Day 31

I wasn't as isolated as I had thought: shortly after drifting off, I am awakened by the opening of the bedroom door and several Mummies and Ghasts shamble in. How dare these undead pollute my sanctum? I lead them out so as not to have to look at their vile corpses and crisp them in seconds with the Scorcher. I return to my rudely interrupted sleep and I am not disturbed further.

I awaken midmorning and feel refreshed, and with three Knocks at my disposal I can open the remaining chests. One holds an enchanted +3 dart that returns to the wielder's hand, a +2 suit of chainmail (I found many of these on dead mercenaries.) As well, I find more things to read, so return to the comfortable sofa to read them as my reading was interrupted last night by falling asleep.

However,on the way back I find a "Holy Book" in the altar. When I pick it up, several of the statues come to life and aren't pleased with me at all. One of them is a cleric and her bloody Insect Plague flies get me. I can't cast spells with these silly flies nibbling me and buzzing. I turn the Scorcher on them, angrily. They don't last very long. I return to my reading.

As I return to the comfortable room through the temple, I notice a statue encased in glass in the apse room at the northwest. I hadn't seen it before, but I know immediately who it is: it appears exactly like the larger statue of Demogorgon I found in the Underdark, whose Demon Knights yielded me the Girdle Of Frost Giant Strength that served me so well. What could this be doing in a temple of... and I am struck cold with the realization: is THIS what dwells in the bowels of this keep? It may be; I already reasoned that it had to be demonic by the commandment not to kill it, as it may return.

When I read carefully over the works that I have found, this hypothesis is only further strengthened by the History Of The Imprisoned One, which reads that a "Prince of the Underplanes" can be found here. So I try to disregard this knowledge for now, lest I depart the keep and never return, and fail in the task I have chosen. I continue my reading. A couple of pages of ritual scrolls detail placement of the articles I found (the bell, holy book and candle) in the altar; I will keep this in mind. A handwritten note reads "Short medium square makes big muscles" and is signed by "Lum". Ahhh... Lum The 'Mad', confirmed by another note signed L.t.M. Yes, old Lum was mad like a fox. Brilliant is a better word for it; brilliance can be mistaken for madness by those who don't know better, and Lum could do things with magical energies which weren't supposed to be done. I wonder if he was the one who designed the wards to keep Demogorgon, or whatever it is, entrapped here. I doubt anyone else could have done so.

As well as this, there are two notes written by the priests who now dwell here as spectres. One indicates that a forgetful one had a chapter and verse embroidered on his sleeve in order to remember his ritual (I will have to find that) and another is a sad note from an old-sounding priest that details how he has lost the tinderbox and can't light the stove in winter; he appears to be freezing to death. I have the tinderbox; I wonder what will happen when the stove is lit. Probably something will attack me; this is the usual outcome to most of my curiosity. But a plaque with the symbol of Helm sheds some light on this: it is a memorial for an archivist who tended the fire and brought the slippers of the other priests. When I light the stove, the wood crackles into flame immediately (it may have had centuries to season.) The spectral Archivist reappears here, happy to be near a warm fire. Ah, he must have been the writer of the note. He tells me of an old priest in the northeast and that he was always grumpy in the mornings if his favourite slippers weren't presented. I will have to check that.

Holding the slippers in plain view, I gently slide the lid of the sarcophagus off. A lich appears. However he is calmed by the slippers and invites me to see what else is in there, and vanishes. He is the forgetful priest mentioned in the note I found earlier and was entombed in the robes with "Holy Book - Chapter XII, verse XIV" embroidered inside. This must be a key to leaving this level of the Keep.

Examining the ritual scrolls, I can easily determine that there are three parts to it, and when they are arranged in order, the components are: ring the bell twice, light the candle, read the book, and then ring the bell a final time. But I don't do that just yet. The nave is lined with statues and I have seen before that they come alive when intruders are here. I will not be allowed to progress that easily. I summon a Planetar and a Mordenkainen's Sword, placing the Planetar near the mage's statue and the Sword near a fighter, and Stoneskin. Then I place the three components on the altar and perform the ritual.

Immediately the portal to the second level of the Keep comes alive, and so do all the statues. But planning ahead can make all of the difference. I cast True Sight to make the Planetar's job of dealing with the mage easier, and take out the rest of the enemies simply and effectively with the Scorcher while they are picking on Mordenkainen's Sword. Though the Golem can't be hit directly, hitting the enemy behind it and passing the fire column through it does it in. I can now progress to the second level. I notice that some of the statues dropped real items, and find a powerful named +3 bastard sword called Foebane and a +4 ninja-to called Usuno's Blade. They will make welcome additions to my collection. I leave and sell off other saleable items that I found: some +3 and Flame Arrows, the +2 suit of chainmail. I decide to keep the +3 bow for now. But I can't sell the +2 halberd as the priestess is insistent that it's stolen. No, I reply, it was from a statue. But she reasserts that it is stolen, so I return it to the Bag of Holding.

To see what can be done with what I found, I pop back to the Abyss and chat with Cespenar. I am able to upgrade the Paladin's Bracers (no item required,) Runehammer (with the Rune Of Clangeddin,) Case Of Plenty (no item required) and Golem Manual; I really wanted it to summon a Clay Golem (as they are immune to slashing, piercing and missile weapons) but I will settle for the Juggernaut Golem it can produce; according to the description it will deflect damage from me while it exists. Though I wanted to upgrade the Shortsword Of Mask very much to divine its history if possible, I already used the Heart Of The Damned on Abazigal's Blade, so this route is forever closed to me. I need to find a Rogue Stone for the Quiver of Plenty and a scabbard for Foebane. I will return to the Keep.

I do so, and re-enter, and step through the newly opened portal. I immediately find the surroundings have changed and I am in another level of the Keep. A large iron cage, warded against escape, holds a Chromatic Demon. It speaks to me. Of course, it wants to escape and tells me that I will have to find four magical scepters to unlock its cage with, or I will never progress to the next level. I don't like making deals with demons, but I will see if I can get around it somehow. I explore the floor carefully. It is probably laden with traps and these traps will become ever more deadly as I progress, so I Stoneskin again and put up a Spell Trap. And I am proven correct; traps of all sorts assail me including a nasty Abi-Dalzim's one that I can't avoid, but most I do. I encounter a bunch of Kuo-Toans, whom I can't stand, but the Frag Grenades put them down quickly. A group of Desert Trolls and a Dust Mehpit could prove annoying, but I lure them into where I appeared at first and drop a Cloudkill from the wand, and all of them are instantly struck dead. I will have to keep this in mind for future encounters.

There is also a Rukh Rakshasa in the same place and he has a Cloudkill of his own, so I wander out of it and smite him with the Staff; his normal sword is worthless against me. There are four large doors here and all of them locked. One is hot, one stinks, one is cold. The last one is guarded by an Imp, and when I tell him that his masters are dead, he leaves, but not before giving me some information: the door he guards is the door of Air. There were four sets of wizards here and the four doors guard their respective creations in fire, air, cold and slime. I will have to figure out a way of defeating their creations.

I open the door. The hum of electrical energy is apparent. There is a central source here and it seems to be converting the electricity to a large fan at the north end. I inspect the fan; these wizards were able to turn electrical energy into a way to spin the fan using a series of magnets arranged in a circle in a metal casing. Marvelous... it is too bad that they are dead and their secrets with them, but now that I know it is possible, I will note this for future research.

When I approach the power source and switch it on, it hums briefly, then the fan starts to turn, but two Greater and two Lesser Air Elementals and a Guardian of Air (looks like an Invisible Stalker, if one can be said to "look like" anything appear.) Worse, the wires are leaky, and electrical discharges strike me. Ouch! Since this only seems to happen near the fan and its power source, I lead the five creatures of air back where I came, cast Stoneskin and Improved Haste from the Cloak, and dust off the Staff Of Air +2 that I haven't used in a while, which forces Air Elementals to Save Vs. Death when struck by it. Two of them are slain by this effect, and the remainder are easy to keep away from. They fall to the Pulser ammunition of the Big Metal Rod, and the Guardian of Air falls to the Staff Of The Magi; it can't damage me. When it disappears, it leaves one of the magical Sceptres behind, which I use to quickly control the power supply to the fan so I am not injured further by the electricity from it. My innate twenty percent electrical resistance hardly helps.

My next target is the Slime chamber, and slimy it is. Several Slimes, Poison Mists and something I haven't seen before, a Giant Snake, attack me. From previous experience I know that the Slime is vulnerable to fire, so the Scorcher does them all in; I need merely stay away from them. I especially don't want to get close to the snake; it looks dangerous. There is a perpetual double-potency Cloudkill here at all times, and when I leave, it follows me into the peaceful library beyond. Luckily it goes no further. In the slime pit in the centre, I found a flail head that does poison damage, and it appeared that the snake was the keeper of the Sceptre for this area. The next door is that of Ice.

The ice creatures within don't present much of a challenge; they won't venture out of their cold home. They come out a few steps and then have to retreat when the warm air strikes them. I feel badly for them, but otherwise I cannot complete this quest, which may be vitally important. I equip the Firetooth dagger, grit my teeth, and slay them. The Ice Golem drops the Sceptre I require.

The last location is that of Fire. A Fire Giant dwells there, and several Greater Fire Elementals. I don't have much of a problem with them; the Pulser can strike them and I can keep away from them well enough, but there is a never ending supply. Eventually I just lead the group of them into another area and slam the door on them, trapping them, then deal with the Fire Giant. Like the ice creatures, he won't leave his swelteringly hot area. When he returns to it, he regenerates, very quickly. I lure him out, slam both doors on him trapping him outside, and find he's still regenerating too quickly. I cast two Pierce Shields on him, then Greater Malison, and finally Finger Of Death. It fails; he makes his save. I have no choice but to cast Imprisonment on him, and hope that he drops his Sceptre, which he does.

I now have all four Sceptres and I wonder what will happen when I present them to the Chromatic Demon. Demons aren't known for honouring their commitments, and this one is shifter than most. It appears in its own form, as an Ice Golem, Air Elemental or Earth Elemental, depending on when I look at it. It will almost certainly turn on me.

And it does, but its foolish premonition of my death is just enough time for me to get Improved Alacrity cast. I was planning on resting anyways soon, so I go overboard and raise three Mordenkainen's Swords when one would have been sufficient. I Stoneskin and cast Tenser's Transformation off the Improved Alacrity and send the Swords out of range of any Death Spell that might be called up by the demon. But he calls up nothing. He is very resistant to damage, so I use my noodle and switch from the Staff when he's a demon to the Scorcher when he changes into an Ice Golem. He takes full damage from the fire and he's soon dead, or back in the Abyss, freed at last. He drops a +4 spearhead called Ixil's Spike, and the Circlet Of Netheril that Cespenar had told me could be upgraded to an item that mages would like. Finally...

He also drops a Portal Key out of this level, and I ponder what I will run into on the next level down. It can't be that bad as it's only halfway, but I will soon find out. There are two portals here, smaller than the one on the first level. Perhaps one of them is a way out. I could leave this place... and I do. From the portal I am suddenly outdoors, by one of the doors on long stairways up the side of the Keep. The door has opened behind me to permit me reentry. I can come and go as I wish. I great burden lifts from my heart thinking of all the dungeons that I have ever been stuck in, thanking whoever designed this place for this happychance escape route. From battling a demon in the confinements of a hot dungeon to seconds later standing under a night sky spattered with a myriad of the individual pinpricks of stars, cool breezes filling my robes right through the Stoneskins, and the Watchers of Helm ever-vigilant and wakeful guarding over this place... all in a day's work for an adventuring mage as myself.

I speak with Sister Garlena and I'm glad that she buys as well as sells, unlike other temples. I sell off: a hundred and twenty Acid Arrows and Bolts Of Lightning, eighty Arrows Of Ice, Arrows of Fire and Bolts Of Lightning, forty Bolts of Biting, Bolts Of Biting and Arrows of Piercing, twenty +1 darts, nineteen Antidote Potions, five Arrows Of Dispelling, a Wand Of Sleep (never had any use for those wand for some reason,) two Stone to Flesh spell scrolls and copies of Elminster's Ecologies (and they fetch a hundred and fifty gold apiece,) an Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wilting and Identify spell scroll, a +2 Small Shield, and a normal longsword from the Rukh (I can't believe I even kept that.)

I can't sell the hundred and two Kuo-Toa bolts. I was never able to stack these things more than ten to a pile before, which is why I never picked them up; it figures that as soon as I get the Ammo Belt I no longer require it for them, and can no longer sell them. But do sell and buy back the one wand I wanted most to recharge: the Wand of Spell Striking, a nice find which can cast Breach and Pierce Magic to remove spell protections. The former is definitely preferable; my preferred way of removing spell protections is to bash the offending mage to death with the Staff. Unfortunately it comes back with as many charges as it originally had; it is a thin and delicate wand that can hold little energy. I check my wands carefully; the Wand Of Monster Summoning and Wand of Cloudkill are getting a little tired, so I sell them to Sister Garlena and these do get fully recharged by her when I buy them back.

And in the cool and clear night air, I decide to relax for a few minutes, and try to catch up on my reading of found items by the moonlight and it is then that I finally find out why the Fire Giant was so regenerative. In the scrawl of one of the feuding mages that dwelled in this place, I read that the Fire Giant was invulnerable until his Greater Fire Elemental accompaniment was separated from him and led to the ice chamber, where they would perish. No wonder... this is my punishment for lapsing on my reading and a warning to anyone who would forsake their studies. I resolve to not lapse again on careful and immediate interpretation of anything and everything I find.

In the deep of night under the pale moon I set out alone and descend to the keep grounds, and listen... I hear a quiet chorus of crickets in the night and the wind whispers in the rustling of leaves. The stark obelisk of Helm seems like a visitor from another world planted here, and it is in a strange way... a thing from the gods, so it is said. And I relax again for a time; I need these moments of quiet introspection on cool nights as a respite from the dungeons, the demons, the possible deaths that await me around every corner and the bizarre creatures that follow my footfalls and smell my blood. But a few minutes in this peaceful setting cleanse the malingering doubts and hardship ennui and they vanish into the whispering winds like dust, and I am a free man in my mind. I can take that dusty trail and walk and walk and never look back at this place; walk all the way to the coast and catch the next sailing ship to Brynnlaw and never leave again... and the memory and knowledge that I am not trapped in some cosmic game, that I am a free man, soothes me, and I can continue on my mission, wherever it may take me.

I return to the Abyss, Cespenar, and Sarevok. Cespenar does present me with a suitable powerful item for my investment. The Circlet of Netheril is completed by the union of the Bronze Ioun Stone, and for the first time in a long time, my hand ascends and I catch the Pale Green Ioun Stone that has been whirling about my head, and place in gently in the Bag of Holding. With the Circlet in place, I can memorize an extra 7th and 8th level spell and don't lose the benefit of the extra ten hit points provided by the Pale Green Ioun Stone either. Remembering the times I have been caught with my proverbial pantaloons down in elemental attacks, I choose Protection From Energy in the 8th level slot, and Project Image, a spell I have not tried yet but am interested to, in the 7th.

When I return to the Keep, I am careful to check the current level thoroughly before progressing on to the next. I am rewarded for my caution with a peculiar wand: the Wand Of Cursing, which simultaneously blinds, deafens and mutes its unfortunate target. I make my magic resistance save against the Cloudkill trap triggered by the slim, vertical container that held the wand. It has only one charge. Outside I go again, and sell it to Sister Garlena, who dutifully recharges it and sells it back to me. It now has eight charges. On the way out the roar of a leftover Greater Fire Elemental almost caused me to jump out of my skin, but I put it down quickly with the Pulser and took minimal damage. My exploration of the second level complete, I step through the portal to the third.

Day 32

I emerge into a hallway that slopes upward into a central arcade. Four symmetrical hallways radiate from it to four equivalent portals, and an ornate rosa ventorum set into the centre of the arcade floor tells me that I have emerged through the north portal. I am invisible when I emerge, and there is an elven man here, who sounds insane from the likes of it. What is he on about? Treasure and parties and demons it seems. Lhaeozarus checks his pocket for a clue to his raving but he carries nothing. I speak to him through her: he calls himself "Yakman" and says that he is the last survivor of a group that made it this far into the Keep. They obviously weren't stopping to pick anything up; they missed a treasure trove upstairs. No idea how they got past the portals either, but I don't have a chance to ask him as the poor fellow thinks that I am a talking delusion and flees through the south portal; I don't blame him. All this time alone and the first thing that talks to him is a ferret. I hurry after him before he gets himself hurt or killed in this dangerous place.

The large, high-ceiling hall I enter does not seem dangerous. A fire burns merrily in a pit, probably lit by Yakman; he seems to be living here in the interim of finding his way out and is in no danger. I search the area. In a lean-to near the fire that seems to be Yakman's home (trapped with Chain Lightning as well, but I resist its magic) I find a journal of his ravings, but an indication seems to be that I should travel east to a demon, then south until I find an obelisk, then north until I find a tree. The portal that brought me here will no longer return me whence I came; this level comprises a sort of maze. As well I find an item called the Sceptre Of Radiance, but this one must be combined with several jewels in order to function, and a set of Bard's Gloves, but they seem to have a purpose other than to be worn only by bards. Perhaps they are Yakman's.

There are two portals here, and when I take the southern one, I appear outside again, on the stairway clinging to the side of Watcher's Keep. A second door has opened, and I may return to the beginning of the maze. First, I speak again to Sister Garlena and sell off a few more collected items: forty Bolts Of Lightning, +3 Arrows and Bolts, three Antidotes, a suit of +1 studded leather, a diamond, a Cloud Giant Strength potion and yet another copy of Elminster's Ecologies; they seem to be everywhere.

I return to the Keep, and try to speak to Yakman and tell him that the south portal is a way out of here so close to him as to be seconds away, but he is lost in his ravings and will not listen. I will let him calm down. I return through the portal at the north end, and reappear in the arcade. The rosa ventorum tells me that I have again come in through the north portal, though I had left through the south one. I will keep this in mind. For now, I follow the advice of Yakman's journal and take the eastern portal.

I really wish that I hadn't; this place is definitely a mage's worst nightmare: a Dead Magic Zone. Not only do all my spells fail, but those of the Cornugon devils here don't. My Stoneskins are stripped away, my invisibility doesn't work, the Ring of Gaxx fails to regenerate me, and my Armour Class changes as one of the protection effects of the devices I wear keeps getting dispelled. Argh. But I bite down and resolve to beat these bastards, and I do. After waiting for them to finish fighting the Balor here so that they are as injured as possible, the first thing that I discover is that all my wands still work properly, so I dig out every wand I can find. The Wand Of Monster Summoning proves useful to distract them from me. I keep a good deal of healing potions in close proximity as well as I will need them. I use the high rate of fire from the Pulser of the Big Metal Rod to take them down. It gives a very high To Hit bonus and it can strike them; they would be immune to the fire damage of the other types of ammunition.

When they are all dead, I check the large rock column in the centre. An inscription in block capitals reads that someone has hidden something away from the evil that dwells all around. It offers nothing more. I dig through my first Bag Of Holding and retrieve the Big Metal Unit. With it on, my armour class falls to a comfortable -17, and I can just fit through the thin hallways that lead to the portals. I may have to use it for the time being, as my magic is denied me here, but I will see whether this is true in other areas.

I am very relieved to find that it isn't. My next stop in this maze contains a Succubus and several Alu-Fiends accompany her. She will help me out of the maze, says she, for a kiss. Yes, pretty lady, and your kiss is death for any mortal who would be foolish enough. The Charm and Domination spells thrown by these harlots of the hells may not have a saving throw and may be more powerful than the usual type, so knowing that undead creatures are immune to mind control, I raise a suitable ally by casting Animate Dead, and a Skeleton Warrior appears. They are rather easily dispatched after this, trying endlessly to dominate the Skeleton Warrior. Several of them drop Oil Of Speed potions, which are always welcome.

I return the way I came in, but.. this not the way I came in. Even more bizarre than a Dead Magic Zone is a Wild Magic Zone, and several Quasits here are taking full advantage of it. Gated demons appear and disappear when itchy. A light shower of cows is forecast and everyone suffers from the hiccups. I grip the Staff to shrug off the madness as best I can. My reliable wands still function properly; I dare not cast a single spell for fear of who-knows-what may happen. Though I try to harbour no grudge against anyone and get along with others as best I can, I feel that the practice of magery might regain some of its status as a noble profession of logic and reason if the practitioners of the... ahem... "New Theories" as the most polite way I can refer to them being demonstrated here in full force were sadly, regrettably, accidentally taken out and shot with +3 arrows one night. Not that I would do such a thing of course. But to purposefully introduce unpredictability when controlling the forces of the universe, and often at the times when it is absolutely least desired and most likely to completely break a delicate spell sequence which must be performed perfectly to obtain the required result, seems stupidity taken to the extreme.

So I fight the madness as best I can, using the Wand of Monster Summoning to raise Gnolls, then Ogres, then Dire Wolves, all the while concentrating on the mad Quasits. Luckily the two Nabassu have taken to battling each other in between bouts of hiccups. Though I am slowed and polymorphed into a wolf I don't let up, and soon the madness has ceased and the place is stilled. Someone has dropped a few nice gems, none of them for the Sceptre, but I still have my sanity and health and that is all that matters.

I'm growing familiar with the navigation here; it's simple to remember that one always appears in the north portal, so I am able to return to what looks like a safe haven. I don't know if Yakman wants the company, so I camp out right on the rosa ventorum in the arcade as if I was going in no particular direction whatsoever, and get all my spells back. I don't know how close I am to using them all up again...

...but I soon find out as I retrace my steps back through the portals to new territory, and find what lives in that new territory: the demon Tanar'ri opponents of the devil Cornugons I had encountered earlier. Their leader is a large Nabassu, there are three Glabrezu with him (looking like miniatures of Demogorgon,) as well as several Quasits, a Yochol Abyssal Drow handmaiden of Lolth, and a Succubus. I must look pathetic to them: one lonely human, poor with weapons, wearing no armour, enough but not many hit points, stepping through the portal into their realm all alone. I doubt they think this after the unassuming human roundly dispatches them back to the Abyss.

I need no more for this than the techniques I have developed recently in dealing with fell creatures. When the Nabassu leader decides that he will not deal with me due to my high reputation, Protection From Magical Weapons is the first casting. Though I am surrounded and would be torn to shreds without it, I can stand in the midst of them and calmly cast Improved Alacrity. I have often gone overboard with excessive Mordenkainen's Swords but this is not one of those times. Rushing to a free area, I raise five of them and set them on the opponents, and a Planetar; I must be draining the cosmos of these beings. Improved Haste is next. I hold off on Tenser's Transformation and instead cast Imprisonment on the leader Nabassu, but something hits me and I waste this nice 9th-level spell, the only low point of the battle. Since they are all probably magic resistant, I cast True Sight to prevent the Succubus from going invisible, Tenser's to improve my melee abilities, and concentrate on the Succubus first as I don't want any of the Swords to get dominated; this isn't supposed to happen but I have seen it happen regardless. The leader summons what looks like a couple of skeletal Abyssal clerics and they join the fray. The Succubus is soon dead and I then help the Swords deal with the Glabrezu, the greatest remaining threat due to their speed and extensive damage abilities.

As the opponents are whittled away, the remainders fall more quickly with more Swords to turn on them. When the Swords vanish, one Glabrezu, those charred-skeleton clerics and a couple of Quasits are all that remain. The Pulser does them in, except for the Quasits. They vanish and reappear so quickly that they are hard to hit, and I already used up True Sight. But they are minor opponents who can't even damage me physically, and with the fast reflexes I can summon when needed their fraction of a second of visibility is enough to smash them down with the Staff. A trapped recessed container holds a few arrows and potions, and the Nabassu dropped its heart and scepter gem. One of three... I have a long series of battles ahead of me in that case.

And I am not mistaken. As soon as I travel south through the next portal, my armour class rises again and I am getting used to these areas enough that I can feel that something is wrong here, as a person with good hearing does on stepping into an area of total silence, which is a rare place indeed; it's another Dead Magic Zone, and two Cornugons, two things that look like Frost Salamanders but fire electrical arrows, and a variation on the Pit Fiend greet me warmly. The Pit Fiend is a fast mover and I am very lucky to be immune to its attacks or I doubt that I would be writing this. I can avoid the Cornugons but the electrical arrows really hurt. I can't read a Protection From Electricity scroll without the effect vanishing shortly thereafter. What I do to get out of this jam is summon a group of monsters with the Wand just as I enter, which distracts the Cornugons from me. I then slip away and out of their sight behind a column and start firing the Pulser at the nasty electrical archers. Meanwhile the Pit Fiend can't injure me but wails in my ear as it tries to. I get horridly injured by the arrows and can't even heal by the regeneration of the Ring Of Gaxx so I gulp healing potions like water. Luckily the Cornugons aren't too bright so forgot about me as they can't see me behind the column. Finally, after more potions than I care to count, the archers are dead. The Cornurgons are easy kills with the Pulser just by keeping away from them, and this Pit Fiend is getting really annoying.

It gets more so. When the Cornugons are dead I can finally deal with the Pit Fiend. It's very fast, and keeps becoming invisible, so I lose sight of it and have to start attacking again, and it regenerates, albeit slowly, but just enough that if I whack it with the Staff, I don't hit it again until it recovers what it lost. So, I turn the Pulser on it instead. I take a large THAC0 penalty for using it point-blank but at least it hits more often than the Staff. I can't back up to get a proper range as the Pit Fiend just catches up to me. I can't Haste, Oil Of Speed is also instantly dispelled, but I find the Improved Haste from the Ring Of Gaxx does stick properly. I use all three of them but still only have this thing to Injured. Time drags on. If I miss too many times, it recovers to Barely Injured. I try the Efreeti Bottle and summon an Efreeti. The Pit Fiend turns on it and smites it. I use the Shakti figurine and become a warrior, clad in armour, with a magical shortsword. The Dead Magic Zone dispels the armour and sword. The glow remains. Great. Finally I stuff my ears with cloth to drown out the screeching and just use the Pulser until the thing finally goes down, which takes well over an hour. My head rings and I have to sit down for a few minutes before continuing. It only drops a scroll of Mantle, which I already know.

Day 33

A new day has begun, it would seem, but I don't look forward to facing it and I am in no hurry, so I decide to rest. I am awakened by a wandering Cornugon who casts Aganazzar's Scorcher and Lightning Bolt. I still have Protection From Energy so use it, and the Cornugon can now do perhaps 1 point of damage each time which I quickly heal from. I take it out with the Pulser and rest again.

And I am very glad that I did. The room stuffed with Tanar'ri demons before finds its equivalent here in a room stuffed with their Baatezu devil adversaries; a miniature version of the Abyssal Blood War is encased within the walls of this Keep; they can wipe each other out for all I care and I hope the real Blood War keeps going for as long as it takes to accomplish this; were they not too stupid to realize it, they could cause some serious damage on other planes if they worked together. Their leader is a smaller Ravager or Slayer who identifies himself as Ka'rashur. They are trapped here, and are foolish enough to think that the Tanar'ri are responsible. I have the heart of the Tanar'ri baalor who I slew earlier, and they think it is the key out of here, so I give it to them as it's of no use to me, but it isn't the key out; they give me a Thieves' Hood as a 'reward' for my 'betrayal' of the Tanar'ri and then all turn on me. What? I didn't betray anyone. I was following the directions to finish the maze in order and the Tanar'ri were just the first group I happened to encounter. But devils are like that I guess...

There are quite a lot of them: three Curnugons, Ka'rashur himself, three of those things that look like Frost Salamanders but discharge electrical arrows that I now know to be called Velithuu, several Imps, and a few Bone Fiends join the fun soon after. And in the midst of it is a lost-looking human or formerly human archer. Sigh... there go all my spells again. Protection From Magical Weapons is first, then Improved Alacrity.

I don't raise all the Mordenkainen's Swords at once this time as there are so many enemies that the Swords could vanish before the enemies are dead; three will hold off the pack of them and I can cast the other two later when these three begin to disappear. Elemental magic, fire and electricity, is everywhere, so I cast Protection From Energy and give silent thanks to the Circlet of Netheril that allowed me the extra spell slot to put it in. With the twenty percent resistance I gained in the Abyss augmenting it to ninety-five percent, I can safely ignore all the elemental damage. I also Stoneskin, Blur and drink an Oil Of Speed for longer-lasting quickness.

But for the second time in a row I waste Imprisonment; Ka'rashur is of course immune to it being a Slayer or Ravager but that doesn't stop me from trying. I should have quaffed a Potion Of Insight beforehand as well. By careful manoeuvering I manage to get almost all the enemies beating on the Swords, and I can start picking them off at a distance with the Pulser. One of the Swords is Dominated by the archer, so I throw an Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wilting in the pack to kill the traitorous Sword and whatever else isn't magic resistant, then cast Tenser's Transformation and pulp the archer with the Staff, and then get a few choice hits in on a couple of Cornugons as they seem the most injured. One of them goes down. Now I concentrate on Ka'rashur and him alone with the Pulser and command the remaining Swords to just attack him. With Tenser's active I hardly miss, the Oil of Speed improves my attacks per round and he is soon dead. Now the Swords are starting to vanish so I finish off the remaining Cornugon; only Imps, Verithuu and Bone Fiends remain. The Imps are easily smashed down with the Staff at one hit apiece, then the Verithuu. The Bone Fiends, as I learned before, can't injure me at all, so I leave them for last. The Oil Of Speed and Tenser's wears off, so as I did before, I raise a Skeleton Warrior who nice low THAC0 will hit them most of the time. They are soon dispatched to wherever they came from.

There isn't much treasure to be had here. A trapped hidden container in the base of a column falls to Knock; it casts Fireball many times after I open it, but I am out of the range of them after the first one; it held a potion or two and some +3 arrows. Ka'rashur's heart fell out of him when he died (fell creatures are strange things) so I retrieve it as it will undoubtedly be useful in future. But he did hold the second of three scepter gems, the real reason I came here. Following Yakman's journal, I should continue south through the next portal. It is the only one other than the one I entered through.

Isn't anyone here glad to see me? The sought obelisk is indeed here, but it is guarded by two Glabrezu spellcasters, who summon hordes of Fire Elementals and Salamanders. I'm very happy that this isn't a Dead Magic Zone, and luckily I memorized Death Fog just for such an occasion of being swamped with summons. It slays all the summons instantly and new ones can be led into the acid and their doom. The Glabrezu, now alone, are very fast enemies and I can barely keep away from them, so I Stoneskin to avoid their attacks and summon a Planetar to keep them busy, then turn the Pulser on them. I bring one down before the Planetar is destroyed (and it helps) and the second falls soon afterwards.

The journal of Yakman now speaks of fleeing into the setting sun and its fire, and then north to a tree, so I leave through the western portal. I doubt I have seen the last of battle in this place. There are several Tieflings in the next area. Are they friendly? Of course not. Do they immediately want to fight me? Of course. The Fates have arranged things so that the only sentient being I have to talk to is a mad elf. And, of course, it's a Wild Magic Zone. I make the mistake of casting Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wilting and in a Wild Surge it actually does something useful by entangling one of the Tieflings, so I raise a few monsters with the Wand and put them down with the Scorcher. They have little or none of the immunity to fire from the small fell component of their bloodline. The thief drops some +2 weapons and +3 leather armour.

Finally I can leave this place for a breather; my next stop in the journey west through the portals brings me back to the arcade with the rosa ventorum at its centre. I pass through the southern portal and once again, past mad Yakman, still raving about demons and delusions. I sell off too many items to mention which puts me back at just over three hundred and thirty thousand gold. I sell off and buy back yet another Wand Of Spell Striking that I found to recharge it. Yakman's journal next indicates that I should be heading in a northerly direction to find a tree.

The north portal takes me back to the previous level; this isn't right. I return and this time go one portal further west. There is the tree; this area is completely empty. "But even there the north still calls as to the north I'm free" wrote Yakman. Good, I should be done soon. No, this isn't correct. Going north from the tree leads me back to the arcade, and I know that going north from here leaves the level completely.

But Yakman's journal notes that he rested by the tree. Right; I will rest. I return to the tree, and set up my tent and bedroll as best I can on a stone floor beneath its branches while Lhaeozarus scampers about. I incant my spells silently in my mind leafing through my spellbook and then lay down to rest, gazing at the tree's leaves and thinking of the placidity of nature at peace, and the sap that runs through its veins as the blood does mine, and wondering what it thinks growing in such an alien surrounding with no other trees around to talk to through chemical messages borne on the wind as trees do; I am soon asleep.

Day 34

No, that didn't do anything either. I awaken refreshed but nothing has changed here. I try the western exit rather than the northern one and I am back in the Dead Magic Zone where I previously slew the Pit Fiend and allies. Their bodies are the only landmark I have. Yakman's madness finally overtook his sense of direction and while I am certainly not lost, my quarry may be. I will have to blunder through this place as best I can and hope to find someplace new accidentally. I remember the "hand" rules for mazes: that if not specifically designed to foil this technique, one can find one's way out of almost any maze by choosing either the left or right hand and keeping that hand on the wall (or at least imagining it) at all times, thereby tracing the escape route without wandering in circles. I choose the right hand as it is usually out with the Staff so provides a convenient pointer. But the maze is composed of isolated quadrangles so this doesn't work either.

Finally I just wander randomly until I find a direction I can't remember taking before, and I do. From the north portal where the unfortunately slain Tieflings lie, I find another tree. Of course, there are also several Demon Knights and a Cambion there too. I save against their Symbol: Stun, I have too many hit points to be affected by their Power Word: Kill, and raise a Mordenkainen's Sword to keep them off me, then Stoneskin and go to work on them with the Pulser. Amazingly, they are able to kill the Sword with their Swords. I raise another and they eventually kill that one too, but they are much weakened. I throw a Death Fog in the centre of the area and keep them in it taking damage while I skirt the perimeter and pelt them with Pulser ammunition, and soon they are all dead. I am at a loss how they killed my Swords; perhaps they cast Power Word: Kill on them, but they were also able to hit me as well, and yet their weapons are run-of-the mill +1 bastard swords and two handed swords. I don't understand it... but there will always be much that I don't understand.

For the time being, as there is a tree here, I can follow the directions of Yakman which tell me to go north from "the" tree. And a most unpleasant sight meets my eyes when I do: a Demon Wraith has stolen the souls of several adventurers and uses them to attack me as Neb the child-murderer did; this is one of the more disturbing parts of my journey. The floor is coated with traps and they are the kind that don't expire after one triggering. I am able to beat the Demon Wraith by Breaching off his protections, casting Protection From Energy to shrug off the fireballs and other magical damage, then Protection From Magical Weapons to avoid the unfortunate adventurers' attacks. After that, plinking the Demon Wraith over and over with the Pulser interrupts his further spellcasting, and when Protection From Magical Weapons wears off I Stoneskin and keep away from the wraiths. When the Demon Wraith goes down the hold he had on the poor adventurers is released, and they thank me and vanish, and again I am reminded of the ugly depravity of Neb and the children who fought for him against their will, his victims.

Many of the possessions of the adventurers are still here and I collect them: armour, weapons, jewels. I find a Rogue Stone which Cespenar had indicated could be fused with the Quiver Of Plenty to make it better. And a note left by a paladin adventurer named Sir Kalthorine Ut Wistan who passed through this place long ago tells of betrayal by his fellow knights. I have heard of this man; I doubt he was one of the wraiths who were entrapped here but I can only hope.

On the next stop through the portals to the north, I know I have found my destination. A Cambion is here with several Tieflings and two Fell Cats; he identifies the rest as his "servants and pets." Though this looks like yet another battle, I am relieved when he offers his name, Aesgareth, and so I offer mine back; he seems a little more civil than others and I won't hold his heritage against him, as others have done with me. He offers me a gamble, one of many possible but I am only interested in the one that will allow my progression from this level of the Keep: he will wager the gem that I need to complete the Scepter Of Radiance, and I will in turn have to wager the whole Sceptre should I lose, but he promises that I will get it back when he has made his way out of this place. I tell him that I will think about it.

I ponder the wager for a short time. I look the Cambion up and down and try to draw on the sense I have developed from interacting with many different types of beings over the course of years of whether they seem trustworthy. I pace the cavern and note that the Cambion and his allies slew several Cornugons and Imps; therefore he is a fellow of the chaotic background in the Blood War as far as his ancestry goes, and few would trust him. But again, I try to determine a being's intent by their actions and mannerisms, not their heritage. I finally decide that I will trust him; with six allies he could easily have counted a lone Prime as no threat at all when I stepped through the portal had he been of that turn of mind, and I prefer his bearing to other Cambions I have met.

He has a Deck Of Many Things, a rarity among rarities and a sought-after item; he holds it forth and I draw a random card. It casts Slow on me, and without a saving throw. I am relieved that was all I drew. His card summons forth an Adamantite Golem; though these golems take little damage from physical attacks he urges me to stand back and it is slain handily by him and his Tiefling servants. His card trumped mine, and I am supposed to do the honourable thing and surrender the Sceptre and gems to him. I will abide by my commitment, and with an anxious and somewhat fearful heart I press the Sceptre Of Radiance and the two gems I possess into the huge, black-gauntleted hand of Aesgareth, and hope that on my tombstone it will be incised that I died a man of my word, should it come to this. When the third gem snaps into place the Sceptre is completely transformed; it finally bears its name honestly and is alive with energy and light.

He leads his troupe to the awaiting portal and holds the Sceptre close; the portal begins to glow fiercely in blue-white shimmers and emits an audible whine. One at a time they vanish into it: Tieflings, then Fell Cats, lastly Aesgareth... and he is gone. I blink and stare at the portal; nothing changes. But as I reach the pinnacle of the horror that I have been forever cheated, a black-gauntleted hand juts back through the centre of the fury of energies at work in the portal, and holds the Sceptre horizontally by its very tip. I dare not touch it, and it is for the best that I did not or Aesgareth's hand would have become separated from his body in this space had I snatched the Sceptre from him. Slowly the hand withdraws until only the Sceptre is visible, which then suddenly clatters to the stone pedestal. An honourable and honest demon; I fear I shall not meet his like again for a long time, if ever.

But I forget about him and most of the other experiences I have had thus far when I step through the portal. An immense, gleaming hallway, and at its centre at machine like nothing I have ever seen before: brightly coloured, hissing steam, roughly spherical and as large as a house. This is definitely Lum's work. A mage is imprisoned within, and he is another survivor of the adventurers that made it this far. He is as mad as a hatter, but that's what others have said about Lum, though it just isn't the case. When I enter, he is busily creating Githyanki and Mind Flayers and causing them to fight each other, but he tires of this and they run off. Several mechanical arms protrude from the faces of the machine's outer armour and they are busily manipulating levers back and forth. Cables snake from the central device to small fan-like engines of the periphery of the great hall. What a wonderful place...

The wonder is spoiled somewhat by the nasty undead shades at the north end, but I dispose of them quickly by summoning a few distractions and putting them down with the Pulser, concentrating on the Devil Shades first as they can hurt me, and then the Shadow Fiends as they can't, casting Blur to make me more difficult to hit. There are two very large areas gated off from the central hall where the machine sits, at the east and west. I decide to clean them out first, not wanting my exploration of this device spoilt by monsters.

The western gate discloses a mass of Mustard Jellies, five or six of them. Easy prey en masse for the Sorcher. A cabinet at the south holds several type of healing potions. The north end has several cabinets, but they turn out to hold Killer Mimics, beings that disguise themselves as containers to fool adventurers. I summon monsters to take the force of their extremely strong fire and acid attacks, and take them out with the Scorcher while they are busy killing the poor summons. The containers mostly hold ammunition; I place it in the ammo belt and continue on to the eastern gate. Several trolls and Yuan-Ti await, but they fall quickly to the Scorcher and I take only slight damage. I am rushing through this with anticipation of examining Lum's work more closely. Could he have stumbled on something with this so powerful that the gods considered it a threat and locked it away? I pick more gold, ammunition and a couple of scrolls, and another Wand Of Spell Striking out of the containers, shrugging off their traps. There is one further area to the east, with a large circular pool of water in it. Two of the Magic Golems are here as well. As I did before with them, I raise Gnolls with the Wand Of Monster Summoning and they are quickly eliminated by the Gnolls's nonmagical halberds. A hint of blue in the pool catches my eye, and I retrieve a bottle of blue lamp oil. No idea what this is for, so I put it away for now.

And now, finally, I am free to explore what this machine may do, if anything. I pore through the Scroll Cases and Bags of Holding until I have retrieved every note I found from Lum The Mad. I study them all six of them carefully:

"Tough guy? Tough guy? Long red circle is tough guy now!"
"Words to the wise - circle, square, triangle."
"No magic! Long blue green! Back, magic, back!"
"Short medium square makes big muscles."
"The beautiful people are short, red and green."
"Shhh!! Calm before storm! Medium green triangle gets storm in hand."

Each one clearly contains three parameters: long or short or a shape or two or three, or a colour. These must be some sort of a code. Disregarding that part of each, I see: tough guy, words to the wise, no magic, big muscles, beautiful people, and storm in hand. Already four of them are becoming clear: they sound like attributes. If "big muscles" is Strength, then "tough guy" would be Constitution, "beautiful people" Charisma and "words to the wise" nothing but Wisdom. Ahhh, by that reasoning then "No magic" would be Magic Resistance. But what is Storm in Hand? Is this power of the machine what made the gods of Toril lock it away, forever imprisoned in this dumping ground for multiplanar troublemakers? If it can change a person's attributes, perhaps someone in the cosmos thought that this would make certain people too powerful. I was able to do this many times previously myself with the tomes I found scattered throughout the areas around Baldur's Gate. There were several for Wisdom, and one each for each other attribute a person has. But those tomes were very rare, some perhaps unique. Can the machine do it over and over again?

There is only one way to find out. I approach the machine and check it carefully. Mad Carston the mage is the "Lord of the Level" and likes to electrocute people who ask questions he doesn't want to answer, so I ignore him for now. He doesn't remember any other life before being trapped in this intricate cage, immortal but powerless outside of this area and unable to leave. I find that I am unable to operate the machine. I will have to return later. I check the area more carefully this time. In my haste, I had missed a second western area behind another gate, in which I find several Yuan-Ti including a mage; they fall in seconds to the Scorcher. Two rows of three torches, bronze bowls elevated on metal legs, stand before a locked gate. I remember the blue oil I had picked up recently and this must have been for it. However, there is naught else in this area. There are two gates at the north and south from here, and it is clear that I will have to go into them but I am not sure which one I like least; one seems to be the lair of Illithid and another Githyanki, where the beings conjured by the mad Carston go to live when he tired of their petty battles. I decide I will check the Illithid lair first.

Before entering, I gulp a Potion Of Genius to raise my Intelligence and offset any of the Illithid's drain of it. The familiar garish alien decoration is soon apparent, and several Umber Hulks and an Illithid await in the first circular area I come to. A Cloudkill in the centre disposes of the Umber Hulks, and I can easily melee the Illithid; it doesn't hit me at all. When it flees in terror, I pick it off with the Pulser. I run into a few more Umber Hulks and lead them back into the first Cloudkill and their destruction, and melee an Ularthid. It gets one hit on me. In a container, I find yet another of Lum's "notes." This one says: "Quick and nimble - quick blue square! Nimble and short." This must be one for Dexterity, fitting the pattern of the others.

There is a human here, or what appears to be. He is sleeping on the floor in a cell in the Illithid lair. He awakens when I speak; he is nearly dead. I an do nothing for him, he dies shortly thereafter. He was with Carston's group when they first entered this place; Carston decided to fiddle with the machine without knowing what it did. He trapped himself within it, and further random tinkering merely made the problem worse, gating demons and casting fireballs that killed his apprentices. Now I know why asking about them is a sore spot for him. I don't get to find out how to either bypass the glass or free Carston, or kill him if he forces it to come to that.

When I slay another Ularthid in this area, he drops the second half of a rod, the first half of which I found earlier. The two halves fit together neatly and now it is left to me to find the use for it. In a northwestern area a central pool holds the second of these coloured lamp oils; this one is red. With a rumble, the vertical Illithid sarcophagi open and two Vampiric Illithid appear. I had bypassed one of these earlier. They regenerate quickly and would Level Drain were I not immune to it with the Amulet Of Power, which still nothing has persuaded me to remove. They don't drain my intelligence, though. I cast Tenser's Transformation and try to put up with being nibbled, but I don't have any more Improved Haste available and they regenerate as fast as I can damage them even hitting them with every swing. Animate Dead provides an ally with a strong magical sword that can damage them, and while they pick on me the Skeleton Warrior accelerates the damage on them and soon they are dead.

I explore the area, but it has nothing more to offer me. I dread crossing the vast hall to the Githyanki zone but it appears that this is what I must do. They are as savage as I remember them, with their unnerving wailing during battle, but I didn't have Mordenkainen's Sword or the Big Metal Rod available then. With a Sword to distract the first group I meet, they are not difficult at all. The only ones that seem to be able to hit me are the aptly named Anti-Paladins, but their Unholy Reaver swords fuse to them when they die and can't be picked up. I concentrate on them first, and then the Knights and Warriors, whose normal swords can't hit me. I save against all their stun magics. When the first sword expires, I raise another while pressing further into their complex. Finally I meet their Captain, who is so pleased to hear that I already disposed of their Illithid enemy, saving them the trouble, that he decides to kill me. Did I expect anything different from the Gith? He never gets close; the Scorcher cuts him down where he stands and I don't get to feel the loving touch of the +4 named longsword that he wields.

I find several interesting items here interspersed amongst the heaps of armour, potions, and two-handed swords, which I dutifully pack away anyways, not wanting anything to go to waste as long as I can carry it. One of the items is secreted in the "teeth" of a Spelljammer stowed away here: the clasp of the cloak of Montolio, tutor of Drizzt. I have been looking for this to complete the cloak; Cespenar will be able to do the honours. Another coloured oil is found; this one is purple. And most interesting of all is a scribbled note from one of the apprentices of Carston which details how he has hidden a small magical mallet, which in six strikes can shatter the glass of Lum's machine, as he did not wish Carston to be freed. As well there is a set of flint and tinder to light the torches lined up in front of the large locked gate near Lum's machine, and another "note" from Lum: "Smarty smarty. You long circle the blue." Intelligence is always helpful.

Almost hidden on the west wall is a stairway going downwards. Wondering what could be there, I descend. Ah, a crypt... oh crap! There's a floating head that looks very familiar here. I have just blundered into a Demi-Lich's lair. I cast Spell Immunity:Abjuration at roughly the speed of light, and ponder in the very limited time I have left alive should I perform poorly what to do. I have five scrolls of Protection From Undead still, and I doubt I will run into that many undead between now and my inevitable confrontation with Melissan. I will read one if it looks like Spell Immunity is going to wear off before the Demi-Lich is nothing but shattered bone fragments; knowing the power and versatility of Spell Immunity I have memorized two of them.

But I won't let that happen if I can help it. I cast Haste on myself, the last resort without using yet another Oil Of Speed that I am running out of, then Energy Blades. I need to rest soon anyways and I absolutely must throw every piece of damage I can at this floating head lest I find myself saying "hi" to the lithosphere for a few million years; no one will ever decide to visit this uncharted crypt in a desolate part of an inaccessible section of a no-parole prison built by the gods and decide to cast Freedom for no reason, I can tell you. I unload the Energy Blades as fast as I can and then use Draw Upon Holy Might to top my Strength to 25 and start whacking the Demi-Lich. I can do at most 2 points of damage per hit, but after the Energy Blades it's already Injured. It's still not fast enough... it doesn't regenerate but I can't damage it fast enough to prevent Spell Immunity from running out. And it does... oh no oh no... can I get another one up immediately, before another Imprisonment comes? Yes! I silently thank the Robe of Vecna giving me instantaneous casting times for many spells. I cast the second Spell Immunity: Abjuration and resume whacking. But I still won't make it... the Demi-Lich is Badly Injured but I am not damaging it quickly enough. I need another good spell... Spell Trap! I raise the Spell Trap of the Staff Of The Magi and it catches an Imprisonment or two, and I get Energy Blades back. I cast that, put some distance between myself and the Demi-Lich to avoid the point-blank penalty and hurl them as though my life depended on it, and it does! The Demi-Lich is Near Death, and I get a few more good hits in with the Staff...

...and then I am naked. Exposed! My last Spell Immunity has expired and I am helpless... and the world seems to have had a Slow spell cast on it; it moves in a ridiculously sluggish way. My back tensed like cables, arms stretched back gripping the Staff as if it is keeping me from falling into the Abyss itself; the glow in the Demi-Lich's eyes arising as its lower jaw drops, and I see the fulmination of magical energy and know that the end is near, and like a spring unwinding I bring all the tension to bear and the Staff head descends on that floating menace to everything reasonable...

With a crack, and a clunk, the Demi-Lich tumbles to the floor. A piece falls from the cranium of the skull and the jaw dislocates and separates. It is dead for now. I keep from collapsing only by gripping the Staff tightly and hyperventilating; my heart must be doing three hundred beats a minute and I am afraid of ironically dying even though I have won... I have won the first time with no preparations and I think of how many poor souls might be Imprisoned here that I could have joined. Just the horror of being Imprisoned in a place so isolated, and my close brush with it, causes me to go further in my reparations than I did before when I battled Kangaxx; in a city full of archmagi one would eventually be freed.

I only have three Freedom scrolls but will probably never need them for companions, so I read one, just to be sure. I don't worry about being able to cast this spell if I ever really need it as I long-ago scribed it so can be ready to cast it after eight hours' rest at any time. No one appears when it is cast, and I will sleep soundly knowing I did this. To prevent the Demi-Lich from ever rising anew, I carefully gather the pieces of the broken skull and jawbone. Without their occupant giving them their great resistance to damage, they crush easily as I use the Staff like a great pestle on the hard steps of the crypt, having placed the pieces on an unrolled scroll so that not a single fragment would be lost. This completed, I search through my first Bag Of Holding for the Elven holy water I purchased in Saradush. I still have a few vials of it. The vials are not large enough, so I break out a soup bowl from my pack, fold the flattened scroll slightly and pour the fractured Demi-Lich pieces in. Decanting and adding the Elven holy water, there is a visible discharge of magical luminescence. I stir and stir until the Demi-Lich fragments are completely saturated with holy water. Finally, I cast Dispel Magic on the bowl. The colour of the fragments noticeably lightens to bleached bone; the dispelling was successful. The Demi-Lich is really dead now. I don't leave for a few minutes, relaxing after my efforts, and listening to the hiss and crackle of the eternal flame that burns on the crypt, petting Lhaeozarus, and trying to forget how close I came to an eternity of entrapment.

I dump the contents of my bowl into the crypt as a final burial place for the Demi-Lich, whoever he or she may have been in a life that ended centuries or millennia ago, but not before removing what I find in it: a named +4 dagger that can cause the wielder to become invisible. Not many weapons do I find that I can actually use, so I heft it and test the balance carefully. I also find twenty thousand gold pieces, the most I have ever found in a single place, and I somehow feel that I earned it, every piece. I will have to remember to thoroughly rinse this bowl before I eat from it again; I don't know if dispelled Demi-Lich dust is poisonous but I have no desire to find out.

For now, I continue onwards. There is only one remaining area in the Githyanki lair that I have not explored, and its resident is no Githyanki, judging by the large dragon head of stone mounted to the arch (how do dragons do their decorating, I wonder... their lairs are always ever so nice.) I am almost completely out of spells, and battling a dragon is not an option right now, but dragons are intelligent creatures and usually willing to talk first.

Indeed, Saladrex is certainly willing to talk... I think that he misses company being down here all alone with only barbaric Githyanki as occasional visitors (or meals,) so I humor him with titles such as "oh, mighty Saladrex" and let him answer all my questions as best I can. He knows of the crystal mallet that I must find in order to shatter the glass keeping Carston inside, and overheard the Githyanki captain say before that the Illithid held it, but does not know where it is now. He also knows of the rows of torches and coloured oils, and that the machine of Lum is possibly a way to the next level.

He is friendly enough, and very polite for a Red Dragon, so I leave Saladrex alone, though he is foolish enough to hint that he has a large treasure cache amassed from the machine's creations that have been brazen enough to attack him. I remember the Abyssal test where a dragon would hand over a Tear Of Bhaal just by asking, and how I had stayed my hand there and benefitted from doing so; I depart Saladrex's lair for now. I must have missed something in another area; I will check the Illithid lair very thoroughly and have Lhaeozarus hunt for secret doors.

But first, I will use the opportunity presented by the Portals and take the one that returns me to the outdoors, and sell off items that I have collected. I will also visit Cespenar and see what he has to offer me. I decide to do this first, to avoid selling anything that I might need. I end up spending forty thousand gold, but for my troubles I receive four fine pieces each of which would be a lifetime's achievement for their owners, or a lifetime's study for an enchanter of how Cespenar in seconds can duplicate a complex series of enchantments, components and months of preparation, which is what these items usually take in the crafting. With a Rogue Stone, the Quiver Of Plenty is now upgraded to produce an unlimited number of +2 arrows, Montolio's cloak is fused with its clasp and is now a potent item for Rangers, the White Dragon scales found beside the body of one of the unfortunate Wraithed adventurers is forged into magical White Dragon Scale armour with a -2 Armour Class that can cast Cone Of Cold for the wearer, and most potent of all, the Angurvadal longsword is transformed with the vial of liquid mercury into a +5 enchanted blade that makes one as strong as a Fire Giant as the girdle I wear does, and confers immunity to Level Drain when wielded. This weapon alone would take a master enchanter literally years to produce, but Cespenar takes no longer than with other forgings, as if the weapons are already made in some alternate reality that only he has access to.

But for every item I can improve, there is yet another I cannot yet. The Dagger Of The Star requires five Star Sapphires to become more potent, the Bard's Gloves several expensive gems, the Thieves' Hood needs a Ring Of Invisibility and an Antidote potion. I will have to keep these things in mind. I carefully place the newly constructed items for safekeeping in a container here and go to find Sarevok. He is resting; he looks very peaceful. The nightmare that was his life is over. I don't disturb him. Cespenar assures me that everything has been very quiet and as blissful as the Abyss can be in my absence; that is enough for me and I return to the Keep.

And now it is down to selling off a huge amount of accumulated items. One hundred and fifty +3 arrows, eighty +1 arrows and bolts, seventy +3 bolts, sixty +2 bolts, forty Arrows Of Ice, Piercing and Biting and Bolts Of Lightning, twenty-one suits of plate mail, twenty +1 darts, fifteen two-handed swords, nine Antidotes (I make sure to keep one for Cespenar's "recipe,") eight longswords and Potions Of Healing (these once-useful potions are now far too weak to be of any assistance,) five bastard swords, four short bows, Potions Of Invisibility and +1 two-handed swords, three more copies of Elminster's Ecologies (I have no idea why there are so many of them; must be very popular,) two scrolls of Summon Hakeashar, Identify, Sphere Of Chaos and Grease, two +1 bastard swords and Wands Of Magic Missiles, one scroll each of Protection From Normal Weapons, Mantle, and Conjure Lesser Air Elemental, a suit of +1 plate mail and full plate mail, an Adventurer's Robe, a Potion Of Fire Giant Strength, a Wand Of The Heavens (I have two, so sell the one with the lesser charge) and a host of normal weapons and assorted minor gems, though I find one is a Laeral's Tear that fetches a good coin. I am back to three hundred and forty-six thousand gold pieces even after all the upgrading I did in the Abyss. Cespenar is an expensive butler.

I return as planned to the lair of the Illithid, and Lhaeozarus goes to work. My Skeleton Warrior is still there awaiting my return, too. I have cleaned the place out completely it seems. There is a trap here that persistently casts something on me, but I can shrug off anything with a saving throw. I already have Lhaeozarus looking for traps as she will find secret doors at the same time. She finds the trap, and she is actually able to disarm it. She never ceases to amaze me and I pat her head and smile. But I find nothing more. There are no secret doors here. It is late at night, I require rest, and I am out of spells. Tired of being inside for the time being, I return to the outdoors and make camp near the foot of the obelisk and rest well.

Day 35

I speak to Saladrex and Carston both upon awakening but they have nothing new to offer me, so I pace the area of Lum's machine several times back and forth to the east and west sides looking for anything that I have missed, before I realize that I have been walking over the answer all of this time: like wide teardrops, three decorative tiles set into the floor on each gated area are red, red and purple in order on the west side and blue, purple and red on the east. This would be the order to light the torches in, though I had thought that more oil would be required.

I break out the three containers of oil, carefully pour a small amount into each torch in order, then strike flame into the first with the tinder and flint. Carrying a small burning splint of tinder to each torch, they are all soon alit. When the last torch is lit, there is a rumbling and the huge gate flies open. There is a further gate behind it. I Stoneskin before entering it, and I am glad I did so. As the gate swings open I see the guardians of this place and the two huge iron safes that they protect. Two minotaurs and several Frost Salamanders converge on me. I raise a single Mordenkainen's Sword and keep away from them as best I can. Between the Scorcher, Sword and Staff they all soon fall; I Magic Missile the larger of the two minotaurs to finish the process. They both carried +3 battle axes, but one of the larger minotaur's is a named axe called the Axe Of Unyeilding.

One of the safes is trapped, Lhaeozarus tells me, so I clench my teeth that it isn't Maze Or Imprisonment and Knock it open. When I crack the door open whatever it is gets blocked by my Magic Resistance. The sought crystal mallet is inside, along with quite a few gold pieces and a couple of scrolls, including the page to the Golem Manual that I wanted very much: summoning a Clay Golem. I will try to have Cespenar convert the Golem Book for this one as a Clay Golem is a far better ally, being resistant to many types of damage. The second safe is not trapped but holds nothing memorable.

I quickly return to Lum's machine, bristling with anticipation... I'm not quite sure what Carston will do when I release him, but being a fellow mage if he decides to turn on me I will be more than equipped to handle it. I firmly tap the glass six times with the crystal mallet and it dissolves into dust. Carston tumbles to the ground, shocked and stupefied. Rather than turning on me, he begs for his life. I know that he arrived in the cage by accident who-knows-how-long ago, so I tell him that I should kill him for what he did to his apprentices in his futile tries to escape, but that I will be a better man than he could be capable of and let him go, which he does. Without the wardstone of Helm I have no idea how he will escape this place but this is not my problem.

I inspect the inner workings of the machine's control panel. The main one has three sets of controls: circular, square and triangular buttons, red, blue and green dials, and short, medium and long levers. I will confine myself to exactly following the eight notes from Lum I found lest I try a bad combination and end up trapped as Carston was, or worse. So, I work through the notes in the order in which I found them.

"Tough guy? Tough guy? Long red circle is tough guy now!" I hesitantly pull the long lever. Nothing happens except a slight change in the sounds coming from the machine. Next, I twist the red dial, and again the sounds change slightly. Something is building up, like that first Magic Missile... and I scrunch my eyes closed when I gently depress the circular button... I feel something change in me. Yes! I was right... this is the Constitution change. My Constitution has improved by one to twenty, and I would now regenerate naturally without any items. Wonderful... I file this note away. To try the same combination again would be a dangerous risk, and I will file away the rest as I try them. Greed inevitably ends badly...

"Words to the wise - circle, square, triangle." All three of them are buttons, and in the same order they appear in. When all three are pressed, my Wisdom is increased to 13. Funny thing; the buttons are the most natural thing to use in the layout of the controls. Perhaps this was done deliberately so that an unwise person who pressed all the buttons in order while playing with the machine would become wise enough to know not to play with it further!

"No magic! Long blue green! Back, magic, back!" Pulling the long lever, then twisting the blue and green dials improves my Magic Resistance by ten percent. Very nice for a wizard to have this in confrontations with other wizards.

"Short medium square makes big muscles." Knowing what this will do, I first pull off the Girdle of Frost Giant Strength so that I can measure its effects. Pulling the short then medium levers and pushing the square button raises my unaccentuated Strength from nineteen to twenty.

"The beautiful people are short, red and green." Pulling the short lever, followed by twisting the red and green dials raises my Charisma from fourteen to fifteen. I still have the Ring Of Human Influence if required for those critical times.

"Shhh!! Calm before storm! Medium green triangle gets storm in hand." Now this is the one that I couldn't fit into the schema of the rest of them before, so I am anxious to try it. The medium lever, green dial and triangular button are tried, and my pack feels slightly heavier. I check it and I find a nice +3 mace called the Storm Star. Of course I can't use it, but it's certainly a fit item for my museum: this may be an original Netherese artifact and is potently charged with electrical energy.

"Quick and nimble - quick blue square! Nimble and short." This one is slightly ambiguous due to the arrangement of the page. Is it made to be read left to right strictly in row order (blue, square, short,) or is it arranged in columns (short, blue, square)? Judging by the others, I go with the former and I am relieved to get that point of Dexterity back that I sacrificed in the Abyss.

"Smarty smarty. You long circle the blue." What else but Intelligence, a mage's meat and drink and mine increases to twenty. I won't have to worry about misreading scrolls very often, though it's still best to use a Potion Of Genius and be sure of it.

And that is that for the rewards of the Machine of Lum the 'Mad', but I have still one more task to complete of it. When I freed Carston, he presented me with his journal. He was able to find the code to open the portal at the north end of the hall though he could not break the glass cage and use it, and so I duplicate this with the triangular button, red dial and medium lever. The portal is opened, and I can descend further into the bowels of this place. But before leaving, I carefully collect all eight of Lum's notes and Carston's journal, and place them carefully into the chest nearest the machine, so that others who might find it can both benefit from its powers and continue further into this place should they so desire. I don't leave just yet, though I could. Instead, I return to the Githyanki quarter, and pass beneath the dragonhead arch.

Saladrex is still there, more lonely as ever. Even the yowling barbaric Githyanki may have been better company than none, but not much. I explain to him that the portals are open, and if he wants to leave that he should do so; the Githyanki are dead and Carston isn't around to be conjuring any more of them, or any more munchies.

I've not seen a dragon look saddened before and it isn't a pleasant sight. I continue... I tell him that he's not bad for a Red Dragon, so he should fly away from here and settle down somewhere with better company. His jaw opens but no words or flames emerge, just silence. And on that I whirl on my heel and climb the steps to the Githyanki lair and beyond. I am sure he'll take the hint.

Then I step through the east portal and know that the fun of Lum's machine is over, and the grimness of my mission has returned. A vast cathedral-like ceiling hangs over me, and in the centre of the stone floor a metal plate, emblazoned with the seal of Helm, twice as wide as I am tall is fastened to the floor by radial metal clamps; clearly it covers a pit or passage, and clearly the Imprisoned One is within there. I am closer to my goal than I dared imagine, barring unforseen difficulty on this level. The danger I face could not be driven home more sharply than by the effort that went into this construct: three large hydraulic locking seals surround the metal disc, each requiring a special key, and a master cylinder at one end controls the other three when they have been locked or unlocked to withdraw the clamps holding the plate in place. I gently test the metal of the plate with several gemstones; it is harder than Adamantium; nearly as hard as diamond. No known metal has this degree of hardness. What am I getting myself into?

But before worrying about this, I must concentrate on what this level of the Keep may hold for me. I wonder how long it has been since another sentient mortal has stood here, yet no dust has accumulated and everything looks new though the time may be measured in centuries. Resolving myself to see what this place holds for me to do, I check the area.

The first thing I encounter to the south is the ghost of a Helmite, a follower of Helm. I have little to fear from it if this is the case. It guards three doors to the south. Each of these contains a test which I must complete in order to determine if I may progress; from what he says these tests are not just of a physical nature but will test other parts of me as well. I will note this for now. There are also two other very large doors to the north here but their purpose was not made clear to me.

I try the first one; and several of those awful Mutated Spiders attack me. I cast Fireshield: Blue to cool them off and send a few Frag Grenades at them. When they reach me I melee them with the Staff and their rate of attack means that they injure themselves on the numbing cold of the shield more than I do with the Staff. Three of them die outright and I gulp a healing potion and try to ignore the pain. I do in two with the Staff while manoeuvering to try to keep only one attacking me at once and soon they are all dead.

There is another smaller copy of the large metal plate in the floor here, and four empty containers surround it. An interrupted scroll here indicates that there is a colour combination that will unlock the four seals. I have no idea what this is for, but I will soon find out I imagine. I will check the other gate first.

There are a plethora of golems beyond it: two Ice, two Iron and a Sand Golem charge forward, and meet a Mordenkainen's Sword instead of me. I Improved Haste and with the strength of 22 provided by the Girdle, the Staff working double time and with all the golems concentrating on the immune Sword they are dispatched in roughly one minute. An altar at one end seems to require the skull of a warrior to function. I will keep this in mind.

For now, there is an inviting portal to the outdoors here, and so I make my now-routine journey outward to Sister Garlena to sell off items that I don't need or can't use. Eighty +1 bullets, twenty +3 arrows and bolts, five helmets and halberds, three bastard swords and short bows, two +3 battle axes, a long sword and several gems including a Black Opal. Nothing major, but coin is coin and I'd do it just to spend a little time outdoors.

Then, off to the Abyss and a chat with Cespenar. I could upgrade the Storm Star mace if I found a certain ore. But I can immediately upgrade the Axe Of Unyielding with the Baalor Claw I found a long time ago. I do so. It only costs five thousand gold but the finished axe is worth far more than some of the other upgrades. I hold it in awe... it is now of +5 enchantment, gives a bonus to Armour Class when held and regenerates three hit points every round (more than the Ring Of Gaxx does)... and it's vorpal; it will slice an enemies' head cleanly off one of every ten hits. Not only one of the most potent axes I have yet seen, but of hand held weapons of any sort. An acolyte could study this weapon for years and not duplicate it. To test an old saw about these sorts of blades, I find a relatively clean and pliable cloth rag, not wishing to sacrifice one of my handkerchiefs. Holding the axe perpendicularly with the blade upward, I gently drop the unfurled cloth over it... and it is sliced neatly in half by its own weight. I rap the very edge of the blade lightly with a stone, enough to make a barely visible dent; not only is the stone sliced but as I watch, the dent repairs itself; the axe is magically, perfectly sharp to the limits that enchanted steel can be sharpened. I gently and respectfully place it amidst the other items for my future museum, being careful that the deadly edge does not rest near anything else.

Unfortunately, the Golem Manual that was upgraded to summon a Juggernaut can no longer be upgraded to summon a Clay Golem, which I would much prefer. The Juggernaut is too easily injured to be of much use to me; I tried it once or twice to test it. Although it is immune to weapons of less than +2 enchantment, everything I run into seems to be that powerful. The Clay Golem would have been immune to all piercing, slashing and missile weapons, a far more useful ally in the correct context; I can't have it all. I will do without.

I try to enjoy a meal in the comforts of 'home' as much as this place has been a home away from home for me. Sarevok notes that I look troubled and I explain to him what I must do; he understands as he has had similarly unpleasant tasks to complete in the past, though I hesitate to ask him what the nature of the tasks was. My newly-found brother has a great inner strength that I have sometimes shared; it may be common to all the children of Bhaal should they choose the lifestyle that I have, or have it thrown upon them.

When I am done, I pay my respects to Sarevok, and advise him that should I not return again, to open the container in the northeast of this Abyssal area and take what he will from it, for sale or for use, and I note this to Cespenar as well should he intervene. I may not survive the next day or two. I also request that Imoen be located as only I can summon her through the Spirit Of Fate and given anything that I have collected that she can use. I make sure to leave all remaining valuables that are not useful to me behind in the Abyss, though I wonder if this small region of it would exist when I am dead. Then, I return without further delay to the Keep.

The three tall wrought-iron gates guarded by the ghostly Helmite loom before me, and I must choose one. I decide to do them in left-to-right reading order; this makes sense. I swing open the wrought-iron gate; it is not rusty whatsoever and opens easily. A darkened stairway leads downward. I expect something horrendous will leap out at me...

...but as I felt when I swam through the black tunnels of the lair of Abazigal, I am not prepared for the surrealism of appearing in a bright sitting-room, with a comfortable sofa, and an imp who riddles. His first riddle is of a child who has the same number of sisters as brothers, but each brother has twice as many sisters as brothers. How many children in total? It must be an odd number for the child to have the same number of each gender of sibling. It doesn't seem to have an answer if the child in question is male. Female then... three doesn't work, five doesn't work, seven works. I answer seven, and I am correct, but it doesn't end there. I now have to play the fiendish "coins game" with the imp. It has eleven coins and each of us can draw one to three of them. The loser picks the last coin.

Clearly the trick here is in the planning but I'm still not wise enough to plan ahead, but I am intelligent enough to use another's planning against it. I let the imp play first and forfeit the first game, then I play "tit-for-tat" and use its own sure-fire winning tactics against it when I insist on going first the next time, and I win. The imp is gone and the Helmite spirit appears to congratulate me on defeating its guile. Then it is gone too and I am alone in the surreal sitting room. I search the cabinet here and find a few healing potions... and a Disintegrate trap, but nothing with a saving throw can affect me anymore.

So I stride confidently into the next challenge, and find out that it's not the same at all. This is a Green Dragon, and unlike Saladrex, this isn't a nice one. He gives me all of one sentence before turning hostile. I throw a few Gnolls at him but he decides to breathe on us... ouch. I gulp a Superior Healing potion and raise a Planetar and two Mordenkainen's Swords and cast Protection From Energy on myself while the Planetar casts Globe of Blades and melees the dragon. As usual, I overdo it: the Planetar's Vorpal blade does the dragon in rather quickly, then it gets stuck in the foliage. No matter, and I retrieve a few hundred gold and a named katana called Hindo's Doom from the dragon's corpse. I stored a desiccated hand of Hindo in the Abyss; I believe that I have found yet another object for Cespenar to work on. As well, he drops the skull of a warrior required for the altar near the seals. And the Helmite appears to congratulate my valor.

The last challenge of the three pits me against a group of Orcs. Two of them are mages. I haven't encountered an Orcish mage before but given their naturally reduced intelligence they probably won't cast spells of very high level, and I am correct. Still they must appear godly to the other Orcs, though I must start my own small local version of the Time Of Troubles with them. A Cloudkill in the midst of them is all I need to begin the process; both mages end up standing in it. I disregard the poison and charge through it to whack them and dispel their Mirror Image. The rest only carry normal weapons as far as I can tell so the mages are all I concentrate on, and they are soon down. The Frag Grenades take out the rest. The Helmite appears and I have "survived the horde." I received a golden key inscribed "Courage." This will unlock one of the seals. I have no idea what to expect from this, but I return with the skull of the warrior to the altar. I place it there...

... and I am no longer in the same place. I don't think that I am in any place at all. This matrix of tiny cubical rooms interconnected by hallways is like nowhere that I have ever been before, and it is supported by nothing; around it including above and below is only blackness and void. I cannot move at all; I am locked rigidly into place by an unseen force and even my breathing has stopped though I don't feel a need to gasp for breath. A blurry man stands before me, his form shifting and wavering. He is the Spirit Warrior. I must guide him through simple commands to perform actions to complete his quest. A lookalike to the rosa ventorum of the maze level is here to provide direction. But the worst part is that not only am I not in control of my own body anymore, but also not of my own lifeforce. It seems to be shared with the Spirit Warrior and I somehow know that should I let him die, I will soon follow. And then my vision shifts and I see myself through the eyes of the Spirit Warrior, a mage standing so still as to be little more than a statue overlaid on my own vision of him and increasing in intensity until it is all I see.

I wonder before I begin why this test would be here, what it might determine in the potential person who made it this far. I suppose that it would prevent someone who was an insane powermonger from passing; such a person would never be able to handle not being in control of themselves and having to ensure the pain suffered by their underlings that they so willingly sacrifice, or may find it difficult to care enough about the Spirit Warrior and sacrifice him, and therefore themselves, foolishly. I will try to keep the Spirit Warrior alive.

And I do... first heading to the east, and then exploring, slowly from there. I am sure to check every room that he passes through and pick up anything that may prove helpful. I find a scroll with a picture of a gibberling on it. I/he take a couple of knocks from a Skeleton who arises when I/he inspect a chest, but through finding and using a couple of healing potions, using the scroll to frighten away a Gibberling who attacks, fighting a couple of simple enemies (a War Dog and Goblin) and finding a Wand Of Missiles, I am able to make it to the final of the tiny rooms: a crypt. The archway to the crypt warns that there is no turning back once entering, but being well-prepared the Spirit Warrior is able to enter and defeat the Mummy within using the Wand Of Missiles on it first. I am glad that he carries an enchanted weapon. I/he takes no damage in the last battle, and when the mummy is gone, the symbol of Helm hung in this place glows brightly.

I am returned, unharmed, to the altar. I have gained a second key. It is inscribed "Spirit." The final of the three seal keys awaits me, so I return to the smaller copy of the seal with four large vertical tubes surrounding it, of four colours, shining like opaque coloured glass. When I push each coloured button and retrieve each ball, a different type of enemy appears: first hobgoblins, then a lone female mage, then those awful Mutated Spiders, and then four Skeleton Warriors. Aside from the spiders, none of them are very difficult opponents compared to others I have found in this area and the Keep. I place each coloured sphere in the matching glass tube, and a key, the final key, appears: Wisdom.

I depart again to Sister Garlena's store before progressing further, selling off sixty-four +1 arrows, forty +3 arrow and bolts, twenty Acid Arrows and Bolts of Lightning, nine bastard swords, five maces, four +1 two-handed swords, long bows, helmets and plain spears (no idea why I kept those,) three light crossbows, two scrolls of Friends and Shocking Grasp, a Potion of Strength, a suit of studded leather, a short bow, a scroll of Protection From The Elements, Invisible Stalker, Conjure Lesser Air Elemental and Identify, and several very minor gems. Not much but still worthwhile. I know that there are at least two items that I can have Cespenar work his skills on, so I return to the Abyss.

I am able to fuse Hindo's Hand with the katana called Hindo's "DOOOOOM" as Cespenar puts it, and form a +4 katana that grants immunity to death magic, casts Greater Restoration and adds ten percent magic resistance. An excellent piece. And, the fusion of Axil's Spike and Axil's Nail produces a +6 spear whose spearhead will magically detach, pinning its opponents and continuing to damage them. Clearly this is the most potent spear I have ever seen or heard of and I will keep it well. I return to the Keep and ponder the three locks.

I didn't imagine that I would still be fighting things to get out of this level, or that there were yet more guardians to deal with, but there are... inserting the one of the keys into a randomly chosen seal lock and turning it firmly unlocks it, but also produces a lich named Azamantes and three Flaming Skulls. The Skulls move very quickly so I draw them off and change rings to the Ring Of Fire Control. I make several magic resistance saves with my improved resistance from Lum's machine, and the Skulls' Fireshields are easily dispelled with the Staff. When they are gone, I deal with Azamantes. I distract him with the Wand Of Monster Summoning and a contingency of his goes off; Protection From Magical Weapons is a hard thing to remove from a lich as he'll just be immune to Breach. I try just to make sure. So I wait while he battles the Ogres; I am very glad to have raised them as he Imprisons one, and then when Protection From Magical Weapons wears off I give him a tap with the Staff. Another contingency, another Protection From Magical Weapons, more ogres. The lich's spells are progressively weaker, and finally he runs out all together. I Staff him a few times and then turn the Pulser on him at range. I find a +2 staff called the Serpent Staff on his body which can poison enemies with every hit and never run out of venom, and a +4 sling that can make its own bullets, but nothing replaces the Staff Of The Magi unless it's godly.

Hoping that the next battle, if any, will be not too difficult, I insert the next key and twist it firmly. Six blurry warriors and a sorcerer named Aurumach Rilmani appear. I lead off the warriors and battle them; they cast priest spells and Ice Storm repeatedly. The Scorcher does a few in, the Staff a couple more. I make many magic resistance saves so I don't take too much damage, and I have well over a hundred healing potions should I require them.

Finally to Aurumach Rilmani. He's a pain... he doesn't seem to run out of Cones Of Cold, Mirror Image, and has an electrical Fireshield that can't be Breached. No matter how many monsters I raise, he never runs out of Death Spells. Finally I just cast Tenser's Transformation and take the damage, knowing that it's off the bonus hit points, as I can then hit him with every strike with the Staff dispelling his protections as fast as he raises them. He falls in thirty seconds to this, and leaves behind the Club Of Detonation, a +3 that will randomly trigger a fireball and do extra fire damage. There is only one key remaining. I am nearly out of spells, but I will see what comes out. I need my spells for what may lie below.

Oh, why why why did I have to do this? Why do I keep doing this to myself? A perfectly good opportunity had I to rest and regain my badly-needed spells. When I open the final lock, I am stunned by the number and grouping of enemies that appear: a Hive Mother Beholder, a Drow cleric, a Huntress archer, a dual-wielding female Kensai, a Succubus, and finally a Marileth, a huge six-armed snake-like female demon who has lost her brassiere. Out comes the Cloak Of Mirroring. I am nearly out of spells, but I still have one or two useful ones. However, I cast them. As soon as the Hive Mother's Anti-Magic Ray hits me my spellcasting is toast, as well as any spells I may have cast to protect myself.

And then, the now-familiar jolt back in time occurs to just before I twisted the key in the final lock. This time, I drink an Oil of Speed, raise a few Dire Wolves in strategic locations and cast Protection From Magical Weapons. I put on the Cloak Of Mirroring. I stand as far as I can from the lock to get that critical fraction of a second of time when I will need it, turn the key and sprint for the Hive Mother, hoping that her Anti-Magic Ray won't come immediately. (Oh no! I forgot to rest AGAIN!) The other close enemies do their best to injure me but with the abjuration up, I don't notice. I cast Imprisonment on the Hive Mother, struggling to maintain my composure and concentration as it is a long casting, even with the Robe Of Vecna, and when I see the familiar luminescence of closure, I know it was successful; I would not see anything otherwise and now there is no escape for the Hive Mother no matter what she does, or casts, or where she goes. A terrible situation to be in, but she attacked, I defended. I don't stand around to watch but sprint away at top speed made topper by the Oil and try to avoid the rest of the enemies.

For the next several hours, my life is a living hell of running, dodging, shooting, gulping the occasional healing potion and Oil Of Speed. There seems to be an unlimited number of Skeletons that can arise here. The Scorcher works wonders on reducing their numbers but after a while they are back up to what they were. I avoid the Succubus as the kiss of a Succubus is fatal, but she moves quickly; she also casts an unlimited number of Protection From Magical Weapons. Luckily the Huntress' arrows can't damage me; she runs out of them and comes after me with a two-handed sword. The Marileth is not something to get close to either, and can also cast Protection From Magical Weapons inordinately. The Drow Cleric casts far too many spells, such as Flamestrike and Insect Plague. Luckily between magic resistance and low saving throws I manage to avoid most of their effects. We reach sort of a draw, the enemies and I, between several powerful enemies with spellcasters that can do nothing to me, and myself, who isn't very powerful, as he has few spells.

The Kensai falls to the Scorcher; it is the only one of the enemies that it can hit. She regenerated so this took much longer than it would have otherwise, and she kept getting healed by the Cleric. For the others, I resort to the Pulser. It's still a very slow process. All of them have excellent armour classes. The Drow and her damned healing has to be the next to go, so I concentrate on her avoiding the rest as best I can, hardly able to get a shot off before having to run away again, and more skeletons appear. If I stand still for too long, they appear right around me, blocking my path out. Though their normal maces are harmless, they allow the other enemies to approach.

Finally, after what seems an eternity, the Marileth is the last to fall. Ugh... I thought this would never end. I am so tired of fighting and battles and death I can't begin to express it. Two Oils Of Speed and Improved Haste were used when one of the enemies was finally brought close to falling, and it still took longer than any battle I've fought since I took on Mencar Pebblecrusher in the Promenade with my high THAC0, normal sling and four hundred normal bullets. A mage without enough rest is nigh-useless.

So I rest. But the battles aren't over. Indeed, they have hardly begun.

Day 36

I only did one thing today, one thing worth writing about, at least. Still, I could go back to sleep if I wanted to; I've done a lifetime of work today.

It's not many days that one sends a Prince Of Demons back to the Abyss, for I was correct about that statue in the temple above.

When I entered the bottommost pit of the Keep, I found that a pit is exactly what it was: a circular floor of stone, with rising staircases about its edges to a platform where two portals stood. Dead portals; their oval passages hollow and showing the view beyond. No way out of here just yet. Huge steel manacles lay abandoned on that stone circle, chains of steel as thick as a man's wrist, the manacles opened, whatever they held gone... or was it? For a sound was echoing in my mind, a sound I had not heard for a good long time. When? I searched back... the sound had struck me as eerie and horrible when I heard it. I had heard it when the Matron Mother Ardulace offered up the blood I had gathered and the (substituted) eggs of Adalon to a Lord of the Abyss. And then I knew... knew I was not alone in this place. It was still here. HE was still here; I did not cast True Sight for no simple spell could make him appear against his will.

Instead, I merely spoke to him, spoke to the sound that ran through my brain at the centre of the pit, where the air seemed thicker and fear swirled in a silent and invisible tornado. And he answered without words in my mind telling me that the priests of Helm far above us, so far they might be an eternity and a universe away in their light-filled world, were false; they were worshippers of his who drew upon his power and entrapped a son of Bhaal here. Ahhh, cunning lying demon... I almost believed you. Your lies have been honed for a thousand years in this cruel cell awaiting the tread of the mortal feet of the beguiled. But I will fulfill the promise I made to the priests of Helm and read the scroll, though the voice tells me it is futile, challenges me to open the portals with the scroll... make the bonds stronger. Try! it dares me, and reaches for control of my thoughts, but I block it out and concentrate from years of spellcasting under duress on nothing but the scroll and the words thereon...

...and nothing happens. With a wisp of energy and the smell of failure, the scroll vanishes, but the voice without words that speaks imagery does not. Instead the images are different now: they are of Elmonster with a long gray beard wasting away in this place, then it is Elmonster dying of thirst and hunger on the cold stone floor, afraid to confront its occupant, afraid to dare the unseen Imprisoned One to show himself, and I realize I am being probed like a dead body for my weaknesses and fears and push the presence away. The fear leaves, only to be replaced with triumph. Elmonster lies to the false priests that the Imprisoned One is finished by his hand, then slays them all and those who oppose him, claims his rightful place given him by his divine blood, and the Imprisoned One rules at his side, the side of Throne Of Bhaal, the Throne Of Blood and Murder, as his greatest and most powerful servant and executor of the will to murder, for murder is sometimes an exact art but sometimes an art of the most grisly bloodlust and brutality, and no one can match this servant in those aspects; no master ever gave a command a servant would be more pleased to obey than this one. And again I feel that I am being charted and mapped, fed illusions to gauge my reactions, and I push the images away, and I push until there is no trace of the Imprisoned One left in my mind and draw up my plans for battle to compel my ignorance of the presence that will again assert itself should I lapse.

Enraptured by the presence, I had at first missed the silent bell, large enough to be a small building, that makes no sound at all. I suspect it gongs loudly in the ether where gods and such can hear it. An inscription dedicates it to Helm, and states that it will ring out when Helm is betrayed, and that his anger will burn like the sun. But I have no fear of this; I have not angered Helm. I have completed my mission, and I will have to do far more than was planned to finish it thoroughly. I have a destiny to complete, and it is neither of those that Demogorgon envisioned.

He will allow me to rest here, in this, his home and prison. And why not? He has nothing to fear from me. I might let a mouse rest in my presence without fear it was building energies in its mind like a bomb that it can unleash upon me instantly. After all, it is so small, and I so grand. As I did with the Ravager, I change most of my higher-level spells. I am sure to memorize Time Stop, Improved Alacrity, Chain Contingency, Energy Blades, three of Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wiltings, three of Pierce Shields, Protection From Energy, Spell Turning, several Mordenkainen's Swords, Protection From Magic Energy, two of Protection From Magical Weapons, three Tenser's Transformations, Greater Malison, four of Skull Traps, and three of Stoneskins. A specialized spellset for a specialized job. I don't end up using the Energy Blades, nor do I need more than one Tenser's or Stoneskin for the job itself, though I do use one afterwards. As with other difficult battles, I am not successful immediately. Sometimes it takes a few practices to perfect the steps in the dance of death, a few falters and tripping over one's feet before the rhythm is established, but it all works out. The calculating logic and precision is just the antidote for Demogorgon's chaos.

When I awaken, my first step in the dance is to cast Chain Contingency, as I did with the Ravager, and then cast all three Pierce Shields, placing their energies into it, and telling the Contingency to trigger on the first enemy it sees. I don't doubt he will also be resistant to the effects of Lower Resistance, so I don't bother with it. I approach the circle of stone at the edges, but stay between the large anchors where the manacle chains are securely fastened into rock to avoid being pinned by what will appear... like other enemies, Demogorgon does not wish a fair fight.

In succession, I Stoneskin, drink an Oil Of Speed, cast Spell Turning, Protection From Magical Energy, Protection From The Elements, and finally Protection From Magical Weapons. I face the unseen tornado of fear. I demand that it show itself, and finish this. It does. Demogorgon is nothing like I have seen from statues and illustrations: his tentacular arms are much longer and his twinned heads superficially resemble those of baboons, but this is an unnatural creature born of perhaps a thousand centuries of Abyssal powers and no comparison to the natural world is possible. Immediately after I see this form I am surrounded by demons: Marileths, Glabrezu, Baalors and an out-of place Cambion. Stormclouds vomit lightning into the pit; I must have been trapped in a Time Stop while he caused all of this to occur. But the spherical seething of energies at Demogorgon's midsection tells me that my Contingency was successful. I sprint as fast as humanly possible from the horde to the opposite side of the steps, and they pursue. I have a small amount of time before the Pierce Shields expire and Demogorgon is untouchable by magic. I ascend the stairs, not looking back, and between the portals leave a Mordenkainen's Sword for the pursuing hellspawn to attack, then scurry down the opposite steps whence I came.

Demogorgon is now almost alone, only a Cambion is near him, and a Glabrezu far away. My dance of death begins with Time Stop. Though Demogorgon is immune to it and shares my relative timeframe, like myself any effects he throws outside of his immediate become as frozen in time as the statues that his allies have become; I can focus on him alone. He can only try to attack me, but he is wasting time casting spells which halt mere steps in front of him. I waste no time; these four rounds are precious. My next step in the dance is Greater Malison, I approach Demogorgon and place all Four Skull Traps in such quick succession that they are almost instantaneous. He approaches me; I circle the still forms of his gated kin in such way that they are between he and I. I cast again; Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wilting, but at the Skull Traps, not at him. He follows, I circle, I cast, he follows, I circle, I cast again; the rhythm is solid, the dancer does not falter, the metronome counts off the seconds remaining in his time on the Prime Material...

He does not realize the energies that I have lain in this place, the bomb that I have set from my thoughts, possibly enough to slay a thousand average mortal humans, were they tightly packed onto the stone floor of this nigh-arena. Now I dance in a different direction, beckoning him to follow... the Time Stop has nearly expired and he is very close to the location of the Skull Traps. I clamp my hands over my ears...

With a roar of magical discharge, much of a day's worth of spells from an archmage detonates simultaneously with a surprised Demorgoron at the centre. He resists for a moment, then adds to the roaring himself as his form collapses; rays of brilliant light pour from him as do flames through burning paper: "THIS CANNOT BE!" I briefly shield my eyes with my arm as the brightness becomes unbearable and leaves afterimages in reds and blues, and when I dare to look again, he has vanished, along with several of those he brought here.

The few demonic creatures remaining are easily convinced to join their master by a Mordenkainen's Sword, and a jubilant Elmonster pretending he's a warrior through Tenser's Transformation. But the jubilance fades back to my usual thoughtful demeanour, and I search the area with my usual completeness. I find absolutely nothing; not a weapon, not a gem, not a single gold piece. My reward is greater than gold or items, and I will accept it as such.

I didn't want to kill Demogorgon, because I didn't really kill him, of course. Had I reforged his bonds, he could have remained imprisoned for a thousand more years before needing someone to undertake the task of renewing them again. Now, he has returned to the Abyss and will live again there, and in a century or so may be strong enough to return to smite the Prime. He will not make the same mistakes the next time; it will probably take far more than a single human wizard, or an army of them, to bring him down. Or, perhaps he now considers primes as underestimatedly dangerous and will never venture from the Abyss again.

This is confirmed by my final visit with the priests of Helm, where I finally get the whole truth out of them, and an unpleasant truth indeed. The scroll DID work. It resealed the prison of Demogorgon, with myself in it. The priest Odren's duty was supposed to be to reseal the prison with himself in it, not to trick a Bhaalspawn into doing it on the premise of helping him because he thought that Bhaalspawn were all deserving of a quick death. I merely measure his truthfulness by staring straight into eyes, and the eyes that stare back into mine are somewhat old, and somewhat tired, and more than a little frightened that I was able to return Demogorgon to the Abyss and return to confront him... but he does regret it, and he knows it was not the right thing to do, and that bell of Helm that tolls, Odren, tolls for thee... it is Helm's place to judge you, not mine. So I advise him to be more cautious in future and let him and his group depart in peace; he vows to speak my name for the rest of his days in a positive way for my actions, and then I am alone again, and the Keep is empty and only wind and birdsong can be heard.

I feel somewhat different after this long journey through the Keep and through that which makes up myself, and I know that my outlook has changed somewhat. The fire of righteous action that was lit in me burns still but in a more tempered way, more reasonable, and more understanding. What did I do to cause this shift recently? I was kind to Saladrex, and refused to kill him just because he was a Red Dragon. I tried to fulfill my duty to Helm and perform the ritual accurately, and displayed understanding to Odren. Less recently, I displayed kindness and understanding to my brother, and called him brother for the first time, and forgave him. I have never been a hateful man, killing is done only to defend my life or the lives of innocents, and I will always try to give others the benefit of the doubt, and try to talk my way through situations. Such is the essence of a neutral outlook on existence. But I still have done many things that would be called good as well, enough that should I try to list them all I should call myself boastful.

I begin to see things a bit more clearly now, being trapped as I am in a universe which could not exist without order, nor evolve without chaos. The line between void and stagnation is thin but a man can walk it without faltering if he has a mind to, and still be a good man at heart and strive to help his fellow sentient beings, human or otherwise... and I know I have shifted again and this new outlook seems the proper one to carry me through the rest of my days. For now I will help a fellow sentient being; I return to the almost-empty Keep and try to speak to Yakman and tell him that the threat is over and the demons are gone, but he is still beyond help. I make a note that I will send a healer of the mind to him when I can, when this is over.

I return with a heavy heart to the Abyss, knowing that this is the last time I will ever return here. So much has happened in this place that it has forced itself as a sort of home onto me, and yet I must destroy it to face the final challenge of Melissan and whatever infernal rage she may summon to prevent her downfall. I will not rest easy tonight.

First I speak to Sarevok, and I make sure that he will survive after this place ceases to exist. He assures me that he will, and his powerful determination will ensure it. I give him several of the finest weapons and armour that I can find, whatever he chooses, to start him out on his new life. He wonders why I am not bringing him to the battle to come; I assure him that I would, but that this is too much... I would not want to see him dead so soon after getting to know him and calling him brother. No, this is for me and me alone. If ever you find your wanderings unfulfilling, I tell him, Brynnlaw is where you will find a family and a home. And then I can say no more to him.

But there is one more still, and I speak to the Spirit Of Fate, and summon another "sibling" I have in the essence of Bhaal. When Imoen appears I am shocked as I never expected it to work over such distances and times, but she has been brought here as surely as I wished it. My mouth opens but no words come out. She looks at me, and I am ashamed that there is no resentment in her look. She seems happy to see me again though I was always cold and distant to her almost to the point of denying her completely; why couldn't she be angry with me so that I wouldn't feel so badly? She does not recognize Sarevok and this is probably for the best; she would not understand without a lengthy explanation how I could be consorting with the man who killed the only father I ever knew, but he was not the same Sarevok then.

When I finally speak, I am able to tell her that I am ashamed of the times that I treated her uncaringly and haughtily; time and hardship have changed me and I am no longer the same man... it all sounds so clumsy and I am stammering over my words like a two-penny stand-in, like that awful actor in the Bridge District of Athkatla that I watched ruin a good play. But with every stammer and flub, every loss for words, she smiles a little wider, and finally gives me a gentle hug, and I know that I have found a sister in the Bhaal essence, or at least a good friend, one who refused to give up on me, even when I gave up on her... and sometimes in doing so, on myself. By the time we have finished talking, rolling back the years for perhaps an hour or more, I have found that she took up the arts of the arcane herself and is of a respectable talent in magecraft, and I have told her she has a place in Brynnlaw anytime that she would choose to, helping me with my school and museum, and even, if she wants, running them when I am away. I would trust the effort of my life to anyone as loyal and unwavering as she. And as I did with Sarevok I provide to her anything that she could use from the collection of magical items that I have amassed.

And I find no trouble resting before my final confrontation, the final battle I hope that I will ever endure. Before I faced Irenicus, I had to find my father Gorion, my family, in my mind, but now I have a family here with me; there is no need to search for them. Cespenar is a faithful servant unto the end and all three of us are comfortable. Everything, for once, is how it should be, which is only fitting before a battle that may cost me my life. The forces that have given me second chances before may not be unlimited, and every mistake could be my last, so I relish these few idyllic times when they occur.

But I cannot help but wonder what will happen to Cespenar when this tiny region of the Abyss is gone, so I privately ask him, and have to content myself with his rather enigmatic answer that Bhaal's essence shall always exist, though many other gods would prefer it did not, and that even if I should remain a mortal man, in some unimaginably distant future, he will exist again, and shall scare notice the passage of aeons in oblivion, forever waiting for his next master.

And the thought of aeons of peace and oblivion is strangely comforting, so I rest easily, and awaken early. I empty the chests scattered about my living quarters this past month into the Bags Of Holding; the treasures of the Realms and the unique records and items of a most strange and interesting voyage disappear into the non-dimensional spaces I can carry about with me. I bid Sarevok and Imoen farewell. I try to keep it brief to avoid speculating about where I must go, and what I must do there, and do not wish to invoke undue emotion should I not return, instead departing casually as if my success were more than a slim chance.

Three approach the portal. They are three of the essence of Bhaal, in a time when this is becoming a rarity. Two of them know their destination: when this place ceases to exist, sprung from the mind of the third, they will find themselves at the last "real" place he departed from, on the parapets of Watcher's Keep. They have been instructed on the easiest route from there to Brynnlaw, if they accept the invitation to there, and also of the nearest towns and trade routes should their interests carry them to a different destination.

The third of the three does not know his destination. He could be flung into the vacuum of space for all he knows, or deep underground, or placed at the bottom of the sea. Yet he approaches in the same slow, methodical way as the others, having steeled himself to the necessity of carrying his task through to completion.

For the final time, the portal addresses him and he responds: "I am ready. It is time for the end."

Space enfolds upon itself as the three figures vanish, and the fires of the Abyss, constrained no longer by the fields that allowed the resilience of this place against their furies, leap forth and consume it utterly, wiping its existence from the very memory of the multiverse.

Day 39 - Epilogue

I can barely write at the moment, but I am compelled to before everything that I have done in the past days is lost to memory. I have neglected my journal for some small time to return to my home as quickly as I could, and hope that I can recall a meaningful component of the details. Having just woken from nearly three days without rest, I am groggy but somewhat refreshed, and more importantly, relieved. It is over. I need never fear the consequences of being a Child of Bhaal again.

I have never encountered anything like the Throne Of Bhaal in all my days nor will I ever again; never have I been so utterly opposite in my imagination from the reality that I found. When one says the "Throne" of Bhaal, one expects like all thrones an ornate chair in a marble room upon a small dias or platform, but one is not thinking in the realms of the gods with such descriptions.

Instead, I found a vast cream-coloured disc floating on nothingness on a sea of inky blackness studded with pinpricks of light, as if I were among the stars, yet I was still in the Abyss according to what I was told. Three smaller discs surrounded it, each containing a pool of energy. As tall as a tower, crowed with an almost-sphere of the same material as the disc upon which I stood supported by nothing at all, a cylindrical column of brilliant white light in the centre of the disc was the Throne itself. Within the column, the pretender to the Throne: Melissan, or more properly, and in her true guise, Amelyssan The Blackhearted, the priestess of Bhaal.

Was she easy to defeat? Yes, the first time. I was prepared for her and unloaded roughly the same sequence of spells that brought Demogorgon down. But Melissan could draw upon the essence of the Bhaalspawn she had stolen, disappearing back into the Throne Of Bhaal to recover, and return completely restored. While she was gone, I needed to defeat the guardians she left behind and cut off the pools from feeding the Throne and restoring her, which would bring her back to confront me again. This occurred three times, and I was drained of spells and could not rest in this place. Such unfairness of things...

The guardians were much easier than her, until the final four. I seem to remember that the first set were several Air Elementals. A single Mordenkainen's Sword held them off while I used the Pulser ammunition on them... had I not received those strange weapons from the gnomish smith Kerrick I should not know what to have done. I will seek him out if possible in future and reward him greatly for his generosity and thank him for saving my life, several times over, and allowing me to stop Bhaal's return. Oh, Improved Haste helped a lot. I used at least three castings of it, one from the Cloak and two from memory.

The second set of guardians were trolls and an Ice Golem with a Fireshield Blue. I think I am becoming more awake now and the details are beginning to come clear. For them I used the Scorcher, as they were all vulnerable to fire... yes, they were not too difficult at all.

The third set of guardians were insanely difficult compared, and I remember when battling them how fortunate I had been to take the same precautions as I did with Demogorgon: I had cast Protection From Magical Energy and Protection From Energy early on and it lasted the duration. Had I not done this, I would not have survived. There were two Marileths, a Succubus, an Alu-Fiend and a Fallen Solar... or was it a Fallen Planetar? My mind is still reeling and I should awaken more before I decide to write. I never had to take on one of these on before, whatever it was. Protection From Magical Energy saved me from its deadly arrows; they hit me but caused no injury, though they dispelled all of my protections. The Succubus could Dire Charm almost anything, my Mordenkainen's Swords included. I could not get close to the Fallen Solar or Planetar without it drawing its sword, and I had to keep away from the Marileths that were always near it. What did I do for that? I summoned a Planetar, yes, that was it. Cast Tenser's and used a Planetar, which only injured it but got the process started at least. Meanwhile I was using Improved Haste to keep the rate of fire up and keep away from everything else, especially the Succubus.

The most depressing part was when the Fallen Planetar (I'll settle on that possibility) healed itself. I was back to square zero. But I found that of all things, it was vulnerable to fire, so since it was immune to the bolts of the Scorcher, I instead fired at the Alu-Fiend that it could hit, and passed the fire column through the Fallen Planetar, and kept up the heat until it was dead. I was very, very pleased when it finally collapsed and died as I knew that I could win this. I turned the Pulser on the Marileths; they healed themselves almost as fast I could injure them... almost, but not quite. The Alu-Fiend fell to the Staff which provided immunity to her Charm. The Succubus I didn't want to get close to for the kiss of one is fatal, so I used the Wand Of Monster Summoning. A frustrating battle ensued as she would become invisible, and I had no True Sight. When she became visible, she would go invisible and then lose morale when Badly Injured, until her regeneration had made her gain back most of the damage. Very tricky, but eventually she went down.

All the while between these battles I had to face Amelyssan and her summons and excessive ninth-level spells: Timestop, Spellstrike and so forth, over and over. The worst of them were the Slayer Shadows. I was able to use Time Stop the first time to stop the Slayer Shadows dead in their tracks while I concentrated on Amelyssan. Another time, she summoned both Bone Fiends and Slayer Shadows and came after me herself. I was helpless, having very few spells left. Luckily I had a Mordenkainen's Sword to hold most of the Slayer Shadows off. I let the Bone Fiends circle me as I was immune to their attacks, and they acted as a shield keeping the remaining Slayer Shadows and Melissan away from me. I had Improved Haste and Tenser's active and I pummeled Amelyssan with the Pulser until she had to retreat to the Throne and heal again... I was so close that time...

Before the final encounter, I know she would be at her worst, most difficult. I played the trump card: drinking a Potion Of Insight to raise my Wisdom, I cast Wish off of the scroll of it I had found in Watcher's Keep and wisely declined to sell, for just such an occasion, and it saved my life as surely as I am writing this. A nine thousand gold piece scroll vanished into a haze of energy, and it was worth every last piece of it. When a Djinn appeared following the casting, I was able to wish to have rested in this place I cannot rest, and all my spells were rememorized.

In the final confrontation with Melissan, I pulled out all the stops. I used the same pattern of Protection From Magical Weapons before causing her to reappear by cutting off the energy from the final pool from the Throne, unloading a Chain Contingency loaded with three Pierce Shields on her, casting Time Stop followed by Improved Alacrity and then pummeling her with Skull Traps and Abi-Dalzim's Horrid Wiltings. When the Time Stop expired and the bomb went off, I was a free man, free of this nightmare of my heritage, free of the endless battles, pain and hardship, sleeping on cold stone dungeon floors, eating awful food from my pack, never knowing which next pain pit I would call home for the night, and killing the Realms' most malevolent and bizarre creatures before they dined on me. Free...

When Amelyssan reached the brink of death, she did not die. Instead, the Solar from my former Abyssal subplane appeared and prevented her final death, telling us that it was over, and that I was victorious. Amelyssan took this decision as well as could be expected: very poorly and childishly. I then had a choice to make, and although I had always known if I ever had this choice what my answer would be, it still took me a minute to decide, for my better nature to speak, and to make my final decision.

Who among us can say that they were offered the chance to be a god, to be immortal, and refused? Why, many may ask, would anyone who had this chance refuse it? To live forever, to never grow old, to be more powerful than any mortal... these are the aspirations of millions and perhaps one in a million will ever achieve it.

But those who would shake their heads in wonder have not walked in my shoes and known the essence of Bhaal as I have. I had considered the possibility long before this, should the thinner-than-thin chance ever have come to pass, when I discovered my heritage and what it could do for me... and to me. I do not wish to draw on Bhaal's power in any way; it is as double-edged and sharp as his murdering daggers, and it will cut deeply its target and wielder alike. I reject such an entity as my father in every way. My father was Gorion of Candlekeep, a just, kindhearted and noble human being, who died to save my life. I will forever hold him as the greatest, truest father a man could ever have and hold up all that I have accomplished in the hopes I can see in it one half of the man he was.

And what would I do as a mere lesser power, drawing on the essence of Bhaal? Cyric, a greater god far more powerful than most other gods, who has lusted after Bhaal's essence would surely see in me merely another obstacle and draw his plans against me, as would others of his ilk in the pantheon... and with myself as a new lesser power I would have hardly any options to withstand them. Would I be on my guard forevermore? Watching my every move lest I find myself distracted and an avatar blade shoved through me, my blood poisoning a river? Bah! This would be no different than sleeping with one eye open in a dungeon for fear of ambush. This is no way to live, and a sentence without a parole when one's life is unlimited in duration.

And how would I remain a power? Powers without worshippers fade to nothingness... I remember the lost Amaunator, once the god of light; such importance! and yet he faded. When his worshippers were gone, he waned nearly to nothingness. Worshippers? I could not stand such a thing. When a person talks to me, I want to look them full in the face as equals. This prostrating and fawning over me would make me nauseous; I want none of it, and I cannot understand the mechanics of our universe that it requires this stroking of the impossibly large yet eggshell-fragile ego to remain a godly figure.

And so I say: no, no, a thousand times no. Let the essence of Bhaal be conveyed to a place of the trustworthy gods and forever sealed away from the prying assassin's fingers of Cyric, and let me return home as a mortal man with his feet planted firmly on earth, who can treat others as his friends and speak to them without their heads hung in the shame of being mere human beings, who need never look for death around every dark corner. I will take my remaining years of enjoyment and tranquility over an eternity of paranoia and the petty politics of the cosmos. I turned down godliness; is a happy remainder of my life too much to ask to substitute in its place? To many, this would seem like such a lesser request, but to me it is much greater.

The essence is withdrawn from me and I know finally that I am no longer of Bhaal in any way. As space enfolded in the Abyss so it does here: as I vanish from this place the last sight I have of it is the great column of light being extinguished, and the crown of the Throne suspended so high above crashing down into it, smashing the form of Amelyssan, still greedily crawling over it like an insect, into a thousand shreds, and then the entire central disc explodes into nothingness; I feel nothing, as if I were not here at all, and I lose consciousness...

When I awoke, a female face was inches from mine. As my vision became less clouded, I could see it was Imoen. She waited for my return all of this time... as the blurriness receded further, I could see the white clouds in azure sky beyond her, and looking around further, stone walls became apparent. She asked me whether I was alright, concern written deeply into her face causing her to look a little older. Her breath was like roses. I was back on the parapets of Watcher's Keep, the last place I had stood on the Prime Material before my final journey to the Abyss. I croaked in reply as best I could that I was fine, and half a decade fell from her face like morning dew in sunshine when she smiled.

But where was Sarevok? He was gone... gone, as I read in the letter he had scribbled hastily for me, to reshape himself anew, and forge a destiny that had almost been denied him forever. He would return if and when he had carved out his place in the world with the blade I had given him, but it would be a different place this time. He would join the heroes of these Realms, his ugly past forgotten, his fiery chaos and enormous endurance and natural strength turned now to serve a better purpose. When the Bhaal essence left me, I was later to find, it left Imoen and Sarevok as well, and they simultaneously cried out and knew that something deep within, hidden for all their lives inside them like an undeveloped twin was gone forever, and as if through a revelation did Sarevok then begin scribbling the note to me, saying farewell to Imoen, and departing. Although no clue was left in the letter, he gave his destination to Imoen to pass on to myself upon my return, though she did not understand it: Kara-Tur, Tamoko. And so he was gone to fulfill his promise to return the ashes of his love to her homeland.

I could not wait any longer to return home, and left Watcher's Keep on the most direct route I knew of to Athkatla, to charter whatever I could find to return to Brynnlaw, and Imoen had been intrigued enough by my offer to want to accompany me there. I did not stop, though days passed. When I stumbled into view of Athkatla half-awake, I was carrying Imoen in my arms for she could not keep her eyes open nor match my determined, mechanical pace any longer; she seemed to weigh almost nothing with the Girdle giving me the strength sufficient to march for hours with half a ton on my back. Yet I almost dropped her in the shock of my eyes first meeting the city I had spent so much time in, at first against my will: Athkatla, with her glorious temples and her bustling Promenade, was in many places reduced to little more than ruins.

I had heard of the taking of Athkatla before this, but not that it was in many places leveled, and I had not passed through on my way to Suldanessellar when the prophecy required me. The dispossessed were everywhere, most of the authorities dead, and chaos ruled the streets while the thin contingent of remaining guards strove to keep the place orderly. The city had been sacked by a Bhaalspawn I had never heard of; small blessing that Yaga-Shura had taken the life of whoever it was who perpetrated this... and the mercenaries of this Bhaalspawn had taken the life of Ginia, just as I was beginning to fall in...

...and I looked downward at Imoen, sleeping, cradled in my arms... and suddenly I felt it. Could it be? But she is my sister. No: she WAS my sister, and only in the essence of Bhaal. Now I am no Bhaalspawn and she neither; I searched my memory; she arrived at Candlekeep at a different time than I did according to Gorion and Winthrop and others. We could not be of the same mother, and as a boy and a girl in close proximity approaching the age of maturity there is no way that this would have been kept hidden from us, lest we have engaged in a secret relationship unknowing we were related. And Bhaal's children were purely of the races of their mothers; I had met enough pure halfling and dwarven Bhaalspawn to know this, so they were not related by blood at all... this all seemed too coincidental: Ginia's death, my changes in my outlook on the world and my personality, Imoen's return to me as a mage akin to myself, our loss of our Bhaal essence leaving us unrelated, and my discovery of that which I had been missing all along through her unswaying loyalty and unfortunately once-unappreciated happiness to be near me, and...

A word came into my is a word whose meaning I distrust and refute, but it spoke clearly and quietly all the same: Destiny.

And somewhere in the heights of the multiverse's cosmos, a Solar smiled down at the man who could have been a god, but chose instead to remain a mortal, and ensured that he suffered not for his decision, and he knew then and thereafter in his heart that his choice was an inspired one; suddenly it had become clear to him in crystalline precision that he would have a life fulfilling enough that he would never regret his decision, and he need never fear or want for anything again.

A mage clad in colourful robes, cradling a pretty, sleeping young woman strode through the populous, clamorous streets of the ruined city, but the crowds interfered with the pair not, as if an invisible hand forced them to keep their distance. Though he bore a heavy pack and the sleeping young woman, his step was as brisk as an unburdened man's, as if a great weight had been forever lifted from him. Soon he would return to this city at its revitalized council's request to help in its reconstruction and the formation of an incorruptible and benign group of wizardly peacekeepers. Somewhat later would he return to his childhood home of Candlekeep to complete the inquest that led to the exile from there of Ulraunt and the conferring of the title of Keeper Of The Tomes on Tethtoril, but for the moment, Brynnlaw called him too strongly to be resisted, especially by one so exhausted from travel. Though the docks were nearly useless in many places and many pilings askew, few ships available and the demand for them great, he encountered no difficulty chartering for a reasonable fare to Brynnlaw, and if one could read his mind at that moment, he would be thinking of nothing more than to collapse in exhaustion for perhaps twelve hours into his berth, after gently placing the young woman to rest in hers, and then upon awakening, to reflect on all that had happened before it blurred together and faded from his mind as one long event, to write many pages in the little book he carried everywhere with him while looking over the wide sea at the far horizon, searching for the first glimpse of his home. And if one noticed carefully, one could almost see at this distance the sleeping figure stir in his arms and kiss him lightly as he arose the gangplank to the deck, then disappeared into the wooden hull of the vessel.

"The Lord Of Murder shall perish..."
-- Alaundo The Wise, prophet and founder of Candlekeep