Part 27: Update 024 Fort Emerald and the CastleUpdate 24 Fort Emerald and the Castle
You know, I didn't really feel like fighting those lizards. Let's go check out the Fort, see if we can pass through it and back to the Great Cave.
This place has seen better days.
Hey, Peregrine? How come you keep scrying the towns we come too? I mean, without Art telling you, or you complaining?
It is an excellent exercise of my skills and magic power. Given that this spell and Major Blessing are the only ones I typically cast at the moment, I have no wish to let my skills atrophy.
So, you wanna switch off?
You do not have the skill to cast the Blessing, nor the knowledge to cast Magic Map. We shall be as we are. And done.
Good, the place is a complete checkpoint.
But again, look at the walls. This place is under constant attacks.
I think there's someone over there, checking out the damage. Perhaps we should ask him?
Oh hot damn!
Well, that's 1000 gold we can save. Take it.
The Lemonwood Bow is a straight upgrade to the Cavewood Bow, giving a bonus of +2 instead of +1.
I think this guy was raiding the stores here. Look!
State your business.
Came up from Blosk by way of Gnass, and am headed back to the Great Cave.
Alright, we're going to stick together. This Fort 'Emerald' may not like individuals snooping around asking questions.
Am I the only one who sees a pattern here?
Two instances do not a pattern make.
Possibly. Now if Remote was something else, it could make for the third data point to create a baseline.
Agreed. But we also have evidence of two potential patterns.
Emerald and Saffron are data points suggesting a line of fortifications with a gemstone theme to the name, possibly to reflect local resources. Draco, Exile and Remote are all Forts with descriptive names to identify their purpose or history.
Saffron is a spice and sometimes used as an incense. A Sapphire would fit your proposed theme. Also, your theory does not account for Forts Duvno or Dranlon.
Actually, the woman is right, sir. But Fort Emerald is in the same classification as Exile, Remote and Draco.
What does that mean? And who are you?
A young mage with a pointed black beard and an arrogant expression inspects a magic barrier. "Hmm." He looks you up and down, unimpressed with what he sees. "I am Matthias. What is your business here?"
We're the First EEC. Don't bother asking. We're just passing through, headed for the Castle. What about you? We already cleared our entrance with the guards, so why do you ask?
He smirks. "Teaching the sliths who come here a lesson. I'm one of the mages of this fort."
"My job, in particular, is to strengthen these barriers. Sometimes I dispel one and create it anew. We can't always rebuild the walls between attacks."
I can see that. Fort Dranlon is in much the same straits. You must be an excellent crafter of these barriers.
"Often some upstart asks me to teach him how to dispel the barriers." He chortles. "That, I tell them, is our secret, not theirs. The tower chooses some spells to keep for itself."
Come on. Let's find someone else to talk to.
There is a man in robes here. He fingers a holy symbol and stares through the arrow slit intently. He turns to you briefly, and turns back to his vigil. "My name is Hodgson."
Art. You're focused. Worried about something?
He waves at the slit. "I watch for the next attack. When it comes, I defend us as best I can. The sliths are relentless. Soon my shift will be over, and I can go to the emerald and my rest."
He flashes you a wicked grin. "It's the thing that's kept this fort going as well as it has. It was found nearby, and brought here when they found what it can do. It restores magical power! Thanks to it, each mage here casts the spells of three. Any sliths that come here, they get three flamestrikes for every one they send."
Hold on. You're Hodgson? You know a Novak? He said you were an alchemist.
"Hmm. I actually don't know that much about it. I was going to try to invent a healing potion using graymold before I got called to come here. I only got as far as finding a patch of the stuff, no mean feat!"
"Well, it probably isn't there anymore, but I found a small patch of the stuff at the headwaters of the river that runs down to the big lake. The lake Cotra sits on. The stuff was far, far to the north. Took me forever to find it! I took some with, but it spoiled long ago. Sorry."
Art! We HAVE to go get it!
Come on, it's not like you have a recipe for it, or anything.
Not sure what we'll find here.
A slith paces sluggishly in the cell. It's skin doesn't have the normal healthy green color. Instead, it's slightly bluish. It stops pacing the room for a moment, to look at you with cold eyes. Then it starts moving around again. It turns to you. It is shivering slightly. You can tell the cold-blooded creature is freezing. "I wait to be avenged, warmblood."
"Sss-Thsss is mightier that all of you humans combined," it says in a weak voice. "Our Gods are mighty. Our ally is a being of devastation." His words ooze out, sibilant and deliberate. "You are killing me slowly in this pit. Your deaths will be worse." It continues moving around, trying to keep warm.
Your ally needs some work if you are stuck here.
His forked tounge flickers out, and he hisses. "We follow one of the lords of darkness. I myself have grovelled at his feet. Soon he shall be free, and he will lead us to mastery over the caves!"
Demons can die. We should know.
DON'T BREAK IT!
That's actually pretty relaxing.
I don't feel anything.
Because you're not a magic user of any sort.
That's all it does. Free SP restoration. Combine with healing, and you can rest without camping.
Hello. Art, 1st EEC.
An old woman with long, snowy white hair sits cross-legged, staring into the emerald. She speaks without turning away from the jewel. "I am Silverio."
You're the commander here? Is that your job?
She emits a long, world-weary sigh. "The same as you. I defend and serve Exile, as best I can. I know something of your travels. We fight the same fight."
Uh... good for us then?
"Yes. We magi keep track of events and significant visitors. Helps keep us all alive."
You mentioned fighting. Does that mean you know what we're trying to get help on?
She smiles sadly and peers deeper into the huge gem. "Against whoever is handy. I fight the sliths, because we need to if we are to survive. Once, long ago, I fought demons. I prefer sliths, even though their attacks are near constant."
Right! The demons
"You may have heard of it. There was once a demon called Grah-Hoth. He lived in a fort beyond a sea of lava to the southeast. I was an apprentice then. We defeated and imprisoned him, and put him in a cave near the Abyss. A well-guarded cave. The fort is still there, with some demons trapped in it forever. And maybe treasure."
Why would you mention treasure?
She thinks. "Most of the fort was shattered when Grah-Hoth fell. Just a pool of lava, and basalt rubble." She thinks. "But one thing I remember! There was a body, frozen in stasis! A man, from the surface, wearing a Royal Seal, of the Empire above. It was a horrid and bizarre sight. I'm glad we sealed the place up."
Seriously? A Royal Seal, just lying around there? How did it get there?
I do not know. Nor do I care to go back there and find out.
Someone is going to ask us to go get that Seal, aren't they?
No, the bet is who.
A balding, pudgy man moves crates of supplies around at an almost glacial pace.
"Huh? Oh. Hi. I'm Moe."
What do you do around here?
"Huh? Oh. I'm the quartermaster."
That sounds interesting.
"Uh. I keep track of the supplies. And stuff. Get stuff in. Hand it out. I hate it here."
Oh, come on, surely it can't be that bad?
"Yeah. It can. At Fort Emerald. I was at Fort Remote. I liked it there. Then they transferred me."
We've been there.
"Yeah. To the west. Most Boring fort in Exile. Guarding a bunch of empty tunnels. Well, almost empty. There's a big drake living in there. It never attacks, so we just wait. Much better than here. Here is dangerous. Real dangerous."
Well, that was an interesting diversion.
You didn't experience the Emerald.
It was amazing!
Could it be related to the Crystal Cave we encountered in the Eastern Gallery?
That cavern contains Quartz-like crystals that act in sympathetic resonance with each other. The emerald does not. It simply radiates power to those who can feel it.
How very informative.
Damn it, would it kill people to have a sign saying Castle, This way?
Like that one, maybe?
Well... From up there, we could have a decent view of the surrounding area.
The high ground is always an excellent choice for a defensible position.
I suppose someone is going to comment about the good exercise, right?
You said it, not me!
A fumarole (Latin fumus, smoke) is an opening in a planet's crust, often in the neighbourhood of volcanoes, which emits steam and gases such as carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide, hydrogen chloride, and hydrogen sulfide. The steam is created when superheated water turns to steam as its pressure drops when it emerges from the ground. The name solfatara, from the Italian solfo, sulfur (via the Sicilian dialect), is given to fumaroles that emit sulphurous gases. - Wikipedia
Further evidence of extensive vulcanism. Best not to get too close.
Well, someone is living up here.
Why would you attack?
Please, don't mind if we do.
You said something about having wares for sale?
Oh fuck me.
I thought they weren't in this game.
Third item on that list. The Knowledge Brew? Whoever drinks one gets two skill points. I buy 5. There will be voting at the end of the update now.
Maybe we can get proper directions from this one?
I think this is it.
Well, we do have the Royal Token. And we do have a pressing concern to bring to his highness.
That, we do.
This really can be a staging area, can't it?
I wouldn't try.
I've seen the Empire's capital. This is... a good try.
I'm feeling oppressed already.
No wonder. Look.
Is this Castle standing on a spire?
It looks like it.
Alright, everyone on your best behaviour. Check your clothes. Be clean. Let's be off.
Perhaps the temple?
A tall, thin man with long brown hair putters around the temple smoking a large pipe. You would wonder what he was doing here, were it not for his spotless priest's robes and holy symbol. "Greetings. I am Benth, High Priest of this castle."
Art, Karmas, Duncan, Ember, Rook, Peregrine. You provide religious services?
"I provide guidance of many sorts, such as advice for Micah. I also heal any who need it, for a modest fee. Even in a fort as mighty as the Castle, there is much to be done. Much need for spells of all kinds."
You sell Magic Spells? They must be mighty ones indeed if you simply need a Royal Token to reach you.
"I have great skill in that area, but there are those with more. If you wish to learn more, you should go to Malville, the high priest of Dharmon. He may be convinced to teach you, and he is without peer!"
Can we use your altar?
Free healing. And with the Emerald close by, you shouldn't have any problems in this region ever again.
This looks important.
Actual cow leather.
Hello! A skinny boy, about ten years old, attacks the floor furiously with his broom.
Sorry about that. She loves cows.
He looks at you with wonder. "I'm Josh! Hi!"
So, what do you do around here, Josh? It must be very important!
"I sweep and clean up and stuff! But I won't always! I'll travel someday."
"Up, down, and all over! I'll be an adventurer, and cast spells, and go to every tiny little corner of these caves!" His eyes get very wide. "I'll even go to the Abyss!"
And what do you know about a place like that? It could be dangerous.
"Yeah." His voice gets low. "I heard some grown-ups talking about it. It's a big cave to the west and the north, and it's where all the people get sent who get sent down here and are actually mean and nasty, rather than just different. They're mean and nasty people. But I could handle them!"
I'm sure you can. But first, you need to finish the jobs in front of you.
I do not think we'll find the King here.
You see a small green lizard puttering around. It has a large red lace bonnet tied around its head.
That is way to tight. Let me fix that for you.
A huge man with heavy armor and a halberd sits at the desk going over plans. There's something about him that makes you suspect he's a danger to himself and others.
Oh, hello sir.
He grunts and turns. "I'm Captain Houghton, Temporary Commander of the forces of the Castle." He grunts again.
I wasn't aware that such a posting could be temporary.
He grunts, and belches lightly. "I'm in charge here while the real commander leads raids against the sliths. And I take good care of things, as good as anyone! When we get attacked, we'll show 'em!" He waves his arm grandly, spilling wine on his maps.
You think this fortress could get attacked?
"They said that someone like me should be watching the castle, cause it's so important! And they were right! I've had four months to prepare, and I bet they'll charge any day now, and I'm ready! I have a great plan!"
"I'll show you!" He turns to get a piece of paper, but finds it is lost in the mess on his desk. After ten minutes of watching his search, you start to contemplate possible means of escape. Then he turns back to you. "Well, I guess I need a new plan. Any ideas?"
I could feel my intelligence draining, the longer we were there.
What do we have here?
Let me show you, anyways.
This door is locked, and the guards won't stop you.
This does nothing. Yet.
The first couple of fields are simply shockers. The last couple, actual Barriers you'd need to dispel.
The two in the corners are shockers, the rest are solid. Just dispel one to get in.
The treasure trove is is worth 7500GP. That's a lot of Knowledge potions.
And if you take it, remember this?
That becomes this.
And everything turns hostile, and you're probably already half-dead.
Duncan, I know that look on your face. Stop dreaming.
Maybe we'll find the King here?
A tall, raven-haired wizard with a somewhat distracted air works furiously behind his desk. It takes a moment to get his attention. "Ah, hello. I am Rone, court wizard of the Castle. Please. I'm very busy. Leave." Then, he thinks twice and looks you over. "Wait! You are adventurers! Maybe you will believe me when I speak of the threat that faces us all. Heaven knows nobody else does."
WE KNOW ABOUT IT!
"Threat? What threat? There's a threat?" He stops to mentally regroup. "Oh, yes! The threat. I've written all you need to know. In my memoirs. They're around here somewhere. I forget where. Read them, and you'll know some of what you need to know. Also, you can tell me the name of the evil creature who endangers us all. I forgot."
Grah-Hoth. Linda in the Tower
"Yes! That was it. We imprisoned him, but there are signs he can strike out at us from his bottle. Someone needs to go there, let him out, and kill him. Otherwise, the threat will never end."
Let him out and kill him?
Damn! No help there.
A genial man with short blond hair moves quickly by. He turns to talk to you. "I am Renee. Welcome to the Castle!"
It's good to be here. I hope we're not getting in the way of anything?
Not really. I'm the quartermaster. I look after the supplies, weapons, et cetera. It's quite a job, with the blockhead in charge. I'm also in charge of keeping things in storage."
"Captain Houghton. Far be it from me to badmouth a superior, but let's just say whenever he sees a hole in the ground, he has trouble realizing that's what he's looking at, if you catch my drift. Fortunately, he's just a temporary. The real commander is raiding the sliths. Hope he gets back to the Castle soon."
Thanks, we'll be out of your way then.
Almost out of places to check.
He looks well dressed!
You see a man in his early twenties wearing clothes of great luxury and an expression of great emptiness. A silver circlet rings his head. He seems to be looking for something.
He flashes you a baffled smile. "I am Prince Chevyn. I'd introduce you to my lizard, but I can't find her."
"I look for my lizard. She's naughty, and has run away." A thought seems to pass his mind, at glacial speeds. "Oh. Wait. I'm also the Crown Prince. That's important."
Really? You're the Prince?
He stands up straight, and fixes you with a stare that seems to be intended to carry great weight. Unfortunately, it mainly carries great vacancy. "I am Crown Prince! One day I will be King! Then I will ... uhhh ... be the King! And slay things! When I'm king, my lizard will be my prince. And I will have a queen! Neat, huh?"
I feel sick.
Is your lizard cute?
"Her name is Chevyn. I like that name because it sounds so familiar! Heeeeree Chevyn Chevyn Chevyn! Tell me if you see her. She has a pretty hat!"
No, I haven't seen your pet lizard. Bye!
So ends the line of Micah.
Wow. Wow. Ow.
Are you alright?
No, just some things making sense now. And not liking it at all. I'll be fine. Let's find the King.
Ah, I've let Micah know you were coming. Good luck with your missive.
Wait. We need a token to get into the Castle, and another to get into the audience chamer?
We don't have to let you in, if you're going to complain about the security.
No! I'm good!
When I started this LP, I knew this conversation had to be something special. I've been developing a narrative outside what the game has, and that's affected how things are advancing. People who have been playing along at home have probably noticed when I changed, tweeked, or added things to build a sense of continuity to the whole LP.
So I'm going to take a step back here, and try something different. You'll see the whole conversation afterwards, but for now, I decided to write it in a different manner.
- - - - -
Art took the lead, straightening her shirt one more time, ever more aware of each imperfection and flaw in the material. If only she had a needle and thread to fix it, she could have made herself a bit more presentable.
Art, stop fidgeting Rook whispered as the six of them spread out a little bit to properly see and be seen by the ruler of Exile. Being nervous isn't like you. He quickly checked to his right, where Karmas was making sure Duncan didn't look too shifty, then to Art's left at Peregrine and Ember. He didn't have to worry about the two mages, as the formal Peregrine looked completely at ease in the presence of the King, while Ember did her best to mimic him.
I don't know you. The commanding, but gentle voice came from the man who sat in a simple basalt throne. Micah was an aged man whose greying hair offset the loose-fitting silk clothes. In younger, less stressful times, he would have filled them properly, cutting an imposing figure. Although there was frailty in those all-to-human bones, his eyes betrayed nothing of the sort. They were powerful, piercing, intelligent and not yielding a single measure to the far less intimidating Committee.
I don't know you, yet here you stand. He speaks again, looking over each of the six in turn, Art feeling like the gaze lingered on her a fraction of a second more than the others. I am Micah. Chosen King of Exile, ruler of her people, defender of her lands. I am responsible for what goes on in these caves, and I don't KNOW YOU.
Art took a small step forward, suddenly at ease with the knowledge that she was the one in charge. This wasn't a conversation between her Committee and Micah. It was between him and her, and he seemed to recognize it. I'm Art...
I know that much! Micah snapped as he pushed himself off his throne, two hulking man-trees of guards following at a respectful distance. I know your names. Mayors Evelyn and Steele both have good things to say about your motley band. While that could just be a case of a group of adventurers being themselves, I kept hearing your names more and more.
He approached Art, who stood her ground with all her will power. Captain Johnson at Fort Duvno reported that a group tore through a Bandit fort, then a Nephilim fortification. A recent missive from Metis reports that the undead infestation has been set well back. The Tower of the Magi thanked me for sending an army detachment to deal with the Ogres nearby.
Closer still, and the others stepped back without being aware of it, the force of his presence pushing them away. Fort Dranlon suddenly gained vital intelligence about Slith movements, and was able to make great advancements in understanding their magics too.
Commander Novak has bottled up most of the brigands bypassing his fort. Very good penmanship.
Mayor DeBry was able to recover most of the smuggles artifacts being moved through his city. his eyes flick to the Heartfinder at Art's side before returning to her own grey orbs.
What have I missed? The demand was short and sharp, directed at everyone, though only Art held his gaze.
Um, we helped the Giant Intelligent Friendly Spiders with some of their Aranea problems? Ember blurted out, the first to break under pressure. With no sigh of punishment or reproach, the others began to speak.
There was that demon-summoning cult south of Fort Draco.
And the Undead Crypt with the two vampires in it.
We've started collecting the pieces of Demonslayer for Solberg.
Anastasia is dead.
We have a lead on some Greymould to cure Patrick's Wife.
We recovered that message for the messenger from the Gremlins!
ENOUGH! Micah roared, spinning around and cutting off the outflow of accomplishments. I've heard enough! He quickly regained his throne before speaking again. I've heard of you. But I still don't know why. I've heard what others have said and unsaid, but if I am to do my JOB, I must know. Who are you?
Art. Of the First Exile Escape Committee. Art found her voice and delivered her answer as solid as the stone around them. We want to get out, and keep finding other problems that get in our way.
You think others before you haven't tried? Micah almost spat in disgust. That you can succeed when others before you have failed?
Art matched his disgust with determination, a fury crossing her eyes. You may be content to reign in this sunless, sky-less husk of stone and molten iron, but I have other things in mind, Micah! So what if we're helping people on the way to get what we want? We'll still get it. I don't care who stands in our way. Not lizards. Not Kitties. Spiders, thieves, gremlins, demons, dragons OR KINGS NOR EMPERORS! I WILL ESCAPE FROM THE PIT!
Silence reigned. No one moved, no one dared breathe in the face of the implied threat that Art just lay down.
Heh. Micah let a small curl of a smile crawl up one side of his face. Good. I would have made your lives miserable if you were in this for the glory or something like that. I had enough of that on the Surface.
He gets back up, leaving Art to suspect he needs the motion to keep himself in shape more than for any dramatic reason. You're going to do a job for me.
Why, she retorted without giving him a chance to explain himself.
Because you're in a lot of trouble. If I so choose. Certain actions of yours could be interpreted as impersonating officers of the Army of Exile. The counter threat hung over the Committee's head as a sharp blade. However, performing a task for me would go a long way towards legitimizing your previous actions.
Really? Micah walked around the small pool of water that would normally serve more meditative purposes. What makes you think you have a choice?
Because there has to be someone better. We've been finding out all this information to give to you so that you can get one of your people to solve these problems. We have our own to deal with.
Micah looked almost amused by the defence. What makes you think there is anyone?
Art's reply died on her lips. There has to be. Professionals. The Army everyone seems so proud of.
There are none. None who combine the reactive adaptability, the inherent loyalty towards each other, the sheer power and equipment of your little band of adventurers.
I don't believe you.
Fair enough. Micah shrugged. But you'll find your efforts will be more productive with my authority than without.
Are you trying to extort us?
No! Never. Micah stops. This is coercion.
What do you want?
I want the head of Sss-thsss.
You're crazy. Art shook her head. You want us to assassinate the head of the local Sliths?
And yet I know full well the powers a small dedicated group can bring to bear that a larger military force cannot.
Art looked back at the rest of her party. We need to talk about this.
Micah nodded. Feel free to use the garden. But do not leave the Castle.
- - - - -
And here's how the conversation really goes:
LOOK: You see, sitting in the throne, a very slight, aging man in loose-fitting silk clothes. He wears a gold circlet. Although he appears frail, his eyes have a powerful, piercing quality that instantly make you feel on the defensive.
NAME: "My name is Micah. I am honored to be king of this fair land."
JOB: "It is simple. I am the chosen king of Exile. I look after the goings-on of the caves, and mastermind our actions against our enemies." He smiles and looks you over, measuring the quality of the material brought before him.
ENEMIES: "Yes. The rich, greatly underrated caverns of Exile." He smiles sadly. "I dream of the day the abovegrounders find out what a wonderful place they gave to those they hated. I have long ago learned that Exile brings great good with the bad."
GOOD: "The Slithzerikai are our most organized and deadly foe. Long we have tried to slay their leader, and long we have failed. Then, of course, there are the Nephilim. And the Nepharim. And the aranea, and giants, and undead. Our foes are many, and strong." / "That is why I seek adventurers, to hire them to complete a mission of great import."
MISSION: "Ah, yes. The sliths are led by their mighty and wily chief - dread Sss-Thsss. There will be no peace or safety until his head is brought to me, and I think only a small, stealthy band can get it. Bring me his head, and your reward will be rich indeed."
Now, we have two sets of things to Vote for. First is what to do with all those Knowledge Potions. Remember, each grants 2 Skill Points, and I still have to spend more money to train.
Secondly, where do we go from here? We have pretty much 3 options:
ONE: Do Micah's quest. We'll have to do it sooner or later, and we'll be able to polish off some secondary quests on the way to it.
TWO: Go to the Abyss and investigate these Scimitar people.
THREE: More Exploration.
Fort Emerald, and The Castle
Unspecified Services, huh? Find Anaxiamander, and bring him here. I have a job for him.