Part 10: And You Thought The Angel Had Baggage
Act Two Chapter Two - Clues
Well this is promising.
: Tell me the truth, foreigner. Did you know what you were when you came to our city?
: I felt a hunger when I awoke in the barrow. But I didn't know what it was.
: In the bear god's barrow? That was the first you felt of this hunger?
: Then you should have taken a stone and crushed your skull, at once. Do not make excuses for this monster out of ancient tales, Sheva.
: And what more do you remember, god of bears? His face? His name? Your memories have fled like birds before a storm.
I thought having Okku on our side would make the witches more sympathetic to us, but...
: Do not insult my ally, Witch. He is a god of your land... a spirit you claim to serve.
: I remember the prayers of the dockside girl, before she donned her mask. I remember how she begged the spirits to make her pretty, so that the sailors might whistle at her... might even pay her for her company...
That shut her up.
Mask is unusually good in its portrayal of women, both in comparison to other games and to other genre works. Some of this is a function of its setting: although Rashemen is the domain of the Iron Lord of Immilmar, the country is actually run by these Wychlaran women, a cross between a transcendental clerical class that serves the will of the spirits, and simple respected village elders.
We're going to see a lot of matriarchal power structures in this game, perhaps almost more than we see patriarchies. It's not something you'd expect from a fantasy/computer game/fantasy computer game, really.
: We know little of them. No spirit-eater has walked Rashemen in living memory. They were monsters, devourers of spirits and souls... bogey-men in children's tales...
: Some were men, some women... some were even children. Wherever they walked, they hungered and fed, and the land died.
: No matter their intentions, all spirit-eaters ended the same. Their hunger turned in upon themselves, and they were destroyed... utterly consumed.
: How did I become a spirit-eater? Was it something that happened in the barrow?
Of course that doesn't stop Mask from utilising the Triple Goddess model for femininity. You know what I'm talking about : the maiden, the mother, and the old crone. The hot dumb one, the kind caring one, and the crazy mean one.
It's a mythological construct invented in the 1950s by a bunch of neopaganists that broadly describes female archetypes in Western myth. The maiden is young, athletic, inexperienced, virginal, a warrior in the Diana mold; the mother is caring, nurturing, protective, just like your mum essentially; the crone is old, wise, dark, a teacher with a penchant for tricks and cruelty. See for reference the Fates, the Norns, any number of female Greco-Roman divinities...
That's what we have here in the witches (and we'll see more examples later as well). Katya's the innocent maiden, Kazimika's the mother (in the sense of a mother bear) and Sheva's the crone with tricks up her sleeve.
Though I'm not keen on that kind of excessive structuring Mask handles it pretty well and isn't afraid to subvert it once in a while. Plus it's better than women simply being invisible or, worse, acting as complete sex-objects.
Enough out of me, though.
: Some say that the curse passed from one spirit-eater to the next... but no spirit-eater has been seen in over a hundred years.
: Beyond that, we know little. Those who kept such secrets are many years dead.
: There must be some way to defeat this hunger.
: None. You will be hunted and despised wherever you go. And you will die unmourned in some lonely crag, as befits any ravening monster.
: It is for you to convince him of that, if you can find him at all. The Ashenwood is several days' sailing upriver, to the north, and the winter snows have already begun to fall.
: You will need a boat. Find the shipwright Vaszil at the docks, and tell him of your need.
: We have an outpost on the Ashenwood shore, led by a Witch called Dalenka. She is a hard-bitten woman, and distrustful of foreigners.
: Sounds like some other Witches I know.
: Virtuous and wise, you mean? In a country of scheming hags, jealous spirits, and monsters like yourself, mercy and naivete are luxuries - bought with the lives of those we protect.
Mask opens up a lot in Act 2. This update, we'll be picking up a whole bunch of leads on this spirit-eating dealie and it'll be up to us to choose where to go next. Thing is, most of them will be dead ends - only one will progress the plot to the next step and allow us to move on to Act 3.
* * *
We're approached by a little girl by the city gates.
: The Gift is the power that you possess as the spirit-eater. Beings who possess the Gift are revered among the Hill tribe.
: Gift? It is a curse, actually.
: That is what the Witches would have you believe. They seek to control you like they have done with other spirit-eaters in the past, by either manipulating them or hunting them.
: What do you know of the Witches?
: Long have the Witches that rule Mulsantir hunted the Hill Tribe. If they caught me here, I would share the fate of my parents and so many others of my people.
: Why would you risk death to speak to me?
: I cannot tell you more, but my tribe greatly wishes to meet you, spirit-eater. Would you come to visit the Hill Tribe?
: Where is your tribe?
: You will find the Hill Tribe in the Wells of Lurue. Normally we stay well hideen, but I will keep watch for your coming, spirit-eater.
Hill Tribe, eh? We'll go and visit Ku'arra's "grand-sire" soon.
* * *
Lienna's actors have been released from protective custody. Hopefully they can help us with our inquiries.
: Alas, our thanks are all we have to give, for a cruel-hearted dwarf hoards our meager profits.
: Aye! And squanders our earnings on love potions, to steal the heart of Sweet Wallace!
: Honestly, milady, it's like chasing a pack of dockside waifs with a broomstick. And that's when we're not trying to put on a play.
: I've come about Lienna. I think she may have known something about my condition.
: And the blood, Magda... those ghastly droplets of red, upon her white robe.
: Mm, I'd nearly forgotten the blood...
: Perhaps you'd better tell me.
Mask began with a cold opening: we awoke in a cavern with no clue as to what or why or where. Like Torment and KOTOR2 amnesia is used to cover the player's ignorance and provide an immediate plot hook which can be spun any way you like. Torment's amnesia was a major part of the plot though, whereas our questions are soon to be answered more or less comprehensively.
: Covered in blood, aye, and not a drop of it hers.
: And before that, I saw the other woman hanging about... the red-robed lady, bald as a squalling babe.
: The both of them were up to some sort of mischief - that's all the red lady was good for, if you ask me - probably behind the doors of that secret room...
: A red-robed lady? What else do you know about her?
: I wonder if she was from my Academy... this might explain how Lienna was known to my mother...
: I saw her but twice - no, make it thrice. The first time was years ago... I awoke to voices in Lienna's bedroom, so I peered inside, thinking it might be robbers again.
: But instead, who do I see but a red-robed lady, chatting away with Lienna. I'm certain they knew I was watching...
: Scared me silly, you understand. Red robes mean naught but trouble. But Lienna trusted her, so I let the matter pass.
: That was just before the Wizards came. I saw the red lady near the portal, when Lienna came bursting out of her room, all covered in blood.
: I saw Lienna's operating table... I think that may have been my blood on her robes.
: Your blood? And cutting you, mayhap? Magda, what if we've been harboring some... mad vivisectionist?
: Pff. Lienna was no monster, Lothario, and you know it well.
: Sheltering the likes of us for twenty years, and never an unkind word! A bit odd at times, but never a monster.
: This secret room... how would I get inside?
: I'd half a mind to swallow the key, and make those wizards go picking through my innards for it.
: Here's the key, but I'll not vouch for your safety, if you're bent on going inside. I've never so much as peeked beneath the door.
: I have all I need. Farewell.
The Veil is where all our companions come to chill out when they're not in the active party (the exception being Okku, who sleeps outside the main gates). Normally you're only allowed four in the party at any one time, but I'll be using cheats because arbitrary party limits are kind of silly, especially since there's only five of us in the roster total anyway.
: If only our sweet Magda was half as generous with her own bed...
: Hmph. You're generous enough for all five of us, you lecherous rogue...
* * *
We return to the Shadow Plane through the portal in the back of the Veil. This time, instead of heading to the stage, we take a left through this locked door.
Switch off that Veil theme if you're still playing it and put the Shadow Veil music back on. This is Serious Business.
: The animating spirit in this creature is all but depleted. You could probably use your... unique abilities... to breath life into it.
: Otherwise, you could reach in and extract the golem's Spirit Core. If you replenish the core and replace it, the golem should operate like new.
That sounds like a good idea. We may need to talk to this golem more than once and I don't want to lose Spirit Energy each time we do it.
: [The presence inside you shifts faintly, and you sense that a spirit still resides inside the golem. But the spirit is feeble... depleted.]
: [Making a fist, you plunge your hand into the dry, yielding clay of the golem's gut. You push your hand deeper, to your wrist, and then your elbow...]
: [At once, your fingers brush a small, round object. Grabbing hold of it, you withdraw your hand. The object is withered and black - like a tiny dessicated heart.]
Like the big yellow text says, we've acquired a new spirit-eater feat: Mold Spirit.
For Mask, Obsidian revised the magical enchantment system from the version in NWN2, which was clunky and fiddly. Previously you had to distil essences from reagents, then combine those with gems and armour/a weapon on a special crafting table, then cast a specific spell to enchant the item, following a recipe in a book you might find as treasure. This time, it's a lot simpler.
Monsters drop essences as loot. There are four kinds of elemental essence, plus a Power essence as well. The essences come in three strengths: Volatile (commonly found, but unusable for crafting), Brilliant (can be used for non-epic crafting) and Pristine (requires an epic-level caster, provides best enchantments). Volatiles can be combined into Brilliants can be combined into Pristines, at a ratio of 64:8:1. The essences all list the enchantments that they can be used for in the item description.
The act of enchantment is simple: place the essence(s) into an Enchanter's Satchel with the item to be enchanted, then cast the appropriate spell. The enchantment applied depends on whether it is armour, a weapon or other equippable item in the Satchel. So, for example, a Water Essence can be used to create a Frost Weapon, Regenerating Armour, an Amulet of Cold Resistance, a Belt of Constitution... There are no gems involved and the spells used will be the same few for all Water Essence enchantments (Cone of Cold, Creeping Cold, Ice Storm).
(The crafting system from the OC is still extant but there's no real reason to use it when Mask's system is both simpler and more convenient.)
Anyway, that's what we're doing here. However, we're using the secret sixth essence, Spirit Essences, which you can only get from Devouring Spirits. Spirit Essences are the best of the lot, since you can use them to create stat-boosting items, and the unique essences are something else entirely...
Unlike normal essences, you don't cast a spell, but rather use a spirit-eater power, Mold Spirit, meaning any player character can craft with Spirit Essences. As we have done here: using the Spirit Essence of Okku's friend Nakata, who we devoured early in the game, to re-energise this golem's Spirit Core.
: I am the Keeper of Doors. I maintain the seals and wards, and I open them upon command.
: Where do these doors lead?
: The First Door - Incoming Visitors. The Second Door - Containment. The Third Door - Disposal. The Fourth Door - Outgoing.
: So the Second Door leads to a storage room... or a prison?
A berserk Imaskari golem.
: What will happen if I open the Third Door?
The Third Door will destroy anything inside the circle when opened. Also, the first time it is opened:
A berserk fire elemental.
: Where does the Fourth Door lead?
We can't use the Fourth Door yet, because we don't know what locations have been programmed in (probably just a berserk monster behind it anyway). In the meantime, we should probably open the First Door.
: They are the couriers. They have been waiting... for some time.
: Couriers? What couriers?
: The couriers... who brought you here... from across the world.
: Open the First Door. I'd like to meet these couriers.
And now we should be able to fill in the blanks as to what happened between NWN2 and Mask of the Betrayer.
: We're trapped, my brothers, snared!
: Please... we did as we were told... we thought you were dead...
: You are the creatures that carried me here, from the Vale of Merdelain?
: Forgive us, good master, we were poor slaves, shackled and bound to our white lady's will.
Good Lord. They were watching all this time?
: Our white lady told us to wait... to bide our time until... we are sorry, good master...
: When the rocks smashed your bones, we saved you from death! Had we not borne you away, to Lienna and her red twin... you would have ended like your comrades...
: Her minions, more like. They followed her blindly to their deaths, like chattel, like willing slaves. I do not pity them!
: Then my companions are dead?
: Yes... I distracted the dwarf, and he gave chase. While your body was unguarded, my brothers swooped down, and bore you away.
: So Khelgar lives?
: Hsst. When last we saw him... yes.
: Did you see any of my other companions?
: Was he, indeed? We did not see him amongst the living, did we, my brothers?
: Nor did we see him amongst the dead.
: His fate is a mystery to us... and so it must remain to you, as well.
: The dead... who were they?
Well that was a pile of poo.
These gargoyles - our kidnappers - were our big chance to get some closure on the NWN2 campaign, and this is what we got out of them. Luckily we'll get another opportunity to find out exactly what happened later in the game. For now, take comfort in the fact that Khelgar and... the fearsome one... survived the Shadow Temple's collapse.
: Those are only the corpses we saw... perhaps there were others, alive or dead, hidden beneath those piled stones. Our eyes sought only you.
: And when you brought me here... what happened then?
: We dared not tarry in the cavern of runes, good master. We feared what lay within... feared it even more than our white lady and her red twin together...
: The cavern of runes... the place where I awoke. What was inside?
: Ancient... empty... hungering...
: We know not what it was. It reached out for us... but it did not want us... it wanted you.
: We were not always such, good master. We went to the red lady in good faith, long ago... in those days, we wore red robes, too.
: Faces we had, and freedom, too! Those she took, to save our lives... to keep us from the horrors sent to hunt us down.
: A bargain struck! Life, and new faces... for servitude.
: An unfortunate bargain. Why were you being hunted?
Red Wizards. Double ugh.
: Never realized, good master! Not until the war was already lost...
: Silence, brother. Our tale is not for trade. Besides, this one wants to know our mistresses' plans for her, but we were never privy to their schemes.
: But we know when those schemes took root, don't we brothers? We know who planted the seeds in their minds. And we will tell you, if you let us leave in peace.
: [Truth] Done. I promise I won't harm you.
: The Slumbering Coven? That circle of hags is involved?
: Yes, the Coven! They lair to the east, along the shores of Lake Mulsantir... in the depths of a city, half-submerged beneath the waters.
: A city beneath the waves. Curious... I have dreamed of such a place.
: What exactly did the Coven tell your mistresses?
: No, after a century as her slaves, Lienna owes us... we want to tear her things and break her shiny masks...
Ooh dear, the servants are revolting! Now they're berserk gargoyle Red Wizards.
But a successful Diplomacy check sends them on their way.
Chaotic characters get to have a bit more fun, though.
: [Success] Truly? Come, brothers, she owes us all of her treasures and more!
: Open the portal for us, good master! We will wait like good thralls, grateful thralls, yes...
One last thing: a book, The Wisdom of Immith Yabog, was hidden amongst the shelves behind the Keeper of Doors.
This book contains the collected sayings and stories of a revered Rashemi Witch, who seems to have died over a century ago. Most of these writings are religious in nature, some are folk tales, and a few seem to be remedies for various rashes and warts.
One page has been dogeared, however, and a brief passage is entitled "Of the Ravenous Four":
So spoke Immith Yabog...
In my youth, the spirit-eater curse was said to be rampant in the woodlands of the north. I was sent from Urling, with three of my hathran sisters, to seek the truth of these rumors.
Outside the great forest, we came upon a fleeing mass of simple folk, who spoke fearfully of a foul cult - men and women who had begun to worship the spirit-eater as a god, who passed its power amongst themselves, and went into the deep forest to feed.
Retracing the villagers' steps, we soon came upon the encampment of these wicked folk, taking them by surprise, and slaying many. Only four managed to escape us, fleeing into the deep forest. One of these bore the dark hunger of a spirit-eater, and she devoured two of my sisters before she made her escape. My remaining sister and I dared not follow.
But we learned much from the remains of their camp. These folk were unlike others afflicted by the curse - indeed, they referred to their dark hunger as the Gift. And we discovered that many of those we had taken for Rashemi were shapeshifted uthraki. The uthraki worshipped the one who possessed the Gift, and had learned much lore of the spirit-eater, to pass on to others who bore the hunger and reveled in it as they did...
So where do we go from here? We've got complete freedom to choose as we like. Should we follow Sheva's advice and find the Wood Man of Ashenvale? Or visit Ku'arra's people at the Wells of Lurue? Or trust in Lienna's gargoyles and go off to see the hags of the Slumbering Coven?
The correct answer is none of these, since we still have business in Mulsantir. There are debts to be repaid and a new spirit-eating power to be found in the depths of the Death God's Vault...