Part 32: No Pictures, Only Words
Act Three Chapter One - Who's The Real Villain Here?
I almost feel Act Three arrives too early. The build-up to the endgame really starts after we meet and talk with our unseen ally, the person Araman was sent to kill. We learned a lot about the spirit-eater curse and Akachi's history from Myrkul, but our ally will reveal the final piece of the puzzle.
It's not a huge thing, though - about forty minutes difference.
Myrkul savaged three of our companions before we finally laid him to rest. It'd be a good idea to check in on them before we get too far ahead... especially since these are Story Step conversations that will get overridden in about two updates.
: Is this wall where I am bound when I pass from dream to silence?
I did say this last update, didn't I?
: If that wall is where I am bound, I would tear it down with you. In helping you, I would save myself.
: Besides, I would be pleased to wipe the bony smirk off that dead god's face.
* * *
The second portal in the Astral Boneyard leads to the Founder's Sanctum. This is what Araman was trying to get to while we were running around the Academy. For some reason, he wants the Founder dead - just like Nefris, just like Lienna.
These tunnels are packed full of Myrkulites - Araman's secret followers. I don't know where they're getting their clerical powers from, considering that Myrkul is dead.
At least... I think he's dead.
Safiya seems to think so anyway.
: Myrkul cursed Akachi and turned him into a monster that would spread the fear of him... and his terror came back to destroy him...
: I can't help but ask... how do you feel about having destroyed a god?
It's an odd question, I've got to admit. If it were me there, I'd be asking "What do you intend to do now that you can destroy gods?" Or more likely "Oh Christ you ate Myrkul what the hell?!" Not "How does it feel?"
Safiya's not our therapist. She's angling for something, for a certain kind of response. It's almost like she enjoyed it, and wants us to have enjoyed it too.
Obsidian means this line literally. You can answer anything to Safiya - say it was time for Myrkul to die, say you wanted revenge, say you like eating god-essence - and she'll approve. In comparison, Kaelyn does not like it when you Devour Myrkul, because of the possibility of being tainted by his divine evil.
This is beyond atheism, mind. Gann's an atheist and he's worried about what'll happen after he dies. Safiya, though, is too busy celebrating Myrkul's death. What's wrong with her?
So, regardless, the bad news is that the Founder's Sanctum is a maze level. These teleporters transport us across the map in the blink of an eye, usually right into the middle of an encounter.
The good news is that there's only three teleporters, so navigating the maze takes about ten minutes at most.
The "trick" is that the teleporter you need to progress is hidden behind a secret door. That's it.
It's a very short level.
Influence does more than grant bonus feats - it subtly changes the wording of the dialogues, too. High-Influence Kaelyn is fairly open with us here, but low-Influence Kaelyn snaps at us because she thinks we're trying to bait her.
Not really a relevant fact at the moment, but we'll be exploring Mask's Influence system in depth around about this time next playthrough.
With low Influence, of course, you do actually get the option to insult her here. But, again, I'm drifting off-topic.
: There are times that I have... doubts. May Ilmater forgive my weakness.
: It grows harder to move along the path when there are so many obstacles. Blood stains our path, I have used Ilmater's powers in battle... I... it is difficult to reconcile.
: It seems to grant little comfort at times, and sometimes the world around us howls so loudly it is difficult to hear the call.
: Forgive me, I did not mean to bare my soul to you.
A rare moment of doubt from the Dove, it seems. No worries, we can fix that.
: Myrkul's words cut deeply. It pains me that my faith is weak enough to be assaulted by one such as he.
Okku and Ammon emerged unscathed from the meeting with Myrkul. Just as well, I don't think I can play psychiatrist to a magic rainbow bear, and I don't have time to unpack the neuroses in Ammon's head either.
There's actually another, separate, conversation we can have here with Kaelyn, in addition to the conversation about her crisis of faith.
: When you came to me in the Dead God's Vault, I did not realize how closely you were tied to that which I seek.
: I don't understand what you mean.
: If by destroying it, I can aid you, then I will. I have devoted my life to it.
: I do not know what doing so will do to you, but your condition will only worsen - Myrkul's "gifts" frequently return the recipient to his halls.
: Don't those halls now belong to the new god of the dead, Kelemvor?
* * *
The hidden teleporter leads us here - to Araman and his lackeys. This is the final obstacle standing between us and our ally.
But who is this ally of ours?
: Faith and blood are the strongest ties of all... stronger than comradeship... purer than the intrigues of love.
: She is a Faithless soul. That is all she ever was, but my brother... but you... could not see.
: Her charms dragged Akachi from his god and his faith... and dragged me, as well... for what was I, but his shadow?
Hur hur, I don't know exactly what's going on but let's drop Safiya right in it anyway!
: No... you are mistaken. Deeply mistaken. Do not go down that road - nothing good will come of it...
: With... the daughter? I thought there were only three. But no...
Dumb jokes aside... Araman plays an interesting role in Mask. When we first heard his name, it was as an antagonist: the usurper Red Wizard that murdered Nefris and Lienna and screwed up their plan. If it wasn't for him, we'd've spoken with Lienna and discovered what was wrong with us a lot earlier on in the game. The majority of Act Two - in fact, most of the entire game - is spent fixing what Araman sent awry.
Araman was the villain of Mask, inasmuch as it had one.
: They believed in his Crusade, or they trusted in him, but my brother's only thought... was for her.
: It was never the woman that I hated... it was the evils that we committed in her name.
: Then stand aside. Let me speak to her.
But then we get to the Academy and it all turns upside down. He calls us "brother" and begs us not to fight him... Myrkul tells us that he tortured Araman, forced him to convert to his service and imprisoned his soul in the City of Judgement... and here, Araman expresses sorrow and regret for his actions. He'd be a sympathetic character with just the geas forcing him to kill the Founder, but Araman's actually had a genuine change of heart. Now he fights to preserve the Wall - to preserve faith, to preserve order in the planes, and save the souls of millions.
The sad fact is, he's the good guy. Villains are the ones with plans, with grand schemes to change the face of the world forever. Araman's trying to maintain the status quo - which, if you remember the NWN2 LP, is supposed to be our job.
At the last, we're forced to slay him. Even though it wasn't his fault, even though he had the best of intentions.
Araman's allies aren't a concern. Araman himself, however, is an Epic-level Wizard.
We actually hit Level 30 earlier in this update - the XP cap in Mask. And yes, I managed to get both the Epic Precision and Perfect Two-Weapon Fighting feats. Unfortunately that doesn't stop Araman's Vampiric Feast spell.
I haven't really covered Epic spells at all so I'll mention them now: at level-up, spellcasters can choose feats that allow them to cast Epic Spells once a day, in addition to the usual range of Epic feats. The Epic spells are a mixed bag: some are decent, like Vampiric Feast (all enemies in 20' save vs. Fortitude or die, otherwise take half their HP in damage, caster is healed up to full health and gains a Greater Shadow disposable summon, can be chosen as soon as Level 21), and some are rubbish, like Hellball (10d6 * 4 direct fire/ice/acid/lightning damage, which sounds like a lot but will average out to about 120 damage, minus half damage for successful Reflex saves, minus about one-quarter damage for each elemental immunity the enemy may possess, can only be chosen at Level 27).
As a rule, Epic spells aren't really worth it. Even the good spells can be cast only once a day - but Isaac's Greater Missile Storm can be cast as many times as you have Level 6, 7, 8 and 9 spell slots in your spellbook. Now that's an epic spell.
Okay, now you can forget all that crunch; with Araman's death, the Founder's inner vault is open. Revelation awaits.