Copyright 1994 by Edward Keyes
I swear, I'll never be able to get some time off for research. Ever since that poorly planned and executed assault on the prison of Dorakka, our three names have been circulated throughout the lands -- every fourth mayor has a "special task" for us "skilled adventurers" to perform. Now I'm very glad that I'm using a magename; if I had gone by my truename, anyone could know it by now. Of course, the tales of my recent accomplishments may get back to Bourbafon, but I doubt if anything will come of that, since I've recovered my former levels of power from that incident.
Anyway, this time the summons to glory were from an especially nasty source. That stupid dwarf, Loco, evidently had some prior connections with the barbarians to the north, and one of them, an especially malodorous one named "Pepé," came to greet us as we returned from our expedition to the White Plume mountains and to Greyhawk.
Incidentally, the expedition was a complete success: we recovered all three of the artifacts and escaped without serious injury, even though we had to go through all five healing potions. After selling Wave, the trident, and upgrading our magic items, Loco and I were left with around 20,000 gold each, give or take shares for our followers (I am pleased to note that Tinuviel survived the expedition -- although not very effective as yet, she has an excellent survival instinct), not to mention retaining possession of the other two items, an intelligent dwarven hammer for Loco (if he listens to it, he might actually grow to human-level intelligence) and a wonderful two-handed sword for Kalan, by the name of Blackrazor. I shall have to study this blade: its creation no doubt involved some necromantic techniques similar to my own. Perhaps from studying it I shall be able to construct a similar weapon for myself....
In Greyhawk, apart from our item transactions, I arranged for much paperwork. I am now an official citizen of Greyhawk and member of the Wizards' Guild, and now own a small dwelling there in the River District. It's nothing much, just a safe place to teleport to when I need to have dealings with the Guild or the University. No doubt the various thieves of Greyhawk will think it unusual for the "famous adventurer Korel" to buy a house and will investigate it in their own fashion -- too bad there will be nothing for them to find save a few warding spells....
Anyway, back to our summons. This malodorous barbarian, who had the slowness of mind to consider me a bard due to my "extraordinary wit" in rhyming a sentence (I refrained from disposing of him only because he was evidently a friend of the dwarf), revealed to us that the Five Swords of the barbarian lands, prophesied to have the power to summon their god and unite the tribes, were about to be discovered. Our help was needed to recover the last two -- the first three had been found by other local adventurers, who nevertheless were reluctant to complete the quest.
After a night or two of much-needed rest, we set out for the barbarian lands across the continent -- even through both Kalan and I expressed displeasure at coming so close to the territory of our "new" enemy, Iuz. The boat trip was uneventful save for a party sent by that same enemy. They were few and clearly no match for us, even giving them the benefit of a surprise spell assault. We disposed of them with negligible difficulties. However, I was the victim of an interesting spell effect: it was a variant of the illusion class that evidently affected me alone. An illusion of extreme horror (in my case, a True Tanar'ri -- image courtesy of Dorakka) attacked me, and was unaffected by any spells I threw at it. Only the death of the controlling wizard dispelled the image. Subsequent research in my library indicated that my death would have resulted if the image hit me, and the only defense is a disbelieving attempt. In my case, the illusion was rather believable, since it arrived via a Gate and demons normally have resistance to magic. However, the speed with which the spell scroll was read and the lack of offensive spells for the demon were clues to its falsity -- rest assured I shall not be affected by such a spell ever again. I also picked up one of those little bone wands the Iuz people keep waving around -- not very effective, but it can animate the dead as well.
When we reached the barbarian lands, we were briefed as to the suspected location of the fourth sword, The Edge: in the hands of the leader of a rebel barbarian tribe. To "assist us on our journey" we were given the other three blades. I cannot imagine a more useless gesture, since neither I nor the dwarf use swords, and Kalan rightly preferred the power of Blackrazor, now that his old drow sword has been handed down to his daughter. I just tossed Greenswathe in my new bag and readied my more useful spells. Two other spellcasters, master and apprentice, also joined us. They were useful, up to a point, but mostly just as arms to fire wands of fireballs. The old man was obviously not a good spellcaster from his appearance -- how went the Academy rule, "If a spellcaster looks old, he's not very talented, since the good ones know ways around Nature's rules." His memory was also poor: imagine, not knowing what his own magic items did!
We were accosted by some sort of bandit group along the way, who at least had the intelligence to recruit spellcasters. No problems there, although I learned the consequences of lending a magic item to the dwarf -- faced with his race's twisted heritage, it backfired, causing its protective function to be perverted into one harmful to the user. Actually, it was useful in a perverse way, as the amulet attracted the magic missiles away from the rest of us to hit the dwarf, who no doubt could survive the hit better.
Finding the rebel barbarians was not difficult, but getting to their leader definitely was. They spoke in awe of "he who slices through glaciers and frozen caribou like warm blubber" but were rather violent toward us. Natural, considering their origins as uncivilized cretins. In typical stupid barbarian fashion, knowing nothing of proper combat tactics in their mindless bloodlust, they clustered around us, beating uselessly again and again on the force cube Kalan erected. After a few minutes of this, I and my spellcasting comrades showered them with several fireballs, leaving the last couple to be picked off individually by the dwarf.
When we came to the barbarian town, similar efforts to negotiate ended in a battle, from which the dwarf had to be rescued by Kalan. He then surveyed the town from the air, isolating the tent of the leader who was engaged with a number of the more heavily "perfumed" female members of the tribe. We concocted a plan of assault: Kalan would drop the dwarf through the roof of the tent as a distraction while he snatched the sword, while I and my comrades would distract the rest of the town with a few choice spells.
Of course, the plan to send the dwarf in invisible backfired miserably when the invisibility potion rightly rebelled at entering his confused metabolism. Instead of shrinking from sight, he began to glow, bright as day! Of course, he did function marvelously as a distraction because of that, but also alerted the town to our attack.
I did not witness the battle within the tent until the end, but was filled in by the others later. According to the dwarf, even though the barbarian leader was clad only in a loincloth, his skin was as tough as platemail! I'm sure this is an exaggeration by the dwarf, no doubt to embellish his combat stories. Curious as to the battle's outcome, I flew up over the tent, and, seeing reinforcements coming, surrounded it with a wall of fire to make it -- how did Kalan put it? -- a "cage match" for him and the dwarf. Although the biting blade of The Edge put a nasty notch or two in the dwarf's axe, the barbarian was defeated and the sword recovered.
The townsfolk were then in awe of Kalan, since the sword was a holy item to them, only supposedly able to be wielded by their leader. A town sage produced an ancient scroll that spoke of the location of the last sword, Harmonizer. We set out at once, spurring our steeds on to an even greater pace when a messenger brought news of an impending invasion of the barbarian lands.
We were pursued by a band from another kingdom, but they were disposed with easily, all except for the ranger who had tracked us. Recognizing his dislike of battle, I approached him while the others were occupied with combat and offered him a position with us once his current employers were no more. The promise of a permanent position at the Castle evidently appealed to him, and we now had a ranger to help us find our way to the specified location.
On the way, we were waylaid by a small army of orcs, commanded by ogre mages. Of course, the dwarf had his little fun while the rest of us more wisely resorted to our previously tried fireball-from-the-cage tactic. The ogre mages retreated when I threw a spell or two at them, although one was killed. Suddenly remembering something I'd read in Barlok's Guide to Spell Components, I realized that the teeth from an ogre mage could possibly replace the vampire fangs in the formula for the extra-healing potion, since both creatures regenerate. Although it was rather messy, I managed to extract more than two dozen teeth: enough for five or six potions, I would estimate.
As we neared the specified resting place of the Harmonizer, The Edge took on a mind of its own, dragging Kalan across the fields of snow while we hurried to keep up. It stopped, quivering in midair, pointing to a rock on the shore of the extreme northern bend of the frozen river. The rock could not be cut open, so I attempted to dispel its enchantment. Naturally, the magical approach worked, and in place of the rock a sword case appeared, containing the Harmonizer. Kalan laid his hand upon it, and immediately an extremely bizarre phenomenon occurred.
I was suddenly looking at myself! All three of us had been duplicated. From a quick inspection of the items my duplicate carried, I knew that this enemy was much more deadly than the simple dopplegangers we encountered near my homeland: this was an evil version of myself, complete with my own magical items and knowledge. As he began incantations of my own spells, I knew that this was possibly the most difficult battle of our lives, even surpassing Dorakka.
Leaving the other two to their own opponents, since I could not be sure which was which, I started putting up a protective spell against the more common offenses. Of course my enemy knew my own skills, so he hit me with a higher-level cone of cold, undefended against by the globe. Unfortunately, I was thwarted by my own preparations: I have collected many defensive items and am therefore vulnerable to only a small subset of my own powers. My choice was limited and my battle became quickly a combat of quickness in spellcasting, and I lost by a hair's breadth -- it was just sheer chance, as if my fate had been determined by the flip of a coin or the roll of a die.
Meanwhile, as I was later told, the dwarf was actively engaged with his double, parrying and attacking with all his might, when suddenly his double was backstabbed and killed by Kalan's double, unable to tell the two dwarves apart. This freed him to act to destroy my double and save my life with a healing potion. Meanwhile, the real Kalan had backstabbed the ranger, using the power of Blackrazor to absorb the soul and increase his power. It was an unexpected move, and one of which I am not sure I approve, considering the attitude of the ranger. Nevertheless, to paraphrase the old commander, Hitlor Adoff, "the victor will never be asked if his tactics were sound."
The dwarf took a beating from the counter-Kalan, and I had to return the potion favor to keep him with us. From this point on the battle turned our way, for it was all three of us against the counter-Kalan. Of course, he was still quite an opponent, especially with his force cube device, but one against three is seldom a fair fight and we eventually prevailed.
Having now all five swords, the old spellcaster who accompanied us began the summoning ritual, arranging the swords in a circle and reading the runes engraved on the blades. Already we could hear the approaching army of invasion, and see it barely slow down under the onslaught of the tribe of barbarians we had just left.
Finally the spell was complete, and in a flash of light the swords disappeared to be replaced by the barbarian god -- 12 feet high and flanked by giant winter wolves. In gratitude for our services he granted each of us a wish. I was insulted at the suggestion that I needed divine intervention to improve myself -- especially help from the god of such despicable creatures as these barbarians -- but managed to retain my manners enough to politely decline. The dwarf wished for something like better manual dexterity. The two other spellcasters merely wished to be home, for they saw the approaching army. And Kalan wished for an increased intellect. I swear, I am coming to respect him more and more -- what better use for a wish could there possibly be? I am beginning to see where his daughter's quickness of wit came from.
With that the god turned his attention to the battle at hand. The various tribes of barbarians, united against the invading force, were already on their way, and if they survived the day, I am sure that a new united barbarian nation will result. Hopefully that will civilize the cretins a bit.
In any event, this was not our battle to fight, so we made a dignified withdrawal from the immediate area and then began our long journey back home, planning to stop over in Greyhawk on the way there. No doubt the tales of these adventures will soon circulate throughout the lands, drawing me even more into the affairs of the kingdoms.
I'll never get any research time, at this rate.
Stopping off at Greyhawk on the way home, the Wizard's Guild mentioned some task they might have for me in the near future -- at the time, I thought it would be a fairly trivial one, but little did I know that I would soon be heading up one of the most important projects of the Guild. Of course, I am getting a little ahead of myself....
The Guild also mentioned that someone was looking for me, bearing a "present." They described a spellcaster, but none that I knew. Our recent experiences with ambushes and the like put all of us on our guard at this news -- the "present" could very well be a dagger in the small of the back!
As we neared Hookhill, that mysterious someone manifested himself in a blast of fire. He introduced himself only as Temeh, and was a rather unusual sight: red robes, a peculiar horned hat, a beard of many different shades, and skin extremely tanned and wrinkled, as if he had lived in a desert. His every gesture and movement carried with it a little puff of smoke or burst of sparks. (I later learned that this was a cantrip-variant of his own design.)
The "present" was even more unusual: the severed and preserved head of that bard I had such a fateful run-in with, all those years ago. I accepted it with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I was glad that such a loose end in my past was tied up (only a few more to go before I can rest easy at night). On the other hand, I had wished to meet him when alive, for what reason I do not know. After all, I am now an adventurer, and being on the other side of the fence, so to speak, gives one a different perspective on the rights of evil wizards holed up in their castles of doom.
In exchange for such a present, Temeh asked only to be allowed to join our party. The dwarf, whose primitive tribe worships fire as divine magic, saw Temeh as god-touched, so he naturally had no objections. I had my doubts, particularly in the manner in which Temeh evidently has been hunting specifically for me for several months (how did he learn of my connection with Dan, and what is his role in all of this?), but kept my silence out of curiosity. Kalan had his doubts as well, but when Temeh offered to keep the dwarf amused, and therefore out of our hair, he smiled and agreed, but still would not allow Temeh inside the Castle, due to the dangers of fire.
No sooner than we had returned and gladly threw off our travel-stained garments, a group of messengers from the local temple of St. Cuthbert were escorted in with a summons for Kalannar. All four of us set out the next day for Hookhill, arriving just before our noon appointment with the head priest.
Kalan and I wisely left the dwarf and Temeh in the entrance hall while we two gained the parameters of our mission. The high priest at first wanted us to prove our good moral standing with a synopsis of our previous missions, but at Kalan's cue I informed him of his mistake in protocol -- we were here to possibly do him a favor, not show ourselves worthy of some blessing of his.
At that he got down to business: a relic of theirs needed to be recovered. It seems that the hat of one of the founding saints of their order had some immediate use to them and needed to be obtained from the ruins of an abandoned temple of theirs. A few prior missions, consisting of priests and holy warriors, had already failed to report back. At this Kalan and I shared a glance -- we both knew how limited paladins and priests could be, shackled by their absolute moral codes from seeing alternate and beneficial tactics.
The high priest offered us a pitiful monetary reward and the favor of their order, but Kalan wisely declined the gold in order to concentrate on future favors from the church of St. Cuthbert. As dangerous as our lives have become, building up a debt of favors from those who hold the keys to a second chance at life seems very wise.
We set out immediately for the abandoned temple, accompanied by a paladin whose only role was to "keep us in line" -- that is, prevent us from looting the temple. As if we would do that to the very people we were trying to gain favor with!
The actual battle was over rather quickly: all the monstrous denizens of the abandoned crypt attacked almost at the same time. As soon as we had dealt with the hook horrors, the ropers attacked. And just when we were getting the ropers under control, the ogres and the beholder arrived.
The hook horrors gave us few problems, but the ropers were much more difficult to deal with. They are highly resistant to magic, so I had to resort to more unorthodox means of dealing with them: animating the just-killed hook horrors with the wand of bones to attack for me. Luckily the dwarf came to my rescue as I was about to be bitten by the roper. I need to devise some good methods of dealing with magic-resistant creatures, for I'm sure this is not the last roper I shall see.
The beholder is a marvel of magical powers, doing with gaze attacks what can usually only be done with a touch. From my study of the creature, I quickly moved to its side, out of the range of its anti-magic zone. Anticipating its attacks, I put on my ring of spell turning, and deflected one of its spells. Unfortunately, it fled before we could utterly defeat it (I left one of my hook horror zombies to hunt it down, but I doubt it will be successful).
Now this is the best part: that paladin of St. Cuthbert who accompanied us was standing a sword-swing away from the beholder, just leaning against the wall with his arms crossed. Evidently he had been sworn not to take part in the battle, so he just ignored the danger to his life right next to him! I suppose the idiot got what he deserved when the beholder killed him instantly. We brought his body back, and he'll probably be resurrected by the church just so they can ask him how the hell he managed to die when none of us did -- hopefully he'll learn something from it.
Gaining entrance to the altar was just a matter of a dispel and a glyph of warding (I must remember to send the zombie ahead in future situations). All that remained of the hat was a shred of cloth and a holy symbol, but evidently it was enough, for the high priest was very pleased when we returned, at least until we dumped the body of his comrade on the floor of his office with a sneer. We did find a bit of treasure and magical items, but all of these were returned to the church in good faith.
After that we finally got to take some time off, in which I was able to do a little research, finding the formula for an obscure necromantic animating spell. It animates the body or skeleton of an animal to serve as a mount. While I do generally prefer live horses, particularly my own Midnight, the benefits of an undead mount are not to be trifled with: silent, hungerless, tireless, portable, and of course, style. Unfortunately, the smell of a dead horse is horrid -- I shall have to investigate an easy way to clean bodies down to the bone.
Temeh and I also got to swap some spells. Of course, he got the better end of the deal, since my library was much more expansive than his. Many of his spells are very strange, and I was unwilling to learn them for my own use due to the very chaotic nature of the spell effect -- in some cases, it just seems he summons the raw magical energy and hopes it will turn out all right! This is a dangerous person to be around, but I shall have to study his methods of harnessing magical energy with the effort of his own will: it seems strangely applicable to my meta-cantrip research.
I took a few weeks off from my research and spent it with Kalan's daughter. She seems exceptionally bright and talented at almost anything she applies herself to -- her command of the magical arts is commendable for someone twice her age! If she were to devote her life to magic, I am certain she would one day surpass even Mordenkainen, but as it is, her attention is split between magic and swordsmanship, spreading her talents thinner.
About this time, I received a magical summons from the Wizard's Guild. Teleporting at once to my Greyhawk residence, I found that it had been burglarized -- I thought that just leaving the door unlocked would prevent any damage to my property, but I was mistaken. During my several-day stay at Greyhawk, I re-outfitted the house suitably.
Arriving at the Guild, I was sent in immediately to a sort of board meeting of all the heads of the various divisions of the guild: exchange, alchemy, the University, and the head of the entire Guild. Although I was the junior member at this meeting, I knew that that situation would not last long, for I was still adventuring and expanding my knowledge while these mages were primarily standing still.
They were intrigued by the custom spells I had left with them previously, but I had not the heart to tell them that I was on the verge of such a major breakthrough that would reduce those spells to mere parlor tricks. During the meeting, the drow mage lifted an eyebrow at the mention of Kalannar's name, but otherwise said nothing. I wonder if he knows of the prophecy?
At any rate, the main purpose of the meeting was to give me a task that would serve as an initiation into the Guild. Since my reputation clearly established me as worthy already, this task was merely a formality and was set up to not have a definite time frame for completion. With all the activities of the Guild, their resources have been stretched too thin to maintain all their projects, so I was given complete control over the Guild's investigation of the ruins of Greyhawk Castle.
Many questions need to be answered: the fate of Zagig, the original builder of the Castle; the existence of the Stone of Oerth; the status and identity of the demigods said to be imprisoned in the Castle; and the possible existence and involvement in the Castle of the Ring of Five, an evil counterpart to the Circle of Five. The ruins of the Castle are incredibly expansive, and so the answers to these questions may be long in coming (especially since I still have my research), but the potential for treasure, glory, and knowledge is almost unbounded. I accepted, intending to take the rest of our adventuring party with me.
The dwarf quickly agreed, the promise of orcs and trolls being all it took for him to start drooling in anticipation. Temeh agreed as well, once I mentioned the great treasure (he keeps mumbling about funding a holy war, but I haven't been able to get anything out of him except a vague mention of Rary). Kalan was too busy with the affairs of the Castle to set out at once, but he agreed to send along one of his "special force" men, adept at getting past traps and locked doors. I have a feeling that once Kalan gets a look at some of the treasure we will find, he will "make time" for a little exploration.
We set out at once, stopping in Greyhawk to restock our healing potion supply and inform the Guild that we were entering the ruins (just in case we did not report back in a reasonable length of time). The approach to the caverns is awe-inspiring, to say the least, since it is built on a cliff, with narrow pathways connecting the three towers. We headed for the Tower of Zagig, since most of our questions lay with him and his creations. It is, unlike the other two, untaxed (the lack of exiting parties is the usual explanation). Almost all the above-ground portions of the Castle have collapsed into ruin, but the underground levels were our destination.
The first level is about 100 feet down into the earth, and our first encounter with the denizens of the Castle occurred on the stairs, as we were attacked by a dozen plate-mail wearing trolls who appeared from behind an illusionary wall. Between some mini-fireballs and dwarven axes, we were able to prevail. Of more concern to us, though, are the gates which have closed behind us, cutting off our exit. Nevertheless, the fact that they were open when we approached says that we cannot be trapped forever (in any case, I can simply teleport home at any point).
Continuing down, we soon encountered more of the trolls, which the dwarf quickly dispatched. The last one led him on a merry chase through several rooms, while Temeh and I (along with our escort) followed at a leisurely pace, setting the dead trolls left in the dwarf's wake on fire. Actually, the trolls were under the command of a mid-level wizard by the name of Jihal (or some such) -- Temeh and I estimate him to have been around 9th or 10th level. The dwarf took quite a beating from his spells, but didn't even slow down after being blasted by several lightning bolts! The look on the wizard's face when surrendering to the unstoppable Loco was something to see!
We have come across several traps so far, all of them hard to spot. However, we are rapidly becoming accustomed to the types of traps so far encountered, and may soon be able to avoid the basic ones entirely.
The next great monster encountered was a basilisk, whose breath is poison and whose gaze is petrifying. The dwarf killed it with one blow. I am very glad we brought him along -- when he is busy with battle, he is hardly annoying at all.
The treasure so far recovered is on par with our past adventures (with the exception of a ring of regeneration, a very rare item), and Temeh and I shall have to devote some time when our first excursion is completed in categorizing, analyzing, and possibly selling the items we found. Now that Kalan has an army, though, we will probably wish to keep the sort of magical shields, swords, and armor we would usually sell.
We also ran across a large solid gold statue, chipped and melted from past adventurers taking pieces from it. Our thief, with a keen eye for money, estimates the statue's value at 200,000 gold pieces. It is too heavy to lift normally, but on our way out I plan to shrink it magically and keep it in Temeh's hat, which seems to be the most voluminous magical holding device I have ever seen. Disposing of that much gold could present a problem, but I imagine the best place to go would be the mint, to have it turned directly into coin (minus a heavy tax, I would presume).
We have yet to find a way down to the second level of the ruins, since the main stairway has collapsed into rubble below our current floor. I believe the best plan is to "clean out" and fully explore this level, hopefully finding another way down, then attempting to find a way out to the surface again. It seems pointless to try to press on beyond one level when we are still unsure if we will be able to leave.
Our last battle was with an extended family of rust monsters, who went after the dwarf like a dragon after gold! His magical plate mail was turned to dust, and Temeh and I had to handle the battle for ourselves when he began cowering in a corner, hiding his magical axes and hammers behind his back. Luckily we have found a suit of dwarven chain for him to wear, and he appears to be about ready to be underway. Oh, dear, he's caught the scent of orcs ahead -- I must stop writing now.
The first level is now cleared. We encountered a large number of orcs, and the dwarf had his fun. A room of cyclops completed our survey, yielding a very high quality emerald for my work. Since we were unable to determine a way down immediately, we attempted to exit the ruins. Unfortunately, the gates were still closed fast, so we had to resort to polymorph spells to pass through.
We reported back to the Wizard's Guild, and though I had not completed any of my mission objectives, they were pleased at the map Temeh had brought back. The Greyhawk mint is working on our statue, and most of our cash went into buying healing potions for the dwarf -- my gem collection is growing by leaps and bounds, though. After a couple of days of rest and relaxation, we left the rest of our treasure behind in my house and returned to the ruins.
From clues I found in the Guild library, I determined that the fountain we found last time was probably the portal to the second level. Drawing straws, Temeh lost and volunteered to jump in to test our theory. We were right.
Immediately upon reaching the second level, the dwarf encountered one of his kinsmen -- or so it seemed. From my readings, other adventurers were rare or nonexistent in these caverns, so I examined the new dwarf carefully. Under the close scrutiny of my analyzing mind, I indeed verified that the dwarf was an illusion, and tried to inform my colleagues of this. Unfortunately, they were too slow of wit to see the truth, even when I jumped right through the illusionary dwarf.
Since I could not prove my case, I had no choice but to follow my comrades as they foolishly followed the dwarf. Rounding a corner, a spritely elf danced toward us. This was completely unbelievable, and proved to be an illusion as well. To my sight, the elf dissolved into a lich, who proceeded to knock me unconscious in one blow with a cone of cold.
From my friends I later learned that a huge battle was fought, with Temeh cunningly taking on a lich by himself, though the dwarf was trapped in a force cage for the majority of the time. When I regained my senses, we saw a lone wizard escaping through the fountain and determined that the entire battle had been illusionary -- the work of a single cunning man. I had never heard of a double layered illusion before, as the elf / lich had been. I had been beaten.
This is intolerable.
Five years ago, I was beaten by a bard and an illusion, and I lost my castle because of it. Now, I have been beaten by another illusionist, and I have lost my dignity because of it.
This man has injured me in ways I can scarcely describe -- not only has he invaded the sanctity of my mind, making me distrust my own senses and thoughts, but he has violated my pride as well, making me faint for no reason, like a skittish schoolgirl.
The dwarf has a rage that is powerful in its chaos. I do not work that way. I am not enraged -- instead I feel only cold, hard, rational hatred.
He will die -- slowly.
I am beginning to dislike the second level.
I scarcely remember our first explorations, after the illusion fiasco, for they were all thrown into insignificance by my most recent "adventure."
In any event, we did not encounter any opponents of worth until we ran into the patrol of beholders. I had only encountered this breed once before, and then only singly -- that was at the abandoned temple of St. Cuthbert. In that previous encounter, the strategic advantage was on our side, for we could attack it from one hundred eighty degrees, allowing Temeh and myself to cast spells from outside its anti-magic ray.
But in this instance, my careful research into beholders and their kin betrayed me: in all accounts of battles that I read, no effects of the beholder's other eyes were felt within its anti-magic zone. To attack opponents from the front, it had to temporarily drop the anti-magic power. This, of course, made sense to any serious student of the Art, since a magic damping field powerful enough and generic enough to nullify every type of magic, whether known to the beholder or not, could not hope to make exceptions for the beholder's own magical effects.
But these beholders were different.
Through some miraculous arcane process, Zagig the Mad Archmage was able to imbue his guardians with the ability to perform their own spells, even within the anti-magic region! This is a breakthrough so counter-intuitive and profound that it could revolutionize the entire school of abjuration! Imagine being able to nullify opposing spellcasters (and magically enhanced fighters, too) completely, reducing them to the level of lowly peasants, without suffering any depletion of your own powers! I can only hope that Zagig's notes on this matter are intact.
Of course, being victim to this sort of effect is another matter altogether.
In a very short period of time I found myself lifted into the air by the telekinesis power of a beholder. Now that he was in sight, I prepared to dispose of him, but I suddenly realized that my magical light sources were still extinguished, even though I was magically floating in the air. In the split second it took me to realize the implications of this paradox, I knew that the battle was lost. What hope could I have against such a monster as this? Stripped of my powers, I was all but helpless. I could do nothing but try to dodge the beholder's beams and hope that my comrades could set me free in time.
They did not.
The last thing I remember in this world was a brilliant green flash of light that I recognized a split second too late as the trademark of a disintegration beam.
The next thing I remember was an immense darkness. I had the feeling that time had passed, but I had no idea how much. I tried to lift my hand to see whether I could see it or not, but I found that I had no hand, nor body for that matter. I was a spirit, a disembodied mind floating through a featureless void.
As I pondered this new development, cursing beholders and their kin with all my might, a new sense gradually developed in me. I could somehow "feel" that others were nearby -- many others, in fact. It was startlingly similar to the sense of life-energy that the magic jar spell provides.
"You new here?" a voice rang out in my mind. Having had previous experience with telepathic communications, I was not overly surprised by this, so I answered in the affirmative. I then hesitated, then asked a question whose answer I dreaded dearly: "Where am I?"
"Welcome to the afterlife, my friend," was the response, confirming my fears.
"Wonderful," I thought.
Just then a new voice arrived. "Where's the new arrival?" it asked.
"Here I am," I answered. "Although I'm afraid I can't give you directions to find me."
"No matter, since direction is more or less meaningless anyway."
"Ah. Then why did you ask 'where' I was?"
"Just force of habit. I needed to get a fix on your mind. Are you [truename deleted]?"
"Yes, but please call me Korel. It's my magename and I much prefer to go by it instead."
"Very well, Korel. I'm called Jarlan. I'm an emissary from Wee Jas, sent to welcome you here and answer any questions you may have, as well as gather some minor information for our records. I was told that you used to be a priest of Wee Jas. Is this correct?"
"In a manner of speaking. I still consider myself a priest, even though I have not been part of the church hierarchy for quite a few years."
"I see. Well, it's always a pleasure to welcome a priest among us, since they recognize the natural cycle of life and death. They usually adapt quiet easily."
"Yes, about that natur..."
"Mage. About that cyc..."
"Place of death?"
"Greyhawk Castle. Listen..."
"Really? I thought it was in ruins. Shows how out of touch I am. Cause of death?"
"I have been trying to tell you. I was disintegrated by a beholder. My death was not part of the natural cycle. I still should have many years of life ahead of me."
"Oh, dear. This is rather irregular, you know."
"I know. It wasn't my choice, I assure you. What is the procedure in a case like this?"
"Well, just a second. Let me check." At this point, our conversation stopped. I can only assume that he was consulting someone else. Although I have no way of determining time, I would assume that he was gone less than a minute of equivalent verbal communication.
"Korel, I found out what the rules are. You are free to leave. This afterlife is not for you, at least, not yet, since your life was unnaturally interrupted."
"What do you mean, free to leave? My body was turned to dust. And what you you mean, not yet?"
"One answer will suffice for both questions. Your body is indeed destroyed, but your spirit is free to return to the Prime Material. In fact, it is required that you leave here. You are a ghost, Korel, and you will haunt the place of your death for a hundred years for each year of your natural life stolen from you, as a warning to those who would interrupt the natural cycle."
"Yes, and at the end of your time, you will return here for eternity."
"Ah, I see." My mind was working furiously, planning for my new status. I had previously seen a ghost possess my dwarven friend, so I knew that a second chance at life awaited me through this route. Whether Jarlan read my thoughts or not, I do not know.
"You do understand ghosts, don't you? You will be able to observe the Prime in an area near your point of death, but you will not be able to affect it in any way. In exceptional circumstances, we grant special powers to spirits with important uncompleted business, but I'm afraid you don't qualify."
"How am I to act as a warning if no one can see me?"
"Oh, they can see you, but that is all."
"Then why have I not seen many more ghosts in the past?"
"Probably because those dead did not follow Wee Jas and did not respect the natural cycle of life and death."
"Hmmm. So there are other afterlives besides this one?"
"Oh, yes. In fact, there are nearly as many afterlives as there are people. True warriors have an arena to fight for eternity, because they enjoy it. Bards compose beautiful tunes, or so I am told."
"Have you not listened to them?" I tried to keep my distaste of bards out of my mind.
"Well, no, of course not. Oh that's right, I neglected to mention that aspect of the afterlife. There is a certain segmentation that is only natural, you see."
"No, I don't."
"Well, take the bards. True, they compose beautiful tunes, and compare them with each other, but you see, they have no instruments to play them on so I could listen to it. I suppose if I wanted to I could try to contact a bard and ask him to think his music at me, but I doubt if I would be able to comprehend it, let alone appreciate it, since I am not a musician."
"What of the fighters? If bards have no instruments, how do fighters have opponents?"
"Everything exists in the mind. Fighters battle opponents in their mind, just as bards play their music on mental lutes."
"What of me, then?"
"You said you were a mage, right? Well, then you should be able to cast spells or whatever it is you do. Try it."
Trying to forget I was dead, I started chanting the familiar lightning bolt spell that I had used so often. Suddenly, I found myself in a forest. Glancing down, I found I had my familiar body again, and had an amber rod in my hand. Completing the spell at a nearby tree, the bolt split the trunk in two with a satisfying CRACK. Just as I was beginning to appreciate my new surroundings, revelling in their absolute realism, they abruptly disappeared, returning me to the endless black void of death.
"Yes, I see," I told Jarlan. I had no doubt that if I wished, I could think up a vast research library and learn new spells for all eternity. Not bad, I thought. At least I can show all the mages in the afterlife that I'm a superior spellcaster. Again, I'm not sure if Jarlan read my thoughts or not.
"Of course, you realize that each person's world is their own," he said.
"Well, the bard can think up an audience for themselves, but they can't invite other spirits to the performance. Fighters cannot fight each other, only mental constructs."
"And wizards cannot compare spells, I imagine."
"Oh, I'm sure you could talk to other wizards and swap spell formulae, or whatever it is you do..."
Jarlan went on at some length on his personal fantasy, where he, as a priest, went on imaginary quests. I had already gathered the essence of the situation, and it was as near to eternal torture in the Nine Hells as could be imagined. Think of it -- of what possible use is magic if there is nothing to manipulate? How useless is the pursuit of power if the only things over which you can have power are mere constructs of your own imagination? Weaker minds might be amused by this, and even lose themselves in their fantasies, but I could see now that if I walked this path for even a small fraction of eternity, I would surely go mad.
A lifetime of hating illusions, and then an eternity of experiencing them. If the irony of it had not had such dire consequences, I would surely have had a good laugh.
"Are there no alternatives?" I interrupted Jarlan.
"Huh, like what?"
"Well, like resurrection."
"Oh, yes, of course. In your case, since you still have years of natural life left, your spirit would be allowed to be resurrected. Of course, you have no say in the matter, since such things need to be arranged by those in the living world. Disintegrated, you say?"
"Yes," I said, my mind whirling. In all likelihood, Temeh and the dwarf would have been destroyed as I was, or at the very least fled with their lives, leaving my pile of dust to mingle with the accumulated dirt of a hundred years. Resurrection was not too good an option, especially considering the form of death -- even my promise from the Istus temple would be of no use here, since not very much of my body remained.
"Are there any other options? I do not look forward to an eternity of illusion." If I had had a mouth, I would have spat on the ground at that word, if there had been a ground.
"Afraid not.... Well, there is one, but it's not much of an option."
"What is it?" I asked, grasping at straws at this point.
"Hardly anyone talks about it. There are certain ways to 'die' in your fantasy world which actually destroy your spirit. If nonexistence is considered an option, then that's it."
I considered this. Truly, as much as I savored life, and loved consciousness, I knew then that this would be the path I would choose eventually. Taking note of the large, but reasonable, number of spirits surrounding me, I postulate that very few, if any, have the sort of mind that could survive for eternity locked within itself.
Resurrection remained my best, and perhaps only, hope. "Is there any way of checking on my comrades to see whether they can arrange a resurrection?" I asked.
"Afraid not. As a ghost, you can, of course, check your immediate area, but outside that, no chance. You are dead, you know."
I considered this carefully. I had no wish to return immediately to the home territory of those who had slain me. But still something nagged at my mind -- this explanation of the afterlife, while eminently logical, was entirely unfamiliar to me. As a priest, I would have thought that my education would have included these important facts. I inquired of Jarlan why this might be so.
"Well, you see, we don't tell everybody."
"Pardon me? Don't tell everybody what?"
"We don't tell everybody that it all is in their minds. So most spirits here truly believe that the afterlife is an endless paradise, perfectly suited to their own tastes and desires. So any tales you might have heard from those resurrected would probably have spoken of their own fantasies."
"And why not leave me in ignorance?"
"Well, mainly because you would eventually have figured it out. Our records indicate that you have a formidable mind. Sooner or later you would have recognized inconsistencies in your own fantasy worlds, would have seen through the illusion as you have probably done before while living. So to forestall that sort of trouble, we just tell new arrivals like you the way things are straight from the start. I was that way, too."
"And how do you manage yourself?"
"Well, in basically two ways. Here in the Void, we free spirits can swap stories and all that. And of course, even though we know our fantasies are nothing but illusion, we can still pass the time and have some fun with them."
"Don't some people resent the fact that it's all an illusion?"
"True. Sometimes they do, but we have a special treatment for that."
"We just make them think they've been resurrected."
In the coming months I would come to realize that there was no single statement in all my life so utterly devastating to me as that. In exchange for a moment of silence at that point, I would gladly have listened to my father callously saying, "Your mother's dead," again and again for all eternity.
With it, my entire foundation of trust in the reality of the world was instantly turned to dust. Having been dead and having seen the utter reality of their illusions, how could I possibly know whether my subsequent resurrection was genuine or merely a ploy to make me happier in the afterlife, where I still am? I find myself constantly looking for the little inconsistencies Jarlan mentioned, trying to convince myself one way or the other whether this world is real or only a fabrication of my own mind.
Before, there had been a flicker of doubt in my mind whenever I contemplated my life-energy storage techniques: would I be denying these souls an eternity of bliss in exchange for a moment of power for myself? Now that I know the truth, I do not doubt anymore. To deny these souls an eternity of falsehoods would be a favor, not a curse.
At the time, of course, I did not consider Jarlan's statement very important, and merely filed it with all his others. Our conversation faded after that. He left me with permission to explore the Void for a few "days" before returning to the Prime as a ghost. He also asked me, if I were ever resurrected, to not mention these portions of the afterlife to anyone else.
"It would be bad for morale, you know," he said. "It all works better if people are expecting an eternity of paradise, rather than an eternity of illusion. After all, it's debatable what's 'real' on non-Prime planes anyway."
And with that, he left. I agreed with his reasoning, although not with the philosophy behind it.
For a while I amused myself by contacting some of the other minds in the Void. At first, I was worried about interrupting someone's fantasy, but when I finally saw minds disappearing and others appearing, I realized that minds in fantasies were unable to be contacted. My earlier estimate of the number of minds committing afterlife suicide dropped dramatically, since the large numbers of minds I saw earlier were only a small subset of the total.
The conversations I had were not that important. Primarily, they consisted of me answering questions about the current state of the world. As much as I would have loved to ask historical questions of these ancients, I did not have much of a chance.
Suddenly a different voice sounded in my mind, seeming to come from very far off.
"Korel, do you want to be resurrected?" it said. I did not recognize the voice, but I could not restrain myself from virtually yelling the affirmative.
"Will you agree to pay fifty thousand gold and perform additional services for the Guild?"
At this point, I realized who was calling me. The Guild members must have been worried when we did not return from the ruins, so they must have sent a party to recover our remains.
I barely heard his price. If he had asked me to defeat a tarrasque in a wrestling match, I would have agreed with the same fervor that I did at that point.
"We will perform the ceremony tomorrow," the voice said. I longed to yell back, to ask the questions that burned at my mind -- the fate of my comrades, the time that had passed, and all the rest of the trivialities of life that only the dead can appreciate when they are gone -- but I sensed the presence already departed.
My sense of time was still rather distorted, so I had no idea how long a day would last on this plane, since by my reckoning the amount of time I had spent here so far could be measured in only hours, which was rather absurd considering that the wizards must not have even started out to recover my remains for several days from the last time they heard from me. I questioned, too, their ability to identify my remains from among the dust of the corridors. Perhaps something unusual had happened. Could Temeh and the dwarf have prevailed over the beholders? My new-found hatred for their kind bid me to hope so.
Still, the souls of the afterlife swarmed around me. I had to get away to think and consider this development further. Much as I hated the thought of illusion, I needed to be alone. So I conjured up an image of my old sitting room, from my original castle above Bourbafon. Although I appreciate the security of my present underground abode, I sometimes still long for the comfort and elegance of that old home.
It was perfect in every detail, no doubt the image plucked from my unconscious mind to fulfill the illusion of reality more perfectly than I could ever consciously duplicate. Moving to my desk, I took out paper, and carefully wrote an account of my afterlife experiences -- mainly my conversation with Jarlan -- to set the memory firmly in my mind.
Of course, I had no intention of taking the actual manuscripts with me if and when I returned to the Prime, but I have previously found that writing tends to enhance one's memory. I believed that Jarlan's revelations of the nature of the afterlife were an incredibly important discovery, and so I strove to record every word as near as I could recall it. The depiction in this journal is very accurate, since my mind seldom forgets anything, especially after so short a time.
The task completed, I found nothing more to do. I considered calling Narabal to me, but the thought that my beloved familiar would only be a figment of my imagination stopped me in my tracks. Instead I slept. Who could blame me? Being turned to dust tends to throw you off your normal sleep schedule.
Something jarred me awake.
I opened my eyes to see the huge smiling face of Temeh staring down at me, a thin trickle of smoke trailing from both his ears and twin flames erupting from the points of his ram's-horn hat.
Needless to say, I was startled.
I took in my surroundings and realized that I was in one of the inner rooms of the Guild. Surely Temeh could not have brought me back himself, I thought, but then I saw the head of the Guild himself, staggering from exhaustion -- no doubt the magics involved had drained his life-force quite a bit. I shall have to contact him again when my soul gems are ready for testing.
I thanked him profusely, then turned to Temeh, questioning him about his experiences with the beholders after I had "left." I hadn't really seen him much during the battle, so I didn't know what he had been doing. He seemed to skip over that part, but did inform me of the fates of my friends.
After I had been disintegrated, the dwarf had been suddenly possessed by an intense fear of the beholders and had ran for his life. Not that I blame him, of course, but fear runs so counter to his battlerager heritage that I could only conclude it was a spell effect from the beholders. After that, Temeh and Quickknife had struggled badly, Temeh caught in the telekinesis beam as I was and munched severely by a hungry beholder until he finally prevailed with his staff. Quickknife faired even worse, as he was turned to stone while charging the remaining beholder.
The coast momentarily clear, Temeh had recovered my dust and then met up with Loco, who had been charging back to battle when the spell wore off. Together, they retreated to the rooms of the minotaurs. No calls of "Get yer weapons!" rang out there now, though.
They recovered from their wounds and forged a plan of assault on the beholders, which they then executed once Temeh had rememorized his spells. The dwarf charging, they burst into the room where the single remaining beholder was waiting -- only it was not a single beholder, but three of them!
The dwarf fought valiantly and with all his considerable might, but, as Temeh said, "When I heard his battle song suddenly stop, I knew that he was lost. I teleported away before the beholders could turn their eyes to me."
Now that I was back among the living, there was only one thought in my mind -- revenge. Having experienced the "pleasures" of death, I was very eager to grant that gift to the beholders at the earliest possible opportunity. I started to formulate battle plans, then and there, but suddenly I noticed a strange absence.
"Where's Narabal?" I asked.
The Guildmaster just looked at me, as puzzled as I was. Temeh then cleared his throat, and all eyes turned to him.
"Well," he began, "when I was gathering up your dust, a little bit got into my nose, and I sort of..."
"You sort of what?"
I grabbed Temeh by his tunic and shook him as well as I could. "You sneezed away my familiar?!?" I yelled at him. Suddenly I smelled burning hair.
I pushed him back and blew on my smoldering hands, which had very nearly caught fire from touching the fiery wizard. He just shrugged.
I set the matter aside for the moment, instead turning to the Guildmaster to assure him that the agreed upon fifty thousand gold pieces would be delivered within a few days, as soon as the mint finished striking the coins. We then took our leave, returning to my house to plan our strategy for our next encounter with the beholders.
We both agreed that just the two of us against them would be a laughable rout. We decided that additional fighter support was needed. At that point, we split up: Temeh to hire archers to take out the beholders' anti-magic eyes, and myself to return to Hookhill to see if I could interest Kalan in a little fun. As an afterthought, I also asked Temeh to see if he could stir up a little poison for our archers -- beholders were only living flesh, after all, and therefore vulnerable -- even though I doubted he could succeed, since poison had become so scarce after Istus had ruined the memories of assassins everywhere, and they had to start learning from scratch again.
I also had another mission in Hookhill, so that we could recover our friend Quickknife. But first I had to check up with Kalan. I teleported to my underground sanctuary, then up to the castle above.
I found it nearly deserted, but still in a bustle of activity -- catching hold of a passing servant, I asked what was going on. From what I was able to piece together, Kalan and his troops had marched off to do battle. Needless to say, Kalan was not available to accompany me to the lair of the beholders, and this threw my plans somewhat. I was curious as to why Kalan had not summoned me, but realized that the matter was probably too trivial -- an orc band, probably.
Nevertheless, I borrowed a horse and journeyed to nearby Hookhill, whereupon I immediately went to the temple of St. Cuthbert, shuddering slightly as I passed through the entranceway. I did not much respect the champions of stupidity -- what they call "good" -- but I needed a favor from them, in return for my recent efforts on their behalf.
Grudgingly, the priests who greeted me granted my request, handing over one of the scrolls that we had recovered -- a scroll to return dead stone to living flesh. I was glad to duck out of there, narrowly escaping before they began their silly prayers. I didn't even have time to ask them how fared the paladin who had stupidly died on our earlier mission. That would have stolen the confidence from their praises of St. Cuthbert, I'm sure.
My next stop was at the house of the mayor of Hookhill, my old friend Darkwind. Although I have a general dislike of bards, I found him a different case since the discipline necessary to be a master of blades took much of the annoying bardish frivolity from his demeanor. I had a bit of trouble getting in to see him, since the petty little civil servants evidently did not know of my reputation.
Eventually, though, I did gain admittance, seeing the mayor with his head down, peering over reports of some sort. I wondered if any of my adventuring companion still remained, so I yelled "Dark!" at him and threw one of my daggers. Indeed, the old Darkwind still survived, for he caught the dagger easily and proceeded to draw several others and go into one of his old juggling routines, chuckling all the while.
I pressed him for news of Kalan's exploits, but he could not tell me much. Of course, he was much too busy to come along on our adventure, but was very eager for news of our recent exploits, his old bardish ear for tales perking up again. I filled him in on our journey to Dorakka and the barbarian lands, but did not mention much of the Greyhawk ruins, since I hated to tell a tale that was still in the process of being written.
To my surprise, he told me that our old gnome companion had returned to town after some adventures of his own. He had been with us when we captured the castle from Darkwolf, but took to the open road instead of settling in with us. From what Dark told me, he was holed up in a tavern here in Hookhill, spouting tall tales with his gnomish friends and followers.
Curious, I asked him if he knew of any archers who were available for hire -- experienced men, who wouldn't balk at the first sign of danger. He knew of only one, the winner of a recent archery contest, an elf whose lack of affiliations had kept him from joining one of the armies that presently swarmed to battle.
I took for the tavern where the gnome was staying. To my dismay, it was a structure build with the shorter folk in mind. Even the doorway barely came to my neck. Not to be outdone, I shrunk myself magically and entered, finding the gnome in a corner, fascinating a mixed group of dwarves, gnomes, and halflings with tales of how he and his comrades had defeated a dragon -- no, two dragons -- no, no fewer than three dragons. I silently crept up the back of the group, waiting to see how long it would take him to recognize me in my shrunken state.
After the tale had ended, and his gaze swept over the crowd, he picked me out, evidently recognizing me. "Korel!" he cried, and I was swept to the front of the group to greet him properly. The gasps from the crowd no doubt reflected the fact that the gnome had told them exaggerated stories from the times we adventured together.
When the activity subsided a bit, I drew him to the side and asked him if perhaps he would be interested in yet another adventure. He thought a minute, and asked the nature of our quest. At the mention of a beholder, his eyebrows lifted in anticipation. At the mention of at least three beholders, his eyebrows narrowed in disbelief.
Nevertheless, he agreed and we left the tavern to the cheers of his followers, who were quite content to remain and "save his seat" for him at the tavern.
We set off for a second inn to find the recommended archer. He was easy to spot, being just about the only elf present. I approached him with our problem, and he reacted much as the gnome had at the thought of going up against not one but several beholders. His price was steep -- ten thousand gold -- plus a tenth of the treasure, but I was able to talk him into accepting a tenth of monetary treasure, but not magic. As much as I hate haggling, I could not allow a mere hireling to obtain any of Zagig's magical devices.
My missions accomplished, I returned to Greyhawk to see how Temeh was coming along. Unfortunately, he had not been able to round up any archers himself -- they had fled at his fiery approach -- but had indeed somehow managed to obtain some samples of different types of poisons. I asked him how he had accomplished it, but he merely replied, "You just have to know who to ask." I later learned that he had just asked people at random on the street, until a member of the thieves' guild had finally come to him. I shall have to remember that subtlety is not Temeh's strength.
Speaking of Temeh and subtlety, I have noticed recently a fair amount of amateur magical trinkets and the like hanging from doorways in the neighborhood. I have not had the chance to ask Temeh what these could mean, but from my tomes of folklore, I determined that the trinkets -- primarily chicken bones -- are meant as wards to keep out demons and devils. I wonder if Temeh has been playing with the townspeople's superstitions about fire and magic. If so, it would be more than a little amusing, but I cannot afford a bad reputation with the city authorities (the house belongs to me, so I would be the first to be held responsible for bad rumors). I shall have to speak to Temeh about this matter soon.
The major matters of preparation settled, we gathered to draw together our battle plan. Temeh whipped out his map -- a chaotic collection of little scraps of paper -- and attempted to piece it together on the table. We guessed that the home of the beholders was the main room where Temeh had encountered three of them before, and decided that the surest strategy would have us enter by the way we entered before, since the area was already familiar to us and we would hopefully not have to deal with more than one at a time.
The gnome's and archer's job was to take out the anti-magic eyes, and perhaps whole beholders, with arrows, darts, and poisons. Temeh would guard our back and take out the crippled beholders with his spells as soon as the anti-magic zones were disabled. And I, knowledgeable of the science and art of soul magic, would be concealed (since the beholders believed me to be dead anyway), attempting to turn the beholder's own powers against them.
Of course, we did not want our archer hireling to know the way into the Greyhawk ruins, since we did not want them opened up as a tourist attraction now that the upper levels were clear. Temeh teleported in with the archer while the gnome and I walked down as usual, to meet up in one of the rooms formerly belonging to the minotaurs.
We knew that surprise was our asset; even though we wanted the beholders to come after us, we needed a little time to prepare for their arrival, so we were silent as we came to the last known location of Quickknife. To our surprise, we found a handwritten sign hanging around the neck of his statue. It was a note from our illusionist friend, mocking the troubles we have had with the beholders so far.
Although the note annoyed me, I was actually quite glad to see it, for it meant that the illusionist had not fled the area yet. I still have a score to settle with him, and I hope that he stays around a bit longer.
Our plan then went into action. Temeh read the scroll of stone to flesh, while I cast a protection spell on him to prevent my soul-switching magic from affecting him. Quickknife was disoriented and dizzy, as one might expect, so we sent him into a nearby closet to recover. I stepped away into a side room we had determined earlier from the map, using my cloak to hang from the ceiling like a bat for camouflage, and cast one of my most powerful necromantic spells, transferring my soul into a gem I carried, ready to take over any beholders nearby like a ghost. The archer and the gnome took up position at the bend of the passageway, taking cover behind the beholder bodies left from the last time.
Then we waited.
Sure enough, the beholders came. Even though I could not witness the actual battle, per se, Temeh later filled me in on how well our archer found his mark. The beholders were crafty, forming a chain of anti-magic zones so that none were unprotected save the one in back. Of course, the one in back was my target.
It was an interesting experience being a beholder. The levitation I was familiar with, since I often use similar spells. Integrating the views of ten or so independent eyes was a bit more of a challenge, so I concentrated my vision through the central eye. With a little practice, I found I was able to aim and activate the powers inherent in the other eyes, to deadly effect from behind the lines.
For the most part I was able to bluff my way through as a beholder, although I was greatly helped by getting off a couple of charm spells at the beholders through the eyes.
To even greater effect, my taking over a beholder often spelled its death, for as we had previously arranged, I dropped to the ground to indicate my presence and then allowed my friends to kill me -- my soul was safeguarded by the spell, but the beholder's was not. The pain of dying as a beholder was excruciating, but my iron will held me to my path -- I knew that my pain was a small price to pay to destroy those who had already taken my life.
Two beholders were defeated in this manner, and a third by a death ray from myself. The fourth and final one was taken out with arrows and darts. The existence of a fourth one surprised us a little since we had not seen it earlier, making a grand total of six beholders. Temeh got in a few good hits himself, particularly with a vial of explosive oil.
Unfortunately, the gnome was turned to stone, just as Quickknife was earlier. And to our (relatively) pleasant surprise, we found the dwarf in a similar state. I say pleasant because stoning actually preserves much of the body so it is much easier to reverse than plain death, or particularly disintegration.
I teleported back with the archer since his part of the business was complete, leaving Temeh and Quickknife to explore the empty rooms beyond. They found a large collection of potions and some other magical treasures, but alas, Zagig's notes were not to be found. Our archer took his cut and disappeared, no doubt to retire for a while. I doubt if he will retire permanently, though, since even ten thousand gold may not be enough to support him throughout the rest of his tremendous elven lifespan.
I am very pleased with the results of this expedition, since I finally was able to test my magic jar spell in a combat situation. It does, however, leave my own body in a rather unprotected state. To use it safely in the future, I shall have to remember to either be well-concealed or well-protected.
We rested for a couple of weeks after that, since my recent experiences with necromantic spells gave me some remarkable insights into magic that I had not had before. Spells that formerly I could not fathom were now manageable. Luckily, one of those spells was the very stone to flesh spell that was on our scroll, so I was able to learn that and restore the dwarf and the gnome to health myself. This was fortunate, since I did not want to presume upon the Guild anymore, especially after their gracious role in reversing my death. I owe them too many favors as it is.
I was working at our makeshift lab in my Greyhawk house, looking at a couple of potions that Temeh was somehow not able to identify. I had just put down one and was picking up another when suddenly I found myself staring at a wall of moss.
There were shouts all around -- Temeh yelling "Get out of there!" at me. I was in full adventuring gear, with my wand of frost in my hand, obviously recently discharged. As I tried to get my bearings from this strange transition, I noticed a strange phenomenon in the moss: Temeh's face forming in miniature out of it, and apparently in the process of casting a spell at me. Instinctively, I fired off another charge from the wand at it, destroying the entire moss.
The yells stopped as I exited the small room and found the whole band standing outside, along with one new member. My mind was still reeling as the new man introduced himself as a member of another adventuring band which had gone into the ruins. He did not stay for long, since his skills would duplicate those of our own Quickknife, who was not fond of competition. I can easily see his point of view, considering that the customary way of eliminating competition involves a nasty combination of knife points and unguarded backs.
Eventually we were able to piece together that we had all been affected by an organism commonly called memory moss or "magebane," which feeds off the memories of the last day of one's life. Since we had planned to start our exploration of the third level "tomorrow," we assumed that was where we were. Luckily Temeh's map provided us with our explorations up to this point.
Since all of our spells were lost, we decided to regroup and return on the following day.
When we went home, we discovered a multitude of objects in Temeh's hat -- artistic creations of extraordinary value, evidently discovered by ourselves during the previous day. Two in particular caught my eye especially -- one, a ruby-encrusted staff, banded with meteoric iron and practically begging to be enchanted with powerful magics; the other, a magical painting which displayed the birthplace of whomever gazed upon it. I anticipated a coming battle of wills with Temeh over the possession of these two items.
We returned the following day, backtracking over our forgotten previous paths. There was a skeletal barracks chamber, obviously blasted by a fireball the previous day. There was a dwarven-mutilated corpse of a hill giant. There was a giant oyster containing a head-sized pearl. There were magically contained samples of oceanic and otherworldly terrain. There was what appeared to be a tribal shaman in a grass hut. There was a pyramid which devoured anything which touched it. And there was an empty gallery, obviously the source of our incredible items. We even ran across a huge theatre in these ruins!
The dwarf was having a run of bad luck in his battles, and blamed everything under the sun but himself for it: his weapons, his shield, even the malign influence of this level we were on. Temeh and I discounted his claims, since he was still hurting our opponents rather badly.
In various sections of the ruins, we found much evidence of infestations by umberhulks, but we were able to dispose of them with minimal trouble.
Oh, and I have just remembered an encounter I neglected to mention earlier. I had put it quite out of mind, but Temeh's continual rantings about how he defeated a god brought it back to me. In truth, he did nothing of the sort -- he merely got in the killing blow against some sort of animated statue. The nature of the animation was rather interesting, though, from the perspective of my studies. When we entered the altar chamber, those of my companions with -- shall we say -- deficient mental abilities were possessed in some manner by the altar, and forced to slit their arms and "feed" the altar with their blood. Curiously, the stone seemed to suck up the blood, evidently using the life force to animate the stone statue. To summarize, I quickly found myself in the unenviable task of trying to snap my comrades out of it. Once that was accomplished, except for the dwarf, whom I was not able to manhandle, Temeh recovered and proceeded to destroy the "god" with his spells.
I don't recall whether I have mentioned one of his most unusual spells before or not. He calls it a "vortex," and it manifests itself as a swirling tornado of raw magical energy, according to his explanation. This in itself is an admirable effect, for it is keenly destructive to creatures who employ magical effects themselves. Unfortunately, due to my friend's slipshod spellcasting, his control of the tornado is less than perfect -- as often as not, it goes off in some random direction instead of where he wants it to go! I have tried analyzing the spell, but I could not easily correct it. It seems that the random nature of the control is a necessary consequence of the manner in which the energy is summoned. I cannot fathom where he received his magical education to be so matter-of-fact about such a critical shortcoming of the spell.
We also came across the remains of a king and queen on their thrones. As we approached, curious about the items they were holding, they animated as undead and sought to do us in. Luckily we were able to prevail, and as a result obtained possession of a pair of powerful magical items. Temeh and I were beginning to bicker as to who should have what, so we solved our problem by the casting of augury bones. Luckily I prevailed, obtaining a silver circlet which gave me certain telepathic powers. Temeh took possession of a rare crystal ball for scrying.
In truth, I do not much care for the powers of telepathy, for they are too much related to psionics for my taste. However, I could not stand to have Temeh possess such an item, for it would give him access to my thoughts, a clearly unacceptable situation. In subsequent battles, I was able to use the circlet to good effect, primarily as a communication device for times when silence was of the essence. I have not pried into the privacy of any minds, and have no plans to do so unless in the most extreme of circumstances, since the sanctity of one's own thoughts is the last bastion of privacy. The circlet does also have certain powers of control over weak minds, but I see little problem with using these powers against those without the mental fortitude to withstand them.
We completed our explorations of the third level, and found the entrance to the fourth. As well, we have discovered a number of passages which evidently connect to other towers -- the Tower of Power and the Tower of War. Once our mission of exploration for the Guild is complete in this tower, I imagine we may pursue these passages at some time in the future.
In any event, we proceeded on to the fourth level, the dwarf still convinced that there was a curse upon his weapons, upon his armor, upon the air he breathed, et cetera. We naturally discounted his rantings, sure that his shortcomings were merely the result of poor luck or lack of sleep or some such.
Unfortunately, we were later proven to be wrong. Very wrong.
The fourth level began in an interesting way. There were two huge doors, locked and barred, opposite each other, with some sort of undecipherable runes above them. One of the doors, however, had been blackened around the edges, and the runes above blasted out of their inlays by some unimaginable magical force. As the intrepid and fearless adventurers we are, that is the door we naturally and immediately headed through.
The corridor beyond was blackened from the same explosion. The only original exit was a trapdoor set in the floor, obviously the source of the incredible explosion. As intrepid and fearless as we are, we also aren't stupid, so we took to the umberhulk tunnels burrowed in the side of the hall instead.
The dwarf was still having problems defeating the umberhulks, but the ultimate results were always the same. Unfortunately, Temeh and I could not unleash the full power of our spells in the confining tunnels without endangering all of our comrades as well. Eventually, we won through, coming into man-made corridors once more.
The first thing we encountered was a gigantic prone statue, seemingly settled into the ground such was its immense weight. Some sort of medallion was visible inside its mouth, but none of us were brave enough to tempt fate to retrieve it: we had all seen seemingly harmless statues animate all too often to go sticking our arms down into one's mouth. Efforts to retrieve the medallion by other methods failed for various reasons, but I am sure we will eventually go back to obtain it by other means.
We ran across quite a few skeletons, and disposed of them easily, but we had counted them as no more than the typical independent undead infestation, instead of the advance warning of far worse trouble that they were.
As we were beginning our explorations of the rest of the level, we were suddenly attacked by what may be one of the most powerful enemies on the face of Oerth: the lich. My studies of these creatures have been extensive, since I had at one time planned to become one myself at some time far into the future. And in all the accounts I have read regarding attacking a lich within its lair, only one piece of useful advice exists: don't do it!
Unfortunately, retreat was not immediately an option. The lich appeared to be testing us at the beginning, possibly trying to capture us without killing us, no doubt for some devious and wicked experimentations similar to my own. It was at this point that Temeh and I found that we were evidently afflicted with the same curse as the dwarf. Ordinarily I would have had no problem resisting such feeble magics as are contained within a wand of paralysis, but now I found such resistive strength sapped from me by some unknown source, and I found myself held fast.
Temeh was taken out nearly as quickly, and seriously injured as well. Quickknife panicked and ran, and the dwarf was uncertain what to do. Luckily, I still possessed my mental faculties, so I was able to communicate telepathically with the dwarf and Quickknife, trying to salvage something of our situation. Temeh's situation was critical, so the dwarf attended to his healing. Under normal circumstances, I would find it simple to escape via teleport, but I was unable to switch rings to activate their stored powers.
Temeh recovered slowly, and I informed everyone to meet up in a far room, grab a wizard, and teleport away. Unfortunately, Temeh was subsequently paralyzed just as the dwarf switched my rings according to my instructions. Time was running out, and unfortunately it was very apparent that we would be unable to take Quickknife with us, since he had just been paralyzed in another room. I told the dwarf to grab Temeh and myself and get ready to go.
Just at that moment, the lich reappeared around the corner, and shot that damnable wand at the dwarf as he was trying to drag us two paralyzed wizards together. It looked as though I would have to abandon Temeh as well, if the dwarf could not grab him in time.
The wand fired, but the dwarf's incredible resistance to magic prevented him from being affected, even under the circumstances of our resistance-stealing curse.
To the apparent astonishment of the lich, we disappeared with a "pop" to reappear in my house in Greyhawk. Temeh and I were still paralyzed, but the effect wore off in a short time. We collapsed on the floor, overcome by the near-death experience we had just undergone.
Searches for Quickknife in the crystal ball were to no result, so we had to conclude that he had been killed by the lich. A terrible shame, that. Even though he was a loner and wasn't especially close to any of us, we all recognized and appreciated his many talents.
Now that Temeh and I had experienced the effects of this curse, we were determined to find a solution to it. As I had some rudimentary training in curse-lifting during my tour as a priest, I tried the old techniques. From our subsequent tests with hand-to-hand combat, we determined that even my most powerful magics could but temporarily negate the curse for ten minutes or so. As a side note, I should say that I quite enjoyed getting in a few good punches on Temeh.
We then searched for the cause of the curse. Unfortunately, it appeared that we would have originally contracted the curse during the period for which we were all lacking memories. From evidence we recalled from going over the map and interrogating the dwarf's intelligent hammer, we were finally able to reconstruct the fact that the curse was probably connected with the art display we had evidently plundered on the second level. Inspecting the magic on the objects to see which one was the problem, I came to the unfortunate conclusion that all of the objects were cursed.
We then underwent an expedition to return them. This pained us all, for we had become quite attached to a number of them, most especially the birthplace painting, for it brought back pleasant and long-buried memories of my childhood in the south. Even though we may not possess the painting permanently, rest assured that I will visit the art gallery often to view it again.
We fervently hoped that the curse was not attuned to the specific placement of the items, since we had no memory of their original order, and the possible permutations would have kept us busy far past the ends of our natural lives. Luckily, no such specificity was in effect, for the curse was lifted as soon as we replaced the last item. We rejoiced and then began planning our return assault on the lich.
We had been humiliated by the ease with which the lich had defeated us earlier, so we were determined to take him out quickly. Unfortunately, our planning was a bit short-sighted, since we had neglected the problems we had earlier encountered in getting in to see the lich -- i.e., the locked door. We were forced to burn a teleport to get beyond that door, and even another to pass up a newly-formed wall of iron erected in the umberhulk passageways.
We were all three on our guard. Surprise had been our tactic at first, but the existence of many guardian skeletons did away with that idea, since the lich was able to see us through their many eyes. We expected a surprise assault, so tried to avoid lining up in "lightning bolt formation."
Since I was the only one of us with the experience to reliably detect invisible creatures, I acted as our telepathic eyes and ears. The lich first showed himself with a display of magical prowess to startle and amaze us -- a brilliant wall of light composed of all the colors of the spectrum. I had seen occasional references to such powerful magics in my readings, and although I did not know its exact powers, I knew enough to advise the dwarf that it would not be a good idea to charge through it.
Temeh and I immediately planned a new assault around this wall, with Temeh teleporting with the dwarf to the other side of the wall to attack the lich while I guarded his escape route on this end. As we were discussing it, the lich started his attack in earnest with a powerful bolt of lightning that quite took my breath away before it was absorbed into Temeh's flying stone.
Temeh then teleported with the dwarf, who was fairly drooling with anticipation at taking on the lich again, this time magically hasted. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of being out in the hall, concentrating on seeing whether or not my comrades arrived safely, which thus made me extremely vulnerable to the cone of cold that the lich shot in my direction.
The full power of the lich's spell froze my blood instantly in place, and I fell to the ground, a perfectly preserved yet quite dead wizard.
To my dismay, I found myself once more in that featureless void of the afterlife. I was in absolutely no mood to go through all the hassle of explaining to Jarlan or his friends how I came to die so soon again, so I immediately retreated to the privacy of my imaginary parlor, hoping that my arrival had not been noted.
As before, I conjured up a paper and pen, and wrote down something of my recent experiences. This task did not take me long, since not much had happened before I left the world of mortals.
Reclining in my chair, I considered the probable outcome of the battle ahead for my comrades. Between the dwarf's formidable hammer and axe and Temeh's powerful if unpredictable spells, the lich would have a bit of a problem. Of course, I assumed he would be well-protected by defensive spells, but even they have their limits.
Unfortunately, without my help, they would have no way of seeing the invisible lich, save for a shimmering when and if he passes through his own magical wall. I concluded that the chances of success were not too great for my friends, since when uncertain it is always prudent to give the benefit of the doubt to the immortal undead wizard.
I was very glad that I had taken the trouble to at least peruse every book in my library, for their contents were now imprinted somewhere in my mind, so I was able to recreate my library in this imaginary world -- whether or not I would ever get yet another chance on the Prime, there was a certain nagging problem with the way Pachen had proved his results dealing with dead-magic zones in his Study of Metamagical Effects that I was determined to uncover.
I was making a bit of progress in my research, due in part to my experiences with the anti-magic beholder rays, when I felt very strange, as if something was tugging at my heart. My reading room faded from sight, to be replaced by the void once again, and then the void itself faded from sight.
I opened my eyes to find myself lying on a table, staring up at a carved and vaulted ceiling, and at the remarkable visage of Temeh, smoke and fire still pouring from his ears and horned hat. I swear, I am getting rather tired of returning from the afterlife only to have my first glimpse of the real world be his face.
"Since you're alive, I assume we won," I said to him.
"Well, actually, you see, no," he replied. "I barely escaped with my life, and I think the dwarf was captured."
"What? We must mount a rescue attempt at once!" I attempted to get up off the table and head straight for my spellbooks, but I had not the strength, and banged my head painfully when I collapsed back down.
At this point the priest of the temple informed me that I would be quite weak for the next day or so, having been dead and all. Temeh quickly teleported us back to my house, where he proceeded to fill me in on the rest of the battle.
It seems that the dwarf had been doing very well, not doing any damage but rapidly taking down the lich's defenses. The lich had used the wall to excellent effect, going back and forth through it to escape the dwarf, but the dwarf had intelligently used his ring of blinking to follow. Temeh had been trying to work around to the other side of the wall through a side passage, and had to blast away quite a few skeletons on the way. He came out in the corridor near my body when a strange happening occurred.
"I was looking through the wall at the dwarf and the lich, when all of a sudden there was a shimmering globe around both of them for a split second. In that instant, the dwarf's chanting stopped, and he was frozen in place, paralyzed in mid-swing. I couldn't see the lich anymore, so I grabbed you and got the hell out of there."
I said nothing, but silently remarked to myself that this was at least the second time that Temeh had fled, saving his own life when the dwarf got into trouble. At least he thought to save me in his cowardice.
"We must move quickly if we are to save the dwarf. Perhaps the lich will not kill him outright and we will have time for a swift rescue," I said. And then I outlined a plan to teleport in, silent and invisible, wherever the dwarf would be imprisoned, using the crystal ball to scry him out, and then teleport out with him again immediately. It was quick and dirty, but it was almost sure to work if the dwarf still lived.
Temeh went off to learn some new spell, content to let me handle the rescue attempt alone. I am unsure whether he was afraid of going, or just didn't care about the dwarf's welfare. I borrowed Temeh's crystal ball and had him cast an invisibility spell into my spell-storing ring. Trying to find the dwarf in the crystal, I encountered nothing but a blank, typical of the scry-blocking spell I knew myself. I resolved to get some sleep and try again in the morning, when the spell would have worn off.
As I lay in bed, I was also pondering what our next move should be, if and when we recover the dwarf in good health. In truth, I had no wish to try my luck against the lich again anytime soon. Since he was resistant to both cold and electricity, and could easily block low-level fire-based spells, Temeh and I were more-or-less useless against him. I voiced these concerns to Temeh, and he pondered them for a minute or two, then took off with a twinkle in his eye, mumbling only, "I need a lab."
I was able to scry the dwarf in the morning, or at least what was left of him. The light was dim, but it appeared that one of his arms was missing, and his dried blood probably covered other grievous wounds. As I looked more closely, I saw the slow rise and fall of his chest. Evidently the remarkable dwarvish constitution had so far withstood the lich's torture.
As soon as I was strong enough to cast spells, I prepared myself and rode off to the entrance to the ruins. I was still in poor health, but I rationalized my haste in the fact that if I were discovered, full health would not make much of a difference.
I quickly cast invisibility and silence spells about myself, then verified the dwarf's position one last time. Satisfied that he was alone, I used a short-range teleport to appear right next to him. To my dismay, I now noticed a pentagram and circle of power etched into his chest with acid. I did not have time to ponder the possible meaning of these diagrams, though, as I magically unlocked his shackles and eased him to the floor. There was a floating skull above the dwarf which I recognized as a popular necromantic alarm spell. My silence spell negated the shriek of the skull, but I knew the lich would be here presently, mentally alerted by the skull. I grabbed the dwarf and teleported back to my house.
When we arrived, both Temeh and the gnome were present, and they immediately went to work tending to the dwarf's wounds. My priestly abilities were much in demand, since he had not only been severely wounded, but infected with a crippling disease as well. Upon closer inspection, I noted that his tongue had been cut out, which was why he was unable to speak. It, and his missing arm, would eventually grow back with the use of our regeneration ring, although it would take quite a long time.
Luckily, I was still able to communicate telepathically with him once he regained consciousness. He told me how he had defied the lich to the best of his ability, resisting his spells and taunting him with dwarvish insults. He told me how he had tried to chant the battlerager's songs, until his tongue had been forcibly removed. He told me how the lich had used his own battle axe to chop his arm off, adding insult to injury. And he told me of the strange rituals the lich had performed, involving the acid-etched pentagram.
I was very glad we had acted quickly. There was no telling what sort of devious magics the lich would have cast had we left the dwarf alone for the conclusion of the rituals. Still, I kept a close eye on the dwarf during his recovery, particularly making sure that the acid burns healed normally -- I wanted to be sure that we had gotten to him in time, and there weren't any lingering magics about him.
I barely saw Temeh for quite a while. Asking around the town, it seemed that he had enrolled in the local University in an independent study course so he could have access to their libraries and laboratories. Evidently he was researching a spell to combat the lich on our return visit. Now I was resolved as well, after seeing what he did to our dwarven friend -- the lich must die, this time permanently.
Since it looked like the dwarf would not be up to fighting strength for a couple of months, and Temeh would be similarly occupied during that time, I decided that a little spell research would be prudent. I therefore left the dwarf in the capable hands of our gnomish friend, who said he had some "business arrangements" to take care of in Greyhawk, and returned to Hookhill.
Kalan was home for once, his campaigns either finished or entering into a lull. He was quite saddened at the news that his trusted henchman, Quickknife, had not returned with us. He offered to send a replacement from among his lieutenants, but I declined, saying that I could not guarantee his safety, since we were planning an assault on a particularly dangerous foe. I could tell that Kalan would have loved to quit his castle duties and accompany us to avenge the dwarf's injuries, but I assured him that we would not want him to neglect his obligations on our behalf. Still, he insisted on lending me a pair of his most powerful magic items: a ring of spell storing and his cube of force.
I also dropped off Kalan's share of the treasure before I retired to my caverns. He was quite impressed, and clearly was missing the role of an adventurer. Over the next couple of months, I completed my researches, reconstructing a rare necromantic spell that agitates the bones of an opponent. Its destructive power is not extreme, but the constant pain will disrupt spellcasting for quite a long time.
Returning to Greyhawk, I still found Temeh missing. Inquiring at the University, I found out that he was scheduled to present his results in a few days. The day in question arrived, and I sat through an ungodly amount of presentations by beginning students, showing off a new cantrip or low-level spell. One enterprising student showed off a third-level spell, to a standing ovation. And then Temeh came on. He scrawled diagrams and equations on blackboards with abandon, and even I was hard-pressed to keep up with his formless ramblings. Finally, he was ready for the demonstration. A large block of ice was rolled out onto the stage. He cast his spell, and in a conical shape projecting out from his hands, the air seemed to ripple as it does over a fire. The ice melted almost immediately, and quite a large part of it vaporized. Even the cart looked a bit scorched. Temeh received no applause, just stunned silent amazement from the onlookers.
Later I caught up to him and got the details of his new spell. He called it a cone of heat, an exact reversal of the cone of cold that had done me in earlier. I quite enjoyed the irony of it, and quickly added it to my own arsenal in preparation for the attack on the lich. Temeh tried to learn my new necromantic spell as well, but he could not seem to grasp some of the subtler aspects and had to put it off until another time.
So outfitted, we set off for the ruins once again. We were not too eager to go straight to the lich again, so we decided to explore more of the rest of the level and possibly approach him from another direction. We went through the unblasted main door instead, going down a short corridor to enter a large room.
On a small pedestal in the center of the room was the most astounding golem I -- or anyone, most likely -- has ever seen. Similar to a stone golem, it animated and approached us to attack, but unlike a standard stone golem, it was constructed of solid diamond!
The dwarf rushed to attack, while Temeh and I tried a few spells. Nothing seemed to have any effect, for the dwarf's weapons were only weakly enchanted and the golem seemed to be highly magic-resistant. The golem's punch was absolutely devastating as well, containing the strength of a score of normal men. The dwarf got in a hit or two using Temeh's enchanted staff, but we were forced to retreat after doing it only a minimum amount of harm. We left the ruins, resolving to return when the dwarf had recovered his normal weapons from the lich.
Returning the next day, we decided to try the trapdoor, since it was the only route left to us that did not involve the lich directly. We were all braced for a terrible explosion when we lifted the trapdoor, but nothing happened. Climbing down the ladder into the room beneath, we were astounded to discover what was apparently the prison of demigods that Zagig had constructed.
In the center of the chamber was a broken spherical chamber, obviously the chamber from which Iuz had escaped. There were eight other doors, probably leading to other secondary prisons. Detecting for magic in this chamber, I was nearly overwhelmed by the strength of the magical guards. And they had already faded much from their original strength! Although the prisons were apparently empty, the captives escaping when the spells faded, the power that Zagig had once commanded was almost beyond belief.
The dwarf went around knocking on the doors while I inspected the wreckage of the center prison. The force with which Iuz had broken free must have been truly astonishing to be able to not only counter Zagig's spells but also blast the entire corridor above and blow the prison apart down here. I was suddenly much more uneasy about having earned Iuz as an enemy in Dorakka.
Strangely, one of the doors knocked back to the dwarf. A moment later, a strange bluish glow began to appear behind the wreckage of the central prison. Temeh and I prepared for the worst, throwing up defensive spells with abandon, since we thought the dwarf had released a straggling demigod in his misguided efforts. For good or ill, we were mistaken in that assumption, for when I cast a spell to detect possibly invisible creatures, I was confronted with the cruelly smiling visage of our old enemy the lich, now levitating above the ground and casting a spell at Temeh and myself.
We suddenly found ourselves in a forcecage, identical to the one we had first encountered when fighting the mage Darkwolf. Of course, we were prepared for such captivity, and it is a rare cage indeed that can hold a wizard. Within moments, we had both teleported out to opposite ends of the room, trying to surround the lich.
Unfortunately, the wreckage in the center of the chamber hindered us quite a lot in our efforts. Trying to bypass it quickly in my jumping boots, I missed a step and landed with a thud in the central depression while Temeh engaged the lich with his newly-researched spell, against which the lich had no defense.
Amazingly, the lich at that exact same moment launched a cone of cold at Temeh. The two spell effects met in the middle, totally cancelling each other out. Both the lich and Temeh paused in amazement -- the lich because he had never seen such a thing before, Temeh because the spell had actually worked as he had designed it.
I quickly got into the act, and we gave the lich a double-dose of killing heat. Meanwhile, the dwarf was doing something useless in other part of the chamber, and the gnome was valiantly trying to hit the lich with darts, to little effect. Temeh had been aiming at the lich from the glow of a baton the lich carried, but now the lich dropped the baton and teleported away. I, who could see him when invisible, was not fooled and stopped my spell in time, but Temeh could not stop.
I thought that perhaps the baton would be a useful item, but it skidded away from my protective globe, so I left it. I could not immediately find the lich again, for I didn't know if he was even in the room. That delay gave the lich time to pepper Temeh and myself with a spell or two, before I finally saw him wedged between the forcecage and the wall. As I fired at him again, Temeh started calling his unusual vortex. The lich moved to the other side of the forcecage, returning fire at me. I was forced to discontinue my attack to heal myself, but that effort was mostly useless because that idiot Temeh sent the vortex right through me.
The lich was headed for the gnome on the other side of the chamber, so I quickly fired another cone. The lich got to the gnome first, absorbing much of his life force and therefore undoing much of the damage we had done to him so far. Unfortunately, the gnome was in my area of effect, so he got a bit of heat as well -- lucky he was wearing one of our rings of regeneration! We could all tell the lich was having problems, as he levitated up to get a better view of us. With a few tries, Temeh was able to place the vortex directly underneath the floating lich. I switched my attentions to trying to dispel the levitation of the lich, since if we could force him to fall into the vortex, his destruction was almost assured.
We could tell that the lich was getting desperate when he tossed his entire necklace of missiles as us, producing a fireball conflagration the equal of which I had never seen. I'm sure it gave Temeh a great deal of inspiration, though. Luckily, both Temeh and I were protected from its effects by various magical protections. This fact clearly exasperated the lich.
I then tossed my bone-vibrator spell at him, further disrupting his efforts. Both he and I were running out of spells that would have an effect on each other, and unfortunately part of my bone-vibrator spell was rebounded to me, so we both resorted to lesser spell effects, wands and the like. The lich hit me with a curious blast of cold wind, which was apparently an innate ability rather than a new spell.
Then things really got strange.
Temeh cast one of his really unpredictable spells next, the dreaded "Nahal's Reckless Dweomer." If it had succeeded, the lich would probably have been killed, but unfortunately it did not. Instead, I was amazed to see a portal open in the central prison, and a horribly deformed outer-planar creature step through!
Temeh attempted to control the creature, but failed utterly, so I took on the lich alone in a battle of wands while Temeh and the dwarf tried to handle the new problem that Temeh had so kindly created for us.
Eventually both the lich and the outer-planar creature were defeated, the latter through the use of a scroll spell I didn't even know Temeh possessed: the most powerful of the "hand" spells created by the mage Bigby.
At this point, we tended to the gnome's wounds and interrogated the dwarf, who had been singularly ineffective against the lich. As it turned out, the dwarf had been under a geas not to harm the lich, and I blame myself for not investigating this possibility earlier -- my inexperience with and dislike of charm spells no doubt blinded me to this possibility when the acid pentagram attracted my attention.
Of course, our dealings with the lich were not yet complete -- we had only defeated his body, but his spirit lived on, and we had to move quickly to discover the resting place of his phylactery before he inhabited yet another corpse and we would have to defeat him all over again.
In exploring the lich's rooms, we came across his treasure trove, including the dwarf's items. As well, and even more precious, we came across his library, which Temeh and I subsequently split according to our own interests. His spellbooks were another excellent find, containing several high-level spells that I will one day be very glad to have available to me. The dwarf was eager to redeem himself to us, and his experience in stonework proved invaluable in locating the secret door hiding the phylactery.
The prison chambers held a great surprise to us. A gnome was chained to the wall, but he professed to be our friend Quickknife, killed and then reincarnated by the lich. He was quite weak and a bit disoriented, but once we were safely home, I was able to return him to his original form in a semi-permanent manner, much refreshing his spirits. I contacted Kalan with this new development and he was greatly pleased.
The Guild was very glad to see me again, and after I apologized and explained my earlier death, they were even more glad to hear of my discoveries regarding the demigod prisons. I was unable to present a complete report on the lich, but I am sure that once I get a chance to examine his library, his former identity will be known and possibly significant to our investigations of the tower. We also turned the phylactery over to the Guild for destruction, since the magics on it were too powerful for us to negate ourselves.
Our explorations must continue, and the fourth level was explored except for the diamond golem and whatever he is guarding. The dwarf was eager to test his mettle against such a foe with his magical hammer, so we promised to stay out of the battle once we had hasted him.
It was indeed quite a sight to see -- the tiny dwarf hacking at the huge golem's legs, quick and accurate as possible, while the golem slammed him again and again with blows that would instantly kill even renowned warriors. Eventually the dwarf got in his final blow, and the golem collapsed into powder. Unfortunately, the powder was transmuted to worthless crystal, not diamond at all. Visions of unimaginable wealth and magic gained from gigantic chunks of solid diamond collapsed into dust as well.
When we saw what the golem was guarding in the secret room beyond, the visions of unimaginable wealth came back to us again.
We had discovered Zagig's treasure trove: two huge chests filled to overflowing with magical items, gold, and gems. I took as the majority of my cut a fine collection of incredibly rare and large rubies -- unfortunately the ruby is relatively useless as a stone for my experiments, but I hold a fondness for the stone and hated to see them sold. Besides, I had no pressing need for cash, and perhaps I will be able to part with enough of them to trade for comparable sapphires, emeralds, and diamonds when I come across a suitable jeweler.
To my great pleasure, the dwarf found a superior magical girdle of strength and therefore relinquished his old one to me, since Temeh was unable to use them -- again and again I seem to be using the seemingly useless tidbits of knowledge and experience that I gained as a priest-in-training, among them the proper way to wear and utilize such a girdle, which amplifies one's natural strength.
I am very glad to finally possess such an item, for now I am nearly proof against the sort of treatment I received from the other children in my youth. As a powerful mage, I could easily dispose of the typical barroom blowhard with my magics, but I find it much more satisfying to now be able to defeat him on more his own terms.
We retired to my house again, and spent a happy evening dividing up the spoils of our labors. There was a bit of trouble involved in identifying some of the magical tomes we found, for Temeh found the contents of one so offensive to his sensibilities that he lost consciousness. He was well repaid for his efforts, though, for he found a similar book that will soon aid him greatly in his studies -- perhaps enough to surpass even myself in raw magical knowledge. There is another book present, suitable to neither of our sensibilities, though, that perhaps will sit better with the members of the Guild -- maybe I can convince them to trade me a similar book better in tune with my own studies.
We inspected Temeh's map once more. Unless we had missed some vital secret door, there were no lower levels in the Tower of Zagig. This fact was disheartening, for we had as yet seen no hint of either the Stone of Oerth or incursions of the Ring of Five.
"What about the tunnels?" said the dwarf.
For once, the dwarf had an excellent idea. Many of the umberhulk tunnels we had encountered we had not followed to their conclusion. It was just possible that the burrowing creatures had unknowingly provided a new passage to lower levels or secret regions of the fourth. We set out at once, ready to follow this new lead. I felt slightly rushed -- I would much rather have liked to stay in town for a week or two to read through some of the contents of the lich's library -- but was, like my comrades, caught up in the thrill of exploration.
The tunnels were indeed extensive, and opened up in several places to a remarkable sight: a village of lizardmen established next to an underground river. The dwarf wanted nothing more than to attack and decimate them. Temeh and I were comfortable with leaving them alone, but unfortunately we had no more avenues of exploration open to us except for the tunnels across the river from the village. So we decided to attack as well. All of the villagers were adult males and armed, so their presence here was suspect in any event.
The forthcoming battle was quite an experience. I had not entered hand-to-hand combat in quite a while, and I was eager to test the strength of my new girdle. So, protected from physical harm by spells, I just as often disposed of the lizardmen with a swift crack of my staff as with my usual spells, which were less than totally effective in the wide-open spaces of the cavern.
Finally, all eighty of them lay dead, and we with barely a scratch on us. Well, Temeh and I were unscathed -- the others were somewhat less well-off, but still quite safe. For a second, I was unsure of the dwarf's intentions -- he was seemingly caught up in his berserker rage and barely seemed to recognize us as friends rather than enemies. Luckily, he snapped out of it, but I do not look forward to the day he will lose control entirely: I have already seen a wizard comparable to myself have his head split open after emptying his entire arsenal of spells into the dwarf.
The corridors beyond contained an altar to some sort of lizard god, and an unusual shaft extending down into the rock, too small for us to crawl through normally. Temeh volunteered to check it out while shrunk, so he levitated down after I cast a reducing spell on him.
After five minutes or so, he returned, babbling on the verge of coherency -- "huge ... red ... dragon!" When he regained his breath, he elaborated, explaining that below was a very large cavern containing a very large pile of treasure with a very large great red dragon sleeping on it.
We decided that it would be prudent to return here another day, after we had disposed of the lizardmen's treasure -- even Temeh's extradimensional hat would not be large enough to contain a great red dragon's hoard should we prevail.
Of course, now that we knew the general nature of our foe, we were prepared to counter its attacks. Temeh and I prepared to cast a wicked combination of defensive spells -- one to counter the fiery breath, one to counter physical attacks from claws and the like, and one to counter its spell abilities -- that would leave us practically invulnerable to the dragon for long enough to give it quite a bit of trouble. Adding a spell for flying, we were prepared to take from it the advantage of aerial movement as well.
Unfortunately, we were not able to similarly equip our comrades, but the dwarf would be reasonably safe with his large ability to deal with damage, and the gnome would hopefully not be visible for any significant length of time. We set out to conquer the dragon.
Everything went just according to plan at the beginning. We shrunk ourselves and descended the passageway, then raised our defensive spells and approached the dragon, which was apparently sleeping, in a wide formation to prevent more than one of us being breathed upon. None of us truly believed that the dragon slept soundly, and in fact we were correct, for once we within range, he took to the air with a great roar, heading straight for the dwarf.
I must record here what a magnificent sight a full-grown red dragon in flight is. Though mages since time immemorial have proved that a dragon is aerodynamically unable to fly without its innate magical boost, the illusion of natural flight is very close indeed. The iridescent scales shimmered with each movement of the powerful muscles. And in flight the full coloring of the dragon was apparent -- much lighter scales underneath, to better blend into the sky from below, for instance. I felt a sense of great loss at trying to destroy such a magnificent creature.
That is, until it attempted to turn the dwarf into a cinder.
The dwarf got in a blow or two with his hammer before he was snatched up in the dragon's claws, chewed up, and spat out again to land heavily on the rock floor and not get up. Yet again, we were very glad for the possession of several rings of regeneration, which would bring the dwarf's mangled body even back from death.
In the meantime, Temeh and I peppered the dragon's resistant hide with lightning bolts et cetera, sometimes making a hit and sometimes not. With the limited range of the cone of cold, it was rather difficult to predict when the flying dragon would come within our reach to time the spell appropriately.
Temeh and I were shortly snatched by the dragon next. Luckily, the stoneskin spell protected me from the talons, but the crushing grip pinned my arms to my sides, not allowing my to cast the short-range spells I had ready. Instead, Temeh and I were forced to teleport away to once again launch longer-range spells.
We were certainly gaining the upper hand, when suddenly the dragon escaped our grasp, evidently in fear for its life. I have seen many magical transformations in my time, but none was as impressive as this -- a hundred-foot-long red dragon polymorphing into a small bird to fly up the tiny shaft!
Temeh quickly sealed the shaft to prevent the dragon's unexpected return, and we then turned our attention to the treasure trove. Unfortunately, Temeh found out the hard way that the treasure was magically trapped with some sort of poisonous dust. Temeh and I sat down, while the dwarf recovered, to try to counter this powerful enchantment. Eventually we succeeded and left with Temeh's hat fairly bursting with gold, silver, and platinum. We did not even have room for several sets of fine platemail, since it did not detect as possessing magical enchantments. When we return we will collect them if they still remain.
At present we are divided as to our next move. The gnome reported man-made chambers beyond the dragon-lair, evidently different from the regular Tower construction. It is possible that we are coming into the realm of the Ring of Five at long last. There is no question if we will return -- of course we will. The only question is when.
Temeh and I prefer taking a break from adventuring to take care of a little reading, research, and recharging. The dwarf wants to kill the dragon at once. And even I am somewhat inclined to the dwarf's position, for it may be that we have let fly a great evil in allowing the dragon to leave alive. Most likely it will not threaten Greyhawk if it is as intelligent as dragons are supposed to be, but there is no telling what it may do if rage at losing its treasure blinds it to the dangers. As much as I admire the creature, I do not think it wise to allow it to live a free life anymore.
I find myself with a little extra time now to devote to reflection on our adventures so far. No doubt that our explorations into the Tower have made us some of the richest men on Oerth -- at least among those whose wealth is independent and legitimate. The gains of knowledge are equally great, particularly in the library of the lich. The gains in magical items go without saying.
Still, the ease with which some of these most recent treasures have been gained makes me suspicious as to the reality of my present situation. Having died twice, there have been two occasions in which the illusion of resurrection might have been imposed on me. I have so far had no appreciable success in finding any falsity in my surroundings, but I may very well be fighting against my own subconscious mind, which would naturally have access to all knowledge that my conscious mind has. My only hope for success in penetrating the illusion is if my subconscious makes a critical error -- but the likelihood of that is not great, considering my own incredible intellect. Unfortunately, I can see no way of proving beyond doubt that this world is real. As time without detectable contradictions increases, my confidence in the world will no doubt increase, but there will always be a shadow of doubt.
Even though I have lost quite a bit of face in my recent deaths, I feel that I am now in a position to regain much of the trust the Guild formerly had in me. Indeed, if Kalan's battles went well, he will have a comfortable toe-hold in gaining a sizeable base of power around Hookhill, particularly with our own Darkwind still as mayor. With myself at his side and the resources we have gained at our disposal, our adventuring band is posed for a meteoric rise in importance and influence.
Certain elements still stand in our way, however. For one, Iuz's minions have no doubt not forgotten the insult we did to them in Dorakka, and although they may have been cowed for the present, they will most likely return in force in the future. Secondly, Kalan's drow problem. It is evident that once his daughter comes into her own, they will no longer have a use for him, and their vengeance for the trouble he has caused them in the past will no doubt come due. Thirdly, Temeh's strange obsession with his holy war and Rary. I am reasonably convinced that he will try to get us involved in a mission that is quite above our heads. And finally, there are still certain elements from my past that -- now alerted to my existence and location due to my recent fame -- may soon seek me out for a reckoning.
Nevertheless, my own skill and position is growing at a fantastic rate. If I can maintain my position with the Guild during the coming few years, it is quite possible that I may be awarded a seat on the Circle of Five -- to be the Circle of Six. And of course, if that falls though, there is also the equally good possibility of a Ring of Six.
I thought that the lich that had once been Zagig's apprentice would be the single most powerful human I would ever encounter.
I was very wrong.
For I have seen a demilich and lived to tell the tale.
A demilich! A creature once a mortal human, whose command of magical knowledge has elevated it to the status of a near demigod! A demilich! Whose scream can kill, whose thought can curse, and whose very will can rip the souls from men's breasts and wear them as jewelry!
But of course I am getting ahead of myself. Let me begin again: once we returned from our encounter with the dragon, we debated for a little while and decided that swift action would be for the best. So we cleared out Temeh's hat, rememorized the appropriate dragon-fighting spells, and returned down the shaft to the dragon's lair.
To our mild surprise, the dragon was nowhere to be found. Temeh's blockage of the shaft was still intact, and the meager remnants of the dragon's hoard were still there (which reminds me: I need to find some good use for huge amounts of copper coins, among other things) as we had left them. Evidently the dragon had decided it had been clearly outmatched by us and decided to take up a more peaceful residence elsewhere.
For some strange reason the gnome had abandoned us once we returned to Greyhawk. Unfortunately, time was of the essence so we did not wait for his return before going on. Luckily he had told us where to find the secret passage into the rest of the caverns, so we were not at a loss as to how to proceed. These new corridors appeared to be more recent construction than the ruins above. They were blocked with iron gates, but the dwarf bent them aside, barely slowing his march forward.
At first I thought that such construction might be the doings of the Ring of Five, but as our explorations continued and we continued to encounter no signs of habitation, this suspicion declined. And as we found more and more bizarre creations, a new suspicion was formed -- that these caverns were the creation of the Mad Archmage Zagig after his attack of insanity and his disappearance from public life.
We found powerful magical amulets just lying on a table (trapped, of course, with an earth elemental summoning spell). We found a gigantic mouth taking up an entire wall that was of no purpose whatsoever. The dwarf discovered a maze trap, which he was able to navigate even considering his impaired intelligence by remembering the right-hand rule I had taught him a while ago. Although he is regularly slow of thought, sometimes he exhibits flashes of what could only be called average intelligence.
In any event, we came across a number of odd and bizarre things, including a sleep-inducing plant, samples of whose seeds I collected. Although persons with less will-power might find themselves overcome by the pollen of these flowers, I found the aroma to be merely relaxing, and possibly a great aid to meditation in the future.
In some instances our way was blocked by plant growth, and Temeh was in the process of clearing it out in his usual conservative manner when we stumbled upon the entrance to the sixth and final level of the Tower of Zagig.
The entrance in question was at the bottom of a well, evidently designed to trap adventurers and force them to slide down its slopes to the level below. As I was the leader of this exhibition, I went down first to check that all was well, floating gently down to the landing with a simple spell.
The room below was circular, with one obvious exit. Keeping in touch with my comrades above by means of my necklace communication devices, I proceeded. Down the hall was a small alcove, and in the alcove was a skeletal figure calmly perusing a book -- a lich! With barely a flicker of surprise, he handed me an open book and pen. Looking at the page to which it was open, I noticed ten names. The first eight were unknown to me, but the last two were Mordenkainen and Bigby! With a flourish I signed my name alongside these illustrious ones, as one of only a handful of people ever to enter the inner sanctum of Zagig. I was given some confidence by this list as well, for at least two people were able to survive whatever lay ahead, since both Mordenkainen and Bigby are alive and well to this day.
I called down my comrades. Temeh signed next, followed by the dwarf and finally Quickknife. He was very uneasy about coming along with us down below, but Temeh and I were his ticket out of the ruins, so he was actually safer with us than wandering alone by himself up above.
The wonders that the sixth level possessed were almost beyond belief. At first we were nonplussed, for we encountered nothing but rooms full of clay jars. Only later did we realize the special contents of those jars -- some contained thousands of beholder eyes, others beholder blood, others trapped genies, others insect swarms, and finally we came to two rooms that set Temeh's heart pounding in his chest: in one room were jars full of a compound known as smokepowder, an ordinary substance that explodes with the fury of a magical fireball! And in the other jars, well, let me get to that in a moment.
There was one general problem on this level -- it was guarded by hordes of aerial servants, invisible creatures from the elemental plane of air whose only joy in life is choking or beating the life out of anyone who comes along. The dwarf and I encountered only minimal problems with these creatures, since our magically enhanced strength could easily break their chokeholds, and my necklace freed me from the need to breathe. Temeh and Quickknife were not as lucky, and we had to protect them quite a bit.
Both Temeh and Quickknife were overly concerned with the sounds of a large pipe organ whose tones carried with it certain qualities of maliciousness -- I do not see what fuss they made of it, though. I kind of liked it.
Temeh's magical hat was very useful to us here. At the bottom we poured thousands of platinum rings whose dweomer we later discovered to be one that induces absolute loyalty in ogre or hill giant wearers. On top of these we carefully stacked several dozen clay jars, leaving behind only those whose contents had spoiled through breakage, and those who usefulness was questionable, such as the insect swarm jars.
As I said before, Temeh fairly drooled at the smokepowder jars, and had barely recovered from that shock when we were attacked yet again by the ubiquitous aerial servants. The dwarf and I were the main targets, while Temeh was protected by a special amulet he had obtained from one of the genies we released. The dwarf and I were not doing well, and Temeh concocted a plan, if it could be called that.
He ran back to the smokepowder room, and filled a rolled-up and fastened blanket with the stuff, to tighten the explosion. He carried this bundle back to the room where the dwarf and I were fighting, set it down, and left the room, trailing a thin line of powder back to his own position. This he lit, and then ran.
Let me just state for the record that I have no idea what Temeh was trying to accomplish. Even his twisted mind could surely have comprehended the fact that any explosion powerful enough to kill aerial servants would surely kill the dwarf and myself as well.
In any event, the situation was even more dire than he knew, for in the room in which we were fighting there were several jars, one of which had broken, spilling curious black beads across the floor. Although I did not know exactly what these were, I have only come across one type of magical bead in my travels: the bead of force. A hundred or more of these things were just sitting there beside us, waiting for the shock of an explosion to set them off.
I tried to communicate this to Temeh, but the aerial servant fastened to my neck severely hampered both my movement and my speech. I could only stare in mute terror as the flickering line of powder burned towards my doom.
And then I remember the protective cube that Kalan had lent me. Temporarily ignoring the aerial servant, I reached into my pocket and found the cube, identifying the appropriate side by touch alone.
Just as the spark of destruction reached the blanket, I pressed the cube, bringing into being a force shield around myself and the dwarf. My timing could barely have been closer, for I was immediately nearly blinded by the flash of an immense explosion many times greater than any I have ever heard of, let alone experienced first hand.
Later experiments showed that the beads were actually a mix of fireball beads and beads of force. It was the existence of the latter that perhaps saved all of our lives from a complete collapse of the dungeon -- the stasis field produced by the beads contained the shock of the explosion somewhat, preventing the chain reaction from proceeding to the dozen or so similar jars in the room.
The cube took a severe beating, but thankfully it held. The dwarf dispatched the last of the aerial servants in short order, and I dropped the cube to inspect the scene of devastation Temeh's misplaced enthusiasm had created.
We found his incinerated body in the hallway outside, alongside a similarly-roasted Quickknife. It is perhaps justified that the fire mage was killed in this manner -- I have the feeling that this is the way he eventually expected to expire: consumed in fires of his own creation.
We loaded the jars and the bodies into his hat, which had miraculously survived the flames somehow. As we proceeded along in our explorations of the dungeon, it was quite a while before we entered a region that had not been devastated by the explosion.
In a short amount of time we came across scorched trees and a severely injured intelligent owl, who sent us on our way with a little new information. Soon after that, when we had penetrated to the heart of this strange underground garden, we found its caretaker: a troll.
I must commend the dwarf for his self-control in this encounter. Even though he oft proclaims with a throaty yell, "I am Thorak 'Loco' Baldor, slayer of" this and that, including trolls, he was able to master his killing instincts to hear what this obviously special troll had to say, even though I caught him gnawing on the edge of his shield on a couple of occasions.
I am reasonably sure that the troll was not the caretaker's natural form, but I have no idea who or what the caretaker actually is. He seemed strangely surreal, with an attitude towards the balance of life that I found exceptionally naïve -- he spoke of balance, but his vision had no room for the competition between weak and strong that characterizes all of life, and society as well. He seemed strangely pleased that Temeh had perished in the fires of his stupidity, and I half considered making a gift of the fire-wizard's scorched body to be treated appropriately by the caretaker -- Temeh had become quite a liability in our explorations with that act -- but I kept my peace instead.
A casual comment of the caretaker about a librarian to the south, which of course implies a library, sent us going in that direction, since I have had dreams of what Zagig's library must contain. Indeed, we found it with little trouble, and as I scanned the spines of the tomes quickly, I was rather impressed, to say the least.
I was quickly brought back to reality by the dwarf mentioning, "Korel, there's a skull floating towards us, and it looks like it has gems for teeth." Needless to say, the appearance of a demilich was certainly more important than reading book spines.
It attacked us immediately, screaming in such a horrible voice. I still have nightmares of the sound of those screams -- horrible, terrifying screams which carry the darkest magic through the air. At every step I felt as if my very soul was trying to leave my chest, but through a great effort of will I was able to resist for a while.
I tried throwing spells at the demilich left and right, but nothing seemed to affect it. The dwarf hit it time and time again with the most powerful hammer I have ever seen -- it could crush a giant skull in one blow -- but only rarely did I see even the smallest chip of bone fall to the ground.
Suddenly, the dwarf was overcome by the screams and fell to the floor, instantly dead, his hammer clattering on the stones. For a second, I entertained the notion of attempting to raise the hammer against the demilich myself, as we had already established that teleportation out of this level was impossible. But a quick estimation of my relative battle prowess quickly dissuaded me from this course of action. Instead I grabbed the dwarf and retreated. Luckily the librarian did not pursue us, evidently content to return to guarding its treasure beyond treasures.
I was totally alone, on the deepest level of the Tower of Zagig. Armed with Temeh's amulet against aerial servants, I was protected from the only known danger besides the demilich on this level, but countless others unknown to us perhaps lay ahead. Packing the dwarf in the hat, I decided to leave. Although I would dearly have liked to stay and explore, the possibility of my death was all too real -- and with myself as the last surviving member of our party, if I died, there would be no chance of resurrection either for me or for any of the other three. I could not take such a risk in good conscience.
So, my newfound amulet of the planes in hand, I activated it. Of course I did not immediately know how to manipulate the powers it contained, so I teleported from plane to plane for quite a while before I eventually ended up where I desired to be: the ethereal plane. In this state, I could and did pass through solid rock to rise to the surface ruins of the Castle, whereupon I returned to the prime. From there, I teleported directly to the Castle, to see about reviving the rest of my party.
Kalan took the news of the various deaths in his usual manner. Temeh was able to be raised with a standard raise dead scroll I had, and Quickknife was later revived by a local temple. But a quick inspection of the dwarf showed that his resurrection would be more problematical: his irises were totally gone, which I have taken as an indicator from my research to mean that his soul no longer has a connection to his body. A simple raise dead or resurrection spell would revive his body, but his mind would be gone. Some might say that what little mind he had was no great loss, but the thought of an even more mindless dwarf chilled my spine. I surmised that the highest order magics were in order: the wish.
I had no particular want to trouble the Guild over a matter such as this, so I turned to our captured genie bottles. It is rumored that the efreeti is capable of granting wishes, but often in undesirable manners -- it would not have been a good idea to attempt to revive the dwarf with an efreeti-granted wish. But we possessed a powerful sword with the power to grant wishes that had been lost when Temeh's magical bag had been destroyed in his fire. It is to this bag that I asked the released efreeti to turn his attention -- to restore it and its contents.
This it did with minimal fuss, and I used the salvaged luckblade to restore the dwarf to life. Temeh seemed unusually glad to be alive again, for he revived mumbling something about an "orson" and "eternal torment." I shall have to inquire further into what this could mean.
We have resolved to return to the caverns yet again, now with new knowledge and specific spells to defeat the demilich. I am not sure whether the lich bookkeeper will let us in a second time, but we have very little choice in the matter -- for I have seen the wonders that await us in the library.
I have just returned from a very unusual experience, that I found out lasted several weeks, although I had no sense of time during it. But I have returned from my ordeal much more powerful than before.
Our return to the caverns of Zagig went well at first. We defeated the demilich with minimal loss of life -- only Temeh. We were then able to restore him with another wish from our luckblade, at the same time as we were making sure the demilich will stay defeated by soaking its remains in holy water.
Although I hold the highest respect for such a being -- whose wisdom, experience, and power approaches that of deities -- I do not much regret its destruction. Demiliches who stay around on the prime after their transformation do not much deserve extreme respect.
We packed up Zagig's library into Temeh's hat, and then continued on our way. I felt vaguely uneasy about plundering both Zagig's jars and his library, but wherever or whatever he is now, I cannot imagine him needing access to such things of mortals as that which we took. And, of course, it does a book no good to be sitting locked in a library with no one to read it, as it does magical items no good to be sitting on a table with no one to use them. And naturally, if anyone should read those books or use those items, it would be best if that person were me.
One of the next things we encountered was both my blessing and my downfall.
In one room were five raised stones. In three corners of the room were stone falcons identical to the one we had seen outside the entrance to the Towers -- how it came to be there from down here, I doubt if anyone knows save the one who placed it.
It was to these raised stones that my attention was turned. Such things virtually screamed of magical energy, since there was nothing else in the room. So, gathering my will and wits, I stepped onto the first stone.
And my mind exploded.
Before that step, I had always considered myself one of the most intelligent people around. After I read the magical book of mental exercises, I was sure of it. But now my mind felt as it was was reaching a height of intellect reserved not for humans but for gods. It was as if I could suddenly see in color instead of mere black and white -- a dimension and depth was added to my perceptions that was formally almost beyond my imagination.
Still reeling from this blow, I took another step.
And all became dark.
A timeless interval passed in which I dreamt of wild magic and military strategy on the outer planes. The next thing I knew, I was standing in a great audience hall, surrounded by Kalan, Temeh, and the dwarf, along with a bearded gentleman, who, by his dress I took rightly to be a wizard of some power. Temeh hastened to introduce me to the archmage Hornung, revered master of wild magic and creator of a totally useless random missile deflector spell.
Still severely disoriented, I was informed by Hornung that we were currently on the plane of Limbo, where my soul had been imprisoned by one of his subordinate mages, who evidently plucked it out of the ether where it had been placed by that second step. We soon returned to the prime plane, where my friends returned most of my items which they had borrowed from my mindless body -- I was missing a few, but they explained these as sacrifices to an altar to Boccob in the sixth level.
After we returned and rested, they filled me in on the rest of their explorations. After I had been incapacitated, Temeh and the dwarf put me in the hat, where my necklace kept me from suffocating. After a little experimentation with the steps, in which the dwarf lost all of his magical items and from that experience seemed to gain more control of his character, they went on, finding a few strange rooms before they encountered the final series of rooms.
Flanked by an altar to Zagig's deity, Boccob, at which to pass it was necessary to sacrifice two magical items, the final approach entered into a pair of rooms, each containing a clear sarcophagus, one containing an elven woman of unsurpassed beauty, the other a human male -- Zagig himself! Oh, what I would have given to lay eyes on the most powerful wizard of our time!
Various golems animated to attack Temeh and the dwarf, because, it was later discovered, they did not pay their respects to the dead. A powerful magic-damping field was in effect throughout this region. Offset from these rooms were two pyramids, one white and the other black, along with a ring of stones. While the dwarf was kept busy with the golems, Temeh explored this part of the level. When he entered the ring of stones, he was transported to a mountaintop we later discovered to be located near the Vale of the Mage. On that mountain was a curious device that Temeh described as a metal bug, with a hollow interior fitted with all manner of levers and buttons. I shall have to inspect this device further at some future time.
Temeh teleported home, leaving the dwarf to fend for himself in the caverns below, armed only with my magical quarterstaff (his axe having been lost in the room of the steps). Temeh and Kalan checked up on him in a crystal ball, where it was seen that he returned to consult with the troll caretaker -- an admirable move, showing that the loss of his magical items in the step room certainly seems to have shocked him into more regular and reasoned tendencies rather than whim.
Kalan and Temeh returned to the sixth level to get the dwarf out of there safely. Kalan was understandably apprehensive of the whole experience, not having gone through what we went through to get down there at last. In short order they dispatched the golems and investigated the sarcophagi further. While inspecting the elven female, according to Kalan, Temeh seemed to go nearly insane with jealously, not wanting another man's gaze to fall on such a specimen of beauty. The two of them began to fight, and Temeh fled, outmatched by Kalan in battle. He escaped through the circle of stones once more.
This makes perhaps the fifth time that Temeh has abandoned members of our party in dire condition. While I admit I have done so as well when it could not be helped (witness Quickknife and the lich), his seeming propensity for this sort of action is a bit disturbing. While I can never be sure that Kalan would not turn on me given sufficient monetary reward, he would never do so out of a concern for personal safety.
The dwarf and Kalan paid their respects to Zagig and his bride, then left by the same manner. Luckily Kalan had left a teleport in his ring of spell storing, so he was able to escape the mountain despite having been left behind by Temeh. Otherwise it would have been a long walk back to the Castle, to say the least.
After hearing this tale I longed to pay my own respects to Zagig, but when I returned to the caverns, I could not find the entrance to the fifth level from the dragon's cavern. It seems that Zagig, from wherever he is (and disturbed by Temeh), has decided to close off these recent additions, at least for a while. While I did want to press further, I decided that the greatest respect I could pay Zagig was to leave him be as he desired.
Returning to the Guild, I presented them with the results of our investigations, carefully leaving out any and all references to the discoveries made beyond the dragon's cavern -- it seemed wisest to keep such things to ourselves, now that the entrance there is no longer present. The conclusions were not too good: no evidence of any Ring of Five activity, no mention of a Stone of Oerth, no remaining demigods in the prison and no clue to who they were, and no indications of the current whereabouts of Zagig. The last was indeed true, for though his body was apparently seen, I doubt that his spirit has left this plane for good.
And so ended our explorations of the Tower. I could tell that the Guild was somewhat disappointed with these results, and perhaps was even debating whether such an exploration was sufficient to enter into full Guild membership. I soon put any doubt to that question, for I had decided that I had neglected my research too much in the recent past, and could not afford to be present in Greyhawk as much as a Guild member is expected to be. I settled instead for a position as Associate Guild Member, a title with little power or benefits, but little obligations as well. It is merely a "foot in the door" should I later decide to pursue full membership.
As I left, the Guildmaster reminded me of the obligation I still owed them over the matter of my resurrection from disintegration.
As if I could soon forget such a weight on my freedom.
For the sake of continuity of content in this my adventuring journal, I will not distract its purpose with the technical details of my subsequent researches. For those I will rely on the voluminous notes taken during the process and recorded elsewhere.
My first task, of course, was to undertake the long-overdue task of recharging some of my depleted magical items, the most important of which is my staff -- I haven't been able to use its powers for some time for fear of permanently depleting its magical energies, ruining it once and for all.
I then spent some time learning some of the spells from spellbooks I have acquired over my adventures, most especially from that of the lich formerly apprentice to Zagig. In the midst of these investigations, I was interrupted by a summons from my comrade the dwarf. It seems that his undertaking of the cleaning out and resettlement of Darkwolf's second lair, which the gnome and Kalan had discovered and sacked while Temeh and I were occupied in the Tower, was not going as easily as expected.
I don't recall if I have mentioned this experience of theirs before in this journal. It seems that through some strange and unheard of process, Darkwolf had become a lich, still harboring a feeling of revenge toward us. Kalan described tombs in the catacombs individually designed for each of us, almost as a museum exhibit. Unfortunately, though Darkwolf was defeated, his phlactery was never found -- most likely, he hid it as I would in a secret place far from his present location. It would seem that we have not heard the last of him yet, even though we have killed him twice already.
In any event, his undead minions were now bumbling around mindlessly in the caverns, and the dwarf needed someone to help dispose of them with some magic. I was able to oblige him willingly, for the experience also provided me with raw material for nearly a hundred animated skeletons, the core of a new wing of Kalan's army. I notified Kalan of this development, and he hastily informed his troops of their new fighting companions and constructed a barracks for the skeletal legion outside the Castle wall.
After that I returned to research, first completing my research on a spell to strip the flesh from dead bodies. Although the skeletons recovered from the dwarf's caverns were relatively clean, in the future I knew I would have to deal with newly-dead bodies. As I abhor the smell of rotting flesh in my servants, I needed to be prepared to deal with this problem when it would shortly arise.
And indeed it did. Kalan set out without informing me on a little adventure of his own. Several days later he returned, breathless from hard riding and scarred from acid burns. In halting language he described the lair of a black dragon, and suddenly produced from his pack the largest diamond I have ever seen -- the size of a skull!
Upon touching it, I knew that this was no ordinary diamond, though. Upon attempting to identify its magics through conventional and newly-found means, I found that my spells indicated that it possessed powers absolutely unheard of -- powers of an artifact of the gods. The next day, I was interrupted from my studies of this artifact by the report that a veritable army of monsters was approaching from the south. Although most did not know the reason for this, both Kalan and I suspected that they were looking to recover the artifact Kalan found.
I marched my animated troops out for their first taste of battle, right alongside Kalan's militia. When we first got a good look at our opponents, I knew what price the powers of the artifact would come at. The form of the monsters spoke of a horrible transformation from humanoid to fish-creature form, brought on by the sinister emanations of evil pouring forth from the diamond. We were able to repel the invading monsters, but at terrible casualties for a time of peace. Of course, though Kalan's men suffered from this, my own troops' ranks swelled from the inclusion of new skeletons, as I animated our former enemies as servants of our cause.
Shortly thereafter, when I had learned all I could be expected to from the artifact, I explained the situation to Kalan. We discussed using its curse as a weapon against our enemies, but the thought of the powers of that artifact being used by those who hate us stayed us from that course. With his permission (he recovered it, of course), I took it well to the south of our Castle and entombed it far beneath the earth, filling the hole with solid rock and identifying the spot with a wizard's mark. Who knows, at some point I may wish to unearth it for further study.
I then returned to my studies, researching a death gaze spell and a means of bestowing my spellcasting ability on my undead servants. During this time period, I also travelled periodically to Hookhill, for I had made an arrangement with the owner of a local jewelry store to learn his trade to some degree. In my previous investigations into life-energy storage, I was hampered by a lack of knowledge of the types, values, and internal structures of gems, so I resolved to correct this gap before pursuing my former researches. The jeweler benefitted from this arrangement as well, for my previous skills at the cutting of gems and at the carving of ivory came in useful to his business.
At various times, Kalan had tried to start friendly relations with the owner of the castle across the river, to no avail. My investigations showed that he was massing troops in numbers far greater than were warranted under the circumstances of our locations. Kalan feared that he was planning an invasion of our Castle, but as the months passed and no forces came, we eventually concluded that the man was just unusually paranoid.
I soon came to have a second chance to exercise my troops, as Kalan was given the task to clean out an encampment of humanoids. As was their purpose as conjured troops, my legion took the brunt of the assault, allowing Kalan's archers to target foes from a distance. Even then, Kalan's troops took quite a beating, and again my ranks soared from the animation of fallen foes -- even extending to skeletal cavalry, now. I tried to convince Kalan to allow me to animate his own fallen troops, on the theory that it would increase his might in battle, but he (perhaps rightly) refused, saying that such a practice, if known, would be terrible for morale.
I then turned my attention to the resumption of my life-energy storage researches. Unfortunately, I did not have any records from my earlier effort, save those fleeting memories of work done nearly seven years ago. I decided that, instead of trying to reconstruct my previous research, I would start afresh, using the new knowledge that I had picked up in my travels to its best effect. In this process, I came across several places where I had made critical errors before -- I was surprised that I had gotten any results at all from my former misguided trials.
In due time, I completed my researches in this new spell, but I have not yet had the chance to actually test it on a human -- I am certain that my methods were sound, but I have to be more careful in finding subjects than before, since I cannot afford to have Kalan or myself connected with this -- it would undermine all my efforts at acceptance into the community of wizards.
That task completed, I allowed myself a little time for more frivolous research, so I put together a little spell akin to Temeh's continuous fiery cantrip. Of course, such a blatant show of magic was hardly my style, so my variant dealt more with subtle and psychological effects -- a certain malicious ambiance about my person, to better keep the peasants at bay whenever I enter backwoods towns where the inhabitants do not already know of my might.
Though I checked back with the Guild periodically, mainly to see if they had acquired any interesting items I might acquire for myself or my comrades, they had not yet decided to call in the favor they still dangled over my head. From this behavior, I saw that they were but a bunch of petty power-mongers, seeking whatever advantage they could find against those who were potentially their superiors.
The explosions of Temeh's research during this time have continued to grow in intensity to a level which disturbs me even in my caverns far underground. His tendency for wanton destruction seems to have no bounds, for explosions of the magnitude he is exploring would have horrible effects in the closed-in caverns we often adventure in. In the hands of another mage, such power would be a blessing, but in Temeh, whose every move seems determined not by reason or a care for the safety of himself or us but by mere whim and happenstance, it is most definitely a curse. I shall have to look into researching more spells of fire resistance should we go adventuring again.
My last few week of researching have been wonderful. Temeh's distracting explosions have stopped utterly -- evidently he has reached the limit of his destructive power for the time being and has gone on to more civilized and quiet topics of magical inquiry.
Unfortunately, all was not as it appeared. No sooner had I penned the final stroke of my new death aura spell that I received a summons from Kalan. When I appeared, he said that no one had neither seen nor heard Temeh in the past two weeks.
"So?" I said.
Kalan pointed out, and I was forced to agree, that two weeks without a sighting of the most flamboyant fire wizard on Oerth was a rather strange occurrence -- in my opinion, a veritable cause for celebration, but a strange occurrence nonetheless. When a mage attracts the priests of Celestian, investigating unusual astronomical sights caused by a simple transportation spell, keeping a low profile is simply out of the question.
"He's probably taken a trip to Greyhawk -- either the University of the Guild, for sure," I pointed out. Both Kalan and I were overdue for a trip to Greyhawk, so we decided to investigate the situation firsthand, since Temeh was still nominally a member of our group.
The Guild had not seen him at all -- they wouldn't let him in, of course, without my company, but he had not even attempted an entrance, as the dwarven gatekeepers attested. The University had also seen nothing of him at least within the past month. He had delivered a number of spells earlier, in accordance with some agreement he had made for a first-year student spell scroll.
At this point we were a little more curious. From various rumors we heard, it was apparent that Temeh had been here around two weeks ago -- tales still abounded about the Red Wizard riding a chariot of fire out of the heavens, and landing it with an explosion in the market square. When we heard this rumor, Kalan and I just looked at each other knowingly: no one else could possibly fit that description better than Temeh.
I tried a sending spell to contact Temeh, but he did not respond, either because he did not receive the sending or was unwilling or unable to respond. Scrying produced similarly bad results -- I could see Temeh and his toad, but I could not make out any of his surroundings. For some reason, they were a uniform yellow-orange, so this did not help us in any way except to know that Temeh was still alive. He was carrying something, but some barrier interfered with my accurate scrying, so I could not determine what it was.
Temeh was obviously well, so I was satisfied to return home.
Except for one thing.
Something was blocking my scrying. This was a magical mystery, and it appeared to be worth the effort to discover how this had come to pass. And to determine that, I needed to track Temeh down. Kalan seemed willing to do so for just for the sake of getting Temeh back, but to each his own.
Further rumors led us into the taverns of Greyhawk. Although personally I much prefer the civil atmosphere of a fine wine shop, I was interested to see how the ignorant townsfolk would react to my new cantrip variant, so I accompanied Kalan into his own element: investigations in the back alleys of Greyhawk.
Quite shortly we were able to trace rumors of Temeh to a single source: a grizzled old guide who claimed to have been hired by Temeh to lead him into the Bright Desert to the south.
"I swear it! I seen it wit' my own eyes! He toss'd me a bag o'gold -- didn't even count it -- and walked out into the desert, jus' started walkin'! Him and that frog o' his, wit' nothin' in the way o' supplies but a big clay pot under 'is arm! I swear 'twas all he 'ad!" the guide explained in between guzzles of what could only be called ale in the most general interpretation of the word.
"The smokepowder," I said to Kalan. "He must have taken one of the black powder jars from the ruins with him."
"Do you think so?" Kalan said. "If I were him, I'd have taken one of the bead jars instead. Besides, he killed himself once with that powder -- what makes you think he'd want to try again?"
At this I just stared at Kalan with eyebrow raised.
"Good point," he admitted. Learning from past mistakes was not a characteristic of the Temeh that we know.
"There is something strange, though," I said. "Why would he bother carrying something as bulky as that under his arm, instead of in his hat?"
"You suspect foul play?" Kalan asked.
"It wouldn't be the first time that Temeh has acted totally irrationally," I pointed out, "but then again, it also wouldn't be the first time that one of us has had their mental control compromised by an outside source."
The guide was merely looking back and forth between us, trying to comprehend our conversation, and failing miserably because of his inebriated state. Nevertheless, he was sober enough to accept a job guiding us to the last spot he saw Temeh, once Kalan dangled a jingling bag in front of his nose.
We resolved to set off to the Bright Desert in a week or so, which would allow us time to buy supplies and put our affairs in order, so to speak, since we might be out of contact with the Castle for quite some time. We also used that time to send a messenger to the dwarf's domain, asking if he would be interested in a trip to the desert. Since Kalan and I determined that it would be to our advantage to have the dwarf's battle prowess with us, we included the secret word, "orcs," in our message to guarantee his participation.
I was not very excited about this trip. The Suloise have, as a rule, rather fair skin, and I am no exception to this. The thought of trekking across the burning desert sands for days on end after spending my last two years cloistered underground was none too thrilling, especially since our success would merely mean that Temeh would return to annoy me once more. I considered taking several extra weeks to research special spells to combat the desert environment, but we simply did not have the time, so I had to settle for a generic wilderness-survival spell originally devised by Leomund.
My usual complement of black cloak and robes would have been unbearable under the desert sun, so both Kalan and I invested in new travelling clothes for the trip ahead, including the standard desert turbans. The dwarf was crestfallen when we informed him that his plate mail would not be a good idea, and he refused to dress intelligently:
"If I can't wear muh plate, I won't wear nothin'!" he exclaimed, and indeed he did. In the coming days, Kalan and I got much amusement from watching the swift development of the dwarf's severe sunburn progressing across his bare back.
The guide fulfilled his part of the bargain, leaving us to our own devices on the badlands bordering the desert to the north with nothing more than a wish of good luck and a very crude map -- the good luck wish probably helped us out more than the map. We had no concrete plans on how to find Temeh, so we relied on his tendency to make himself known. Indeed, the sight of a lone wizard in the company of a four-foot purple and red frog in the middle of a desert was not one that the nomads would soon forget, I'm sure.
We had purchased camels as we approached the desert, and I must admit that I do not care for the beasts one bit. My mount bit me several times before I had to show it who was riding whom: a well-placed vampiric touch did wonders for its temperment. Unfortunately, all four of the beasts were not accustomed to battle. When we first encountered a group of giants fighting some desert nomads, I was unable to fire any sudden spells: a lightning bolt would surely have sent all the camels into an absolute panic.
For the next two weeks or so, we trekked across the desert in mostly purposeless directions, sent here and there by half-remembered rumors of someone who might have been Temeh passing close a week ago. The desert inhabitants were not, as a rule, friendly towards us, and even less so towards the dwarf. It seems that Rary, traitor to the Circle of Eight (now Five) has allied himself to the local dwarven population, which were generally disliked among the desert nomads and others.
Some inhabitants of the desert were outright hostile, and it was these battles that kept the dwarf from continually grumbling at us about how boring the desert is. Among these opponents, the desert nomads were the simplest to deal with, being only men. I was rather pleased with the outcome of my death spell in these situations -- as a life-dampening field, it was perfectly designed for dealing with relatively large numbers of weak spirits. The look on the dwarf's face when the hordes he was fighting suddenly dropped dead before his eyes was priceless.
The dreaded man-scorpions were more troublesome, and several times I cursed my shortsightedness at not investing in some scrolls to cure poisonings -- a deficit I later corrected when we returned to civilization.
Most deadly of all, however, was a single band of illithids -- mind flayers -- in the company of a few trolls. I was able to take one or two out with a lightning bolt, I think, and then everything becomes hazy in my memory. I have spent a great deal of time over the years developing layers and layers of mental defenses against those mind-affecting spells I have come across, since I feel that the mind is the last bastion of privacy a civilized person can hope to fully maintain in this day and age.
And yet I was helpless to repel the psionic attacks of the illithids.
It has been years since I have met a psionicist, and even then it was not in an adversary situation. I had not fully realized how formidable their powers could be, simply bypassing my mental defenses as if they were of no more strength than cobwebs, turning my own primitive emotions against me from within. It was as if I had built an unscalable wall and then found that my opponents could simply dig beneath it as easily as umberhulks.
For the next several days I wondered what defense I could develop against this, for I was certain that I would meet more mind flayers sooner or later, especially if Kalan's premonitions of dealing with the drow had some truth to them. I searched within me for some spark of the Talent, as Dami had shown me those years before, wondering if my mind-expanding experiences in the sixth level had unlocked some door formerly barred to me. Unfortunately, my search was as negative this day as it had been those seven years ago. I resolved to some day seek out Dami or one like her to help me combat this new foe. With my new magical insights, I felt sure that a magical defense could be developed against psionics -- who knows, perhaps Dami would be interested in a psionic defense against magic as a fair trade.
Wandering through the sands, we came across a curious sight: a tower standing totally alone in the middle of nowhere. As we approached, the novelty of the situation must have lowered my guard, for I was suddenly overcome with sleep, and knew no more until nightfall, when the tower had disappeared as strangely and suddenly as it had appeared.
Kalan told me of the trip inside the tower, much bigger within than without. He told me of battles with golems and elementals, and finally a confrontation with the owner of the tower, an ancient woman whom Kalan described as an incredibly powerful mage, tossing around the highest levels of magics with no apparent side effects at all. She spoke of ancient history, an empire of the sands cursed by a powerful artifact -- an iron crown -- that transformed the citizens to man-scorpions. Evidently she had been the only survivor, and has spent the past hundreds of years in a vain search across the desert for that artifact, in order to reverse the curse. Kalan was unwilling to take on a new quest with Temeh still possibly in danger, but did promise to return the crown to her "if we happen to run across it." I get the impression that we may want to return one day to take up this quest -- Temeh's obsession with Rary will probably draw him, and us, to the desert once again.
We were steadily gaining ground on Temeh during this time, since we were mounted and he was presumedly on foot. From what we had gathered, his path was an erratic one, not seeking any definite goal (of course this was a very minute surprise), so it was not necessary for us to retrace his path exactly. We guessed that we were somewhat less than a week behind him when we heard definite tales of his heading to a well-known spot in the bordering badlands to the north.
Now that we had a definite spot to head towards, we discarded our mounts and took to the more efficient transportation afforded by the air -- a skeletal mount provided by the researches of the famous dark mage Bloodstone. We reached the spot in question in a manner of a day or two, and circled a couple of hundred feet above the rocky ground in order to see if we could spot Temeh from the air.
Suddenly there was a blinding flash of blue-white, and I knew no more.
Severely disoriented, I awoke, if it could be called that, in the all-too-familiar setting of the afterlife void. I searched around for my comrades' minds, wondering if they were present as well. I found nothing, which informed me hardly at all, since the chances of Kalan or the dwarf ending up in the void rather than straight into an illusionary afterlife were not too great.
It was damnably frustrating to have died and not even known the cause of it -- to not have even looked my opponent in the eye or had any chance, no matter how slim, of avoiding my fate. My only clue was a flash of blue-white -- whatever it was, it instantly destroyed even my ability to even feel the pain of my own death.
I immediately retreated into my illusionary parlor, trying to make sense of this happening. I began to plan steps to prevent this ever happening again, should I be returned to life once again (after all, if this assumption of resurrection was false, then wasting a day out of an eternal future did not concern me). The first time I died was understandable, considering the common-sense-defying nature of Zagig's beholders. The second was merely frustrating, the result of a second of too-divided attention. But this, the third time was altogether too much for me -- I did not want to gain a reputation as a master of life and death by merely experiencing the latter so often.
The first, and most immediate change, I decided on was to alter the arrangement of my defensive items. When my defenses were weaker, I was much afraid of being instantly laid low with a single high-level spell. While this is still a threatening possibility, the actual practical use of my ring of spell turning has been almost nil over the past years. However, the use of the dwarf's regenerative ring has been proved time and time again. Thus I resolved to find the elusive gnome and persuade him to allow me to wear the party's regenerative ring he had formerly borrowed. This would, in the future, protect me against the more direct methods of death by physical harm, relying on my other defensive devices to protect me against the more harmful magical spells.
Another impulse focused my thoughts during this time -- revenge. I was determined to destroy whoever or whatever it was that so swiftly took my life this day. Unfortunately, further planning would have to wait until I knew the nature of my foe.
The wait was not long. Although time in the void is a concept rather hard to quantify, I would guess less than a day elapsed before I found myself summoned back to the world of the living. In a most refreshing change, I was not immediately presented with the smiling and smoking visage of Temeh, instead being greeted by the vaulted ceilings of the temple to Istus, where I rightly assumed that Kalan had finally cashed in my certificate of resurrection.
"What the hell happened?" were my first words to Kalan.
"Blue dragon. Big one," he replied.
"Still alive?" I asked.
"Good," I said, and my formidable mental wheels began to turn. In a few seconds I had a foolproof idea. "I have a plan. Be ready to return to the desert in seventeen days time," I said, rising from the stone table. I gave my thanks to the presiding priest and made ready to leave. But something major was amiss.
"Kalan, where's all my equipment?" I asked.
"Well, Korel, that dragon breath was rather bad. And the fall to the desert floor broke almost everything that hadn't already been incinerated. What you're wearing is all that's left of what you were carrying."
This was quite a setback. Almost everything of value I own I routinely carried with me, either on my person or in my bag of holding. Indeed, even more so now than before, since we had planned on an extensive campaign away from home. Most of my magical items were gone, but I still had quite a bit of wealth, and a duplicate set of spell books in my underground lair.... Oh dear, I thought.
"Kalan, do you happen to have a teleport still left in your ring?" I said.
"That's very good. Because otherwise we would be in big trouble: with my spells wiped from my mind through dying, and my travelling spellbooks incinerated, there would otherwise have been no way for me to get back to my caverns."
At this Kalan was visibly disturbed -- he had given me almost all of his wealth to put in my caverns, for "safekeeping."
On the way back to the Castle, Kalan filled me in on the rest of the battle. Both he and the dwarf had survived the initial shock (literally), but suddenly found themselves hanging nearly two hundred feet off the rocky desert floor, my magical vulture having been snuffed out instantly along with me. Kalan, being ever quick to respond, immediately activated a fly spell I had given him. The dwarf, on the other hand, fell, tumbling end over end down to the rocks...
...throwing two hammers at the dragon on the way down...
...and hitting the ground...
...and landing on his feet and throwing another hammer!
I swear, the resilience of the dwarven breed has never had a better champion than Loco -- to have taken dragon breath and an unbelievable fall, and still been able to recover instantly is absolutely inconceivable. No wonder then, that his followers whisper in awe at "Loco the Undying."
After a half-hearted swipe or two at Kalan, the price of which being two magical daggers in its side, the dragon retreated to the safety of the clouds, and Kalan and the dwarf retreated to the safety of the Castle, after gathering up my charred and scattered remains.
My first priority was the restoration of my items. With the amount of money alone lost in my bag of holding, I would be able to pay for a wish to regain it all, with plenty left over, but I hated to incur two debts at the Guild -- one was bad enough. I resolved to take my chances by searching through the genie jars from the ruins for another efreeti. The odds were in my favor, but none were found even after I went through both my own and Temeh's. I hated to impose on the dwarf, but a debt to him was much easier to manage than a debt to the Guild.
He agreed to let me at his jars, on the condition that any non-efreeti be used to build a road from his home back to the Castle. Even then, I only found what I was looking for in the final jar -- this was much too close for comfort. The efreeti did indeed grant my request, and I was back in business, so to speak. I promised the dwarf that once I was capable of crafting permanent magical items, I would be happy to enchant a suit of plate for him, one that would turn the desert sun as well as swordblades.
However, at the moment I had to concentrate on my revenge. I spent my first week alone in my study, working through a special tome of magical studies I found in Zagig's library -- although I hated to spend my precious revenge-planning time in this way, I felt that I was on the verge of much greater magical understandings, when a tome of this nature would be especially useful.
That done, I took a day to travel to Hookhill and pick up a few needed things: mainly spell components, but I also decided that the coming days would be the perfect opportunity to refresh my skills in other pursuits, namely my mastery of the violin. Thus I purchased a fine antique one from a shopkeeper there. In the coming few days, after casting the few spells I was able to without overloading my mind, I practiced diligently to reawaken my former abilities, and to my surprise I found the delicate touch returning to my fingers with little effort.
As a boy, my father had insisted that I not neglect any subject, so in between mathematics, science, and magic lessons I was also tutored in the arts -- painting, sculpture, and music. The first I tried diligently for some time, but finally admitted that I had not the sense of color necessary for a true master, nor the temperment to labor long on something destined not to outlast the underlying canvas. Sculpture was more my style, since I was constructing enduring artifacts of stone and metal, and I had an excellent sense of shape and proportion.
However, the last of the three, music, was my true artistic love. All the other subjects -- science and magic alike -- were cold and impersonal, deriving their strength from sheer intellectual power. Sculpture was similar, being nine-tenths hard work and only one-tenth artistic expression. There was no way around this impediment: no matter how emotionally seated the urge to create was, one still had to toil through hours of tedious carving or chipping before the final result manifested itself.
Not so with music.
I chose as my primary instrument the violin ("bards play fiddles, but musicians play violins," I often said to those who confused the two). Exactly the opposite situation was present in learning the violin as in sculpting -- it was the technique that was the base, but once that was reasonably mastered, a whole new vista of expression opened up. After a sufficient amount of practice, which I believe I underwent, the underlying technique seems to vanish entirely in the mind, leaving for the musician only pure art, expressed on the breath of the air.
In my recent near- and actual-death experiences, I found, upon reflection, that I truly missed this, my one outlet of the deeper emotions. As I went deeper and deeper into magical researches, concentrating more and more on pure intellectual pursuits, I found myself in a well from which I could not climb. The violin shall be my rope.
But I digress.
Once I was prepared, I gathered my chosen undead minions -- twenty-three of them -- and marched them into Kalan's audience chamber, amid gasps from some of the more weak-stomached pages.
"Ready to go?" I asked Kalan.
"Korel, what the hell are you planning? We haven't discussed any strategy at all for dealing with the dragon," he replied.
"Leave the dragon to me. You just watch," I said with half a smile.
In short order Kalan and the dwarf were ready to go. We three and the twenty-three skeletons gathered in a circle, and crossing my fingers, I spoke the teleportation spell -- I had scried on the place of my demise quite thoroughly, but there is always danger in a long-range teleport to a locale not thoroughly studied in the flesh.
With a pop we found ourselves in the desert.
I told Kalan and the dwarf to watch the sky while I arranged the skeletons in an optimal arrangement. I had just spied a perfect sitting spot to practice my violin, which I had just gotten out, when the ground erupted into a huge blue dragon. It had been burrowing under the sand!
Kalan and the dwarf immediately ran for cover, for the dragon appeared to be about to breathe its electric death on us once more.
I pointed my bow, and said, "Fire."
The dragon exploded.
It was truly a sight to see -- all twenty-three skeletons launching one of my own most destructive spells ... simultaneously. It was an onslaught of such power that I doubt if any creature under the sun could have withstood it without an almost total immunity to magic.
Kalan and the dwarf poked their heads out from behind their rocks, mouths wide with awe. I told them to check out the lair while I approached the corpse to inspect it for future use as raw material for potions and magical items.
The corpse was melting.
In an instant I knew that I had been cheated of revenge, so I activated my plan B, so to speak, teleporting a quarter-mile straight up in the air and activating a fly spell. To my horror, I saw what I had feared: the real dragon flying beneath me. To be sure, had I hesitated a split second, I would have undergone the humiliation of being twice destroyed by a surprise attack by the same beast. I quickly flew to Kalan and the dwarf, grabbed them and teleported home with hardly a word of explanation.
"What the hell did you do that for?" Kalan yelled when we were back at the Castle.
"My lord, have you ever heard of a magical construct called a simulacrum?" I asked, and he replied in the negative. I always refer to him as lord when I want to calm him down.
"It is a replica of a creature, usually a man, formed from snow, that inherits some of the original's knowledge and abilities."
"What you saw explode was only a duplicate of the real dragon, nothing more than a chunk of ice. Had we tarried a moment longer, you would have seen the inside of the original's mouth."
"We coulda taken him!" the dwarf interjected.
"Without me?" I asked. "I used up almost all of my spells in the initial assault."
"So when are we going back to finish him off?" Kalan asked.
"We are not," I replied. "This is something with which I don't think we need to be messing at this point. Not many mages would have the ability to create and animate a dragon-sized chunk of ice in the middle of the desert, especially in just two weeks. It is my opinion that this dragon was assisted by none other than Rary the Traitor."
"Why would they be allied?"
"I have no idea -- I wonder what sort of bargain the dragon made, since its hoard was decimated by you two. Maybe a promise of service. In any event, I am satisfied with my revenge, possibly even more so than I would have been had the dragon perished. Now it will live always in fear, knowing that there is a mage alive capable of defeating it utterly in one blow. If I were the dragon, I would be expecting us to return, which is why we will not. It will spend the next years in fearful anticipation, spending time on defenses even more imaginative than a simple simulacrum, forever ready for an attack that will never come."
With that settled, we quickly decided to return to the desert as before, hoping to pick up Temeh's now nearly three-week-old trail. To make up for lost time, we took to the air once again, landing only to camp for the night or to interrogate passing nomad bands for the possible whereabouts of Temeh. In this manner, we rapidly gained on our quarry, and finally caught up to him among most unusual company: a herd of fire toads.
Although I am not particularly fond of the random and destructive nature of that breed, as has been demonstrated by Ocollerok time and time again, I must admit that the sight of dozens and dozens of them, stampeding while throwing huge numbers of fireballs, was awe-inspiring, to say the least.
Temeh appeared, shall we say, distracted. It appeared that my theory of an outside influence was correct, since he seemed to be conducting conversations with himself. Then again, it could easily have been the case that dehydration and his obsession with Rary had driven him even more mad than he usually is. This madness seemed confirmed as he began to harp on and on about a tree at a nearby oasis being a gate to another plane. The dwarf became annoyed, and tossed his hammer at the tree to eliminate the object of discussion.
Temeh's madness was thrown in a whole new light when we realized that there was indeed something unusual about this particular tree, which was evidently the object of Temeh's entire quest into the desert.
Very shortly, things became very much worse.
Within the space of a few seconds, the other-planar nature of the tree gate became very apparent as three extremely disgusting and dangerous tanar'ri emerged, fixing their attentions on Temeh alone. The next few actions were hidden from view by a wall of fire erupting around Temeh and the demons -- however, the actions behind the curtain could be easily ascertained by the sounds of struggle, then silence beyond.
Kalan, Loco, and I spread out, ready to use various means at our disposal to traverse the curtain and come to Temeh's rescue. Of course, that need was short-lived, as the tanar'ri, having finished with the fire mage, came to us instead.
I had barely enough time to erect a single defensive spell before I was confronted with one of the demons, who called down lightning on my head, following up with a lethal backswing of his otherplanar sword.
It is an interesting fact, not known to the populace at large, that a severed head remains aware and conscious for an appreciable amount of time after its separation -- perhaps thirty seconds or so, before blood loss forces unconsciousness.
As my head flew threw the air, spinning slowly, and then fell to the sand with a painful thud, again and again I repeated the thought that the desert is not suited for mages: the swirling sands erode the stoneskin protection far too rapidly for it to be useful.
And then all went black. I was back in the void, my last stay on the Prime cut far too short by the lightning blade of a demon. Even a ring of regeneration would sadly not protect one from decapitation.
However, in my last moments I did see the battle begin to look promising, between Kalan's flashing dark blade and the dwarf's flying hammer. These two had surpassed worse in the prisons of Dorakka, and I did not much doubt that they would shortly be able to return me to life.
And indeed they did, subsequently informing me that a substantial sum would be due to the temple of Istus the following week. Truly I had little objection to this.
Kalan filled me in on the battle later. Evidently the dwarf had had a terrible time with misleading illusionary spells, and Kalan had to handle more than what could be considered his fair share of opponents. The tanar'ri are a much more vexing enemy above ground than below, due to their innate ability to bring lightning down from the heavens in even a clear sky.
Unfortunately, the desert gate was too powerful a magical occurrence for even me to dispel, so they were forced to leave with it still open in some manner. I have little doubt, though, that Rary would discover the phenomenon shortly and deal with it in the appropriate manner. No matter what others may say of him, I do not believe that anyone would wish to have a portal to the Abyss in their back yard, so to speak.
Temeh seems to have recovered his senses -- or at least as much of them as he ever had. With this whole enterprise completely behind us, I look forward to a few months of uninterrupted studying, exploring some of the lich's spells which I could not quite comprehend before, including the potent limited wish spell.
I shall have to begin my harvesting of souls soon.
My laboratory is a smouldering hole, the Castle is a ruin, and Korel is dead.
Perhaps I should back up a bit to explain these extraordinary events. Unfortunately, my most recent journal entries were destroyed along with my laboratory, so forgive me if I somewhat speed over those happenings I have already described in writing once before.
Following our return from the desert, I retired to my laboratory and library, studying the spellbooks of the Greyhawk ruins lich with abandon and learning quite a few spells in the process. Unfortunately, as happens all too often, my studies were interrupted by other matters, in this case a summons by the Guild -- it appeared that my long-standing debt was at last about to be repaid.
Teleporting there in the morrow with all the eagerness due the immanent cancelling of such a weight, I was ushered in for an audience with the Guildmaster. He described in hesitant terms the recent discovery of some cryptic references to a magical locket of great power, hinting even that its power lay in the field of necromancy. When last seen, it hung around the neck of an adventurer who sought the crypt of an ancient wizard in a largely unexplored jungle. The adventurer was never seen again.
My task was to assemble a minimal party -- he suggested only myself and Temeh, as he was considering opening a formal evaluation of that wild wizard -- and seek out that crypt, finding the locket to return it for study. Other treasures we might find were our own business.
In this latter matter, I was struck at the stupidity of the Guild -- surely they knew of the huge amounts of wealth we recovered from the Greyhawk ruins, and it was inconceivable for them not be interested in the sort of magical items an ancient wizard's tomb might contain. I should have paid more attention to my misgivings, considering what awaited us in the jungle.
The liabilities for the journey were twofold. First, there was Temeh. And secondly, as the Guildmaster put it, "Wizards, as you know, have a tendency to ... linger ... after their deaths," referring, of course, to my extensive experience with liches and even a demilich, although I seriously doubt I will ever see another of those, thank the gods.
A chartered boat would take us within a few days' march of the tomb, and return a week later to pick us up. Temeh readily agreed to the mission, calling it "great fun," I believe. I fervently hoped he wouldn't use it as the testing ground for his newly researched all-too-destructive fireball variants.
What might have been a tedious trek across the jungle was instead a relaxing excursion through the air. Since we expected little or no combat on the way there, Temeh and I devoted many of our spells to flying. In this manner we were able to locate the tomb very easily, for from there air it had a very distinct appearance.
It was a giant skull.
The entire tomb was huge -- a raised earthen mound easily several hundred feet long and forty feet high, with stony depressions for eyes, nose, and a monstrous eerie grin. Unfortunately, there was no apparent entrance, even though we searched quite throroughly all around.
Eventually, we broke through a very weak section of wall on one side of the crypt, finding to our amazement that it was a proper entrance after all, as we came to a long hallyway. At that point, my suspicions should have been raised further, since we were supposed to be following the trail of a previous party, and there was no way they could have passed the way we did without our noticing.
When in my caution I called forth a trap detection spell, I was amazed to find great amounts of traps awaiting us, pit traps especially, both on and off the pathway that apparently was to be our guide along the hallway. At the far end were two seeming exits, of equal distaste. One was a swirling mist, the other a yawning black hole in a demon's mouth. The hole did not appear to be immediately destructive, as investigations with string and a staff proved. The mists were obviously magical, since they did not pour out into the corridor at large.
Closer inspection of the floor produced a riddle inscribed all along the path we had carefully tread upon before. It was a trifle unnerving, since it revealed that this entire crypt was one large trap created by the ancient wizard, who went so far as to even taunt his victims with such a riddle.
Neither Temeh nor I could make head or tail of it -- as I told the Guild librarian later, it takes a peculiarly limited mind to decipher riddles, since my vast intellect is lost in the contemplation of the infinite possible meanings, with no logical way to determine the correct one the riddle writer sought.
With only two apparent exits, we drew straws. I can't recall whether I won or lost, although subsequent results would emphatically indicate that I won. Braving the mists, I suddenly found myself in an empty room, facing a wall with three levers.
In this case, my forethought in creating the communication necklaces was extremely handy, as I was able to communicate my status and relative well-being to Temeh and seek his advice on the puzzle before me. Nevertheless, even after exhausting all possible permutations of the three positions of the three levers, nothing happened. I could only conclude that a first wrong step poisoned subsequent efforts, so I merely teleported back to Temeh's location.
Then it was Temeh's turn to try our other means of exit: the demon's mouth. For safety, I tied a rope around him before he climbed in. Holding it taut, I held my breath as he entered the demon's mouth.
The rope went slack.
In panic I pulled, trying to get him out. A perfectly tied loop was at the end of the rope, perfectly empty.
Attempting to reach him through the communication gems brought nothing. Something had definitely gone very wrong.
I sat down, waiting for him to send me some sign of his well-being, but after a half hour with still nothing, I had to conclude that he was either dead or otherwise prevented from action. I left the ruins to plan my next move, since exploring the rest of the trap-ridden crypt without the safety net of a single companion is not something I planned on doing.
At my campfire that evening, I decided to use my most powerful spell to divine Temeh's whereabouts, to see whether or not a rescue attempt could even theoretically succeed. That limited wish took a great deal out of me, forced as I was to cast it without the cushioning of a soul gem, since I had not yet fully explored that area of research.
The results from the spell were uncertain at best -- Temeh was not quite literally dead, but in perhaps a worse state, with his soul somehow separated from his body, and therefore clearly helpless and awaiting rescue.
Truly, I did not want to have to make the choice apparently before me: to abandon my longtime adventuring companion completely, or to put my own life at extremely grave risk by continuing on single-handedly in a rescue attempt.
In desperation, I resorted to a questionable course of action. In the writings of Haren the Mindbender, he described that the wish spells, by virtue of their open-ended nature, have the potential to fracture and rearrange the very fabric of reality, with the potential to alter even events that had already taken place.
Tampering with the past is never wise, because if a paradox should come to be, the result is completely unpredictable -- of course, that doesn't stop magicians from predicting the consequences anyway, and Haren's most mild one predicted the swallowing of the casting wizard in a temporal rift.
Nevertheless, I took such a risk the following morning, after a near-sleepless night of debate enabled me to recover sufficient strength to cast the spell again. Even so, I opted for an immensely small and recent change in reality, and moreover one that I could have directly affected: to merely have pulled on the rope as Temeh entered the mouth, preventing him from doing so.
As I stood and intoned the words of the spell, I felt reality shift around me, and my vision and my mind became blurred -- suddenly, it was as if two realities came into synchronization and focus again, and I found myself standing at our campsite as before, but with Temeh sitting beside me with a look of curiosity on his face.
Suddenly I had two different memories of the previous day. In one, Temeh died as I described. In the other, I did pull the rope, and we left the tomb immediately as I explained the situation of alternate futures to a very confused Temeh. In both futures, I cast both limited wish spells, the second to avoid the paradox -- to close the incision in time, so to speak -- and the first just for extra safety to make the alternate reality as close to the original as possible.
Needless to say, Temeh was baffled why I aged myself two years to find out firstly that he sat next to me and secondly to make myself pull on the rope even though I already had, but he trusted me sufficiently to believe my account of his alternate death -- he had no secondary memories, so I can only conclude that the rest of the world did not notice my tampering with the universe.
I am comforted that such a questionable use of the spell actually worked -- it is too bad that Haren is not alive to see his theory vindicated -- but I fervently hope that I will not have need for such a desperate course of action again, since there is no telling what might have happened had the change not been so recent or so relatively minor.
In the alternate day, Temeh had considered our position, and though I recommended a valiant retreat considering what almost happened, he proposed to investigate the plaster walls further. After setting off a trap or two, twisting my shoulder in the process, we discovered a door hidden behind the plaster, in fact in the exact place of a painted door -- in retrospect, the riddle makes sense in that regard.
Beyond we encountered and swiftly defeated a gargoyle of some sort, but were once again blocked with a lack of apparent exits. Through diligent searching, we located a secret door, but it only led to a trapped closet of some sort with no more exits. Dodging darts, we attempted to search it for a path onward, but found nothing.
At this point I invited Temeh back to the campsite for a reappraisal of our mission here. Point one: we were here to recover an item carried by a past adventuring party. Point two: no evidence of any other party ever having been here was found (this was particularly damning since our original entrance through age-crumbled rock and age-old plaster could not have been repaired). Point three: this is an extremely dangerous place, as evidenced by Temeh's brush with death. Point four: it was designed entirely as one big trap, as evidenced by the riddle we found. Point five: the treasure we had been sent to find was too good to be true, a powerful necromantic magical item and all the treasure we could carry, and seemingly designed to lure specifically me there.
Conclusion: I had been set up by the Guild.
In light of what we found, no other conclusion seems reasonable. The treasure seems tailor-made to pique my interest, and the locale seems tailor-made to kill me once I was there. With my success in the Greyhawk ruins and my startling intellect, it was all too obvious that lesser members of the Guild had hatched a plot to do away with the young necromantic upstart and therefore had "uncovered" the tale pointing to the locket's being here, against all evidence. I hesitate to believe, though, that the Guildmaster himself would be involved, since a man of his power could just as easily wish me out of existence.
In light of these conclusions, I thought it unwise either to remain further or to await the Guild-charted boat home, which could easily be filled with assassins. Without further ado, Temeh and I teleported home, and put the crypt out of mind, while I considered carefully what response, if any, I should make towards the Guild.
Unfortunately, my meditations were soon interrupted by a most unusual visitor: Rary the Traitor himself appeared in my underground laboratory. I soon ascertained that it was only a projection of him, but I was nevertheless perturbed that my security had been violated, even by the most powerful mage on the planet. I suppose I should take heart in the fact that he even commented on the difficulty of reaching me.
His message was intriguing, especially at a time when I was evidently going out of favor with the Guild. He told of an immensely powerful magical artifact, an iron orb that had been recently uncovered near Radik to the east. He wished me to obtain it for him to study -- I didn't ask why he didn't retrieve it himself, but I had my own theory that he was busy tracking down the source of recent tanar'ri excursions into his desert. The reward was likewise left unspoken, but I had no doubt that the favor of such a powerful mage would be ample reward indeed, especially considering my present need for allies against the Guild.
Kalan had recently returned from a mind-blowing trip to the Underdark, where his daughter came into her inheritance of power. He described a grisly sacrificial ceremony where the souls and experiences of several drow males were transferred to her, giving her the abilities to lead the drow fully-formed. Still in her tender teens, she became, by virtue of the ceremony, a warrior and a mage of power nearly sufficient to match both Kalan and myself.
In any event, a strange coincidence came up when we compared notes for the past month. The drow had warned him of a rebel band who were working against the prophecy, and Kalan confided in me that he wished to seek out their leader to possibly join him. Through a strange source of luck, the rebel leader was last seen in the mountains near Radik, searching for an iron orb -- the drow had asked Kalan to kill him and retrieve the orb for them!
My consternation only increased two days later, when the dwarf arrived at the Castle to recruit us for a mission: his old friend Pepé had asked him to help the dwarves in the mountains near Radik, for a man with an iron orb bad been terrorizing them -- he had been asked to retrieve the orb for them!
I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when the gnome, of all people, showed up the next day to recruit us for -- that's right -- a mission to retrieve an iron orb from the mountains north of Radik. He had been asked by a bunch of elves, I believe, for some reason of marginal importance.
It was readily apparent that none other than the gods themselves had ordained us to undertake this mission, so blatant was the incredible set of coincidences that brought us together to this common goal. We put off the question of what to do with the orb once we had obtained it: of whom to give it to, if anyone -- such matters were better left until the object was already in our hands.
We set out in short order for Radik, Temeh taking us there with a transportational spell of dubious merit -- for some reason, he had not been contacted to go after the orb, so he thought it best to humor the gods and stay away from this mission and left after dropping us off.
Our first priority was to locate a guide provided by Pepé into the mountains, who was located in a barbarian town nearby. After some tedious trekking through the snows, we came to the village, but our welcome was less than friendly, and it was only through devious disguises that Kalan and I were able to make it to the tavern to meet our contact, while the dwarf played hide-and-seek with the town militia on the rooftops.
Our guide consented to take us to the entrance of the mountain caverns the dwarves were using, where we might be able to take the priest presently controlling the orb unawares. Sad to say, we had stumbled into some strange local politics, for they insisted that we not kill the priest in getting the orb. Kalan and I only looked at each other with a shrug -- we didn't give a damn one way or another; we were just here for the orb.
We set out the next day for the mountains. I was not looking forward to trudging through waist-deep snow, but our guide showed us the way of the barbarians to get across such impediments.
"Here," he said, "strap these to your feet." He held up two planks of water-worn wood to me, which had straps and rudimentary buckles attached near the middle, and were curved slightly at one end. "We call them skees."
He demonstrated a method of gliding across the snow on these skees, which distributed one's weight so as to not cause him to sink into the snow, with the guidance of a pair of sticks in one's hands. It was much harder than it looked, and it was quite some time before I got the hang of this exhausting means of travel.
As I glided across the snow, my thoughts wandered, and I wondered whether or not it would be feasible to use these skees on water as well as snow -- with the addition of a suitable propulsion source, perhaps being towed behind some sort of sea creature, it might be possible to skim across the surface of the water without sinking. If I ever find a month of leisure near a lake, it might be worth the trouble to experiment with water-skees.
After a day or two of this, we came within sight of the cavern entrance, guarded by a few frost giants and worgs. We left the fun to the dwarf, who always seemed to gain an unfathomable pleasure from dispatching giants with his mighty hammer Whelm. The guards taken care of, Kalan divested himself of his heavy gear to do a little scouting.
I pointed out that he had left behind a great number of useful magical items.
"Keep 'em for me for a sec, Korel. I haven't done any good scouting on my own for so long, I think I'm getting rusty with all that junk," he replied, and vanished into the shadows.
The dwarf and I sat down outside to await his return. Suddenly I heard him yell, "Shit!" and dive to the side. Just as I turned to see what had caught his eye, I was overcome in a bright green flash, and knew no more.
I had been disintegrated.
As I awoke to the now all-too-familiar scenery of the Void, I reflected with a shudder that I had now died five times, and twice by disintegration. Even if I were a cat, I would be beginning to be worried, having used up over half my allocation of lives.
As it was, I was merely disgusted. Luck had not been with me these past few months, as I had died three times in twice that many weeks. And again, I knew not even the face of my killer -- I hadn't even heard the sounds of spell-weaving.
I retreated to the familiar setting of my study, having no wish to encounter Jarlan or one like him or to be sentenced to ghosthood in the barren wastelands of the barbarians. I took the time to update my journal, then went to sleep, my will to live sapped from me by the pointlessness of yet another death.
In my earlier studies, I had been fascinated by the phenomenon of the lich and the immortality that went with it, vowing to pursue that course as soon as my power allowed it. Later, when I had encountered a number of such creatures, I shied from that path, having seen how eternity could warp a man's mind towards darkest evil. With the formula for potions of eternal youth in my possession, I decided instead to remain human for many many years.
Now I am not so sure.
The temptation of a way to return from my own death is a strong one indeed -- with a spirit inhabiting a secure phlactery rather than a body of mere flesh and blood, the threat of death would be nearly eliminated, to say nothing of the otherworldly powers such a transformation would gain me.
Unfortunately, I do not believe that my powers are sufficient as yet to be able to survive such an arcane process, particularly when I do not have ample resources describing the exact steps of the transformation -- from what I have read, it is incredibly dangerous, so any gap in knowledge could be fatal ... or worse.
Still, such a step I believe to be shortly within my grasp, perhaps within a few year's time. Then I will have to make to make a decision between life and undeath, with the consequences staying with me possibly throughout all of eternity.
I considered this for quite some time in the afterlife. As I have stated before, time in the afterlife is a very hard thing to quantify, especially when one is divorced from the usual cycles of life by a lack of need for sleep or food -- I tried to force myself to sleep on a regular schedule to facilitate the measure of time, but I know I was not completely successful, since a night's sleep could easily last a minute or a century.
In any event, far more time seemed to pass than it usually did for me, and I began to grow extremely worried about my dwindling changes for resurrection. The method of death ensured that only a wish could be used to revive me, and the sources of that spell were few and far between: the Guildmaster, but with my task in the tomb uncompleted it was unlikely that he would grant me yet another favor; Rary was a better possibility, especially if Kalan and the dwarf were able to obtain the orb; and lastly there was the slight chance of a powerful drow mage that Kalan might find, or even Temeh's friend Hornung.
I had begun to prepare myself for an eternity of illusion, even going so far as to summon an image of Narabal for a companion in my loneliness, when suddenly my eyes were blinded with light and my skin seared with heat.
I found myself standing in the desert, Kalan and Rary standing next to me, the latter apparently recovering from the use of a powerful spell. When he stopped wavering, I thanked him profusely for my rescue, and asked him what price Kalan had agreed to.
"Your lord Kalannar has already taken care of it," he said, and then shimmered into nonexistence. With a start I realized that he had been using his projection spell again, and even casting the most powerful of spells through it -- that was a spell I would definitely like to learn one day.
I asked Kalan what had been arranged, and he said that one of my jars of smoke powder had been sacrificed in the effort -- I gained the definite impression that something more was involved, but Kalan seemed unwilling to explain further, so I left it at that.
He filled me in on events that had transpired since my untimely exit. The dwarf, the gnome, and he had pressed on into the caverns. In short order the dwarf had encountered a drow band, to his detriment, since Kalan found him sound asleep in a darkened corridor, having fallen prey to the potent drow sleep poison. He had no way of reversing the effects, and no way to wait out the poison's natural course, so he disguised the dwarf's position and left him behind.
At this I questioned Kalan fervently -- such a move was an act of desperation, not a carefully thought out plan. He regretted the action very much, and resolved never to do something like that again, since it turned out that the dwarf was shortly captured and killed, sort of. I shall get into that shortly.
From what the dwarf had previously claimed, it turned out that I had fallen victim to the power of the orb itself, the priest having somehow snuck up on us to use a disintegration ray. From other evidence that Kalan witnessed, it also appears that the orb had an anti-magical power very similar to the beholder's, nullifying my protective devices but still being able to function itself.
The parallels of this are almost too much to grasp -- I have twice died by disintegration while at the same time my defensive powers were eliminated by an anti-magic field of the highest strength. I have commented before on the magical law-defying nature of the beholder: how its own powers could still operate in a general anti-magic zone. And now I have good evidence of the same phenomenon in a magical device. Actually, come to think of it, the dwarf spoke of an anti-magic effect near Zagig's tomb, even though golems and other magical effects were still operative, so such effects were certainly well-understood by the Mad Archmage. I shall have to investigate my part of his library further to see if I can reconstruct his path of investigation, although I fear that Temeh's section of the library may be vital to this, as I recall he had a special interest in tomes relating to metamagic just as I concentrated on necromancy.
In any event, the gnome and Kalan pressed on together, encountering vicious traps and numerous opponents -- Kalan greatly regretted having me hold so many of his magical items, for "safekeeping." He also spoke with great feeling about a dip he took in a lava flow to retrieve a sword he had dropped, only partially protected by a ring of fire resistance.
At long last they penetrated to the heart of the operations there -- surprisingly enough, the caverns were used as a manufacturing site for iron golems! And the greatest surprise of all was the use to which the orb was being put: as the animating force for a fifty-foot golem!
Kalan and the gnome burst into the chamber, accompanied by a band of drow, just as the orb was being placed into its resting spot on the top of the golem's head. The dwarf had been captured and placed in a cage suspended above a lava flow, where he was used as a hostage in a stand-off against Kalan and the drow.
The stand-off evaporated with the golem's animation, and to Kalan's horror, the dwarf's cage dropped into the lava, sinking out of sight. Under ordinary combat conditions, the dwarf's regeneration ring prevents his final death, but total destruction by fire is a death even that ring could not reverse -- without even ashes, a resurrection would be impossible as well.
Thus it was with a gigantic amount of relief and surprise that Kalan witnessed the dwarf's rebirth.
"I honestly don't know what happened. He was dead -- he must have been. But not a few seconds after he disappeared from sight, I saw him again, riding on a pillar of lava that erupted from out of the pool. He landed on the ground, on his feet, but totally naked -- I guess his clothes had been burnt off -- and without a burn on him. He grabbed someone's hammer and went to work right away, swinging it around and singing his battle songs," Kalan described it with awe.
I can only conclude that the dwarf experienced a dramatic intervention on his behalf by his fire deity, seeing as how dying by immersion in lava would have been directly in that god's realm of power. No other explanation could possibly suffice.
The golem, fully animated now, had all the powers of the orb as well, including an anti-magic aura and a disintegration ray. When Kalan's and the dwarf's most powerfully enchanted weapons merely glanced off the golem without even scratching it, they rightfully decided that a strategic withdrawal was in order, and did so.
News from the area around Radik has been sparse as of late, but from what we know of the golem, it seems that it was pivotal in some recent battles and is still menacing the mountains now. From Kalan's tale, I cannot imagine how to defeat the monster -- there are very few weapons more powerful than Whelm, and iron golems are infamous for being able to resist almost any magical attack, even without the added protection of this thing's anti-magical aura. As long as it remains far away, I am happy to leave it be.
After returning home, Kalan ventured to the desert to seek out Rary and my return to life, which is why the time in the afterlife seemed so much longer. And so, once we returned to the Castle, our lives were somewhat back to normal again. Having been dead and all, I had put my affairs with the Guild completely out of mind.
Thus the summons from the Guildmaster came as something of a shock.
I was invited to take part in one of the monthly Guild meetings, normally only open to full members, not associates. I could only assume from this small breach of protocol that I was being reconsidered for full Guild membership, even with my previous decision not to take up permanent residence in Greyhawk.
This happening was brought to my attention in a smaller meeting as soon as I arrived, consisting of myself, the Guildmaster, the drow librarian, and a Guild member I had not met before by the name of Natori. At the time, I dismissed him as of no account, but I should have learned by now never to let down my guard, especially with my suspicions of Guild treachery. As it would soon turn out, Natori was to become of the most vital importance in the coming week.
In any event, the Guildmaster seemed somewhat satisfied with my reasons for abandoning the crypt exploration -- to put my life at extreme risk to repay a life-restoring spell seemed rather counterproductive to me, and he agreed. Being a man of honor, of course, I consider a debt still outstanding to the Guild, and offered to repay it at his convenience when a mission of lower lethality became available.
The full Guild meeting took place the next day. I felt quite out of place in such a large social setting, it being somewhat counter to what I consider the proper forum for a magical conference. In fact, my misgivings were confirmed when the meeting finally came to order -- the topics up for discussion rarely, if ever, touched upon magical matters. Instead, the Guild was concerned only with whether or not to lend support to this or that lord. The foremost body of magicians in the western world was engulfed in politics!
Finally, as the interminable meeting appeared to be nearing its closure, a topic of much more pressing interest was tabled: my own admission into the Guild.
As it turned out, my case had been assigned to the mage Natori I had previously met. I counted it somewhat odd that I had not been contacted with inquiries about my wizardly credentials, but the thrust of his interest rapidly became clear, as with many subtle and not-so-subtle verbal twists and turns he identified me both with Iuz and the Brotherhood, to say nothing of being a necromancer.
To this last charge I could, of course, not reply in any reasonable manner -- the very fact that he brought it up shows that he held to the belief that magic can be good or evil. Any sane person, of course, would realize that magic is just a tool like any other, and that calling necromancy inherently "evil" is as erroneous as calling lumbering so: both merely use available resources, whether trees or human beings.
To the other charges, though, I could and did give a stirring defense of my position, bringing to bear my little-known involvement in raids on both Iuz and the Brotherhood. In the coming weeks I would regret such a public disclosure, but at the time I was incensed enough at Natori's accusations that I lost sight of prudence.
As well, I argued what I had observed in the meeting: that the Guild was becoming too preoccupied with political alignment instead of talent in the Art -- criticize me for poor spellcasting if you can, but not for poor politics, I said. And truly, I felt that many of the Guild members felt as I did, but Natori was not convinced, and became even more vocal in his slandering of me.
To make a lengthy story less so, the situation rapidly deteriorated into just short of spell-tossing, and Natori brought a challenge against me according to Guild custom. With the Guildmaster's consent, I agreed. The loser of the contest would be exiled from the Guild, and if I could read hatred in a man's eyes, then the loser would likely lose his life as well, unlikely as that would be for me. In accordance with my stand against Guild politics, I purposefully upped the stakes: the loser's spellbooks would go to the winner -- it was to be a battle for knowledge as well as honor.
The battle was to take place a week from that day, and the terms of the battle were somewhat unusual. I had expected Guild policy to require a straight-out spell-throwing contest, with the winner the one left standing at the end. Instead, we were to be teleported to opposite ends of a remote valley with 24 hours to find and subdue our opponent through any means necessary. Death of a contestant would be regrettable but not forbidden.
The catch was that we were to be allowed no magical items, save a few given to us by the Guild itself specifically for the contest. Leaving the field of battle by teleport was also forbidden. This seemed a strange way to conduct a contest to my thinking, since in a valley many miles long, as this one was, the chance of two people on foot even seeing each other in the course of a day was rather remote.
Nevertheless, the presence of trails would somewhat help the odds, as would the fact that each was actively searching for the other. Victory would seem to largely depend upon who was able to sneak up on whom, and therefore get the first strike, which for wizards of my power level would be truly devastating, especially without the benefit of protective devices.
In the back of my mind I began to plan strategy and spell choices, since lack of spell books would prevent re-memorization over the 24 hours. Of course, my affiliation with the priesthood gave me a definite edge over Natori, particularly in the ability to heal my own wounds, should the situation permit it, and in my early priestly training in avoiding combat injuries, which I doubt a pure wizard would have received.
Being an honorable man myself, I planned strategy according to the rules of the contest, in order to defeat one foe, and a wizard at that, with all the strengths and weaknesses that that implied -- physically weak, and nearly helpless without the concentration necessary for spellcasting.
I should have known that dishonor lurked behind Natori's smirk.
Before discovering that, though, I had a week to kill in arguably the greatest city on the planet. I had seen signs for a performance by a renowned opera singer, but when I inquired about purchasing tickets for the event, I was informed that all were sold out.
Still with music on my mind, though, I sought out an instrument shop. My current violin, which I had purchased in Hookhill, was serviceable, but nothing special. I had some as yet unformed thoughts of merging music and magic, but for that I would definitely need an instrument of the highest quality, suitable for enchantment in its own right. The shopkeeper assured me that such a violin would be ready for me in a month's time -- unfortunately, events subsequently transpired to prevent my return to claim my purchase.
My first hint of trouble came when I was waylaid by a trio of disreputable fellows. Their conversation made no sense, but seemed to center around the assumption that I was at fault for various kidnappings among members of the Thieves' Guild. Naturally, I dismissed such claims as patently absurd -- there is so much infighting in such guilds that to accuse an outsider of wrongdoing was completely ludicrous.
However, my suspicions that this was no ordinary misunderstanding were confirmed the following day, when members of the Beggars' Guild came forth with the same accusations of kidnapping their associates. As if I would sully my hands by even touching beggars!
In the coming days, I was able to piece togother a complex web of intrigue. My first thoughts of being caught in the crossfire of the long-standing rivalry between the Thieves' and Beggars' Guilds were quickly supplanted by the hypothesis of an elaborate frame attempt. The constable was soon on my tail, spurred on by the obviously false testimony of city low-life claiming to have seen me at the scene of the crime.
When the head tax collector himself fell to this kidnapper, and the finger once again pointed at me, I knew that I would have to deal with this matter soon. In fact, the constable confided in me that she would already have attempted (and no doubt failed) to arrest me were it not for certain "political contributions" with which I had supposedly bribed the mayor.
As I have no interest whatsoever in politics, this was very curious -- when I tracked down the appropriate records, it was obvious that someone else was using my name, but there the trail ended. At this point, I was forced to put aside my investigations, for the day of challenge was soon to arrive.
Meanwhile, another sort of intrigue was playing itself out, in this case the subtle give and take of human relations. The lady mage Jallarzi, rumored to be the beloved of the Guildmaster, seemed to have eyes for me -- an adventuring mage, particularly one as ... dangerous ... as a necromancer evidently held her interest better than a sedentary politician/wizard like the Guildmaster.
Under different circumstances, I would surely have pursued her advances with more fervor, but two things held me back -- first, her relationship with the Guildmaster; and secondly, her timidity. Time and time again, she tried to persuade me to call off the challenge, caring not a thing for personal honor in her fear of "needless" violence.
Still, she was ravishingly beautiful, even to an eye raised among the charms of Suloise women. And besides, she was a powerful mage -- as a rumored member of the Circle of Five (albeit the newest member), she would have to have magical abilities at almost my own level of expertise. The alliance of the two of us would have had profound consequences in the magical affairs of the realms, since I would have had a much better chance for a seat on the Circle, at the very least.
Nevertheless, in the next few weeks, such visions would be cast into the realm of impossibility, thanks to the pact Kalan made with Rary and the consequences thereof. Before then, though, I had succeeded in likely infuriating the Guildmaster by appearing in the company of Jallarzi for the very public premiere opera performance (the famous singer incidentally asked to meet with me afterwards, being some sort of an agent in the city and revealing herself to be an amateur spellcaster in the process -- I regret I had not the time to uncover her particular puzzle).
At the moment though I was much too concerned with the pressing matter of the challenge to be distracted by any other matters -- a life and death battle with a mage of abilities comparable to one's own is never trivial.
All too soon, the day of the challenge had arrived, and I made my way to the Guild hall. I was forced to leave all my items behind, as well as surrender my travelling spellbooks (which were, luckily, missing the one spell I never cast away from home: the soul extractor spell -- I could not risk allowing any other mage to reap the benefits of my long researches). I was slightly worried about the security of my items, but few places are more impervious than the Guild hall, especially when the chest is magically locked by the Guildmaster himself.
I was teleported to one end of the battlefield immediately -- a many-mile long valley, forested but crossed by many trails -- and three chests were presented, containing several unidentified magical items. As the one challenged, I had the first choice; I opted for a chest containing primarily items I took to be defensive, since a magical staff for hand-to-hand combat would be next to useless to me.
So outfitted, I set off into the forest when the sun reached its zenith. Twenty-four hours of suspense lay before me, in which I had to locate and subdue Natori, and then return to either my own or his starting site -- for that last element, I had taken the precaution of memorizing a teleportation spell, since time could very well be short near the end of the contest, and I had no wish to carry the dead body of Natori on my back halfway through the forest.
My first priority was the casting of a pair of long-duration protective spells: the first was the standard stoneskin enchantment; the second was a contingent spell that would activate a globe protective against many spells when and only when such spells were set off in my immediate area.
The Guild members had told me that this particular forest was uninhabited and by and large free from wild animals of note.
Thus I was quite caught by surprise when the ranger aimed a bow at my head.
My first task, after I had cast a couple long-duration protective spells, while I was walking -- Natori was no doubt miles away, so I had no concern of meeting him at this time -- was to identify the magical items I had been provided with. Scrolls and healing potions were easily recognized, as were defensive bracers similar to my own, though less powerful. The robe was unknown to me, but its functions were obvious once it was donned: I was immediately overwhelmed by new vision. The all-around sight, as well as infravision, granted to me by the robe ensured that Natori would definitely not be able to sneak up on me -- a very useful item, to be sure.
The ring was similarly easy to identify, since putting it on and activating its powers immediately gave me the feeling that I had associated with various invisibility magics -- a slight shimmering effect around my person confirmed this hypothesis (as the wearer, I was of course immune to the full effect). Unfortunately, at the time I did not think of the possibility that the Guild would have infected the choice of magical items with cursed constructions.
As I continued to walk, I grew winded much faster than I would have expected. After my recent trek across the snowy wastes of the north, I knew my capabilities for overland travel, and I was growing tired far too quickly. Foul play was my first conclusion, and poison or disease my first suspicion, considering my current bad relations with the thieves' guild. However, spells revealed I suffered from no such affliction.
I was in the midst of finding the culprit when I came across a rather hostile ranger. At first, my thoughts were to explain my presence here and apologize for trespassing within the bounds of her forest. However, when she fired poorly-aimed arrows at me regardless, I came to a different conclusion.
Natori had hired her to wear me down.
There was, of course, no question of whether or not she could succeed in subduing me -- even when she abandoned her bow and attacked me with a curious three-sword attack style, the blades merely glanced off my spell barrier. However, I would have to expend valuable spells to defeat her that I would prefer to save for Natori.
Thus I confined myself to lower-level spells -- of course, when a mere magic missile spell dropped her to her knees in pain, I had no real need of anything more potent. I threatened her repeatedly to surrender in an effort to conserve spells -- whatever he's paying you, it's not worth your life, I said. But for some reason, I could not get through to her, and I was forced to leave her paralyzed by a priest spell in mid-swing, a thin line of blood etched across her throat as a threat of future death should she pursue me.
For some reason, I was unwilling to kill her outright, although I see now that this was a moment of weakness. Unconsciously, my studies into the darker side of necromancy had pushed me toward a more compassionate point of view -- seeing the spark of life held in your hand gives you an appreciation for it when still in a person.
I now see how wrong I was. The ranger, whom I left alive out of mercy and compassion for life, against all reason nevertheless came back to fight me again later that day, once she had the chance to heal her wounds.
If you have the chance, kill your enemies while you can.
Mercy will not be reciprocated, so don't bother.
Life in a gem is more beautiful than in the majority of humans.
These are some of the truisms that I learned that day, as time and time again when I extended the hand of compassion to people who were no prior enemy of mine, they came back again and again to make me regret that decision.
In the future, I will be sure to finish the jobs I start.
Afterwards, I determined that the ring I was wearing was the cause of my discomfort and quick exhaustion -- when I attempted to remove it, my fingers slid from its surface, the sure sign of a cursed item. Priestly magic to remove curses was to no avail, so I had to resort to wizardly methods, which did prevail. I was rid of the troublesome ring, but I was still weakened by its use, and it would probably be many hours or days until I was back up to my full strength.
Unfortunately, I had not that sort of time. My next encounter with one of Natori's "employees" was by a thief, who rather unconvincingly lay in the center of the road, apparently dead. I was immediately suspicious, so I passed right by him. As soon as I did, he rose up from the ground and attempted to silently sneak up behind me, no doubt to introduce my heart to his dagger.
Of course, with the complete field of vision afforded by my robe, I saw his every move. I stopped in the middle of the road, but did not even turn around as I said in my most menacing voice, "Flee or perish!"
Needless to say, such a display of omniscience and confidence flustered him quite a bit. But it didn't stop him. I had no time to waste on such matters, so I hit him with a lightning bolt full in the chest, again intoning the deathly, "Flee or perish!"
He chose to perish.
As did my next opponent, a warrior of wit but no brain -- threats and logic had no effect on him either, but a knife across the throat did: even my shortsighted mercy had its limits.
When night fell, I became victim to what I presumed, and now know, to be a very unusual spell, particularly from my perspective as a necromancer. It seemed to bring into being a small number of phantom skeletons, whose touch brought paralysis, the bane of the lone spellcaster. It was with great difficulty that I was able to beat them off.
At this point I was completely disgusted with my wizard foe -- what manner of scum would lecture me on matters of honor in the Guild chambers, then display such cowardice on the battlefield? I was more determined than ever to find him, defeat him, and by so doing show to all the wizards of Greyhawk who is worthy of respect and who is worthy of disgrace and exile.
Unfortunately, I would not have a shot at him for some while yet. My next foes were much more troublesome -- a pair of short folk, dwarves I believe, although I couldn't be sure in the dark, accompanied by a trained dog. I tried again and again to cast any spell at all at them, but one of them was all over me, knocking my hands aside in the middle of a spell gesture or destroying my concentration with an annoying cut from his sword (without my usual complement of defensive items, I was quite unable to cope with an armed opponent).
Unfortunately, all hope of winning this particular fight was tossed to the wind when my other opponent tossed a magical rope at me. It coiled about me like so many snakes of steel, and immediately I was a helpless prisoner.
Except that I still had my voice, and teleportation spells were designed to be used in exactly this sort of situation.
Immediately, I teleported myself into the bushes as far down the road as I could, trying to buy myself a little time to ponder through to a solution to my present predicament. For a moment I considered simply hiding until the next morning -- the dwarves would have no idea where in the valley I could be, and if neither Natori or myself clearly defeated the other, the match would be declared a draw and I would be free to hunt him down and kill him slowly at my leisure later.
A moment later, though, I saw someone flying over the forest, obviously searching for me. Even at that distance, I could see the telltale red reflection of functioning infravision -- as a warm body among cool plants, I would stick out like a dragon among sheep.
I had been the recipient of an inordinate amount of cheating, but I had tried to stay honorable in my doings up to this point. However, now I was out of other options, and I had to get this rope off me somehow -- I needed a little friendly assistance, so I teleported to the one place I could think of where help would be most immediately forthcoming.
Thus a second later I hit the floor of Kalan's bedroom with a heavy thud.
Across the room, something dark flashed across my field of vision, and I caught the glint of moonlight on steel an instant before I found not one but two knives poised at my neck.
"Kalan! Wait! It's me, Korel!" I yelled.
I am not a man who scares easily, but let me state for the record that being on the receiving end of one of Kalan's pounces came very close to relieving me of control of several of my bodily functions.
As he stood over me, he shook his head to clear it and yawned. With a start I realized that he had not been even fully awake as he attacked -- hearing the pop and thud of my arrival had been sufficient to cause him to grab weapons and leap, catlike, across the room, all apparently by pure reflex. I am very glad he's on my side.
In any event, he cut through the ropes as I quickly outlined the contest situation. He offered to accompany me back to counter the cheating against me, but I declined -- I wanted to minimize my rulebending, beating Natori honorably in spite of his cowardice. Nevertheless, I did accept Kalan's offer to borrow his ring of spell storing, within which was the teleport spell I needed to return to the field of play quickly.
I arrived back at the site of my battle with the thief and buried the ring just to the side of the road, making a mental note to return to retrieve it after my victory over Natori.
In a short time, the dwarves stumbled across my position, aided no doubt by their night vision. I was able to defeat them this time, though only with the use of more spells than I could well afford to expend prior to the final battle. At this point I had only a handful of high level spells left, ones that I planned to deliver to Natori personally.
Thus it was with great dismay that I observed a flying warrior heading my way, sword drawn, demanding my surrender.
I had the capability to defeat him, but doing so would leave me with next to nothing for Natori, who was my primary goal, after all. Therefore while he was still some distance away, I utilized a spell from my specialty: necromancy, and particularly soul magic. From his perspective, his prey would appear to collapse, as in a faint.
From my perspective, I was a disembodied spirit inhabiting a gem.
But not for long.
A few moments later, and I found myself standing over my own body, looking down at the surprisingly blank face of Korel the necromancer. The body I inhabited was tall and muscular, obviously well-trained in the art of swordplay. With only minimal trouble I sheathed the sword I -- he -- had been carrying, and considered my position. The spells I had left for Natori were relatively simple to cast, needing little or nothing in the way of material components or subtle gestures. In fact, I concluded, I could probably manage to cast them in this body with only a marginal possibility of failure, since I barely noticed the weight of the presumedly enchanted chain mail he wore.
I was interrupted from my musings by the call of a female voice. Turning to look, I saw it was the ranger I had encountered at the outset of this long day. Thinking quickly, I was able to bluff my way through as a fighter of less than outstanding intellect confronted with a mage who unaccountably fell, perhaps in a faint, when challenged. Feeling rather awkward, I bound the hands of my body, and slung myself over my shoulder.
This Common language does not have the nuances necessary to properly describe the duality of mental and bodily identity. Had I been more thoughtful several years ago, I would have kept this journal in Elvish, wherein such linguistic subtlety is commonplace.
In any event, I was able to prod the ranger into leading me to Natori's meeting place, where I gathered the mercenaries were to receive their payment for assisting his cowardice.
When I arrived at the base of the designated hillock, I was barely able to hold back a gasp of surprise, for standing there waiting for us was not the Natori I had grown to hate over the last twenty or more hours, but an even older adversary: the illusionist Shodei, who had so long dogged our steps in the ruins of Castle Greyhawk.
Since it was now in its natural form, I had no trouble identifying the cap he wore as the virtual twin of the magically disguising hat that Kalan owned. If I had not been so busy at the moment I should have realized immediately what the presence of such a disguise said for Guild security -- my magical items had been stripped from me prior to the contest, and detection spells used to ensure my compliance. The absence of such safeguards in Natori's case spoke volumes for the amount of support a Suloise necromancer could expect from his supposed peers.
Everything fit into place now: the vilification in the Guild chambers, the challenge, the distracting hirelings. It all spoke of an elaborate plot of revenge against the mage who had invaded his lair and made off with valued items and documents by right of conquest.
Little did I know to what depths Shodei was willing to descend to bring about that revenge.
Continuing my role, I demanded payment for services rendered, and after a little negotiation we reached an agreement, one that granted my need to remain in close proximity to my body, in whose waterskin lay the gem that was my ticket home. Although in hindsight I shouldn't be surprised, I was at the time thoroughly disgusted with the dishonor that my opponent once again displayed: he attempted to kill his hirelings, no doubt to keep secret their role in the day's events.
At me he tossed a curious spell, one that sapped my very willpower, considerable though it was, and left me in a state of utter hopelessness. I was in no condition to exert any force against the spell he next cast; blindness took me.
In hindsight I now know why his choice was such, but at the time I was thoroughly baffled. If I had an opponent unable to resist my spells, there are any number of destructive incantations at my disposal which could easily eliminate my enemy. And yet he only threw a blindness enchantment at me!
It was only later I found out that just as I, a necromancer, deigned not to study the techniques of illusion and charm, most illusionists are unwilling or unable to learn spells from the schools of necromancy and evocation. The omission of that last school was a fatal mistake for Shodei, as he could have easily killed the body I inhabited if only he knew how to throw a simple lightning bolt, or better yet a cone of cold.
As it was, I, now blind, took to the air to avoid whatever close-range tactics Shodei was preparing to utilize. Unfortunately, I had already exhausted the powers Wee Jas had granted me the previous day, and had not time to pray for more, so I had no way to dispel the blindness.
Still, though, I had my hearing, and thought I might be able to cast a spell Shodei's way by that mechanism. Strangely, though, what my hearing was telling me was extremely odd. Shodei seemed to be repeating the same phrase and movements over and over again, evidently finishing off the ranger.
It did not take me long to deduce that I was hearing an illusion, but why he would bother with such at this time was beyond me. In a moment, though, I heard a second voice in the vicinity of where I remembered placing my original body.
With crossed fingers, I cast my most powerful spell, a rainbow spray of power, in that direction, hoping fervently that fate would see fit to direct my spell against my foe but away from my body -- in its mindless state, it was hardly fit to dodge any of the beams, nor resist any of the effects, many of which were assuredly lethal in nature.
I could not see what happened, of course, but the lack of a cry of agony -- of surprise, naturally, but not of agony -- told me that, although the spell was close to the mark, Shodei had luck on his side.
As I landed, trying fervently to think of another appropriate tactic, my blindness was dispelled -- it might have actually been a darkness field that got too close to Shodei for his own comfort, but I had no way of knowing. Shodei was approaching for a short range attack that I immediately recognized as the simple burning hands spell -- his lack of offensive power certainly was acute!
I decided that I needed an ally, and the situation provided the perfect one. I awkwardly drew the warrior's sword, simultaneously transferring back into the soul gem. If my calculations were correct, the warrior would re-inhabit his body just as his employer was trying to kill him -- such a situation would call for immediate reprisal, and hopefully the warrior could keep Shodei busy long enough for me to try a tactic of my own.
I would simply take over Shodei's body.
Once there, his defeat would be simplicity itself. Unfortunately, I did not at the time think that his choice of allies would be even more extensive and lowly than these hirelings.
In the gem, I had no way of knowing exactly what went on, but in a short time the life-force of the warrior dimmed and died. I tried several times to take over Shodei, but his will was strong.
All of a sudden, I was confounded by a great many souls who appeared suddenly, many of higher power even than my own. As these souls simply blinked into existence, I could only conclude that Shodei had teleported somewhere else, to gain help against the soul magic which I had no doubt he could feel tugging at the base of his brain.
With so many assistants, I knew it was just a matter of time before they would discover the gem currently containing my soul. In such a state, I was extremely vulnerable -- if the gem were smashed, not enough of my soul would remain even to go on to the afterlife: I would be permanently and irretrievably dead, my essence scattered on ethereal winds, never to reform.
My own body still awaited my return, but in so doing I would assuredly be defeated, and death at the hands of my old adversary would no doubt be slow and agonizing. I had to take a chance, to gamble that I had a few extra seconds to try once more to turn defeat into a chance for victory. But Shodei would be watched by the others for such a takeover -- I decided to try one of the others nearby, the weakest I could find.
To my pleasure, the transfer worked, and I found myself searching my own body.
To my horror, I found myself surrounded by the holy implements of the most unholy Iuz.
I was in Dorakka.
My self-pity was interrupted a moment later when the gem was finally found. I watched in mixed horror and satisfaction as it was smashed to powder, the telltale glowing mist of a disembodied soul slowly fading into nothingness.
This body was now mine, for its owner no longer existed.
And yet my own body still breathed, for the automatic functions of a reasonably healthy Suloise man did not need a soul to guide them. If I could get back to my spellbooks, I could still reverse the process and return my spirit to its rightful place.
Unfortunately, I had a number of severe obstacles in my path. Most notably, I was in Dorakka. And I had no idea who the people around me were -- with the exception of Shodei -- or even who I was.
That last question was solved a moment later when one of the others called me by name: Kranzer. Even after having read Shodei's journal, I didn't know the name, although if pressed I might choose to take the chance that the short, colorful "gentleman" nearby was the illusionist Jumper mentioned in that book.
Over the next few minutes we celebrated the presumed demise of Korel, whom I gathered had never been forgiven for the raid we made on Dorakka those years ago. Very shortly the conversation turned to the next step that Shodei should take, and soon it was decided that he should return to the scene of the battle to formally declare his victory and return to the Guild to maintain his position as spy for Iuz there.
The problem of the hireling's bodies was mentioned, and it was soon decided that a cleanup crew should follow him back, armed with a disintegrate spell or two. Although I entered into the conversation only conservatively, unsure of the my host's role in the proceedings, at this suggestion I was barely able to control myself as I calmly volunteered for such a duty.
A plan was already forming in my mind to turn my near-total defeat into victory, if only I could get back to the scene of the battle, where a most important item lay buried in a shallow hole.
Kalan's ring of spell storing.
I had all but exhausted my own inventory of spells, having not the material components for most of them, but Kalan habitually kept a number of fiercely offensive spells in that ring, which would certainly defeat Shodei, although dealing with any others that might accompany me would be less certain.
It was quickly settled that Shodei, myself, and a priest of Iuz were to go, the teleportation scrolls already provided -- my original body would also be taken along as a symbol of victory for the Guild to see. A moment later we blinked into existence on the hilltop of that final short battle. Since I knew that the thief's body lay near the site of the ring, I quickly "asked" for his location and set off in that direction.
As I jogged, I checked the sun's position. The contest was to end at high noon, and already it was mid-morning. To claim a formal victory, I would have to be swift, since I needed even more time to return to my own body, which I could only do with the master set of spellbooks at the Castle, since my travelling set was sealed in the Guildhall, waiting to be claimed by the winner of this contest.
Luckily, this body I inhabited was also furnished with some useful items, most particularly a ring of invisibility and a wand of fire. That last would be extremely useful as an offensive weapon. The robe this body wore was obviously magical in some way, but I had not time to figure out its particular purpose that day.
In short order I found the hiding place of the ring, verifying that indeed it contained a lightning bolt and two cones of cold -- both extremely useful offensive spells against a small number of opponents, in my case two.
But Shodei would be first.
I jogged back to the hilltop, activating the ring of invisibility as I went, since I wanted to be close enough to see the look on Shodei's face as he died.
He was on the hilltop when I arrived, overseeing the priest as he piled several bodies together in preparation for a disintegration spell. Shodei was therefore alone as I shimmered into sight next to him.
I didn't even say a word as I activated one of the cones of cold.
Shodei was caught completely by surprise, his defenses down in the company of someone he considered his ally. At that close range, the cone barely had space to spread at all, and only Shodei's chest was hit, his heart stopped instantly as his torso froze into a solid block of ice.
Thus his brain and eyes functioned for several seconds after he fell onto his back, looking up at the sky and at my smiling face. I could tell he was trying to say something, but his lungs were frozen solid, and no sound emerged.
I wonder what he would have said.
Under ordinary circumstances, my spirit of conquest would have impelled me to see him off to the afterlife with a poignant yet extremely cruel benediction. Nevertheless, I restrained myself, for two reasons: first, having been awake and under fire for the last thirty hours, my mind was not in peak condition; and second, I knew that Shodei might return someday, for the afterlife is not a permanent abode in this day and age, and I wanted him to be, at best, confused about what had occured this day -- was it Korel, returned to life, or just a backstabbing Kranzer who did him in?
In any event, I soon had other matters on my mind, as the priest charged towards me, confused and belligerent at this apparent breach of trust on Kranzer's part. A lightning bolt and a cone of cold both I threw his way, but still he came on, swinging a staff that veritably throbbed with dark power.
I could tell he had been weakened, and I was hopeful about the outcome of the battle, but then that staff touched me.
It didn't just wound the body, but the spirit as well. I felt the better part of my life energy leave me, and suddenly I was close to the verge of death, as if that staff had reversed one of the most powerful priestly healing spells and cast it on me by its touch.
Another hit from that staff and I was absolutely sure I would be finished -- this time for good, since I no longer had a soul gem to return to. If I could just get off one charge from the wand of fire I held, I felt sure that my foe would succumb, since the previous spells had taxed him severely, too.
But the wand's best power was a fireball, a conflagration large enough to engulf us both since we were in close melee now. I knew I couldn't survive such a blast, and by the grin on my foe's face, I could see he knew it, too.
But I had an ace up my sleeve.
A short distance away lay my original body, sprawled on the grass of the hill. As my foe readied a second blow, I circled over to the body, standing directly over it. Ducking my head, I detonated a fireball right at my opponent's feet a scant two yards away, just as he was about to swing his staff my way.
Fire blocked my vision for a moment, but I was unharmed. The contingency spell my old body still possessed had activated the protective globe just in time!
The smouldering body of my foe dropped to the grass, defeated at last.
I stood alone on the hilltop, straddling my own body, surrounded by a circle of scorched earth that was yet green and verdant at my feet and by several bodies: a few defeated hirelings, the priest, and Shodei, too, all brought down by the power of my spells and wit.
I had won the challenge, and more besides.
Thus I stood for close to a minute, gathering my thoughts from where they lay in a brain nearly addled by lack of sleep and the aftermath of the thrill of battle. My course decided, I dragged the two newest bodies together and used one of the Iuz teleport scrolls to transport me directly to my underground abode.
Though fatigue clouded my vision, the need to return to my own body spurred me through the tedious study of the magic jar spell, which I immediately cast after untying the ropes on my original body.
Opening my own eyes, I gazed down at the bodies of the priest, Shodei, and Kranzer, the last still breathing, though not for long -- I had no wish to leave the unoccupied but living body of an agent of Iuz in my home, since a passing demon might well choose to inhabit it.
Grabbing ahold of Shodei, I read the last of the Iuz teleport scrolls, blinking into being at the starting point of the day's events. A Guild member was waiting for me there, and as I checked the position of the sun, I found that my claim of victory was just barely within the twenty-four hours.
The Guildsman teleported us all back the the Guildhall, where I drowsily received both the congratulations of my fellow mages and the prizes of the challenge: Shodei's spellbooks. At that point I knew that he was an illusionist, so such a prize was nearly useless to me, a necromancer. Nevertheless, I accepted them as a symbol of the victory of honor over cowardice, and perhaps one day I would take the time to study them more closely.
The noon sun was bright in my eyes as I stumbled back to my Greyhawk house, where I proceeded to sleep for the next half day. When I awoke, and had replenished my memory of the appropriate spells, I returned to the battle site to inspect the bodies of the hirelings I had defeated. To my delight, I found that they held a wide variety of mid-power magical items -- such a payment is well worth the trouble it took to defeat them, especially since I had sole claim to them. Nevertheless, I did offer Kalan a couple of them, particularly a fine magical dagger, in return for the invaluable help he gave me during the contest. Needless to say, I also returned his ring, freshly charged, with my thanks.
When I returned to the Castle, I also inspected the bodies of the two Iuz agents, Kranzer and the priest. My first order of business was to dispose of the bodies, after they had been stripped of magical items; a disintegrate spell provided adequate assurance that I would never be troubled by these foes again. Unfortunately, the same may not be said of Shodei, since the Guild took charge of the body -- sooner or later, some agent of Iuz would no doubt claim it in the guise of a family member, but with any luck Shodei would be sufficiently humbled by the episode to think twice about continuing his revenge. Indeed, I would imagine that his failure would be grounds for punishment in the corps of Iuz. Besides, now that I have his spellbooks, I know all his tricks, so I was not too worried.
After taking time to identify the items I had recovered, I was extremely glad to see that I had obtained several magical devices known only to the priesthood of Iuz, although whispered about in magical circles elsewhere. First, a second example of the bone wand that I had seen before -- Temeh had thoughtlessly sacrificed the first in the lower levels of the Castle Greyhawk ruins. Second, the robe that Kranzer wore, which was enchanted to make its wearer appear as a wraith or spectre to other undead -- an extremely useful item for a necromancer, although I could not wash away its charnel odor, which is apparently a byproduct of its powers. And last, but not least, was that priest's black staff, slightly scorched but still serviceable. My identification spells were unable to completely detail its powers, but I have no doubt that it is quite a find indeed.
Although my final strike would be difficult for the followers of Iuz to identify, I had no doubt that I had not heard the last from them. Most likely, they had other agents in Greyhawk, and word of my survival would certainly come to them sooner or later. I had Kalan increase the security details at the Castle, sending word to the dwarf to do the same -- if Iuz was after me, it is likely he would be after Loco as well.
The strike came, indeed, about two weeks later, although it was extremely ill-timed.
That was the day that our world fell apart.
The next week or so was very relaxing for me, as I perused Shodei's spellbooks for some incantation unknown to me and yet not of the schools of illusion or charm, since I did not have the basic training in such techniques necessary to successfully utilize such spell formulae. Unfortunately, there were none, and I was forced to set aside the tomes against the day when I might have the time and inclination to review the basics of illusionary magic.
Kalan left the Castle for some business in Greyhawk, the nature of which he did not at the time relate to me. As much as I later regretted being uninformed, his secrecy did at least prevent me from making a decision that would have troubled me greatly.
You see, he was to assassinate the lady mage Jallarzi, with whom I had explored the foundations for a friendship of equals. This commission was laid upon him by the archmage Rary himself, the payment for the wish that had brought me back from disintegration in the desert. I thus felt somewhat responsible for the outcome of that promise -- it was generous of Kalan to accept such a task on my behalf, but I cannot say that I approved of the nature of it.
To be sure, as a necromancer, I have no compunction against death and killing as such. I can scarely count the number of souls I have sent on their final journey in my time, and every one of those deaths was perfectly justified to me. And yet, to kill a mage such as Jallarzi ... something strikes me as wrong about that. To destroy the repository of such magical knowledge; to lay low a person to whom violence was so abhorrent; and to do so by the stealthy tactics of thievery instead of by honor: something causes me unease about this, although I cannot put my thoughts quite in order on the subject to say with certainty why.
In any event, I had no say in the matter, for when I learned of it, it was already too late. Kalan came to me in a seething rage, and between clenched teeth he told me of not one but several failed attempts on Jallarzi's life, each defeated by standard mage defenses like stoneskin, as well as by cunning traps laid with illusion. In the end, his judgment was so impaired that when his final attempt failed, he used a healthy pile of the explosive orbs we recovered from the Greyhawk ruins to blow the top half of her tower into scorched rock, and perhaps even rubble -- Kalan didn't stay to see the full outcome.
Unfortunately, during one of the attempts his identity was discovered by a survivor.
This was extremely bad news, because, while on the whole the Circle stays out of the affairs of the kingdoms, an assassination attempt against one of its members would be likely to provoke a severe retaliation. Lord Kalannar was not a major player in the affairs of the kingdoms, known to every Thomas, Richard, and Harold on the streets, but our exploits had earned us a place in bards' tales, and it was only a matter of time before his identity and location became known to the Circle.
As a known associate of the assassin, I could definitely say goodbye to a position in the Guild, in any case, especially since some of the attempts were obviously performed with the help of my own spells, stored in Kalan's ring.
Once again, the security patrols were doubled, although the efficacy of such a move was questionable, to say the least -- either the Circle would respond through legal channels, or their attack would be of a sort a few sentrymen would not even see, let along be able to hinder in any significant way.
In any event, I was able to persuade Kalan to desist from even more attempts. I thought then that if I could delay him, I would have time to sort out my own feelings and only then deal with Rary and Kalan. As it turned out, I hadn't the luxury of time.
In a few day's time, a very strange messenger came to us, professing to be a priest from the hierarchy of Wee Jas, no less. Of course, he was subjected to some intense magical investigation, but his story checked out. Evidently, while investigating a project of his own in the church archives, he came across a rather strange prophecy, dealing with the rising of a "Sun King." When the astronomical and astrological imports of the stars on the accompanying engraving were analyzed more closely, this Kané was led right to the location of our castle, at near the present time.
The predictions of a long-forgotten riddle, though interesting, to say the least, did not really impress themselves much on Kalan and myself, since the much more immediate troubles with Iuz and the Circle weighed heavy on our hearts. This was unfortunate, since those predictions turned out to have extremely grave consequences, both for us and for the whole of the Gran March.
Within a week, extremely strange magical happenings were evident in the castle across the river -- huge pillars of fire lighting up the night sky, to be more exact. Naturally, we inquired of them what in the Nine Hells was going on -- little did we know how appropriate that question actually was.
"A freak magical accident" was the explanation, but when it happened again the next night and the next, we began to be quite a bit suspicious. Kané went around the Castle, gleefully preaching about the imminent end of the world, based on these signs. Kalan and I tended to ignore this priest as much as possible, although I suppose in retrospect he was partially right -- not the end of the world as a whole, but certainly the end of ours.
The next day, the call came from the sentries of a huge army pouring out of the castle across the river and marching for the bridge. Kalan mobilized his defenses, intending to blow the bridge and pick off large numbers of troops with his archers as they tried to cross, while my skeletal legion would serve as shock troops for any that might get across in large numbers.
Unfortunately, this plan had two fatal flaws, which were all too soon apparent to us both. First, the enemy troops bypassed the bridge entirely, walking across the river on the air itself -- a display of magic of which I was unfamiliar, although Kané quickly identified the spell as a "solipsism," which he described as a kind of amplified mass hypnosis: if the troops believed that there was a bridge of air, then they could, in fact, walk on it. An interesting concept, to be sure.
Secondly, and ultimately more importantly, the several thousand human troops were accompanied by several small battalions of devils, no doubt drawn from the depths of the Nine Hells by the pillars of fire over the past few days. Their presence spoke of a great mystery surrounding the owner of that castle, and it also spoke of abject defeat for our troops, since such creatures could not be harmed by the unenchanted weapons our troops carried.
"If we can't win, then we'll take as many of the bastards with us as we can!" Kalan exclaimed when I pointed out this fact to him. Evidently, he hoped to put up enough of a show of force to induce the army to bypass his Castle and look for an easier target. From the troop movements, we later learned that they had little interest in the Castle anyway: their goal was Hookhill, but our troops were soon in their way.
My skeletal battalions concentrated on the human troops, sending hundreds of them on their final journey before finally being destroyed by the onslaught of sheer numbers. Kalan's troops held back, defending the road to the Castle, but with their innate teleportation abilities, the devils soon began tearing those troops to pieces. I tossed many a spell at those fiends, but even I could not make more than a small dent in their numbers.
In a short time, Kalan's troops either lay dead or were in flight from the devils their swords couldn't even touch. It was a tribute to Kalan's charismatic leadership that so few were in the latter category -- his men were literally willing to lay down their lives for him.
But with his battalions destroyed, Kalan fled the field to rally his final level of defenses at the Castle. My own troops lasted somewhat longer, since they only had to contend with mere mortal men, but soon my role on the battlefield was done, too, and I returned to the Castle via teleport. It was at this point that we discovered the true aim of the enemy -- our Castle lay almost open to them, but still they instead turned north to their true aim: Hookhill. I wished my old comrade Darkwind, now the mayor there, all the luck I could, but even with the strength of the humans curtailed on account of my skeletons, I could not see how that city could long withstand an attack of devils. Strange things were on the march that night.
But even stranger things were yet to occur.
When I blinked into Kalan's audience chamber, I was confronted with near total silence. The room was deserted, save for a whimpering mass of flesh hiding behind Kalan's chair -- it was Thomas, Kalan's loyal accountant, in a state of near-hysteria. A swift slap or two brought him around, though, long enough to tell me what I needed to know: in Thomas's words, the "dark ones" had taken Kalan away.
On the night of the Sun King's rising, evidently it was also time for the fulfillment of another prophecy: that Kalan's daughter's coming-of-age would take place when she could defeat him in single combat.
Next to Thomas was an ordinary-looking bag. Opening it, I found all of Kalan's magical equipment, with the exception of his sword. This told me two very important things: one, that Kalan had agreed to go, for I knew of very few things on the planet that could force him to abandon all of his magical items; and second, that the combat was supposed to be pure skill against pure skill, with no magic save swords.
A third fact, of course, was already known to me: that you can never trust a drow to follow the rules of honorable combat.
I set out to the Castle ramparts, frantically searching the nearby countryside for a glow of light, a trail, anything that would direct me to Kalan's location, since I was sure his life was hanging in the balance. Curiously, I found absolutely no one else in the Castle but Kané, who claimed that the remaining troops had been dismissed since the cause was so hopeless -- the reasoning was sound, but it didn't sound like Kalan's doing; most likely this was another example of drow treachery.
In a short time, my search was rewarded with a faint sound of the clanging of weapons and a few bright flashes of light in the woods to the south. Since Kané had no more interesting comments than "See, I told you so," I left him behind as I flew off in that direction. Actually, he followed me regardless.
To my horror, I found Kalan lying near the brink of death, now returned to his natural half-drow form by the completion of this stage of the prophecy. Inspecting his body, he was severely hurt, by both sword wounds and magical burns, the latter a sure indication of the treachery of his daughter. I was able to stabilize his condition, and Kané then healed him back to nearly full health with a single spell -- I looked now more closely at this potential comrade, his usefulness and powers now greatly increased in my eyes.
Kalan's return to half-drow form seemed to solve one of our problems outright: the Circle would be looking for a human Kalannar instead of this man before me. Unfortunately, I had underestimated the tenacity of the Circle quite severely, as was shown to us a few seconds later when we were interrupted from our conversation by several soft pops all around us.
As he looked up, the exhaustion on Kalan's face was evident for all to see. Having just fought and lost a battle for his life, he was none too happy to be confronted with the Circle at this time. As Bigby pulled on a glove, obviously preparing one of his trademark spells, I blurted out a teleport spell, grabbing Kalan in the process.
We re-appeared in the audience chamber, and only then did I remember Kané. No matter -- he was innocent of our quarrel, and I doubt any great inconvenience befell him. Most likely, he would be honored to meet with such august archmages as those.
Kalan mumbled his thanks as he hastily re-equipped himself. Once back in his Castle, his energy seemed to return to him, and when Thomas announced a few messengers to see us, he waved them in without a second thought. The sudden recovery of Thomas should have tipped me off, but I was still replaying the encounter with the Circle in my mind.
A second later I spoke yet another teleportation spell, grabbing Kalan once again, as several high priests of Iuz burst into the chamber.
This was really not one of our better days.
Now Kalan and I were in my inner sanctum, the underground laboratory in which I was sure we would be perfectly safe, for at least a short time. I was therefore extremely flabbergasted to be confronted with a pervasive magical mist there, one which I had encountered only once before, while attacking a priest of Iuz. This vampiric mist sapped our strength, and its presence in this place spoke volumes for exactly how long this sanctuary would remain as such.
The next few minutes were a frantic dash to gather as many things as possible, as Kalan and I both prepared to leave this place behind once and for all. Luckily, a reduce spell enabled me to easily pack my entire magical library, and most of my wealth was in the easily transportable form of gems, which had been useful in my studies regardless.
Nevertheless, I was forced to leave behind my laboratory, in which I had many jars full of rare spell components that I had painstakingly collected over my entire adventuring career. Leaving them behind pained me greatly, but I would rather they be destroyed than fall into the hands of the vile followers of Iuz. Also, my working papers were lost, including the latest entries in this journal -- this is why I had to rewrite the previous last several pages.
Kalan, likewise, was forced to leave many things behind -- thousands of gold pieces and several bulky items of less than outstanding enchantments.
In less than ten minutes, we were ready. I looked at Kalan, my foot on an already-open barrel of the Greyhawk ruins exploding orbs.
He nodded grimly, and I tipped it over. Dozens of the magical marbles spread out over the floor of my domed experimental chamber, several coming to rest against a pair of jars full of the curious explosive black powder we had also found there.
"See you in Greyhawk -- my house," I said. Kalan nodded, picking up one of the orbs.
He tossed it lightly towards the ceiling twenty feet overhead. When it reached its apex, we both activated the teleport spells in our rings. I never saw the orb fall, but I have no doubt that when it did, my underground laboratory expired in a fireball sufficient to leave nothing but a smouldering crater in the courtyard of the Castle.
We blinked into being in Greyhawk. Of course, we had no illusions that this place would be a safe haven for any significant length of time. But I had such a place in mind.
On some adventure, I cannot recall exactly which, I came across a curious rod whose sole purpose seemed to be the creation of an extradimensional space suitable for a temporary hideout. If my calculations were correct, it could completely protect Kalan and myself from observation for the better part of three months, since we would be, in essence, outside the bounds of the world entirely.
Kalan emphatically agreed that such a respite would be welcome, so I activated the rod, and we found ourselves in a relaxing but somewhat boring outdoors setting -- food and water were provided, of a sort. We lounged about, discussing the recent events that had so overturned our lives, and planning our next moves.
But after a week of this, Kalan and I were ready to return to the real world no matter what the danger. It was either that or risk killing each other out of boredom.
When we returned to the real world of Greyhawk, my house was still standing, which was a very good sign -- I had half expected it to have been burnt to the ground in reprisal by the agents of Iuz. Nevertheless, all was not right.
Coming from the entrance chamber was the completely inappropriate sound of violin music -- by a Suloise composer, no less, if my memory served, which it usually does. Baffled, I left Kalan to his own devices in order to check out this latest strangeness.
When I opened the door to the entrance hall, I was greeted by a sight which brought back memories that I hadn't considered in many a year. It was a semi-corporeal violin player, not quite illusionary and not quite real, with which I was confronted. On a round table nearby lay a neat circle of a dozen or so semiprecious gems, roughly half of them already collapsed into a dull gray powder. In the center was a short note, which I immediately grabbed and read, already expecting the impossible.
And truly, the near impossible was actually the case. It was a note from an old ... acquaintance ... of mine, back in the days before I even went by the name of Korel. Henri was, at one point, a great friend of mine. We were schooled together in the usual manner of the children of wealthy families -- taught the basics of math, science, art, and even magic. It was in this last class that my memories of Henri are the strongest, both for good and ill.
We must not have been even a dozen summers old at the time, but even then I must have possessed some shadow of my present intuition of the magical arts. The students in the class were taught no more than the simplest cantrips, but these I quickly and easily mastered. Henri, though certainly bright in his own way, had not my grasp of the subject, and I recall many a fond afternoon we spent together practicing the subtle techniques of producing a puff of smoke or a feebly glowing light.
For our final project, we were all asked to research an original cantrip effect, or at least produce a variation on an existing one if the first task were too much for us. This assignment spoke to my creative as well as my analytical side, and I threw myself into the project, looking for something truly original and unique to present to the class.
I scoured my father's library, looking for some clue to guide my efforts. As it so happened, while I was studying, I chanced to glance out the window and catch the sight of one of the townspeople plowing his field. The image of the man using the power of the horse resonated in my mind, and I hit upon the idea that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to bolster my magical effects with the utilization of some supplementary energy source.
I tried several possibilities -- using a stream of falling water like a gristmill; using the heat of a fire like a blacksmith; using even the exertions of animals or servants. But none of these worked in the slightest: the energy was too chaotic to be useful. I needed a concentrated source of orderly energy, preferably one already close to magic.
Such a source I finally located in gemstones. As is somewhat well-known, gems are extremely orderly objects, for otherwise the cutter's chisel could not cleave their facets so perfectly straight. And having spent thousands of years in the bosom of the earth, a freshly-mined gemstone is veritably awash with the pseudomagical power of that element.
Once I was able to tap into such a supplemental source, the actual formulation of the cantrip -- in this case, a violin player -- was merely, and literally, child's play to me.
Unfortunately, for Henri, the assignment posed severe problems. He could bring forth smoke puffs with the best of us, but only by rote memorization of the incantations and techniques. Original research required a deeper understanding of what, in fact, was going on, an understanding which Henri simply did not have.
He came to me on the verge of tears the day before the projects were to be presented, begging for help. I did my best, demonstrating my own cantrip to bolster his spirits as to what was possible, and sent him away thinking along the lines of the creation of a multi-color smoke puff. Actually, since my own project was completed, that suggestion prompted me to work out the details of such a rainbow display -- before the evening was over, I had added a flame component as well, but thought little of it in comparison to my gem-powered masterpiece. It's rather ironic that even today my research falls along similar lines, although at present I am able to utilize a much more powerful source of energy: the power of intelligent life, rather than of rocks.
In any event, the next day say Henri in much better spirits -- in fact he volunteered to present his own project first. I shortly saw why he did so, as he brought out a couple of minor jewels and proceeded to demonstrate my own project.
I could only assume that he had stolen my notes after my demonstration the previous night. Even though we were friends, this betrayal incensed me, and I retaliated in a way most devastating: when the period for questions began, I bombarded him with inquiry after inquiry -- intense and biting questions that only the creator of such an effect would be able to answer with any skill.
Indeed, Henri stalled and dodged, but finally he broke down and ran from the room in shame and embarrassment. The magical instructor had been favorably impressed with the effect, but now he dismissed it as an accidental bit of excellence from an otherwise ordinary student. Perhaps he suspected that I had been the author -- if he did, he didn't say anything.
When my turn came I was forced to display merely the multicolored fire-and-smoke display I had worked up the previous night. Satisfactory, but nothing special.
Afterwards, I never saw Henri again, for he didn't come to any more classes. I didn't seek him out, either, since the betrayal had been his, and therefore the obligation for apology was his as well. Evidently he did not think our friendship worth the trouble of a reconciliation, and in a month or so I came to that same conclusion. My life went on, and I put Henri completely out of mind.
Until that very day. Twenty-five years is a long time to wait for an apology, but from the note, he was apparently willing to start our friendship anew, for he had asked to meet me for dinner later that week at the Golden Wheel, a very fashionable restaurant and entertainment house in Greyhawk.
I thought such a meeting could do no real harm, and Kalan seemed set on remaining within Greyhawk for a few days at least, so I set aside that block of time for my old friend.
In our conference before, Kalan and I had agreed that it would be best for us to leave the area for a goodly period of time, perhaps even a year, in order to allow our situation to cool down. In fact, a part of me looked forward to such a break from adventuring life -- I had been away from my homeland for too long.
In the meantime, we both had affairs to settle. Kalan was off to the more disreputable areas of town, both to catch up on rumors and to liquify some of our less useful assets.
And I had matters to settle with the Guild.
Not wanting to be seen on the streets, I teleported directly to the Guildhall entrance, brushing aside the dwarven guardians to enter and seek out the Guildmaster. As it so happened, I burst into a meeting consisting of many of the Guild officials -- I hardly need to say that they quickly forgot their former topic of conversation when I entered.
They were incensed about the assassination attempt on Jallarzi, even more so than could be normally expected, on account of the rumored ... association ... between her and the Guildmaster. I quickly set their minds at ease with regard to my role in such dealings, explaining that yes, Kalan utilized some of my spells, but no, I had no knowledge of the purpose to which they were being put.
Surprisingly, this did not placate them, for they still held me responsible for the uses to which my spells could be put.
"And I suppose you consider yourself responsible for every scroll you sell?" I retorted.
"We don't sell scrolls to assassins!" the Guildmaster yelled.
At this I am sure my eyes unconsciously glowed red with anger. "How DARE you question my choice of comrades! You, who allowed an agent of Iuz into your very midst!"
"Korel, you should consider yourself no longer a member of this Guild."
"Excellent! For I would surely disgrace myself by being the colleagues of such narrow-minded hypocrites as you!" At this I slammed down my silver lighting-bolt pin of Guild membership onto the table with every ounce of force that my strength girdle could bestow on me behind it. Simultaneously, I activated a dimension door spell to return to my house, thus ending the discussion.
I swear, I was glad to be rid of those simple-minded fools. A guild of wizards is a wonderful idea in theory, but in practice I suppose it would turn into something like that particular Guild: a bunch of beaurocratic old codgers with nothing better to do than meddle in politics and restrict the actions of the next generation of mages. Perhaps I will rejoin one day, but not until I can see a clear path to a position of leadership, one which I can use to turn the Guild back to its proper pursuit: knowledge for simply the sake of knowledge.
Kalan soon returned from his chores; luckily he was able to find an appropriate buyer for some of the magical swords I had recovered from the hirelings in my challenge with Shodei -- naturally, I had no use for most of them, but I did purposefully retain one that appeared to have some sort of life-force draining power for further study.
My meeting with Henri was not for a couple of days, so Kalan and I decided to remain in Greyhawk, as inconspicuously as possible, at least until then. I remained at my house while Kalan again took to the streets in disguise -- evidently he wished to further divest himself of bulky wealth.
Shortly the day of the meeting arrived, and since I had joined Jallarzi at the Golden Wheel once previously, I was able to dimension door directly there, thus avoiding the streets. To my intense dismay, Henri greeted me by my truename, which of course was the only one he knew -- I corrected him immediately, though I wondered how he had been able to track me down at all given that change of identification. Probably he consulted the temple records back home, since I used the name Korel even in the priesthood -- carrying my father's surname had already become a burden to me.
As he explained, Henri had become a very successful merchant in the years since our parting of ways, dealing especially in rare and unusual objects. This was fortunate, as he was able to give me a fair price for a large quantity of some rare spices we had found in the Greyhawk ruins -- I had not been previously able to liquify that asset, since such a quantity would have flooded the market very quickly without the sort of careful rationing that only a merchant would have the time for.
Strangely, he said that his sole purpose in seeking me out was to warn me of a danger against my life.
"So what else is new?" I asked. "I suppose you mean Iuz, then."
"No," he said, "I mean an organization that is much more powerful in our homeland."
"The Scarlet Brotherhood? Why? And how did you find out?"
"As to the first, I don't know -- I thought you would. For the second, all I can say is that people in my line of business have a need to know exactly what is afoot in all our ports of call."
I was a little suspicious of this sudden revelation, but I had no real reason to mistrust this old acquaintance of mine, although I do admit that the thought did cross my mind that perhaps the reason he knew was because he was a Brother himself. In any event, to aid me in my time of trouble, he gave me a ticket good for passage on any one of his trade ships that would be in and out over the next few days. He didn't even want to know my plans, which was fortunate because I had no intention of revealing them to him.
We finished our conversation with a little reminiscing, then arranged the sale of the spices and said our farewells. Due to my current situation, I doubted I could meet with him again any time in the near future, but he seemed to grasp that already. The renewal of our friendship would have to wait until another time.
Dimension dooring back to my house, I considered this new information. Of course I had seen no sign of such hostility, but that's how the Brotherhood works. It's a very poor assassin who even lets his prey think they're in danger at all. I suppose that after all these years the Brotherhood might be pursuing revenge for the raid we made into their lands for the resolution of the Red Death plague, but it certainly seemed strange -- we caused hardly any damage to the Brotherhood itself, and why would they wait so long?
There are only two possible conclusions: one, that Henri was mistaken; or two, that my remarks in the Guild debate with Natori / Shodei might have given my identity to the Brotherhood when in fact they did not know who had invaded their lands before. Although the second possibility requires a Brotherhood agent to be a Guild member or a close associate, the fact that Shodei was able to join makes this not altogether unlikely.
As I was at my house alone, I received an extremely bizarre messenger -- a small devil bearing a scroll of teleportation and bidding me pay the mayor of Hookhill a "social call." In the back of my mind I had been wondering what had become of Darkwind and his city, and this summons soon provided those answers.
Inspecting the scroll, I found it extremely odd. It seemed to be written specifically for a definite location -- in fact, two of them: one in Hookhill, and one to return me here to my house. There was also a great deal of magical coding dealing with stabilizing the local planar influences during transport. Evidently the massive influx of fiends had unbalanced the stability of the Prime in that area, just as teleportation in Dorakka was rendered dangerous by Iuz's connection to the Abyss.
Wondering what I was getting into, I read the scroll, and found myself seated at one end of a long table in the mayor's mansion in Hookhill, with Darkwind at the other end. Suspicious, I tried the only sure method I knew to verify that it was indeed Darkwind sitting there.
I threw a dagger at him.
Darkwind, of course, as an accomplished acrobat, had nearly perfected the art of catching such throws.
Thus the question was settled when the fiend at the end of the table allowed the nonmagical dagger to strike his chest without apparent damage, then crushed it to a misshapen metal lump.
The meeting was not off to a good start, but fortunately it remained just on the civilized side of the line between violence and threats. This fiend, it seemed, was Orson -- that name that I had heard Temeh mumble several times but completely fail to explain. Now his bizarre excursion into the Bright Desert made much more sense: Temeh must be some sort of agent for the Nine Hells, having gone to the desert to cancel the tanar'ri infestation.
Of course that also explains why we were completely unable to find Temeh either before or after the final battle at the Castle -- his soot-covered house had been completely deserted. Either he had gone to join the ranks of the fiends, or, more likely, had fled the coming of his master, who must have been disappointed in Temeh's failure to close the portal in the desert.
Predictably, Orson wanted me to join him, obviously after having seen my power arrayed against him on the battlefield. I thought it strange that he would have forgiven me so quickly for marching against him, but evidently he considered the effect of my skeletons only a minor diversion in the path of his goal to conquer the Gran March.
I very diplomatically refused, and was able to leave via the second teleport with only a minor series of threats and counter-threats. I didn't know whether I could have taken him then and there and hoped to win -- these fiends have such damnably high resistance to magic! -- but I was sure I could have given him a bloody nose and still left alive.
When I returned, I was soon given a partial answer to another of my questions: the state of Temeh. As incoherent as ever, he contacted me via a sending spell and later in person -- evidently he was hiding out on the plane of Limbo with his colleague Hornung to avoid being found by Orson. He dropped some rather bizarre clues about a sword / person by the name of Azor Alq in the Crystalmist Mountains that was vital to something or other.
If it's truly important, Temeh will no doubt explain it all later. In the meantime, I had troubles of my own to deal with.
Over the next day or so, Kalan and I were finally found out. We tried various means of leaving the city, but we always seemed to be followed. There were several attempts made on us, but they are not worth recording here -- suffice to say that my house was reduced to crumbling rubble by some decay spell; that Kalan and I both left the city unharmed and with our possessions; and that we ended the chase by teleporting to the dwarf's citadel.
I had not visited that place since before the dwarf had renovated it, and we appeared from our teleport in the middle of the dwarf's arena, where a match was already in progress. The dwarven fighting in exhibition did not impress either Kalan or myself, used as we were to truly skilled opponents.
We stayed there for a couple of days. To be on the safe side, I let Kalan wear my anti-scrying amulet and bolstered my own defense with similar spells. In those days of near-relaxation, I was able to record these last few entries in this my journal, and now I suppose that I even have time for a little reflection on the era of my life that will shortly come to a close.
Out of the Academy, my one thought was to devote myself entirely to research, and I went through some severe difficulties in finally reaching that goal. At one point in my life I thought that the appearance of that blasted bard was the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen to me.
But now I see that it was very nearly the best.
Otherwise, I might still be cooped up in some moldy laboratory, fiddling with some esoteric minor point of magical inquiry. But instead here I am, vastly more powerful, running for my life from not one but several of the world's most powerful organizations.
I'm now a force to be reckoned with.
To be hunted down and killed, maybe, but definitely not to be ignored.
Kalan and I have just decided our course of action. In order to confuse the efforts of those tracking us, we finally agreed that it would be best to split up for at least a little while. I let him keep my amulet, since otherwise the hunt for Kalannar would be rather quick and unfortunate for him. In return, I asked only one favor, one that would help me to stay low as well as he could.
I asked him to use his ring of spell storing to polymorph me into another person.
Now I look like a fresh Academy graduate. No longer Suloise, no longer old, no longer Korel. In honor of my former familiar, I have decided on the name Narabal -- Narabal the Gold -- for my new identity.
We agreed that we would meet back in Greyhawk in six months to plan our next move and possibly begin attempting rescue operations for one or the other of us. In the meantime I planned to head down into Jurnre, in my new identity, and settle down for a little relaxing research -- it's a close-knit town, so once I'm in and established, I should be relatively safe.
Well, thus this volume of my journal is finished, and with it an era of my life. I leave it a man far changed from the novice adventurer who penned the first lines so many years ago. As I leave this tome with my library at the dwarf's citadel in order to set out on a new life and new identity in Jurnre, I wonder if perhaps I have gone too far in polymorphing myself; whether perhaps I have lost something in the transformation -- for you see, in some sense, Korel is no more.
Korel is dead.
Long live Korel!