Part 47: SKULLCRUSHER - Assuredly The Worst Archaeologists Ever
Assuredly The Worst Archaeologists Ever
I still don't know why that parrot is here, but in my previous experience parrots are invincible, so we won't mess with this dude. There is, however, the matter of the doorway. I don't think you were meant to get through here. The designers seemed to have been working on the east tunnels, but I guess ran out of ideas for what to do with it and left it incomplete and locked away. There are a few things on the other side though, so let's get hackmovin'.
You may note the weirdness on the right edge of the screen. There's actually more tunnels under the black and white areas, it's just got a strange overlay for some reason.
Most of the corpses have nothing on them, but one has a book I don't think exists elsewhere in Skullcrusher:
IS THERE HOPE?
I do not know what to do anymore. I am desperate. We are all going to die, I know it. I and my children are going to die and there is no way for me to protect mine own flesh and blood...
It all began with the soldiers entering the city. Without any warning they attacked us. They began to kill people immediately, the elderly, the children and us women. Those heartless and cold-blooded bastards do not care...
Mine only hope is that our men will return in time to defend and protect us. Our food supplies are frighteningly low. Soon we all will be starving. I am already eating only the bare minimum. All my rations I give to my children, hoping that they will survive until our rescuers arrive. I need to support them in every way I possibly can, they are our future -- they are my life. I could not forgive myself if anything happened to them...
I do not know if I have the strength to wait for the rescue. If there is no chance for us to survive and wait for them, I will have to choose. The choice is between letting those murderers enjoy us -- or else...
Which doesn't quite square with what we've been told about the War of Imbalance. Order claims Chaos masterminded the assassination of the Great Hierophant and sparked the war. Chaos seems to think they were attacked at random by Order, and those who weren't murdered killed themselves.
This probably means something, but I think we've already guessed it.
The tunnels are otherwise fairly uninteresting. They weren't populated with monsters, so there's nothing to show off, really. Nothing but this staircase. You'd figure that if the room were unfinished, the stairs wouldn't have a teleport egg, and would just go nowhere.
"Ehhhhh, I think we made a wrong turn at Skullcrusher."
The stairs warp you to this completely blank patch of ocean west of the ice floe area. I suspect this part was earmarked for the next area of the east Skullcrusher tunnels, and budget and time crunches kept them from actually putting anything here.
The same cannot be said of the north doors. We can get through these, and in fact, we have to. We don't have to do it now, technically speaking, and in a certain sense we probably don't want to because we'd just have to do it again later, but we're here, and theres a very fascinating clue at the end if you realize what you're looking at.
"But first, we've got to get through those doors."
"If I were a servant of Chaos, where would I hide the key?"
"Key? We've been carrying the key all along, Shamino!"
"Indeed. Iolo? Pass me a 'key.'"
"I wonder why I never thought of doing th-"
"There, you see? They've never built a door they could keep me out with."
"Awful lot of history just went up in smoke."
"If old dead people didn't want their crap collapsing into heaps, they should've left the doors unlocked. And maybe left a brochure."
I forget if this method is hinted at later in the game, or if you're just expected to try it. The annoyance factor here is high because if you try the same thing on the east doors, nothing happens. So if you'd tried it there first, you'd reasonably conclude it doesn't work.
Well, it does work. And it leads to what may be the single most annoying dungeon area in either Ultima VII game. It's not hard, just long and meandering and kind of pointless. For every cool thing you find, there's dozens of trolls or scorpions or mutants.
The tunnels twist and turn to the north, occasionally opening into little mushroom parks. The parks have monsters. Sometimes the monsters get stuck behind some mushrooms, slowing the game down in combat mode but making themselves unkillable without magic or other wasted time.
Sooner or later we come to these stairs leading deeper into Skullcrusher's depths.
Where trolls have taken up residence. I actually don't mind the trolls so much because at least they drop loot in some fashion (gold and gems). Everything else down here exists strictly to piss us off.
Which is a shame, because these tunnels appear to be the commercial district for the people of Chaos. There's bars and restaurants, for example.
Wayyyyyyyyyyyy back in the earliest updates, there was a penned-in area full of farm animals and a teleporter leading to a mysterious serpent ruin. That serpent ruin is here, in Skullcrusher. A key is available to open the doors at last.
If you were playing a legit game of Serpent Isle, this is the most efficient way back from the mainland right now, since the teeth you'll find only take you as far as the Northern Forest. It's an awful lot of work stacking up a crate ladder just to get in and out through here, though.
I wonder if the animals were Vasculio's emergency blood supply. That would explain why some of them are slaughtered in the field.
A key in the Chaos armory. Those leather goods have held up remarkably well, I must say.
Everything gives off the impression of having been interrupted in the middle of things. Like life was just going on as normal when suddenly Order busted in waving their dicks around. But did Order concoct the entire war as an excuse, or did someone earnestly convince them Chaos was responsible for the murder of the Great Hierophant? It's hard to say. I think what Origin was getting at is that the Guardian is responsible for the Imbalance, although it's not immediately clear why. Did he just want to destroy Britannia by destroying the Serpent Isle? How is Batlin supposed to help with this? What was the point of coming here at all?
A music store...
...and an artist's studio.
Everything's been abandoned. There's not much in the way of treasure down here, just crates and barrels stuffed with everyday goods. It's a little bit sad.
"Oh hey, mongbats. I was wondering when those things were going to show up in this game."
"Fifty gold says they never show up again."
"I'll buy into that."
Past the shopping area is a huge forest of mushrooms filled with gremlins.
Dozens upon dozens of gremlins. As if being swarmed by worthless enemies weren't bad enough, their corpses block the path and have to be moved so you can actually walk in the narrow gaps between mushrooms. And more gremlins just keep coming. Intensely annoying.
Yep, more gremlins.
By the time you reach this scribe area/staging hall/dining room, being swamped by skeletons is starting to look like good old fashioned entertainment.
I think this was meant to be a temple library or somesuch, as we're very close to approaching the Temple of Chaos. Unfortunately, most of the corpses are lacking in documents or other hints about where we are.
...leading to yet more stairs. I skipped an entire tunnel segment here, there was just some fighting involved.
"Now we're getting somewhere! A magic lock means whoever lived past here didn't want anyone getting in."
"Despite the fact that a magical lock is openable by anyone with a spellbook, and a secure door is only opened with its proper key. Which makes magical locks less secure than regular ones."
"We can appreciate that irony after we're picking through the dead, get moving."
And dead they are. These guys were probably soldiers, which we haven't seen too many of so far. Why would all the soldiers have fallen back to this place, of all the places in Skullcrusher they could have gone?
Because they were guarding a particularly important place.
"The layout in here kind of sucks."
"Having to walk around the edges of a randomly-shaped pond is a bit of a pain in the ass, yes."
"I can't help but think... if this is the city of Chaos, then..."
"Yes, we all figured it out already. This is the Grand Shrine of Chaos, or whatever you want to call it."
"Wait, you didn't figure this out. You only just realized it because I said so!"
"Right, right, I got an idea from Iolo. Who are they gonna believe on that one?"
"And there's the altar to Chaos, I suppose."
"Kind of an underwhelming end to all of this. I expected something spectacular."
"Then hold onto your charming mustache, because I think I just found something that won't disappoint!"
"A secret passage leading to the true shrine! But how did you-"
"If I've said it once, I've said it a million times before. Avatar."
Welcome to the real Grand Shrine of Chaos. Unless you got lucky and found the secret passage, you wouldn't know that anything was supposed to be back here, but there are a few reasons, in Ophidian lore terms, that you could have been a bit suspicious.
The Ophidian writings refer to the Hierophants entering the Void through something called the Wall of Lights to converse with the Serpents. It seems that the grand shrines dedicated to this each have a Wall of Lights (which, by all indications, is sort of like a Black Gate or Moongate).
Now, how would they have done this? Presumably the Wall of Lights has a key. The Black Gate was made of blackrock, and it responded to blackrock control pylons and was deactivated by blackrock objects.
Batlin arrived in the Serpent Isle inquiring about blackrock artifacts. He knows already about the material's strange tie to the Void and its ability to open portals between worlds.
He then stole a serpent from Andral, the sculptor of Monitor. A perfect match for the Avatar's Blackrock Order Serpent...
"Holy hell, I've figured it out. All of it. What happened to the Ophidians, what's going on with this island, where the Imbalance is coming from, what Batlin is up to. Being in this room has made me fully aware of what he's planning, why it's a threat, and what will happen if he succeeds at opening the Wall of Lights."
"................are you going to tell us?"