Part 21: Aranea City; Northern Mop-Up
"Oh thank the Word."
"Good job, Elly. You handled that spider cave better than I thought you would!"
"Heck no. Still, we and the world are still in one piece, and that's what matters, eh? Now let's go kill some spiders."
"Music t'my ears. Squish, squish! Ha ha ha."
"Uh, I for one vote that our priestess sober herself up."
"Oooh, yeah. Wouldn't want to try to cast any spells while you're drunk, Elly."
"Uh, why did my shirt just turn into a lizard and run off?"
"No worries, I'll get it back."
"My meat stash!"
"It belatedly occurs to me that the drunkenness cure is, itself, a spell."
"Maybe you'd better just wait for it to wear off naturally then, Elly."
"No, no, this is fun! Let's see what other misfires I can cause!"
"Aw, geeze, run for it!"
The aranea lair is pretty much straight west from the Giant Intelligent Friendly Talking Spiders. Amusingly, Byff levels up from the experience of discovering the lair -- you get a little experience every time you find a new location.
"Right, let's squish some bugs!"
"S'what I said, innit?"
"Ah, hell with it. Charge!"
"Don't step in the magic circle."
"...I wasn't planning on it, but okay."
Kane and One-Eye can't quite one-shot Aranea, but that's okay.
"Hey guys, I think I figured something out!"
"How to drive myself into a berserk rage!"
Remember when I said Byff leveled up? One of his skillpoints went into Bows, and with the Discipline Blade he now has 15 points in basic combat skills.
Y'know how Final Fantasy has Dualcast, and it's one of the most broken abilities you can get? Byff now has Triplecast. Sure, he can only use it every 5-6 turns, but it's still amazing.
As for the Aranea, they know basic magic spells like Daze, Bolt of Fire, and Summon Beast. Daze is of course annoying, but the others are of no real consequence. They also have a fairly nasty poisonous melee, but they rarely get a chance to use it, and at this point they have trouble hitting us.
"Hey, Byff, can you show me how to defang these things?"
"Er, sure, but be careful. Aranea fangs are fragile."
You'd think every aranea would drop a fang, but no. And no, as far as I'm aware they aren't valid alchemical ingredients in this game. That's a holdover from a previous one.
On the other hand, aranea do frequently drop various scrolls and the lesser magical wands. Much better than some old teeth.
"Hey, what's this rune do?"
"No, wait, Elly!"
It just ensnares the entire party, but it wears off quickly.
"Found a button."
"Yep, not feeling guilty about this one at all."
"Nice change of pace from assaulting slith fishing villages, eh?"
"Heads up; another button."
"What on earth...?"
"Impossible, the bones are far too thin. I've never seen anything like it before."
"Weird clothes, too. And check these out...some kind of throwing weapon?"
"Please, let me take these. Artifacts of a lost civilization must be carefully preserved."
The Razordisks are an incredibly minor improvement over One-Eye's iron javelins, and given their irreplaceability they're not worth using anyway.
"Hey, they stuck a scroll in this web!"
"Now the real question is, did they write these or steal them?"
Some of the webs contain items; in this case, Group Heal and Radiate Ice scrolls.
"Bahhhh, spiders. Ỵ͓͈̰̺͔̪͆̃̋ͨ̽̾͗o͔̗̦̅̈̆̀ͅu̗͉̺̜̼͉͚̾̈́ͬ̆͋͒́̚ ̹͐ͯ͑͊̉̽ͤ͌̀h̺͈̞͎͚̦͉̪͑ͯă͈̰̯͚̪̇v̠͚͎̖̜͗ͩͩͫ͌ͮͅe̤̙͇͐ͤ͊ͪͪ ͓̞͚̑ṯ̗̭̘̥̦̋̓̄ͨ̿͗ͫo̰̼̜͍̻̝̟ͨ̿̉́̓ͣ̈́̌ͅö͓̪̱͋ͅ ̟͓̩̹͇͓̞̖̊͂̄̅̇̚m̖͚̪̲̹̺̎ͥͅā͈̣͓̝͓͖̳̆ͪ͂̍n̻ͮ̅y͎̖̪̥͖͈̰ͣͩͧ̿ͭ̊̎̔ͅ ̫̩̫̖̞̖̇̎̏͛̄ͣl̘̬͖͎̼ͯ̄ͤ̾̽ͨe͙̖̹̮̞̼ͣ̅̓̈́ͫͣ͂ͤͭg̺̫͈͈̮͍̰͚͍̔ͫͤͬ̊̃͌̓͗ṣ̼̙̘̠͂̅̅ͥͧͭͨ!̱̯̠͙̃̂͆̑"
"Agh! Watch where you point that thing!"
There's two Aranea Watchers here, who are a heck of a lot more durable than standard Aranea. Even after Kane, One-Eye, and Byff all use Adrenaline Rush, they still have nearly half their hitpoints. And then they dazed Kane and One-Eye, of course. And we still can't cure mental afflictions.
"Hey boys, any time you feel like joining the fight, that'd be grand!"
"In the name of the law, my head hurts..."
"So does mine, you don't see me complaining!"
"That's because every time you open your mouth, fireworks come out. Incidentally, could you please stop talking?"
"C'mon, how do you read these things..."
"Hey, maybe the magic circle will help?"
"That's a negative. Magic circles never help."
There's also a Cave Demon and another imp just outside. Scaly Imps can cause slowness with their melee, but they don't hit at all often. Cave Demons of course we have killed before. On the plus side...
"Nothing we can read, but I found a wand."
"How do you tell a wand from a stick anyway?"
"Easy. This end kills you if you touch it."
In the remake, this little library had a spell you could learn, I forget which. It's been moved in the reremake, so now there's a boss fight of sorts, but no real reward beyond the wand.
"Ahh, whoops. Think we found the leader. Or else a spider with a penchant for collecting skulls."
"Lemme at 'im! I'll tie his legs into knots!"
An Aranea, two Aranea Watchers like we just fought, the Aranea Hivemaster, and a Mindless Hiveguard in the back. After our alpha strike is done, though, this is all that's left:
Adrenaline Rush is so, so good, you guys. The only problem is that triple-casting Icy Rain really does a number on Byff's spellpoint supply.
The Hivemaster appears to just be an up-statted Watcher that can spew webs, which damage and ensnare. Handy at least for breaking the daze effect that the Watchers like to put on our fighters. Meanwhile, his Hiveguard is a melee enemy whose job is to give the Hivemaster some time to cast his spells. He might have a strong melee attack, but I wouldn't know as he never landed a hit.
"They aren't dying fast enough. Why aren't they dying?! I have got to learn some stronger attack spells."
"Ah, the lament of the healer."
"I'd be happy to teach you some magic, Elly!"
"Byff? Are you really sure you want Elly to have access to more destructive magic?"
It'll come eventually, Elly. Never fear.
We aren't quite unstoppable gods in this dungeon; Byff gets badly hurt and could easily have died if we didn't slow down a bit to heal him up.
"Oh come on! He summoned a rat! Why couldn't it have been something pleasant?"
"I don't know, a tomato?"
On his own, the Hivemaster simply can't put out damage fast enough to be a threat. He mostly just inconveniences us with summons and debuff spells, and has a tediously large health pool.
"Ugh, it's getting goop on everything! These things can't even die cleanly!"
"Score, more fangs! Don't mind if I do. Incidentally, Elly, you're carrying our fangs."
We also get two Group Heal scrolls and a new shield:
That is going on Kane and very possibly never coming off, considering the amount of damage he could do if he got charmed.
"Hm, cells. This is some surprisingly tough webbing; my sword's not doing a thing!"
"By weight, spider silk is stronger than steel. And this stuff is probably enchanted, too."
"Wait, seriously? Why are we all wearing metal armor then?"
"Do you want to harvest silk from thousands of spiders to make a single shirt?"
"More importantly, how do we get the cells open?"
"Step on the magic circles?"
"Couldn't even use doorknobs like civilized people."
Fortunately this doesn't actually summon anything, or even get us encased in spiderwebs. One of the cells is empty; the other:
"Wonderful. Can we leave now?"
"What, and leave more evil spellcasting spiders behind us? You don't want to kill every last one of them?"
"Oh fine, you sweet talker you."
"Hang on, found a stash."
Just some crystals, a.k.a. money, and a Battle Crystal, which can be used for a group Regeneration + Spine Shield effect. A.k.a. money. I know I've leaned very heavily on consumables in the past, but some status effects are just not worth bothering with.
"I think this is the last of them!"
"Demons. Why does every dungeon we explore have demons in it?"
"Because demons are literally everywhere?"
Just Scaly Imps, nothing serious.
"Wait, literally everywhere? You're not speaking figuratively, are you?"
"Demons all over the place. S'fact. They just can't reach us normally because they're, whaddayacallem, planar-ly shifted?"
"She's right. No matter where you are, if you open a portal to the demonic plane then one'll come through in seconds. Stands to reason they're basically everywhere over there."
"Thanks, now I won't sleep ever again."
"I figure all the demon summoning's because it's an easy path to power. All you have to do is clear a path for the demon, and they'll lend their strength to you. Until they stab you in the back of course."
"You'd think people would figure that one out eventually."
"Hm, robe, used-up magic wand, skeleton. Guess this one didn't remember what demons do until it was too late."
There really are some robes and a Wand of the Inferno with 2 charges left. And a kitchen knife.
"Okay, let's go --"
"-- and tell the friendly spiders of our success."
"Aww, c'mon! They probably have something nifty locked up back there!"
"You look a bit steadier on your feet now, Elly."
"Nothing like a little battle rage to clear your head!"
Before we go, here's the map. The "bookshelves" are in the northwest, the cell with the friendly spider is the other !, and the fight with the Hivemaster is right outside the cells. Otherwise, spiders are all over the place.
"Now, we need to find Spider to get him (her?) to open the passageway..."
"Easier said than done. How can you tell one spider from another?"
"Honestly, it's like you never learned to recognize the markings on animals in the wild."
"No, I didn't!"
"Mission accomplished, Spider. Now, about that fee..."
"Cripes, that's a lot of bodies."
"Some of them still moving! Heads up!"
The Burning Wight can cast an area-of-effect fire spell, but he's not a very good spellcaster, so it doesn't do much damage. This is a short fight, which is good considering Byff's almost tapped dry.
"The party mage died alone in a corner. How sad. "
"He probably was the one that raised those wights. In fact he probably was one of those wights. I'm not feeling sorry for him."
"S'okay, I feel better now. Check this belt!"
What does Byff need with strength anyway?
"Hey, Byff, this look familiar to you?"
"Hm, definitely of a set with the ivory brooch we found in Motrax's home. Still don't know what they do yet, though."
Other than the brooch, the rest of the bodies have various low-grade equipment on them; nothing interesting.
There's a few special encounters in the area "outside". We can fight a group of aranea for a mummified nephilim who has a Girdle of Nimbleness belt (+1 dexterity), and we can help a group of Avernite soldiers against two aranea and a bunch of giant spiders -- no loot, but it improves our reputation. And there's this:
But that's it for this area. Here's the map:
The aranea city is on the west, with the GIFTS nearly straight east of them and Fort Draco southeast of that.
"Let's get rid of these aranea fangs, please. I don't want to be bitten by the remains of a dead spider while I'm digging through my pack for a drink."
"Hello, darling! We got rid of some nasty spiders for you!"
They're worth 50 gold apiece, which is a pretty decent bounty. There aren't very many aranea in the game, though, so it's hard to capitalize on.
The area around Fort Draco has several mines.
"Let's check it out!"
"Looking for any gold ore they just happened to leave lying around?"
"Well hey, you never know..."
But lest you think all of the mines are pointless...
...they are. Yep.
"Want to kill some more spiders, Elly?"
"Too bad. Yoink."
Just two more aranea and some giant spiders. The wand is an Oozing Wand (acid AOE), which is no longer really interesting.
"Hey, thanks for indulging me on the spiders, everyone. I owe you, Elly."
"Aw, it's okay, Byff. I'll cope. With therapy."
"Anyway, we should probably check out the river now. There must be something important here."
"I agree. Anyone who goes to the effort to hide where you can't reach them on foot? They've gotta be worth checking out."
"Or...there could be nothing whatsoever along the river?"
"Nah, I don't buy that. Why would there be a river then?"
"See? A bunch of junk!"
"Well, at least it's a change of pace."
They're so weak we're given the option to skip the encounter, which means it was just Giant Lizards. The reward is also weak -- 93 coins and some iron greaves, heavy leg armor.
"My word, that's a lot of bone."
"Not even the decency to leave any discarded equipment behind."
"Hello, what's this? A farmhouse in the middle of the wilderness?"
"The notes! Get the notes!"
"Ha! I have the recipe! I can make this!"
"All right Byff!"
"I just need the ingredients -- heck, we have those already -- a heat source, a silvered cauldron, some graduated flasks and measuring spoons, a distillation rig, a titrator, some very high-quality scales, a thermometer, a syringe, and a magically sound-deadened room."
"Ahh, that last one may be difficult to find."
"What? But it's absolutely vital! It says here that even minute vibrations can disrupt the superheated solution and make it explode! Violently!"
"Would a magically sound-deadened room look like it has a bunch of weird wedge shapes on the walls?"
"Yes! Where did you see that?"
"The cottage, back room. Completely wrecked though."
"No! No no no no no."
"Damn it! I finally get a chance to practice some alchemy and I can't get the gear I need to do it!"
"Take heart, chum. We'll figure something out. Maybe you can adapt the notes, find a workaround."
"And meanwhile, we'll keep an eye out for quiet places. They...may be hard to find, though."
"Oh well. Back to the slog then, I guess."
Off a side-passsage from the cave with the cottage:
"Ho hum, more dead bodies."
A Scroll of Return Life, and no, taking it doesn't get us attacked. The spiders already got all they want from these guys.
"Wow. This is a sizable river."
"Wonder where Grahk's buried."
"Considering what we've heard of the First Expedition, he probably isn't. Just lying on an old battleground somewhere."
"Maybe he got eaten!"
"Humans...what would any sane person be doing out here?"
"We're out here."
"I repeat my question."
"Looks like they've set up a mining operation, actually."
"Smart boys, those."
"Well, let's check the mines out, then!"
The first five of these are pointless, since you can never sell items for more than you paid for them and those crystals have no other use than to be sold. Battle Crystals do Spine Shield + Regeneration for the party, Purging Crystals cast Mass Curing (removing physical ailments from the party) -- and Piercing Crystals cast Dispel Barrier level 1.
This would be quite handy, but it's not strong enough for any of the really important barriers in the game. It'll get you past the stuff that guards minor treasure, but I don't think you can complete any quests using just Piercing Crystals, nor get the valuable stuff like new spells or unique equipment.
In the original game, though, Piercing Crystals could plausibly be used as a complete replacement for the Dispel Barrier spell. In fact, Exile 3 has a conduct you can undertake where you pledge to never cast magical spells at all (priest spells are still allowed), and it's only possible because making the pledge also grants access to a store that sells Piercing Crystals in unlimited quantities.
Of course, we have the spell, and aren't about to piss Byff off by refusing to use his skills, so this is kind of pointless for us.
There's one more point of interest along the river as we follow it east towards Formello and past the Nephilim Fort.
"Hm, obsidian. Must be a volcanic vent nearby."
"Wow, someone takes their privacy seriously!"
In the original game, you actually had to walk on live magma to make it to this tower -- or find a secret passage and a single tile of non-damaging magma. Not sure which approach I like better; this one is more imposing, frankly, but less interesting game-mechanically.
"Someone takes their defenses seriously. Look at these blast marks!"
"Oh, that's just demons exploding when they die. That happens sometimes."
"Fascinating! Do you know why?"
"Heck no. They're demons. Who cares?"
"If we could figure it out, maybe we could replicate it. Explosions are useful!"
"Tower of Solberg. Beware the traps. No trespassing."
"Trespassers will be poached and/or boiled."
"One-Eye? Take point, and keep an eye out."
"Hey, this is obviously a wizard's house. I'm not taking the blame for accidentally triggering any magical traps."
"How about for disturbing a bunch of hostile lizards?"
"Okay, yeah, I'll cop to that one."
Three Fire Lizards and a Drake. Fortunately, Fire Lizards are chumps now, because the Drake is pretty nasty; it gets double turns and has a fairly strong fire breath. On its own, it can't hurt us badly though.
"Hm, a dead mage. Hope this isn't Solberg."
"Maybe it was one of his enemies!"
We get a Ruby and an Ensnaring Wand -- both to be sold. Attack wands are mostly too weak to be worthwhile now that we have proper AOE attack spells. Kane and One-Eye each have a few items for when their normal attacks aren't enough, but that doesn't happen at all often.
"Cosy little tower, this. Reminds me of home...if home were a blasted hellscape."
"You had a tower, Byff?"
"More a house with ambition, really."
"Hello? We seek audience with Solberg!"
"C'mon, help me lift the gate, Kane."
"Ha. Like we could defeat a magical security system that easily. C'mon, guys, we'll have to find the password elsewhere."
"Back to the ship!"
"Hang on, we're back at Formello!"
"Guess that's it for the northlands then."
"Time to move on? To greener, less spider-infested caverns?"
"Well, not quite yet. Who wants to visit the hot springs again?"
"By the Word I thought you'd never ask."
"So, recommendations on where to go next?"
"You know my vote. Tower of the Magi, down south."
"Yeah, but we just did two things you wanted to do."
"That boat ride hardly counts! It was short!"
"You owe me for the spiders, Byff."
"Then you owe me for Motrax."
"Anyway, much as I'd love to harp on the Castle some more, that talk of the Orb of Thralni intrigues me. That old fogey at Motrax's cave said it was in some waterfall maze west of the sliths."
"Ooh! We could go investigate that huge slith fort en route!"
"What about you, Kane? Where do you want to go?"
"Right now? I just want to soak a bit and forget about the rest of the world. Anyone got a beer?"