Part 45: Shattered Fort Part 2; Dharmon"Well, that's that, then. We should head back to Akhronath for the Royal Seal, but reaching Grah-Hoth's new prison will take a little more effort. He said it was west of Fort Spire..."
"That's quite the trek."
So we head east, back to the Steam Caverns north of the Shattered Fort, which we now know to be Akhronath.
"Say, wasn't there some chap around here who wanted to talk to us once Grah-Hoth was freed?"
"Oh, yes! Some massive captive demon or something!"
"Hello-o~! Mister Demon!"
"Aww. Guess he's not properly free yet as far as you're concerned."
"So remind me, Kane, what exactly was the purpose of coming here earlier?"
"To clear out the defenses, of course!"
"Because that clearly just could not wait until later."
"WELL LOOK AT THAT, THE DEFENSES ARE BACK."
Only a few of them, though. And they're just imps.
"Wait...aren't we forgetting something?"
"Nobody. Say. Anything."
We'll...be right back.
"Weird place to put a key, anyway."
"I suppose it's symbolic -- the key to Grah-Hoth's freedom is itself in jail."
"Right. Back to Akhronath."
"This blasted key had better work. Or I am going to have words with King Micah."
"I forget, what do we need this Royal Seal for again?"
"It's supposed to disable some of the defenses around Skarragath."
"Hang on a moment, I remember being taunted by a button last time we were here."
"Yeah, there you are."
This is the least-secret secret passage in the game, considering that there were also some extremely hard to miss magical barriers blocking off that closet. What's inside? A wand that casts War Chant -- which, as you may recall, is the basic "do slightly more damage" combat buff. It's crap!
"Hey guys, there's some demons in there!"
"Now there's a shocker."
"I'm inclined to agree. Where's the demons?"
"It seems clear enough to me: they're waiting to ambush us."
This room is hard to "read" due to the perspective, but it's made of three layers (Kane is standing right in front of a small cliff). To reach the statue in the middle, you have to take the northern staircase to reach layer #2, and then the southern one to reach layer #3. No prizes for guessing where the demons are about to appear.
"Well, here goes nothing."
"I have to admit, this is kind of creepy."
"Okay, clear the middle!"
Because I triggered that event while in combat mode, the demons don't appear immediately! That gives us enough time to make some forward progress.
"Hi guys. You're late!"
"Is the penalty for being late death?"
"Sounds good to me."
Two Cave Demons, two Fiery Demons, one Mung Demon, and Horl the Imprisoned, a unique Mung Demon, over on the left. Mung Demons are poison/acid elemental, more or less, which is pretty unpleasant. And they're all too spaced-out to use AoE spells on. The game's learning my tricks!
"Elly's down! This is not auspicious!"
Horl can cast a Lightning Spray that additionally tags everyone with the Lightning debuff, which as you may recall deals heavy magic damage every turn.
"Ow! No, it really isn't!"
"Time to burn some items, then."
One scroll of Restore Life brings back Elly; two scrolls of Group Heal gets everyone up to near full health again. One-Eye uses a Speed Burst scroll, and now we're nearly up to an even footing again.
Except for Byff's Lightning status. Oops.
"Dangit, guys, you forgot to cure Byff's static electricity!"
"Little busy right now, Elly!"
"Fine, I'll deal with it. Back on your feet, buddy!"
"Thanks, El -- look out!"
"I'll get her back."
"On the plus side, we've managed to kill some of the lesser demons."
On the minus side, I forgot that Elly doesn't get a turn on the turn she's revived -- and, since she goes last and I was really counting on her casting Group Heal, we go into the enemies' turns with everyone badly hurt.
It doesn't go well. Restart time!
"Well, that was unpleasant!"
"Oh, nothing, just an awful feeling of déjà vu. Hey guys, what say you all get to the outer ring before I pop this thing?"
Oh, and if you're wondering why One-Eye wasn't dodging everything like a badass -- he doesn't overlevel his enemies any more! Level figures heavily into accuracy rolls, and Mung Demons are level 26 to our level 22. So he's going to be taking hits like a chump for a while longer. At least he has a reasonable dodge rate against the other demon types.
"Is this good?"
"Perfect! Now let's get this party started."
"Surprise! So much for your trap, hey boys?"
On the plus side, this time Horl decides to take the long way around to get to us, walking around the entire pit instead of taking the three steps to get to Kane. I think he wanted to attack One-Eye, but the straight path to him was blocked by Elly.
On the minus side, One-Eye gets double-tagged by fire breaths and dies anyway.
"No worries, guys, I got him!"
"Aaaagh! This bopping in and out of the netherworld cannot possibly be healthy!"
"Surely it's healthier than the alternative."
"So hey, someone needs to go tie up those guys in the opposite corner for a bit. Eh? Eh?"
"Oh, don't worry about me. I'm dodging...mostly. Ow."
"Hang on, I'm coming to help!"
"Ha! You're more of a workout than Sss-Thsss was, that's for sure!"
"Kane, Sss-Thsss killed you."
"Oh yeah, and this guy hasn't yet. Lame."
"Damn it, Kane, you just had to go and open your mouth, didn't you?"
"All right, I'm sorry, I'll bring 'em back."
"Uh oh, now Kane's down! Get back up, you!"
"Kane, what are you doing down there?!"
"I don't know!"
The random placement of revived characters is really annoying sometimes.
On the plus side, we've nearly killed the demons that One-Eye has been keeping busy!
On the minus side, there's nothing between Horl and our squishy casters.
"This is getting repetitive!"
"Oh dear, this isn't good."
Kane uses a Scroll of Restore Life...
"What the hell, guys!"
...cures the acid DOT on Byff, and then uses a Scroll of Mass Healing...
Oh look, Horl can one-shot our casters. Elly, fix that, would you?
"Finally! No more distractions! Just you, me, and a whole lotta backup!"
"Backup that is staying out of the blast radius, if you don't mind."
The one good thing about this fight: Horl's melee attack is so weak that it often doesn't penetrate Kane's armor. As long as we can keep him tied up attacking Kane, he can't do much.
"Die! Or be banished, or whatever!"
"Well, that was fun!"
"I hope this wasn't a sign of things to come."
"Hate to say it, but it probably is. We need more practice if we're going to destroy Grah-Hoth."
"And better gear, like these bracers that big one had on."
Total tally of consumables in that fight: two Restore Life scrolls, a Speed Burst scroll, three Group Healing scrolls, a Healing Elixir, and an Energy Elixir for Elly -- who still managed to be low on energy by the end of the fight, due to repeatedly casting Restore Life.
And there's another level-3 barrier here.
"Of course, of course."
"Okay, we have the seal."
"You know, we missed a town in the Great Cave -- Dharmon, north of Fort Remeote. I vote we check on it, see if there's any help to be had there."
"Fine by me."
"Sounds good. Let's go."
"OF COURSE IT COULDN'T BE THAT EASY!"
Surprise! Just in case you thought you were home free with the Royal Seal, these guys show up to mug you on the way out. Fortunately this is merely four Wights, a Fiery Demon, and a Mung Demon. They're also massively weaker than the demons we fought earlier. I'm beginning to suspect that the game artificially boosts the levels of certain monsters, because this force barely manages to scratch us once and dies in just over one turn.
On the way to Dharmon, we encounter a sketchy group of soldiers in the Great Cave:
"What was that all about?"
"Those guys cannot possibly be on the level."
"Wow! An entire town built into a colossal column of rock!"
"Nice farms. Nice place."
"Well, let's get to harassing the townsfolk!"
"Excuse me, ma'am..."
"I don't suppose we --"
And if we try to barge in anyway:
"You know what? This is fine. It's kind of nice to have someone who wants to keep me out of jail, in fact."
"Hello Mr. Mayor!"
"Oh, so you've heard of us, then."
"Things seem pretty quiet around here."
"Oh, do go on and share your thoughts on his crazy scheme."
"Sir, you ought to check in with the Castle more often. Micah's crazy scheme worked: the slith war is over."
"That being said, we find ourselves out of work."
"What about Grah-Hoth?"
"That's more long-term, Byff. Anyway, got any work for us?"
"Organized bandits? Isn't that an oxymoron? How do you figure they're organized?"
"Honestly I'm surprised you guys have bandit problems in the Great Cave."
"Sir, you're the closest town to Fort Remote...did you know it was destroyed? Any news on that front?"
"We'd better not keep you then, sir."
"Most useless mayor I've met yet."
"And there's our job board. I'm betting, oh, two of 'em done so far."
"Sign me up for all four!"
"The crazy bid! Byff, you in?"
"Oh, sure. I'll say none of them."
"Wha...but how? How did you know?"
"Next time, don't bet against a speed-reader who knows a cantrip for telescopic vision."
"Well, I'd buy us a drink, but I've unaccountably lost my money."
"Aww, poor baby. I'll get the first round."
"Hiya! What's on the menu?"
"Mead it is! And some food, please."
"Whooo, that's got some kick to it."
"I wonder if all that heavy breathing improves her sales any?"
"Ehh, not my type anyway."
The rooms at the inn are of course full of merchants, as usual.
That's it for the innkeeper, so let's talk to her identical twin! Seriously, game, you have two NPCs with the same sprite in the same room?
"...I don't think you're in my notes. Do we know you?"
"You have my attention. Who's the contact?"
"Oh, we already spoke to him. Oh well."
"I just want you to know you have the most adorable little spy there. Coochie coo!"
"Of course there's one here. Should've expected it, really."
Finally, we can fast-travel to the western half of the Great Cave!
"Ew. You handle this guy, One-Eye."
"Man, you sure suck at picking begging spots. Hardly any foot traffic back here."
"Right, like that nasty old sword?"
"So you sell information, then. Why do I care?"
"What kind of idiot do you take me for?"
An idiot with access to save/load functions!
"Wait, wha --"
"Yeah, no. If we want to check out the jail, I'm sure we can figure it out on our own."
"Well, you aren't obvious at all."
You know, I only just realized that that red gash in the golem sprite is its mouth, and not a Cyclops-style glowing-red visor thing. I guess golems in Avernum are just permanently grumpy.
"Hey there, buddy! I don't suppose you're the key to getting all the other inexplicable living statues to talk to us?"
"Oh my yes. Anything to get away from One-Eye's cooking."
"You're free to do the cooking yourself any time, Kane."
"No thanks, that's what money is for! What've you got, Hestia?"
"Look, I've been trying for months to get a decent meal out of the crap we have to work with down here. What's the secret?"
"Yeah, but, like, I need recipes. And a grocery list."
"You surely don't think I'm going to share all of my secrets, do you?"
"I'm beginning to understand how you feel about those alchemists, Byff."
Anyway, this is Hestia's shop:
Ha ha ha ha ha ha no. And no, they're no different mechanically from other foodstuffs.
"Hey Clive, how's things?"
"Well aren't you just a ray of sunshine. C'mon, man, try to sell me something."
"Brother, things could be so much worse. Believe me."
"You know, aside from the depression, you seem basically normal. How'd you end up down here anyway?"
"Ha! Yeah, that sounds about right. Sorry, buddy."
Here's Clive's wares, including a copy of Elly's current weapon:
I'd be vaguely tempted to get another one for Byff, but he's using the Discipline Blade; if he took it off he wouldn't be able to use Adrenaline Rush any more.
Incidentally, Halberds are the top-tier polearms; they do good damage and have a small chance of cleaving, hitting an enemy adjacent to the one you attacked. They aren't awful, but they're not good enough to make up for losing a shield or the ability to dual-wield, so swords are pretty much strictly better than polearms in this game.
Clive will also let us unload all the junk we've collected from the Slith Castle and from
"Pardon me, father."
"Hey boss. What's the deal here?"
"Man, no wonder Clive's gloomy, living across the street from someone like you. Me, I prefer worshiping luck, thanks."
"So, are you saying the Empire acts as some kind of divine judgement then?"
"You know what, I'm with One-Eye on this one."
"You are aware that the sun isn't a god, right?"
"You're crazy. The sun is a gigantic ball of burning gas, millions of miles away."
"...you know what, sure, Byff. I'll take your word for it."
"Anyway! Whatcha got for us?"
"Awesome, hit me up!"
Heck yes, Malville can sell us everything except the highest-tier priest spells. They aren't cheap, but they're still worthwhile. Or, rather, Ward of Elements is worthwhile: it cuts a fraction of all magical damage the party takes, and that's by far our biggest source of deaths. Divine Fire is also worthwhile, but we already have it -- it's the circular fire AoE spell Elly's used a few times in the past.
Of the others: Domination is the Charm spell, and I expect every enemy I'd want to use it against is immune. Ward of Steel protects against physical attacks -- nice but Ward of Elements is more important. And I'm fairly certain I've covered the rest already.
"Here's hoping this means less hauling me back to town in a body bag!"
"Indeed, Elly. Here's hoping."
"So, do you know anything else about the area?"
"We'd heard there was a dragon in those tunnels...do you know anything about it?"
"So noted. Thank you."
"Anything else we should know about?"
"Yes, we should probably follow up on that Graymold at some point."
"Well, good luck with your horribly depressing religion!"
"Elly, you literally work to bring about the End Times."
"Sure, but for a good reason! And I don't tell everyone they're bad people just for living in a crappy world."
"I'm not buying secrets from someone who won't tell me what they're about first."
Anyway, they're just sources for alchemical ingredients, which we haven't been using much.
"Let's...see the spells, then."
More spells! ...again, most of them not really worth picking up. Blink is a weird one: it teleports you to a new location while trying to ensnare all nearby foes (which prevents them from moving more than 1 step per turn). Theoretically useful if Byff finds himself on the front lines, but usually he can just walk away anyway. Cloak of Blades improves our melee damage (and Cloak of Bolts, above it, improves missile damage). I'm holding out for Cloak of the Arcane, though, which Solberg is waiting to teach us as soon as Byff trains up enough.
Summon Aid is of course a summoning spell; Howl of Terror attempts to frighten all nearby enemies, and might potentially be worth using as terrified enemies are pretty much non-entities. Assuming they don't resist it. And of course, Fireblast is a high-damage conic AoE fire spell. We learned one rank after beating the lich who was "guarding" the Orb of Thralni; the extra 2 ranks give it a 40% damage bonus.
"Hey, this book in the corner is trapped!"
"Yes it is, Elly. She clearly doesn't want us reading that without permission. Speaking of, how do we get permission?"
"Heck, with the portal pylons, we might as well take care of that right now."
"If such a tome is in the Tower of the Magi, it'd be in X's library."
"We might as well check the student library as well, while we're here."
"Well that was a waste of time."
"Back to Dharmon then, I guess."
"Hey lady, your intel sucks!"
She gave us 25 coins. Some reward.
"You know, I think we'll just check up on that later. It can wait."
"Phew. I wasn't looking forward to trekking across the Great Cave on a wild goose hunt."
"So, are we done here?"
"See that? How do we get to that boat?"
By entering the town from the north!
"Look at that, you've landed us in the trash heap again."
"Yeah, but I'm not the only one that's been poking around here."
"Even better! Poisonous rats!"
Now so weak that we can nearly one-shot them!
"Ha! I was right!"
"Hmph. This trap is the work of an amateur. Somebody doesn't care about security."
The two chests here have some bolts of cloth and iron bars -- strictly low-grade loot. We can do better!
"You were complaining about the security, One-Eye?"
Oh boy, two Mung Demons and a Cryos Demon. Cryos Demons of course are cold-elemental. Time to put that Ward of Elements to the test.
It, uh...it's not clear it does all that much. Too bad the game doesn't give us any numbers for how much it reduces damage. Oh well. We survive their first-round attacks, and that's all that really matters.
"So what's so important down here that someone would conscript demons to act as guards?"
The wand is a Crystalline Wand, a conic cold-based AoE spell. The bars are gold. It's all vendor trash -- worth another 800 coins from Clive.
"At least it was profitable."
"Now let's go check on the jail."
"What on Earth for?"
"Because people wanted to keep us out of it."
"Aww, I'm so proud of you, Byff."
"Never let it be said that this trip was not educational."
"Okay, on your feet, prisoner!"
"That's right, we're not guards. See any guards here? I don't. Which means there's nobody to get in my way. Now talk."
"Don't need evidence. Keep talking."
"You expect me to remember everyone we talk to?"
"Frankly, yes. But keep talking, buddy. Where's Betrand?"
"Oh, that Bertrand! You should've said!"
He was an uncooperative chap hiding behind one of Mertis' buildings.
"Alright, I've heard enough. Let's go."
"I continue to be thankful that you're on our side, Elly."
"...yeah, no fucking kidding."
And before we go, here's the map to Dharmon:
Left to right, we have Clive the gloomygus' weapons shop, Hestia the gourmand's ridiculous food store, the job board down south, City Hall's useless mayor, the jail, and the stairs to the portal room.
And here's the Shattered Fort:
Left to right, we have the "Statue Chamber" with the Royal Seal and vicious demon battle, the portcullis wheel we needed the Gold Key for, and an altar that gives you level-1 Ward of Elements and Cloak of the Arcane if you pray at it. See all those thin grey lines on the map? They indicate changes in elevation, with gaps in the lines where the stairs are. Note how inconvenient it is to traverse the map.