The endgame began when we returned to the Standing Stone from Dracandros's tower. The hooded figure who had been helpfully pointing us to the bond-holders took off his hood and--without even an exclamation point--revealed himself as Tyranthraxus. He invited us to attend him in Myth Drannor--the ruins of an ancient elven city to which we will regrettably return in 2001--and disappeared.
|I just think there should have been an exclamation point after "Tyranthraxus."|
Myth Drannor consisted of three 16 x 16 areas:
- A large cemetery with numerous graves and crypts, populated by rakshashas, giant spiders, phase spiders, thri-keen, and various ghosts of the old inhabitants.
- An area with ruins of buildings, including more rakshashas, hell hounds, and margoyles.
- A temple containing the minions of Tyranthraxus and, ultimately, the Flamed One himself.
|Zapping thri-keen and phase spiders.|
The foes were a notch above the ones I'd encountered through most of the game--which of course you'd expect in the final areas. The spiders were capable of poisoning and thus immediately "killing" my characters in melee combat, so we needed to take them out quickly with "Fireball" spells and have a couple of "Neutralize Poison" spells memorized, just in case. The thri-keen (an insectoid race whose presence in Myth Drannor was a bit of a mystery) were capable of causing paralysis in melee combat. Hell hounds could breath fire, though were curiously also vulnerable to "Fireball" spells.
|The rakshasa are all depicted wearing robes and smoking pipes.|
I had always thought that "margoyle" was short for "marine gargoyle," so I was surprised to see them here, but a check of the Forgotten Realms wiki says that I'm wrong: they're just stronger gargoyles. They didn't have any special attacks, but they were tough, and they attacked in packs of dozens--often protecting a couple rakshasa, and in the end, Tyranthraxus himself.
The random encounters in the first two areas weren't so bad; once I'd cleared 10 or 12 of them, they stopped coming. What made these areas interesting was the wide variety of special encounters. The rakshashas, masters of trickery, kept luring my party members into ambushes. The first encounter we had upon entering the graveyard was with an "elven spirit" who tricked us into walking into a spider's web, then revealed herself as a rakshasa (the web made it so we could only move 1 move per round, but it didn't stop us from killing the beast).
|In retrospect, believing that we could walk into a spider web, say an incantation, and gain strength was a bit stupid.|
A short while later, I encountered another elven spirit who offered her "blessing." We nearly refused and prepared for combat, but we decided to see what happened, and this one turned out to be legitimate.
|This was a nice reference to my encounter in Dracandros's.|
Because I had no way to tell illusions from reality, I just assumed that everyone was telling the truth. With this policy, I was tricked a few times (although always to the trickster's demise) but also had some positive encounters, including a parlay with the rakshasa leader that led to him withdrawing his support from Tyranthraxus.
|This "Red Plume" was a rakshasa in disguise, and he led me into an ambush.|
|But this fallen warrior was legitimate, and he gave me directions to a treasure cache.|
There were some cool role-playing options in the graveyard section that led to a nice reward. At several junctures, we found crypts that had been overturned and looted by Tyranthraxus's minions, and we were given the option to continue looting them or to replace the bones.
In all cases, I role-played as a good party and replaced the bones without looting. In reward, the spirits of Myth Drannor give us a fantastic treasure cache that included a long sword+5, a light crossbow +5, and "blessed quarrels" capable of killing rakshasas in one hit. Since rakshasas are immune to magic, have low armor classes, and tend to hang out behind melee cannon fodder, these came in handy when we faced a large group of them.
There were some other unexpected allies. At one point, some Knights of Myth Drannor approached and said that they'd cause a diversion to draw off some of Tyranthraxus's troops during the final battle. I'm not sure what we would have faced if we hadn't received their help.
More mysterious was a stranger called "Nameless" who approached us in the ruins and claimed to have a hand in creating the first bonds. He warned us that with the other four masters dead, nothing was stopping Tyranthraxus from "invoking the full power" of our bonds, and he suggested we try to catch him off-guard. I know from my post-game readings that "Nameless" is actually Finder Wyvernspur, a major figure in the "Finder's Stone" trilogy, of which Azure Bonds is the first novel. (Also, Alias told us a little about him in her journal entry.) Seeking to make his music immortal, Wyvernspur created a magic clone of himself, but ended up abusing the clone and turning him evil. In punishment for his offenses, the Harpers exiled him to a plane and wiped all traces of his music and poems from history.
|He's lucky I didn't assume he was a rakshasa and kill him.|
Centuries later, a sorceress named Cassana found him and offered to help him continue his work, and the result was Alias, the heroine of Azure Bonds. Through the events of the books, Finder ends up redeeming himself, nobly sacrificing his chance at immortality to prevent the return of Moander, and freeing the Saurials (Dragonbait's race) from Moander's slavery. But in doing so, he somehow absorbs some of Moander's divinity and becomes a demi-god. Anyway, all of that (I think) is in the future for Nameless. Right now, he's just an anonymous friend of the adventurers I've been encountering throughout the game: Alias, Dragonbait, Olive Ruskettle, Akabar, and so on.
Things got hairy when we took a sewer passage to the temple and discovered that a) there was no way to get out of the temple once we entered, and b) there was no way to rest in the temple, which meant no healing or spell-memorization. I stopped mapping and concentrated on finding and killing Tyranthraxus as quickly as I could. Fortunately, the Helm of Dragons we had received from Dracandros kept telling us his location.
Not all was right in Tyranthraxus's domain. Aside from the rakshasa deserting him for no better reason than we parlayed "haughtily," his own priest allies were seeking to undermine him...
...and his own high priest turned out to be Nameless in disguise. I determined this in a poorly-written sequence in which we encountered Tyranthraxus, now suddenly a Zeus-looking dude with lightning shooting from his hands:
|What happened to your horns? What happened to being called "The Flamed One"?|
I guess he possessed the body of a storm giant at some point. Anyway, he invoked our bonds and compelled us to turn over the three artifacts that we'd been assured would help destroy him--the Helm of Dragons, the Amulet of Lathander, and the Gauntlet of Moander--to his high priest. The priest made a show of destroying them in the Pool of Radiance--oh, yeah, that somehow showed up here--but turned out to have stealthily palmed them. Even more stealthily, he hid his beard:
|He could have saved time by just not taking them in the first place.|
Then, Big T made a mistake worth of a James Bond villain:
Just before Tyranthraxus killed Nameless, Nameless read the phrase on the parchment and partially, but not completely, released our bonds. Either Nameless faked his death here or the authors of the "Finders Stone Trilogy" did some serious retconning to get him in the next two books. Then again, Fzoul, the Zhent high priest of Bane, also died in this game, and he survives for another 20 years in the books.
For no reason I fully understand, Tyranthraxus went charging off...
...the Knights of Myth Drannor did their thing...
...and we chased Tyranthraxus upstairs, and after cutting our way through a few small parties of minions, finally encountered him in a large room at the end of a hall. He tried to invoke the bonds again, but the party threw off the compulsion with sheer will.
|Oh, Tyranthraxus...you don't tell people this kind of thing.|
Tyranthraxus attacked with a couple dozen margoyles and about 10 high priests. Naturally, we had buffed with "Haste," "Bless," "Prayer," "Enlarge," "Protection from Evil," and other spells before entering the chamber. The big things we had to watch out for were 1) T's lightning attacks, which were capable of 50-60 points of damage and could easily kill one of my characters if it bounced off a wall; and 2) the priests' "Hold Person" spells. My basic strategy was to take out as many priests and margoyles as quickly as possible with "Fireball"; both Cesario and Viola had it memorized, and I gave a wand to Octavianus.
|Tyranthraxus and his minions. There are a bunch more margoyles above and to the left of him.|
I delayed my fighters until the end of the first round, when a path through the margoyles had been cleared, and sent them after Tyrnathraxus's storm giant form. With "Haste" and "Enlarge" both active, he went down in just a few hits. It was my ranger, Goldeneye, who had recently been gifted with both a long sword +5 and a Girdle of Giant Strength, who struck the killing blow.
I defeated him three times in a row, but the first two times, one or two of my characters were killed, and I wanted to end the game with everyone alive. I recorded my final victorious fight below.
Tyranthraxus already hadn't been batting 1000, but at this point he completely lost all common sense. First, he told us exactly what he was going to do:
|"Oh? This pool over here?"|
Then, he told a lie so obvious that the game doesn't even bother to give me the option not to destroy the Pool of Radiance:
|I'm not entirely sure how I "shattered" a pool. Or was the gauntlet shattered?|
Finally, he have the worst end-game villain speech since Malcolm Trandle's "You beat me?! I am destroyed." in Sentinel Worlds
|In his last moments, he became a poet--admittedly, one who needs to work on his meter.|
The bonds faded...
|Thank god almighty.|
...and the Knights of Myth Drannor showed up--nice timing, guys--to take us to a feast in Shadowdale.
I've pondered the endgame for a while, and I'm still not sure what Tyranthraxus was trying to accomplish. The Fire Knives wanted to use me to kill the King of Cormyr. The Cultists of Moander used my bonds to somehow open a portal to bring Moander back into the realms. Dracandros wanted to compel me to attack some dragons and trick them into killing Elminster and ravaging the Dalelands. The Zhentarim bond had something to do with a factional war among the priests of Bane. But Tyranthraxus never seemed to have a plan. The best I could figure is that he was going to use my party members' bodies as backups in case his storm giant form was slain. (He said something in a speech about being able to possess me through the bonds.) But if that was the case, why invite me to his secret lair? Why not just let me go on adventuring until he needs one of us?
Overall, though, it was a fun, action-packed ending. The final battle felt a tad on the easy side (I think Tyranthraxus should have had a lot more hit points), but I liked the ruins of Myth Drannor, and...huh. Something just occurred to me. The reviled 2001 game I referenced previously is called Pool of Radiance: Ruins of Myth Drannor. I just assumed it was a tawdry attempt to capitalize on the name of the famous 1988 game. But did this title and subtitle come together because Myth Drannor is where the Pool of Radiance was last transported, thanks to Tyranthraxus? I never got far enough in the game to find out.
I don't expect the GIMLET to look a lot different from Pool of Radiance, but let's see.