Part 75: Level Four: The Stuff Of Madness, A Sacrifice For SanityLevel Four: The Stuff Of Madness, A Sacrifice For Sanity
Our meeting with Moraziel complete, we have little choice but to return to the purple, where the Archpriest awaits us a third time.
"So you begin to understand," he says. "Your message, messenger. It is for me."
Only if you can catch me first, sucker!
You turn and flee... It is like swimming against the tide. You make no headway. The purple remains all about you.
"There is no escape!" booms the Archpriest's voice like thunder. "The message! It is mine!"
It was possible to leave the first two times we came to the purple, but while many aspects of the Archpriest's dialogue are similar (especially to the second time; I skipped much of it to show it off here), this time we can't simply leave.
We don't have to do what he says, either.
"You come to me as a vagabond, scurrying from maze to maze, fearful for your life. It is in my gift to elevate you to your appointed station. But we have no use for those who display such foolish scruples. Give me the message!"
But what about Weith Village?
"Consider, wayfarer," the Archpriest says. "There is a pact with your village, that they send us the most intelligent, strongest youth each year. If you do not accept our service, what may we do to your village? Give me the message!"
We can't just join this guy! What would Persephone think?
"And who was it from?"
"The Elder Wellan."
"And who was it for?"
"For you, unholiness."
"And why did the Eldar Wellan send you into the maze?" he asks.
"The village has a pact with the Mad One," Persephone says, addressing you. "Don't think ill of Wellan; it was the only way to save Weith from the Mad One's wrath."
"See?" says the Archpriest triumphantly, turning toward you. "This is wisdom! Now join us, messenger! Join us or die!" Behind him Persephone is shaking her head violently.
Can't just give in now. Not while we've still got our magical artifacts. Maybe one of them can put an end to the Archpriest?
"The problem with a blade with a mind of its own," says the Archpriest, "is that it may decide when it shall attack. And when it meets its master--" he makes a curious gesture, as if sheathing a sword he does not carry; and Valterre sheathes itself at your side "--it may choose to side with the victor."
How about the Talisman?
Energy lances from the Talisman of Chugotai and boils about the Archpriest of the Mad One... Sparks coruscate from the Archpriest's robes. And when your spell dissipates, it is clear that, if anything, the Archpriest has GAINED power from your attack. His robes now glow with magic energy. "Poor wandering knight," says the Archpriest sarcastically. "Leave magic to those who understand it."
Direct magical attacks won't work, but we've got other tricks up our sleeve, like Time!
Time freezes. You can tell, because Iggy stops moving. The Archpriest, however, does not. "Foolish games," he says in a voice like the clatter of dice. And then, time unfreezes.
Uh... crud. Lady's Staff, then?
Nothing works, and the only options we seem to have are to agree to deliver the message or keep defying him over and over until he loses patience and destroys us. I guess the only way forward is to give him the message, then see what we can do after that?
"And now, there is one last thing."
"What's that?" you say.
"Do you, without coercion and of your own free will, accept the service of the Mad One?"
What happens if we say no?
"You die, of course," says the Archpriest.
"That's lack of coercion?"
The Archpriest merely shrugs.
And if we say yes?
"There is much yet that needs to be done. We will instruct you in the Way, and order you to perform tasks as we see fit."
"I should've never listened to you. Gods, I wish I were back in my nice comfy cell."
Don't worry, Iggy. We can still try attacking agai-
You try to draw one of your objects of power with which to attack the Archpriest... but he makes a cutting gesture, and your move is aborted. You find that you are frozen, unable to move.
"You've given me the message. You've surrendered thus far. The Lady will not help you now. You have no alternative, child; none but death. My patience is at an end. Join us or die."
We could, of course, still choose to die.
The Archpriest gestures...
But that's as abrupt as it seems. Supposing we... agree?
"Good," says the Archpriest. His robes come forward to encircle you; and you feel a spell laid upon you. Then, the Archpriest moves away, and you can see and feel things you hadn't before. The robes are no longer empty, but a dim figure stands within them; and above you, stars extend out into the Inner Mystery. You feel bound to the priests of the Mad One, but how, you cannot say.
"And you, wizard," says the Archpriest. "You too."
"Me?" squeaks Iggy.
"If you value your life."
Quickly, Iggy agrees to join the Mad One's forces. A second cowled figure appears. The Archpriest says, "Take these two to their appointed stations." You follow the lesser priest from the purple...
"Chief," whispers Iggy, "did we do the right thing?"
Heartsick, you cannot answer him.
"Well, we're alive, ain't we? That's gotta count for something."
You walk along lines of force in silence -- and Persephone comes to trudge along with you. "You had the Lady's Staff," whispers Persephone fiercely. "Why didn't you use it? Lackwit. Now we're slaves for life." Hangdog, you slog forward.
And in its own way, that knowledge provides some meager satisfaction.
...But that's a pretty lousy ending, isn't it? Weith is safe, but at what price? We know that the Archpriest and Vauxmartin are planning to conquer the world, and the last thing we want to do is help them with that.
There's got to be something else that we can do. Delivering the message is a no-no; the instant we give in even that much, we're unable to oppose the Archpriest. But what else can we do?
"Don't attack," Iggy whispers. "We can't take him. Keep him talking."
Indeed, for so long as we're able to stall the Archpriest, we can avoid handing over the message. But by the time he brings in Persephone, our options are limited and his patience is wearing thin. Should we refuse him one more time...
"Then die!" howls the Archpriest. He gestures, and a purple light appears within the cowl. It gathers in intensity until harsh, actinic light beams forth, as bright as the sun. Behind him, Persephone makes the Sign of the Lady with her fingers.
"Only the Lady can save us now..."
And our friends are right: Trying to flee, or using Valterre or the Talisman, just get us blasted into nothingness by the Archpriest's spell. Those things cannot protect us... but the Lady can.
"The Lady's power is great, but she may not attack directly." He shakes his head in confusion.
Persephone raises her hands, palms up, as if to say that she is out of ideas.
If we absorb the Archpriest's spell with the Lady's Staff, then try to attack him with it, we're reminded of one teensy little flaw in our plan:
Again, violet light lances toward you. Again, you interpose the Staff... and the Staff explodes. It cannot hold the energy of two such attacks.
...But that failure state does give us a hint toward how we're to address this problem. We have the Lady's Staff, which has absorbed the Archpriest's mad energy and apparently converted it. But if we can't get it back out of the Staff, that'll do us no good. Moraziel mentioned this flaw, and said a powerful mage might be able to channel the energy of the Staff. And no, Iggy doesn't count as a powerful mage... but we do have another powerful mage traveling with us. Sort of.
The Talisman of Chugotai, that is. Picking the wrong element will do no better than when we tried to blast the Archpriest before, empowering him rather than defeating him. However, there is one power we can call upon which might just give us a chance. The power of the Lady herself, the element of her very essence, and that which her Staff converted the Mad One's own power to when it absorbed the Archpriest's spell.
Earth. A power that has been completely useless on the Moon of Madness, for we are not actually on the earth. As such, the Lady is helpless here... unless someone were dumb enough to give us a full charge of her power.
Brilliant viridian light passes from the Staff, through the Talisman of Chugotai, and across the space between you and the Archpriest. You expect an explosion.
There is none.
Green light simply contracts around the cowled figure... And it is gone.
"Is he... is he dead?"
"Was he alive?" you say. "He is banished from the world, by the Lady's power."
Persephone sighs. "Well met," she says.
"It is good to see you," you reply. "Did you truly accept the Mad One's service?"
"Yes. But I did not mean what I swore. I had no choice, my friend; I did not have the Staff."
Glancing behind you, you see giant jets of purple flame leaping upwards from the brilliant disk that is the Mad One, leaping upward toward you. But then, a gentle green light interposes itself, surrounding you and protecting you. The place of madness fades away, from purple, to green fog, to...
The Lady's face hangs in the sky above you. She is smiling. "You have done well, my champion, Persephone, good Iggy. The Mad One is sorely wounded by the loss of his Archpriest -- and my Staff, captive for so many years, is restored! All creation rejoices at your victory."
All except the Mad One, at any rate. But before we can dwell on that thought...
"Come," she says. "You must enter your name in the Scroll of Heroes, for surely you have earned this honor." And she holds forth a book, and a quill for you to sign.
"Wait a minute. I did this once before, at the conclusion of the second level. Why..."
The Lady is a little embarrassed. "Please accept my apologies. My messenger was intercepted by the Mad One's forces, and your name was lost. But this time, it shall shine among the stars. Come, sign."
We then get to once again enter our name, which is (once again) useless, as Prodigy no longer exists to record it.
"It is well," says the Lady with satisfaction. "Now come, Iggy, Persephone, good knight; you must abide here. In his fury, the Mad One lashes out, seeking to find the ones who deprived him of his Archpriest. You are safe only here, where my power is greatest. Here are ambrosia, nectar, fine wine; I will call upon my elven servants to bathe and feed you."
And so our story comes to an end, in what amounts to the divine version of witness protection. Perhaps Goldberg and Costikyan were leaving the door open for later adventures; there are many places in the world trapped within the MadMaze but not necessarily along the path of our original quest, after all, and without the Archpriest to organize the chaos the Mad One's rage will have unpredictable results. Of course, such later adventures were never written, so things wrap up here, with us and our pals and our cool toys intact.
Interestingly, in the true ending we may not necessarily have saved our home; Weith Village was protected from the Mad One's ravagings by the Archpriest's pact, now null and void with his... nullification and voiding. Nothing now would prevent the Mad One from extending the MadMaze to entrap Weith, and hiding out as we are we can't do much about it. That said, perhaps the tide has turned for Moraziel, who can use his powers to contract the MadMaze while the Mad One is weakened? If so, chaos can at least be held in check, and the fragile reality we know and love (with all its roachsters and highball-drinking lizardmen and grammarian blacksmiths) will persist for another day.
And as for our Prodigy bill for the past few months... perhaps the less said of that, the better.