is not a wise decision, and instead give me the eyestalk I was expecting, and something I was not expecting, but wanting very much: the Bronze Pantalettes, a set of metallic undergarments that I've been wanting very badly to find so that I can finally resolve what the other two pairs are for. I tell the young adventurers that they are heroes and they seem happy; perhaps they won't make the same mistake next time. Off they go for more adventures and I smile watching their exuberance over their Magic Missile and Identify and remember how I was as a young acolyte when I cast my first Magic Missile, my first real spell, and my tiredness is becoming unbearable; I need to sit down and...
...and my grogginess and lapsing consciousness leads me to a vision of the past and I am no longer in a dungeon but in the clean and well-kept laboratory of Obe the Illusionist in Candlekeep... I'm so excited! This isn't a cantrip, this isn't a practice... I've just learned my first real spell! I'm hopping up and down with excitement. It took me two days and I keep hummin' the words to myself in my head so I don't forget them 'cause this magical language is really strange but I think I understand it. Dad says I got a "knack" for it and told Obe that and whispered some stuff to him... musta been about me! He was studying a scroll one night and I read it over his shoulder and all the words just came together 'cause I'd learned how to read them from the books but the books aren't magic; they're different on the scroll where they're real magic. He says almost no one can do that without someone showing them and a lot of practice and I could be a mage like him. So I saved up wages from chores for weeks and bought a scroll from Firebead and promised and didn't cross my fingers that I'd be real careful and not do bad stuff with it and make sure to get a real spellbook and use that "knack" and not like waste it casting it off the scroll 'cause I might not get another one. Got an old robe from dad's drawer with a tear on the sleeve but it's still a real mage robe and I just turned fifteen three days ago but I learned a real spell already! I did! I'm really gonna cast it! I'm gonna be a mage just like you someday Dad and I'm gonna adventure like you did and do great things! Maybe someday cast the big spells and meet Elminster and stuff!
And he just smiles in that peaceful, all-knowing smile that he has and quietly reassures me: son, you just relax when whatever it is appears and you remember that little rhyme you've been humming. And magic comes from the heart too, not just the mind. You feel those words inside and you'll cast that spell alright. Obe's hands wave in the air and he incants something far too advanced for me right now. Suddenly there is a flash of light at the far end of the laboratory and a screaming blue animal appears. I've been told that these aren't real so they don't feel pain, just appear to. So I do what Dad told me. I ignore the gibberling. I ignore everything. I reach down into myself (dad said it was like diving into water) and something feels like the spell is just at the level where my neck joins my head... it's there. I don't say anything because this spell's words are all inside, which is why so many mages start with it. I grasp it and those words suddenly MEAN something: with every syllable the feeling at the back of my neck grows stronger, more focused like the marching of soldiers to a drumbeat, and this tension is building in my mind like a thunderbolt about to strike, prickling the hairs at the back of my neck and making me breathe more deeply; I would discover an analog to this sensation years later when I "discovered" the other half of the species. And at the last syllable, the overpressured boiler of my mind can't contain the sensation, the energy, anymore... it must go somewhere! Where? Instinctively my forefinger points, my eyes lock onto the blue conjured being. With a hiss and a smell of scorched air as after a thunderstorm, a blinding little sphere of energy appears at the end of my finger as a noticeable, but not unpleasant, tingly electrical sensation travels through my arm. When the energy has left my mind the tiny sphere leaps directly where my eye took it; the connection was made. When it strikes, the sphere explodes to five times its former size, and the gibberling is struck dead. I yippee and jump in the air and Obe claps, and I look at my father and smile, but he is silent and his eyes are misted over having seen how I am following in his long-strided footsteps.
I pull myself slowly off the cold stone of the cavern floor, having fallen asleep briefly, and pat the dust from my robes; my eyes are somewhat damp with tears. I miss you, Dad, Gorion, wherever you are... if you knew how much, and how much of you I have become. I hope you know... and I miss someone else too. Someone I never got to know in Candlekeep but who always was friendly to me. Someone I considered a nuisance but who should have been a friend. But youth, as I have seen firsthand with those shiny newly-minted adventurers, makes foolish decisions thought beneficial. Theirs was attacking me...
Mine was falling under the influence of Ulraunt, the Keeper Of The Tomes. A young mage, seeing the power that he held within this most sacred and knowledgeable of places, would be tempted to hold him in the esteem he never earned through other than his occupation of a position. A man with the combined knowledge of all the world at his beck and call, who was exposed daily to the secrets of the ages that most men never see in a lifetime. But I was not wise enough to know that Ulraunt was even less wise. A cold, haughty and heartless prig, he sucked the fire and life out of everything and everyone he knew. But his denial and betrayal of me on my return to Candlekeep forced my reconsideration of this man and the emulation of him, and led me, through avenues of the friends and contacts I still had left there and elsewhere to find out what Ulraunt was really like: a part-time worshipper of Cyric, he was scant steps away from a descent into utter evil, and only his nefarious political power-cravings and manipulations kept him in the post which Tethtoril, a far wiser, gentler, better liked, more learned and all-around better man, should have occupied. So, in retrospect, I thank him deeply for revealing his true nature to me, so that a better nature of myself could emerge over time, though old habits do die hard.
And like a bolt from the clear blue sky, I am possessed by an idea that Ulraunt was not merely an annoyance... that his involvement went far deeper and to a far more malevolent degree. How did two bumbling assassins, Shank and Carbos, enter Candlekeep? They could not even afford armour or magical weapons, never mind a tome of five thousand gold or greater value. They would not have survived the catacombs for a minute. They must have been allowed in regardless, but only Ulraunt of anyone in Candlekeep could tell the Keeper Of The Portal to ignore his unswayable orders and allow entrance to anyone who did not fulfill the requirement. What were the odds of Sarevok's arrival just as we were leaving? Gorion would have told as few as possible. Why did we leave the security of Candlekeep? Gorion would not be specific, but to consider that Candlekeep was less secure to him than the dangerous wilds means that he knew that the real danger was within. And again I think of Cyric, who Ulraunt was being seduced by... the greatest enemy of Bhaal and his children, Cyric who lusts for the Bhaal essence. I silently vow: with whatever power I have at my disposal and whatever influence I may hold when this task is finished, Ulrant will not remain as the Keeper Of The Tomes. It is time for him to step aside and fade into the obscurity he deserves, and I will ensure that he does.
And now, finished with recollections of my past and having paid my respects, in my heart, to the only father I could ever want or need, I am off to finally resolve this enigma of the pantaloons. I will put Abazigal and everything else on hold for now. I am hardly tired now as my mind is seething with the possibilities of what it is that I might end up with. As I am leaving I notice a secret door to the north. I can't open it nor Knock it; I will note it for later. I swim back through the tunnels and the water further awakens me. I am deeply worried that Abazigal has locked down my way out of here as he did the ways into lair, but the way I entered is clear to me, and I am able to leave his lair behind and make my way back to Amkethran.
Finally I arrive after seeming endless hours, in Kerrick the Smith's shop. He is amazed and delighted by the components being present in one place. I am prepared to pay an astonishing sum of coin to resolve this mystery, but he doesn't charge me a single gold piece, doing it simply for the ability to do it, and leaving right away to return to his Gnomish fellows and tell them he was successful.
What did he make for me? Five items: first, a huge suit of armour he called the Big Metal Unit. I tap it and it is clearly tougher than Adamantite. I don't know if a mage can use it, but it's so large that it is propelled magically; the wearer more rides in it than wears it. I try it on, and the ground becomes far away; I look like an Iron or Adamantite Golem. When I take it off I find that it ingeniously can collapse so small as to easily fit into my pack or Bag Of Holding. While I am wearing it, my armour class is -21 with the Staff held, and it also gives me 5% Magic Resistance.
The other items are a strange launcher-like device called the Big Metal Rod, and three types of ammunition for it: Pulse, Frag Grenade and Scorcher. I will later learn that the Pulse very much resembles a Magic Missile, the Frag Grenade a Skull Trap that does fire damage, and the Scorcher... Aganazzar's Scorcher. I can use all of these items because like the Big Metal Rod works like a wand instead of a crossbow, which it superficially resembles, and the rate of fire is impressive. The ammunition is limitless. I am agog at my new finds, and will put them to good use.
But this is for later. I struggle to the inn as best I can, grow groggy as I fumble to pay the Innkeeper, and struggle to memorize my spells before I drop into a very deep sleep from which little could disturb me.
When I awaken, I am more refreshed than I have ever been after a night's rest, and return to the lair of Abazigal and whatever lies within. The forbidding structure is soon within sight, and I make my way quickly to the underground, the watery tunnels, and the cavern of many eyes. Now I am back to uncharted paths and will be cautious.
I make a wrong turn in this cavern and end up back where I started, so have to return, and find yet more eyes have arisen, a clump of them. I use my brand new Frag Grenades on the clump, take a little damage for my trouble, but they go down easily. I hit the remainders with the Scorcher to test it out, and it works well; just as with the spell of Aganazzar. I continue to seek this mage Iychard. I find him in the most obvious place: through the tunnel nearest the hidden door. He is busy making more eyes on stalks. He is somewhat insane, and he fulfills his end of the bargain by trading the eyestalk for a scroll that will reverse the geas on the dragon guarding Abazigal's lair, so I don't bother him further. Soon, I hope, his master will be dead and he will no longer have to hang around in this dismal laboratory making dangerous floating eyes. I check the broad tables that serve as his workbenches and find a page on golem building, like the one I found before, though I could find no use for it. I also have Lhaeozarus pick his pocket, but she finds nothing but a quarterstaff, and I am surprised he doesn't notice that go missing, and that she can carry it.
But my curiosity gets the better of me. Three eggs here appear interesting and I inspect them. When I do, a floating eye appears, but unlike the others. It is an Eye Of The Dead, and it casts Animate Dead and Vampiric Touch. I turn the Scorcher ammunition on it and keep it on until it is "dead" being undead already. The next egg holds a Gorgon Eye and I save against whatever it is casting at me, though I suspect to my dismay afterwards that this how the three adventurers became petrified; Gorgons do that sort of thing.
I don't know why I put myself in these circumstances: the next eye to appear is an Eye Of The Beholder, and it acts exactly like a real Beholder, so I throw on the Cloak Of Mirroring and raise Gnolls with the Wand Of Monster Summoning, in case it throws something really deadly at me. It slays them all but I am able to kill it with the Scorcher, which is quite the potent weapon. I noted what abilities it had and none of them seems instantly fatal so I shall have nothing to fear from it should I meet one again, which I do very soon. I check the eggs over and over and slay each of the three types of eyes several times, until there are none left. I talk to Ichyard and ask him what the eggs are for and he says that they hold his precious offspring and not to touch them! He is indeed off his rocker.
I notice that I can level up. Though I had been hoping for a fifth 9th level spell slot, I don't get one. I do get two hit points instead of one, which is strange, but I am not complaining. I would certainly trade a hit point for a spell. I have reached the limit of my abilities at level 31, for I far surpassed the leveling requirement and I have also reached eight million experience points. I ponder that number and think how many creatures died in obtaining it.
And three more die, for no experience at all. I try another of the tunnels from this place and three Elder Orbs confront me! They are not in that large of a cavern, but I will be able to maneuver. I immediately throw on the Cloak Of Mirroring and cast Spell Immunity: Abjuration before I get hit with the awful Anti-Magic Ray, to prevent the Imprisonments that these beings cast if their usual complement of deadlies is not working. I raise a Hakeashar but it is struck dead quickly. As I have come to like these weapons very much, I then turn the Scorcher on the Orbs in such a way that at least two are taking damage at all times. The expected Imprisonments come and I know that I would not be writing this had I not prepared for them, but they are absorbed by the anti-Abjuration shield. All I need to do then is avoid the Orbs, as they do tend to lose their temper and attempt to nibble their enemies if their spells are resisted. Soon all three are dead, and not a scrap of treasure nor anything else do I find here. I remember the "mad" Iychard had mentioned a cave of Elder Orbs and another of Kobolds. I wonder which tunnel leads to the Kobolds.
Soon I have explored all of the tunnels from the place and marked them carefully on my map, in a process of elimination, and determine that there is no cavern of Kobolds. This cavern, this place, even this life I lead, has little more to offer me. I must finish my task.
Although perturbed, she is honourable enough towards her rescuer, and when the geas is lifted, she ambles off in a draconian manner, mumbling but pleased to have her freedom.
The door looms before me. I really don't want to go in there. I'm going to be doing a lot of going back in time in there as I did with Draconis once. And I do, many times... I get pounded, smashed, slashed, electrocuted, Mazed, Imprisoned and every other way of death under the sun, or in this case, the ground.
But you don't want to hear about this, journal, do you? You want to hear about the toughest battle I have ever had in my life, by far, and the toughest I ever hope to, and how I pulled together and used every ounce of ingenuity and power and strength and endurance at my disposal and won the day... and a long day it was too, longer than I ever hope to experience again in my life, but fear I will be doing very, very soon. So I will tell you only of the victorious time, the last time.
The actors in my little play of pain were Abazigal (a large blue dragon, with electrical breath, who was in humanoid form when I entered,) Tamah (a not-so-large but still very nasty amethyst dragon, whose breath was either acid or cold,) four Drakes (their baby offspring) and five or so Frost Salamanders, who played the minor bit parts, serving mainly merely to get in the way.
Before entering, I rested to memorize spells: Spell Trap, Spell Immunity, and Mordenkainen's Sword figured prominently and I would recommend as many as possible to any who would fight families of Abazigals in future, though some were not memorized just yet as I will explain later. An Imprisonment, Summon Planetar and Improved Alacrity were thrown into the mixture and also were quite useful, nigh lifesaving. Though I have relied heavily on the Spell Trap of the Staff Of The Magi, it just wasn't enough for the barrage that took place. As well, if anyone decides to take on a roomful of dragons by themselves, they had best have the Big Metal Rod and Scorcher or equivalent.
I dug through my scroll case. Out came two scrolls each of Protection From Acid (which I have just bought from Lazarus, angered I hadn't a single one when I needed it for the battle with Draconis), Protection From Cold, and Protection From Fire. All six were read in succession. These handy scrolls last twelve hours, which I thought would be enough. It wasn't, but I did not need their effects when that time had elapsed, but instead the effects of the two Protection From Electricity scrolls which I placed in a handy spot, not being used immediately. Next, I Stoneskinned, drank an Oil Of Speed and raised a Spell Trap, though not from the Staff. That one can't be interrupted, so I saved it for when I might really not want to be interrupted.
Just before entering the lair, I stood like a runner preparing for a sprint, and cast Improved Alacrity, then dashed into the lair at top speed, and top it was, with the Oil Of Speed active. These enemies didn't hang around at the back waiting for me to prepare. The Drakes charged me immediately, but I was busy raising all the Mordenkainen's Swords I can and hasting them before the Improved Alacrity runs out. I ducked behind the first Sword so it was the closest thing to the approaching enemies, and resumed casting. When all the Swords were out, Tamah was close. She Wing Buffeted Swords, Drakes and me into the corner. I quickly hasted the Swords and set at least a couple on Tamah.
The big bitch had proven the most annoying of the six. I had steadily exhausted my possibilities in previous battles, and the six of them would prove too daunting to just about anyone, or a whole group of them. So, getting her out of the way quickly made all the difference in this battle; it went from utterly hopeless to winnable. With Abazigal in human form, he posed little threat if I merely kept away from him and though the Drakes were very fast and could stealth, they cast no spells.
Having distracted her with the Swords, Tamah had unwittingly helped me. Her Wing Buffet had busted up the traffic jam of Swords and Drakes and her husband and I at the lair's entrance, and she failed to notice that the weakest of her opponents did an end-run around her and cast Lower Resistance on her. This she noticed, and I bolted at top speed trying to buy more casting time, in a wide semi-circle to again place the Swords closer to her than I was. She resumed beating on them, the second Lower Resistance was cast. Again her focus changed and fell upon me, and again I was running at top speed. But her Wing Buffet caught me and the rest and smashed us into a corner. I was pinned. I cast Protection From Magical Weapons to avoid getting chopped to bits; if I had any great plans, I would have four rounds before getting messily massacred.
Round 1: Greater Malison. It stuck to Tamah with her nearly nullified magic resistance. Round 2: I played the trump card up my sleeve, knowledge weaned from many previous failed battles. Tamah's armour had but a single flaw, and the next spell pierced the heart of that flaw. I cast Disintegrate, and a ton of Dragon dust settled to the floor. Round 3: I raised monsters with the Wand Of Monster Summoning directly behind my massed enemies. They turned to attack my new allies, and I moved the allies backwards to draw them away from me. I was freed.
Freed, but still in danger and now alone, as the monsters lasted little longer than it took the four Drakes and Abazigal to walk or fly a few steps backwards. I cast Summon Planetar, and set it upon the Drakes. Now I played the second trump card up my sleeve: the Big Metal Rod and its Scorcher ammunition. Carefully avoiding Abazigal, I concentrated on the Drakes. Two are slain by the Planetar before its physical form was destroyed. The black drake is the fastest and most persistent of all. I need it out of the way. It is no dragon yet, so had not a dragon's immunities. Imprisonment did it in. I doubt anyone will happen to cast Freedom here for a long, long time. Now only one Drake, the Frost Salamanders and Abazigal himself remains.
The Drake and Frost Salamanders fall quickly to the endless fire of the Big Metal Rod's Scorcher, and then I am alone with Abazigal. Alone, and my spells nearly drained. Soon he would turn into a dragon if I kept hitting him, and I would not survive.
So, I led him to the farthest reaches of the cavern, then sprinted madly in the other direction, out of his sight. There was a cleft, I had noted previously, between two rocks, just large enough for me to squeeze into, and out of his line of vision, as Dragons in any form can see creatures invisible to human eyes. He paced up and down the cavern looking for me. He had sealed me in, but now his wards were being doubted. He gave me up for escaped, and returned to whatever it is he was doing. I changed some spells, adding numerous Spell Traps and Spell Immunities and valiantly tried to rest in the proverbial Dragon's Lair. He did not approach my hiding place, and I was saddened when I heard him wailing and calling to his lost Tamah. Evil or not, he had a heart and loved someone, and I killed her. I kill a lot of things, and I am tired of it. I would have told him this if I could, if it would make a difference: that I have been thrown into this life by lying Solars, manipulative allies and the power-madness of other Bhaalspawn, but I can't; he won't understand. I want to go home to Brynnlaw and never kill anything or anyone again. Is that too much to ask for? I rested, finally, dreaming of home.
When I awoke, I began the unpleasant but necessary task of killing Abazigal, alone. Silently removing the two Protection From Electricity scrolls from my pack, I incanted in barely a whisper the runes upon them, and their magic filled me as the paper dissolved into dust. I found Abazigal near the portal I had not come in from. He turned on me with murder in his eyes and heart, and I would not be able to speak reason to such a creature. Keeping away from him, I beat him slowly down with the Big Metal Rod's ammunition, until he was forced to reveal his true form or perish.
Exposed as the Blue Dragon he was, I played the last of my trump cards: my smallness versus his size. At the south end of the cave, a ridge of stone ran parallel to a low shelf of smooth rock beyond it. Elmonster the tiny human could handily fit in there, but Abazigal the giant Blue Dragon could not. Blue Dragons deal electrical attacks; they do not breathe fire nor are they immune to it. With both scrolls adding to the twenty percent resistance to electrical damage I picked up in the Abyss, his lightning breath could not damage me; in fact it healed me, as did the fire in the Marching Mountains complex. I cast Spell Immunity: Conjuration to prevent Abazigal casting Maze and Power Word: Blind on me, which would make me unable to attack from a distance, Spell Immunity: Abjuration to stop the Imprisonments he would occasionally try, as do the Elder Orbs, if nothing else worked, and a Spell Trap for everything else.
Then, drinking an Oil Of Speed, I turned the Scorcher of the Big Metal Rod on him. He started taking damage: a little at first, all the while becoming angrier with this human who mocked his strength and size by being unreachable. Finally he tail-slapped the ground, which shook the cavern, causing loose rocks on the ceiling to plummet, but none hit me. I stood my ground and continued the damage. A Wing Buffet knocked me backwards and I blacked out, but only briefly, and he continued to throw spells at me. How unfair: his spells were not interrupted by the Scorcher's damage to him, though mine would have been. When the Spell Trap was exhausted, I cast another one, and then put up another Spell Immunity: Conjuration. In the interim, he tried to heal himself, and I was successful in interrupting this spell and very thankful of it. He tail slapped again in anger and Wing Buffeted, and I was again knocked unconscious, and this time he was able to heal himself completely. But having wasted one spell, he could heal no more. I Scorched and Scorched and recast my shield when it was downed, recovered from Wing Buffets, shrugged off his electrical breath, and soon the Blue Dragon Abazigal, probably the mightiest of the Bhaalspawn (more so than Yaga-Shura once his invulnerability was gone) could stand no more, and dropped with a thud that resonated the cavern like a bass drum.
An honourable battle? No. But a necessary one. I lived. A lone honourable man would have died. So much for honour, and all its deadly trappings. I reappear in the Abyss and the Solar is there again. I really don't want to talk to her right now. I just want to rest again, perhaps for days. But talk to her I do. She conjures Yaga-Shura, who explains that the Bhaalspawn that I have sent to the Abyss were allies, allies whose purpose was to fill the Abyss with enough of the essence of Bhaal from the death of the rest of his children that Bhaal could return, and grant them demi-godhood in his realm, which would be the whole of Faerun bathed in the blood of its citizens.
But one remains: Balthazar. I had figured that I must eventually kill him. The townsfolk of Amkethran had been correct in thinking him a Bhaalspawn too. It seems, in a dying vision given to me by Abazigal, that he has captured Melissan, for what purpose I do not know. I sincerely hope that he kills her, for the good of the Realms and to save me the trouble. And then I return to the lair of Abazigal.
The large circular portal at the west end of Abazigal's lair has become accessible, and I correctly assume that it will be an immediate route to the surface, and who should greet me when I reappear in the centre of the grand foyer but Elminster. But as I speak to him, I wonder what change has taken place within him: is the ancient archmage, my almost-namesake, decaying into lichdom from the extension of his life? I have heard of good as well as evil liches and I fear that he may becoming one; his voice is that of a young man, and not even that of a young Elminster, nothing like I remember him. He is clearly involved in this with the Harpers, but is prevented from assisting me directly as are the other powerful entities of Faerun; I will have to complete this on my own, as I always have been required to. And then he is gone...
On returning to the Abyss, the blade of Abazigal becomes yet more powerful, being fused with the Heart Of The Damned and given the ability to level drain whom it strikes. I place the huge sword into a container, and can hardly wait to tell Sarevok of the battle I had with Abazigal and his kin. I do so over dinner and rest, returning my spells to their normal complement beforehand, not knowing what I may face.
I now have two more doors in the Abyss leading to challenges that I have not yet completed, so I decide that I will do them in the order that they were opened, so I enter unaware of what may be there. A spirit appears, blurry, but it is unrecognizably myself, or some lost incarnation of me. It tells me that it is my lost innocence, and that by submitting to it, I can become as I was in Candlekeep, and again I envision the fifteen-year-old boy full of glee at his first casting of Magic Missile. But what is done is done and the past is gone, and I tell the spirit that I am needed as I am; a young man who knows only Magic Missile is of little use in the challenges I must face to save the Realms, and the spirit instead assumes the form of the total lack of innocence: the Slayer that I can become at will and refuse to.
As did the self that I was told I would have become had I been the one left behind, its single-minded pursuit of me proves its undoing. Casting Protection From Magical Weapons to render it powerless for four rounds, I raise and haste four Mordenkainen's Swords off of Improved Alacrity while it flails uselessly at me. Surrounding it with the Swords, it is pinned, wanting only to attack me but being prevented from doing so. It is sliced to ribbons in a very short time, and I gain a further special ability when it falls: the Draw Upon Holy Might stolen from me by Irenicus is restored.
But yet another challenge awaits me and, for a short time, I may have the tools to deal with it. Swords and I rush quickly to the next challenge area and a very unnerving exchange occurs there: it would appear that I am conversing with the avatar of Cyric, who, for being the god of death, madness, murder and just about everything else that is negative, seems a well-spoken and intelligent fellow. So often does vileness cloak itself in robes of respectability. But his selfishness is inherent in that his only concern with me seems to be whether I will assume the role of the Lord Of Murder, taking one of his portfolios from him. I have no intention of this and say so. However he still doesn't like having me around, and on the premise of "challenging" me, which he indicates won't get him into trouble for interfering with his fellow gods, summons three of the Chosen Of Cyric: very fast and deadly assassins, as he was a thief himself before his ascension.
I don't take a single scratch in disposing of the three. The Swords are prepared already and they turn on the assassins. I cast True Sight to prevent them from disappearing into invisibility. The Scorcher allows me to add to the heavy damage they are taking. When the first sword disappears I know the rest will be gone very soon as well, so I immediately cast the fifth and last Mordenkainen's Sword I have memorized and send it into the fray. When the remainder disappear this one will last the duration, and it does. Soon all the assassins are dead. They vanish as they die.
As the challenge area that is now a mountain oasis did, this area changes when the last of the assassins is gone. Three huge busts of a female watch me from the walls. She appears to be a goddess, but which? All three appear to be aspects of the same goddess, or perhaps they are triplets. Mystra, perhaps, and her daughters? Or just her daughters? I am sure that the meaning will become clear soon. For now, I depart the plane, returning to Amkethran and my almost-certain confrontation with Balthazar. The portal returns me to Abazigal's lair, and a dreary twelve-hour march is required before I reach Amkethran. But the evening comes and the air cools, and it is halfway between midnight and dawn when I first enter the town.
The first thing I notice is that every one of the mercenaries and monks has gone hostile to me, so I avoid them invisibly and instead seek shelter in the cavern formerly occupied by the smugglers. There are a few corpses of smugglers here now, though they had left peacefully before; a lot has changed since I was here last. I return here because I have heard that the man I least want to see, least want to trust and deal with, Saemon Havarian, was the leader of the smugglers and the only one who can get me into Balthazar's temple, as his dealings with the monks have given him knowledge of entry. I will have to trust him again and I don't doubt he will double-cross me if given the opportunity.
Saemon is indeed here and I will have to trust him. First, I must rest to gain back the spells I lost in the battles in the Abyss. I can't rest in the cavern for some reason, so I grip the Staff and return to the Zephir Inn. Unfortunately, I have to slay the mercenary mage and two fighters who have been a fixture of this inn since my arrival; they turn on me the moment I enter. The mage doesn't have time to cast any spells (and appears to have none memorized) and the fighter's swords pass harmlessly through me. I collect their weapons and armour and sell it all to the innkeeper, then rest as best I can for eight hours. No monks nor mercenaries disturb my slumber.
Although I don't wish to be a Lord Of Murder at all, circumstances don't reflect this very well, do they?
I empty my Bag Of Holding at the Zephir inn and find why it was getting full so easily before: there were fifteen Potions Of Extra Healing in it; they get transferred to the Potion Case. I meander about the now-empty town and pick up everything I find but normal arrows. The only person with a normal sword, the Captain, dropped a key for the monastery gates. I won't need Saemon and his scumbag schemes any more, but when I enter the cave to confront him for his previous betrayals, he vanishes like smoke. When I return to the Zephir inn and sell off the armour, weapons, scrolls, potions and gems of the dead mercenaries and monks, I now have over four hundred thousand gold pieces. Now Amkethran has little to offer me, so I must do battle with Balthazar and leave this place, perhaps forever. I like warmth but not excessively, and also like being able to escape from it into the cool brine of the sea, and only Brynnlaw can offer me this.
And so I do battle with Balthazar, and as Draconis was, he is nothing but a stinking cheat. No monks confront me when I raise the huge portcullis guarding the monastery and I enter easily enough, but all thoughts of winning this battle with many tries soon vanish. His reasons behind his actions are finally made plain: indeed, he is a Bhaalspawn like myself, but one with a better purpose than the others. He infiltrated the Five with the hopes of wiping them out, and I don't doubt that he would have been able to. But when I happened on the scene, he allowed my progress in doing his dirty work for him to see how far that I would get. When I am no more, he plans to ensure that there are no remaining Bhaalspawn and then commit ritual suicide. Seeing that he regenerates and is immune to weapons of less than +3 enchantment, slaying and poison, I strongly doubt he would be able to. I have the best possible reputation I could and I respond to him, forcefully denying that I am like the other Bhaalspawn. He agrees with this as well, saying that many have sung my praises and that I have walked a virtuous path, but merely by being the son of Bhaal I will cause a river of blood to flow through the land in future and must be eliminated regardless. And then, he is through talking to me. What a self-righteous jerk; had he half a mind and an ounce of initiative I would have been happy to have him accompany me to make sure that I fulfilled the closure of the prophecy without ascending, and he could have actually done something to prevent Bhaal's return
His students aren't too difficult to deal with, but Balthazar is immune to basically everything: he can't be Disintegrated, Imprisoned, Polymorphed, Slain, Stunned or a host of other things that could help me get rid of him. Not only is he about ninety percent magic resistant, he is completely immune to first and second level spells. He casts Greater Malisons that add up; what is he, a monk or an archmage's archmage? When he uses his "Lunar Stance" he casts six magic missiles. Six of them! I only get five. His abilities never seem to run out, and he moves much faster than a monk should be able to. He has far too many hit points for a human of any stripe, far too many Lay On Hands for a monk, heals himself often with potions and regenerates. And most bizarre of all: he is immune to Timestop. When I cast this, I am the one stopped in time; to anyone else viewing this it appears that I move or cast spells or attack instantaneously. This is so difficult to get around that only those mortals Chosen Of Mystra such as Elminster, or Powers and demigods and higher should be exempt, and this is done by their sharing of the same timeframe as the caster; the spell affects them as well as the caster so that relatively they are in equivalent time. How Balthazar engineered this is beyond anything I will ever know. Monks don't have a god per se; their faith is that of the energies of the universe itself. Who could he appeal to for such an exemption?
It takes me a lot of tries and frustration, and when I finally bring him down it is more through luck than anything else, while merely testing a couple of other spells to see whether they will stick to him and affect him, determining the limits of his invulnerability. I draw his students away from him, leaving him alone, and slay them near the entrance to the monastery with a Mordenkainen's Sword, the Scorcher and the Staff. Balthazar, thinking his students are more than a match for me, stays out of the conflict. But when the Planetar's sword strikes him forcefully, he is brought back into it. He is now alone, but more than a match for five of anyone else. The last and final try the Planetar makes all its saves against his innate stunning abilities, I cast True Sight to prevent his endless Improved Invisibitities, lower his resistance to nil, Greater Malison him and bring him down with Energy Blades. With his resistance gone, the frightful number of attacks he takes from the Blades I hurl at him nine times per round and the hasted Planetar, he finally can't keep up and dies.
For perhaps the final time, I am jolted back into my Abyssal home-away-from-home, and what follows is nothing more than a confirmation of what seemed obvious all along: Melissan has been manipulating everything. However, she is not a Bhaalspawn. Instead, she was the high priestess of Bhaal and the one responsible for managing his essence. She is planning on ascending as a sort of "Lady Of Murder" when the remainder of the Bhaalspawn are dead, including myself. She is more than willing to battle me right there in the Abyss, but the Solar won't allow it. I will choose the time of this conflict.
I would like to get this over with, finally, and completely. I am tired of the adventuring life more than I can describe, and the days' passage make me grow more distant from Brynnlaw and the home I am eager to return to. But word has reached me of a place I have not yet visited, a forbidding keep where... something... is imprisoned, something that only a few in Faerun could deal with, and something that may escape. Judging by the lackadaisical performance of my "allies" thus far, I doubt anyone else will assist in this. They will say how busy they are elsewhere and ignore the problems. But I have also heard that there are many magical artifacts in this place, and I would like to see it for this reason; I would like to collect as many museum-quality pieces as I can.
I will have to decide on this. I will try to not do it for selfish reasons. There are many other, younger adventurers in the world and I need to leave something for them, but that very youth and inexperience could easily get them killed if the rumours I have heard of what dwells in the bowels of this place are true...
I expect that the Ravager will have all the immunities that Balthazar did and was not entitled to, and he has them all plus one more: he is immune to Lower Resistance. But I find that Pierce Shield, an 8th level spell, lowers his resistance just fine. I prepare for this battle by changing almost every spell I have and then resting. I am careful to memorize: five Mordenkainen's Swords, four each of Skull Trap and Protection From Magical Weapons, three each of Pierce Shield and Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wilting, two Energy Blades, Chain Contingency, Improved Alacrity, Greater Malison, Tenser's Transformation and Stoneskin. I haven't used a Contingency yet but this is a good opportunity to. I will unload most of these in a very short timeframe.
When I awaken, I cross the warm stone floor of the Abyssal plane and prepare for battle. I cast Chain Contingency, followed by the three Pierce Shields. The energy of the three spells is captured in the Contingency. At the end of the casting I incant while picturing in my mind an enemy, any enemy. It will trigger on the nearest enemy when one is sighted.
In order that my allies will last as long as possible as time is of the essence, my next casting is that of Improved Alacrity, followed in very quick succession by all five Mordenkainen's Swords and Hasting of them and myself. As soon as this is done I order them ahead of me into the challenge chamber. Quickly I follow with Stoneskin, Blur, Improved Invisibility, Draw Upon Holy Might (should I require it) and the first of the memorized Energy Blades. I may as well use everything I have to protect myself as I will certainly be resting again soon. I follow the Swords in.
When I reach the top of the stairs, the Ravager appears, and speaks in a voice that seems to echo throughout the reaches of the cavern and time itself... his voice reminds me of some of the liches that I encountered in Athkatla. But the size and darkness of the Ravager, the five Bone Blades that continually haunt my step in the battle that follows, and the perpetual Blade Barrier that surrounds him combine with the surrealism of the location: stone hands protrude from the wall and the bands of light and dark rock of the floor entwine as if it had been melted and refused, and I feel totally lost and alone here, in the realm of something that I will never understand and whose depth and power will extend beyond all my comprehension, and will certainly arise though I may slay it once.
But I have not time for further contemplation; I have work to do, and commanding the five Swords to strike I rush forward as the Ravager attacks, close to him, so that the Chain Contingency triggers and simultaneously spits three Pierce Shields on him, nearly nullifying his magic resistance. Around the Ravager, chaos ensues as ten swords, mine and his, whip the air, the Ravager and each other. Occasionally one of my Swords flies out of the caterwauling stunned and limps back into the fray. While this occurs, I unload all the Energy Blades on the Ravager to soften him up. He takes slight damage but the process is started. He is completely immune to their electrical effects but at least the damage of the impact is good.
The swords hardly damage him; he is highly resistant to all types of physical damage, but this is not what I had in mind for him. While his resistance is nearly zero, I cast Greater Malison on him and then Protection From Magical Weapons on myself so that the Bone Blades don't cause me to waste my upcoming essential damage spells. When it is cast, I unload the three Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wiltings on him in a row, and now he takes full damage from them and fails his saving throws twice. He is now at Injured status. Soon after this, the Mordenkainen's Swords begin to unsummon, but I had planned for this. Due to the speed at which they were summoned, the last is gone scant seconds from the first, and as it falls I refresh my Protection From Magical Weapons, granting me immunity from the Ravager's attacks and the Bone Blades. Now that there are no allies to injure, I unload the four Skull Traps on him over the next four rounds, and he goes to Nearly Dead status, failing two of his saving throws. I take a hit from a Bone Blade as my Protection From Magical Weapons has run out, so I cast it yet again.
With four rounds of safety, I can cast my second Energy Blades, and then follow it with Tenser's Transformation. My base THAC0 falls to zero, and with the Energy Blades it becomes -12. Now I can only miss him on Critical Misses. I hurl sixteen of the twenty of them as carefully as I can, and on the seventeenth he falls; the Ravager is no more, for now. The Bone Blades are struck down, and I have completed the final challenge. Melissan, in her hellish fury, awaits me. I must destroy my home-away-from-home in the Abyss to confront her.
Sometimes the most long-lasting decisions are made in the heat of the moment, and when the Portal speaks to me and requires a decision, it is not difficult to make. Melissan will wait; I will journey to the keep that I have heard of, and see what needs to be done. First, to Amkethran: I sell off some non-magical Full Plate that I had stored in the Abyss, the gems dropped by Balthazar and a few other minor items. I then visit Lazarus Librarius, and find yet two more spells I didn't know already: Otiluke's Resilient Sphere and Power Word: Silence (these things tend to happen in pairs.) Knowing that I will have to transport anything that I find in the keep, as well as all the items that I have saved up in the Abyss, I buy the Bag Of Holding that he has for sale. I should have really bought this long ago as the first one kept filling up, but soon it will be a necessity.
I become invisible as I approach the keep, to scout the area and see what I can. Its grounds are rather pleasant, and not what I expected. An obelisk bearing the seals of Helm stands near the front of the grounds, announcing to any who would visit that perhaps the most powerful of the gods beneath Lord Ao has taken a personal hand in this place... and whatever lies within.
Six of the followers of Helm are here; they are Odren, Brother Pol, Sister Garlena, and three Watch Knights. They guard this place, waiting for the escape of whatever it is that lies inside. I agree to at least have a look for them, and I will evaluate what can be done. Though they are six and I one, they greet my arrival as the answer of their prayers. Am I that well-known? They even call me the "Child of Bhaal." I didn't wish for my "heritage" to be so publicized, but they are decent and kind people so I owe them no grudge for knowing of it. I am glad I decide to travel to here; I like the priests of Helm that I met, and if their order needs assistance, I am happy to provide it.
When I agree to their quest, we walk to the top level of the keep. A huge, metallic hemisphere serves as the door to this place, and it opens to allow my passage. I peer inquisitively in but see nothing but the circular floor. Sister Garlena will buy and sell items, and Brother Pol has some useful information for me, so I talk to them first.
According to Brother Pol, this is known: there are five levels to the keep, each with a set of seals to break to progress. When I reach the bottom level, I am to read a scroll he gives me imprinted with runes that will restore the wards of the Imprisoned One, though he does not know who that is. Helm has commanded that the Imprisoned One should not be killed. This gives me at least a hint as to its identity: it could be a fell creature, a demon. Kill a demon and it doesn't die, but instead returns to its plane, and in a century or so can return to the Prime Material to pose a threat. But imprison a demon properly and it is no longer a threat while it lives; only its death will release it. Brother Pol also gives me a holy wardstone which will allow access to this place; if I lose it, I can never escape or re-enter.
Sister Garlena has no Protection From Undead scrolls, but does sell two artifact weapons, useless to me but of museum quality in the strength and perfection of their enchantment. One of them catches my eye merely by its name: the Short Sword Of Mask. I am reminded of the fall of my "father" Bhaal. He was slain not so much by Cyric as Mask; Cyric killed Bhaal with a dagger that was really an avatar of Mask. Or was it a short sword? I am doubtful that this is the weapon, but being an item of Mask ties it to the fall of Bhaal, and to myself. So I pay a large sum of gold for it, and also for Firetooth, a crossbow that makes its own flaming bolts. The enchantments on this item are masterfully intricate to give it such a complex ability; there are at least a hundred separate castings that I can tell which indicates a thousand I cannot, so I add it to my collection. And then, putting my fears aside, I enter Watcher's Keep, swallowed up by the gaping, gleaming mouth before me.
My first thought is that this place doesn't appear so bad; looks a little like Candlekeep with the bookshelves and clean, sparse decor, and the Archivist who I see there doesn't detract from this. Unlike the ones at Candlekeep, this one is dead, a spectre. Brother Pol had warned me that half of the Watchers of Helm here had agreed to become spectral Watchers upon their deaths, and are dangerous, but this one seems harmless. There are some containers here but I will see what else this level holds before taking anything. I run into a Stone Golem beyond this. I take a knock from it, but when I Stoneskin, break out the Girdle Of Bluntness and the Rod Of Smiting golem-slayer staff (I had forgotten I had it before) it is down in two hits.
Four Vampiric Wraiths lie beyond a large arched set of double doors; they can't touch me with their probing appendages so I dispose of them quickly with the Staff. Further, a large library holds several assorted Mephits. I raise a few Dire Wolves and happily bash them all, taking no damage. I continue my exploration. Five Mustard Jellies in the furthest room go down to the Scorcher. No problems so far... I try the rooms on the other side of the nave. Several Sword, Phase and other assorted spiders are here. Easy pickings with the Scorcher. A smaller antechamber off of this holds no enemies at all. In the furthest, two giant Adamantium Golems stand. They are not hostile, and appear to be guarding what appears to be a tomb with a sarcophagus at one end; I leave them alone for now. Lining the central nave are many statues.
Now that I've explored the area, I start opening containers. I am agog; I was underestimating just how much of a treasure trove this place is and I am collecting so many items I will need time to organize them and check them carefully. There are few that I can't open, and I will Knock those after I rest. I collect everything I can. Off of the antechamber was a very comfortable looking bedroom with a canopy bed, table and sofa. As well, two doors can be closed between it and the apse it leads from so I can feel somewhat secure in there. I return to that comfortable bed/sitting room, carefully remove the books from the table and begin examining what I found so far. Though the Keep's occupants are long-dead, there is no dust here and everything is in nearly new condition; the spectres must be busy.
I check over the items: a pair of paladin's bracers that give ten bonus hit points. This might be upgradable. A Quiver and Case Of Plenty that make unlimited +1 enchanted arrows and bolts. I was able to upgrade the Bag Of Plenty that does the same for sling bullets, so I might be able to do the same with these. Finally: the Golem Manual that those pages I found before appear to be taken from. This one will summon a Flesh Golem. I read it over carefully, not in any rush to continue with such a treasure in my hands. It's the first descriptive technical treatise on golem construction I have yet seen in my travels; such minutiae are usually scattered about several volumes and require cross-referencing, but this one has just about everything in one place: components, cantrips for preparation of the components, wording of all enchantments in order and methods of establishing the telepathic link upon completion. This is, to me at least, a sacred text and it will occupy an esteemed position in my library. I fail to see how such a useful text was ever buried in the sands of time.
But there is yet more: a shoulder case that holds all manner of ammunition. Though my sling doesn't need bullets it still is useful to keep any arrows, bolts or bullets in that I might find. And some stranger items: a tinderbox for stove-lighting, an old bell, a scented candle, an ornate key, two halves of a wardstone (one is imprinted with a golem; this must be for the pair for golems by the sarcophagus) and a pair of slippers. I am sure all of these items' meanings will become clear soon, so I carefully return them to the Bag of Holding and return to poring over the Golem Manual. I light the candle with a cantrip and read earnestly by candlelight and then decide that the canopy bed looks like the right place to read... and I doze off for a few minutes. The tiredness of the long journey here is making itself known. I force myself to restore the spells I had changed earlier while struggling to keep myself awake, blow out the candle and almost immediately drift into blissful slumber in the comfortable bed.