Part 56: Act Two Chapter Twenty-One - The Secret Unauthorised Biography Of The King Of Shadows
There's one last place to visit in Arvahn, right at the back of the ruins.
The Gem Mines are the last arm of the Arvahn hub, and they're where we'll find the fourth Ritual statue.
It's a big area with some important dialogues and one very annoying puzzle.
We start in some kind of elven library. And one of the librarians is still alive?
Ooh, so close.
: Has the Guardian returned, then? I heard the whispers, but I did not believe. His echoes are strong in this place, and the tides of spirits ebb and flow, signifying little.
: [Intelligence] The King of Shadows has returned. You know him as the "Guardian?"
: Perhaps I do. Ages pass, and names change. I have existed longer as a spirit than as a breathing, blooded elf, and I know little of the world beyond my books.
Ah ah ah, not so fast.
If you let him, Balaur (that's his name) will spill all the beans on the King of Shadows in one comprehensive lecture. That's no fun.
We're going to puzzle this out ourselves. So let's skip ahead to the end of the exposition...
: The statue lies within the stone Communion Tree, a blending of arboreal and terrestrial. It symbolized the union of Illefarn's dwarven and elven peoples.
: Operating the Tree requires similar unity - three elves and three dwarves of Illefarn, spaced equally around its trunk. Without these six, the Tree will remain closed to you.
: Pointless symbolism. Tell me how to foil the enchantment.
: Spirits of Illefarn dwell here, elves and dwarves who were bound closely to the Guardian, and the man he was, in life. His memory hangs heavy on their souls.
: If you gather these spirits to you, then the Tree shall open to reveal what it cradles within.
: These spirits are bound to the Guardian, but you are not?
: No, I am not like them. They are bound here against their wills, but I have chosen to guard these scrolls.
Balaur's a librarian and historian, by the way. You can ask to borrow a few books from him, and he'll give you a potted history of Illefarn circa the Guardian.
: It is not so simple. Just as the Guardian has fallen into shadow, so have those who were tied to him. Their torment has spawned a legion of foul undead, manifestations of their pain and sorrow.
: Destroy these undead, and I believe their spirits would reappear. For a time, at least.
: Killing. I am good at that.
: Yes... but there is more. More that is my doing, I'm afraid.
The Gem Mines are a mixed bag. We get some fun/interesting conversations with the spirits trapped here, all very atmospheric... but the puzzle is one of the most irritating in the game. These Ghost Lights are the key.
: Ghost Lights?
: They are wards designed to shelter... and trap... the spirits within these ruins so they cannot spread their taint beyond this place.
: To your eyes, the Ghost Lights glow with a blue light, but to the spirits of my people, the glow is like that of the sun, a searing light that they cannot approach. As long as the Ghost Lights burn, the spirits cannot reach the tree.
: How do I extinguish them?
He could tell us more about Illefarn, but if you're really that interested in hearing what he has to say just play the game yourself why don't you
Past Balaur is the main hall, and our first spirit, Isym.
You can't see him yet because of all the undead in the way.
Kill the undead, and the spirit appears.
: I cannot say this for certain, but it is likely the one he is speaking of is the one who became the Guardian.
Every time someone says "the Guardian" I have a little difficulty not straight-up thinking of a certain big red bald dude from a famous PC RPG series.
: The ritual was a success. The Guardian lives.
: A waste, I say!
: But he chose his own fate, did he not?
: Oh, yes. Chose it himself. Ever the patriot, he was. "Sacrifices must be made for the good of all." Illefarn is a great nation, and preserving it is our "responsibility."
: He was a gifted wizard?
: Gifted? I suppose. For a human. Bah... yes, he was gifted, by the hells. A quick mind, a sharp wit, a noble spirit. Have you ever noticed, I wonder, how those who have everything are always the quickest to throw it all away?
: No nation is worth such a sacrifice.
Bishop and Casavir have (surprise) differing opinions on the subject.
: But he got his wish, didn't he? Lost himself and became the Guardian. All that he was, all gone...
So the Guardian was once human, a mortal man who underwent a mystical ritual to transform him into the Guardian, defender of Illefarn.
Enough of this. We have a Tree to unlock.
Clicking on the spirit sends him running off to the Tree, which is in the same room.
He takes his place by the Tree. One down, five to go.
Fighting our way through the ruins. Skeletons and Ghasts are scattered all over the place.
We also have a new enemy: Wraiths. These are incorporeal undead that can drain our stats and evade attacks.
We encounter a pack of Ghasts and another Baelnorn in an armoury in the east wing of the complex.
Baelnorns are elven liches; Liches are intelligent undead mages that chose to become undead as part of their pursuit of ultimate arcane power. Liches weren't originally necessarily evil (or even Wizards) and most Baelnorns were in fact Good-aligned, becoming undead so they could continue to serve and protect their homelands for centuries.
These Baelnorns aren't Good, though, unlike their brethren. They also aren't all that tough - they have some unpleasant instant-death spells but nothing that a few spells from Zhjaeve or Smite Evils from Casavir can't sort out.
Another spirit emerges from the wreckage - another elf, too, but younger and female. Her name is Laeleen.
: You're speaking of the Guardian.
: Guardian! Is it a a crime now to call him by his name? His real name?
: That man is gone, they tell me. Gone! If he is "gone," then who lays in the temple, writhing in agony and calling upon the gods for release?
: Four tendays have I sat vigil with the... the "Guardian," as they call him now. His pain has only worsened. Worsened, when Annaeus promised it would ease!
Annaeus... there's that name again.
: The Weave fills him. It boils in his every vein, day and night, tenday after tenday. Is it not enough that he must sacrifice his very self?
The Weave is the name for magic in the Forgotten Realms. It's powerful and unpredictable, controlled and monitored by Mystra, the goddess of magic - so to be physically imbued with the essence of the Weave...
: What would you suggest?
: End this. Now. If enough of us come together, demand that Annaeus release him from the ritual, end his pain... It isn't too late, it can't be!
: He chose to make this sacrifice.
What you should also know is that about... ooh, -339 DR, during the height of Illefarn, a Netherese archmage named Karsus cast a spell of ascension that briefly ripped the Weave from the world, leaving the Realms completely without magic.
This led to the great cataclysm that destroyed all the ancient empires like Netheril and Illefarn and scattered the world with treasures, dungeons and magical beasts.
: I hate Annaeus. You've seen him speak of the ritual. Of the pain. It gives him pleasure. The dwarf tries to hide it, but watch his eyes, and you'll see...
: The events you speak of... they occurred long ago.
: I don't understand. I've just come from the temple. I can hear his screams, feel the warmth of his hands. We can still save him, I'm... I'm certain...
: Such reminders will be forgotten, there is nothing that can be done. The past surrounds them like a cage, and there is no key that will free them.
: Come, let us take this shade to the Communion Tree. There, perhaps, she will do more to help the one she loved than she does here.
The Ghost Lights puzzle has been responsible for many a broken keyboard.
The way Balaur lays it out, you think it wouldn't be difficult at all: the Ghost Lights stop the spirits from wandering, so turn off all the Ghost Lights and walk them to the Communion Tree. Problem solved!
Thing is... you assume that the spirits are intelligent and want to help. The opposite is true - they're dumb and deliberately obstinate.
Clicking the spirit nudges them to the next waypoint, so long as the Ghost Light in the way is deactivated. But, given a choice, spirits will not head towards the Tree, but instead circle around on themselves, even turning back the way they came. You have to reactivate the Ghost Lights behind them so that they have no choice but to go to the Tree.
Of course, no one tells you this.
It's actually very simple once you understand what's going on, but so much time would've been saved if Balaur has just said "Oh the spirits get disorientated sometimes so don't expect them to know where they're going!"
Anyway, the Guardian's ex-girlfriend takes her place by the Tree.
Third Baelnorn is in a dining hall to the west.
This spirit's a bit special: each line is spoken by a different personality. There are three: one angry, one sad, one crafty.
: We were the Silken Sisters. The pride of Aelinthaldaar. Sword and spell we wielded, six we were, but now are one.
: Six! Six we were, and now but one...
: What happened to you?
: Will it kill us? Will it free us?
: Yes! A bargain! A story told, exchanged for peace!
: An end we crave, an end for true...
: Destroying the King of Shadows may free you, but I'll need your help.
Hmm. We have confirmation the Guardian and the King of Shadows are one and the same.
When Karsus cast his spell, all magic in the world stopped. The flying cities of Netheril crashed to the ground. Anything imbued with the power of the Weave - like, say, an immortal magical construct built to defend Illefarn for all eternity - would dissipate, fail, be destroyed.
There is another kind of magic, though. A dark magic of secrets and corruption, a magic that is particularly good at manipulating shadows and raising the dead.
The Shadow Weave...
: Went in six, came out one!
: The King of Shadows... combined you into one?
: He spied us in the wood. He fell upon us, drained our lives, and left our spirits naked, helpless.
: Left our souls screaming in the dark!
: But that wasn't all, was it sisters? No... he was angry. He wasn't finished with us. Not yet.
: Six blades, hammered into one!
: Went in six. Came out one.
: Kill him for us. Show him justice.
: Show him pain!
: So he just... left you to wander?
: Here we came, by roads unknown. This place is strong with his contagion.
: Strong with his reek!
: I've only heard three voices. Where are the other three?
: When six were joined, some voices were lost. Mouths sealed. Minds pulped. Three remain.
: Come, sisters. Its hopes align with ours. Let us follow.
The Silken Sisters were the first attempt by Illefarn to defeat the King of Shadows. As you can see, it was a dismal failure.
The last Baelnorn is sequestered in a small barracks, not too far from the armoury.
The spirit it leaves behind is not an elf, but a dwarf. Remember that we need three dwarves as well as three elves.
This is Annaeus. This is the one who created the Guardian.
This is all his fault.
: You seem in remarkably good temper, compared to the other spirits here.
Smug bastard, isn't he?
: I created the Guardian, you see. Yes, me - a silly fat dwarf. I created him, later tried to destroy him, and I would do it all again. I make no apologies.
: The Guardian - the King of Shadows - all this is your fault?
: Indeed, the fault is mine. If it makes you feel any better, I have been trapped in this foul undeath for more centuries than I dare to count, and I will likely remain here for many more.
: It's not a pleasant fate, but I would gladly endure my torments a hundred-fold before I took back the decisions I made.
Calliope's vehemence here makes me think she's skipping ahead a plot point or two. But no matter.
We talked earlier about Garius and giving the villain opportunity to shine in an RPG. Villains often have to be kept behind safety glass to avoid short-circuiting the plot, so game designers have become quite inventive in telling the player about the villain without letting the player come into physical contact with him (and stabbing him in the chest).
Just as Torio and Lorne were ciphers for their master, Black Garius, so Garius was also a cipher for his master, the King of Shadows. Unfortunately Garius is now dead (more or less) so we have no means of getting to know the King of Shadows.
This is what this area is for: all of these NPCs are filling us in on expository backstory for our main villain. The Communion Tree is nothing but a handy excuse for Obsidian to get us all up to speed on the King of Shadows.
Long expository info-dumps are normally a bad thing (c.f. Sydney Natale's appearance), but this sequence is written with enough imagination and style, and broken up enough with puzzles and combat, that it's actually quite good.
So well done Obsidian.
: What of the man who became the Guardian?
: A great man. A patriot. Can you imagine such a sacrifice? He didn't simply give up his life - he offered up his very self for his people.
: You must regret the consequences of your actions.
Of course, I say the King of Shadows is the main villain... I think you could make a good case for this guy, Annaeus, being at the root of it all. He's certainly got the 'hubris' part down pat.
: And doomed thousands more.
: A man can act for good purpose, or for ill. But he cannot predict every consequence. Walk down one street instead of another, and you might doom someone to die. But you are a fool if you blame yourself for this.
: The Guardian was conceived with noble purpose. I foresaw no evil in his birth. My conscience is clear.
See what I mean? But I was always a consequentialist.
: You say you tried to destroy the Guardian?
We've been tracing through the Guardian's history in more or less chronological order. We started with the initial ritual itself, talking to his master and his girlfriend; then saw the Silken Sisters, the first attempt by Illefarn to stop their rogue creation.
So there were three attempts in total. How traditional.
: First, we sent the Silken Sisters against him. Silly and foolish, those elf-girls, but brave, too. I warned them not to strike the Guardian. I counseled our leaders to withdraw, to pull all our folk from the heartland, and to regroup. To make a plan.
: The Sisters were... destroyed. Then our leaders turned to me, and I devised the Ritual... the very Ritual of Purification which you seek to complete.
: How does the Ritual work?
: In many ways, it attempts to reverse the processes that created the Guardian... to the extent that such a thing can be done. In truth, it merely allows one to weaken him.
As much as I like this sequence, I gotta say it's very cliched. Come on, say it with me: an ancient empire of elves and dwarves; brought low by a magical cataclysm; an ancient, evil, shadowy menace threatens the world; only the power of the ancient empire can save the day.
Half of this is just the consequence of setting something in the Forgotten Realms but Obsidian is capable of so much better.
: But you failed to slay the Guardian.
: We failed. The ritual functioned as expect, but there was dissent amongst us.
: Some of the wizards, old friends of his, refused to strike. They tried to reason with the Guardian instead.
: Why did they try to reason with him?
: As friends... and arrogant ones at that... they believed that their counsel could change him where the power of Illefarn could not.
: So what happened?
: Nothing more than could be expected. The Guardian was no longer a man, no matter what his friends believed.
: I need your help to open the Communion Tree.
Two more spirits to find. One more battle to hear about.
The rear half of the complex consists of a series of dwarven mining tunnels.
No more Baelnorns, just lots of ghasts and skeletons.
: Ha! That's all the answer I need. Knew I was dead, anyway. Been stuck in this place too long, feeling like nothin'. And these others... angry or hurtin', all of 'em. I don't belong.
: Who are you?
: Thunderbelly, they call me, the Iron Arm of Dardath. First dwarf over the walls at Sunstone.
: Thunderbelly? There must be a story behind that.
: Here I was, smiting trolls left and right, and my belly's growling louder than me, on account of no breakfast. Good days, those were...
: I'm sorry.
: Oh, I'm all right. Always half-expected I'd end like this. I like this world too much to leave. I like to eat and wench and belch and fight!
Aha. Here we go. This is how Illefarn defeated the King of Shadows.
: They say we won. Walled him up in some Plane of Shadow. But I don't call that a victory. Victory's when I swing my axe and split my foeman's skull. That was no victory, even for the wyrm.
: Do you remember the battle?
: Aye, sure as steel. All the host of Dardath, a thousand banners, and iron... iron everywhere! Shining as far as I could see. And me at the head of it all, beside old Gristlebeard and Lady Crowspite.
: Above it all, that crystal wyrm. Gods, but he was big. Where he came from, who can tell, but he'd come to put an end to the Guardian, and that was enough for the likes of us.
: Good thing we had him, too. He fought even tougher than he looked. Managed to distract the Guardian while the wizards did their work. Ended bad for him, though.
: What happened to the wyrm?
: Last I remember, the whole host of Dardath was marching forward, me and a few others at their head. Then, all around us, these... little shadows... they were everywhere. Hundred of them.
: Not at first. I think I would have gone with the others. I could feel them, you know? Feel them drifting off. Going somewhere. But not me. I'd made an oath.
: What exactly did you swear?
: It was before the battle. Swore I wouldn't come home 'til the Guardian was slain. We all said the words... but I meant them.
: Did your people win the battle?
In a way. Remember, this is but the story of Illefarn's victory over the King of Shadows. We still know very little about the King of Shadows' campaign from twenty years ago, or his entanglement with the githyanki.
: I need your help. I mean to fight the King of Shadows.
We send Thunderbelly on his merry little way.
Behind Thunderbelly is a passage filled with bones and a Truly Horrid Umber Hulk - giant insectoid burrowers that can Confuse enemies with a simple gaze attack.
He's fairly tough, but not as nasty as...
...another Iron Golem. These ruins are hundreds of years old - why haven't they rusted yet?
: Can you see me, as well?
: Names... you won't find names in this place, plunderer, only questions. He's drained us all of names, just like we took his.
: You're talking about the Guardian.
: Yes. Our Guardian. I wonder, have you asked yourself the question, yet?
: Have you seen past the ramblings of priests, past the sobs and sighs of broken minds, and spied the real conundrum?
This is the closest NWN2 comes to a moral lesson. Don't worry, we'll develop it further very soon.
: His purpose was as pure as it was simple: to protect his nation and destroy its enemies. He wasn't flawed, he was perfect. Yet still, he was our doom.
: If he turned on his own people, the Guardian couldn't have been "perfect."
: But here's the dirty little secret, the one that the others won't tell you. We struck first. We never bothered to learn his intentions.
: But he destroyed the forces of Illefarn. A protector wouldn't do that.
: Think of it from his perspective. He is the Guardian, the prime defender of his nation. Then he is attacked by Illefarn's soldiers and wizards.
: No one is more devoted to Illefarn than he... therefore his attackers must be enemies, even if they do wear Illefarn's colors.
: So what were his intentions?
: What did he want? Revenge? Did he want his life back? Did he simply want to feed? We didn't even try to find out.
That's nuts. You're nuts.
Shadows, demons, the dead... the assumption is that someone who uses these terrible things is himself evil. Illefarn believed that the Guardian's anger or ambition or something corrupted him and turned him toward the Shadow Weave.
But what this guy is saying is he became 'the King of Shadows' out of desperation, because of the failure of the Weave - but Illefarn's fears turned them against him, which turned him against them. The Guardian never fell to evil at all.
So there you go.
: Perhaps. Or, lacking an Illefarn to defend, he is simply trying to destroy her enemies, wherever he perceives them to be.
: That's an... interesting perspective. But I need you to come with me.
: Or perhaps it is merely the ramblings of a shattered and nameless mind. Make of it what you will.
We bring the last spirit to the Communion Tree.
: Focus your will upon the statue.
: Know that though the King of Shadows may wound you countless times...
: You have the power to undo the damage he does to you... or to others.
Soothing Light heals and removes all debuffs from the party, as well as granting regeneration of 1 hit point/level for five rounds. Pretty good.
Balaur's impressed with our work, even if we were just trying to get to the Ritual statue.
: I brought peace? How?
: My fellow spirits were in torment, and their pain found expression in the foul creatures that walked these halls. Thanks to you, their torment has abated, if only for a time.
Ah, but that's a long way off. One more Ritual statue to go!