Part 70: The HoneycombLast time, we did a bunch of fetch quests for Kyass, spent a good 40,000 coins on spells and training, and killed an Imperial liaison because we didn't like her.
Now, the thread has voted, and we're cleaning up an area that we should have visited a long time ago.
"Given what cave beer and wine are like, I hate to think what cave honey tastes like."
"I don't think we'll find honey there. It's a maze of caverns, west of Mertis."
"And why would we go there?"
"Evidently, part of that password for the surface exit is there. Plus, we've never been there before."
"Good enough for me!"
"Ahh, Mertis. You are truly the best town in the underworld."
"Hang on a tick, there's something we need to do here!"
"Innkeeper! Four of your best!"
"Oh, Gypsy! Play for us?"
"There is something to be said for creature comforts."
"Yeah, and that something is ''yes, please''."
"Oh, say, there's something else we need to do here, too."
"A thief from Dharmon fled here. Elly, you remember interrogating his partner?"
"Oh. Yes. What was his name? Bert?"
"Guess we'd better go find him."
Bertrand is hiding behind the temple.
"Hi Bert. Eldin sends his regards."
"We'd better do it. I think we'll need that brooch."
"Well, we can afford it. Barely." "Here you go, buddy."
"And that makes five brooches. If only we knew what they were for."
"Erika intimated they would be important for something."
"It's enough for me that they're valuable and we have them. This thing's made from platinum! And he sold it for a song!"
"Anyway, let's get going. I want to see what this Honeycomb is like."
"The sign says: The sign reads: Mertis - East. Honeycomb - West. Danger!"
I suspect that Jeff Vogel auto-added the "The sign says:" text to every sign, at some point after having manually put in "The sign reads:" on this specific trail sign. Hence the double-labeling.
"Don't worry, I'm making a map. Plus, if we just take the rightmost turn at every opportunity, we shouldn't get lost...assuming of course that the walls don't move, down here."
"Thanks for that comforting thought."
The Honeycomb is a gigantic maze of twisting passageways and the occasional secret "door". It was kind of a pain to navigate in the original game, where you could only see a 9x9 region of the map at a time. With the much more zoomed-out view of the reremake, plus click-to-move and automatic pathing, it's much easier to cope with. It helps that the corridors often loop back on each other, so there's multiple routes to get to any given location.
"Oh, water! I'm thirsty. That steak had a lot of salt on it."
"Are you sure that's wise?"
"Oh, you worry too much."
"Ahh. Good drink."
This gives the party a level-1 Ward of Thoughts, which is meant to protect against mental status ailments. It doesn't affect the listed resistance rate on the status screen, though, so it's hard to know what if anything the spell actually does.
"Wait...I recognize this stink. This is the steam caverns west of the Tower of the Magi!"
"Back into the maze we go, I guess."
The three points of access to the Honeycomb are near Mertis, near the Steam Tunnels, and via the Eastern Gallery lake.
"Sliths? Here? Attack!"
"They could be friendly!"
"Not any more they aren't, buddy."
Eight generic sliths, four warriors, and two mages. Poor chumps won't even know what hit them.
20 coins and the Seeking Rapier:
That's not bad, honestly, though we're more interested in it for its resale value.
"A farm? Here?"
"Looks deserted to me."
"Maybe they ran from the fire lizards."
"What fire lizards?"
"Those fire lizards."
"Attack! Revenge for the fallen farmers!"
"I think you're a bad influence on him, Elly."
"I think it's cute. He's learning!"
This is no real threat. We take them down over several rounds with just Kane and One-Eye, and only a single firebreath makes it past Kane's defenses.
There's a Ruby in the Cave Lore cache here.
"Okay, if you boys want to go play in the slime, go ahead. I'll stay back here."
Probably the most dangerous fight in this place: a Draining Slime, four Searing Slimes, and a bunch of lesser Cave Slimes. It's the first two types that are dangerous, since they have wide-area acid attacks. Fortunately, none of them have much in the way of health. If you came here early, this would be a good time to use attack wands, Powerlash scrolls, and the like.
We of course can just stomp them with a few Icy Rain spells from Byff.
279 coins and an Ensnaring Wand, which uses the same spray-webs ability used by the Arachnid Servitors in the Aranea Cave.
"I admit I could use a drink. Does it really have to be water, though?"
"You'll turn into a tippler if you don't watch out."
"Oh, you worry too much."
Free experience for everyone!
"Well hey, that was nice!"
"I keep waiting for someone to get an amusing comeuppance, and it keeps not happening."
"Another farm, and this one isn't abandoned!"
"Hello? We come in peace, our massive armaments notwithstanding!"
"A brooch? Perhaps one of the ones Erika needs! We'd better buy it."
"Kane, lesson one of making a purchase: always inspect the merchandise before closing!"
We do actually get an item from this, the Bladeshield Chain:
On the plus side, the hermit didn't overcharge us. On the minus side, it's an awful item. Riposte is by a long shot the worst ability in the game.
"I'm not getting my hopes up. If this lead to the surface, then we would have heard about it long ago."
"You know, it's enough that one might start to develop a grudge."
"I wonder if someone ratted this place out to Thantria, and this is the result? Who knows how much effort went into clearing this passageway, all for naught."
"I have the strangest feeling that there's a dragon near here, but how do we climb this cliff?"
"...looks scalable, but I am not climbing this thing on my own if there's a dragon at the top."
"Guess we'll have to find another way around."
I think, in retrospect, that we could also have used the Orb.
"One way around: found."
The water in the northern end of that image is the Eastern Gallery lake. If you lack the Cave Lore to access the passage we used, another route is to take a boat.
"Let's go say hello then, I guess. Luck forfend we not talk to every dragon possible."
"It may know something important about the surface password. We can't not talk to it."
Before we go inside, here's the map of the Honeycomb:
Mertis to the east, the Steam Caverns to the south, and the failed surface tunnel to the west. Athron (the dragon)'s lair is the !.
"What curious-looking statues."
"There's a slith, and a demon...I think that one is an ogre. But what's this blue statue?"
"Looks like something out of a nightmare."
"Hmm...nope. Sorry, One-Eye, it's nothing I've ever seen before."
"Hey, you don't have a monopoly on nightmares!"
"Well, I'm not climbing that!"
"No need, old chum. I'm sure these side passages will prove fruitful."
"I find it kind of strange how dragons keep drakes around. It'd be like a human keeping a monkey as a pet."
"Some people do that!"
"Yeah, well, they're strange."
"I guess you'd know, sister."
There's another drake around the corner. They manage to lightly singe Kane.
"Are those...egg casings?"
"Worry about freaky gigantic eggs later, kill drakes now."
And two more drakes behind this one.
"Bah. That was a bust."
"Or perhaps not."
It may look like the switch opened a little cubbyhole right next to it, but that was always open; instead, it opens the wall further up the corridor.
"Now this is just getting tedious."
"There, see? What'd I tell you?"
"Fantastic, now nothing stands between us and a dragon."
"You live to find the downsides in everything, don't you?"
"It's a calling, it really is."
The right-hand side is basically the same, except they replace one of the drakes with a trap, and there's no secret passage to find.
"Oh come on!"
"That is a whole lotta rocks."
Hope you like golems! Their cleaving, knockback-causing melee is kind of a pain, but they start out bunched together, so you can get a lot of hits in before chaos descends. If you have trouble with these guys, fall back to the corridor so you can funnel them into a magic killbox; it's far more effective than melee or archery.
"Never fear, Byff is here!"
"Just destroy them already, please? I have a headache."
On the plus side, four of the six golems dropped emeralds, which should help our desperate money situation slightly.
I mean, I call it desperate, but I'm just going to spend any cash we get on more skill training that we don't really need.
"Things'll be okay, buddy. It just wants to talk."
"You say that, but we had to kill the last one."
Why doesn't Athron use the dragon portrait?
"Mighty dragon, we beg audience with you."
"Great worm, please: why do you live alone? The survival of the species demands you interact with your brethren!"
"Ahh, that'd be us."
Seems like all of the dragons are happy to point you to the other dragons. They're each plot-vital in some way, so I suppose that streamlines things a bit.
"Okay, okay! Please don't hurt us! We just want the password!"
"Thank you! We'll be going then."
"Wait! Is there anything you might teach us?"
"Well, that bodes ill, as they say."
You can only get these two benefits by being of a sufficiently high reputation, of course. If you missed what changed, Athron opened a hole in the wall.
"Holy shit, why haven't we left yet? It was going to eat us, I swear!"
"I'm not leaving until I read that book!"
"Besides, it'd be rude to refuse a gift."
As far as I can tell, leveling Slow does absolutely nothing. It's still described as "Slowed [sic] nearby foes for 3 turns." It's supposed to entangle and/or immobilize enemies, if I recall correctly, but maybe that only got fixed in the sequel.
Behind the barrier is a chest containing 84 coins, an Invulnerability Elixir, and a Wisdom Crystal, all marked as "Not Yours". But Athron can't see us here, so there's no harm in taking them.
Also, the rest of Athron's dialog tree, for completion's sake. The party respects her solitude too much to want to press her.
"May we continue to speak to you?":
This just loops back into the "lesser creatures" string.
"What do you think of the humans?"
"What other dragons are in Avernum?"
Taking each in turn, Motrax:
"I will be going now."
Naturally, invading the western tunnels provokes Athron's fury:
"Another one of those non-canon moments, boss?"
You got it.
Stepping on the runes is the point of no return:
We'll loot her hoard real quick before fighting her. The body has a Steel Shield, there's a Wisdom Crystal and various moneys / vendor trash on the ground, and the chests have more money, a Speed Burst scroll, some Graymold, yet another bag of sugar (that makes 5 in the game so far, for an item that notionally is only useful for a very early-game quest), and this snazzy shield:
Elly can have it.
Finally, the secret passage leads to a door that you can use to sneak away after robbing Athron:
Sadly, the party is actually 1 point short of the Tool Use skill required to open this door (we need 13 points across the party), so I guess we're fighting instead! I mean, what would you have me do, cheat myself extra Tool Use ranks? That would be unethical.
"Too bad about the fixed camera angle. We could get some really cool perspective shots otherwise."
"Hey dragon, try to make this look good, okay?"
"I'll have you know I make everything look good!"
Athron of course has plenty of powerful spells, a punishing fire breath, and enough AP for two actions per turn. Her physical damage reduction is also monstrous: Kane hit for 334 damage, 315 of which was blocked. Strangely, One-Eye has slightly better luck. Maybe his critical hits penetrate damage reduction.
She places a high priority on summoning monsters, which we can kill off with AoE spells and the occasional arrow from One-Eye (Kane usually can't maneuver to hit them). That helps keep some of the pressure off, since she'll waste an action summoning a new minion, instead of attacking us.
Pitfall #1 comes when she casts Howl of Terror and tags both Kane and One-Eye. Dammit, I thought we were through with mental attacks incapacitating our frontliners. But we can work around that; the AP bonus on Elly's new shield, plus a little luck from Gymnastics, means she can double-cast Unshackle Mind and get them both back into the fight.
Athron can also give herself Battle Frenzy. On the one hand, this gives her a terrifying three actions per turn. On the other, it reminds me that I should probably use one of our many Speed Burst scrolls. They've been piling up a bit since we killed Grah-Hoth. Guaranteeing 2 actions/turn for everyone in the party is worth more than her getting 3 actions/turn.
What the hell, we also have Elly summon another Vengeful Shade, and Byff casts Arcane Summon to get...a Gnawing Stoneworm.
What the hell, One-Eye, you haven't dodged her firebreath once so far.
"Oh, I'm sorry. Someone unaccountably forgot to coat me with fire-retardant gel like they normally do."
Eh, we'll fix it in post.
"Walk it off, you baby!"
Athron's melee can also really do a number on Kane. He's down to about 10% health, not that you can see him behind Athron's wing here. But he has healing potions to spare, so this is about the best thing she can choose to do. Potions are preferable to spells because they leave Elly and Byff free to drop the (magical) hammer. He could also just cast a healing spell, of course, but Kane and One-Eye's spells don't restore enough health to be worth using in the heat of any serious fight).
In any event, Kane isn't otherwise really contributing to the fight except as a meatshield. And neither are the summons, incidentally; they're being completely ignored.
It takes an awful lot of Smites and Lightning Sprays, but Athron eventually goes down...to one of One-Eye's arrows, of all things. Nice shot!
"Do I get a bonus for this?"
You're getting something even better: exposure!
"Remind me to fire my agent."
Anyway, all Athron drops is a Restore Life scroll and a Rod of Alacrity. The real reward is in her hoard, especially that shield.
Actually, the real reward is that I get to show off another cheat code now.
...aww. Guess I should've tried this experiment earlier. So the thing is, Athron's dialog is absolutely necessary for the "find the surface exit" quest, and she's relatively easy to piss off. The other dragons either can't be made hostile (Motrax, Khoth), or you can get what you need even if they're dead. But if you can't talk to Athron and you haven't learned the password syllable yet, you're locked out of the surface exit quest entirely. The "ikilledathron" cheat code will...well, let's just reload to before we talked to her and redo the fight (on Casual difficulty, which makes it completely trivial). So now she's dead, but we're missing the password. Oh no!
I guess I shouldn't complain too much about typos in text that you shouldn't be seeing in normal circumstances. Presumably this teaches you the syllable you'd otherwise miss out on. I thought the code would revive Athron instead, but I suppose this is easier to implement.
So Athron's dead. Oh well. This may be the end of non-canon theater (for the moment, anyway), but I'm not gonna go reviving her. If dragons don't want to be killed, they shouldn't hoard treasure.