Part 5: Things Fall Apart
Act One Chapter Three - Things Fall Apart
Ah, civilisation, at last!
Gates of Mulsantir
: We can seek out an inn or flophouse within the city. When you are feeling ready, we should pursue this mystery of yours.
: I've brought you here to speak with Lienna - she'll hopefully know what happened to you in the barrow - and why.
: You've mentioned Lienna before. Who is she?
This bodes well.
: Perhaps she'll be able to satisfy your curiosity, as well as mine.
: Whoever Lienna is, we'll soon find out what she knows.
: Though I did send ahead a pair of servants to find her... and they have yet to return...
: Homunculi - sentient creatures crafted by my magics.
: Sort of like me - only they're not as smart. Or as good looking.
: Much like Kaji - only these were more primitive creations. It would not surprise me if they got lost on the way.
: But this is my first encounter with these lands - what little I know is based on rumors of crazed barbarians and the masked witches that rule them.
: Masked witches? I'm certainly far from the Sword Coast...
: Yes, and the Rashemi are not famous for their hospitality. They are especially distrusting of... Red Wizards.
Not unfair, considering the Red Wizards have tried to conquer Rashemen hundreds of times.
One last thing.
: I need to know what really happened back in the barrow.
: Back in the barrow, there was a moment when you seemed to be hearing sounds... or voices.
: I think I... I think I need to avoid spirit-infested barrows. The chatter of the dead... isn't meant for mortal ears. Let's just keep moving.
Hmm... is that hesitation due to fear, or something else?
: Now, if there's nothing else, I think we should go and find Lienna.
: These robes display my rank and affiliation as a Red Wizard... and the locals care very little for my people.
Safiya's disguise apparently resembles a typical Rashemi peasant. We'll see later on (when we get into Mulsantir) that it looks nothing like actual Rashemi peasant garb.
Anyway, behold: glorious Mulsantir!
Mask is smaller in scope than NWN2, but that just means all of the areas have had that little extra attention which makes them look much nicer. There's trees, a lake, a gentle slope up to the rather impressive city walls, and a big open plain right outside that'll get some use very shortly.
Shelvedar Nuum is a half-elf merchant from neighbouring Thesk. He warns us of an army of spirits approaching Mulsantir baying for the blood of some 'trespassing foreigner,' whoever that is.
He also gives us directions to Lienna and her theatre, the Veil. Handily, it's placed right in the centre of town.
* * *
Mulsantir's all locked up at the moment, as everyone prepares for the imminent spirit siege.
This here's the Veil. We'll be seeing a lot of it throughout the game.
Oh! Hey, there's a Red Wizard inside. And he brought some of his gnoll chums too. Maybe he's a friend of Safiya's?
: What are you doing here? And what did you do to Ipsit and Sefi?
: We caught them nosing around the theater. The gnolls toyed with them for a while, before dismembering them... your primitive little creations are no more.
: What is this? How did you get in here?
: He's one of the necromancy students... from the Academy.
: When I left to find you, my mother was busy taking care of some... upstart wizards at the academy. No doubt, he's another pawn in this ridiculous coup.
: A shame I can't let you walk free, stranger. But you're as likely to warn the Witches as to flee.
: As for you, Safiya - Araman would have us strangled if we let the headmistress's daughter slip away for a second time...
I could have Intimidated my way out of a fight, but this battle has an educational purpose. It's the first difficult battle in the campaign and it sorta sets the tone for how things are gonna be in Mask.
Let's do some number-crunching-and-comparison:
Our previous arch-nemesis, Black Garius, was an undead mage of exceptional ability who in life used his power to become master of the Arcane Brotherhood of Luskan, one of the most cutthroat organisations on the Sword Coast, and then after his death became the right-hand of an ancient world-destroying evil, the King of Shadows. He was the Big Bad End Guy for NWN2.
He was 20th Level. Only the King of Shadows had more levels than him.
This Red Wizard (who doesn't even have a name) is a trainee necromancer still studying at a Thayan Academy and acting as a disposable minion for his superiors. He's the first encounter in the Mulsantir module.
He's also a Level 9 Wizard/10 Red Wizard and all his gnoll buddies are 10th Level Barbarians with 18 Hit Die.
It's a vicious fight, but also reassuringly D&D-esque. The meat-shield gnolls do barely any damage but get in the way long enough for the wizard to summon a Horned Devil and then stun Calliope, reducing our active party members to 'one' instantly. If you're not careful this no-name scrub will wipe the floor with you.
I got him in the end, though.
: That Red Wizard wasn't alone... there's more of them, and they've followed Lienna into the back rooms.
: How long ago? And how many of them were there?
: Not long. I counted three or four Wizards, and a handful of their dog-faced brutes.
: And whatever creatures they may summon to aid them. All for one old woman...
Ah, of course. Wait, what?
: She's fled through the shadow door, I'm sure of it. Still... such tricks won't stop Red Wizards, not for long.
: Here, take this. As long as you've got this stone, the shadow door will open for you, and you'll be able to follow.
: You trust me? Just like that?
Magda and the other actors scarper out through the front door, while we make our way backstage.
: Something's... not right. I told them not now! Why didn't I- my head!
: What's wrong?
: There's this... ringing in my ears and this... burning, my skin's burning. No, please don't!
: Don't what? Are you feeling all right?
: I... I thought you were going to try to help me... I was just saying, don't bother. I... think the pain is subsiding.
Safiya responds best to respectful concern.
: I wanted to... I mean... thank you - for your concern, that is. But I suppose I owe you an explanation.
: I sometimes hear voices that are, well, not quite my own. Though this is only the second time that the voices have been accompanied by pain.
: I keep hoping to find some logic to the whispers but... they just come and go without reason.
: You said this was the second time the voices brought pain? When was the first?
: They sound human... familiar, almost. Quite often, the voices are more of a distant haze. But sometimes, whole words come across.
: During my apprenticeship, I read from the wrong scroll and, not knowing what I was doing, nearly incinerated myself.
: Before I could finish the chant, a voice in my head cried out and broke my concentration. It saved my life.
Oh, cool, Safiya has schizophrenia. I've always thought games should have more positive representations of people with mental illness (Calliope is one of the negative representations).
The rest of the gnolls are waiting backstage. However, we've yet to see any of the other Red Wizards Magda mentioned.
A portal pops up in the corner of the room when we approach, reacting to the 'Shadow Stone' that Magda gave us.
: A portal is, by definition, a thing of strangeness. This particular one leads to... judging by the smell... is that? No, if it were a pyretic conduit it would have a hint of cinnabar... too cold to be fiendish...
: Ah yes, that would make sense. It's a gateway to the Plane of Shadow. I should have known - this whole city has an... otherworldly chill.
Good, more shadows. I was just thinking, "That King of Shadows was nice, but he didn't really fill me up. I could definitely go for some more Plane of Shadows right about now."
Enh... all right, sarcasm aside, that filter looks pretty neat.
The Veil (Shadow)
We defeat another Epic-Level student and move on.
: [Your eyes are pulled toward the bloodstained table at the center of the room... you have lain upon that table... felt those restraints digging into your flesh...]
: [Little care was taken in the table's construction, save to ensure that its surface was smooth, that it was long enough to accomodate a prone humanoid. It seems newly-built, the wood felled from local Rashemi trees.]
: [Dark bloodstains cover the table's surface, and spatter the floor that surrounds it.]
: [You reach out your hand... touch the tabletop... run your fingers across its smooth, polished surface. Something twists inside you, where the shard once lay...]
: [Your ears are ringing, filling with noise. A voice rises through the din... a woman's voice. Or is it two? They sound so much the same...]
: [They are women, their faces nearly identical, one garbed in white, and the other in red. Other figures lurk behind, shadowy, and more bestial in form.]
: [The cold fingers of the women brush your chest... run a cold blade across your skin. And you cannot move, you cannot scream... you can only watch.]
: [The twisting in your chest becomes a burning... an echo of surging pain, growing and growing in its intensity. The women's arms are red to the elbows, their pale faces spattered in blood.]
: [One of the women - the one garbed in red - withdraws her hand from inside your chest. She holds a glittering shard...]
: [And now another set of shadows - the bestial shapes that have been lurking behind - rush forward, lifting you from the table, carrying you to the open door, bearing you into darkness...]
: [...a darkness lit by dancing runes, with a foul presence waiting within...]
: In the Plane of Shadow, memories are closer to the surface of the mind. Such visions are not uncommon, especially when a memory is strong... or suppressed.
By the way, did I mention Mask of the Betrayer is incredibly dark in parts?
Only the shadow-stage left to explore.
: You two know each other?
: A former love interest of yours?
: How could you... I was foolish enough to give Khai the impression that I tolerated him, but wise enough to reject his relentless advances! Khai is but a half-wit.
: He also happens to be a junior instructor at my academy. I can only wonder why he's strayed so far from his mentor's leash.
I did try to warn you. This is not a sunshine-and-butterflies kind of game.
: Actually, my name is Calliope.
: I want no trouble from you - stand aside! My quarrel is with Safiya. I doubt she'll put up nearly as much as a fight as Lienna... or her mother.
: My... mother? Khai Khmun, you had best be mocking me... if you raised your hand against my mother, I will extract a thousand screams from your wretched hide!
: Oh, she had no idea it was coming. She used every last cantrip she knew but... her loyal allies - her daughter, even - never arrived to save her.
: [Success] I... you see - the coup was Araman's idea - he... he - I don't know why Lienna was involved but after the headmistress, she was next and then Safiya and-
: And to think that you once claimed to care for me...
: Lienna was wise to destroy herself rather than fight me.
The Red Wizards aren't as dangerous without their gnoll minions. Even Stoneskin crumbles before six Sneak Attacks a round.
Run, Khai, run!
: No matter... he will not be missed.
: Khai mentioned your mother's death... I'm sorry for your loss.
: I can only hope that Khai was lying to unsettle me... I should not have given him the pleasure of getting so angry.
: Still... if he was telling the truth I... I should never have left the Academy when I did. My mother, Nefris - she has the respect of the other wizards, but not their love...
: Don't worry mistress, you still have me! I'm family. Sort of.
: Your mother's name is Nefris? I'd like to hear more about her, if you're willing to tell me.
: Nefris - my mother - she is difficult to love, I suppose. Driven... stubborn... but wise, in her way. She has no patience for ambitious wizards like Khai Khmun. Her studies are everything to her...
: Master Djafi insists that she looked much like me, in her youth. Though I suspect he may be seeing what he wishes to see - I believe he had... feelings... for my mother, when they both were young.
: Indeed, poor Djafi may be dead, as well... if he stood by my mother. I wish I knew their fates...
: If you need to return home, I'll understand - but your company would be missed.
We're about to get a lot of opportunities to rack up Influence with Safiya. Really, it's just about being nice and listening to her. Laughing at her (or oddly enough, trying to comfort her with faith) upsets her.
By the end we'll have something like 42 Influence (the max being 100), which is good going - mind that we've missed out on some Influence opportunities by not having enough Spellcraft ranks to impress her with our arcane knowledge.
: Had the situation been reversed - had someone harmed me, her wrath would have been... merciless. I will grieve for my mother by finding Araman... and crushing him.
: What do you know of Araman?
: Araman is a common enough name in Thay, but... there is an Araman at the Academy of Shapers and Binders.
: He's a senior instructor. Quiet, soft-spoken, and shockingly adept at magic. I've met him, but we've rarely traded words - he stays hidden in the library most of the time.
: So the Araman at your Academy... you think he lead the coup against your mother?
: Yes, he sounds guilty enough. Had he been vocal about his hatred for my mother, she'd have anticipated it and stopped him long ago.
: I'm still curious why someone wanted Lienna dead.
: Her association with my mother must have been very important... why else would Araman send his pawns all the way to Rashemen? Lienna was more than some... common theater matron.
Hah, unlikely. We killed all our old rivals.
But we might need her if some of our old companions show up.
: You've a little touch of Red Wizard in you... hopefully it's just a touch - still, it's comforting.
: But we couldn't prevent her death - and there's no use dwelling on it.
: We should probably keep moving.
What a waste.
Of our time, I mean. Lousy plot NPCs who can't stay alive long enough to continue the main quest sequence...
We'd best be off. The sooner we find Magda, the sooner we can figure out why we're in Rashemen and the sooner we can go back home.
* * *
Oh, for crying out loud... what now?
: Speak your name, foreigner, and be warned that you address the Wychlaran.
: Wychlaran? What is that?
: Is this the tradition in your homeland, barbarian? To trade questions for questions?
: No, but that seems to be the tradition here.
: Peace, Kazimika. The foreigner knows not our customs... our words and names are strange.
: Then Magda spoke true? She said there were Thayans, that they appeared from the very shadows-
: Calm, Katya, you are a Witch now, not a farmgirl.
: You crossed spells with our mortal enemies, foreigner, and drove them from our midst. For that, much may be forgiven.
: Forgiven? I've committed no crime.
: And the bear god does not lie. I can smell the wrongness on you, foreigner, it hangs upon you like a corpse-shroud.
what is it with people and commenting on how we smell
: The dwarf woman, Magda, may know more about Lienna. I must speak with her.
: How do we know that you wouldn't have slain Lienna yourself? How do we know you won't do the same to Magda?
: Make your peace with the bear god, foreigner, and we will know you for a friend.
: ...will be kept safe. From the bear god's horde, and from you, if need be.
: No Witch may stand against the spirits of the land... but I will honor the debt we owe you, foreigner, for defeating the Red Wizards.
: Go to our prison, on the north edge of town. Any convict who is willing to stand at your side will be granted a full pardon.