Part 74: The Royal Spire
"Surprisingly, yes. And you, Kane?"
"Hardly. My nerves are shot. You'd think I'd be used to this kind of thing by now."
"Morning boys! Are we ready to kill an emperor?"
"My nerves are shot, and I had to listen to you snore all night, Elly."
"I do not --"
"To be fair, her snores are very ladylike."
"So how do we do this, anyway? Just step on the circle?"
"I believe so..."
"We are ready, Archmage."
"As ready as we'll ever be, anyway."
"I note she said ''try'' to bring us back."
"You can worry about that later. We need to move quickly; the portal she made won't last long!"
"Quickly, then, into the cave!"
"Where are we? Where's Hawthorne?"
"I...this is the bottom of the Royal Spire!"
"But that's where Hawthorne's throne lies!"
"Yes, and if I had to guess, he's sitting on it right now."
"Then we'd better start climbing."
"And fast. This structure is warded; someone has surely detected our entrance."
"Okay, then let's go!"
"Not that way, Kane --!"
"Right, right, sorry. I've never been here before."
There's a number of places in this dungeon where, if you're incautious, you can get trapped and overwhelmed by the guards. Functionally this is an automatic game over. Don't go the wrong way at the start of the dungeon!
"We really do not have time to fight here! An entire legion of Imperial troops is bunkered right outside!"
"Like I said, in, kill, out, done. Let's make this quick."
"Oops. Pardon us, gents!"
"Kane, hold them off! Byff and I will bring them down!"
Empire Dervishes are incredibly durable, moreso even than the Royal Guards. The really scary thing, though, is that both of them are reliably able to hit One-Eye. And while we get bogged down in this fight, more Royal Guards are continually spawning in from the Spire entrance and chasing us down.
"There! That's another one down!"
"They just keep coming! Come on, let's move!"
The increased hardiness of foes on Hard difficulty make this dungeon a lot more hectic -- we're on a time limit, effectively, so fights taking twice as long as they normally would makes a big difference, even if the fights are pretty straightforward brawls.
Consequently, there's very little point in exploring these side rooms. This one has a Steel Shortsword, some cash, and a few bits of salable junk, but if you need treasure, why on earth are you here?
"One-Eye! Hold the line with me!"
"Now this is what I call a target-rich environment!"
"Mages and priests already...a bad omen. We'd best work quickly, friends!"
Fortunately the Crown Worshipper and Fifth-Circle Mage are both pretty fragile, at least compared to the effects of Elly and Byff both dropping three casts of their most powerful spells in a single turn. If ever there was a time to go whole-hog on using powerful spells and Energy Elixirs, this is it. No holding back, burn everything as fast as you can, because the clock is ticking...
This floating green shade brought to you by that Crown Worshipper, who got one turn in before being immolated.
"Shit! Another reinforcement point!"
"This is new...they built a skybridge into the Spire? Damn!"
"These are the Dervishes, the Empire's finest warriors!"
"Doesn't matter! They're no match for Avernum's finest!"
"Uh, guys, more incoming from behind us!"
"Let them come, I'll burn them all!"
"Would. You. Just. Die!"
"They're fanatics; they'll fight to the last breath!"
"Takes one to know one! N̩̭͙̰̥̲̝ͯ͆ō̱̣̲ͮ͆̿ͭͤw̔̀́̽ ̥̐̇̃̉͂͌̚b̤͖ͥ̂ͪ͆̊ͩ̅r͎̬͖̘̖̋ͩͤe͍̲̮a̱̠̜͙͚t̜̃ͫh̅̇̾͑͋e͚̞̹̼͎̻̤͑̒̇ y͗ȍ̩̦͈̬̞̼u͈̭̺̱̞ͫ̀̈́̆ͬ͑r̫̟̘̱̐͒̎̽ͣͤ̉ ̀l̻̭͕͙͉͍̮͊a̒̂ͤ̂͌͌s͍̼͙̓̎̅̐t̩̘͓̻͖͍͒ͅ!̞͈̣ͦ͊ͅ"
"Okay! Onwards and upwards!"
"Wait! That door has a crown symbol --"
"This must be Hawthorne's quarters!"
"One-Eye, can you get this open?"
"I can try..."
This is one of the hardest Tool Use checks in the game. Fortunately I bought One-Eye two more ranks in Bargha, so the party now has 14 total, which is enough to open the door.
As you might imagine, the fact that the door's so hard to open means that it's optional.
"Damn. Keep moving!"
Hawthorne's quarters do have some nice treasure, though the only item of note is a new cloak for One-Eye:
There's also a treasure chamber:
But aside from an Invulnerability Elixir and Restore Life scroll, all it has is expensive baubles. And we don't really need money any more.
"More distractions. Just get out of our way! I'll fling you off the Spire myself if I have to!"
Incidentally, Crown Worshippers can cast Divine Retribution. Good thing One-Eye can dodge it!
"The next floor! We're making progress!"
"How many floors high is this thing, anyway?"
"Don't focus on irrelevancies! Just keep climbing!"
As an example of why you might not want to check out the side rooms...
Much as I'd love to bust up this party, we really do not have the time. There's a dead Avernite in a cell next to this room, incidentally.
"Who the fuck are you?"
"Wait, really? Shit!"
"Shit indeed, my friend."
"When the wards triggered, I imagined we had another coup attempt on our hands, or a particularly daring rebellion. I never would have imagined that it would be you, James!"
"You didn't really think ''Byff'' was my real name, did you? I mean, honestly. Though I admit, it's grown on me."
"Attention all units. This is Imperial Archmage Garzahd. Hold your positions and wait for my signal."
"And now we can talk. So, James, how's life as a worm been treating you? I admit I assumed you'd died of exposure long ago."
"Arrogant. You never did your research. The caves are quite temperate year-round, thank you, so your little curse didn't impact my life much."
"Okay, what the hell is going on here?"
"Oh, didn't you know? Your ''Byff'' here used to work for me! I'm amazed he never told you."
"Please. How do you think that conversation would have gone? ''Hello, fellow exile! My boss was the man responsible for creating Avernum! How do you like your new home?''"
"Hmm. The James I knew would have happily said as much."
"Then it would seem I've gained in social graces since I knew you. Doubtless from associating with better company."
"Wait, back up. You used to work for this asshole?"
"To my lasting shame, yes. I was Apprentice to the Imperial Alchemist. That's a title, by the way, and more meaningful than you'd think."
"I'm not ashamed to admit that James here was instrumental in my rise to power, even! It's amazing what you can do with alchemy if you're careful, isn't it?"
"Alchemy is a noble science. I should never have let you convince me to pervert it."
"Ahh, but you did, didn't you? Every man can be corrupted. All it takes is finding the right...leverage. And you were so easily bribed, too!"
"What did you do?"
"Mm. Tell me, Elly. Are you familiar with the Violet Fringed Mushroom?"
"Also known as the Duchess' Folly."
"Oh! Oh my. Yes, we steered well clear of that one. Life is uncertain enough as it is, thank you."
"Ingestion of the Duchess' Folly causes severe paranoid delusions, followed shortly by failure of the liver and kidneys, leading to death by sepsis. Properly treated, oil extracted from the mushroom carries the first effect, but is safe to consume."
"And such a clever discovery that was, too!"
"You...induced paranoid delusions. In...in the Emperor? But why?"
"Men are controlled by their fears. Control the fear, and you control the man."
"And what the Emperor fears is whatever he can't control."
"Elegant, isn't it? A comment here, a remark there, and a little dose of medicine to help guide his mind in the right direction. That's all it took to tighten our grip on power."
"By all that's holy...you're the reason for the purges. For Avernum's existence in the first place!"
"I won't deny it."
"But that was thirty years ago! Byff, you can't be that old."
"Ah yes, our young prodigy. It's amazing what you can scry for, if you know the right incantation. If you have access to the proper resources. If you're willing to make the right sacrifices. And, it must be said, if you're willing to play nanny. Young James was barely out of diapers when we plucked him from his parents' farm."
"Fuck. Some childhood you had."
"Oddly, it wasn't that unpleasant."
"Ah, he had access to everything he needed! Everything he wanted, even! Unlimited opportunity to experiment, to push the boundaries of knowledge. That was always the goal, wasn't it?"
"And all I had to do in exchange was help you with your research. I had no inkling of the awful consequences of my actions."
"But you did the right thing! The Empire must maintain control. And Hawthorne was dangerously weak. With your help, I forged him into the leader we needed. A leader willing to make the decisions that needed to be made!"
"You banished tens of thousands to a sunless hellhole!"
"Idealist! If it weren't for our actions, for my actions, the Imperial government would be teetering on the brink of collapse! Factionalized, politicized, riven by petty politics and greed! Success and security cannot come without sacrifice! Hawthorne was like you, once -- unwilling to accept the consequences of necessary decisions!"
"You're a fine one to talk. You never had to suffer those consequences you so blithely demand."
"But that ends today. You want consequences? Thanks to you, there's an entire nation underground. Outside your control. And it's angry. It wants revenge. And we are its sword."
"Time to reap what you've sown, you callous, power-obsessed bastard."
"Pfeh. Very well. Show me the consequences of my actions. Show me what the Empire's benign neglect has created."
"All units. Continue operations. Protect the Emperor with your lives!"
For the record, the actual conversation you can have with Garzahd:
For each of these screens, I'm just going to pick the top dialog option and work my way down.
Rewinding a bit, if we suggest an arrangement:
Offer to let him rule instead:
Admit we have nothing to offer:
And from the first dialog, if we ask if he thinks he can stop us:
So really, your dialog choices don't matter much. Now, let's roast this turkey.
"We've been pincered!"
"I'm on it!"
"You didn't really think the guards held still while we were talking, did you? You're more foolish than I thought!"
The portcullis in the northwest periodically spawns in a Sorceress, Infiltrator, Inquisitor, and Royal Guard. Garzahd also has several Royal Guards escorting him, and more hiding around the corner to the south. We'll need to keep the former group locked up and dispose of the latter group before we can really start beating on him.
"I'll bring the entire Spire down around us if I have to! Ea̹r̰̬̤̖̤̯̝ͯ́ͤẗ́́h̰̝̻͌͑͆͂̊́ͬ,̣̤̹͓͓̼͐ ̗̠̻̳ͩ͒͛ͪ͑ͣ͊re̻̫̲ͪ̉̊̈̿n̯͔̰͋d͇̠̜̯̃ͭͣ̚!̖̠̜̗͍̺͍̈́͌̔͂"
"And you, Garzahd, if you'll not go to the guillotine, then I'll bring it to your neck!"
"You'll have to break his personal wards first. Allow me to help with that. Garzahd, behold what I've learned since you deemed me an unacceptable liability!"
"Well done! You'd be a Fifth Circle mage by now, had you stayed behind. What a shame, then, that you must die here!"
"You have stagnated! You have nothing new to show me! Your incuriosity will be your downfall!"
"...really, Byff? That's your taunt?"
"Look, I'm just saying that if you don't improve upon yourself, you are doomed to be surpassed!"
Garzahd is, naturally, a powerful mage with great fortitude. In response, we cast expensive spells with wild abandon, as well as using those rare, precious Speed Burst scrolls to get double actions for everyone. I'll just keep a list of the spells I see Garzahd cast during the fight:
- Howl of Terror
- Spray Acid ( )
- ...and that's it.
"Enough games, shall we say? No more toying at battle. And no more toying at leading the Empire. Let me rule in truth, and we shall war in truth soon enough."
"Goodbye, James. Perhaps we'll see each other again sometime, and I'll show you what it means to surpass."
"Damn it, old man. Own up to your mistakes! Stay and fight your battles properly!"
"Hey, hey! Let it go. We have more important things to do."
"Especially since he didn't call off the guards!"
"No matter, the throne room is nearby. Let's go!"
This screenshot is here just to point out that we just had a fight in a dining hall, and right outside are buckets with green splashes on the floor next to them, towels, and a barrel full of "trash". Verisimilitude!
"This is the last checkpoint!"
"There he is!"
"Emperor Hawthorne! You are guilty of treason on a scale unimaginable! Surrender to Avernum, that you may be judged!"
"We're here to avenge the injustice done to the thousands in Avernum!"
"An offer...of what?"
"Do not trust him! He may be mad, but he's not a fool!"
"Fine, then step down as Emperor!"
"Madness. You want to trick us with such a pathetic argument?"
"We tried the easy way! Come with us, or die. Your choice."
"Fine by me. Didn't want to let you live anyway."
"Uh, bad news, guys. My arrows aren't reaching him!"
"He's warded! I've never seen such powerful defenses!"
"Then I'll leave him to you two. I'll handle the golems!"
The Royal Sentinels can cast a preposterously powerful wide-area fire attack, and they have absolutely no compunctions about using it every turn, even if they have a PC standing in punching distance. In two casts, we look like this:
...and in three, only Kane is left alive:
"Damn you! But no matter, I can fix this! These potions had better work..."
Step 1: Healing Elixir.
Step 2: Adrenaline Rush.
Step 3: Invulnerability Elixir (only 80% damage reduction, which is why the Healing Elixir was needed; Kane was nearly dead otherwise).
Step 4: Scroll of Return Life.
"Welcome back, folks! Stay on your guard!"
Step 5: Scrolls of Group Healing to top everyone else off. Here ends Kane's turn.
Step 6: The golems get their turns, killing Elly and Byff.
Step 7: More guards spawn in through the portal.
"This isn't working!"
"It has to! Use those potions we've been saving!"
Unfortunately, it only takes two hits from any golem to kill Elly or Byff, and the golems are guaranteed to act in-between when Kane or One-Eye revive them, and when they would get their turns. And there's no way to apply invulnerability to a character aside from having them drink a potion. We spend all of the Restore Life scrolls that Kane and One-Eye are carrying, trying to get Elly and Byff alive long enough to get an offense going, but the golems are far too trigger-happy, and it doesn't work.
And of course, One-Eye and Kane are unable to harm Emperor Hawthorne themselves, so they can't do this operation solo. Or can't they?
"If I can't keep my allies alive, then at least I'll destroy everything I can! I'll rip your golems apart with my bare hands if I have to!"
Each round that one of Hawthorne's golems is damaged, he'll do this:
The golem is restored to full health, and Hawthorne gets that much closer to being damageable.
One-Eye got charmed by a Crown Worshipper, and I let Kane's invulnerability lapse, rapidly leading to his demise. With one charmed character and everyone else dead, the game just kind of sits there for awhile as everyone passes their turns, staring at each other awkwardly and waiting for the charm effect to time out. Which it does, eventually, but it eats precious time from One-Eye's invulnerability -- he only has a 74% chance to dodge the golems' ridiculous attack ability.
He does make some progress:
Naturally, this replaces the golems' wide-area fire attack with a wide-area ice attack. Just in case you thought the solution to this fight would be to stack every last bit of fire resistance you can, and to hell with the other elements.
Unfortunately, at this point, One-Eye's last invulnerability potion runs out. And as we all well know, he can't dodge cold-based attacks very well.
So that went poorly. Let's try again, except this time we'll have the foresight to prep everyone with invulnerability elixirs before the fight starts. Everyone gets 3 Invulnerability Elixirs and 1 Invulnerability Potion (same effect, shorter duration). Elly puts up Ward of Elements instead of Ward of Steel, since protection from physical attacks is not our priority. And we won't let the Emperor stall us. The extra summons that result from engaging the Emperor in dialog didn't have a huge impact (compared to the golems, anyway) but they sure didn't help, especially once the priest started casting charm spells.
"Emperor Hawthorne, you are guilty of grand treason!"
"No, no, enough talking! Just start stabbing the golems!"
"...okay, fair enough."
At this point I discover, to my great annoyance, that it is impossible to kill Royal Golems. You can easily do enough damage to bring them down to no health, but they can't actually die.
Also, Hawthorne is literally invulnerable -- all attacks directed at him, mundane or not, do no damage whatsoever. However, with all four party members alive thanks to the global 80% damage reduction that "Invulnerability" provides, we're able to damage the golems far more readily.
"Keep hammering those golems! It's the only chance we have to break his shield!"
"It's working! D͐ͯ͑ͯṟ̍͒ͨȍ̯͎̤w͒n̰̤͈͔͈̬̐́ ̳͕̜̳̺͗̅͐̃͊ͧi͇̟͍̬̻̩̯̔̑͗ͥ̍n͖͎̜̜̙̺̝ͪ͋͌͛̈́ͫ ͖̪̳̖͊̃͂̑͊̿f͙̿i͉̜̗͎̬̽̅̈́̋ͦ̀r͎͙͎͛ͣ̊ͧ̉ͪͤȅ̞̯̐̔!̑̌"
It appears that Hawthorne's "drain shields to restore golems" ability works proportionate to the damage we deal. In our first attempt, One-Eye and Kane working together could only progress to the first phase change in the fight; in this attempt, we're getting phase changes after every round of combat. Elly in particular is vital to burning down Hawthorne's shield as quickly as possible, as her spells hit everyone and can also cause stunning, slowing down the enemy's offense considerably.
"Oh what fresh hell is this?"
"It's nothing! You've all endured far worse before!"
"Ha! He can be hurt! ...if only just."
At this point, the golems spend their turns...punching Kane and One-Eye. One-Eye gets stunned. That's it?
I assume this is acid, but again the golems just punch things. Maybe they ran out of energy? I've no evidence to indicate that monsters are at all limited in how many spells they can cast, though. Maybe it's a bug.
Now the golems do start using a new ability. It's just a wide-area lightning attack, though. No worse than the other spells they've used.
"This is our chance! Kill him, now, before he comes to his senses!"
"Hawthorne! This is the end! Make your peace with eternity!"
With his shield down, Hawthorne is just an old man. No armor, no health to speak of. A single strike is all it takes.
"Now would be a good time to leave!"
"Agreed. I've no interest in facing the headsman's block for regicide!"
We grab Hawthorne's treasures on the way out:
Absolute garbage. Bad armor, nobody needs hit chance, and riposte is an awful ability.
More passable, but still pretty bad.
"This could lead anywhere!"
"Anywhere is better than here!"
"A fair point. Let's go!"
"We...we did it. We actually killed the Emperor!"
"Ha ha ha...holy shit, and we're still alive, too! Great job, guys!
"Yes, we did it, didn't we? But this is only the beginning."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that war with the Empire is now inevitable. It will not come tomorrow. It might not come for years. But it will come. Once Garzahd has secured his grip on the Empire, he will come here. We must be ready."
"But don't be such a downer! We won, today, and that's all that matters right now! Boys, I couldn't be prouder of you."
"Heh. Elly is right. Sorry for being depressing."
"Eh, no worries. It's your nature, James."
"Uh huh. Thanks, Wang."
And with that, we've secured vengeance for Erika -- and for Avernum, of course. By killing Grah-Hoth, we secured Avernum's safety. By killing Emperor Hawthorne, we have destroyed that safety, and accelerated a conflict that otherwise might not have started for many years. But we have started that conflict on our terms, not the Empire's -- which means that instead of being crushed by a surprise attack in overwhelming numbers, we have pushed them to attack us before they are truly ready. That might just make the difference between Avernum's survival and its destruction.
Now, as you may remember, Erika stressed the importance of having four brooches at bare minimum, five in preference. What happens if you only have four brooches? Ideally, I could simply edit the party, remove one of the brooches, and replay the last dungeon to show you. Unfortunately, the character editor in this game is strictly limited to adjusting character stats -- it can't give or remove items or special items. So instead I'll have to rewind time to before we bought the Platinum Brooch, and then replay this section of the game.
With the difficulty turned down to Casual, this takes about half an hour. We go to Aydin to learn about the towers, including that Khoth made one and that you need a Royal Seal to bypass the second. We go to Khoth, to return his scroll and learn the ritual to bypass his tower -- we can't ask about this unless Aydin's told us about Khoth. We go to Erika, to tell her we're ready to go. Then it's to the path to the teleport augmenter, where we rip apart the demon guards (One-Eye can three-shot demons, and Elly can one-shot entire hordes), bypass the eyebeasts in the second tower, and just generally make a mess of things.
This is one of the things I love about the Avernum games and their predecessors: they don't waste your time. There's no cutscenes to watch, no lengthy animations. If you know where you want to go, you can just go. Even walking from one corner of the map to the other doesn't take more than a few minutes, and it's not because the map is small!
The Royal Spire proceeds similarly quickly. Garzahd doesn't even get a turn before he's forced to flee. It appears that Hard has about a 5x damage increase (on the part of enemies) compared to Casual, for reference, as Hawthorne's golems are doing about as much damage to the party on Casual as they were on Hard...but the Casual party isn't using invulnerability potions. In short order, we wear down Hawthorne's shield, and then One-Eye puts an arrow through his throat.
We make for the teleporter, as before, but...
And then you get booted to the title screen.
Next time: what do we do next?