Part 58: In the Face of AdversityPart 58 - In the Face of Adversity
Previously on Dragonfall... we convinced Glory's ex-girlfriend to switch sides and join our atypically noble cause, freed a local park ranger who was off to a respectable start towards a death by a thousand cuts in the hands of some acolytes, and finally reached the Adversary-corrupted shrine we came here to purify.
And then things got weird, an adjective one would not use very lightly on a day like this.
[Warily, Glory surveys your surroundings.]
I'd say that's an understatement.
Where the hell are we?
Last we checked astral space didn't look like a burning mansion stretching to infinity. This place feels like someone tried to recreate Feuerstelle but accidentally used the extra large spoon when it was time to add the feuer.
I can't say for certain. But there's one thing that I am sure of: whatever this place is, the Adversary holds sway here.
It was a lie, Marta. What we're seeing now... this is the truth.
Your truth, maybe.
[She goes quiet.]
What I saw was real.
I think that you're both right, in a way. I think when Marta traveled here, she saw her interpretation of the Adversary's domain. Now, we're seeing Glory's.
That's an... interesting observation. What makes you say that?
It's an observation we can make thanks to our lengthy chat with your local orichalcum dealer Aljernon some ways back. A lot about the Adversary's true nature is very much up to interpretation, so its realm likewise adjusting to what you're expecting to see doesn't seem too implausible. And Glory is today's guest of honor by the looks of it.
Why does it matter?
I suppose that it doesn't.
[She grimaces as a sudden wave of heat washes over her.]
Come on, you two. The spirit will be around here... somewhere.
[She nods eagerly.] You're right. I've seen it. In the heart of this place - that's where we'll find it.
All that effort to reach the heart of Feuerstelle and when we finally get there, we now have to find the heart inside the first heart? One of you transforms into Donald Duck and we're jumping into a fireplace.
Alright fine, we'll get to searching. Guessing these sparkly portals are how we're supposed to get around in this place, because who wouldn't want to engage in blind warping when visiting your local hell realm.
Yeah that about figures, and we weren't even at the front this time either. Really feeling like a fairy tale princess today with all this attention, only instead of being surrounded by cute animals the only thing we seem to attract are various bolts of arcane suffering.
We must be in the home turf of grease boy from earlier, which makes you wonder if these things always look this fiery and evil even if we'd ended up in Marta's version of this place. The Mauler's a new acquaintance, but we know a big punchy tank when we see one. The massive claws tend to give it away.
After Marta patches us up with her magic, we use our own to take the big man out of the fight with Blindness, thus confirming that even alternate realities are subject to the universal laws of Mage Supremacy.
These things continue to be annoyingly slippery, but one Seeker and one blind punching bag don't put up much of a fight even with a few missed shots and we pummel both creatures to submission in no time at all.
Another sparkly portal later and this time we find ourselves against two Seekers and a Mauler.
Despite getting the first turn, we manage to land a grand total of zero hits on these dodgy jerks. In hindsight we really should've picked up Aim before coming here since we don't have Dietrich around and Glory in particular could really use the accuracy bonus.
We also learn that Seekers include an area damage spell in their repertoire, so hunkering down with Marta behind this heavy cover wasn't as smart a plan as it seemed. Live and learn, as much as some days make you wish otherwise.
Ah c'mon already
Two turns in and we've yet to inflict a single point of damage, a problem our opponents don't seem to be having at all. At least our cover all but nullifies the normal Seeker bolts, none of that "area spell can crit through cover" nonsense.
Speaking of area spells though, on the third turn we finally manage to turn the tables by repeatedly smacking the packed-up spirits on the face with our balls of lightning and mana after Glory quickly ducks out of the way. The mess of effects and numbers is incredibly satisfying as always.
It didn't really come up here but Maulers do also have the ability to cast Heal Wounds in addition to bashing things, which I guess would make them large and ugly paladin equivalents of a sort.
We take one more crit from a Seeker area spell but afterwards our attacks start finding their mark and we rout the two remaining AoE-fest survivors in short order. So much for the home advantage.
Glory patches us up with a medkit and we hop on through the next sparkly portal which leads us to...
...the true heart of Feuerstelle, as it turns out. Unexpectedly compact for an endless void, but sure as hell beats the opposite approach of making us wander around in some labyrinthine dream realm with a tedious shapeshifting gimmick for several hours.
Wonder if anybody's home.
[She nods mutely and clasps her hands to her chest. Ragged breaths heave out of her. She looks like a woman possessed.]
[The fluttering feeling swells, and you feel your knees go weak. Marta sobs with joy.]
<Glory. Welcome, child. What a pleasure it is to see you again.>
I know what you were, Spirit. Before the Adversary twisted you. Before Harrow bound you into this rock.
[She drops a hand to the satchel at her side.]
I can help you to be that again. All that you need to do is let me.
[The spirit chuckles - a strange, warbling sound that sends a shiver down your spine.]
<We are not in need of help. We are our Great Master's servant, just as Harrow is. Just as you are, despite your misguided attempt to cut away His love from your heart.>
Sure, nothing shows deep affection like audibly cackling at someone accidentally burning their own mother alive.
This Adversary sounds like a pretty reasonable guy.
<Your friend - this outsider - jokes at our Great Master's expense. But we take no offense. Her words are like the babble of a newborn babe. She is ignorant of the truth.>
[The spirit inclines its head toward you.]
<If the noise continues, we will educate her, and the babble will cease.>
[Glory shoots you a sidelong glance. She mouths out a word.]
Sorry, snark is our main defense mechanism in stressful situations.
<I have a message for you from our Great Master. He has a gift for you. A peace offering. One that He offers freely. A sign of His continued affection for you.>
That's a nice pitch, Spirit. But you neglected to mention the price.
[The spirit leans toward her, clasping its hands.]
<This will cost you nothing. A simple gesture, a trifle... a show of good faith. If you demonstrate your love for Him, He will reward you beyond your wildest dreams.>
<Remove the protective ward from your neck, and His gift is yours for the taking. Yours forevermore.>
Oh sure, of course. Something adjacent to a devil-figure offering a grand gift in exchange of the teeny tiny price of leaving our spirit unprotected just for a little bit, that classic tale which always has a happy ending for the person in question. But hey, do humor us.
How do we know that you'll keep your word?
It won't. This is a trick.
[She takes a half-step back.]
Whatever you do, don't take off that necklace.
<The outsider may do whatever she wishes. We will not interfere with her unless she provokes us. Our Great Master's offer was to you, child. Accept, and everything that you desire will be yours.>
Extremely dangerous being... must... refrain... from wise-assery...
I'm not sure how it works here in Adversary-land, but where I'm from, this would be considered a "hard sell."
[The spirit shifts its gaze to you. It braids its taloned fingers together.]
<Your friend will remain here, I think. With me. I can find all manner of uses for such a succulent morsel.>
[It spreads its arms in supplication.] <Prosper or perish - the choice is yours. Embrace His love and have all of your wishes granted, or turn away from it and be destroyed.>
Great to see that Glory's having none of this shit, not even the smallest sign of hesitation anywhere. We actually have one final chance to take a turn to Harrowmurder Lane here, but we've made our decision.
It's time that everyone stopped suffering. Let's do this.
[She nods and raises the knife.] Far past time. Let's do it.
Big deal, that's what we sound like just getting out of bed every day.
Alright, spawning multiple copies of ourselves isn't part of our own morning routine. Got us one-upped with that one.
What, you a fortune cookie now? Cut the enticing promises already and bring it, lumpskull.
Alright, now this is the kind of spirit purification we know how to do. In our first proper boss battle in a while, we're up against three Hearts of Feuerstelle. With 130 HP and a decent chunk of armor each, this looks like it could get a bit rough.
Gotta start from somewhere, so we pick the one on the right. And in staying true to the theme of the day, proceed to miss every single one of our attacks despite our target being the size of an actual broad side of a barn. At least something that big isn't going to take cover behind anything so every actually successful hit has a decent chance to be a critical.
In retaliation the Heart blasts Glory with the same Dark Flame attack we saw from the Seekers earlier. 15 damage a pop pre-crit isn't especially alarming, but if this thing can throw three of those a turn...
The center Heart misses but the one of the left lands one of us and deals... zero damage? Even though we were behind cover, that math doesn't really check out.
Before we can ruminate deeper on the implications of the other spirit's unexpected lack of firepower, another actor makes a sudden appearance on the stage.
I've come to put an end to this place, Harrow - this place, and your pathetic, sickening cult.
Guys, could we do this in a little bit, we're kind of in the middle of something here...
And you, Marta?
[He turns his head to stare at her, a sad smile on his face.]
I've given you everything. Will you repay my love with betrayal?
[As she tries to respond, her voice catches in her throat.]
I... I'm with Glory, Harrow. I would never hurt you, but this has to end tonight.
So now we have this asswipe to deal with too. Especially compared to the tanky spirit though, Harrow's hide is only mildly more difficult to tear apart than his philosophies.
Alas, the rat vanishes as Glory's about to deal the finishing blow. All that bluster but in an actual confrontation he doesn't even get an attack in before getting chased off with his tail beween his legs, figures.
Turning our attention to the more pressing matters at hand, Marta heals Glory up and lands our first actual hit on the Heart.
We also soften the thing's defenses considerably by removing all of its 6 armor with a single cast of Strip Armor III, another one of those spells which might not get a lot of screentime but which continues to be very strong against bulky foes like this thing.
On the following turn, the Heart draws a new trick from its bag, with all three of its forms disappearing and reappearing elsewhere. Very fancy but doesn't seem especially useful.
Each Heart also act twice, casting a mix of Strip Armor I (which is a lot less effective in the hands of the AI which doesn't actually check armor values and so keeps repeatedly casting it on Marta even after she's down to 0) and a ranged attack which again seems to vary a great deal in damage. One hits us for 8 and the next crits Marta for... three.
If you've played your RPGs then you've probably figured out what's going on by now. Sure enough, what we have in our hands here is a classic mirror image boss. Only one of the Hearts is actually real and possible to damage while the other two vanish upon taking a hit, only to reappear when the boss does its little warp shuffle.
The most obvious way to identify the fakes is that only the actual Heart deals anything even resembling actual damage, though as we've seen even the real deal isn't especially dangerous on that front.
Another attack in the Heart's repertoire is a minor AP-draining area spell similar to a basic stun grenade which is largely just a minor annoyance, though grouping up is a bad plan as usual.
It's also worth noting that the Heart does not regain its armor even after its mirror image trick, which makes removing it ahead of time highly effective.
Oh, and Harrow also reappears shortly after being defeated. It's a real mess in that particular corner right now.
Mechanically there's not much to say about Harrow himself, he's a mage with a standard set of spells. Heal, Fireball, Flamethrower, the works. In fact his loadout is identical to Knight-Errant mages with the exception of his unique ability Harrow's Shield which reduces all incoming damage by 15 for a turn.
None of that really matters because he never gets the chance to do anything. When all is said and done this is not a very hard fight especially with Marta around, the spirit's 150 HP with no damage mitigation from armor is not that much to burn through once we know which one to actually hit (and manage to land the attacks).
We ignore Harrow and focus all our firepower on the real spirit which succumbs to the lingering damage from Marta's Manaball at the start of the following enemy turn, bringing a fairly swift end to this somewhat anti-climactic fight. Or perhaps you could call it...
...a triple heart bypass.
Seriously though man, that was the most pathetic attempt at making a badass entrance we've ever seen. Maybe if you'd spent more time fiddling with magical formulae instead of underaged teens we all would've ended up in a better place today.
Go ahead and run, you fucking coward. Run back to the real world and whatever hole you crawled out of. We'll catch you.
Oh, don't worry. We'll find you - we're good at that sort of thing.
We'd tell you all about the frankly astonishing progress we've made in our search for Vauclair in recent days, but we clearly all have places to be so uh, maybe some other time.
[The projection flashes you a condescending grin.]
Believe whatever you like, fool. It won't do you any good. Years from now, I'll still be doing what I do, and you will have accomplished nothing.
Go ahead, Harrow. Try to set up another cult. You won't get far before I hunt you down.
Alternatively, had our fridge adventures not led us to the conclusion of Harrow using the spirit as a crutch:
We've stopped you for now. The kids that you've lured here are going someplace safe. That isn't nothing, Harrow. It's everything.
[The projection chuckles. The sound is thin and hollow.]
You know better than that. But nothing makes me happier than the sound of you lying to yourself. Good-bye, Glory.
[The shadow slowly dissipates, and Harrow is gone.]
Run, coward. Run far, far away. We'll find you.
Oh hey, nice to see you chill out a bit. Like the leaf getup, goes well with the antlers.
You did what the Adversary wanted you to do. Use your imagination.
<But... we couldn't have...>
Unpleasant to think about, isn't it? But you have to, Spirit. You can't run from what you've done. Your actions are a part of you, whether you like it or not.
Ooh, sensing some parallels here.
[Glory takes a step toward the giant creature.]
Listen to me, Spirit. I need your help. We're here to rescue the cultists of Feuerstelle. The street kids whose minds you touched. We're getting them out of here, before the Adversary can do to them what it did to you.
[The spirit stares at Glory for a long moment. Finally, it dips its head in a nod.]
<Yes. We will help you.>
I'll be damned. Something's gone right for a change.
[It bows its head.] <We have withdrawn ourselves from the minds of the people here. They are themselves again.>
Thank you. We'll take our leave of you now.
Just what do you hope to do?
It's nice that we seem to get along now and all but we're still a little wary of spirits offering help right now, you understand. Don't mean to be judgmental or anything but you do still have an intimidating deer skull for a face. Awfully hard to read expressions from.
<Make amends. Heal the sick and the wounded. Bring them the succor of hearth and home. But we can do nothing without your help.>
<We are still bound to this shrine. Anchored here. We cannot leave without your assistance.>
Tell us what you need us to do.
<We need an appropriate vessel to carry us out of the rock. Something touched by magic, but more dead than alive.>
[It dips its head.]
<Do you have anything that can help us?>
Look we get the hint and we'd love to volunteer but like
Oh, the protective amulet? This thing wanted us to get rid of that an awful lot earlier too, you completely sure its had a true change of er, heart?
Bad idea, Glory. I don't trust this thing.
Ah shit, what color was spiritual possession glow again? That better not be spiritual possession glow.
Glory! Are you okay?
[Slowly, she rises. She looks you in the eye, a quizzical expression on her face.]
I... I can feel it. The spirit. It's bound to me now.
That was stupid, Glory. It could have been lying to you. Hell, it still could be.
Well... alright, we'll trust you on this one. Got a bit alarmed there is all, it's been a day.
[Behind your eyes, your vision starts to twist. It feels as though you're being turned inside out.]
Time to go. With the spirit's link to the Adversary severed, this entire reality is falling apart.
See you in the real world, Glory.
Phew, that was a trip. It's good to be back, though can't help but notice this place also appears to be partially on fire now. Never leave your oversized candle collection unsupervised.
I can feel them. The Spirit set them free, but they're trapped somewhere here in the complex.
The initiates, you mean?
Yes... and others.
[She surveys the room, a worried expression on her face.]
We need to find them and get out of here. The connection between this compound and... wherever we were... is breaking down. As that place disintegrates, more and more things are spilling through.
Like rats fleeing a sinking ship.
[She nods.] Yeah. And it's only a matter of time before Feuerstelle is consumed, too. Look in the corner there... you can already see it happening.
I'll take your word for it. Let's move.
She's right, place is falling apart at the seams. The hallway north is blocked by some rubble and there's no getting around standard video game rubble, so we head the other way.
This particular pile in front of the acolytes' lounge is of the non-standard variety and thus eminently clearable though. Outta the way now.
Conveniently enough within we find who appears to be all the cultists we encountered earlier, the three initiates and the two knife-happy acolytes.
...Glory? Is... is that you?
[The acolyte is in his early twenties - close to Glory's age. His eyes are wide with astonishment.]
You don't know me, but... but I was a new initiate back when you lived here. When you were--
[Glory cuts in, but her voice is gentle.]
Yes. It's me. Come on, we're taking you to safety. Someplace far away from here.
Seems like they don't remember our previous meeting, let's just hope spiritual mind control doesn't come with permanent brain damage.
Come on people, this hellhole is literally crumbling down around us, how about we leave the Q&A session for a little later?
Something that you'll never need to worry about. Come on. Let's get the hell out of here.
[Marta cradles her head in her hands.]
And with that last reminder that oh yeah, Marta's still around, we are done with this place. Time to go before we're grilled like a bratwurst and hope there was nobody hiding in any of the other rooms.
Never has Berlin felt more cozy and predictable. Despite having done what might be considered our objectively most virtuous deed so far, our spiritual reward is a measly 2 Karma. This probably says something about our society.
[She nods at you.] Thank you for your help at Feuerstelle. I couldn't have done it without you.
Speaking of which, I've been meaning to talk with you about that.
After the things that we saw in there, I'm not surprised. Go ahead, Rosa. I'm listening.
Yeah, that was a lot. Where to even start unpacking all of it?
Harrow got away, just like you said he would.
[She frowns.] Yes. And he's already putting distance between himself and the Schönbuch Forest.
Do you think that we did the right thing back there?
...But that's going to have to wait. Tracking Harrow down is going to be a full-time job, and I can't do it while we still have a Great Dragon hanging over our heads.
Ol' Feuerschwinge sure is a throwing spanners in everyone's works, can't get anything done these days.
After we've found Vauclair and dealt with the Firewing, I'll devote myself wholeheartedly to finding that bastard and finishing this. But for now, we need to keep our eyes on the road ahead.
What did you wind up doing with the cultists that we rescued? Did you send them to Samuel...?
So where did they go?
I took them to the talismonger, Aljernon. He said that he knew a place where they could get help. It won't be easy for them, or quick. But they'll get better in time.
We can only pray smugness isn't contagious or we may have yet come to regret our words and deeds this day.
And how are things going between you and Marta?
[She smiles sadly.] They aren't.
So where is she? Somewhere here in the Kreuzbasar?
No. I offered, but she wouldn't come. She still thinks of cities as places that she needs to save people from.
I don't know where she's going to wind up. I don't even think that she does. But when she gets there, she'll reach out to me... that much, she promised.
[She looks away.]
Let's talk about something else, Rosa. I'd rather not dwell on this if I don't have to.
I don't like the sound of that. It might have been safer to put her down.
Maybe. But that would have been the easy way out... to brand her as irredeemable and kill her in the name of safety. She can turn herself around if she wants to - I'm living proof of that. Maybe, in time, she'll find some semblance of redemption.
And if she doesn't? If she goes on hurting street kids?
[Glory looks you in the eye, and her expression hardens.]
Then I'll find her and correct our mistake.
That answers all of my questions. Thanks for taking the time to talk.
Any time, Rosa. And thanks again... I mean that.
As one last thing, it didn't come up in the conversation but our reward for finishing Glory's personal mission on the redemption path is the new ability Hearthfire which is... well it's literally just a rebranded Heal Wounds I. It heals the previous instance of damage on a 3-turn cooldown.
A heal is a heal and that's never bad to have or anything, but you'd think being able to directly harness the power of a spirit like that would've made for something a little flashier. Oh well.
Regardless, next time we'll be taking the customary trip to the ~Non-Canon Zone~ and this time... we're done playing nice.
Not much of interest here that hasn't been covered or won't be covered later, just an alternate conversation regarding the nature of the spirit's realm we would've gotten had we not talked to Aljernon about the Adversary all the way back in Part 30:
If this is the Adversary's domain, wouldn't that make this Hell?
[A startled giggle pours out of Marta's mouth.]
Hell is a myth, Rosa. There's no such place... not really.
I don't know where we are, Rosa. But I think it's safe to say that none of us have ever heard of it before.
Wherever we are, the spirit that we're hunting is going to be here, right?
Yes. It should be here... somewhere.