This is a short story from our current Dungeons & Dragons campaign. This is the moment when my warlock greedily took up an artifact after passing its guardian’s trial.
Garrick loved leaning on borrowed power. In this instance, the power he sought to take took him instead.
This story contains spoilers for the Baldur’s Gate: Descent into Avernus adventure. Some components may be gruesome. You have been warned.
“Well done, adventurers. You are worthy to take up the blade,” boomed the disembodied voice. The words of Yale, guardian of the Sword of Zariel, echoed throughout the chapel. “But know this: as the inscription on the dais says, ‘The hero who becomes one with this blade exists no longer.’”
“Is it still glowing?” called Nowhere from eschar-crusted hallway outside of the chapel. He had refused to enter after being burned by an overflowing tide of light when the doors were unsealed.
“Only a little bit. You probably don’t need to worry now. You’ve got insurance,” called back Lem Larson.
“Nope. No. That’s fine. You finish up in there. I’ll be right here, keeping an eye out for…it,” Nowhere replied, shuddering.
“Nowhere needs hug?” asked Harold loudly.
“Novere. In your trafels, haf you seen somezzingkt like zis? Ze material iss fascinatingkt. Like krystalized schteel,” observed Nil.
Garrick stepped up to the plinth where the Sword of Zariel sat. It was a longsword, and as Nil had pointed out, the material it was forged from was unlike anything he had ever seen. The way it refracted the light reminded him of a faceted diamond. The blade, guard, hilt, and pommel appeared to be one solid piece.
Lem stood before the plinth with Garrick. The sword glowed a warm, gentle light upon the two of them.
“I don’t know anything about swordplay. The movements are too large and imprecise for my work,” said Lem. “You cannot cleave conjoined twins in half. It requires patience, precision, and some slaves to wipe your brow.”
Garrick was secretly relieved. The longsword looked much more powerful than his current weapon: a great fang that dripped poison they had looted from the ruins of a weird yuan-ti temple. He thought he might have to argue with Lem, or worse, fight for it. It would be hard going in Avernus without a cleric, but the blade promised unrivaled power.
Briefly, his mind wandered. The dark rituals performed upon the fang with blood stolen from Harold’s fluid bag had strengthened it with Bhaal’s blessings. Would the same rituals work on an angel’s blade? Avernus itself had been offended by its presence, raising this disgusting citadel around it to keep it out of the way.
“Well, someone take it. This will definitely help Zariel!” said Lulu cheerfully. She did a little flip mid-air.
“Oh. Lulu. You were so big before,” commented Lem. During Yale’s examination, the party had experienced Zariel’s hellriders saving Idyllglen from the demon lord Yeenoghu. Zariel rode upon a gigantic mammoth; this was a far cry from the peacock-sized hollyphant that had accompanied the party into the seven hells.
“Was it? I don’t remember! Maybe I will when you pick up the sword. C’mon, hurry up, let’s go!” she replied, doing more aerial acrobatics.
“Alright. I’ll take it if nobody else wants it,” Garrick said magnanimously. “You’re sure Harold?”
“Harold only wants axes,” Harold said as he stroked the head of his own beloved hellfire axe.
Garrick reached out his hand to take up the blade.
“GARRICK DO NOT TOUCH THAT SWORD IT WILL BE OUR UN-” came a panicked voice in Garrick’s mind.
This was Gargauth, former ruler of Avernus. When Zariel took over management, the pit fiend had been imprisoned in a shield. Somehow, it ended up in Baldur’s Gate for Garrick to find. It was a powerful relic, and Gargauth had been a useful ally.
“Don’t worry bud,” Garrick said softly. “This thing is going to solve all our problems. Imagine the look on Bel’s face after I jam this sword into it! It’ll be priceless.”
“GARRICK NO PLEASE IT WILL UNDO ALL OF OUR WORK“, Gargauth pleaded desperately. Garrick ignored his protests and grabbed the hilt.
As soon as Garrick’s fingers closed around the hilt, he was overtaken by a blinding flash of light. He tried to call out a warning to Nowhere, but he could not speak. The chapel, the Scab, and Avernus itself seemed to drop away from Garrick. He stood with the sword, alone, in a void filled with the light.
It felt like nothing happened for minutes. He was frozen in place, unable to move, or speak — thinking of anything beyond the light was impossible.
Slowly, pain intruded on his meditation. It was a nuisance at first — an itch that he could not scratch. Over the long hours Garrick was trapped in the void, it grew to an overwhelming agony. He now experienced dueling sensations: the light, and agony.
Just as suddenly as the paralysis began, it ended. Garrick crumpled, screaming incoherently. There was no floor in this void, no concept of up or down, so he drifted in the sea of the light.
“Garrick Amur. You may have passed my trial. You should be worthy to take up this blade, but now I see the evil latched on to your soul,” declared the voice of Yale. It seemed to come from everywhere: wherever there was light, there was the voice.
“rrgRGAGhaRHAhhhhhhhAGG FUCK YOU,” screamed Garrick hoarsely. The pain inflicted upon him by the light left him barely coherent.
Yale spoke again, but this time, did not address Garrick. “Dread Lord. I know you are watching. Come forth and we will have words.”
Garrick felt as if the skin on his legs was dissolving. He could not manage to look down.
Above him, a mote of darkness formed. It was no lager than a pea.
“This mortal is my tool. He is not for you. Return him so I may complete my revenge,” spoke the mote.
It was a quiet voice; one you might hear in a dark alley, moments before an untimely end. It did not speak with authority or power, merely with a sense of finality, as if it expected its words were inevitable.
“What concern does the Lord of Murder have for one single mortal? This one cannot carry one of your children,” Yale spat.
“No. Of course not. But this one was slighted by the child of the child of the child of the Bhaalspawn Slayer. His revenge will be mine. I have waited many years,” stated Bhaal.
Garrick was not able to follow the conversation. It now felt as if the nerve endings in his legs were being stabbed with hot needles over and over. He found that he was no longer able to scream; instead, his cries caused black blood to flow from the ruins of his vocal chords.
“The Morninglord will not be denied. This blade has sat idle for one hundred and thirty eight years. If he cannot reclaim his lieutenant, then he will at least have this power restored to the world,” said Yale flatly. “Relinquish this mortal and allow him to repent for his sins.”
“I am at a disadvantage. This is your place. I cannot stop you from taking Garrick from me,” said Bhaal. “But know this: he will not repent. He will not be your champion. The idea is absurd. He sought me out for a reason, ghost. He will not serve Lathander’s will.”
The light pulsed. Garrick began choking on his own blood as he felt his fingers being crushed underneath stones. His skin had been ground off into a red-stained paste; a foul alchemist’s poultice. Now the stone was scrape–scape–scraping the tendons from the bone. Everything was agony.
“If you know you are defeated, Dread Lord, then withdraw. This one is mine. His fitness is none of your concern,” said Yale.
The light pulsed again, overwhelming the mote of darkness. Bhaal’s presence departed the void without further comment.
Garrick felt something change. He could no longer see the light quite as well. His powers seemed to slip away from his grasp. He was in no state to cast any spells, but even when he was frozen, he was still able to sense the reassuring presence of power. It receded now, moved beyond his grasp. In the haze of pain, it did not fully register.
The pain suddenly ceased. The void was silent. Minutes passed. Days passed. Hours passed. Garrick simply existed as he tried to collect himself after his ordeal.
After an indeterminable time, Yale broke the silence.
“Garrick Amur. You are called to serve Lathander, the Bringer of the Dawn. Will you accept this duty?”
“Will Lathander kill Gist? Will Lathander give me Baldur’s Gate?” replied Garrick. His voice was small and weak, but defiant.
“Those things no longer matter, Garrick Amur. Lathander requires a champion to set matters to rights. Let go of your anger and repent for the lives you have destroyed. The Morninglord will give you new purpose,” Yale intoned.
Garrick suddenly knew what he had to do: escape. He wasn’t sure what Yale was, but if Yale had been stuck in the Scab with the sword, then maybe it wasn’t that strong. It had conjured up a memory for the party to fight in, sure, but Mad Maggie had done that too. Harold could definitely kill Mad Maggie.
Harold. Yes, Harold would kill Yale, and then everything would be fine. A few minutes with Lem’s magical hands and Garrick would be ready to take on Bel.
“No thanks. Not interested,” Garrick said. He then tried to cast a magical darkness to hide himself from the light. Mentally, Garrick reached for the power, and found that it was not there.
“Shit, shit,” he muttered. This was bad. This had never happened before. And then he remembered: during the pain, he felt his dark blessings melt away. Bhaal had abandoned him.
“Gargy, get me a wall of fi-” Garrick said, stopping short. He realized the Shield of the Hidden Lord was not strapped to his arm. Gargauth was not here to help him.
Reaching for his belt, Garrick tried to draw the yuan-ti fang-blade. But his belt was missing, along with his sword and the spell gems he had saved for emergencies.
“Garrick,” Yale said. “You cannot fight this. From the moment you touched the sword, the outcome was predetermined. This is fate. Ask for redemption, and the Morninglord will grant it.”
“I don’t want what you’re selling,” Garrick replied glibly. “I want Gist to choke to death on his own dick in a dungeon beneath my manor. Fuck your redemption.”
The light pulsed, but Yale said nothing.
“Put me back. Someone else can have your redemption. I have my own business to attend to back in the city.”
The light pulsed again, but Yale remained silent.
“FUCK YOU, OK? PUT ME BACK IN THE SCAB,” Garrick screaming in frustration.
The light intensified.
“Garrick Amur. You speak true. You will not relinquish your hate,” Yale said sadly. “But Lathander will not be denied. There must be amends made for the sins of Zariel. If you will not serve, that is fine, but the Sword must be put to use.”
“Great. Fine. I promise to stab Zariel with it before Bel,” Garrick said with relief. It seemed he had found a way out of this nightmare.
“Your words are worthless. You will never wield the Sword. I will do it in your stead,” said Yale with a note of finality.
Garrick found himself unable to move or speak again. Oh, shit, he thought.
“I am sorry that it came to this, Garrick Amur. I will try to be gentle,” said Yale mournfully. “Here, in the furthest reaches of your mind, I will build a manor for your evil soul to inhabit. Perhaps one day, you will find remorse. I cannot save you from yourself. Perhaps another can.”
With that, the light disappeared. There was no darkness either. Garrick simply existed nowhere. He was unable to think, see, hear, or feel. He tried to scream, but he had no body. He simply was. He tried to grab the bars of his prison and rail against his jailer, but there was no prison.
Garrick Amur was nothing.
In the chapel, no time passed. Garrick grabbed the Sword of Zariel, and in a burst of light, he changed.
Standing between Lem and Lulu was a man burning with conviction. Wings of pure light sprouted from Garrick’s back as the muscles of his arms swelled to better bear the weight of the Sword. His shirt tore in a dozen places. Garrick lifted the sword before him, bathing the party in its gentle glow.
“You haf ruined anozzer schirt,” observed Nil dryly.
“Vanity matters little,” said Garrick.
“Ist zat so? Garrick, are you feelingkt alright?” Nil asked with concern.
Garrick paused to consider. He did feel a bit off. Something was wrong. Ah, he realized, my arm.
“What is this foul thing strapped to my arm? How did this get on me?” Garrick said. He started undoing the straps of the Shield of the Hidden Lord. “This will not do,” he declared. The shield fell to the plinth where the Sword of Zariel was.
“No…NO! Nowhere, Lem, Nil… do not leave me here,” Gargauth pleaded.
“My friends,” Garrick said. He wore a broad, honest smile on his face instead of his typical smirk. “We have come far. Together, we have claimed the Sword of Zariel. Soon, things will be set to rights. And when they are, I do solemnly swear that the foul creatures who turned Zariel away from the light will pay dearly.”
“We get more blood now,” exclaimed Harold, nonplussed by Garrick’s sudden transformations.
“That’s nice, Garrick. Are you sure you don’t want that shield anymore?” asked Lem.
“Ummmm…what just happened to Garrick, guys?” called Nowhere from outside. “That seems like something bad happened to Garrick.”
“I am fine, Nowhere. Do not worry. Give me a moment and I will tend to your injuries,” Garrick said.
He turned to Lem. “That shield is dark and foul, Lem. It may be better to destroy it.”
“LEM! YOU HAVE SEEN WHAT POWER I GIFTED GARRICK! I CAN HELP YOU!” shrieked Gargauth.
“That’s true,” said Lem, “But doesn’t Gargauth deserve a chance at forgiveness?”
Garrick weighted Lem’s words carefully. It was hard for him to remember anything, but deep in the fog of Garrick’s mind, he thought he recalled that Gargauth had been defeated and imprisoned.
“You are right, Lem. Perhaps justice has already been served when he was imprisoned in that shield. If we destroy him, then he can never be forgiven,” Garrick said.
“Yes… yes, Garrick. Forgive me,” whispered Gargauth.
“Yes. Take up the shield, and bring him along. I think he deserves a chance,” Garrick said to Lem. He quickly obliged, strapping the shield to his back. “I will explain to you, Gargauth, in painstaking detail what the path of repentance requires. I hope you will choose to embrace our mercy and walk the path.”
“Yes, I will remember your mercy…” Gargauth said to Garrick venomously. Garrick ignored him.
“Here, I don’t need this one any more,” Lem said as he offered Garrick his old shield. Garrick strapped it on, comforted by the weight on his arm. It felt different from before, but better.
“Hm. I need to find new armour,” observed Garrick as he picked at his half-plate and damaged shirt. “This is insufficient to our cause. Do we have anything heavier?”
“I haf ze hellfire plate from ze horseman,” said Nil.
Garrick shook his head. “No. Keep it. That will not do.”
With purpose, Garrick extended his wings and made for the exit. As he passed Nowhere, he reached out and touched his burned flesh. The sword glowed brighter for a moment, and Nowhere’s skin undulated. When it stopped, it was restored.
“There is work to do. Let’s go.”