Part 75: Act Three Chapter Eleven - Crystal And Silver
Nolaloth's valley is high up in the mountains, right on the edges of what used to be Illefarn territory.
: Ah... look there. It is the path that Ammon Jerro spoke of, the one that winds like the tail of a great beast.
: More likely the tail of a great dragon. We'll find out soon enough.
The valley is inhabited by huge, ancient elementals. Tough and strong, but not really that threatening.
Just past the winding canyon is this... a large basin brimming with life.
: Ammon Jerro certainly didn't mention this.
: It must be the presence of the dragon spirit that makes this place possible.
: Know that we should continue our search. The dragon cannot be far.
That crystal is very big.
It looks a bit like a heart, don't you think?
: I do not think we should harm it, since that could serve only to anger the dragon.
: I'm not about to touch anything in this valley.
Suddenly we're interrupted by water elementals. Casavir pisses me off by standing around casting Holy Sword instead of tanking properly as a Paladin should.
: Wait, look - other beings are present.
Gah, black dragons. Not as powerful as reds, but definitely no pushover.
: Know that I feel a great energy coming from this crystal. Dragonkin must be drawn to it, and covet its power.
: They watch us, for now. We must be careful.
One final elemental guards the path up to Nolaloth.
: Yet instead you roam unchecked within my remains, like parasites. What promises shall you make, this time?
Nolaloth's spirit is an unhappy one. So, confronted with the vengeful ghost of a mighty crystal dragon, we do what anybody else would do:
Piss it off.
: Masters? We come of our own will.
: Lies! Why else would you be here, in this one scar in the earth, were it not at the command of the Illefarn?
: I may rest upon the brink of death but do not think me blind to what transpires on my grave.
: You are here because you again need my help, though you always refuse the price. Did you think that you could cage a power of the planes?
: I will tear apart the rocks here if need be.
: Do you wish us to prostrate ourselves before your corpse? Cease this now.
Still nothing. Nolaloth's sulking.
That got his attention.
Nolaloth's a crystal dragon, which could mean any number of things.
There are two kinds of dragon: chromatic and metallic. Chromatic dragons are red, black, blue, green and white, and they're all Evil; metallics are gold, silver, bronze, copper and brass, and they're all Good-aligned. Which isn't to say they aren't just as big assholes as chromatic dragons.
Those are the 'core' dragons, but there's a legion of apocryphal ones as well: purple dragons, brown dragons, deep dragons, mist dragons, shadow dragons, ferrous dragons... and gem dragons.
Gem dragons were the Neutral dragon type, again with five species: amethyst, emerald, sapphire, topaz and crystal. Gem dragons weren't included in core 3rd Edition D&D (probably because they involved psionics) but I'm not sure if they weren't introduced in a later supplement or some such. Crystal dragons, by the way, are Chaotic Neutral; they're friendly and curious, preferring to talk rather than fight. They're the weakest of all the gem dragons (and of all dragons of all kinds as well) but I don't think most of that applies to Nolaloth, who's more than just an ordinary crystal dragon.
So Nolaloth may be an amusing callback to D&D history - as though the fall of Illefarn and the campaign against the Guardian was run with 2nd Edition. Or maybe Obsidian had a nice idea for a dragon spirit and just went with it.
: The King of Shadows has returned to this plane. Know that if he is not st-
: This changes things.
: Who are you, then?
: My name is Nolalothcaragasint.
: But I know the weaknesses of the minds of mortals in shaping such words. You may settle with "Nolaloth."
: Once, I was a great power, an ancient being of crystal and might... once, now no longer.
: Nolaloth... you were the wyrm of legend that fought the King of Shadows.
: Fought and lost, it would seem.
There's a couple of ways this could go. We could lie and say we're from the Illefarn Empire, and we've come to resurrect Nolaloth, but our healers are too busy with the King of Shadows to help him. That cheers him up quite a bit... if you can pull off the Bluff. Otherwise he gets a bit tetchy.
But I've done too much Chaotic stuff recently (bargaining with Mephasm for one) so we'll tell the truth.
: Dead... then my last shreds of hope go along with them.
: It is a wonder that the endless decades have not driven me mad. I have waited for them for thousands of years.
: I was promised a new life! And instead I have been abandoned, left to languish in this insignificant crack in the world.
Here's the other main choice we make. Admitting we know Ammon Jerro also angers Nolaloth, and you have to explain why Ammon Jerro is trustworthy now (not that he is, really).
It's not actually a big deal. Because Nolaloth's a required step on the plot progression path, it's not possible for us to actually upset him enough that he refuses to help. It's an unfortunate piece of railroading but let's be honest: seeking wisdom from a massive ancient dragon-ghost is pretty fucking cool. I can forgive Obsidian for that.
: He pretended to bring good news, that the glorious Illefarn Empire had returned to restore me to life.
: But what he wanted, I will never know. He asked me questions about my past and what happened long ago, and then left.
: If you are not of Illefarn, why have you come here to torment me?
: And how am I to help, as impotent as I am now?
: We need to know what happened. Tell me about your battle with it.
: For the mere chance of having a hand in destroying my adversary, I will help you. Ask your questions.
: It is said you came to the aid of the people of Illefarn.
: And I listened. Whatever your histories or seers have told you, know that I helped because I was promised the riches of the Illefarn Empire.
: The people of Illefarn worshipped you.
Now that's a bit strong. Remember, we first heard about the 'crystal dragon' back in the ruins of Arvahn - one of the spirits in the Gem Mines was there at the final battle against the King of Shadows.
They admired him, yes, but you don't really have much choice with dragons. It's awe or nothing.
: The hearts of all things are covetous. Mine is not deceitful, as it were.
: Deceit might have saved your life.
: Yes, I suppose it might have. Is that perhaps what you are trying to do now?
Oops, a smart remark too far, I think.
There's an interesting comparison to be made between Nolaloth and the King of Shadows. It's all about how we treat our dead.
: Tell me what happened during the battle.
: The people of Illefarn were desperate. Their once defender, known only as the Guardian, had been corrupted and transformed into the shadowy being that haunts you today.
: How were you brought into this?
: The King of Shadows brought despair, and the men of this land wailed loudly enough to get my attention.
It's not a tremendously complicated dichotomy: Nolaloth is good undead, King of Shadows is bad undead. What strikes me is that we rarely see much of Nolaloth's ilk - nice ghosts and skeletons that hang around after death to help their descendants.
: Never before have I met a being as relentless in its devastation. It exists by drawing upon the life and strength of others.
: As I grew weaker in battle, it only became stronger. Shadow triumphed that day.
: How did you end up here?
Bad undead like the King of Shadows are always angry undead - legions of skeleton warriors, hordes of zombies stomping through malls, power-crazed lich-kings, etc. etc. Common as muck, most of them.
: The Guardian of Illefarn was relentless. It fought me until I fell from the sky.
: How did the Illefarn imprison the King of Shadows?
: I don't know their rituals or methods... the winds chose to blow a certain way that day, ultimately. Chance is the great equalizer of the Planes.
: It is by chance that worlds are created, that gods are made, and civilizations destroyed. And it is only be chance that you may succeed.
Oh man, we sound so rude there.
But funnily enough that's why good portrayals of undead are so rare. Coming back from the dead? How impertinent!
Once you're dead, you're supposed to remain so - because that's the way the world's supposed to go, because that's how God or the gods want it to be. If a non-god came back from the dead, well, they'd have to be evil, or mad, or both.
Sometimes I like to pretend that science-fiction & fantasy are about exploring possibilities but I suspect it's more about justifying pre-existing prejudices. Not just in a "orcs are blacks" kind of way (well that too) but more in the implicit intellectual assumptions we make. The basic idea is that dying is what's supposed to happen and evading that is a bit like cheating - hence all those cosy tales about people seeking immortality turning into cruel and vicious monsters, or 'tiring' of life and realising they made a mistake. Hell, it's even echoed in all those Zelda-esque "great evil sealed away for a thousand years, comes back to threaten our heroes."
Fine, if that's what you genuinely think, that's cool, but a lot of the time I wonder if we're not all running on auto-pilot.
Sorry, that was a long digression from the subject.
: Presumably, your progenitors found a way to triumph, despite my loss. They came to me and bound me with primitive magics.
: The years floated by like specks of dust in the still air. No one returned, and not even death could grant me peace.
The point I originally wanted to make was that Nolaloth, as a 'nice' ghost, is presented differently from the Shadow Reavers and the King of Shadows. Note the lighter shades of colours and the vibrant life; note also Nolaloth's self-awareness, wisdom and maturity. Compare that to the gloomy dungeons and mad cacklings of Black Garius and his minions.
Nolaloth's angry, yes, but it's because of the way he's been treated after he died - not some remnant of a forgotten slight from when he was alive. Entirely different from the motivations of other (evil or insane) undead.
: That isn't a name I'm terribly fond of, myself.
: Always it is about this King of Shadows. I have been deceived countless times by those it torments, and the githyanki were no different.
: They came and pleaded for advice, their pathetic cities having been attacked by your adversary.
: The King of Shadows escaped twice?
Listen carefully because we haven't heard much about this campaign against the King of Shadows.
I mean Zhjaeve did explain it back when we first met her but I don't really understand Mysticese.
: In truth, the King of Shadows had not yet left its prison. Slowly, it was ripping open a portal into the Astral Plane.
: This fissure allowed it to manifest itself in an avatar, a powerful nightwalker. The githyanki... objected to its presence.
: What did the githyanki want to know?
: Many cities fell to the King of Shadows. Even in its nightwalker form, the githyanki could not destroy it.
: Sword after sword shattered upon impact, and more cities fell. The nightwalker could be hurt but it could never be hurt enough, not with a thousand swords.
: You knew how to defeat the nightwalker?
: I told them to turn their blades upon the growing portal itself, should they be able to locate it.
: The mongrels left with promises and never returned. I decided that either death, that of the githyanki or of the King of Shadows, would bring me some measure of satisfaction.
Poor old Nolaloth. Three times he's given his aid, three times he's been cheated of his due. He criticises himself for his pride and greed but he seems all right to me.
But we have bigger problems than a sad dragon.
: Your adversary spreads its influence by corrupting its targets until they no longer resemble what they once were.
: Eventually, all one can see is the shadow. It grows long and distracts us from what casts it.
: But a shadow can never become more than a weak outline. It may stretch and grow fearsomely large, but always it must encircle its master.
: If you do not, then there is no way in which the sword may be reformed.
: But you haven't told me how to reform the sword itself.
: That, mortal, is only done through an act of will. There are beings in more chaotic planes that survive through such acts.
: The githyanki have strong bonds with their weapons. These bonds are important to the creation of silver swords.
Well, we have that bond already; we basically are the Silver Sword.
: I don't have all the pieces of the blade.
: Your sword will never be the same blade as before.
: No, it can only be a new creation, even if it resembles its old form to a discerning eye.
: Having all of the pieces may be the least of your concerns, mortal.
: Then that is where you must go now, mortal.
: You make it sound so simple.
Well that's a nice callback. Now tell me: why do we need the Tome of Iltkazar again?
: I can see from your eyes that this is what you came for. Now I must ask of you.
: You wish us to end your life?
: This life is an abomination, and I am no longer content to wait for chance to rescue me from the void.
: If this will put an end to your sermons, then tell me how.
: I must remind myself that this is the case.
: My body is no more, but in its place a new kind of life has sprung into being. My heart is all that remains.
* * *
Talking was a nice way to handle this encounter, but a little combat might add some frisson to this update.
: Anything to get it to be silent.
: Hurry - other beings may be drawn to the crystal as we speak.
Speak of the devil - or black dragon, in this instance.
: This seems familiar.
: These dragons have only rage in their eyes. Words will not avail us, here.
: Good, I prefer killing dragons in pairs.
Even though there's two of them, these dragons are still easier than Tholapsyx. They're not as old as she is, nor as willing to use their breath weapons.
Bishop and Casavir take some hits while Qara stands well back of everyone and launches a few Missile Storms at the enemy. Simple as that, really.
After the dragons are taken care of, we can destroy Nolaloth's crystal heart.
I hope this works. If we fuck up and the King of Shadows returns a hundred years hence, there's not going to be anyone around to tell the next hero how to stop the Illefarn Guardian.
Not that I fully understand how Nolaloth knew how to reform the Sword of Gith anyway. I suppose it's one of those things you just pick up in a lifetime of being an undead crystal dragon.
* * *
One last picture to discuss.
We're entering the endgame here. Two things of note:
- Our usefulness as a Rogue is coming to an end. Most of our damage is done through Sneak Attacks, but Sneak Attacks don't work against creatures like undead, Constructs and elementals. Guess what we'll be fighting from now until the end of the game!
- The game is becoming extremely rushed. Nolaloth's valley was pretty much just carved out with terrain-molding brushes, leaving a lot of stretched textures over the jagged geometry. Old Owl Well, which had similar terrain, covered it up with cliff-face placeables, but no such luck here. I've also corrected a number of typoes and inconsistent capitalisations in Nolaloth's dialogue. Also, note the journal entry above: "the player?" Hrm.
That's not important, though. This is the final, final quest before the endgame sweeps us away. Next stop: West Harbor.