Well, So Much For That Moral Victory

Upon completing our questioning of Philip, we bound him to let him consider the option of atonement we had given him and to discuss the situation ourselves.  We also did some quick calculations and realized that if the Ambassador was moving as fast as he could to get to us – and to the Font we’d recovered from the Embassy – that he would in a few hours run right through the middle of the nomad camp where we’d first made human contact in the desert.

“We have to go warn them to pack up and move,” I said, and though the others were sympathetic they generally felt it could wait given how low we were on spells.  I pretty much always have tons of magic at my disposal, though, and I knew I could teleport directly to the camp, warn them and then teleport directly back.  “Please,” I said, “Just let me go right now and warn them.  I’ll be gone five minutes.”

Adric and Badl and Nigel and Rock asked to go with me, just in case, and so the five of us teleported to the nomad camp and I asked to speak to their leader, a merchant named Fast Abdul.  Abdul appeared with a smile and outstretched hands, but I didn’t waste any time:  “You and your people have to move your camp immediately.  Go as far as you can directly to the west or the east and don’t come back for at least a week.  An enormous, millenia-old undead monster is marching this way through the desert and will very likely harm you if you cross paths with him.”

Abdul looked me up and down and, without shifting his smile, turned to an associate and spoke in his native tongue.  I don’t think he realizes my helm allows me to understand languages, because what he said was:  “Either this man is doing a tremendous favor or has gone irreparably insane.  Go and fetch a priest so that we can determine what to do with him.”  Shortly a priest had arrived, cast Zone of Truth on me – is now a bad time to admit I’m no stranger to the occasional Zone of Truth spell? – and I repeated my statement word for word.  Abdul smiled broadly again and turned to the same subordinate as before:  “Pack up the camp, we are leaving immediately!”  Then he thanked me and went off to see to his employees and partners.

Not content to let this one good deed rest on its own, we stayed to make sure the camp really left.  I was not ready to let the lives of several dozen people weigh on my conscience in the name of making sure I was personally safe from the Ambassador.  The serious nomads – the ones who didn’t try to grease every deal with an expansive smile and inconveniently extravagent robes – were gone within an hour, no clues whatsoever having been left behind to suggest they were ever even there.  Abdul and his men, however, were slower to move.  By the time they were lined up to leave, dusk had started to fall.  We heard his foremen give the word down the line, and as camels and other beasts started to file out of the camp we heard an abrupt and startling cry from one of the animals closest to us.

Four shadows rose out of the ground around it as it fell dead on the sand, and screams erupted from the people nearby.  The Ambassador had arrived.

Adric turned his holy symbol towards the shadows and denounced them in the name of Lothander, before anyone could even react, and no sooner were the words gone from his lips than there were four tufts of smoke coming from where the shadows had been.  I hadn’t even lifted my hands to Magic Missile them yet, and as I started to point and say those incantations I simultaneously realized that the shadows had been destroyed and heard the booming voice of the Ambassador from behind us:  TAKE THEM ALL, MY BROTHERS, WE WILL NEED AN ARMY OF THE DEAD TO RECLAIM THAT WHAT HAS BEEN TAKEN FROM ME.  Even as he spoke a shadow rose out of the camel where it lay and more burst from the sand around us.  Rock, who had been spying from afar, came running down the nearby dunes in the direction of the voice and Badl took to the air in the form of an eagle.  Nigel clicked his heals and lifted into the sky as well, and Adric and I were left standing there on the sand looking for the source of that voice.

“Over there,” Nigel cried, seeing through the Ambassador’s invisibility with a spell of his own.  “He’s invisible and headed this way.”  Rock turned in his tracks to take on a new heading approximating Nigel’s directions, and I began chanting as Rock approached:  stone giant, stone giant, Stone Giant, STONE GIANT, I said, clapping him on the shoulder as he went by so that one moment he was Rock and the next he was a towering Stone Giant with a sword as large as a man.   Just as fast I started to cast a See Invisibility of my own when the Ambassador made himself visible to us by turning his foul gaze on several of us at once.  Necromantic anti-energies washed out around us, searing our flesh, but Badl had beaten the Ambassador to the punch:  with a few squawks and twitched wings, he had cast a spell on Rock to protect him from any such magic.  As the rest of us scrambled to get away from the melee, Rock raised his sword and tore into the Ambassador’s ambiguous form.

More shadows came out of the ground around Adric, who’d again called on the powers of his god to rain shards of holy light on the area, disrupting his ability to cast anything on the Ambassador himself.  I fired a spell at the Ambassador and watched it wash away again, but Nigel, where he hovered, was able to fling orbs of force and fire that harmed the Ambassador just as much as if he were merely mortal.  Though the smaller shadows were giving Adric a terrible time of it, draining his strength just as Katarina’s “pet” has done so many times on our behalf, he held his own and I dropped a sonic fireball on top of them to try to distract the shadows away for a bit.  Meanwhile Badl, Nigel and Rock were whittling away at the Ambassador and in short order managed to rend his “flesh” such that his towering, matte shadow form was starting to show tatters at the edges and his bellowing voice carried less conviction than it had before.  Though he turned his evil gaze on us again and again, within moments we all still stood but his form, with one final injury, faded slowly from sight until at last even his star-lit eyes winked from existence and only a single, black wand lay on the ground with a twisting, geometric groove in its handle.

The nomads, busy running for their lives, eventually brought their line back under control and Fast Abdul approached us as Badl and Adric worked to heal us as much as they could.  “My friends,” Abdul said, “You have done us a great favor this day!”

“It’s the right thing to do,” I replied, and I handed him one of the TTC’s business cards.  “Here,” I added, handing him two more, “Give these to some friends.”

“How can I repay you?”

“Well,” I said, “I would feel terrible taking your money…”  Nigel was quick to kick the back of my boot and leaned in to whisper:  Expensive incense!

“But…” I went on, “We do have a terrible need for your very finest incense.  In large quantities.”

Abdul stared smilingly at me for a moment and then turned to his underling.  “Go, get incense!  A ton of it!”

When the underling returned with a chest filled with the stuff, Nigel did some quick calculations:  “This is only worth 400 gold,” he said in a tongue the nomads didn’t understand.  “I need something much more valuable for Legend Lore.”

I turned to Abdul and shook my head.  “I’m sorry, but we need finer incense than this.”

“This?” Abdul demanded of his servant, kicking the chest towards him over the sand.  “You call this incense?  This is trash!  Bring them the very finest we have!  For gods’ sakes, it’s cheaper than gold!”

When the servant returned, he had with him a small, wooden box so richly perfumed it stang our noses from feet away.  Nigel gave me a thumbs-up, and I gratefully accepted the incense from Abdul.  “I’m sorry that this has disrupted your business for the day,” I said, “But I am very glad you believed us when we arrived.”

“You’ve saved many of our lives,” Abdul replied with a dismissive wave.  “We cannot possibly repay you.”

No sooner were these pleasantries exchanged, however, before Adric was pulling me away and the rest of us into a huddle.  “I just got a message from Katarina,” he said – he’d created a telepathic bond before we’d left – urging us to gather together in a huddle.  “She says that Muad Ter’thalas just teleported into the cave.  She and Shadow and Bonzo are hiding.”

“We have to go back,” everyone said at once, and even though we’d fought two major enemies that day and were essentially empty of magic and wholly empty of healing, it took no time at all for us all to join hands and for me to say two words:  “The Cave.”  With a flash of light, we were gone.

An instant later, we were in the cave, and there sat Philip, still bound, still free of the bonds of mind-control Alec/Muad Ter’thalas had imposed on him.  Unfortunately, there was a dagger sticking out of his forehead.
And there stood Alec/Muad Ter’thalas, smiling at his own handiwork in the form of Philip’s corpse.  When we appeared, he turned to look at us, smiled, winked… and disappeared.

I have never hated someone so much in my life.

And so it is, dear diary, that Philip, the one I’d so hoped to see reformed, the one whose salvation had given me pause to consider my own slow retreat from the shores of total optimism, the one who could have spent time in the service to one god or another in hopes of atoning for his many sins, is dead.  We freed him, yes, and by the time the sun had set the same day Muad Ter’thalas had come to take revenge.  We learned today that Muad keeps tabs on his servants, and that Muad will not allow an asset to escape or a betrayal to go unpunished.  We have pondered resurrecting him, but the dagger driven deep into his brain was enchanted with some sort of necromancy we suspect will prevent such a second chance from ever happening.

With his death died much of my sense of victory for today.  I briefly reacted with bitterness, wondering whether by leaving Philip bound and out of our company that we had effectively sentenced him to death.  Why didn’t we stop to think that this would happen?  Were we that short-sighted?  But ultimately I suppose I cannot be held responsible for Muad Ter’thalas’ evils in the world.  Still, I regret that Philip had so little time to enjoy his freedom, even as I realize that at least his last hours on Toril were his and his alone.

As our thoughts turned to what to do moving forward, Nigel explained that we were lucky Muad Ter’thalas hadn’t simply cast Locate Object to find the Font, and wondered if perhaps he had no idea we even had the font in our possession.  To ensure against this, however, I spent the rest of the evening in Waterdeep having a crate of special construction built to contain the font and renting a condominium in one of the nicer parts of town.  Now I have a reliable, personal, private teleport point in Elventree, in Dhambryth, in Phlan and in Waterdeep.  I paid rent for the next six months in advance.

I guess I didn’t retreat wholly from my usual optimism in the wake of Philip’s death.

With the crate itself – but not the several dozen yards of stuffed, crushed velvet I’ve ordered to go around the Font inside said crate – we’ve been able to protect the Font from any sort of attempt to find it by magical means.  The plan as it stands right now is unclear – perhaps to secret it away in the basement of one of my properties in Phlan, perhaps to deposit it in Sess’uadra with Berol and the Temple to Kelimvor, perhaps to make it a gift to his operation in the long run in hopes that it would revitalize Sess’uadra and make it a liveable place once again.  In the meantime, we need to get the Font in front of someone who can tell us more about it, be that the Sentinel of Mystra in Elventree or Elminster in Shadowdale or someone else entirely.  At the same time, though, I hope to take Philip’s body to Berol for examination and, if he cannot be brought back to have a second chance at life in this world, to have him buried with dignity, to respect that part of him that wanted a second chance, to try and lay to rest at least a little of that fear and prejudice I’d spoken of last time.

First and foremost, however, we came here on a mission and our mission still stands.  Specifically, the Embassy still stands.  The five of us slept that night in the Cave and then went immediately the next morning back to the Embassy to begin our explorations.  I awoke with a fresh mind and a new understanding of some of the magic I’ve seen, and we all seemed more hale and hearty than the day before.  My mother used to say that hard work made hard sleep, and it was quite true for us that such a hard sleep lent us strength we hadn’t known before.

As soon as we were back at the Embassy, we went in the hole in the exterior wall we’d seen – but not explored – before.  The room inside was an enormous ossuary filled with bones and skeletons and high, thick columns that stretched thirty feet to the ceiling, spaced every few feet from one another.  On the way in, Nigel decided to take a few moments and make use of one of the new spells he had awoken understanding this morning to permanently enchant himself to see invisible creatures.  It was a good thing, too, as no sooner did we walk into the room with me watching our backs from the doorway than Nigel cried out:  “Invisible lions!”

Invisible lions?

In truth, they were not invisible.  When they walked through the patches of sunlight streaming into the otherwise pitch-dark room from the holes in the wall and ceiling, they were invisible.  Once they stepped into shadow, however, they were like lions made of… light, perhaps of sparks.  The general shape of a lion was there, but none of the substance, as though embers had been captured in the air and forced into a lion-shape mold.  The others quickly took up arms against them as I basically ran in a big circle around the room trying to dodge the one chasing me.  We suffered a comedy of errors as one of my new spells after another would wash off the ghost-lion and its jaws would in turn snap shut on empty air as I bobbed and weaved out of its way.  The rest had greater success and eventually the lion chasing me between the columns got tired of our games and turned on Adric.  Together, we were all able to finish them off and now I sit in one of those patches of sunlight, writing in my journal because I simply couldn’t put it all together in my brain until now.

I still mourn the loss of Philip’s life, but I must also be honest with myself:  do I mourn Philip’s death or my own lost opportunity to demonstrate that I was good enough to help convert someone whose life had been so thoroughly evil?  Did I reach out a hand of genuine friendship, or did I reach down with condescension in my heart when I painted idyllic pictures of Philip happy and honest and valued amongst the Kelimvorians?  Was there, in my hope for him, a hint of belief that it was all the kinder because a half-dragon would never deserve such good faith?

Ah well.  Enough self-doubt for one day.  It’s time to move on to another room in this Embassy, and gods only know what we’ll find in the next evil enclave.

One Response to “Well, So Much For That Moral Victory”

  1. Robust McManlyPants on Average Display » Another PAGP Update says:

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