Part 16: This Means War
The evil party's current destination is the Dark Warriors' Keep, a little south of Baywatch.
"Time for the Red Warrior's Key from Cyclops Cavern to shine! Metaphorically, of course. It's actually not all that shiny, having spent countless years rusting away in a hole in the ground."
"Gods, but dwarves are such pathetic creatures. All muscle and no brain -- and not that much muscle, either."
"Hey, I'm right here, y'know!"
"See what I mean? That one over there is talking when he should be killing our enemies. Hopeless."
Great mystery lies hidden in these walls, guarded by the mightiest of warriors. Any who enter must be prepared to fight, for death is the only alternative.
"So this is, like, some kind of underground holiday resort for evil warriors? That is so cool! Why haven't I heard of this place before now?"
Like many dungeons, the Dark Warriors' Keep has a whole bunch of grates and locked doors to block the party's path. The grates are easily bashable with our frontliners' current Might, and Cyrus's Thievery is more than enough to deal with the doors too.
Speaking of Might, the skeletons in this dungeon can be searched for permanent stat boosts, for a total of +45 Might, +30 Endurance and +20 Speed.
Monster-wise, apart from the dwarves there are also more of those Evil Rangers from Slithercult Stronghold. They still selectively target Druids, but at this point Flowers' AC is good enough that they're totally non-threatening and the only interesting thing about them is that they each drop 1000 gold.
"Sure, what's the worst that can happen? Cyrus is replaceable."
"Heh, you talk big, but I'd like to see how you'd've handled that fire trap. Now, someone mind doin' somethin' 'bout these second-degree burns all over my arms and face?"
There's lots of treasure chests in this dungeon with low/mid-tier loot in them. Expect to come away with lots of Silver and Steel stuff and other materials of similar power, plus a handful of Gold items.
Oh, and there are also chests that do this. Quite a few of them, in fact.
There's no treasure inside and they instantly kill whoever opens them, regardless of HP. To add insult to injury, whenever you open an exploding chest, the game plays the same grim little musical jingle that played whenever a PC fell unconscious in Might & Magic 2. The one and only recognisable art asset recycled from the previous game is used solely in this one dungeon to rub in the news of the player's misfortune. Isn't that just special?
Okay, time to get Cyrus revived and get this show back on the road.
200 Yellow Soldiers marched across the swamp to drive the minotaur back into his maze. Few returned.
"Are we here for a history lesson or to kill stuff? Let's get moving already!"
"You know, this strikes me as an impractical location for mounted combat."
Meet Jousters, the main enemy worth worrying about in this dungeon.
Statwise, Jousters are quite similar to Cyclopes, but a bit better in every way. They have a little more HP, better AC, higher speed, and a stronger attack. They can only hit once per round, but for a whopping 20-400 damage, which means a good hit can render anyone in the party unconscious and could easily kill our more fragile PCs outright from full health. The one saving grace is that they won't attack in groups like Cyclopes did: they'll line up patiently to fight the party one at a time, either out of a sense of honour or because otherwise it'd just be too damn crowded for anyone to do any fighting.
With her obsidian weapon, Sails is our main damage dealer at this point: we have Minty and Tianas buff her with Heroism and Holy Bonus and let her tear apart the Jouster for an average of over 100 damage per round. Flowers and Calgon launch Lightning Bolts and Energy Blasts for a little extra damage output. Once she's done buffing, Tianas can help out with Cold Ray, which hits the Jouster and any others lined up behind it as well. If we were concerned about Sails's survival we could buff her with Bless and Power Shield too, but her AC is already high enough that she's relatively unlikely to get hit.
Once killed, Jousters drop an impressive amount of gold and have a reasonable chance of carrying a high-tier item.
And just to remind you of what we're dealing with, this is what a Jouster did to our second-highest-HP party member, from full health. His armour's been broken, too; unless we're willing to run back to a town blacksmith every time that happens to someone, people are going to be taking hits even more often as we progress further. If we had two Sorcerer-type spellcasters we could hop to town and back easily enough with Lloyd's Beacon, but in this party we only have one.
73 Grey Paladins laid siege to Castle Blackwind before the mighty fortress finally collapsed.
"Is anybody writing down all these numbers? I feel like they're probably important."
"Hmph. We'd never have made it this far if we were in need of such elementary advice."
2 Black Warriors, with the courage of an army, took the walls of Castle Greywind.
"So it took two of Blackwind's guys to attack Castle Greywind but 73 of Greywind's guys to attack Castle Blackwind? Man, how did that war manage to end in a draw?"
"I imagine it was because Blackwind was the sort of leader who would send two men to attack a castle."
"Looks like bein' the designated poke-my-hands-into-dangerous-places guy finally paid off. Sweet."
Searching that skeleton just gave Cyrus 2 full levels and a corresponding amount of experience. I'm deliberately loading +level boosts onto Cyrus at the moment because his Thievery skill increases with level, and he could use a leg up. Plus, as a ninja his innate combat skills are as good as Sails's, so he'll be a force to be reckoned with once he gets an obsidian weapon of his own.
"I suspect we have found our prey's training hall."
"Wow, there's so many of them! We're gonna get totally murdered! Um, I mean, to arms! Let none of them leave alive! For the glory of K'rugot!"
"Yeah! Look out, jousters, 'cuz we're gonna go to town on you like you go to town on those horses!"
"What? ... Eww yourself! I didn't mean it that way!"
That... could have gone better, but it also could have gone worse, so I'll take the victory and dash back to town to revive Tianas before continuing. Sails had all of 6 HP left at the end of the fight, so we were a hair's breadth from losing as it was.
In the chests along the side of the room, we get this little baby, plus two Ancient Artifacts of Neutrality, which we'll soon trade in for a cool million experience for our Neutral characters.
"Wait, who the hell is that over there? I said, 'let none of them leave alive'! Doesn't anybody ever listen to me?"
"I listen to you, Tianas."
"Doesn't anybody useful ever listen to me?"
The Top Jouster follows this game's standard pattern for boss enemies: bonus HP and an extra attack every round. In this case, though, that extra attack means he can take out two characters per round if he hits both times. He also seems to have much higher magical and elemental resistances than the other Jousters, making Flowers and Calgon mostly useless for this fight.
Since Sails is our only character capable of dealing meaningful amounts of damage, our strategy will be to load her up with the full set of combat buffs and hope she doesn't get hit.
"You know, Sails, we're clearly the most competent and driven members of this party. We could easily leave the others to rot here and strike out on our own."
"What, and share the glory of victory with a gnome? I don't think so."
"But you're... forget it."
As befits his station, the Top Jouster usually drops a top-tier item. We were lucky enough to get an obsidian necklace, which is +20 AC for anyone who needs it. The shield was a drop from a regular Jouster: diamond is the second-best material, and the Pyric property gives it added fire resistance. Not bad at all.
For deeper access to this Dark Keep, count the secret number with Fire Hood and Desert Breeze, but deduct Frost Wing, Forest Green, and Phantom Sorrow. Multiply by Shadow Grave and the answer lies before you.
"I knew those numbers were gonna come in handy! Except... we haven't seen Fire Hood, Forest Green or Frost Wing yet. Or the 'secret number' it talks about, either. I guess we should keep exploring?"
Answering incorrectly or failing to answer just teleports us back to the entrance of the dungeon, so it's no big deal.
16 Red Knights took the Isle of Fire from the beasts that lived among the flames.
8 Green Rangers searched the Orc Meadow for a week plus two before finding the lonely unicorn.
"When they say a week plus two, is that +2 to hit or to damage? And how do you hit someone with a week, anyway?"
"... if you keep asking questions like that I'll hit you into next week."
"That seems as if it reverses cause and effect. Would one not already have to be the ultimate adventurer in order to hunt down a god? Of course, proving our status as such is already reason enough to slay this so-called Minotaur God -- should we happen to come across him in our travels. Such a pity that we do not know the location of any, or I would venture to battle one right away."
7 Blue Crusaders rode the points from north to south on the Great Isle to recover the scattered artifacts. Their wills were strong, but their campaign doomed.
"Well, that's all the numbers we need -- except the secret one. Which is too secret for me, by the looks of it."
"Ah, but it's been staring us in the face all along."
"Do you see the pattern of walls in the Top Jouster's training hall? Looked at from above, they form the number twenty-nine."
"Hmm. Twenty-nine, plus sixteen for Fire Hood and another two hundred for Desert Breeze... subtract seven for Frost Wing, eight for Forest Green and seventy-three for Phantom Sorrow... multiply by two for Shadow Grave..."
"The answer, of course, is three hundred and fourteen."
Getting the correct answer causes the east wall of this room to slide away, opening a passage leading to the real treasure of this dungeon...
"Hey, awesome, two whole Ultimate Power Orbs, just there for the looting!"
"You of all people have heard of the legendary King's Ultimate Power Orbs? Who told you about them?"
"Oh, um, it's just one of those things you hear around the place, I guess. You know, like court politics, who got drunk and started a brawl in the tavern last night, tales of legendary artifacts bearing unimaginable power. Ordinary gossip."
"Hm. In any case, the orbs are ours now."
"As is only right and proper. By slaying their defenders, we have proven that they are better off in our hands. After all, if the defenders were capable of doing their jobs, they would have stopped us, would they not?"
Well, we've finished exploring the Dark Warriors' Keep and we've collected our first two major plot coupons. There are 31 Ultimate Power Orbs in all, and giving a total of 11 of them to any one king initiates the endgame. Naturally, I'll be stretching this out longer than is strictly necessary.
"Tomorrow, we can set out for Castle Dragontooth. For now, I believe I'll retire to my room at the inn and take some much-deserved rest."
"Psst. Are you sure the others are sound asleep?"
"Of course. I even put a little something in their drinks to make sure."
"You know, they're gonna be pissed off when they wake up and notice the orbs are gone. I'm just sayin'."
"Then shouldn't we high-tail it to Castle Blood Reign before that happens?"
"Always a pleasure to assist in the preservation of knowledge, sir. I trust you will put these Ancient Artifacts of Neutrality to good use."
"Gods. Do these jokes ever stop getting more awful? Bah. Anyway, I never got a chance to ask: why stick your neck out to help us like this? Wouldn't it have been easier to just hand the orbs over to King Malefactor like Calgon was planning?"
"Well, firstly, King Malefactor's castle is way over on the other side of the world, on a different continent and everything. Also, we've never even met him, and I hear he's kind of nuts -- and not in a fun way, either. King Tumult is a lot easier to get to and he's already promised to reward us, so why not give the orbs to him?"
"Bring me more orbs so the equilibrium can be maintained, and my chaotic rule secured."
"Hey, think you can spare a little taste of that ultimate power for us, seein' as how we're the ones who brought it to you an' all?"
"Do I look like a cheat? We had an agreement, and I'll honour it."
Handing in Ultimate Power Orbs nets us a whopping 1 million experience points to every party member for every orb we turn in.
"Our allies will be waking up soon. We had best return to town posthaste."
"There you are! What were you doing? I called for somebody to help polish my armour an hour ago and nobody answered!"
"Who, us? We just went out on a walk is all. You know, to get some fresh air."
"Indeed. Is it not a beautiful morning? We simply wished to enjoy the beauty of nature. Nothing unusual about that."
"We weren't betraying you and secretly helping King Tumult or anything like that. That's just not how we roll. By the way, I think somebody who definitely wasn't us stole the King's Ultimate Power Orbs while we were all asleep."
"Somebody stole the what? Oh no! It's true! The orbs are gone! What do we do now?"
"Calm down, Tianas. This is but a minor setback. Our rivals, those self-styled 'heroes', are surely the ones responsible for this insult. Next time we see them, we will have our revenge..."
Once again, it's everyone's favourite part of the update: the part where you, dear readers, get to decide what happens next! Should the good party explore Swamp Town or keep filling out the map of the outdoors? Vote now!