Part 51: Ruined Fort
"We are not starting a fight between the world-spanning empire with nearly limitless resources and a fucking penal colony, Kane."
"Well, not yet anyway! Not until Grah-Hoth is dead."
"C'mon, let's explore around here a bit."
"See? Isn't this fascinating?"
"Absolutely. I can't wait to see what kind of horrible fungus will take root in my boots, which, I might add, are sopping wet."
"Hold that thought. I spy valuables."
A Wisdom Crystal and two Piercing Crystals.
"Oh, for -- that doesn't even make any sense!"
Six Fiery Demons and two Drakes. This is the state of things after One-Eye, and all of the monsters, have taken their turns:
The only reason Kane took any damage is because he got caught in the backsplash from a couple of firebreaths. One-Eye, you are a marvel. I take back everything mean I said about bow users at the beginning of the game: their high DEX and access to the Gymnastics skill makes them nearly unhittable once they get going. It's kind of weird how someone who uses a missile weapon is best-used on the front lines, though.
This is also an opportune time for Elly to try out Divine Retribution:
That is some really nice damage! Shame about the range limit.
The rest of the fight goes smoothly. Fire demons don't like having triplecast Icy Rain fall on them.
"Hello, who are you?"
"Ho hum, another ruined fortress. That's, what, our fourth?"
"...though this is the first one I've seen with the Imperial Crown emblem. What the fuck."
"And I suppose it was too much to ask to expect it to be devoid of hostile life!"
The Gazer is surrounded by Shedding Masses, which occasionally spawn Unstable Masses, smaller slimes that explode when you hit them. Great. Worse, we get a round or two into combat, and reinforcements start showing up:
Three Enormous Cavebats and an Ur-Basilisk. Good thing our casters haven't kicked things into overdrive yet: Elly takes out all the slimes, and Byff kills the Gazer with a few well-placed firebolts.
"This combination of wildlife seems implausible."
"You think future archaeologists will excavate here and wonder why all these weird corpses are piled in the same place?"
"Oh, never mind."
"I know the Empire doesn't care much about what kind of religion you follow, but geeze that's a bloody altar."
"They've been banishing the more objectionable ones to Avernum for years now, you know that right? I guess the useful objectionable ones just get put on permanent assignment instead of being exiled."
"Alright, an intact room!"
"And it's a laboratory!"
"Time to loot!"
"Though I shouldn't steal the pen and paper from this desk. That would be wrong."
Seriously game, what the fuck?
And no, there's nothing interesting in this room, beyond some minor alchemical herbs.
There's better stuff in here. Some money, a ruby, some razordisks, and...
"Hey look, graymold! We still haven't investigated that clue we heard about the naturally-growing patch, you know."
"And yet you still have three bunches, and there's the stuff we spent to cure Patrick's wife."
The barrier, though, is of course level-3.
"Oh well, back to exploring the wreckage, I guess."
"Hello! There's something nasty in there."
"Okay, let's lure it out here then, instead of charging in like idiots."
"Sounds like a nice change from the usual."
Xynea is of course a superpowered Gazer, and we also have a regular Gazer and several more Shedding Masses to deal with. This fight can go sour fast: Xynea has lots of AP and powerful attacks. Fortunately, if she (I have no idea why I think Xynea is female but I'm going with it) starts her turn next to, say, One-Eye, then she'll try to back off a bit before attacking, which uses enough AP that she can't double-cast us.
"This isn't different at all!"
"Ugh, I'm covered in eyeballs and bits of slime."
"Here, this should cheer you up!"
"...yes, that should do nicely."
"Oh come on, more of the things!"
"And now I'm grumpy again!"
These ones fold suspiciously quickly, though; I think maybe Jeff Vogel decided to under-level them, since they're so close to Xynea.
"Hey, a secret passage! I bet there's treasure!"
"I've done something to offend the universe, haven't I?"
"I think your mere existence is offensive to the universe, hon."
"Look who's talking!"
Demon Golems are assholes with a powerful, cleaving melee that also causes knockback and immobility (), and a frost breath attack. There's no room to space ourselves out here, either, so Byff dies immediately to splash damage. Good thing Elly has the spare energy to bring him back.
They don't even have the common decency to drop any treasure.
"Hey Elly, why don't you take a look?"
"Because if anything's going to try to read our minds through this thing, I want it to be hurt as much as possible."
"...whoof, sorry hon. It was Garzahd again, and there's not much I can do to that mind that he hasn't already done himself."
"Yep! And he's planning to exterminate us!"
"Shut up, Kane."
"I didn't say anything!"
"This barrier, at least, I can handle."
"You know, guys, I've been thinking: what slings around incredibly powerful fire and can claw through solid rock?"
"Hmm...unusually powerful demons, or dragons."
"That was my guess as well. With the way our lives have been going, I can't call it either way."
"Well, here's our chance to get an eyewitness testimony! Hi there buddy, how's tricks?"
"Oh man, never piss off incredibly powerful magical beings. That's my advice."
"One-Eye, we do that, like, once a week."
"Do as I say, not as I do."
"What'd it want revenge for?"
"Well there you go. Dragon."
"Crystal? What crystal?"
"Fascinating! Tell me about this crystal!"
"Hrmph. You people have no respect for the importance of knowledge sharing. I'm trying to drag us into the future here!"
"Soooo...secret fort near the giants, eh?"
"Hang on, I have more questions. Elly, could you...get him back?"
"Funny you should ask, yes, I can. Ask quickly, though."
"Right. Tell us about the dragon. It ''brought flames'', you said?"
"Ugh. Didn't mean to torture the poor thing."
"How was that scroll supposed to protect you?"
"And where is it now?"
"Again to the new fort. What's it for, anyway?"
"Right, that's what I was hoping to hear about. You can let him go now, Elly."
"See? The Empire cannot be trusted to leave us alone down here. If nothing else, Garzahd is going to try his level best to annihilate us. We're going to have to take action if we want to lead an independent existence."
"That does seem likely, yes."
"And you think an assassination is going to help? Whatever happened to the rule of law, man?"
"If you can figure out a way I can bring suit against the Empire under the rules it itself created, by all means let me know."
"That's not what I'm talking about!"
"I know. It's not my place to be judge, prosecutor, and executor all in one. It's not anybody's place. But something must be done, and who else can do it but us?"
"You can't deny that an immense crime has been perpetrated against all of us -- every single person who was exiled down here, doomed to a hard life in a hostile land that never sees daylight. Did you know the Empire have laws against excessive cruelty? The worst the State is theoretically allowed to do is kill you -- no torture, no lengthy, drawn-out punishments, and certainly nothing like banishing us to this hellhole. Any such punishment is illegal, and the carrying out of such a sentence is itself a punishable offense."
"So are the soldiers who threw us down here guilty? Yes, but they were executing the sentence handed down by the courts. Were the judges of the courts guilty for assigning the punishment? Yes, but they were following precedent. The first exiles -- Solberg, Erika, Micah, and the like -- were tried by the Imperial Senate. So is the Senate guilty? Yes, but you know the Senate is just a sinecure for noblemen. They do whatever Hawthorne tells them to do. And Hawthorne is beholden to nobody. The buck stops there."
"Hawthorne himself is personally responsible for every one of us being down here. He is guilty of the grossest crime ever perpetrated by an Emperor. The facts are indisputable, and the enormity of the crime demands the greatest punishment available: Hawthorne must be put to death. Legally there is no other course."
"And we are the only ones with both the means and the will to carry out the sentence. Therefore we have a duty to carry it out. The law is clear, and as there is no alternative, we must be the deputies who uphold the law. Nothing else matters. The rule of law is supreme, must be supreme, else what are we but squabbling animals?"
"Not bad for an improvised speech, Kane."
"Thanks, but the important thing is: have I convinced you?"
"You've convinced me you're a raving loony."
"I did that a long, long time ago, didn't I?"
"Yep! Anyway, this is all moot for now, right? Let's check out that so-called secret fort before we make any decisions. Speaking of, check this message I found in the desk while you were speechifying:"
"Near the giants' castle, across a chasm. Now if only we knew where the giants are."
Before we go, here's the Ruined Fort map:
Garzahd's crystal is in the northwest, and the ghost is in the northeast. The level-3 barrier is just south of that bit of river along the western edge.