Part 50: Act Two Chapter Fifteen - Never Consume Any Magical Force Bigger Than Your Own Head
Acting on a tip-off from Sydney Natale, we're on our way to Crossroad Keep. It's time we put an end to Black Garius and his machinations.
Before we can get there, though, we get some pay-off on the Qara subplot.
: I take it this wasn't summoned by any of you.
: Is that some sort of elemental? It can't be a wraith... but it looks like Qara.
: Whatever it is, it doesn't look friendly.
The animus elemental's a lot like Qara - lots of spells, lots of firepower, not so hot in close combat.
: Was that something from the King of Shadows? It didn't... well, it didn't feel like it.
: We didn't defeat it... it seems to be leaving of its own choice. Not a good sign.
: I feel strange. But I'll be fine, just need a moment or two... to recover.
Sydney's plan is working. We can fight the animus elemental, defeat it - but it's still sapping Qara's strength every time.
Not a lot we can do right now, though. Let's deal with Garius first.
* * *
: They took their leave, Master, once they were done preparing the chamber for the ritual.
: Deal with them when we are done here. After this night, we shall have no further use for them... or their "King of Shadows."
: It shall be as you command, Garius.
* * *
There it is... Crossroad Keep.
It's a shambles, but more than enough to keep the likes of us out. One hell of a defensive position, too.
: Show some respect for the dead, Bishop.
: Little girl, farmers living too far from a well-traveled road or town die all the time - something you've barely avoided up to now. This one, at least he died quick, looks like a fireball burned his worthless body to ash.
: It's just another corpse, we're not going to waste any tears or prayers on it.
We choose the pragmatic option for Bishop++ (and negative Influence with Shandra).
: You both deserve each other.
Obsidian didn't spend a lot of time making facial models for the demihumans - there's something like three for each. Most NPCs in the game are human, so most of the effort went into that instead.
Not that the human heads look much better.
: We can't waste any time. We were able to translate some of the writing in that journal you recovered from Arval, and if we're right, something very bad is taking place in there.
: I recommend we strike hard and fast, hopefully taking them by surprise and disrupting their plans.
: You make it sound so easy.
: We're a skilled group, and besides, it's not like we're facing all the archmages of the Hosttower in there.
: What are we up against?
Doesn't sound like a problem.
The Many-Starred Cloaks are the Wizard's Guild of Neverwinter and kind of serve a 'special forces' role for the city. This type of quest is their bread-and-butter.
: The Arcane Brotherhood wizards will be more of a challenge, but we can handle them.
: You're not certain of the Brotherhood's numbers?
: Luskan is just probing our defenses. The Hosttower wouldn't risk too many wizards on this sort of mission.
: Lead the way.
The eleven of us quickly overwhelm the two guards.
: Rally to me! Push these dogs back!
The rest of the Luskans aren't much harder...
...but they bought enough time for the mages inside to barricade the doors.
: Sorry about the delay. This should only take a moment.
: Just blast the doors down with your spells. There's enough of you to do it.
: I'd rather conserve that power for the battle with the Brotherhood.
: Well, it won't save them once we get inside, trust me.
: All right - backup plan. I know this keep has an escape tunnel somewhere. I want you to find the tunnel exit and use it to get inside the keep.
: I'm getting a little tired of these orders.
: The tunnel entrance would be in the mountains, far beyond these walls, where invaders would be unlikely to look. I will mark the likely region on your map.
: Why don't we all just use the tunnel?
We head back to the area exit.
Here's the tunnel.
Well, that didn't take much searching at all.
There's not much to fear here - just a few beetles and some decrepit traps.
A good time for a chat, I think.
During the trial Torio revealed that Sand was a former Hosttower mage.
We shut her down pretty quick but there's still some outstanding issues.
: But... simply being in their employ is not enough. And the things requested can even make the greatest of artifacts pale by comparison.
: And one day, I simply could not continue to do what I did. The smallest refusal, and one is marked for death.
: So I came here, sought protection in Neverwinter. I moved my shop down here in the Docks in the hopes of avoiding notice.
Well, that explains that. And, of course, Nevalle must have known there was an ex-Brotherhood mageling hiding out in the Docks, and 'recruited' him in case of need.
It's important to note that for all his wit and knowledge, Sand is not a Nice Person. You don't join the Arcane Brotherhood - hell, or simply live in Luskan - without being willing to do some pretty shady things.
: What do you know of Black Garius?
: Luskan seems so short-sighted, and Garius' horizon is broad indeed, and he was never one to put the city's concerns first - nor were any of the mages of the Hosttower.
This is actually the first of two answers we can get from Sand with regards to Garius. Asking Sand straight from the main dialogue trunk nets you this:
: ...he must have gained a powerful patron, indeed. He was cunning and had skill with the craft, but not enough to warrant this.
: Anything we can use against him?
: I did not know him well, but the mere fact he has risen to power so quickly cannot mean he has a stable power base.
: And it must mean he made many enemies. Such enemies may reveal themselves if we seek to stop him - and they will become our allies.
Interesting. We thought Garius was the main villain up until now, but it seems like he was only ever somebody else's catspaw.
One last question:
We know Qara doesn't like Sand because she thinks he's arrogant (and he is), but what's Sand's problem with Qara?
Naturally, you can't ask this question if Qara is in the party - else Sand comes over all shy and tactful.
: Why do you say that?
: [Influence: Success] I heard about the fight at the Flagon... or the near-battle, as it were.
: Yes, because of her confrontation with the students.
: Well, it is not surprising - she tends to ridicule the art - not necessarily magic itself, but those that have to practice it to achieve the level she has. It is not just.
Hrm. Is this a matter of Qara's contempt for Wizards or Sand's jealousy of Sorcerers?
: And she is dull to it. She is the example of what happens when power corrupts - when things are too easy, the soul suffers.
: If she does not train herself, learn discipline, then her power will consume her.
: My friend, you have changed since you first came into my shop long ago. You have the power to affect the world around you and do so, dramatically.
: All I would advise is that you sometimes listen to those who tell you what you do not want to hear. And I am telling you, that you have tremendous power, and that makes you dangerous.
: If you keep it inside, then it will consume you, as it does Qara - or worse, it will consume your judgement, as it has done with others.
That would be good advice if we ever had an opportunity to put it into practice.
No matter. Garius awaits.
We emerge in the ruins of a library... and look who's waiting for us!
: Although I'm afraid I'm not certain if I introduced myself the first time we met. Did I?
: Yes, you did, Aldanon.
: Excellent, good to see I haven't completely forgotten my manners. Tend to be a little forgetful at times, you know.
: Did you know you've been imprisoned?
: Oh, yes, that's right. I was captured, wasn't I?
: They all concern some sort of horrific ritual, something about bringing shadows and power to all the recipients involved.
: I haven't gotten all the details down yet, wanted to do a thorough study first, but it all seems terribly threatening. Don't care for it at all.
: Is there any chance they're doing this ritual right now?
Calliope, dear, they're always performing the ritual right now. It's dramatic license.
: Oh, I should hope not! If so, they'd best be careful. The slightest disruption could have lethal consequences.
: Mark my words, it always pays to triple check all your wards and post guards to prevent interruptions if you ever plan to do something of the sort.
: Well now, I don't know if there's any hurry to leave, really - I'm certainly not concerned. And there's all these wonderful books.
: Granted, my captors may have had an unusual way of getting my attention, but they didn't seem to want to hurt me once they had me. They were quite civil.
: What did they want with you?
I'm experiencing a sinking feeling.
: Well... to talk, really. About the same things we discussed, if I recall correctly.
: The one... that Black Garriot fellow was very interested in the King of Shadows. Or was it Black Garius? Ah, no matter.
: Oh, yes. But he was smiling when he said it, so I doubt he meant it seriously. As I said, clever fellow, quite the wit. Nasher could take some lessons, really.
: Was there anything else?
Thank you so much, Aldanon.
: Actually, we had some good conversations. They asked very pointed questions, not at all like an interrogation, and no torture was involved.
: They could be performing this ritual right now.
Relax, Calliope. Talking is a free action!
: Oh, I doubt they're doing anything of the sort. I told them that it would be unwise, might cause untold damage... well, to everyone except themselves.
: They seemed to agree, and were quite receptive to my advice. You young people worry too much about your elders... we're not the ones running headlong into danger all the time.
: I'm going to run you headlong into a wall if you don't tell me where this ritual is and how to stop it.
: They would need a lot of room and privacy for the ritual, so I would simply find a large room, with heavy doors, and a lot of chanting. That should be the one.
: Then I'm going to find them. Get out of here and warn Neverwinter.
No time to lose.
Actually we've got enough time to grab this: The Ancient Art of Golemcraft. We'll need it later.
We burst into the main hall. The Luskans have made preparations...
...for an attack from the front. Oops.
: Why bother? You wouldn't have done anything anyway.
: Don't let him bother you - he's always like this.
: Very well.
: Glad to hear it. Now, we should-
Cue a split-second shadowy-magic effect on everyone in the room and a scary noise. I'm sorry I couldn't capture it but you'd need the reflexes of a cat to catch it.
: Ah... this would be the "impending" part of our impending doom. But wh- ennnh...
: What's going on? I feel... weak.
: Aldanon claimed Black Garius was attempting a dark ritual. Looks like he was right.
I mean you'd need at least Dex 22 to get the screengrab and I put all my points in Int for an Arcane Scholar build
: Agreed. Enough talking - let's get Garius. We don't need this fool's help.
With the wizards following us again, we proceed deeper into the Keep.
: We serve the King of Shadows. Garius serves him too, though he does not know it yet.
Ah, and here's the rub.
Arval's journal told of how he was developing a ritual that would turn living people into intelligent undead servitors. He passed this information on to the priests at Old Owl Well.
The priests at the Well were experimenting on Academy students stolen from Neverwinter. Apparently mages and their ilk were the best candidates for the ritual, since their magical powers kept their intellects relatively intact.
(The students, of course, were provided by Sydney Natale as part of her deal with Magister Johcris. But officially we don't know that.)
Now Garius has apparently devised a ritual that will let him steal the power of the King of Shadows, and the Shadows Priests are being a little too helpful.
This is going to be interesting.
: Then maybe I should inform him.
: Would he believe you? No. You are his enemy. The King of Shadows has guided Garius to his fate, used his greed and ambition to lead him unknowingly to paradise.
Ha. And there I was expecting a difficult fight.
Downstairs we find another Blade Golem, products of the Tome of Iltkazar. Garius has used these against us before.
Well, he used one, and we broke it. Then he forgot about them entirely.
We should really pity Garius, and not just because he's about to end up on the wrong side of some Infinite Cosmic Power.
It's not easy being a villain in a computer game. It's all right if you're on a stage or in a film - lots of opportunities for moustache-twirling and monologuing.
However, in a computer game, you've got to contend with the fact that most players are scarily sociopathic loons who'd quite happily murder anyone who even looks as though they might possibly get in the vicinity of their way in the near or long-term future.
Basically, it's impossible to have the villain and the hero meet before the final confrontation because most people's reaction will be "I stab him with my sword until he dies." Rule of law? I am the law!
It's not entirely unreasonable. Maybe if villains weren't so obvious and over-the-top, we wouldn't feel the need to kill them straight-off. Or maybe if computer game stories weren't framed as incredibly violent and confrontational, with all resolutions requiring inordinate amounts of bloodshed.
I first played Mass Effect over at a friend's house, on his console - just the first bit, Eden Prime, and a little of the Citadel. Enough to be impressed.
When I eventually bought it for the PC, I was disappointed by one th- two- okay, three things, but I'm not here to talk about low texture resolution or recycled Bioware plots.
Early on in the game, the player accuses the game's villain, Saren, of complicity in the destruction of Eden Prime, and demands the intergalactic Council take action immediately. Saren denies everything, of course - doing so by live holo-feed fed directly to the Council's chambers. Saren and the player have a nice little argument where the player throws wild accusations about while Saren casts aspersions on the player's motives and agenda.
And I thought that the whole game would be like this: slowly exposing Saren's web of lies while he undermines you from afar. I thought we'd develop a real adversarial relationship, a bitter hatred that'd eventually terminate in one of our deaths - something slow-burning, that'd last the entire game.
As it is Saren is exposed as a criminal within the first five minutes and disappears for most of the game.
Admittedly Mass Effect isn't the best example to use, as Saren shows up a few more times before the end and you can really grow to hate the guy. But it's an example of the way villains are written - as nothing more than a super-monster, an orc or an evil wizard with a Name and extra hit points. Palette-swapped mobs.
And I think it can really hinder the impact a villain can have, if he can only ever be shown via cutscene or over the radio or behind an unbreakable glass wall because otherwise the player will just kill him. Just look at Garius: he's about to exit the story and we barely know him! We've never even spoken two words to him! In the above dialogue, he's not even talking directly to us!
He's not even involved in this battle. Here we are, in a last-ditch effort to save the Realms from being conquered by a shadowy overlord by interrupting this mystical arcane ritual... and he's just standing there, surrounded by a weird pink glow.
It's an easy fight, by the way - just a few Wizards and some big dumb Fighter-types.
We don't know a lot about Garius, and what we do know is mostly inferred from subtext and such. I mean, we know what Wizards in black robes with no hair are like - mean, cruel, crazed-with-power. And look at Lorne and Torio: as their superior, Garius must therefore be smarter than Torio, stronger than Lorne. It's implicit.
But it's not good enough. We've learned that Garius is interested in the silver shards - but why? He's the third person to be involved, and although we know why Zeeaire wanted the shards, and although we- I know why the Warlock wants the shards, what exactly is Garius going to do with them? What can he do with them?
It's even worse when you consider that Garius himself is just a face for an even more enigmatic villain: the King of Shadows. What's his problem?
Oh, I don't know. We don't know a lot of things about Garius - where he came from, why he wanted power - and now we never will.
RIP Black Garius.
: What you see here is the price one pays when attempting to use power without the means to control it.
: I'm sorry, Sand, I could barely hear you over the condescension - did you mean that thinly-veiled lesson for all of us, or just me?
: I was speaking of Garius, Qara - but it is a lesson you could stand to learn as well, I think.
It's a good idea to grab the loot off the Luskan corpses before you leave - Garius has one of the silver shards on his body.
: Should we bury them, sir?
* * *