( Spoiler Warning for Icewind Dale! If that bothers you, skip this post. If you are starting now wit this "Let's Play" you can find an index of it on the archives on the top menu. )
When we last left our heroes they had just killed a bunch of snakemen pretending to be priests living a peaceful life deep into the mountains. They also saved another group of adventurers who were prisoners from said snakemen. Those adventurers were even cool to watch over our heroes while they rested. Once they were fully recovered it was time to explore what lied beyond this farce of a temple.
The first thing they found is something really unexpected: a weird little girl delivering some cryptic message!
Before they can ask anything the girl just teleports away. As the party cuts their way through snakemen, the girl appears a few more times doing the same thing. Each time though the message becomes slightly less cryptic and more like "get out of here unless you want a very painful death."
This is another area that was tricky due to the large number of snakemen the party has to fight their way through. That makes them have to go slowly and careful least they become overwhelmed. There are also traps in some parts so I make Goldilocks to scout ahead to find those and disarm them.
There is also a very amusing encounter with a near blind snakeman torturer who can't recognize the party at first and asks them if they are a student or a patient. While the party tries to figure out what he means by that the snakeman finally realizes they are intruders and call the guards to attack them.
Despite all the difficulties the party is able to get to a large chamber where the strange little girl stands in the middle, on a platform that seems reserved for the local boss.
This time however she is finally speaking plainly instead of being cryptic. The girl is even nice enough to answer some questions. According to her the snake people, or Yuan-Ti as she quickly corrected the party, are her faithful followers and heirs to the kingdom she will leave behind once her business on this plane is over. That business being an old vendetta against an enemy the girl would not disclose the identity of. From her talk though it seems to be something related to other planes as she mentions it being a war where the heroes' world is just another battlefield for them. There is also a mention of it being a conflict between principles, one of order and the other of freedom. Beyond that the girl claims that their minds wouldn't comprehend it. Well, not without going crazy in the process. As for the Heartstone Gem it is another resource in her little war, one that she is not willing to give over no matter how nice the party asks for it. And since the party wouldn't leave without the hearthstone gem the girl decided it was better to try to kill them. She transformed into a big snake lady with four arms called Yxunomei.
This was a pretty nasty boss. At the beginning of the fight she casts a poisonous cloud that will damage anyone who enters into it. She can also summons a group of low HP undead on top of the party and since she has four arms she can do multiple attacks per turn. Oh, there were also a bunch of snakemen, sorry, Yuan-Ti helping her out too.
Despite all that it wasn't a brutal fight as some fights before it. I think it took me only a couple of tries or so before I figured a strategy to win this one. It was still tense though as I had to kill her fast before she killed one of my party members or one of her summoned undead killed one of my squishy party members in the back. Once she was down the others weren't all too hard.
Oh, and that was the part I was fearing a couple posts back. For some reason this fight traumatized me so much back in the days that one of the few vague memories I have of the game was of the snakemen. Although I remembered all of them as being bigger, meaner and with four arms.
With the enemies dead they were able to take the hearthstone gem off Yxunomei's body. I was expecting it to be some kind of big orb thing but turns out it looked like just a normal gem with an ugly brown color.
Mission accomplished, it was time to head back to Kuldahar!
The trip was relatively uneventful except that once they got back to town it was being attacked by Neo Orogs. What are Neo Orogs? I have no idea but from the pictures they look like some kind of wolf-man-thingies?
This was obviously a very, very bad sign. The party quickly fought their way through Neo Orogs towards Arundel's house. Fortunately the arch-druid seemed unharmed, the party debriefed on what they found on Dragon's Eye and then... he thanked them for destroying his old nemesis!
Hansel, being a paladin, quickly sensed that this "Arundel" was a fake. As the party asked about his identity his only reply was that he was but a "simple priest, spreading the gospel of suffering to the masses." Fake Arundel also told the party to start praying for soon they would know the litany of his religion. Oh, and if they were interested they could find the real Arundel on the upper floor, bleeding to death. Then he disappeared.
The party hurried away to the upper floor, finding Arundel laying on the floor almost dead. The party asked what happened but he didn't make much sense. Apparently it was something that looked like a man but so creepy that even nature itself stayed away from it. The creature came into the middle of night, looking just like Arundel, and just with a touch started to drain his life away. As our heroes tried to do something to save the Arch Druid he just interrupted them, saying that he was a goner already and they should take the Hearthstone Gem to the Severed Hand fortress. In there they could find the last person capable of using the powers of the Hearthstone Gem, an elven archmage called Larrel that has been imprisoned there. With the last of his strength Arundel made it so that nature could guide them to their new destination.
The party left the house, in sorrow, swearing to avenge the Arch Druid and to protect Kuldahar.*
Now I am just surprised the fake Arundel just didn't take the Hearthstone Gem away when he could. I mean, sure, Arundel was pretty much dead and unable to use the gem himself. But why take the risk and not steal the only resource the heroes had to end up whatever evil scheme is going on? I guess the fake Arundel was either too arrogant or ignorant that there could be someone else capable of using the gem. And thinking well, I guess it was for the better. Going into another goose chase for the Hearthstone Gem would probably be very boring.
Speaking of other people, I wonder why that Larrel fellow will even help the party. I mean, for one he is an elf. Elves are just trouble in themselves. For another, he was put in prison, for what I assume was a good reason. So part of me is just expecting some backstabbing in the near future. I guess we'll have to get there to see it.
Before that though I do want to make a post to give a very superficial explanation on the AD&D 2E rules, as they are implemented in Icewind Dale. Just so people can have an idea of why I am having so much trouble with fights lately.
Oh, and I don't know if this was a bug or if something unfortunate happened to the people saved from the snakemen but none of them were back in Kuldahar. Not even the High Priestess. And I didn't see them still in the caves while the party was leaving either. My guess is a bug since they left before finishing the dungeon to resupply in Kuldahar. But it is an amusing thought that they might have got somehow lost in the mountains because it took too long for the party to finish their business in the Dragon's Eye.
* Goldilocks did go back later to retrieve Anduriel's magical staff. Just in case she can find a next of kin to deliver it to. It is totally not to sell in the next pawnshop as soon as all this mess is over. No, siree!