The Let's Play Archive

Neverwinter Nights 2: Mask of the Betrayer

by Lt. Danger

Part 30: Who's The Real Villain Here?

Act Two Chapter Twenty-Two - Your Application For Tenure Has Been Denied


We're searching for five souls. Four souls to unlock the door in Nefris' tower, one fifth soul that belongs to Ammon Jerro.

The fragmented soul is being kept as a prize for solving the mephit equation upstairs. Bebtu in the infirmary has the surrogate soul. And the fiends Oronock and Thael-ka have possession of the marked soul - and Ammon Jerro's soul too, most likely.

So we'll start off by looking for the soul that we don't know how to find. Aren't I clever?!

* * *

Close by the stairs to the Classrooms is a locked door that leads to this chamber. The door is unlocked using the key Nefris hid in her lab journal, so it must be important.

Touching the orb triggers the apparatus to emit a beam of light through the central dais. The beam dissipates when it hits the mirror - evidently not correctly aligned.

Yes, it's a mirror puzzle.

Manipulation of the mirrors in the corridors...

...and some judicious destruction of bookshelves to uncover secret passageways...

...lead us to this chamber at the far end of the Quarters.

If we then stand a person on the dais...

...we see a copy appear at the other end. The copy is distorted or altered in some way, though - Safiya here sees her mother, for example.

Gann, Okku and Kaelyn see alternate versions of themselves: a brutish hagspawn, a living paragon bear, and an angel with darkened wings.

Bringing the original person to meet the copy generates an incomplete soul.

Now, I originally assumed that this puzzle required a companion to solve, as you needed two people to use the device: one to be copied, one to activate the orb. Furthermore, I thought that you could never see the player character's copy, since only the player character could use the dialogue menu to activate the orb. Thankfully forums user SynthOrange informed me that a solo player character can detach the orb from the wall and activate it on the pad, duplicating him/herself without the need for a companion to act as Igor. Thank you forums user SynthOrange!

And this is what Calliope's true self apparently looks like. Intriguing...

* * *

Master Poruset is a Red Wizard who transferred his soul into a clay golem so he could be a better researcher. He does a lot of the more physical research and crafting in the Academy.

: It is good to see you also, Mistress Safiya. Are you well?
: Not exactly. My mother's... absence... and Araman's takeover of the Academy... coming home has not been as joyous as I would have hoped.
: Oh. I'm sorry. I had forgotten. My work occupies my mind so.
: I would expect nothing less from you than an unfailing devotion to your studies... I'm very pleased to see you alive.

He's a bit intense (as you'd expect from a man who turned himself into clay) but he's a basically decent person, like Safiya and Djafi. And rather unlike how Nefris is turning out to be, what with her treatment of Bebtu and the mass-sale of souls to the Nine Hells. That's surprising - because then you gotta ask, where does Safiya get her kindness from?

: I... suppose I could. Not really. Well... it depends on what you'll accept.
: What do you mean?
: How to explain? Some of my work is on merging souls. Theoretically I could take two souls with different traits and forge them together as one.
: But it doesn't work. I think it violates a law, but the headmistress won't hear of it.
: The merge never takes. I can fuse pieces of souls together, but the separate parts of the soul remain isolated.

This is a major theme of the Academy: the impossible reversal of a one-way process. We see it here, in Poruset's work, and in the mephit puzzle Nefris set for the students. What is it that Nefris is trying to achieve? What is she trying to undo?

: My companion speaks truly. And we should not need to remind you of that, my large clay friend.
: You would fit in here. Many come here because they think the way you do. I did.
: I don't know if you're right. But I think that I want you to be.
: But you could at least join together a few souls for me?

: The complexity would yield poor results. Some of the qualities you wanted might be lost in the initial fragmentation. Two is the upper limit.

Okay, fine. No problem.

On to the depository. We're looking for two things here: Bebtu's soul, and two conflicting souls to merge and trade with the pit fiends.

There are five souls in the depository, plus two lying around in the Instructors' Quarters. That's seven in total (plus an eighth which I'll show next playthrough). We can view the contents of each soul using a machine in the depository. Viewing the souls is reminiscent of the sensory stones in Planescape: Torment and is just as enjoyable. Like Torment, each soul-viewing comes in the form of a short narrative, though here it's less like a short story and more like an internal monologue. We also have no idea what each soul is about and have to infer the 'story' of each soul from the contents.

Try to guess which three we need! We need a soul that's poor and kind, a soul that's rich and horrible, and a soul that's absolutely dedicated to Nefris' research.

Soul Housing No. 184


He hasn't seen them yet. There's still time. I can still forge them - fix them up a bit.

He'll never let me stay. Tops in his class when he was here, that's what he'll say. What he always says.

He'll bring up mother, too. I know! I know she'd be disappointed to see her only daughter failing! Like she was with everything.

Like she was with her privileged life. Like she was with her icy husband. And all her lovers.

Follow my parents' examples, and I'll be dead inside by the time I'm twenty. Prominent, wealthy, walking dead. Everything I've always wanted.

Let's see what he has to say to that.

Soul Housing No. 223


Maybe it does nothing. Maybe I'll pull it and nothing will happen. Big deal for nothing. No need to get worked up.

But what if it does do something? Does it look evil? What does an evil lever look like?

You're hopeless. You wouldn't know an evil lever if it turned your arm into a serpent. You certainly didn't know the one that sprayed Draneb with poison gas.

You didn't know the one that burnt off Shekreth's face. Or the one that was rigged to poke that sleeping manticore that ate Prieva.

This is a different lever, though. Different is good. And none of them has actually done anything to the person pulling the lever yet. Must be for testing purposes.

If you don't pull it, and it's something good, and someone else gets it, you'll never forgive yourself. Neither would Shekreth, Draneb, and Prieva, if they were still here.

Their spirits are looking down at you. Wishing they could be here to pull the lever with you.

Friends, this is for you.

Soul Housing No. 91


So perfect. And quiet, too. Not fussy. Heh, must've got that from me. Better be careful not to say that out loud with her mom close like this.

So quiet. No idea yet... what we do here. Not for a while. It only gets worse. Sorry. This is my doing. I brought you into this.

Stop this. Find a way. Before it starts. Before she can work. Before...

She's quiet. He doesn't know she came out alive. Maybe she didn't. Would he check? It'd be below him to check.

How long could we hide her?

[The light above the receptacle flashes brightly, its images transitioning at an incredible pace. At last, they slow, and the voice from before is audible again.]

Did he hear? Don't move. Stay still. Just wait. Wait.

A sound and it'll be the end. The straps. The wall. The lash. No. The noose. He'll have it in for me this time.

He hears, and she'll pay. That what you want? Give him time to sleep again. You have all night to get it.

So thin without her mom. If I don't get it now, I'll have failed her. Stay patient. Quiet.

Soul Housing (Unmarked)


This is bad. She said she'd meet me right after class. It's been too long. I've been here too long. This is bad.

What could she have to tell me? "I'm sorry?" Not her. Not in a thousand years. I should go. I've been here too long.

What good would an apology even be? He loves her now. Nothing will fix that. Why did I even come here?

You're so naive. So naive for hoping. Hoping for what? Pathetic. And now you're alone in this creepy secret room and you still haven't left.

She's not coming. Why would she-

The door. Get to the door before...

Locked. Of course she would do it. No one else knows I'm here.

Soul Housing No. 346


Such an opportunity! Such advancement. To be in her company. To know what she knows!

What work she does. The forefront. Absolute forefront. Foundations of the universe, comprehended. Iron law made pliable in her hands. Such hands.

I can never disappoint. If I commit to this, to her, it must be all of me. All of me for she who understands, for she whose soul is wanting as my own.

[The light above the receptacle flashes brightly, its images transitioning at an incredible pace. At last, they slow, and the voice from before is audible again.]

This is insanity. Only a fool would consider it. Is that what I am? Would she even notice? Fool.

It's never been done. Never been done. Has she ever attempted anything similar? Or did she ask me without testing? Would she do that? She would. If she needed to, she would.

She'd do it for him. Who is he? Did he go through this? Or worse? Nothing is worse. She'd have to see that. Have to notice.

I'll die. I'll die for this. It will fail and I'll die in agony like the rest of those poor wretches in that nightmare room. I'll die and this will all be over. Good.


Soul Housing No. 127


He has to know, has to know by now. I practically told him. Could've tattooed it on my forehead. Maybe I will, when it's done.

I'm on the rise, he's on his way out. The zulkirs have said as much. Just about dared me to do it, prove I have the will to govern. I'll show that and more.

I'll give them a demonstration of the kind of rule I mean to have in his place. He will be my first example. My old mentor. My fading father.

I'll fly a new banner over my tharch, crafted with his skin, stitched with his sinew.

[The light above the receptacle flashes brightly, its images transitioning at an incredible pace. At last, they slow, and the voice from before is audible again.]

It's no good... too wide. I can't close this, can't hold it together. Stand and I lose my blood all at once.

All that time spent looking for wards, elaborate magical traps. He knew I'd miss it. He knew!

Could I crawl to a healer? Crawl before I bleed dry? No! He'll not have the satisfaction.

I'll go out on my terms, on my blade. The end to a brilliant political career. Perhaps he'll slip on the blood and break his blasted neck.

Soul Housing (Unmarked)


"A gift from your doting admirer." The first of many, I'm sure. How else could he keep a woman's interest? Not with his looks, that much is certain.

His looks. His stares. Like I'm not even human. Like I'm a slave. Or a cut of meat. What is his sick fascination with the girls he teaches?

He's probably never been with a woman. Why else the stares? Why else the awkwardness and the strange gifts? Keys. Who gives a woman keys?

Still. It is a gift. There will be more, especially if I play him right. There will be other advantages, too. If I don't lead him my way, someone else will.

And there's this key. Why can't I use it? Does it lead to something that I can use against you? Something valuable?

Or will you write me some drool-spattered love note about how it is the key to your heart?

Either way, it's in my best interests to know what it opens.

The answer is the third, fifth and sixth souls - the souls of a slave and new father; our friend Bebtu; and a treacherous Thayan autarch.

Try to leave the depository with all the souls you need and the librarian-golem yells at you.

We've got over 2 million gold pieces rattling around in our purse. How bad could the library fee be?

* * *

We take Bebtu's soul out first.

: Yes... I can feel it now - its warmth. It is familiar to me. If I can just drink it in...
: Ah, such... relief. I have existed as a shell, come to know the despiar of emptiness. I was not prepared for it.

: Oh? I suppose that's what I would've expected. She was so... unusual. There was much I wanted to say to her.
: I think she knew. Perhaps she even used it to her advantage. Doesn't matter now. She's gone.

Yes, let's not have a repeat of that particular incident.

* * *

We stop by the mephit pens to quickly solve Nefris' impossible equation. She wants the students of her Academy to reverse entropy, the inevitable process of decay, through a practical experiment.

No biggie. This is the sort of thing you do for leisure time as an Epic adventurer.

Twelve mephits, two types, six in each pen. We need all fire in one and all ice in the other. The only means of transference is a teleporter that grabs the two mephits closest to the central door and swaps them.

This is literally Maxwell's demon at work. Maxwell's demon is a thought experiment designed to suggest that entropy in a closed system is not inevitable, merely only probable.

Maxwell's demon basically has the same job as us - separate these molecules/mephits into two separate groups using only a door. Unlike us, though, the demon is sorting by speed, not colour - trapping slow molecules in one area and faster ones in another. This violates the second law of thermodynamics, namely that a closed system will eventually achieve energy equilibrium - the process of entropy.

This concept seems to be at the heart of Nefris' research at the Academy. Unfortunately for her (and James Clerk Maxwell, the demon's creator), the experiment is no longer a closed system with the demon involved. Or rather, if you include the demon in your analysis, then entropy is still present - because the demon is expending energy to restore order in the system. Someone has to do work, expend energy, make sacrifices to rejoin the fragmented soul.

Heavy stuff for a throwaway puzzle, right?

The mephits appear to move chaotically but they actually follow a pre-set path around the pen. The waypoint path is erratic, however, and takes mephits across the pen several times before ending. The timing of each mephit can also be interrupted - by teleporting them, or by clicking on them.

In theory you could simply time the teleporter activation to exchange mephits one by one until order is achieved.

It's simpler by far though to just bash the apparatus and turn the teleporter into a death-machine.

You can then pick up the mephit corpses and place them in the appropriate pens. This counts as solving the puzzle!

On the other hand, being patient nets you double the experience points (and the satisfaction of doing it properly).

: It's a shame about the soul, though. It looks like it almost totally fused together, but not quite - you can still kind of see the individual fragments.
: You'll be the envy of every student at the Academy when word gets out. Which means you'll almost certainly be killed. Good luck with that.

Three down, two to go.

* * *

We grab a work order from Master Poruset that allows us to take two souls out of the depository at a time. With Bebtu's promissory slip, this lets us take out the two souls we need to make the conflicted soul the devils want.


We should probably feel a bit guilty - mutilating two souls, then giving them over to fiends to do with as they please. But it was not our cruelty that removed these souls from their bodies - and their sacrifice is necessary to achieve a larger, greater, more loving goal. And Obsidian aren't giving us a choice in the matter either.

Anyway, Poruset does the deed. If you bring him the wrong two souls, he'll still fuse them, but he won't compliment you on your choice - and it'll be rejected by Oronock and Thael-ka. You also won't get promissory notes to redeem the checked-out souls.

Back to the pit fiends. These guys remind me why devils are the best Outsiders.

: Yes, I'm sure you have. And we have been given a lifetime pass to all the celestial planes for our charity work with orphans.
: Well, I'll be blessed. I think this may be the genuine article, Oronock.
: You'll recall, my cranially malformed consort, that there is no conceivable chance that such a soul exists in the first-
: See for yourself, my cerebrally misshapen colleague.

: Bah! Your use of trickery is cheap and despicable. It doesn't even deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as our use of it.

Ha ha ha, that's the four souls we needed! Time to blow this oh god I forgot about Ammon.

: This wouldn't be with regard to a certain warlock with glowing tattoos, would it?
: Maybe it is, maybe it isn't.
: Interesting. Maybe we can help you.
: Then again, maybe you are a simpleton who thinks we can find a soul without knowing whom it belongs to.
: Yes, I want the soul of Ammon Jerro. Do you know where it is?

We're gonna get screwed on this one.

: Because she knew we wouldn't part with it lightly. And so we won't.
: What will it take to get the soul back?
: Thael-ka and I have what you might think of as a joint-ownership arrangement. Unfortunately for you, that means that you will have to pay both of our prices.

: You are a fool to trust a commodity whose value changes with the winds, Oronock. I shall emerge the richer from this bargain.
: We have a training facility in Maladomini not unlike this one. Baalzebul has put a high premium on souls that might one day swell the ranks of our elite negotiators.

I knew I should have done this quest before getting the marked soul!

: [Failure] The soul's value to us is irrelevant. It is worth much to you and for that you will pay our price.
: I suspect that the soul has value far more than nothing - which as our leader has spoken, is exactly what you will get if you push your current bargain.
: [...Success] Shrewdly assessed. You would go far in our realm, you know. If you like, I could put something in writing to arrange it.
: A generous offer, but I shall... regretfully... pass.

: Oronock, you spineless imp, you could've gotten twice that.

Five minutes later, after we've rustled up two souls for Thael-ka...

: But be forewarned - you have bought possession of the soul, not redemption. Jerro's is a marked soul. When he dies, it will go where it has long been destined, and the hells will celebrate.

Cool, so we've given over two souls to eternal damnation in order to rescue the soul of a murderer who is also doomed to eternal damnation.

...I'm sorry, was I supposed to be concerned by that?

* * *

Time to bring back the one companion who... uh... well, he had an interesting art design anyway.

And no, you can't view his soul in the depository's viewer. A shame.

: [As you bring the casing near him, its contents seep out as if through a membrane, and are drawn into his body. A moment passes, and then at last, he stirs.]

As previously mentioned, the VA for Mask was handled by a different company than the people who did NWN2, so all of Ammon's dialogue is unvoiced.

: And you have survived despite my failure to prevent your abduction. I suppose I should be relieved.
: Yet I get the sense that you have not journeyed into the heart of Thay on my account.
: I have become a spirit-eater, and a Red Wizard woman seems to be involved somehow.
: So a plot was set in motion after all... and my failure has brought doom upon you.

Three paths to follow. First is what happened to Ammon - and us - after the battle with the King of Shadows.

: A gift... from an old acquaintance of mine.
: When the King of Shadows fell, and everything around us was flung into chaos, I saw you being dragged away.
: The dwarf gave chase, but your abductors correctly assessed his intelligence and managed to lead him astray. As the only other witness not unconscious or dead, I followed them.
: You followed them for me? I'm touched.
: Your level of notoriety inevitably draws dangerous beings to your doorstep. For all I knew, you'd made a new enemy who intended to pick up where the King of Shadows left off.


: Your captors went through a portal to the Shadow Plane. On the other side, I was ambushed by the headmistress of this infernal place.
: She remembered me from a time when I'd studied here... enough that she knew to deal with me quickly and without mercy.
: That was the last I saw of you... or anyone else. I was brought here and detained after that. And then...

Huh. So why didn't Nefris just kill him?

: Most are dead now. A few survived the collapse, but I was not able to linger long enough to check on their condition.

Okay, so here's something cool.

There's no direct link between NWN2 and Mask of the Betrayer - in game-logic terms, they count as two entirely separate campaigns, even though you're supposed to play through one and then the other. Instead of kludging together some messy workaround or deciding on a canon ending, Obsidian exploits this gap by allowing the player to decide what "officially" happened to his companions - somewhat like the beginning of KOTOR2.

This sort of thing gets me really excited because it makes the collaborative nature of storytelling in games more obvious. I'd really like to see a game where it's not just the developers presenting a story to the player, or the player constructing a story on top of an unthinking game, but a game where developer and player react to one another to construct a truly-shared narrative together.

I suppose this would also be a good time to mention the Patron of the Arts quest, the one major piece of cut content in Mask. Here's the summary that's currently floating around on the Internet:


With Lienna dead, the actors at The Veil need a new patron. After the player completes An Ally at the Veil, he will be approached (on his way out of the theater) by Amber Rose, who will ask the player's help. The company's playwright, the air genasi Vesper Jinn, is upset over the death of Lienna and has been unable to come up with any ideas for the company's next production. Amber asks the player to see if he can inspire the unfortunate writer. If the player speaks to the writer, he can inspire him with the tale of his own adventure in NWN2. The writer likes it, and he asks the player to give him a day to work out the script.

The player returns the next day and gets a chance to muck with the script a bit (Vesper: "There's some really brilliant bits, but the ending's not quite right. They all get smashed by a collapsing temple? I mean, really?") This will also provide an opportunity for the player to say how things "really" happened for him in NWN2. Also, the player may get to decide who will play the starring role (i.e., the player).

Once the writer has finished discussing the script, Lothario comes running up with a new problem: Azim Qo'toth, the brilliant actor they'd planned to use as the King of Shadows has decided not to take the part. The player must now resolve this situation as best he can (the actor's lover has jilted him, thanks to a threat made by Vladek, the owner of The Sloop, who is attempting to sabotage the production). Once the actor's services have been secured, the player is asked to return in another day, after the company has had a chance to rehearse.

On the third day, Azim is working out well enough (the player gets to see him practicing his King of Shadows lines onstage), but Lothario comes running over again. There's another problem. The actors at The Sloop seem to be rehearsing a play that is strikingly similar to the player's script. Again, the player must resolve the situation with Vladek and his acting company (represented by Clive the Dandy).

Finally, on the fourth day, the player may return and watch a brief cutscene of his play being performed for an audience.

The player may speak to Magda after the show ends, completing the quest.

It's the same principle as this dialogue: Obsidian gives us all the options, then we pick which ones were 'correct' for our playthrough. For Calliope, we lost Elanee in the Merdelain and were betrayed by Bishop, Neeshka, Qara and Construct, so we end up with:

(as told by Ammon Jerro)

Sand: The mage's gift for transmutation may have saved him. As the roof caved in, I heard him reciting words of magic... one of his favored spells. I am fairly certain he finished before the worst of the rubble fell. If he chose his form carefully - an iron golem, say - there is a good chance he lives.
Grobnar: I do not think he made it far. As we ran, in the distance I heard him call out, asking that we wait. He claimed that he had nearly worked out a tune for a song that would reverse the collapse of the fortress, or some such nonsense. He remained behind.
Khelgar: He lives. It is for the best he did not find the portal to the realm of shadows - I do not think Nefris would have afforded him the clemency she gave me.
Casavir: His back gave out as he stood under a collapsing doorway, trying to keep it intact so the rest of us might pass through it. It seemed a fitting end for one who followed his chivalrous convictions with such abandon... which makes me think it was perhaps not to his own dissatisfaction.
Zhjaeve: Of the githzerai I know nothing. I did not see her body amidst the refuse, nor did I see the direction she took as we fled.

And the options we missed:

Qara: Powerful though she was, there was little in that fool girl's repertoire to save her head from being split by a boulder. I did not witness it with my own eyes, but she was not among those I saw among the rubble. She was most likely buried alive.
Elanee: I passed the elf girl's body as I followed your kidnappers. She was pinned beneath a great slab of stone, and was not moving.
Construct: For some inexplicable reason, the gnome threw himself across that golem of his to protect it from harm as a pillar fell atop the both of them. I did not have long to look, but I saw neither of them stir beneath it.
Neeshka: I do not know if it was that coin of hers, or someone watching over her from below, but she avoided missteps at every turn. She leaped over every crevice, tumbled past every rock. She was out in front of us when the final collapse occurred - a wall of debris may have been all that prevented her from joining me in your pursuit.

And additionally:


: I was upset that we got separated and I couldn't find out what had happened to everyone.
: An understandable reaction to such an abrupt and disheartening conclusion, I suppose... but the circumstances were well beyond our control, and it was far too late to change that course of events.
: There is little point in dwelling on it now, regardless. What more do you remember?
: I remember being displeased that the fortress's architecture wasn't more structurally sound.
: Yes. That powerful and evil beings insist on causing destruction even as they die is an unfortunate habit. I hope it is the last time I witness such an event.

How prescient of you, Ammon!

But let us move on.

: Hm. Together we once achieved a goal none thought possible... but that was a shared purpose.
: To what end would you enlist my services now, when my foe is vanquished?
: To save the life of one to whom you owe much.
: I do not deny that without you I may have failed to eliminate the threat from the Mere of Dead Men. If you consider this to be fair payment, then it is done.

And Ammon joins as a temporary companion - like the Imaskari golem in Okku's barrow, or Dalenka in the Ashenwood. We can't control him directly but he's only really here for the look of it. Besides, he's Level 20, and we're Level 28 or so; he can't really affect anything either way.

We condemned two souls for this guy? What a fantastic trade.

But Ammon may have a purpose yet.

* * *

Finally, Nefris' door.

: [Suddenly, the runes scribed on the door flare red, and the lock snaps back into place. Something is wrong...]

You're telling me.

: Araman! I owe you the wages of your treachery...
: I told you, the girl doesn't deserve this. We do it quickly and mercifully, or I'll have no part-

This must be Araman.

What am I saying? We've already met Araman. Twice.

: So. You must be Araman. I've seen you before... in a dream.
: A dream... or a memory? Is there anything left of you, inside that hollow shell?
: Do you know my face... the face of a brother who once ran laughing in your wake? My smiles have faded, and your face has changed many times, but something of you must still remain...
: Those memories I saw in my dreams... you're telling me those were my memories?
: Not the memories of this mask you now wear... but they are yours, yes.

: Beyond that door, you may find truth... but also folly. A folly that will sunder the planes, and render meaningless all that you have suffered.
: You expect me to accept my fate? Allow this hunger to consume me?
: You are the hunger. The rest is a garment, to be worn and cast away.

The fuck?

: Master Djafi, please! You and I, we live with Thayan ambition and treachery all around us - it taints our actions. But I know that our friendship was never a lie.
: If Safiya trusts you, Djafi... then so do I.
: Perhaps... my dear. But I...

: You are the same man who comforted a frightened girl, terrified of the voices in her mind. And taught her to craft little chattering creatures of twigs and clay... real voices to drown out the false.
: You shame me, my dear. Surviving has become a habit - if I am to break it, you are the best of reasons.

I thought that was unwarranted.

Normal Red Wizards are just annoying to fight, but these are the senior Red Wizards of the Academy and there's five of them. Calliope's knives and Okku's claws are useless against all those Abjuration spells.

Good thing we got four spellcasters hiding in the back.

We spared Djafi, so now I suppose it's just him and Poruset running the Academy. Good for them.

Beyond the locked door is a portal. And beyond the portal?