Part 77: The Final Gauntlet
"A fortification? What fresh hell is this?"
"If the Empire knows about this path, maybe this is an Imperial outpost?"
"You mean we can literally liberate our path to liberty? Because that sounds amazing."
"We're sure not gonna do it if we stand around here chatting, boys. C'mon!"
"Watch it! Eyes...uh, eyes left, Byff!"
"But...I see grass!"
This Altered Giant is faster than everyone except One-Eye, and has plenty of health, but isn't all that remarkable otherwise.
"It...I...I think I need to sit down."
"Oh, I missed this."
"There are skulls. Why are there skulls? Guys, something's not right."
"Okay, now I'm mad."
"Hooray, angry Byff! Let 'em have it, hon!"
"Alright, you jerks! Time to learn what happens when you decide to work for the Empire!"
"I mean, not that you had a choice about it or anything, and for all I know you're fine upstanding members of the giant community, but..."
"You're losing them, Byff."
"Aw, hell with it. Eat magic!"
This giant ambush is actually moderately dangerous, since the giants do hit incredibly hard and our squishy casters are completely exposed. Byff would have died before getting a turn, if One-Eye's Sniper ability hadn't tagged one of the giants with Slow, robbing it of its turn. Of course, after one turn we're able to establish a proper line of battle; with Kane and One-Eye taking the shots, the giants' offense is vastly blunted.
"So...now we're trapped? We just sit here until we starve to death?"
"Depending on how picky an eater you are, that's gonna take a while."
I make no apology whatsoever for stuffing One-Eye's pack with almost literally every foodstuff we found over the course of the game.
"I'm sure there's a way out. Those Empire architects are obsessive about fail-safes and accessibility requirements. We'll just have to find it. This could take awhile."
"Oh. Well, then. Thank you, Elly."
"I note we're still trapped."
"Yeah, that switch opened something on the other side of the portcullis."
"Well, back to the search, then."
"Cave of Summonings. This is your last chance."
"Yeah, yeah. Try again with something that can actually hit me."
"Or, y'know, don't. That's good too."
I'm a little embarrassed to admit that it took me awhile to find the right switch.
When not highlighted by the mouse, it blends in with the walls surprisingly well.
"See, this is what I'm talking about. Golems? You can see their punches coming ten seconds in advance!"
These golems can, inexplicably, cast Lightning Spray. It doesn't do much damage though.
"So what do you think the odds are of this wheel actually opening the way out?"
"Pretty good, actually. But if we're dealing with Imperial architects in full-on crazypants mode, then 10 to 1 it'll trigger some kind of unpleasant trap first."
"Heck, I'll take that bet."
"And now, pay up."
"Aw, what the heck! Crazy Imperial architects letting me down."
"Wait, what were the stakes on this wager?"
"Uhh...shit. Good point."
"Yes! Elly wins again!"
"I don't think it counts as winning if your opponent is merely unable to extract a penalty from you."
"There's plenty of lawyers who'd disagree with you on that point, Byff."
"Oh no. I recognize this."
"Honey, we all recognize this."
I missed one of the syllables?
Wow, this is doing my image as an LP superstar no favors, let me tell you. In my defense, this one can be missed a lot more easily than the others -- all you have to do is visit Patrick's Tower before you find out about the surface exit and the need for a passphrase. Erika does suggest that Patrick might know about it (she also points you to Aimee, in the Northern Waters), but if you're like me and prone to forgetting dialog, then it's basically all a matter of where you go first.
"Back so soon?"
"Yeah, turns out the surface world is boring. Back to mushroom beer for us!"
"That's us! Can't get enough walking, no sirree!"
At least Patrick's Tower is close to the Remote Caves!
"I beg your pardon, Archmage Patrick, but do you know anything about a surface exit password? The knowledge could be rather imminently useful."
And now back to the gauntlet!
"I thought you were done with the surface?"
"Found a little orphan girl. She wants a pet bunny rabbit."
"And you know what? We searched all over, and there's no rabbits in the underworld."
"Why can nothing ever be easy?"
"Maybe this is like at Skarragath where they tried to bluff us with a nonexistent ritual?"
"Nah, the Empire doesn't lie about that kind of thing. Plus they presumably want to move agents through here without killing them."
"Whelp, time to put your big-boy pants on then, Wangster."
"Don't call me -- eh, fuck it. Yeah, let's get this done."
"We destroyed the Emperor. We can suffer a little hardship if it means reaching the surface again."
"Why do I hear heavy breathing?"
"Behind us, boys!"
It's just a pack of a half-dozen Guardian Hellhounds, though.
Look, I'm gonna be upfront about this: the Final Gauntlet is the easiest of the three final dungeons (the other two being Grah-Hoth's fortress and the Royal Spire), by a fairly significant margin. Even if our party weren't well ahead of the level curve and dosed to the gills with energy potions, we wouldn't have a lot of trouble here.
"What is it with narrow bridges over the yawning abyss, anyway? They already tried that on the approach to this place, with the eyebeasts. What's it gonna be this time, basilisks?"
"Find a pattern that works, and keep using it, I guess."
"I'm not walking on that."
"It's the only way forward. That's why they built it that way."
"Don't care, I'm not walking on that."
And he's smart not to. If you try to continue:
Ouch. The way around is at a switch that's cleverly positioned so that it's noticeable right when we got ambushed by hellhounds. Presumably the hope is that by the time you finish the fight, you've forgotten all about the switch.
"Okay, wheel turned, and no new passages opened up."
"I believe this added a support to the bridge. It should now be safe to cross."
"It's still a narrow bridge over a bottomless pit!"
"Big-boy pants, hon."
"I swear, when we come back this way we're bringing an entire squad of engineers to make a real bridge."
"Coming back? You're not going to stay on the surface?"
"With all the shit we've done? I'm a marked man, I wouldn't last ten seconds."
"Huh. Come to think, what am I going to do at the end of this?"
"Best start thinking about it, buddy. Can't be too far away now."
"I don't feel like trusting the Orb in such a confined space. One-Eye, can you jump that far?"
"Without a run-up? No chance, sorry. And no, Kane, you're not throwing me either."
"I suppose we'll just have to find an alternate route, then."
"Son of a bitch. Now what do I do?"
"I'm gonna have some sharp words with whoever built this place, if you catch my drift."
"I got it!"
"This was an intentional failure mode, so to speak. I can't imagine there isn't some alternate path back. Imperial designs usually avoid single points of failure."
"In other words, we should keep going."
"Do you see any other choice?"
"Guess I can get in some target practice, anyway."
"They're giants. How hard can they be to hit?"
"Oh, I'm not aiming for the giants. I'm aiming for the boulders they're throwing at you."
Altered Giants can throw boulders as a ranged attack. Kane got hit by one. It did 21 damage, out of his pool of 263 HP. Somehow he parried the other boulders. Eventually a couple of other giants run around the corner into melee range, giving Kane something useful to do. Those dispatched, we proceed...
"This could go on for awhile. Well, have fun boys! Let me know if you need any healing!"
Two amazing things of note here. First, One-Eye actually got hit (at 5% odds). I guess if you roll the d20 long enough, eventually you'll get a 1. Second, he's apparently in melee range of that giant. I bring Kane around and take a shot -- sure enough, you can perform melee attacks "across" cliffs in this game. Weirdly, One-Eye can't shoot the giant next to him, because he's in melee range, but he also doesn't pay the usual 4AP "tax" for moving when in another unit's zone of control. I don't even know any more.
"Who makes so many weird giants, anyway?"
"The Empire, who else?"
"Rhetorical question, old chum."
"And I gave you a rhetorical answer."
"That's not a thing!"
"So far as you know."
"Yes, and I do know. I'm a lawyer. Rhetoric is how I pay my bills."
"...hm, fair point. Okay, I concede that one."
"Wait...how many times has Byff bluffed us with nonsense before?"
"So far as you know? This is the first time."
"Looks like we ran out of giants."
"And good riddance."
"Mister Bloodthirsty here doesn't want to fight something?"
"They're boring. Also, I kind of feel sorry for them. They're basically slaves to the Empire."
"I don't think they're capable of independent thought. They're basically fancy golems."
The switch in the previous shot leads us to the uppermost "terrace" of this sequence, which hides a couple of pools.
"Okay, I'm giving 2:1 odds exactly one of these is poisoned."
"But which one?"
"Ahh, that's where the fun gambling is."
"Ehh, I'll just drink 'em both. All that climbing made me thirsty."
The first pool restores 40 spell energy...and the second pool also restores 40 spell energy. Elly was the only person to benefit in either case, since Byff leveled up recently and thus has full energy.
"Oh, and pay up. Neither of those was poison."
"You forgot to actually wager anything."
"I...dang, you're right. Shoot!"
"What on earth...?"
"Our Imperial architect must have just been bored by this point."
This isn't quite as trivial as it first appears to be; there's Divine Shades mixed in with the giants, so you're facing some reasonably strong cold-based damage (including actual AoE attacks) in addition to the boulders. And in fact, these particular Divine Shades are also packing a mass Battle Frenzy and a wide-area energy attack...that does pathetic damage.
As for the barriers, we can cope with those.
"Hey Byff, set me up!"
"Hm? Oh, I see. Coming up!"
"You're all clear!"
Then a giant takes advantage of the newly-opened terrain to run up and whack Elly with its club, knocking her back into the corridor. So much for blasting them all with Divine Retribution.
"Phooey. Well, taste my slightly-diluted wrath anyways!"
"Not your greatest work, I'm afraid."
"I know! Stupid giants."
"Well, now we have options."
"Wheel? Or doors 1 through 3?"
"I suggest we start at one side of the room and work our way to the other."
"Well, here's the other end of that corridor. This I could jump. But I'm more interested in this wheel..."
"Okay, what the hell. I swear the lock's changing shape when I try to pick it. That's cheating!"
"We'll just come back to this later, then."
The same thing happens with the wheel in the main room, incidentally.
The game really should have used a separate status effect for the Adze-Haakai fight, which is the only time that Death Curses ever show up. Meanwhile, the Enlightened status is used for three puzzles: this one, the one to escape the Ancient Crypt near Formello, and the one to access Aydin and Josie's tower in the Northern Waters.
"Oh, not this again!"
"No, no, this is good! Quick, go pick the locks!"
"...the locks. Right. Right, okay, let's get this over with."
"It's not a shapeshifting lock. The bastards just phased part of it out of our local reality. So my picks just slide right through. But if I charge the picks with a little magic, they can interact with the ethereal parts anyway, and...voila!"
This opens a southerly passage out of the room.
"That boy is smarter than he lets on."
"Now let's go do the other one before this wears off and I can't see it properly any more."
Same effect as before.
"Aaaaaand now I have a splitting headache."
"What's the point of this? It'll just take us back to the broken bridge."
"Moot point anyway, hon. Look at the wheel across the bridge."
"At least there's this side passage to check."
These pools restore 75 energy each to the party.
One last passage out of the center room.
"Ah ha! This will teleport us to the surface!"
"The cynic in me says no dice. I think it just takes us to the Avernum side of that bridge."
"We'll just file this as Plan B then. Let's check the passage that One-Eye's skills opened for us."
"Uh huh. Look, I'm just gonna be over here, drinking healing potions until I can see straight again."
Incidentally, if you do take this portal, the broken bridge miraculously fixes itself.
This corridor goes on for a long time, with several rises in elevation.
"We must be close to the surface now. How high have we climbed, anyway?"
"Dunno. I never figured out how to rig an altimeter for the caves."
"Oh, that's cheating! Poor form."
"Time to stumble around in the dark, then."
"A dining room?"
"Kind of cramped."
And there's another one next door.
"This looks like a guardhouse."
"Then we really must be close!"
"Well, either that or a checkpoint. There could still be miles to go!"
"Please stop toying with my emotions, Elly."
"This is pointless, guys. C'mon, out into the darkness."
"Wait, why didn't we hear these things coming?"
"Worry about that after they're dead, Byff!"
"Maybe the statues came to life?"
"Seems as good a theory as any."
We keep heading north, and some significant distance later, finally hit a wall.
"Hey, a switch!"
"Wow, that's a grumpy golem! Someone's bitter about being locked into a closet for untold decades."
There's another golem behind it, too. And for whatever reason, these particular golems can emit a wide-area energy attack. Not that it does much; the party is now level 32, and the golems are level 26. That kind of differential cuts the damage they can deal way down.
"Thank fuck this one isn't locked."
"I guess now we get to try to figure out what that actually did in the big room."
"Call me a betting lady, but I think what we want is beyond these stalagmites."
"Was it the way they somehow form an impenetrable net of solid stone that tipped you off?"
"Oh good, more giants."
"There's something else out there. Watch out, guys!"
Indeed, while we fight this giant, something gives it Battle Frenzy. And something else throws boulders at us. Guessing that second one's just another giant though.
"Found the fucker! Aim this way, guys!"
"Okay, if you say so. Get ready to dodge then."
"Brother, I'm always ready."
By spreading our forces out, we can actually see a reasonable amount of the battlefield. Kane and One-Eye can act as spotters to let Elly and Byff hit distant targets with spells.
"Was there an Eyebeast statue here earlier?"
"Who knows? Who cares? Just kill the thing."
"Wise words from a wise man."
Monsters dead, next comes a lot of stumbling around in the dark, trying to find where we're supposed to go next. Eventually I get smart and simply backtrack away from the dark cave a bit. Once we get far enough away, the darkness effect dissipates, at which point our map starts working again.
In particular, I can now pan the view across the cave and get a proper understanding of its layout. Here's the northern end, with the passage to the wheel we've already turned:
And here's the southern end:
That wheel looks suspicious, but there doesn't seem to be a path to it right now. Finally, however, I notice that there's a gap in the gatehouse that didn't use to be there. Back into the fog!
"I think I get the pattern now. Turn the wheel, that releases some monsters, and opens a passage for us to find. Lather, rinse, repeat."
"Lather what now?"
"Uh, don't worry about it."
This time, we get more giants and a couple of unnamed liches.
They die shockingly quickly. Liches are evidently much less durable than Altered Giants. As for the new passage, it's at the northwest end of the room, and is guarded by two more golems.
"I'd complain about this getting tedious, but with the way they've been ramping up, it might actually get dangerous in a bit."
The next group is two Cryodrakes and two Eyebeasts, and giants of course.
"Okay, Byff, let'er rip!"
The "suspicious" wheel is now accessible...
...and if you guessed it would open a passage at the opposite end of the room, give yourself a very small cookie.
As for the monsters unleashed by it, though:
"What the hell is this thing?"
"Judging from the name, we probably shouldn't let it touch us!"
"Oh, just hit the thing!"
There goes our initial blitz -- three Divine Retributions, three Arcane Blows, and three hits from Kane's Flaming Sword. The Horror picked up those curses as a side-effect of resisting the Immobility/Stun/Slow effects from Elly and Byff's spells: like most bosses, it's immune to the really crippling status effects, but as compensation, it'll get cursed or poisoned instead.
As for the Horror's offense, it appears to be functionally an unusually powerful lich. This matches the pattern of the monsters we faced (Cryodrake -> Eyebeast -> Lich -> Cryodrake + Eyebeast -> Horror). It's a good enough mage to cast Arcane Blow and other powerful spells, but it's nothing Elly can't keep up with. I gave it some time to use other abilities -- the flavor text suggests it ought to be capable of something nasty -- but it just cast spells.
Oh, and that giant? It's a Bladeward Construct, completely immune to physical damage.
I'd like to dramatize this fight, but frankly it's just not that hard. We throw our most powerful spells at the Horror, and it falls over in three or four rounds. Elly nearly runs out of spell energy, but she still has four Energy Elixirs in reserve, so who cares?
"So...that's it? We can leave?"
"I'm not going to stand around here any longer than I have to."
"C'mon, let's go!"
For the record, the Horror drops a unique sword:
"Does anyone else smell trees?"
"Look! The window!"
"Somehow I never really believed we were going to make it..."
"Fuck me, we actually did it."
Image courtesy of the Tiverton Foundation
"Man, can't fault the Empire for finding a nice spot for it."
"Smell that air! We're...home."
"I think I need to sit down for a bit."
"You and me both."
"So. Now what?"
"Sure, thanks. But where do we go from here?"
"If we wait for nightfall, I can figure out where we are."
"I'm in no hurry. Hey, d'you know if any of these plants can be cooked? I'm sick to death of mushrooms."
"Hm...nothing obvious, but c'mon, let's go for a walk."
"My compliments on the meal, One-Eye. I don't think I've eaten that well in years."
"Thanks, but Byff found the roots."
"You're the one that cooked them. I never did figure out how to do that very well."
"Anyway, the stars are out."
Image courtesy of Erik Stensland
"Ye-esss...hm. Give me a few minutes. I think I can figure out where we are."
"And there he goes. That boy does love his puzzles."
"So what're you going to do now?"
"Yeah, we've about run out of crises to solve, haven't we?"
"Maybe. But the Empire is still out there. Something's going to have to be done about that."
"And you're going to take part in that effort, eh?"
"Let me tell you: it beats the pants off divorce trials."
"You were a divorce lawyer?"
"For awhile, sure. Then I had enough of listening to rich twits argue about who keeps the pet dog, tried to make a difference, and, well...here I am."
"I think we made a difference, all right."
"My word, yes. But things are only just getting started."
"You got that right. Are we talking about who's staying on the surface and who's going back down?"
"Not in quite so many words, hon, but yes."
"I'm staying in Avernum."
"Understandable. The Empire's restrictions on magical research are pretty onerous."
"That's not it. Someone has to make certain those mages stay on-track. And more importantly, someone has to make sure that we win the upcoming war with the Empire."
"My studies during our travels were a little one-sided, I'll admit. But Avernum needs battle mages right now, and that's what I am, like it or not. If there's some way I can help --"
"-- then you have a responsibility to help. You know that road never ends, right, Byff?"
"I know. But this way I can sleep at night."
"I'm staying in Avernum too. Never mind the whole ''Imperial assassin'' thing. Like Byff said, we'll need everything we can if we're gonna survive the war. If I can help...then I have to."
"So much for living a quiet, peaceful life."
"I'll miss you two."
"So you're staying up here, then?"
"Someone has to press the attack on the Empire. Avernum will be too focused on its own defense to pose the kind of existential threat needed to cause real reform. But I think with my experience that I can form a Scimitar cell up here. And I'll keep pushing."
"That's a dangerous life you're choosing for yourself."
"And yours isn't? But I know, it's a gamble. The Empire might clamp down on me hard before I can even get started."
"I have some good news for you there, in a way. We're in Valorim."
"Valorim...but that continent is barely inhabited!"
"Yes, which means there aren't many soldiers out here. Nothing you couldn't handle, I'm sure."
"You could build a power base out here, where the Empire can barely reach! I bet with the war going on underground, they won't have many resources to spend on you, either."
"What about you, Elly? What are your plans?"
"Oh, well. Adventuring around with you boys was fun, you know? But it's really time I got back to my clerical duties."
"On a related note, how long do you think before I'll stop seeing writhing black tentacles at the edge of my vision?"
"Heck if I know! Nobody's ever been subjected to so much of my healing magic before."
"Anyway, I really need to reconnect with my church and get back to finding the Creator's true name. We're way behind schedule."
"...you mean you had a planned date for when the name would be found?"
"Yes? It's a pretty systematic process, and we do know what we're doing."
"Sure! Tons of experience at this! After all, we've done it twice before!"
And that's a wrap! Thank you, everyone, for coming along for the ride. 72 updates, 15 months, over 200,000 words -- not counting the ones in screenshots! I'm going to miss our band of misfit vagabonds. Let's take one last good look at them before saying goodbye.
Kane, the Crusader
Weapon: Flaming Sword
Armor: Runed Plate
Shield: Shadowstep Chitin
Gloves: Dragonskin Gloves
Helm: Dragonskin Cap
Boots: First Expedition Boots
Pants: First Expedition Greaves
Belt: Mooneye Girdle
Ring: Mauler's Ring
Cloak: Warrior's Cloak
Necklace: Ruby Necklace
Missile Weapon: Lemonwood Longbow
One-Eyed Wang, the Infiltrator
Armor: Marksman Vest
Gloves: Dragonskin Bracers
Helm: Helm of Klin
Boots: Gazerskin Sandals
Pants: Icedrake Greaves
Belt: Girdle of Life
Ring: Farsight Band
Cloak: Archer's Cloak
Necklace: Emerald Chain
Missile Weapon: Possessed Bow
Byff, the Luminary
Weapon: Discipline Blade
Armor: Mercuric Leather
Shield: Drakeskin Shield
Gloves: Drake Hide Gloves
Helm: Runed Helm
Boots: Quicksilver Sandals
Pants: Runed Greaves
Belt: Silk-Woven Cord
Ring: Incantor's Ring
Cloak: Symbiotic Cloak
Necklace: Tribal Symbol
Missile Weapon: Sage's Longbow
Elly, the Prophet
Weapon: Singing Rapier
Armor: Robe of the Magi
Shield: Quicksilver Bulwark
Gloves: Tinker's Gloves
Helm: Thug's Cap
Boots: Radiant Boots
Pants: Starlight Greaves
Belt: Girdle of Genius
Ring: Lightstep Band
Cloak: Missionary Cloak
Necklace: Clarity Talisman
Missile Weapon: Bow of the Deep Woods
And finally, I'd like to thank ManxomeBromide, who proofread many of these updates; NullBlack, who contributed many awesome works of art; and berryjon, who did a Let's Play of the original Exile: Escape from the Pit. Also Ulvrich, Sazero, anilEhilated, and Loxbourne, who submitted the original characters that formed our party.
I'd also like to congratulate berryjon on getting Elly's twist precisely backwards.
That's it! We're all done here. See you next time!