Part 4: The Party and the Portal TownUpdate 03 The Party and the Portal Town
So, Anaximander asked as he entered the small study, have you made your decisions?
Art handed back five portfolios. These ones are the best of the lot. Some of them just wouldn't cut it, and others... She shook her head. Yeah, I think you need to look over these and figure out what was going on that they even reached my hands.
I'll do that, the head of Unspecified Services agreed. Your chosen team will be arriving at the Portal Fort as soon as they arrive. Until then, please rest and do review what little we know about the Surface. We have a scried map of the local region for starters.
* * *
Well, that was.. strange.
You call it strange. I call it our will applied to the natural world.
Can we do that again!?
No, thank you. You can't trust portals. You never know what's on the other side.
Well, that's not always true. More advanced and intricate portal types do allow for visual observation of the other side, thanks to Peregrine's advancements in event-horizon stability.
I understood, maybe three words of that.
Hey there! I'm Sasserithrasix! Call me Sass!
A neatly dressed mage stands between you and the towering pillar of energy that is the surface portal. She holds a thick notebook. The energy of the portal makes her hair stand almost straight up. "Welcome, adventurers. I am Seles, overseer of the portal."
Oh, where did we put that...? Ah! Here we go! He hands over a token to Seres. Our travel permission. I'm sorry, I didn't catch your position here.
"My title is Portal Overseer. I look after and steer those emerging and when someone wants to use it, it is I they must give their request to, and I who gives permission."
You oversee the Portal? But I thought that it was controlled from the Tower?
You're right. But not quite. It's a tricky job. So many want to use the portal, for so many reasons. Do you wish to request permission to use it?"
Really? We just arrived. Why would we just turn around and go back?
Sorry, it's just one of those rote responses I give. I authorize portal transport back to Exile, and it's mostly bulk farming goods from around New Cotra, or military movements. Those are planned well in advance, and usually I just step aside for it. I deal with the specific and unusual cases, like people visiting family and the like.
I know. It's almost like I know what I'm doing. Now, go on, I've got other transits to check out, and you're standing in the way.
It occurs to me that I only just met the rest of you.
True. I suppose you want us all to introduce ourselves?
Me firssst! I'm Sass!
Really? You just jump in with that?
At least give consideration to the other people who might want to speak.
I guess that means you're next, Ma'am.
I am Delilah of the Church of Joy, where we spread happiness to all!
Fine. Bronwyn. Sometimes called 'Blue'. Former merchant.
What an odd group we make. I know I volunteered for Unspecified Services, but I never expected a field assignment.
Perhaps it is not one? I mean, we could be forward deployed, but to a safe location.
If that were true, Sass and I wouldn't be here.
Where would I be then?
Spreading your own brand of happiness wherever you are!
Well, according to the orders we all got at the Tower, we are to travel east from here and to Fort Emergence, where will meet up with Anaximander, have our sixth member join us, and from there the orders are open ended.
Read them again. You have it backwards.
Whatever do you mean?
Hrmmm.... I think she's referring to the phrasing. The orders here indicate that we are to join up with the sixth member, and not the other way around.
Let me see. Ah. Yes. I understand now. You're right. Thank you Bronwyn.
If that's all taken care of, shall we go?
Not yet! Thiz iz a new town! We have to follow the protocols, and talk to everyone!
Hah! He's right. Proper information gathering techniques are vital to our well-being and our training. We should split up then!
Of course! I'm off!
I too, shall take my leave.
You better go too, Blue.
... This is stupid. How can an organization run like this?
How many people read that sign, I wonder? Though it does help. I should make a connection with the local military, in case such things will help with our new assignment.
This is an archer of Exile, polishing a fine yew bow with practiced fingers. His armor bears the insignia of a captain, and his face bears the expression of someone who'd rather be somewhere else.
Good afternoon, I am Matthias, just come up from the Tower.
He nods brusquely. "Captain Jake."
Greetings again, Captain. If I may, what are you doing here?
He seems irritated at the interruption. "Going to Fort Emergence."
What luck! My group and I are headed there myself. What do you know about the Fort?
Not much. It's designed more to withstand attacks from the surface. I'm going there to serve again under old, dear Commander Johnson."
Commander Johnson? I'm afraid that I don't know that man. Is it a good fit?
He looks to make sure nobody is listening. "Well, I can tell you because you're Unspecified Services and won't count for spit in the end. I've served under that vile old bastard before, in Fort Duvno. He's vicious and cruel, from his hair to his toes."
Uh... what? Let me check the previous LPs for this characterization....
Well, what do you know. He was a racist asshole back in Exile 1, yet seemed to have mellowed out a bit during Exile 2.
Ah, Duvno. North of Fort Exile, right?
"Little town in Exile. What does it matter?"
Not much, I admit. Tell me, are you concerned about Johnson's viciousness and cruelty?
"Mark my words. They can make all the pretty words they want about our meeting the Empire and talking to them and coexisting on the surface, or whatever. But he's in charge at the Fort, and the fort is where all the big decisions are made. Remember that. This'll all end in blood. Lot's of it." With that, he turns away.
Cheery fellow. I wonder how the others are doing?
Hello there! I've been trying to track down my coworkers. Have you seen a group of people poking their noses into things they shouldn't be?
A young mage sits before you, reading a scroll. She looks irritated at your intrusion. "I'm Denise. Leave me alone."
Now now, that is no reason to be rude.
"Look, what do I have to say or do to get some studying time alone? As if I didn't already have enough problems."
If you're feeling grouchy and irritable, perhaps you should consider taking a break from your studying and relax?
"Yeah, studying time! You don't think everyone gains magical abilities by killing monsters, do you?"
If you are referring to the notion that practical exercise of spells allows for the development of power, then yes, killing through magic is a legitimate choice, especially if you're in the army.
Well, Some of us don't want to go around butchering poor creatures all the time. We get our skill through good, honest work. So buzz off!"
I accept your point as reasonable. Now, about your problems? Surely it is not in the manner of ones practice?
She slams her book shut in anger, but not anger at you. "I left an amulet down in the Tower of Magi, a valuable focusing aid! They rushed me along to come up here, and I forgot it! Now that bureaucrat Seles won't let me retrieve it, and I can't go on to my post without it!"
Is it a valuable amulet?
She perks up. "Wait! I've heard of you! Can you get to the tower? If you can bring me back my amulet from the Tower of Magi, I'll make it worth your while!
Perhaps. What is your post, so I can explain it?
"Look, I'm Unspecified Services, like you. I can't talk about it. Come to think of it, I probably shouldn't talk to you!"
And I presume then, that you are limited in your ability to go back, just as we are. But, very well, I shall see to it if I return to the Tower before you.
This is a very tall, dignified woman, her face and short dark hair starting to bear the signs of middle age. She is currently grinding up some herbs and roots. She stands to greet you. "I am Carol, of the Hamer Clan."
Ni'aurrl, Sage of the Nephil. What are you doing?
She indicates the herbs and poultices that surround her. "I am a healer, brought near the surface to exert my skills."
Oh, nice! What do you charge for healing?
The shop interface overlays the dialogue box in this game, rather than popping out a new window like it did in the old games. But, as no one is sick (yet), it is empty.
Your skills seem very good. But why would you be desired up here, in Upper Exile?
"I was brought here to heal the soldiers who may be hurt in upcoming battles. We all hope such battles may be averted, of course. But, well, it's best to be prepared."
So, you were brought up here. Did you not volunteer?
"My husband and I were brought up here to serve here. The work is hard, but satisfying. I am only a little disappointed."
I can understand disappointment.
She sighs. "I did so want to see the surface, and not be cooped up in yet another cave. Oh well. I believe, if I'm patient, I may yet emerge above ground."
I'll let you know what it looks like when I can. Out of curiosity, who is your husband?
"My husband Tor looks after supplies." She smiles. "It's what he does best."
Oh! There you are. How's things?
Good. Matthias, Carol. Carol, Matthias.
Cows, cows, cows.
Why were you shooting the lizards?
We got orders due to an infection found in the herd, Ma'am.
Oh. That's sad.
I agree, but we have to keep the herds secure for a couple weeks after moving them up here in case of infections or the like.
Thank you for your time. Have a joyful day!
You meet a small, heavily muscled man with dark skin and a quick eye. He wears all black and has an outlandish hat and a wicked sword. He bows sharply. "I am Julio, traveller."
Delilah, Priestess of the Church of Joy. What do you do?
"I am an explorer. I make maps, that sort of thing."
Oh? You do? Where have you explored?
"I travelled from one end of Exile to the other, don't you know, looking for a route to the surface. I swore an oath, you see."
But I thought that the Duncan Maps indicated the five potential exits from Exile.
They do, but those maps are a decade old! I want more! Such is my oath.
Well, as a Holy Woman, I must ask what is your oath?
"A sacred oath! I promised I would never rest until I saw the light of day again. Good, honest sunlight. And it looks like I'll finally get the chance, even if I have to sneak through Fort Emergence to do it!"
Well, I am headed to Fort Emergence soon.
You are? They aren't letting anyone out until they know it's safe. Well, hell with that! I've been in prison down here for long enough. If I die, fine. I can deal with that."
"But damn it, I'll die in the sun.
Be that as it may, tell me more about your maps.
"You probably have one of my maps. I'm the one who mapped out these caves up here. I also made the only map we have of the area above. We haven't even been up there, but we have a map. Bet you're wondering how we did that!"
"Magic! A mage managed to give me a split second magical view of the land above Fort Emergence from way, way up. From that, I made the map! Pretty amazing, huh?"
Yes. It is. I hope you get your wish soon! Have a happy day!
Wow! So much stuff!
Ah, looks like we're not allowed in here.
If you try to take something that is labelled Not yours, and someone sees you, the town becomes hostile as you're a thief. So don't do it!
That was boring. There has to be something else around here that's interesting.
And not allowed in here either. Boring! Where is there anything exciting happening?
It means our bosses.
AH! When did you get here?
I was just leaving actually.
No, dummy. Really, do you believe everything everyone tells you?
Why shouldn't I?
... Just... Just follow me, and don't speak unless spoken too, alright?
Oh, this takes me back.
You meet a professional looking mage in well trimmed clothes. Traces of Gray are starting to appear in his hair. He walks up and formally greets you. "I am Kelner, chief administrator of the Portal Fortress. You must be our new arrivals for the Services."
Im Bronwyn. This is Sass. We are Unspecified Services. What do you do here?
He waves at his surroundings. "I coordinate all comings and goings for the Portal Fortress. It's sort of a promotion from my Tower of Magi post."
I thought Seles controlled the Portal?
"Yes she does indicate who can or cannot use passage through which Exiles come to the surface, and through which we sometimes return."
You know, that sounds a bit suspicious. Why is there such a restriction on returning to Exile?
There are... health concerns, you see. Sometimes people can return. You should speak with Seles. She's by the Portal. She coordinates all of that."
Yeah, that's not going to happen. Ever. So, change of subject! You mentioned you used to work in the Tower of Magi?
"Indeed! I spent most of my magical career there, first in training, and then as administrator. I finally got transferred up here, much to my relief."
How is this relief?
"Once, years ago, a mage named Linda performed certain very dark experiments. I trained there at the time, and was able to help some adventurers purge the evil she brought. Later, when I was administrator there, Linda returned and I sense that old habits were starting to return. So I pulled strings and came here. It was not a situation I wanted to deal with anymore."
So you chose being an Administrator instead. Yeah, that's reasonable.
"Very true. It is a fancy way of saying that I run the place, but all the military mucky-mucks still get to boss me around."
Um, you do realize that we're those self-same mucky-mucks, right?
"Sorry. No offence?"
Bronwyn, these guys aren't talking to me!
Instead of having NPCs have generic lines, now the game can be toggled to prevent you from speaking with someone at all.
Well, stop bothering them!
Oooh! Neat! I'm going to read those!
You do that, I see someone over there to talk to.
What, no mention of Art-Iktah? Boring!
Who cares about Dragons? We're going to the Surface!
Oh thank goodness, I'm away from him.
Really? You meet a short, portly man with short blonde hair. His fingers are stained with ink, and it looks like he has several pen cases in his pockets. He holds a pen in his hand now, with an unusual rainbow design on it. I am Walner, the Sage."
Bronwyn. Merchant. And working for Unspecified Services.
Oh joy, you guys. Me? Well, as soon as I heard about the surface portal, I came here to see what the fuss was about. Sages are always welcome whatever they go. And while I wait, I study in the library."
You mean the library where a certain Slith is reading?
Yes. That library was set up as a sort of briefing area for mages arriving here, to sort of summarize what we know and what we've found. Be sure to look at some of the books ... some of them are sure to be interesting."
Sure. Later. So, uh, neat pen you got there. Hard to find rainbow colours like that. Not to mention how few people know what that is.
"He holds up the rainbow pen. "Oh, this? Call it a symbol of pride." He smiles enigmatically.
We know from previous games that the Empire considered sexual abnormality to be an Exile-able offense. Though this is the first time that Walner has been implicated as one of them the usual examples were Nancy and Elspeth from the the Cotra area. I am also pointing this out because of a little detail later.
Uh.. you know... never mind. So, you're a sage. Anything interesting about that?
"People of learning and magic are needed up here more than anything. For example, I am an alchemist of some skill."
Alchemy is always good.
"Yes, indeed. And my secrets are for sale. For example, I know an excellent, very old recipe for curing potions using Holly. Holly is a surface plant, but since you can go up there, you may be able to find some. I can also teach you a recipe for healing potions using good old Comfrey Root. Let me know if you'd like to purchase either recipe."
Once again, Alchemy is not something I like. Except there are now *3* reasons to use it in this game, rather than 2.
I'm bored. Oh hey! You look interesting!
You meet an aging, grizzled old veteran. He walks carelessly through the fort, appraising supplies, soldiers, walls and everything else with a long practiced eye. He extends a callused hand. "Call me Tor."
Call me Sass!
Really? He chuckles. So, just arrived?
Yep! And walking around because the books were dumb.
Hah! Not something I hear often. As for me me, supplies are my life."
"Well, half of my life. Carol's the other half."
"My wife. She's a healer, and a fine one at that. She's up here with me. If she wasn't, well, I wouldn't be here neither."
And you deal with supplies? That seems kinda... boring.
He grins proudly. "Yep. Farmed for a while, but looking after goods is something I've always had a knack for."
Goods? But what about Supplies?
"Well, you're too young to remember, but once I gave supplies to every single person who entered Exile. They teleported down, and I gave'em a knife and some food to get'em by until they found work. And this is good work too. Really appropriate, I mean."
I'm Slithzerikai. I'm native to the Caves!
You're right. Sorry. To all us humans who came down. Still, really appropriate.
"Well, once I gave supplies to everyone who came down from the surface. Now I take care of goods for everyone comin' up! Symmetry, ya'know?"
A bit, yeah.
SASS! GET BACK HERE!
Excuse me. Gotta go.
Well, are we all back?
It seems that way.
So, what next?
Are you alright?
Yeah, I am. Just a bit of the flu, or something.
You must be careful! They had to cull a bunch of lizards earlier due to a disease!
We should have you talk to Carol. She can heal you!
I don't, for ~reasons~.
I'll be fine. Come on though, there was something that caught my eye.
This caught your eye?
Hey, how about we do the smart thing and turn around?
Where's your sense of adventure?
Hiding under my pillow.
NO PRESSING THE BUTTON! WE WILL NEVER PRESS THE BUTTON!
So, that's everything. What next?
We head for Fort Emergence!
That is a very fast 15 miles.
Welcome to combat! The big change is that everyone moves individually, and the changes to the command bar at the bottom.
Just like previous games, everyone starts out with 4 AP, or Action Points. Moving a tile costs a point, attacking costs 4. Casting a Priest Spell costs 5, a Mage Spell 6. If you don't have enough AP to complete the action, you use all your AP, and the action happens. The character's turn ends when they run out of AP, and combat goes in a You then Enemy then you type deal.
After the first turn of combat, Sass has taken some damage, knocking him down to 0 HP. Having 0 HP is a safety catch for PCs, as even if you have 1 HP, and take 30 damage, you are reduced to 0 HP instead. Only one you are at 0HP can further damage kill you.
Natrually, there are creatures that can attack the same target multiple times in a turn.
Let's finish this!
Oh, Fireball. You make everything better.
When you're casting a spell on the map like this, you will see a nice line from the caster to the target, as well as the area of effect for it. And exploiting the enemy AI to set up things like this is always fun.
Yeah, nice flop there. Killed a wolf.
Huh. That's new. Goblin Warriors can now add Poison, which is a damage-over-time effect to whomever has it. It comes in two degrees, where if the P is red, it deals more damage, faster.
Well, that was fun. Let's not do that again.
Never been to New Cotra.
Let's go there instead!
The warning about the Goblins could have been made sooner.
Well, here we are. Fort Emergence. Let's go meet the boss, and our last team member.
I wonder who it is?
Probably some nobody or paper pusher we'll have to escort around the surface.