Part 13: We Have A Barrel And We Wish To Open It
When we last left the good party, they were in Wildabar beating up a horde of defenceless ninjas.
"What kind of cult calls itself a cult, anyway?"
"'Ninja New Religious Movement' wouldn't fit on the sign."
The rest of the ninjas may be a joke, but the Sonic Ninja attacks 8 times per round for up to 30 damage per hit. Fortunately he doesn't have a lot of health, so it only takes a few attacks to bring him down.
"Whew. Those ninjas put up quite a fight. If there had been fewer of them, we might have been in trouble."
Behind the ninjas are some sacks of treasure containing a few thousand gold and a couple of useful spells. Caelas is the only party member who can learn Cure Disease, so this one goes to him.
"These are the same dwarven mercenaries who attacked Castle Whiteshield on Tumult's orders! Now that we've driven out the ninja clan, we should set these dwarfs to rout before they take control of Wildabar again!"
"'Dwarfs' is the plural for humans with dwarfism. When you're referring to a race of industrious clannish warrior people who happen to be of naturally short stature, the correct plural is 'dwarves'."
"Oh. My apologies. Can we get back to hacking you to bits now?"
"By all means."
Mad Dwarves have 75 HP and hit a bit harder than ninjas, but they're still not a serious threat to the party.
"Now that the dwarves and ninjas aren't threatening Wildabar any more, why don't we check out the commercial district and outfit ourselves for our next adventure?"
"These mages' guild memberships sure are getting pricey. Well, not like we don't have the money for it."
"You've got yourself a deal! Which way is north again?"
"It's the one with the N on it."
"Oh, thanks. Which letter is N again?"
"Just put the money on that one there, okay? The magic compass will teach you all you need to know, and thank the gods for that because I wouldn't know where to start."
Shoron teaches the Navigator skill. In the previous game in the series, this stopped you from getting randomly turned around and ending up back where you started when you tried to travel in the desert. I assume it works the same way in this one, although I haven't actually tried wandering in the desert without it.
"Hey, I recognise you! You're... you're one of the warriors who helped drive the gargoyles out of these lands! It'd be an honour to train with you!"
Tsabu's training grants the Body Building skill, making a party member so immoderately burly that they get an extra +1 HP per level. This benefit also applies retroactively to levels already gained. For 200 gold, it's a bargain.
"Okay, seriously, is talking like Yoda a fad now or something? Because you're somehow not the first person I've met who does it."
Kelzen teaches the Arms Master skill, which gives a hidden +1 bonus to the accuracy of weapon attacks. Knights begin with this skill automatically, and it's worth teaching to everyone else.
Like the other towns, this one has its own mirror-portal, allowing easy travel to other towns.
And on a wall not too far away is the word to speak into any of the other mirrors in order to get to Wildabar.
"Hmm. I wonder whether it was named in honour of Morgan or of Gordon."
"... where the shells are hidden is Rainbow Island, but nothing more. Maybe my other brother, Delta, can lead you to the island's shores. I will send him word of your coming." Gamma bends down and whispers into the pink ear of a Barrel Mouse. The little gray mouse then disappears into a crack in the wall.
"Wait, Brother Beta told you about us? Did we even visit Brother Beta yet?"
"Maybe someone else did and got mistaken for us. It's dark down there in those caves, and his eyesight's not what it used to be. Anyway, um, we're getting sidetracked. Where's Brother Delta?"
"Because of a slight misunderstanding with the local Ninja clan, he lies in hiding in the cavern below this town. Find him and he may be of help. Now take this trinket and search for my brother."
And we get another one of these
Wildabar's armory sells Iron variations of all armour, giving a +1 to AC over the base type. Most of it is already outdated at this point, but I pick up some iron shields, gauntlets and helmets for party members who are still stuck with the regular stuff.
"It's getting dark out. Why don't we stop by the guild and learn some new spells, since we've already paid for membership?"
"Why does every mages' guild have to be run by a creepy glowing skull, anyway?"
"Where else are creepy glowing skulls going to find work in this economy?"
Falcon's Guild sells all the spells the other guilds so far have sold, plus some higher-level ones (for characters up to level 9). We're actually levelling up fast enough at this point that we're outstripping the limits of what the guilds we've seen can teach us.
Frost Bite: Summons the freezing winds of the Frozen Isles to whip around a monster, causing 35 points of Cold damage. (35 damage to a single enemy isn't that great at this point, but it's a cheap source of damage against enemies that are hard or impossible to hurt with physical attacks.)
Cold Ray: Unleashes a deluge of freezing mist that glaciates all before you, inflicting 2-4 points of Cold damage per level of the caster. (Comparable damage to Frost Bite right now, but more expensive and hits all enemies in a straight line in front of the party. Damage scales with level, meaning it'll stay useful a bit longer.)
Acid Spray: Showers all monsters directly in front of the party in a spray of acid, inflicting 15 points of Poison damage. (15 damage is pretty anaemic at this point, even if it does hit all enemies ahead of you. It doesn't scale with level, either.)
Nature's Gate: Dependent on the day of the week, calls forth a portal to the Towns and Castles of Terra. (I guess this might be useful if you want to travel to a town you've never visited before and you don't just want to explore until you find it, or if you somehow got lost or stuck and just need to get back to civilisation.)
Detect Monster: Here is a little notion of what's out there lurking around the corner and watching from behind. (Here is a spell I will never bother to cast. Brings up a little Minesweeper-style grid showing how many monsters are on each space within a short distance of the party.)
Feeble Mind: Turn the minds of those you fight against themselves, and they can no longer take action against you. (Basically yet another upgraded sleep/paralysis spell. I haven't had much luck with any of these except for that one time I somehow silenced the boss of the Moo Temple.)
The other spells on the Sorcerer list I've already talked about when they showed up as scrolls. It's nice to finally have Lloyd's Beacon on multiple characters so that I can warp back and forth at will between any two locations in the game.
And all the new spells for Caelas are ones that already showed up either in scrolls or on the Druid/Ranger spell list.
"I, uh, I guess we should go look for Brother Delta in the caverns now, if we're all finished here in town."
If I have the good party explore every outdoor area and the evil party explore every dungeon, I'm pretty sure the good party is going to run out of places to explore before the evil party does, so I'm making an executive decision and declaring that some of the less eventful town caverns count as extensions of town.
"Well, I guess we found out what happens to all the creepy glowing skulls that can't find a job at a mages' guild."
"Parents, don't let this happen to your creepy glowing skull. Tell them to stay in skull school."
As you can see from their stats, Phase Heads are a joke even compared to the monsters up in town. They resist magical and elemental damage, but they have no particular resistance to being beaten to death.
There are several grates lining the walls of the cavern, behind which are some ogres. The grates can be bashed down... if both your lead characters have 30 Might or so. Attempting to bash them down with the current party leads only to bruises. Luckily, the ogres can't shoot through the grates, so we can leave them alone for now.
"Y'know, I'm sure we're all going to regret this, but I just have to find out what this lever does."
"Well, the roof didn't collapse on us. That's a plus."
"Hey, uh, what's that noise coming up behind us?"
As you might predict, the lever opens all the grates and lets the ogres out. It also opens pits in the floor, which do 50 damage to the entire party. Good thing we have Levitate! The ogres themselves aren't all that dangerous once the pits are no longer a concern.
Once we've opened the grates and killed the ogres, we can search the rooms they came out of to find some barrels.
"I'm kind of thirsty, and I've already taken one crazy risk today. Why not two?"
Some barrels give a permanent +5 or +10 to a particular stat. Others are full of acid and do a moderate amount of damage to the drinker. Be bold: chemical burns heal, but stat boosts are forever.
"I have to admit, pulling the lever worked out okay for us the first time."
The lever opens a second set of grates, leading to more ogres and more barrels. There's a special surprise in one of them...
"I am now in your debt. You will find me at the Gate House in Wildabar if ever you need my superior fighting skills."
"And, one can only assume, your somewhat less superior not-getting-imprisoned-in-a-barrel skills."
"Well, I was hiding in the barrel at the time. All they actually did was nail the lid shut and roll it down here when they noticed it moving around."
"Right. We'll keep you in mind next time we need a master of stealth. Don't call us, we'll call you."
"Huh. I guess this explains all those barrels of acid lying around."
"How do you figure that?"
"Well, just look at her. She obviously doesn't drink water."
The Wicked Witch is the miniboss of this cavern, hiding behind a pack of ogres. She's easy to kill, but her attack does magical damage to the whole party, and has a nasty bonus effect.
"Is it just me, or was my awesome obsidian flail a lot less awesome than usual in that fight?"
Every attack from the Wicked Witch has a chance to curse the entire inventory of every party member. Cursed equipment is just as useless as broken equipment, except you need to go to a temple instead of a blacksmith to fix it.
"Hey, we've come this far. Might as well see it through."
A few more grates and ogres later...
"... the Witches. I think they planned on sending me to their coven in Cursed Cold Cavern, but it is hard to hear through the wood of the barrel. If you ever need use of my Ranger abilities, I'll be in the Gate House in Wildabar."
"Lone Wolf? Hmm. I believe I have heard that name before. Something about the wielder of a legendary sword. But weren't you..."
"There was an incident. I don't like to talk about it."
"It's great that we're finding all these new friends and learning all this fascinating information, but weren't we down here looking for someone? Wait, I think I hear noises coming from that barrel over there..."
"... Rainbow Island, but its location is not the final step of your search. It is true the shells are hidden there, but they are kept in a magic portal. Blackwind was a very clever Spellbinder, and he crafter a spell that would only release one shell on the same day of every year. The island you seek is the small isle south of Castle Blackwind, but I do not know the date the portal releases a shell. I believe my other brother, Zeta, may be able to provide this final answer for you. I will let him know you seek him." A small, whitish salamander with red eyes emerges from a silent stream of dark water and slowly crawls to the barrel. Delta leans over to whisper at the creature, then watches as it returns to the flowing water. "There is a thin, underground stream that connects this cave and Arachnoid Cavern, where you will find Zeta. Now take this trinket that it may help you in your quests and leave me to my hiding."
"Damn, you're a talkative one. So, long story short: there's magic shells on the island south of Castle Blackwind, but only on one day per year. Brother Zeta in Arachnoid Cavern knows which day. Did I miss anything important?"
"Oh, right, the free loot. Mustn't forget the free loot."
"It seems we've explored all there is to explore in this cavern. Hopefully this will stop the witches' coven from conducting their sinister experiments and abhorrent sacrifices below Wildabar. For the moment, I think we can rest."
"Would you look at that. The ninja and ranger we rescued are already back at the inn looking for work."
"I notice the two of you have equipment of considerable quality. I have a proposal for you: we would like to purchase certain items from you in exchange for some of our surplus equipment and a day's pay."
"Hm. Works for me."
Lone Wolf comes with the red key, in case you didn't have it already. She's also got very nice armour: the gold chain mail is going on Martlin right away, and the ebony medal is a decent AC boost for whoever needs it. For some reason, her gauntlets appear to start out equipped in the helmet slot, although unequipping and re-equipping them fixes this.
"It was a dare, okay? Wartowsan bet me 100 gold that I couldn't fit the gauntlets over my ears and get them to stay on. Come to think of it, that's probably why I didn't hear the witches coming to capture me."
Lone Wolf herself is a ranger with very respectable all-around stats, and a level on par with the rest of the party right now.
She also starts out with every spell she can learn at her current level, including a few that aren't available in Wildabar. If your party's been doing without a druid or ranger until now, recruiting her is probably a good idea: she'll pull her weight as both a fighter and a supporting spellcaster.
Wartowsan has the blue key, which the party doesn't already have, so that's pretty nice. The rogue gauntlets give a solid bonus to thievery, while the lucky charm is good for a whopping +20 Luck bonus. The life belt only gives +10 to max HP, but belt slot items are pretty uncommon, so it's worth taking.
Wartowsan's a level below Lone Wolf, but he's also cheaper and his stats are pretty comparable. On the other hand, you probably didn't get this far in the game without a Robber or Ninja, and having two thieves in the party is a bit redundant.
"We showed that witch what for and wisely brought well-being to Wildabar. Woohoo!"
"Hey, Bob, that thing you just did?"
"Don't do it again. Ever."
"Aw, you're just pissy 'cuz Lone Wolf is muscling in on your elven-ranger turf."
"Nobody's going to steal MY Lucky Charm! Wait, uh, did I just accidentally invite comparisons between myself and a leprechaun?"
"I hate to rudely point out the obvious, Martlin, but your stature kind of does that for you already."
"Hm. I seem to have become quite frail compared to the rest of the party. Fortunately, my armour is more than adequate to protect me from most physical harm."
"Between all that working-out I did in town and that witches' brew I drank, I'm feeling a lot tougher than I used to be. Maybe next time we run into Bugaboos it'll take a bit longer for them to eat me alive."
And that wraps up another update. The good party gained quite a few levels between this update and the last, mostly thanks to turning in some ancient artifacts of good and neutrality. But let's leave them to bask in their newfound strength for now, and shift the focus back to the evil party. This time, I'll add a bit of a teaser for the possible events of the next update: would you rather see them get bitten by snakes or go insane?