Well, time to go 3 for 3 on Black Stones! But first, some things I learned from loading screens today:
- The ‘Black Guardian’ lives in the deepest depths of the Undercity. I thought I’d gotten as deep in there as one could go, but apparently not! After all, everyone knows that ancient legends of dubious origin are as good as gold, especially if they come from the mouths of cloaked old men in taverns.
- The Starfall that Calia mentioned last time? Turns out it’s a meteorite impact that split the continent of ‘Pangora’ in year 0. So when she says she’s the biggest joke since Starfall? That’s all of recorded history.
Just making sure we’re all on the same page regarding her level of self-loathing.
- I knew that the dead are incinerated in Enderal, but it appears that it’s a whole production. During the ‘Last Journey’, the deceased are taken to a special place in their lives to attend one last sunset there. The body is then cremated and its ashes spread over that location.
Wonderful world-building, although it makes you wonder… so like, the local church or midwife’s residence probably just have to deal with having their front stoop covered in ashes semi-regularly?
- “Beautiful and proud, the ruler of the Undercity. Her sinful womb bore fruit and horror grew along.” - Song of the Vatyr
I am pretty glad the tavern bards don’t sing that
So, allowing for artistic license… the Vatyr are mutants or something? Born from humans? Really puts a creepy spin on the Undercity orphanage being covered in Vatyr. Enderal is really just a deep, dark hole with no bottom, isn’t it?
- Okay, so the last Black Stone is in the possession of a noble’s bastard son, shipped away so that he wouldn’t shame the Dal’Geyss name. Naturally, my map marker is pointing to the very easternmost tip of the continent, across the mountains, at the end of the Powder Desert, well past Jespar’s family home.
- There’s actually a fair amount of difficult side nonsense on the way.
There’s another ancient ruin, Old Askamahn. I feel like there was a quest about this place from the smuggler town in Powder Desert, something about a man heading off to steal the riches out from under the Order’s nose and inviting his friend to catch up? (I stole the key he left behind, natch).
I’ll swing back by and do this one if I remember, but right now it’s mostly noticeable for me being attacked outside it by two lions, two black panthers, and an actual gorilla called ‘Old Tyarge’ that knocks me off Whirlwind’s back with one swing. Considering that you can’t ride with summoned weapons, this puts me in the thick of it while unarmed, which is not a fun place to be.
That thief power that stops time is still the best thing that ever happened to me; it’s got a long cooldown but it’s basically (now that I’ve upgraded it twice) two or three free kills in any big fight.
- Beyond that is a place called the Powder Mine.
The fort topside is peopled by bandits and a lot of dead guards, which is always fun to see. I mean, not that I’m a sadist or anything, but I appreciate that some of these valuable mines weren’t taken without a fight, you know?
At first I thought what I was seeing was the Nehrimese taking over a mine only to then be murdered right back by bandits and wild mages, but the heraldry is wrong. Griffin standing upright, not phoenix.
My second thought is, did I already come by here and murder everyone? But no, I'm definitely not the culprit here, because they still have all their clothes.
I’m not sure who these poor schlubs are; the only city in the Powder Desert is Duneville, guarded by those Watchdog guys in black leather.
- I figured it wouldn’t be too tough to poke my head in for a minute (I was wrong), mines are usually much smaller than those old ruins (also wrong).
The air is hazy and wavery, like heat mirages in the desert. Probably not terribly good for living people, but I appear to be fine.
Looks like this is where sulfur and whatnot is turned into blackpowder, which means that yes, the bandits also control the continent’s major source of blackpowder.
The bandits are at least half made up of mages, including an Oorbaya summoner and a couple of guys with fireball staffs. I dunno how staffs work exactly, but as far as I can tell there’s basically no wind-up casting with them. A mage with a fireball staff will simply explode you repeatedly until you are dead or his staff runs out of energy. The constant explosions serve as their own kind of smokescreen, which makes those guys a bitch to actually find and stab in the midst of all the fire.
There’s a box full of ‘confiscated scrolls’ of fireball which presumably are meant to be used at the big throw-down at the deepest levels (there’s an oily multi-colored substance all over the place that usually catches on fire when fire spells/arrows are used on it), but honestly I’m kind of afraid of blowing us all to kingdom come so I just wade in and stab people until I win.
On the way out, I notice that there’s a lot of people in nice robes called ‘Scientists’, bloody and dead at their desks.
It’s not like this is news by now, but it’s nice to see the Skyrim-like wordless storytelling tradition is alive and well. I do wish there was some writing explaining who these guys work for, though! I did spot one corpse wearing Order novitiate red, though, so probably affiliated with the Order somehow.
- The next setpiece appears to be a village of gorillas! Gorilla-like things called Tyargs, anyway.
The buildings are of a unique adobe-like design, rounded and bright yellow stone.
The gorillas appear to be willing to live and let live as I ride through, though, so what the hey. I ride on.
Immediately afterwards, however, control is taken away from me and the Prophetess decides she has had quite enough of riding and dismounts.
Things get wavy like it’s time for a Future Vision, but instead I just hit the floor like the tail end of a 6 hour marathon drinking session.
- The ground behind us has been the subject of a sudden and inexplicable rockfall.
There’s a ‘sudden, sharp pain’ if you try to use a teleport scroll.
All right, Enderal. Show me whatever weird-ass thing you’ve got up your sleeve.
- I actually meet a fellow human being, which is already promising. ‘The Guardian’ suggests that at night the Bonerippers (remember them? Man-sized lizardfolk? From all the way back in the Kor side-quest!) come out of their caves, and if I don’t want to meet them I should take shelter inside.
My character rightfully points out that, as a heavily-armed woman with a skull for a helmet (Skaragg armor being what it is), wielding two ghostly sabers and trailed by a lightning-wreathed elemental like a faithful hound, perhaps just letting me inside is a little careless?
Look, self, there’s no point in being self-aware now
. Ark and Duneville let you in without a peep, and my night would not be improved any by having to fight off more bonerippers.
Anyway, the Guardian is of the opinion that “trust has to start somewhere”, and I applaud his determination to keep my bones inside where they belong.
As he throws the switch, he mentions they’re living very well after some boy found a silver vein. Now that sounds plot-relevant. How much do you want to bet that’s the one I’m here for?
- Silvergrove is looking very nice. It’s got its own little oasis biome, with watermills and ruins and things (most with locked doors).
Several buildings in town are also locked. Not entirely sure if that’s to give the appearance of an expansive area without needing to work on the particulars, or if something else
is going on.
- Okay, so tinfoil hat time.
First thing you run into when you get to town? You meet a little girl who says, unprompted, ‘Ryneus has the greatest father in the world! I’m really jealous!’
At the general store? The owner gossips, ‘Have you heard? Ryneus’s father patched up a weird sphere his boy found in the old ruin.’ and after a short conversation his girl pal concludes with, ‘By the righteous path, thank goodness I live here instead of that stinkhole of a city, Ark!’
At the tavern? The innkeeper tells the founding myth of Silvergrove: a rich family moved out to the end of the world, and were blessed with a brilliant young son, Sunaeri. You know how it is in myths, where the myth hero can talk at 6 months and wrestle bears by the time he’s 3 and all that? That’s this kid.
So due to a rockslide or something, the couple found themselves starving. When the parents were emaciated and dying, for they gave all their remaining food to their son Sunaeri, Sunaeri cried, begged the gods for help, and from his tears sprung flowers and greenery and the oasis as it is today. And with a smile on his lips, Sunaeri died.
The last data point: the innkeeper, when asked why her place is named the Silent Moon’s Inn? She can’t remember. Blurry, like a dream. She blames the brandy, of course.
- So. It occurs to me that, if Dal’Geyss ever told me his son’s name, I don’t remember it. But I wonder, if he’d told me before I left, would it be Ryneus… or Sunaeri?
This little town seems to revolve around this boy and his father. The little girl who tells everyone she meets how jealous she is about Ryneus’s father. The boy finding a silver lode and making the town rich as Croesus. The father being able to fix up a piece of Starling tech.
How special! How… main character of him. And what would a boy who is sent away as the shame of his noble father want, more than anything?
Fame. Money. Specialness. A father who makes all the little boys and girls jealous, instead of that cock Dal’Geyss.
- Consider the myth. The rockfall that cut them off from the world, just as the Prophetess has been cut off.
Dal’Geyss’s mistress died of sickness, emaciated and weary just like the parents in the story, managing to send him away with the Black Stone as a little bit of rebellion before she died. A boy who, lost, despairing, alone… wept an oasis into being. A lost child, what better time and place for the High Ones’ influence to creep in?
-The tavernkeeper who doesn’t remember her own history. If someone sprung fully-formed from a young boy’s tears to populate an old building named the Silent Moon’s Inn… she wouldn’t know where the name came from, would she?
The woman at the general store talking about 'that stinking hole, Ark' sure seemed deeply anti-Ark, which might be nothing... but it would also be just what some poor kid sent away from the capital to live in disgrace would think about the place he was forced out of. 'I didn't want to live in your shitty town anyway, dad!'
Guess I’ll find out next time.
Very promising start, and at this point I have full confidence SureAI is going to deliver something fun. The sidequests can be hit and miss, but Enderal really does shine best when the claws come out and it’s time once again to fuck with your head.