Part 10: The Blasted RuinsUpdate 007 The Blasted Ruins
You! Adventurers! Come to my office! Now!
You know thesse creaturesss?
Come on, not in the open.
The mayor of Formello was a balding man in his fifties who introduced himself as the honoured ruled of Formello, more a formal title than anything else. He was very tense as the rest of Art's troupe of trainees joined her in the public square. Eyeing Kai-lyss and Aaarth-Tss the most, he gestured back toward the small building set into the rock wall that backed Formello. Come, come! No time to waste!
Where are we going, Mayor Amtar? Chester hid his emotions well, though worry shone through quite clear. The Empire and Monster attacks were one thing, but this? This was... different. And unexpected.
My office. I'm sorry, but with what we just saw, it's the most secure place. The older man ran ahead to unlock the doors leading into his office, and gestured for the rest to hurry up. Dmurr and Marianna took the invitation while the rest stayed with Art as she strolled quietly.
Why do we not russsh? the young Aaarth-Tss asked in a whispered hiss. Eventsss like thisss...?
<We do not, as haste breeds concern and worry in the civilian population,> Kai-Lyss responded. By not russshing, Art projectsss the idea that nothing iss wrong.
Pretty much. Unspecified Services deals with too much weird stuff to be bothered by this level of events. Art replied as nonchalantly as she could, though inside, she fretted. And besides, I've been to this office before. It's close, so running isn't required.
True to her word, the six of them were able to join the Mayor in his office, where he closed the door with a thud, and took his seat at the head of the table. HELP!
Art, Unspecified Services, sir. This is my training group, and we are at your service. Art gave a very professional greeting as Mayor Amtar tried to get his breathing under control. Yes, we saw that event.
First the Barrier, now this! What is happening to us? the Mayor didn't seem to react to her calm statements, his own mind focused on other troubles. You have to help us!
We will, sir. Art replied again, inwardly sighing at the excitable and tense man. The second issue first. These 'Vhanatai'. They are not totally unknown.
They aren't? Chester asked, surprised. I've never seen anything like them before.
Indeed! Such creatures are not native to the Caves! Dmurr added quickly, hands on the rough-hewn table.
Not truth. Kai-Lyss interjected, bringing leaning slightly over the table to face Art across from him. But what do the humansss know first? The offer was clear, and Art accepted.
Alright, she paused to get her thoughts and memories in order. The Vhanatai are a species native to the caves of Exile and elsewhere. While certain out-of-place-artifacts discovered previously are now attributed to them, the first official report of their existence as a species was made by the First Exile Escape Committee during the Slith War, she nodded at the two lizards at the table. The EEC, after assassinating Sss-Thss, was getting information on Grah-Hoth. As part of that, they raided a Slith Temple where one of the pieces of the Demonslayer blade was located. Information there led them to a hidden cavern near Sss-Thss' castle. It was home to a Lich, which they destroyed. But one of the undead maintained its sentience as a spirit and identified itself as Brethis, of the Vhanatai. It could not say much about who or what it was in life, and a later attempt to return to that cavern revealed that the shade had moved on.
I know of the place you ssspeak. Kai-Lyss said. It isss... wasss a place to tessst warriorsss. No longer.
Anyways, the second known location is the former Crypt of Drath. Oddly enough, there was another piece of the Demonslayer piece at the bottom of the Crypt. But the actual presence of the Vhanatai was in the crypts there. Like the cave in Slith waters, this one held an ancient undead that raised some of their bodies for its own purposes. And like the previous Lich, Drath was destroyed by the EEC.
I don't believe for one minute that both events were orchestrated by the same people, Art dahling. Marianna raised her objection to the information Art was dispensing, while the others seemed to want to wait for their leader to finish before speaking.
And that leads me to the third location. Art stood up for a moment, and drew her snake-curved blade. This, we found in a cavern north of Erika Redmark's Tower, about a third of the way to Grah-Hoth's fort. In it was a paired set of barriers designed to keep everything in and out. Our magus, Peregrine, was able to crack the barrier a little bit and I retrieved this weapon in the process. Tests conducted later by Boutell and Patrick indicate that this blade was forged between 3 and 5 thousand years ago. In the five years since I took it, it hasn't nicked, bent, broken, blemished or otherwise shown any signs of its age and origin. What we do know from its location was that it is of the Vhanatai style of weapon, though if it had some greater purpose, was exceptional or normal for them we do not know. She put the Alien Blade down on the table, letting everyone else take new stock of the weapon she had carried since they had met her. And a new appreciation.
What else do we know? the Mayor asked, prodding her to continue her report.
Nothing. Art said simply. Nothing at all. No undesecrated bodies, no translations of their words, no art, no clothes, just the occasional weapon or scrap of something we can't identify. She looked expectantly at Kai-Lyss. Your turn.
Indeed. Kai-lyss put one claw to the ancient blade. There are talesss come to uss from Bahssikava. Know that the Slithzerikai you know are not a people native to these cavess as well, but exilesss ass well from our home for the crimesss of Demon Worshipping. From there, there are taless of an even more ancient and deeper ssspeciesss, one rich in lore and magics. He paused for breath, trying to recall memories from his childhood. There isss no name, save a word that becomesss 'Crystal Soul' in Human.
The shade mentioned that! Chester said first and loudly, proud of his connection. It said we stole one of them! The weight of his words fell on to him. Wait. Did we? Really?
I couldn't tell you, Art replied sadly. I know some people who would gladly do that if it meant power or stuff like that. And this Vhanatai was quite adamant that it was us who took them.
The Mayor fretted. Then you must do something! I'm ordering you to go down into that cavern and resolve this crisis!
No. Art shot back, short and angry. Unspecified Services does not answer to the Council. Never have, never will. We co-operate with the Army, and report to the King. You can't give me orders.
You have to! It's your job! These creatures have ATTACKED EXILE and we must respond!
MY JOB Art roared, driving back the others with the force of her voice, is to secure the safety of Exile and her people from threats that conventional responses cannot deal with! She toned back her voice to merely indignant after that. Does this qualify? Yes, it most certainly does. Have you looked at other options yet? I can tell you that you haven't. When we step out of the door, the first thing you are going to do is use that magic necklace of yours to contact the other Mayors and the King and tell them about the Barriers and this ultimatum. Understood?
Yes, Ma'am. The Mayor seems partly cowed, partly in fear of Art as she snatched the Vhanatai weapon off the table.
Now, your little trouble has been added to my list of things to do. It's somewhere around 'Yes' and 'Eventually'. You don't get to set my priorities, and right now, they are set to assuring that when I go down there to beat some sense into the Vhanatai, I plan on making sure that my rear, everything I can check out, is still safe and secure. And that means, at the very least, going back and finishing wiping out the Nephil Fort over by Ganrick.
Ma'am, Sir? Chester raised on hand for permission to speak.
The captain of the local militia also asked that we investigate some place to the West, Ma'am Sir. There are reports of Undead coming from the area of an old castle. Chester relayed the basics of the talk he had earlier. Is that what you're talking about.
Ooooh! And the Spiders were also asking for help too! Dmurr raised up another point, taking glee in the caustic look Art fired back at him across the table.
Fine! She returned her attention to the Mayor. These things need to be looked at. I'll even try poking the Spiders as much as I hate them. Art stood. This meeting is over. I have my job. You have yours.
As you can tell, this isn't how the actual conversation goes down. In fact, Exile 2 makes no overt mention of the previous encounters with the Vhanatai before Chapter 4! This is in part due to the nature of the plot there is no connection between the PCs in each game of the Trilogy, so each has to start with a fresh slate of information. The Vhanatai as supposed to be mysterious at this point, and the lack of information is deliberate.
Anyways, the actual conversation with the Mayor goes something like this:
Look: You meet a man in his fifties, easily. He is very tense - his body seems about to tear itself apart. In addition to the traditional mayor's sash, he wears a large gold necklace.
Name: He nods. "I am Amtar. Mayor Amtar, honored ruler of the city of Formello."
Job: He shakes his head. "So many troubles, and even my secretary has gone off to fight. I'm glad to see adventurers here. At this point, we need all the assistance we can get."
Secretary: "His name is Foley. He's a captain now. If you meet him, be sure to mention my name to him."
Adventurers, Assistance: "Well, we all heard what that shade said and saw the crevice appear. Exile needs someone to go down into it. It may be our only hope to get rid that cursed barrier. You are the only adventurers around here. You may be the only people who can save us."
Anyways, on with the LP!
Was that hostility really necessary?
You did seem quite annoyed there, Sir Ma'am.
I thought I told... you... Never mind. Look, was I hostile? Yes. Was it deserved? The moment he demanded I do something, yes.
Perhaps a distraction then? Let us look at this passage.
I do not wisssh to enter that plase.
You sssense it too.
Dear, I think everyone gets a feeling of foreboding from there.
That's just the cold wind. It's still dusty from its creation.
What's back there anyways?
The spring that feeds Formello.
No wonder the mayor is so panicky.
Having your water supply compromised? That can do that to a man.
There are two NPCs in the area that I got conversations for, but I couldn't work them into the narrative. The first hangs out around the Mayor's office and is dressed in pink
LOOK: A young woman with a haversack paces around Formello, looking at the sights. She doesn't seem very enthusiastic about it.
NAME: "Oh, you stuck here too? I'm Rose."
JOB: "Well, I was heading south to Silvar to visit my family. Was."
SILVAR, FAMILY, BARRIER "Was. I was just leaving here when I heard about the barrier. You know, the one that cut us off from anywhere else? Now I'm just doing odd jobs, waiting to get away."
The other one is located to the south, in the large empty area in Formello. He's actually pretty good for building up the nature of Formello, though due to his position, you can't get to him without triggering the Vhanatai event.
LOOK: A taciturn man in moss-stained clothes stalks about.
NAME: He grunts. "Tybalt."
JOB: "I'm a farmer."
FARMER: "Yeah. I grow the mushrooms in the corner of town. Don't touch 'em, or you're nicked!"
MUSHROOMS: "Yeah. They're emergency crops, in case we get sieged! And I'm in charge of em! Touch 'em, and you might get in serious trouble, if you live past what I do ta' ya'!"
I'll try harder to include such NPCs in the future, but this particular sequence of events didn't lead well to that level of exploration and conversation.
Of course she'd change the password.
Alright, list of priorities. Go south to find the Barrier, then circle back West to investigate the former fortress of Anastasia, then back north to Draco, buy a boat, and swing back around to talk to Solberg, if he's home.
Why that order? Would it not be better to sspeak to Sssol-berg fisst?
Need to get a boat first. Not everyone in this merry band of misfits can swim!
I thought mammalssss could ssswim?
We can, but not far enough.
Another map who isn't accurate. Silvar is at most, 100 tiles south of here (though I won't be able to check until Chapter 4), while the distances to Formello and Fort Draco are relatively accurate.
Someone really needs to fix these signs. General Karmas worked really hard to get this road system built.
I have never ssseen this like before.
Over here! Some people tried to dig around, but this thing extends into the ground as well.
Probably goes to the gutrock.
Right, no way we can take these out here and now. Let's go back.
You are giving up?
No, merely recognizing that I don't have the resources to take care of this. If I had Peregrine, I'd be willing to let him take a crack at this, but I don't, so it's time to go back to my plan.
Are you sure this is safe, Sir Ma'am?
What do you mean?
I mean, going off the roads like this.
It's either this, or we take the long way around.
They did a very good job of covering up their campsssite.
And it's not that cold either. Perhaps they're nearby?
I always get a giggle out of that comment. It's pretty true, all things considered.
Why would they go out of their way to ambush travellers here? Why do it anyways? There are far more safe means to live.
I'm more wondering why they're here, out of the way of the roads.
The roadsss are patrolled by the Army?
That still doesn't make any sense! If they have the skill and drive to ambush people, why don't they offer their services to the Army?
No, I didn't see any marks like that on them.
Can we stop this discussion now? It is... not the best.
Now to get to the other side of the river.
No, there's a bridge to the west. Over there is a backdoor to the old castle. It should still be there.
How do you know this?
I thought I told you that I helped hit this place five years ago? A woman named Anastasia was manipulating the local Nephil and Nephar tribes into a powerbase for herself, even got so far as to steal an artifact from the Mayor of Formello at the time.
Never heard of that event.
Oh come on!
Huh. Another one.
Can we go sssouth at all?
Perhapsss. There isss a river to the wessst.
We can check that out later.
Extreme Military Disaster. I know the First EEC was a wrecking crew, but as you're going to see, they didn't do this.
I thought you said we were going in the back.
What did you expect? A welcome party? We were told about this!
Oh, Undead. Returning from the first game are Zombies, Ghasts and Skeletons. They are not that much of a threat at lover levels, except for the Ghast, which can hit pretty hard, and whose attacks can slow the poor character, which can in turn cause them to be over run before they can get off the front lines.
Oh hells, Cultists!
Interlopers! Brothers, to arms!
I had a lot of trouble with this fight. Because I came in the back way, I'm dealing with all the powerful undead that would normally come at the end of the dungeon first. You see, the back entrance is something of a bonus for people who applied the lesson from the Nephar Castle, and looked for the back door, or played the first game and knew it was there.
Come forth, our new creations!
Here is the first real source of Trouble. The Quickghast. Doesn't look like much from the record, right? No? IT ATTACKS THREE TIMES FOR THREE HITS EACH. This is a massive threat, especially as this gives it multiple chances to Slow its target, making them easier pickings for everyone else. But the
Reload! About a half-dozen times.
And here's the other new form of Undead. Once that I love and adore beyond all reason. The Ruby Skeleton. What is it? Oh, just a Skeleton that can cast Fireball and has a ranged Fire attack that can do about 15-20 damage on a good hit, and can attack twice a round with its Heat Ray. When I've done tabletop DM'ing, I've always included versions of these guys in my undead when possible.
Is that it?
I should hope so!
Clear! My, what a mess we've caused.
This must be the Altar I was told about, Sir Ma'am.
Seriously, don't lay in the depression. I was annoyed enough with the reloading at this point to not do it once more to undo killing one of my own guys. Let's destroy it!
We can come back to this later!
These guys were trapped behind a curve of the walls. After this push, I've wiped out most of the enemies on the map, except for a couple specific foes we'll encounter later. After this fight, I head back outside and rest up.
Come on, I have an idea.
Let's do this.
ugh... so tired...
Sir? Are you alright?
Ssuch power... Art ssufferss from mana drainage. She needs to rest.
This is why I saved up Art's skill points for 50 SP. Not only because you need that much for the casting of the one spell, but in general, the increased SP costs of spells across the board mean that running around with 35SP like Peregrine did last LP is no longer viable. That, and it's a reminder to me to use Art's priest spells more often.
No, I'm alright. Let's make sure everything else is done with.
Look again, boy!
Can we get it open?
... Don't say a thing.
This place seems to have been much larger in the past.
Yes. Who attacked this place, I wonder? There used to be stairs here, and the whole castle was three floors top to bottom.
It wasss not usss.
Does it really matter?
No. No it doesn't.
Oh, I don't suppose you all want to walk away now? We kinda destroyed your altar.
Before we leave, there's something I want to try.
That is an amazing spell, Sir Ma'am. Can it be weaponized?
It's called Shockwave.
I'm beginning to see why you dislike Spiders so much, Art.
A shot of my putting Fireball to use, including the targeting reticule and the area the spell affects.
What did they do to you to caussse sssuch animossity, Art-Thsss?
You really don't want to know.
This looks like the front door. Or what remains of it.
Close enough. Actually, the front is over there.
We need to set these people to rest.
Give me a minute.
I <sense> power from beyond here.
This completely random Demon is sitting on top of the Runed Key, which is a plot-key for later. At this point, if I tried to fight it, I would lose. No doubt about it. If I really wanted the key though, I could haste up to 12 someone like Art, Aaarth-Tsss, or Chester, run in, grab it, and run out, taking the attack of opportunity. The demon can't move (thankfully), so I could do it. But it would be far too cheesy. So instead, it's run away time! Or else this happens:
Come back! I only want to talk!
No one likes me....
Anyways, I was doing the last bit of exploration when this happens:
As was mentioned in this thread, Exile 2 has a thing where there will be a random Basilisk in a dungeon, just waiting to ambush your party. In honour of that comment, I present to you this:
Random Basilisk Count posted:
It won't be so bad, except this particular version of this lizard can open doors. They're worse than raptors! After reloading, I find it over in the south-west corner,
And then I kill the damnedable thing.
I think we've pushed our luck enough.
Shall we go back to report our success?
We'll get to it eventually. Northward ho!
Time to catch up on my maps!
It will be a while before I can get into the blocked off section of Motrax's lair. Stupid Mages.
Formello really benefits from the larger map sizes, now feeling like it's an actual city. I really enjoy the fact that this place was built up against a natural spring, with farms inside the walls. It shows it's ready for a siege.
The Blasted Ruin has seen better days. I need to come back here eventually to deal with the last couple of locked doors and to get that Key.
There is no overworld map at this point as it's pretty much a straight line between locations at this point, and I want to do some more exploration first.