Part 49: Counter-Reformation
The Truth, Part Seven - Sic Semper Deis
There's not much different about the Academy in this playthrough. Nefris sealed the way to the Founder with four malformed souls, which she scattered around the Academy. The way in which we play the Academy does differ, though, because the Academy is relatively low on combat and low on spirit-food. You need to utilise several advanced spirit-eater techniques to survive your time at the Academy - advanced techniques consisting of summoning elementals and using Suppress.
Ah, but we can't do that this time around. So what is a Devouring spirit-eater supposed to do?
: Yes, Odjit?
: Gag the subject?
: Can anyone tell me what was wrong with Odjit's suggestion? Bahiri?
: Excellent, Bahiri. A subject is only useful when he isn't fleeing. Try to think your answers through, Odj-
Finally, someone with manners.
: Araman mentioned you might visit our school. But to have a true spirit-eater here, in front of my class - what a treat!
: You are generous to share your guest with us, Mistress Safiya. As always, it is a deep pleasure to have you in my room.
: I wonder, would you be willing to show us your spirit-eating technique? I was just lecturing on the subject, but the students would surely benefit more from a live demonstration.
: There's a tremendous reward in it for you. I'll give you access to some of the academy's rarest treasures. Wealth is no object to me. There's simply no substitute for hands-on learning.
: You want me to devour a spirit in front of the class?
: It's true, Odjit. It's only a matter of time before a student with real potential slays you to take your place in my class. I'm merely saving you the embarrassment.
It's so refreshing to have someone appreciate our spirit-eating powers for the wonders that they are. Someone who isn't a monkey, at any rate.
: That's the spirit! Yes, step forward, Odjit, you miserable whelp.
Odjit is a free Devour for any player running low on Spirit Energy. If you're too squeamish to eat poor Odjit, Inarus can summon an elemental or a wraith for you to consume.
: And for you, spirit-eater, your reward, as promised.
: Oh, and one final note. Since they are skeleton keys, each of them opens several doors. There is one door I would ask that you not open.
: It is a private room adjacent to my chambers downstairs - nothing in there would interest you. Just a number of personal keepsakes. I hope you are the sort who respects privacy.
Ahahaha... yeah, sure, whatever.
Inarus' keys open up a pair of storerooms in the classrooms area of the Academy. The wraiths inside are another source of food for desperate spirit-eaters.
You might not have been able to see it under all the zany kidnapping-lessons comedy and eating failing students, but there's a creepy undertone to Master Inarus. Djafi has this to say about him:
: To his credit, though, he never seemed to care much for in-house politics. And it seems to me that in recent years he's become more interested in making a connection with his students.
You may want to reread Inarus' interaction with Safiya and Bahiri again.
This soul housing found in Inarus' quarters also has a tale to tell. You may remember this soul's story from the last playthrough:
"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.
So it shouldn't really be a surprise when we uncover a secret door in Inarus' chambers and use his key to unlock a passage leading to this:
I don't know what Inarus was doing in here and I don't want to know.
Whatever he was doing, he won't be doing it any more.
* * *
The Reflected Soul puzzle gave us a distorted glimpse of the party members' true souls. Gann was a hagspawn, Kaelyn a fallen angel, Okku a brown bear, Safiya saw her mother, and Calliope wore the face of the Betrayer. The only companion left is One of Many, the undead construct, host to a thousand damned souls.
So, like the fools we are, we plug One of Many into the machine and throw the switch.
And what do we find at the other end?
It did try to warn us. We probably should have realised something was up when the light beam turned black (?!) when it passed through One of Many.
In fact the entire encounter turns out poorly for our unprepared party. It's a mercy Calliope has Hide In Plain Sight, else we'd be looking at a total party wipe.
The actual reflection itself is underwhelming. However, we haven't seen everything One of Many is capable of yet.
The only other change of note is that we can short-circuit the Surrogate Soul quest by just eating it out of Bebtu right out the bat. We can also devour Ammon Jerro's soul (after reintroducing it to his body) as punishment for his failure to protect us. Yum.
* * *
The last point of interest in the Academy is Artesh's golem fighting ring.
: And here we are with all of these spare golems Nefris brought us and no instructors to put them to good educational use. Shame, really.
: Mistress Rehema always said that the best way to learn about something was to examine its insides. So I got to thinking - we could sure see the insides of these golems faster if we made them smash each other open in single combat.
Artesh runs bets on the fights and is willing to let us join in. Winning fights will earn us a lot of money, up to 150,000gp - not really important at this stage, but it's nice to do anyway.
But in order to win fights, we need a golem.
Golems require a head, a torso, a pair of arms and a pair of legs, plus a spirit essence to animate it. There's a set of bog-standard golem parts scattered around the fighting ring, but players who scour the Academy and other areas carefully (including the bottom of the Skein!) can find more powerful golem parts with special bonuses.
This particular golem is equipped with a Scorching Ray special attack, Damage Reduction, bonus electrical damage, permanent Haste and a bonus to AC.
If only Grobnar were here to see this.
There's a surprising amount of variation for what amounts to a one-shot minigame. Higher loyalty with Safiya gets the golem a better AC bonus, as does using a better quality Spirit Essence. There are alternative golem parts with different bonuses as well, like Knockdown arms and an elemental-resistant torso.
Sadly we don't get to recruit Construct Mk. II into the party afterwards.
Once your golem is ready it's just a matter of watching and waiting. And crossing your fingers. And grimacing when Construct Mk. II misses seventeen times in a row.
Yeah! Go Construct Mk. II!
We get all the way up to the champion of the ring without too much incident.
: Don't have any advice on this one, except if you want to make money on this you should probably bet on the Maiden. Not that I'd take it.
: The Maiden's a real mean customer. Almost turned on her owner, even. Took a lot of "conditioning" with some pretty severe electricity spells to get her back in line.
: You and everyone else. It's gonna cost you.
: And I don't want your soul for it. Not making that mistake again. I want something I know is in good condition. Like... I don't know... gold, maybe?
The Maiden's a scary fight. She doesn't hurt easily and when she hits, she hits hard.
Luckily, we can cheat. Some of our buffs can be cast onto neutral NPCs like Construct Mk. II. In this instance, it's enough to swing the fight in our favour.
: That old thing? Aw, I thought we were just kidding around.
: You don't want it anyway. It's dirty. And broken. Plus I don't even have it anymore. I... uh... I lost it. In a bet. You know.
: Shall I extract it from your body, or should I let you do it?
: Look away for a second. This won't be pretty.
: [Silently, he hands you the casing into which he transferred his soul. As you take it, he staggers to the door, his feet dragging, his head bowed.]
Pretty evil, huh? Remember that without a soul, Artesh's body is doomed to die. We've just condemned a young man to death.
But it gets even better. There's a memory-viewer in the soul depository which we can use as a window into Artesh's soul.
How can that be? How can it all be gone? Where does that leave us?
I won't believe it. Not from his lying mouth. We've had that fortune for ages - built it from the early days of Thay!
How can it be that he would put all that our family has worked for all these long years on the line? For a game! Did he think? Did he think of us?
Know when to quit. Gods, a whole fortune. Your family's future, you disgusting wretch. Gone in an instant.
When will it be enough? Never. Just a miserable man, just a shell. Drifting from one vice to the next, dragging his family through the mud.
I will never be like you. I will know my limits. And when to quit.
You are nothing to me.
The worst thing is there isn't really a use for Artesh's soul... well, apart from dealing with the pit fiends in the Instructors' Quarters. Artesh's soul is ideal payment for Ammon Jerro's soul, since it's not a soul depository soul and doesn't need to be signed out by an instructor.
So we end up dooming Artesh to millenia of agonising servitude, all as the result of a careless bet, a horrible echo of the tragedy that laid low his father.
Goddamn owned, Artesh.
* * *
Last for today is our confrontation with Myrkul. This may seem almost a footnote after all the stuff we did in the Academy, but this moment is actually a critical juncture in our game.
We get the same old story from Myrkul. We are Akachi, our soul is in the Wall, start the Third Crusade. Afterwards, however:
: :: Dark One, you must allow me to devour the broken god! It would make the Many supremely powerful. ::
: Do not do this. If that... abomination... takes on the essence of Myrkul, he becomes an even greater threat than before.
: Ah... I thought I recalled the scent of judgments passed. Does this creature think that it can finally achieve revenge by supping on my spirit?
It's a hefty loss in Influence, but it'll definitely be worth it.
Devouring Myrkul grants us access to the penultimate spirit-eater power, Ravenous Incarnation:
The Ravenous Incarnation polymorph form has two claw attacks that drain Spirit Energy from enemies in combat. We can also paralyse on hit, gain 15 points of Damage Reduction against non-divine damage, and total immunity to cold, electricity and mind-affecting spells. The Incarnation lasts for twenty rounds (two minutes) and it goes without saying that using this power dramatically increases your Craving.
Actually, to be frank, it's better and simpler just to throw down a Spirit Gorge - that's assuming you haven't tired of the whole Spirit Energy thing after plowing through the Academy and started cheating up your Energy bar. If it's damage you're after, the Incarnation doesn't hold a candle to a properly-constructed Epic character build.
But we didn't do this for the combat applications...