Part 29: SILVER SEED - DeathWatch, aka Everything Is Named After Snakes Here
DeathWatch, aka Everything Is Named After Snakes Here
It's been a while since I organized everybody's inventory, so I'm doing that and trying a new equipment setup before I head off to the expansion. Combat in The Silver Seed is probably the toughest anywhere in the game and some areas are downright lethal, so I want to be prepared.
Note that the backpack in the top right is full of stacks of magic items; there's like three Magic and Fire Swords, two Lightning Whips, two Firedoom Staffs, six wands, four Magic Axes, and three Swords of Defense. Nothing as game-breaking as The Black Gate would've thrown at us by this point however.
The new strategy is this: Dupre has a Sword of Defense and as much armor rating as I can give him. He uses the Attack Strongest strategy to tie up the biggest motherfucker while everyone else is set to attack whatever is weakest and destroy it ASAP. Boydon is set to flanking because I can't even remember if flanking does anything.
"Alright, so is everyone clear on the new strategy? Dupre charges in like a moron and the rest of us just shoot him."
"You mean shoot around him."
"I mean a lot of things."
Anyway, it's off to stand on the Serpent Gate and use the Amulet of Balance.
Or maybe not.
Or maybe so!
Earthquakes rock the area. Magic shit is flying everywhere. This used to lock my parents' 486 so goddamn hard.
This may be the first good screenshot of the colored lightning I've managed the whole time I've done this.
And then, everyone vanishes!
Or not. Contents may shift during transit.
"Well, I never want to do that again."
"Steve, look around! These resemble the ruins we have seen around the island, but they are not ruins. They are new!"
Gee, I wonder what happened to us? Welcome to The Silver Seed.
Our first step is to go up into the great hall and talk to the robot. I wish I could say more expansions began this way.
"So, thou art come as the Order Hierophant foretold. I must admit, even as dedicated as I am, I doubted that there could be another Champion of Balance. I am Isstanar, Commander of The Serpent's Fang and its garrison. Thou wilt forgive me if I remain skeptical a bit longer. One does not attain a position such as mine by being overly trusting."
"Okay, you're gonna have to back this one up a bit because I don't know what the hell anything you just said means."
"Serpent's Fang is the name of this keep, Steve. It was so designated because this was once the keep from which all Order attacks on Chaos were launched. Commander Ardiniss, who I now replace, was a brilliant tactician. He held this keep and its surroundings through some of the most bloody fighting this war has yet seen. It was during that time that the warriors began referring to the keep as DeathWatch. Ardiniss' loss was a sad blow as the tides of war turned. Now Serpent's Fang holds the line of retreat, not the forefront of the war, and DeathWatch has taken on another meaning... watching for the fall of Chaos."
"That's a good start, I guess."
"Could it be that thou dost not know of Calithiss the Avenger and our holy crusade? But, if thou art the Champion of Balance, perhaps thou hast spent thy life as an Acolyte on the Isle of Crypts. I shall honor thy title by telling thee the tale. If art an imposter, it shall be apparent soon enough... For thou wilt never survive what lies ahead."
"Before the War of Imbalance began, Calithiss was known as the Steadfast. But after the foul murder of Ssithnos she named herself the Avenger."
"The war the who the what now?"
"I'm scared and confused and a little turned on and I don't understand any of those feelings."
"I don't really think we're supposed to be talking right now."
"Those who served Balance were always few in number, Steve. I cannot imagine how one could walk the shining path, swayed by neither Order nor Chaos. I do not see how it is humanly possible. But there has always been those few called to serve all Ophidians, and they followed the Great Hierophant. But followers of Chaos slew the last Great Hierophant and plunged the land into war, for there was no one to maintain Balance."
"What is the shining path?"
"Art thou testing my knowledge, Champion of Balance? Dost thou think to find an Order warrior of my status wanting? I am no follower of Balance, but even I know that only the Great Hierophant may safely enter the Void to commune with the Serpents, that he walks upon a shining path to receive Their wisdom. All others who would venture into the Void have no path to guide them and are doomed to death for their arrogance."
"O... phid... ians... yeeeeah. I serve all of those for sure. What are they?"
"Thy questions art most perplexing, Steve. Thou art the Champion of Balance, and yet thou dost ask about things that all people know... Art thou trying to discover how far we have fallen since Ssithnos perished? Then thou mayest judge Order by me, one of their ultimate warriors. We are Ophidians, followers of Balance, Order and, alas, Chaos. We revere the Serpents that dwell within the Void, for Theirs is the wisdom that guides us all. There, thou dost see that Order does not forget the teachings. That is why Order must triumph in this war. Chaos fiends killed the Great Hierophant. It is they who have fallen from the path, not Order."
"So you're, uh, familiar with this Ssithnos guy."
"Ssithnos was the last Great Hierophant. He was a holy man, Steve. The wisdom of the Great Earth Serpent shone in him. It was my honor to meet him once when I was a young warrior, when he came to the Temple of Discipline. That was long before he met his tragic end."
"Young warrior? But you're a machine."
"I have not always been as thou dost see me now. I have spent a lifetime becoming worthy of this honor. I was once flesh and blood, like thee, a warrior of Order. I was chosen to be tested shortly before the war began."
"Only those warriors possessing unswerving Discipline, flawless Ethicality, and the finest Logic are selected for testing. Of all of those brought before the Order Hierophant, only a few hands of that number withstand the testing. Of that number, less than a hand make the final sacrifice. I am one of the elite... The ultimate Order warrior. I have traded my body for eternal service to Order."
"Well... go you, I guess. So back to your story, you saw him at the Temple of Discipline, which of course is..."
"The Temple was once my home, Steve. It was my privilege to serve as a guard for the Master of Discipline. It was there that the long road to this keep began. The Temple is the primary staging and training area for our efforts in this accursed war. It is the headquarters of the High Command. All respect to them! The High Command are the highest ranking Order officers who report directly to the Order Hierophant. It is they who are charged with fulfilling the will of the Order Serpent to unite the world under the Ethicality and Discipline of Order."
"So getting back to this whole war thing-"
"The followers of Chaos broke the Teaching and plunged the land into war. It is they who murdered the Great Hierophant. It is they who have killed thousands of peaceful followers of Order. The followers of Chaos must be held responsible for their crimes. There is no Great Hierophant to oversee justice, so it must fall to Order to see that the shedding of blood is met in kind until Chaos bows before Order, and Balance is restored."
"Oh, yeah, how dare they break the Teaching... whatever that is."
"Before Ssithnos was murdered, this land thrived in Balance. Order and Chaos each knew their duty, their place within the scheme of life. Both factions were equal, held in check by the authority of the Great Hierophant. All people were taught that this had always been so, and must remain so. That was the will of the Great Earth Serpent, so that all people would reap the bounty of Balance's peace. But the Great Hierophant was murdered and now there is no peace. There is no bounty... only war and bloodshed. It was Chaos that brought us to this crossroad, and it is they who will pay."
"Are you familiar with the Great Earth Serpent?"
"Why wouldst thou ask me? Thou art the Champion of Balance. How could I instruct thee in such a matter? But I would venture to ask thee a question, Steve. Do not take this amiss, for I do not mean to disparage thee. But... What hope is there for thee, the Champion of Balance, to restore Balance if the Great Hierophant is dead? Without him to voice the will of the Great Earth Serpent, how canst thou hope to succeed?"
"Steve, I believe we are-"
"In the past, yes, I'm not stupid, Iolo. Well, knowing that I suppose I can answer his question: You can't. We're screwed. Game over, robot man, game over."
"Thou art truly worthy of the title Champion of Balance."
"Only a true warrior understands that duty is all that remains when hope is lost. I salute thee, Steve, for thy path is difficult, but thy name shall be honored among warriors."
"Well that is just fantastic. Hey, let me ask you a few more non-suspicious questions. What's this Isle of Crypts?"
"How canst thou be the Champion of Balance and not know of the Isle of Crypts?! I suspect thee to be an imposter with each question thou dost utter! But I have been taught that it is the duty of all people to aid a pawn of prophecy. I must hold fast to the belief that, if thou art false, thou wilt fall to a fate worse than any I could mete out. So I shall tell thee what little a warrior of Order knows. I hope that it instructs thee well, if thou art truly the Champion of Balance, for thou art woefully ignorant of thy duty."
"Just get on with it, sparky."
"The Isle of Crypts is the very heart of Balance. It is believed that the island was once the dwelling place of the Great Earth Serpent, before He journeyed into the Void to bring Balance to the universe. It is common knowledge that this hallowed ground is the final resting place of all the Great Hierophants... though I know not if this is true of poor Ssithnos. It is also said that the island is the home of the Acolytes of Balance, though I would have thought that thou wouldst have known more of this than I."
"Where is it?"
"Thou art most certainly not what I would have expected from the Champion of Balance."
"But it is not my place to judge a pawn of prophecy. I regret to inform thee that I do not know the exact location of the Isle of Crypts. It is somewhere in the north-west, but other than that I know not. I had always hoped that one day I would be able to make a pilgrimage there, but now it shall have to wait until after the war."
"Alright, so, what exactly was it I was expected to do?"
"If thou art truly the Champion of Balance, which I begin to doubt more strongly, then thou must have the Silver Seed to restore Balance to the world. While I will freely tell thee that it is hidden here within this keep, I shall not tell thee where. Thou must be truly illumined before thou wilt find the Seed... However, I shall tell thee that the magical orbs have been lost or scattered. It shall be up to thee to overcome the hazards of this region to obtain these orbs. If thou dost survive in these attempts, I shall be more disposed to believe that thou art the Champion of Balance."
"I'll just jump in here for Steve's sake because she doesn't know either but it looks more credible if I ask, but what the hell is the Silver Seed?"
"The Silver Seed is the acorn from the Tree of Balance. Only once every one hundred centuries does the Tree of Balance cast an acorn. It is our honor to be the keeper of the Seed. When the Great Hierophant was murdered, the Tree of Balance that had existed for time beyond memory withered and died. Once we have crushed Chaos, Calithiss the Avenger shall take a new name -- the Renewer, and plant the seed so that Balance may heal our land."
"So where are the orbs?"
"I am sorry, Steve. My conscious will not allow me to tell thee any more on this subject. I still cannot believe that thou art the Champion of Balance. So thou must find thy own answers. I have aided thee enough. The only thing I will tell thee is that thou shouldst search the areas adjacent to this keep for the orbs. They have been widely scattered... And, take care for those areas are dangerous."
"I have not been at the keep long, Steve, so I cannot yet confirm any of these stories. I shall continue investigating their truth, but I see no reason why the warriors garrisoned here should lie. It is said that there is a dragon, and a lich, nearby. This seems unlikely, as one would usually immediately kill or drive away the other... unless they are in league in some way. There is also an abandoned outpost that is considered to be inhabited by creatures of Chaos. And, of course, there is the unfinished maze... from which Issik, the architect, never returned to reveal the secret of its interior. I am told there is a madman who dwells within one of the caverns near here. The warriors call him the Fiend. They say that he feeds on human flesh. Use caution, but I fear that thou wilt have to scour these areas in search of the orbs thou dost seek."
"Well, that's just great. I guess I'm the Champion of Balance, whatever the hell that is."
"Thou dost possess the lost Amulet of Balance, Steve. According to legend, only the Champion of Balance may bear it... all others would perish. However, I am no Mage. I do not know if this is true. It is said that the Champion will restore Balance and heal our land. As it appears that thou art this long-awaited Champion, I have something which should aid thee."
"It is a key ring, Steve. Although it may seem to be a paltry offering, it is no mere trinket. It is a magical item. Any key that thou dost put upon it will disappear. It shall never weigh more that what it does now. And if any of the keys thou didst put upon it fits a door thou wishest to open, one of the keys that thou dost see upon the keyring now will open it. I hope that thou shall find it useful to thee."
"Who could make something like that?"
"I know not who crafted it, Steve. It is very old, and once belonged to the Order Hierophant. When I made the final sacrifice, Calithiss said, 'Give this to she who shall heal our land.' I know now that she meant thee, Champion. How she knew that I would meet thee I shall never know. But, as always, her wisdom is infallible."
"Why give it to me?"
"It is said that the Champion shall need the keys to the land before Balance shall be restored. I think that this was meant symbolically, but the keyring was made for thee anyway. In this way, Order recognizes what thou shalt do for us all."
"Okay... bye then."
"I am still unconvinced that thou art the Champion of Balance. I suppose only time will tell. Thou art free to go, but I shall be watching thee..."
No, don't ask how Isstanar knows our name. He just does and he is a robot. An exceedingly wordy robot. The good news is there are only four NPCs in the entire keep and he's the mouthiest.
The keyring is a godsend because, as you may notice from this shot, you collect a lot of keys. Add the Skeleton Key and the Keyring becomes an infallible anything-opener and if it fails, you know you've still got a key to find. There is one case in the main game where putting a key on the keyring is a bad idea, but that one instance aside it's perfectly safe (and in fact a very good idea) to stick every key in the game on the keyring.
A minor point of order: There is a hilarious bug in the game similar to the ghosts in the powder shop from earlier. See those black columns in the dining hall? Do not, under any circumstances, double-click them. See, they're reused art assets from a part of the main game that comes later. Touching the pillar in the main game teleports you to a test thing and once you complete that you're teleported back to the pillar. Except every single one of these pillars also does that. Needless to say, you could find yourself in a sequence you don't understand, and then get dumped into a place you've never seen before and can't escape alive . Bad stuff.
Other than a blingin' paint job, the automatons who wander the keep are completely pointless. They won't even speak at all.
"Ah, a new face! And who art thou, stranger, that thou doth risk death by coming here to Serpent's Fang? A servant of Chaos? Hmmm... I think not. I am Surok, the Healer of Serpent's Fang and I perceive that thou art lost. Perhaps I can aid thee, if thou dost wish."
Surok is the healer, resurrection guy, and information NPC for The Silver Seed. There's not a whole lot to him beyond that, I suppose. We can ask him about all the usual stuff:
"I have been here at Serpent's Fang longer than most. Perhaps I can aid thee with information. What dost thou wish to know of?"
People: "There are very few of us here, Steve. I can tell thee what I know, but it is not much. Whom here at Serpent's Fang dost thou wish to know of?"
Isstanar: "He is the Commander of our outpost, though he was not such a year ago. Do not cross him, Steve, for he is terrible in his anger! He believes that those who have not given their lives for the cause of Order are not truly worthy. He has become the 'Ultimate Warrior of Order' and has cast his human body away to become metal. I believe that his soul has become as hardened as his exterior."
Elissa: "She is our Mage. If thou hast gold enough, I am certain she would be willing to teach thee spells. Though she is young, she would like nothing better than to stay youthful -- forever."
Tsandar: "Tsandar is a friend, and I will not speak ill of him. Though I wish that he would confide in me what it is that bothers him these days. He is troubled and perhaps with good cause. I will speak no more on this subject, Steve."
Guards: "The Automatons that thou dost see about our Outpost are our servitors. They act as guards as thou no doubt know already, but they also serve in other ways. Cooks, tailors, blacksmiths... all of these menial tasks can be performed by our metal men."
Strangers: "Other than thyself, Steve, there have been few that were brave enough to enter our Keep. There are three women that profess to be on the side of Order, but I doubt their word. Indeed, I believe them to be agents of Chaos, but they have not attacked us here at Serpent's Fang, and have fought the Chaos creatures that venture forth from the surrounding tunnels. They wait, but for what I am not certain."
We'll meet the three of them later. Between the four people in the Keep and the three women, we'll have met more than half the NPCs in the expansion.
Places: "I know of many places, Steve. Which dost thou wish to know of?"
Abandoned Outpost: "Nine months ago, our Commander was Ardiniss. He led an expedition into our southwest outpost to clear it of infiltrating Chaos agents, and to set mystic traps to kill those that would surely come again. We knew that he was successful in creating the pitfalls, but he never returned. We assumed he was slain by those he sought to slay. He was a good man. If thou dost find his body in thy wanderings, 'twould be kind of thee to return him here to Serpent's Fang."
The Maze: "Hah! 'Twas built by an exceedingly crafty architect indeed! An item of importance was hidden there, and that is all I shall say on the matter."
Aram-Dol's Lair: "Aram Dol is a foul thing that should be destroyed! It exists only to destroy and I fear that if our forces do not return soon, that creature of loathsome chaos will continue to test our defenses and send its unholy servants to our gate! Aram Dol is a powerful sorcerer, and controls items of great power. If thou wert to destroy this demon, I am certain that Isstanar would reward thee!"
We can also ask Surok about strange objects, but he's not interested in anything we found in the main game. Basically he will identify the treasures found in the expansion dungeons, giving us a little info on what they are and where they came from. It's pure flavor, although he does hint at some of the properties of the items if you can't tell from equipping them. Naturally, we just started, so we don't have any (except the Keyring, which he won't comment on).
I'm flipping a switch behind the candlestick here. You need to find this to complete the expansion and it's one of the most nefariously well-hidden things in the entire game. I'm not even sure they give you a hint for this one.
Notice the keg has moved out of the way of a staircase. You can complete the expansion by going down there if you have the four orbs from the dungeons of the expansion. We don't, so there's no point in going down there, so we won't. Instead we'll talk to NPC #3.
"I do not believe I have had the pleasure of meeting thee, Steve. I think it would be wise for thee to prove that thou art not a foul Chaos spy. Make no untoward moves, I warn thee, for I am Elissa, Order Mage of the First Rank."
"What, I'm supposed to be a spy now? I've got five heavily-armed people here, if I were with Chaos we'd outnumber the garrison and this would be an invasion, not a spy mission."
"Unless thou canst prove to me that thou dost not mean harm to DeathWatch, I shall have to turn thee over to Isstanar. Thou wouldst find the experience most unpleasant."
"DeathWatch? Don't you mean Serpent's Fang?"
"'Tis not what our High Command calls it, but then they are not here. To them this is the Serpent's Fang keep. To those of us who have held back the mindless hordes of Chaos, this is DeathWatch keep... Or, now that the war has passed us by, perhaps we should call it DeathWait. Now, thou must have some proof of thy identity..."
"Steve is the Avatar! Thou dost not need any further proof than the fact that the Amulet didst bring us here!"
"What about the Amulet that Karnax didst give thee, Avatar? It brought us here. Perhaps this Mage would recognize it."
"Beware how thou dost speak to the Avatar! Avatar, let us use the Amulet to return to where we were. We have enough to worry with on this quest without such presumptuous women!"
"I have no idea what it is that thy friends speak of, Steve. I mean no disrespect, but I have never heard of 'the Avatar' before."
"You wouldn't be the first, lady."
"But if I might see the Amulet that they speak about, perhaps I can end this questioning now."
"Check the neck, baby."
"No, it cannot be! There has not been a Champion of Balance since before Ssithnos was murdered! I can scarcely believe my eyes! But the item is authentic, that much I am sure of... Forgive my doubts, Steve. I gave little credit to the stories. I thought that they were no more than folk tales born on the eve of war. I did not mean to offend thee."
"Yeah, well, you totally did. Now tell me everything you know about... me."
"Law required that the Great Hierophant remain an impartial judge of the people. No matter what the offense, he could not raise his hand to dispense justice. Only four times in history was there any who dared to defy the word of the Great Hierophant. As these people lived outside of Order and Chaos, neither group could act upon them without usurping the power of Balance. So it fell to the Great Hierophant to choose one among his Acolytes to go and battle these unlawful ones. The Champion was given all the power of Balance and never failed to restore harmony to the land."
"Well, there you go then."
"And yet... Ssithnos was the last Great Hierophant of Balance. But he was foully murdered by the followers of Chaos. He was unable to choose a Champion, but only the Great Hierophant knew the location of the Amulet. Even though thou art ignorant of thy duty, thou art certainly the Champion of Balance. With the death of the Great Hierophant, the land soon fell into confusion. Order vowed vengeance upon Chaos, and those followers of Chaos fled in panic into much of the countryside. During that time, the people began telling of the coming of a Champion of Balance who would see justice done and restore Balance to the world. I thought that it was the prattling of cowards who wished to avoid the coming war. But now that I have seen thee and the Amulet, I am uncertain."
"You're awfully nosy, you know that?"
"This is a time of war! Thou canst not think to wander about unchallenged. 'Twould be a breach of duty if I did not stop and question thee."
"I am sorry, good Mage. Thou art quite right. My apologies."
"We are strangers here. Thou dost well in questioning us. We wrong thee with our demands to be unaccountable."
"Thou must honor thy duty. I apologize for speaking ill of a honorable warrior such as thyself."
"What the hell, guys? Don't suck up to her!"
"Do they do this often, Steve?"
"Often enough to completely piss me off."
"May I help you in any other capacity, Champion of Balance?"
"How about some dirt on the commander?"
"He is the ultimate Order warrior! Nothing touches him. He is bound only by his duty."
"Ultimate warrior? Well, I guess he is a robot."
"Isstanar is invincible! He cannot die. He does not need food or rest. His strength makes even a weapon unnecessary. What army, if filled with warriors such as Isstanar, could not march easily to victory? Soon this accursed war will be over, and I shall retire to a life of research. Who knows, perhaps some day -- once I am sure that I would still have the use of my magic -- I shall make the final sacrifice and become one such as Isstanar."
"How does that even work?"
"Oh, no! Even if I knew how this was accomplished, which I do not, I would not tell thee! My honor is worth more than that! I shall not have it said that I betrayed Order! Besides, I know nothing further than what I have told thee. I have not yet attained that level."
"So when you say nothing touches him..."
"Isstanar has transcended the restraints of the body. All that remains is his iron will and the fine Logic of his mind. Nothing can distract him from his duty. He does not fear, he does not worry. Unlike the rest of us here, he is not consumed by boredom or impatience. He just... is."
"Alright then. Tell us about yourself. You're a First Rank Mage? I assume that's good."
"Thou canst always tell the quality of a Mage by how rank he is... Thou canst smell his superiority for leagues! But I should not jest so... Thou art a stranger and may mistake me. In truth, a Mage's rank reflects his ability. Those of the First Rank have mastered all spells. Those of the Second Rank have mastered the next lowest level of spells, and so on. Although our titles are different, I am equal in rank to SubCommander Tsandar."
"Don't think we've met him."
"Tsandar is now Isstanar's aide, though he commanded the garrison after Commander Ardiniss' death. Tsandar did not take his replacement very well, I fear. Tsandar's devotion to Order is strong, to be sure. But how could he expect to command now that Isstanar is here?"
"And the previous guy?"
"Ardiniss was an old man, Steve. It was he who founded this keep. He was a loyal servant of Order, but he did not keep Discipline as he should have. Fortunately, he was honored by a clean death in battle before anyone could question the strictness of his command."
As suggested by her title, Elissa sells us spells. She only accepts gold coins (what with the other forms of currencies not existing yet), and doesn't have a wide selection, but she does have this spell, Vibrate. Vibrate is a fantastically broken spell for various reasons but I want to save that for another day. Suffice it to say it does what used to be just a cheat mode function in Black Gate (although, unfortunately, that key command seems not to exist in Exult).
The loot in the keep is pretty lean. There's nothing altogether exciting in the keep's main areas, although these Serpent Arrows are a nice find. Serpent Arrows are even stronger than Magic Arrows, turning a Magic Bow into an 18-damage long-range engine of annihilation. Too bad we have to dig them up out of Ophidian ruins, or in this case, Ophidian not-ruins.
And then it's down to the basement for SubCommander Tsandar, the last NPC in DeathWatch.
"A moment, m'lord!"
"Who art thou?! But wait -- Thou dost wear the Amulet of Balance! I am no lord, stranger. I am merely a warrior. Thou mayest address me by name or title. I am SubCommander Tsandar."
"SubCommander is a little awkward, isn't it?"
"When I was assigned to this garrison, I was Senior File Leader. Then, nine months ago, when those Chaos fiends took Commander Ardiniss, I was was made Garrison Commander. Naturally, now that Isstanar is here, I have become the SubCommander."
"What's a senior file leader?"
"Ones rank denotes how many warriors one is responsible for. It is always an even number of men, measured in hands -- or groups of five. A Senior Warrior commands one hand of warriors, and reports to the Junior File Leader. A Junior File Leader is in charge of two hands of warriors, and reports to the File Leader. A File Leader oversees four hands of warriors, and reports to the Senior File Leader. A Senior File Leader controls ten hands of warriors, and reports to the SubCommander of the Garrison. The SubCommander acts as the aide to the Garrison Commander."
"Why an even number?"
"Dost thou not have two hands? Are there not two forces continually at war within the Void -- Order and vile Chaos?
"I'm beginning to think they're not fond of Chaos here."
"Everyone knows that the followers of Chaos practice unnatural acts! By the two hands of Order, we shall wipe the Chaos abomination from the face of the land!"
"Judging by how many of you are left in here, I'm not so sure you're the ones who are going to be doing the wiping off the face of."
"The former Commander Ardiniss was a brave man, Steve. He was responsible for carving this keep out of hostile Chaos territory. No warrior could match the Commander's mind for Logic. Yet even Logic is no match for the sheer number of Chaos followers that fell on us that day... I regret that we were unable to wrest his body from those vile murderers. Ardiniss deserved a proper warrior's funeral."
"So you guys are still at war?"
"After those... those... Chaos monsters murdered the Great Hierophant, it was only natural that command of the land fall to Order. We will make them all pay for their crime!"
"How do you know Chaos was the one who did it?"
"Sithnos was the last Great Hierophant, Steve. He was murdered when I was but a boy, over three hands of years ago now. The Great Hierophant was the Voice of the Great Earth Serpent... Only the will of the Great Earth Serpent could keep the animosity of Order and Chaos at bay. Only the Great Hierophant's wisdom kept Balance within the land. The last Acolytes of Balance spirited Ssithnos' body away, and the warriors of Order swore vengeance upon Chaos... We have been at war ever since."
"Yes, but how do you know that... oh fuck it. Tell me about these serpents you - and apparently I although I won't admit to knowing anything about it - worship."
"Of course, Champion. The Order Serpent dwells within the Void, eternally battling the Chaos Serpent. Only the strength of the Great Earth Serpent could separate these ancient enemies. But something happened within the Void... I know not what. The power of the Great Earth Serpent is no longer felt, and we no longer have the wisdom of Sithnos to guide us. Our land is doomed unless we can restore it to Order."
"And what will you do after you've done that?"
"Ethicality is one of the major tenets of Order, Steve. By forcing those depraved followers of Chaos to conform with the accepted moral standards of Order we shall end the decadence that Tolerance has spread. Wouldst thou allow a thief or a murderer to enter thy home, to dwell alongside thy loved ones? Yet this is what insanity Chaos preaches! They would have it thought that even those who practice unnatural acts must be accepted as part of the fabric of life! Better that such fabric be unwoven or burned!"
"Ohhhhhhh, I'm starting to get it now. Hey, somebody ask him about Discipline."
"Alright, I'm game. What do you think of Discipline, SubCommander?"
"Discipline is what gives meaning to my life! Once we have yoked the laggard followers of Chaos to the Discipline of Order, there will be peace in the land! It matters not if one has no Enthusiasm for one's orders. Those in command know what must be done, that is enough for a true warrior. Imagine what would happen if everyone went about doing only what they pleased, only what appealed to them! Nothing would ever work smoothly again, for there are always distasteful tasks to be performed. Yet the followers of Chaos feel that no one should be constrained to do anything they do not wish to do! Who then would dig latrines, or collect refuse, or bury the dead? The land would soon be overrun by disease and vermin!"
"Yeah, I figured that was what he'd say. Alright then, how's the battle gone?"
"For more than two hands of years, Order has fought only a holding battle against the forces of Chaos. Nothing we did could give us an advantage over their numbers. But now that we have the automatons, nothing can stand in our way! DeathWatch was situated on the spear's point in the confrontation... Now we guard the lines of retreat. I only wish we knew more than what Commander Isstanar had to tell us when he arrived a few weeks ago."
"So the automatons are your secret weapon?"
"Are they not a marvel?! Look at how they go about their tasks without complaint! They have no cares, no concerns... only their assigned duty. Since our mages discovered the way to imbue their metal bodies with life, Chaos has been without hope! With metal warriors to lead the way, victory will soon be ours!"
"You guys expecting my help on this? Because I've got this appointment... later... to save some other people."
"When the Great Hierophant was struck down, tales spread through the land saying that a warrior would arise to avenge the death of Sithnos. The Amulet thou dost wear is one that only the Champion of Balance could wear. I do not know how thou couldst wear it and live, if thou art not the chosen Champion. But I do not understand how thou couldst not know of thy duty, if thou art the chosen Champion. This is most perplexing... My Logic does not seem equal to the task. Speak with Isstanar or Surok."
"Do you think Surok would know?"
"Surok is our healer. He is very old, and I fear that his resolve is weakening. He has not yet failed in his duty, but I have advised Isstanar to watch him closely nonetheless. We cannot allow any lapse in Discipline. I suspect that he has lost sight of the absolute Ethicality. Surok has been a fearless warrior in his day, as well as a healer. It is a sign of his aging, assuredly, but he seems... well, less sure of the right of our cause. I hope that I die in battle, that no one may doubt my dedication to Order!"
"How did he lose sight of his Ethicality?"
"We captured a Chaos monster lurking on the outskirts of the keep nearly a month ago. It was a fearsome beast -- an impossible cross between a man and a cat. It was my immediate thought that this creature might be Chaos' answer to our automatons. So I brought the beast to Surok to dissect. I have no way to prove this, of course, else I would have gone to Isstanar. But I believe that Surok was taken in with pity for the beast and allowed it to escape. The beast fled into the Endless Maze, and we have been unable to recapture it. I could not afford to risk any warriors to hunt it down, and we have not seen the monster again."
"I don't like the sound of an endless maze."
"Issik the Architect came to the keep before the start of the war. It was his duty to create an impossible maze to protect the treasures of the Order. But when the war started, Issik was told that he only had three months to complete the work. No one knows what became of him, for he never came out. The three rescuers who sought to find him never returned. The entrance to the Maze was locked... until the beast stole the key during its escape."
The important thing here is that we've learned who created the automatons, and why. It's worth observing that automatons should theoretically only appear in Ophidian areas belonging to Order. This should in theory allow one to identify which areas are Order and which are Chaos, although there are many other clear clues as to which side an Ophidian temple or ruin belongs. Naturally, we have yet to see any examples of either, but we will.
Which leaves us on the way out of the keep. There are four areas to enter in the expansion, and we can do them in any particular order. I realize audience participation has never been much of a strong point here, but if you've got a particular order you'd like to see them done in, feel free to opine, otherwise I'll just do them in some random order. The locations are:
The Maze: No combat, but not much treasure either. It's a puzzle (a maze, to be specific) and rather easy to solve. Only one NPC of note to speak with.
Aram-Dol's Lair: Combat-heavy, including a battle against a lich. Has some very nice loot, but it's pretty much all at the end.
Abandoned Outpost: Some combat, some puzzle solving, a little bit of sifting through rubble and whatnot. Decent treasure and a bit of fun, but one of the less interesting areas. Might take a while, I seem to recall it being a bit long.
The Fiend's Cave: Combat-heavy, and against fairly tough monsters. One of the expansion's funnier NPCs is also there. Very long and confusing, with traps and stuff aplenty and lots of getting lost. Contains a few treasures, including the single best treasure in the expansion, and possibly the game.
Aram-Dol's and the Fiend's are probably the toughest and longest. The Maze is by far the shortest and easiest. Gotta do them all to finish the expansion though.
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: We are the Champion of Balance apparently. In the past. OoooooooOOOooooooooOOOOOOoooooooo.