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23 August 2015 @ 06:39 pm
Dorchadas Plays Baldur's Gate II, Part X: When Animals Attack  
I head back to Umar Hills and go immediately to the village to look for this contact. We find him outside the inn among the other merchants, a man named Fael, and buy a copy of History of the Zhentarim as the note we found in the tanner's house said to. Fael comments on the book we picked, and mentions that he used to deal in books back in Athkatla, and if we can tell him the name he used then he might be able to give us a discount. Chiyo answers "Darcin Cole," and Fael apologizes for the games and says that the armor he's preparing is almost ready. All it needs is the final ingredient--the blood of a silver dragon. Chiyo plays along and asks where to find it, and Fael shrugs and says, "You are the artist, you find one." I'm a bit tempted to just murder him on the spot, but this seems like a far-flung conspiracy of murderous armorcrafters, so I need to get more info. With the trail in Umar Hills cold, I change gears and head to Trademeet.

Whaddaya Buyin'?
So, Trademeet:

I thought I wandered into the middle of arena combat or some kind of bizarre circus, mostly because I got the original Trademeet question about 25 hours of playtime ago and didn't remember it until I talk to the militia captain. He tries to deny me entrance to the city, and when I ask him what was going on, he brings me up to speed on the homicidal animals and the pissed off druids presumably sending them--weirdly, Jaheira doesn't break in and comment on this at all--and tells Chiyo that she should talk to the High Merchant, Lord Logan Coprith. So I head off to do that.

The High Merchant looks more like a warrior than an administrator, an image which is furthered by the fact that his sprite is wearing heavy armor and carrying a two-handed sword. When Chiyo shows up and asks him what's wrong, he describes the animal attacks:
Logan Coprith: "Hail, good people, I welcome you to Trademeet. Mind not the worried stares of our citizens while you are here. Strangers are not easily trusted these days. Yours is a decent face however, and I bear you no ill will. My name is Lord Logan Coprith, and I am the High Merchant of this place."
Chiyo: "May I ask why you are High Merchant? You look more used to armor than finances."
Logan Coprith: "I spent much of my career in the military, but other duties called me here. My family was influential and it fell to them to provide a mayor for Trademeet. Perhaps finances are not my best skill, but the guard has benefited from my discipline and I have improved security. There is only so much that can be done, however. Trademeet has been here for generations, but now we are harassed from the strangest of sources. It has been a very difficult time for the local merchants. The very land is against us. Animals attack, and even the foliage strangles. It began subtle, but now we suspect a dark mind behind it. Until recently we did not know where to place blame, but now the people have found a target. The last group attacked saw several figures directing the chaos. Druids, belonging to a group that has long been peaceful. The people apparently captured one. Had I not locked him up they would have quartered him in the street."
Chiyo: "And has he confessed, or have the people condemned him for being a druid?"
Logan Coprith: "That is my dilemma. He claims he is here to investigate the druids, and I believe him. Unfortunately many of our citizens already believe him guilty. Nothing less than a public burning will satisfy an angry mob. This druid remains behind bars as much for his own protection as anything else. What I would have you do is escort him to his task, or see to it yourselves, whichever you prefer. I would seem to be collaborating if my men or I were to help him, and alone he may not make it out of town. Will you help?"
Chiyo: "I will decide only when I have spoken with this man."
Logan Coprith: "Fair enough. You may pass and speak with him. He may also leave under promise of your care. Good luck."
So I go to do that.

Cernd is a bit odd. His character portrait is clearly meant to be Native American, which is both cringe-worthy in the way it invokes the magical spirit animal shaman stereotype and really weird because he's from Tethyr, which is a generically-European fantasy kingdom near Amn that has no Native American influence whatsoever. He claims that the druids of Trademeet have severed ties with the druid hierarchy, implying a change of leadership, and came to investigate:
Cernd: "Hello and well met to you. I am Cernd, though my identity is surely no secret after the fuss I have caused here. You look pleasant enough; are you friends of that charming Lord Coprith? I've made very few friends among the merchants."
Chiyo: "Lord Coprith sent me. I am to escort you out of town and help in any way I can."
Cernd: "He seemed less prone to rash action, though the merchants had little reason to trust me. I arrived not long after an attack so it must have seemed suspicious. I should have crept quietly as the vine instead of blustering as the wind. On occasion I forget the subtleties that allows nature to progress. Ahh, the blight shall pass and I will return to cultivate better relations when the time is right."
Chiyo: "What has poisoned their opinions? Their leader is sensible enough."
Cernd: "I am Cernd, as I said, sent from the north to investigate why the druid order of this region has severed its ties with the traditional hierarchy. It is not unheard of, but the attacks have me worried. It can only lead to greater evils; these people will eventually strike out as an animal cornered. Yes, I see you have a druid with you. Jaheira, is it? She will also be concerned, for she will know the danger of balance lost. I know many druids in this region and they would not support such actions without due cause. I suspect that there has been a change in leadership here. It is the duty of any druid to find this new leader and ascertain if this is for the best of nature. The attacks on the merchants only serve to alarm me. I might succeed alone, but I would much rather have the backing of a group, one that will also benefit from my service. Are you up for the task?"
Chiyo: "I will help as best I can, but I do not wish any more traveling companions."
Jaheira: "You adopt his cause but not his company? As you wish, but I will make certain the matter is given due attention in his absence."
Cernd: "Unfortunate. We would be stronger together. Like snowflakes on the bough, if we were many it might snap it with ease. I will await you at the grove I have marked on your map. Do not tarry, our task is difficult and time is short."
Hopefully he doesn't get burned as a witch on the way out of town.

After a brief chat with Guildmistress Busya upstairs:
Busya: "You are a stranger to this town, are you not? I am surprised you were allowed to come within the walls. You will find yourself unwelcome here. And, indeed... if you came to Trademeet to take advantage of our excellent markets, then you have come in vain. Between the druids and... other problems...there is nothing to purchase here."
Chiyo: "Just who are you, anyway?"
Busya: "My name is Busya, and I am the mistress of the Merchant Guild in Trademeet. Once, we promoted fair and honest trade here, but as of late my title is rather meaningless."
Chiyo: "What other problems are you referring to?"
Busya: "It is nothing you need concern yourself with, stranger. It is enough to say that our town is in danger of collapsing...there is nothing here for you to purchase. If you are... truly desperate... you can go to the Dao djinn that have set up their tents outside of the main gates. Hmph. Their prices are exorbitant, but they own everything there is to sell. The caravans will not come because of the danger...and the few that have come only do so at the behest of the vast amounts of gold that the Dao seem to have flowing from their pockets."
Chiyo: "Is there nothing you can do about these Dao?"
Busya: "Hmph. Until these animal attacks are stopped, there is no point. If you are truly serious about helping, come and talk to me once that business is ended."
Chiyo: "I'll be on my way."
The conversation done, I head out back to the gates. Busya wasn't kidding:

I expected genies in service to mortals who had summoned them, but I guess this is the Forgotten Realms.

I talk to the dao khan and ask him why they're here, and he says that they came from Calimshan hunting a rakshasa named Ihtafeer which has disguised itself as a human:
Dao: "Greetings to you, wayfarer! I am Khan Zahraa of Calimshan, a Dao djinn, at your service!"
Chiyo: "What would Calimshite genies be doing here in Trademeet?"
Dao: "Yes, this does beg a question, mortal, does it not? The Dao would not normally choose to make such a place our home, even temporarily, indeed. Suffice it to say that we have come on a service, hunting a criminal of some repute from Calimshan... a rakshasa by the name of Ihtafeer. Rakshasa, if you have never encountered them, are devious shapeshifters and thieves. We have followed this particular prey for quite some months now, and she has eluded us at every turn. We have grown tired of this chase. We know that Ihtafeer lies hiding in this area in mortal form, and so the Dao have taken over the trade of this town."
Xan: "I have a bad feeling about this. He'll ask us to hunt this rakshasa next."
Dao: "A cunning mortal you are, are you not? Yes, Dao would be very interested in having this rakshasa's head, very interested indeed! We Dao buy all that comes here, you see, and charge prices too high for the mortals to afford...and we will not relinquish it until the mortals find this rakshasa for us. Eventually, they shall run out of their food and such and they will become desperate enough to do it. Or not. Regardless, the hunt is less taxing and far more amusing this way, don't you agree?"
Chiyo: "What would you say if I found this rakshasa for you?"
Dao: "Hmmmn. I would say, mortal, that I wish the head of this rakshasa returned to me... and once that was done, despite the amusements we have found here, the Dao would return to Calimshan."
Chiyo: "Do you have any idea where this rakshasa might be?"
Dao: "If we knew where she was we would go and collect her, yes? As a shapechanger, I am sure she hides in the form of yet another tiresome mortal. It is a tactic her kind use often. It is doubtful that she and her companions actually reside in the town, itself. The appetites and predilections of the rakshasa would not keep her hidden among you for very long. But we are sure she is somewhere in the area. Perhaps hidden and preying secretly upon you mortals, as the rakshasa do. But who knows, really? She could be anywhere. Why, little mortal? Do you intend to bring Ihtafeer's head to us and end our stay in this dreary little place? We would look forward to a mortal finally ending this business."
Chiyo: "I need to collect a large amount of coin to rescue a friend... might there be a reward if I did this task for you?"
Dao: "Oho! You are a demanding little mortal, aren't you? But of course... we Dao have plenty of treasures we could offer you should you do this for us. So, then, what do you say?"
Chiyo: "Very well. I will attempt to find this rakshasa and bring her head back to you."
Dao: "Ah, this is a good thing! The Dao wish you well on your hunt, then, and await eagerly the sight of Ihtafeer's head!"
The one off to the side does let drop that they were summoned, but probably by a Calimshite wizard that I have no way of getting to. Guess I better find that rakshasa.

I look around Trademeet a bit more, followed by Neeber and his constant interjections, but everyone I talk to is either scared, suspicious, or both, and after several fruitless conversations I head off to the druid's grove. The grove has a creepy, shadowy aspect to it, and we immediately run into hostile baby wyverns and a druid who warns us away under pain of death. Chiyo says that we're merely here to see why the druids have suddenly become hostile, but the druid says he shouldn't even be talking to me because the Shadow Druids might see, and now it all makes sense. The Shadow Druids are basically ecoterrorists who think that civilization is incompatible with respecting nature, therefore cities must be destroyed. If a Shadow Druid took over the local druid's grove, that's why the animal attacks begun.

A group of trolls puts the hurt on me and I rest for the night. It turns out that I showed up to the grove at night, and in the morning light it looks a bit less sinister, though still wild and untamed.

The woods are crawling with trolls and spiders of various kinds, and I end up consistently having Yoshimo scout ahead while hiding in shadows so I know what I'm dealing with, which doesn't prevent my whole party from being jumped by patrolling spiders when I get careless. In the southwest part of the map is a a giant skull that's crawling with trolls, and after burning or...whatever the proper verb for using acid is, I pick up bracers of archery and give them to Yoshimo and a spear of the unicorn that I hang on to for the moment.

Further in past more groups of trolls, I find a party fighting some trolls, who yells, "Foul unnatural creatures! Faldorn and her Shadow Druids protect this forest now!" Faldorn is a name I remember from Baldur's Gate I, though the quest she was part of bugged and I never recruited her. Any positive feelings that memory might have inspired are pretty quickly wiped out when the last of the trolls falls and the party yells, "All intruders shall die!" Unfortunately for them, we were all in a big melee scrum around the trolls, so the mage never gets a spell off, the fighter ends up facing six-to-one odds, and the other fighter and the druid leading them all died fighting trolls. This game makes me really hate trolls, but this once I'll forgive it.

There's another group of druids a bit further in, but Jaheira's insect plague spell prevents them from getting any spells off other than summoning a couple nymphs and a bear. It's a slaughter, and the only oddity is the commander, who says, "We have fought as our mistress commanded us. Now we surrender, to return to the forest and restore the balance," before fleeing. He's in spider form and there are still other druids around so I can't follow, but I won't complain too much. Five druids under Sword Coast Stratagems could have been an awful fight, but that insect plague... I'm just glad none of the druids so far has cast it on me.

The Rakshasa
Across a bridge crawling with spore colonies that spam-spawn myconids who themselves repeatedly use confusion effects, which takes several tries until I resort to the time-honored saturation bombing of ice storms and fireballs, I find a dilapidated building inhabited by a beautiful woman and her noble companions.

Not at all suspicious.

Even ignoring the fictional trope of the beautiful woman being some kind of dangerous monster, this would set off my alarms, and it's confirmed when I talk to the woman and she immediately panics:
Adratha: "You! You have the stench of those filthy djinn about you! I know what you have come for!! You are fools! We will devour you!!
And she shapeshifts into a rakshasa. Well, that was easy. I expected to actually have to do some kind of detective work or something.

A frontal approach to this battle is nearly impossible, and while I think about running away and coming back at a higher level, I'm too stubborn for that. I eventually resort to alpha-striking one of the other rakshasa in the back first and fleeing when it dies, running away, resting and rebuffing, and coming back again. This works--and weirdly, on the successful attempt, I kill it too fast for the others' AI to realize I went hostile, leaving me with just Ihtafeer and the other rakshasa to deal with. The same thing happens to the other rakshasa, and without them casting stinking cloud the instant I go hostile and nauseating everything in the room, that battle goes much smoother. I still end up having to retool Xan and Aerie's spells to give them more anti-caster-buff spells, though, but after I can bring my entire might to bear on Ihtafeer, it dies with little fuss and I take its head.

Frankly, it's battles like this that make me rethink my use of Sword Coast Stratagems. I really like the Potions of Invisibility Cartel and the way that enemies will actual target the casters instead of just hurling themselves against the front ranks, or how wizards don't spam magic missiles against targets who have protection spells up, but I really hate how I have to spend all my spell slots on breach and pierce magic and remove magic and spell thrust and so on, whereas enemies get free extra spell slots to cast those due to the "previously cast" effect implemented for them. I'm tempted to go back and tweak the options, but I really want to see if I can beat the whole game without changing the initial settings. We'll see if that resolve holds later when when I have to spend five minutes buffing before every major fight.

Nature's Wrath
After dealing with some shambling mounds and more spore colonies that nearly cause Xan and Yoshimo to murder each other and send Minsc on a wild goose chase against shadows, I find Cernd. He asks what we've found:
Cernd: "Your investigations have been fruitful? Let us examine them for possible solutions to this regrettable situation. Speak what you have learned of the local druids. How are they tainted?"
Chiyo: "A woman named Faldorn has taken over. She is a Shadow Druid at heart."
Cernd: "Then it is as I feared. Shadow Druid violence is a disgrace to nature, and now that they have a hand in this area they will not stop their advance. Do you know of them? They have forsaken balance in favor of militant action. They believe they follow the Earthmother but blood is not fitting tribute. This must be stopped before forces from Trademeet seek revenge. The toll on the wood and the people alike will be horrendous. We must issue a challenge on behalf of the virtuous. Unfortunately, only one attuned with the ways of the druids will be able to face Faldorn. It is doubtful she will leave the sanctity of the druid grove, and if she has surrounded herself with its protective magics she will be nearly invulnerable. Such dark rituals are frowned upon, but Shadow Druids stop at nothing. We have but one option: she can be challenged, but only a druid can do it."
Chiyo: "Jaheira could challenge her. She is a very determined servant of nature."
Cernd: "Yes, I think she would be honored, as any druid should be. Go to Faldorn to challenge. All will become clear after that. Do you wish me to come as well?"
Chiyo: "No, we will do this on our own."
Cernd: "Very well. I await here in the dark for the dawn to rise. Go quickly."
After fighting our way past a swarm of grizzly bears and a Shadow Druid named Dalok and his compatriots, I enter Faldorn's stronghold and confront her:
Faldorn: "Well, what have we here? Some fool come to stop the righteous force of nature? Laughable. Say what you must and then we shall purge the earth of your filth."
Chiyo: "We have questions about the druids. This is close to the heart of Jaheira, and she demands an answer."
Faldorn: "A name I remember for some reason, though not one I fear. Do you make claim to know better than Faldorn what should be done here? "
Jaheira: "I make claim that you are an affront to all nature. You are a disruption that will not be allowed, and I will fight with the power of my faith and conviction."
Faldorn: "I am stronger than ever with the aid of this grove. No harm can come to me here. Such bonding rituals are frowned upon as they draw energy from the earth itself, but the mother feeds me that I might fight for her!"
Chiyo: "The rituals still govern this place! As a druid it is Jaheira's right to challenge you!"
Jaheira: "You will accept this challenge and we will proceed! I will not have this place remain in your 'care'! By the great mother, you will not leave the duel alive!"
Faldorn: "You are mistaken, of course. I revel in the combat of the rituals, and I welcome the chance to end your miserable existence. Come, to your death!"
As it turns out, this is a duel as nature intended it--naked and unarmed.

As naked as the engine lets you get, anyway.

Some warning that Jaheira would have her equipment stripped from her would have been nice, and even a quick charm spell cast on Faldorn doesn't prevent the AI from auto-casting buff spells on her. When I reload, I retool Jaheira's spell selection and try again, and this time the AI works against itself. Faldorn still spams protection spells on herself even though she's charmed, but she also summons a fire elemental--which is allied to me, because she summoned it while charmed. I proceed to use the fire elemental to smash her face in while a quick dolorous decay spell prevents Faldorn from casting any other spells. After that, Jaheira mostly runs laps around the ring until she wins.

After the battle, Cernd says that he'll spend some time putting the grove to rights, since Faldorn's ritual drew enormous power from the land to fuel her invincibility and it will take a while before it heals:
Cernd: "The scourge has been purged? I can tell that the deed is done, for even now the land sighs relief. This has been a great service to nature and she shall not forget. Now to repair the land after the ritual that Faldorn performed. Her invulnerability was at great cost; her loss will cause the land to suffer immeasurably. Verthan will serve as challenge master and Great Druid until all the healing is done. His reverence for the land will not allow him to be corrupted. When the scars are healed things will be as they were...or very nearly. A new Great Druid will need to be chosen. More turmoil ahead, but for now we can rest. What of you, Chiyo? Are you off to travel? If ever you need help, you may find me standing amidst the beauty of nature that is our druid grove."
Chiyo: "Of course Cernd. I know where to find you."
Cernd: "I look forward to our next meeting."
I took Cernd with me the last time I played through, and his shapeshifter kit seems kind of neat. I use Jaheira for a lot of casting, though, as well as a front-line warrior, and anyway I'm keeping Jaheira and don't need two druids, as great as two insect swarms might be.

Master Verthan, the new druid leader, gives Chiyo a staff of thunder and lightning in thanks for her service and reminds Jaheira to pick up all the equipment she threw on the ground. If Chiyo were a druid, I could do the druid stronghold quest here, but as it is my task her is done and I return to Trademeet.

Lord Merchant Coprith thanks me for my efforts:
Logan Coprith: "We are in your debt for whatever you did. I thank you, and Trademeet thanks you. Not only have the attacks stopped but we have received reparations from the remaining druids. I wish I could offer a more substantial reward... but you understand our situation with the Dao genies. The Guildmistress said you would look into the problem. Normally we would have addressed this situation, but between the vanishing of Waukeen and the druid problems, we couldn't do anything. Now it is too late. If you could, indeed, help us with these genies, I am sure all of the merchants of Trademeet would be extraordinarily grateful.
Chiyo plays it cool and acts like she's never heard of this before, and after he explains the problem she asks for a reward. That done, I head over to the genies and turn in the head:
Dao: "Ahhhh...I sense that you possess the head of our little Ihtafeer with you, as agreed! Astounding, even for a mortal! Here, then, is a scimitar that you may find useful. It has been mine own for some time, but I am sure I shall find another. Use it well, wayfarer! As for you, my little Ihtafeer, you have been a very naughty creature eluding us as you have! What a brave mortal to bring you to us! Come, then, my Dao... we return to Calimshan and fulfill our service! And you, mortal, may tell your patrons that their town is free of our little terror, yes? We shall not return.
And they vanish. I return to Guildmistress Busya, who showers us with gems. The Lord Merchant, in his turn, actually decides to hold a celebration to honor us for our contributions to the city:
Logan Coprith: "Greetings, Chiyo, I trust all is going well? I wish I had more time to speak, but the genie problem is taking all of my attention."
Chiyo: "I have taken care of the problem for you...I have convinced the genies to leave. They will bother you no further."
Logan Coprith: "Excellent news! What a wonder you are... you have come into our town and delivered us from what I had thought to be insurmountable problems! I trust the Guildmistress showered you with rewards...and if not, she should! I, for one, think it is high time to give you the hero's welcome you deserve!
They even offer to build statues in our honor.

Finally, some respect.

Family Feud
During the party, two nobles separately come up and talk to Chiyo. Lady Lilith Lurraxol and Lord Skarmaen Alibakkar both want to hire me for an unspecified task, and Lord Alibakkar makes it perfectly clear that we can only pick one of them. When they leave, the High Merchant apologizes for their conduct and says that their families have been fighting for generations. After a detour to see the statues at the fountain, and a sigh at how everyone else is labeled "Follower of Chiyo," I head over to Lady Lurraxol's estate to see what this job is.
Lady Lurraxol: "Ah! It is the hero of Trademeet, come to see me at last. I trust that all is well? That pig, Skarmaen, did not speak too harshly about me, I trust? No matter. He is a stubborn, deluded fool."
Xan: "They both are. Why don't we get out of her house, and leave them to their own squabbles?"
Lady Lurraxol: "Our families have been at odds for generations, you see. The Alibakkars refuse to acknowledge the fact that we are the only true noble family in Trademeet, having founded it. Why they would think themselves higher than they are is beyond my ken. What is unfortunate, however, is that my family has never had actual, physical proof of the truth of our claim. That has changed, however. A tome has recently been uncovered...an old tome belonging to my family...that states there is proof right here in Trademeet under our noses. In the graveyard tomb, here in town, lies the crypt of the founder... my ancestor. With him lies the Mantle of Waukeen. A pretty name for an old gold circlet. That circlet, however, would prove my claim once and for all and shut those Alibakkars up. I would get it myself, but the tomb is haunted, you see. You are a hero who might enter that tomb and retrieve the circlet for me, if you are willing. In return, I will pay you 1000 gold. What do you say, my lady?"
Chiyo: "I'm not sure about disturbing a tomb or the buried dead..."
Lady Lurraxol: "The tomb was abandoned long ago because of this...haunting problem. I'm positive the town will look upon it as yet another favor done by you. And, trust me, my ancestor would want me to have the mantle!"
Chiyo: "Very well. I'll do it."
Lady Lurraxol: "Excellent! Here is the key to the tomb...the fact that we possess it yet more proof of our legitimacy. Use it to enter and obtain the mantle, and then return to me when you are done."
I figure why not and head off to the crypt, but when I open it up, High Merchant Coprith appears and requests that we bring the mantle to him when we find it:
Logan Coprith: "A moment of your time, Chiyo. I understand that you have...taken a commission from a noble family to enter the tomb and retrieve something from it. I have no objection. The tomb has been a sore point for far too long, and if anyone can do something about that, I am sure you are the one. But I am concerned about what you may retrieve. The mantle...it belongs to an ancestor of two families, although each is sure to claim it as theirs alone. This can end only in bloodshed. I cannot offer the gold that the nobles have, but in the name of peace I ask that you bring the mantle to me once it is found. I will not force you to, however...perhaps things are not as bad as I fear. But I shall leave your actions to your conscience."
Then he wanders off and I enter.

The tomb has a couple giant skeletons and some regular skeletons that go down in moments--frankly, I'm not sure why they had any trouble with this haunting at all--and we grab the Mantle of Waukeen and head back to the High Merchant's estate. On the way, a woman named Jenia stops Chiyo and asks for help:
Jenia: "Please! My lady! May I... may I speak to you? My name is Jenia, and I come to you on behalf of my son, Tiris. He... he is very frightened, my lady. Too frightened to even leave our home! Please! You... you are such a hero of this town, I beg of you to come and speak to him! To see what has frightened him so and perhaps help him!"
Chiyo: "I will help him if I can. Where is he?"
Jenia: "Oh, thank the gods that you are so merciful! Tiris is at our home, the one just north of the Alibakkar Estate. Please come as soon as you are able to! I so despair seeing him like this!"
After handing over the mantle to the High Merchant and learning that both families are descended from the founder of Trademeet, just as the High Merchant said, I head up to Jenia's house.

I did save first, though. If I went back to Lady Lurraxol and gave her the mantle, Lord Alibakkar shows up with armed guards and demands to take possession of it, leading to a free-for-all where basically all of them die. Then I learn that they're all descended from the town's founder. Tragedy.

The Skinless One
Tiris describes how he was walking with his love, Raissa, when someone leaped out of the shadows and attacked them:
Tiris: "Oh! Y-you are...are one of the heroes that everyone is talking about, aren't you? You...stopped the druids and the genies. M-maybe...maybe you could help me... It...it's all so terrible, I hardly know where to begin. My...my love, Raissa, and I...we were coming home two days ago, not far from here. It was late...and I heard a strange noise come out of the shadows. I thought perhaps it was another attack by the animals, but a large man leapt out of the darkness at me and knocked me out. I...I remember nothing until I woke up... When I did, I saw a man tying Raissa to a chair. He was the one who had leapt at me. I... I stirred, as my head ached, and I was not immediately aware that someone else was in the room... I suppose the other must have heard me, because he approached. I...I saw him, my lady, I turned and I saw him! He was a...a man, or a creature that looked like a man...but he had no skin! All I saw was his...his muscles and sinew! He hissed, a dreadful sound, and tried to grab me. I was frightened and I leapt back, barely out of his reach. The man by Raissa yelled at him to grab me, and the skinless creature shouted back at him, angry...and I fled as quickly as I could. I heard someone running behind me, but I didn't dare look! I heard it shout behind me, once...it said that it would get me, that it would find me. And...and when I stopped running, eventually, I didn't hear it any more. I came here to hide, my lady. I am frightened to go out...what manner of creature could this be? What kind of magic would create a horror such as this?! I don't know who to turn to. The militia...they can do nothing against such a creature, I am sure. And...and I feel so ashamed...I left my Raissa behind, left her to die!"
Xan: "Regrets will not help in this matter. You left the girl to die, and dead she is."
Tiris: "No! No... please, I know she is alive! Please, my lady... will you help me? Will you find my Raissa and bring her back to me?"
Chiyo: "I will try, but I need more information."
Tiris: "Th-thank you, my lady, I am very grateful...if you could do whatever you can... As for more information, well, let me think. The...the skinless creature did say the name of the man with the knife. He shouted it when the man told the creature to grab me...he called the man 'Rejiek'.
Oh, I've got you now. Tiris directs us toward the southwest gate, and there we meet a man named Darsidian Moor, who demands to know our business.
Darsidian Moor: "Hold! I would know what manner of creature you be, before I lower my guard!"
Chiyo: "I could ask you the same question."
Darsidian Moor: "Ha! Fairly said! You have not attacked me, a lone victim, so it is unlikely you are the creature I seek, anyway. Its base evil cunning would not be so bold. That said, it is quite fair to say you do not know who I am and may attack me regardless...especially if you are at all aware of the capabilities of my prey. I am Darsidian Moor, and I hunt a creature known as the Skin Dancer, a man-like beast without true flesh of its own. Now, will you reveal your name?"
Chiyo: "I am Chiyo, and I seek a victim who may be held by the creature you seek...and a murderer named Rejiek."
Darsidian Moor: "I see. The murderer I do not know...but if he is aiding the Skin Dancer, then he is as much my target as the creature, itself. He would only capture a victim if he meant to use his dark magic to create another like himself. Otherwise he would have consumed her flesh on the spot. No, I must follow the leads I have found here and confront this creature once and for all. Tell me, then, will you aid me in killing this creature of evil?"
Chiyo: "Tell me where this creature is, first. My only intention is to rescue his victim."
Darsidian Moor: "A noble cause, but not easily accomplished. The Skin Dancer's lair is just north of the East Gate, in a walled-off section of town with an orange pavilion. I intend to travel ahead and scout out the area. Meet me there as soon as possible...I could certainly use your aid."
I accept, and when I arrive, I find that Moor has killed the Skin Dancer and subdued Rejiek already with Raissa's aid, and he demands that I kill the tailor immediately before it awakens and attacks again:

But I'm not an idiot. This is clearly a trap, and I have Xan cast true seeing which...does nothing. I'm actually pretty disappointed in that, because in the tabletop version true seeing is basically a hard counter to any sort of deception based on visual trickery. But checking the BG wiki entry, here it just dispels illusions and isn't set up for anything plot-related. Disappointing.

When I say that we should take Rejiek in for questioning, of course the ruse falls apart:
Chiyo: "He is unconscious. Let us tie him up and turn him over to the authorities."
Darsidian Moor: "N-no! He must die, Chiyo! He...he's a murderer...and...
"Raissa": "Enough! I can take no more of this! Your plan was a moronic one, Darsidian!"
"Darsidian": "Hsss! Rejiek, you fool! This was your only chance to fake your death and escape once and for all!"
"Raissa": "I have no patience for it! Let us kill them and take their skins... and we can announce my death anyway! Come, it ends here!!"
They're incredibly easy to dispatch, and once I do I find that Raissa is alive.
Raissa: "It...it is good to be back in, in my own skin! Ahhhh, I c-cannot believe I am doing this!" Sobs. "Y-you... you killed those monsters? It was so... horrible! They turned me into one of them. Peeled my skin from m-my bones and...and now I've put it back!"
Chiyo: "What do you mean 'turned you into one of them'?"
Raissa: "They turned me into one of them. He took my skin like it was some kind of coat, and put it on. He told me that now I was a Skin Dancer, too. I... I can feel the dark magic coursing through me, changing me. He laughed at me, said I had been given a gift, if only for a short time... He told me it was an honor when a Skin Dancer assumed a new form. He said he needed to change his identity, but that he didn't want heroes chasing after him. He meant you, didn't he? He knew you were here. He meant to use both me and...and Tiris, but Tiris got away, so their plan had to change. Thank the Gods you found out, but I... I cannot go anywhere like this! I can feel that magic, that evil, growing inside of me! Please, my lady...help me!"
Chiyo: "What can I do?"
Raissa: "Wh-when he was...taking my skin, Rejiek said the only way to stop the process was a spell of restoration. B-but he laughed, saying I would never receive it. If...if you could find that spell, could you not cast it upon me? Maybe...maybe the temple superior at the Waukeenar temple would have something! Only...I have no coin. I know such magic is very expensive...but if you could find it in your heart to save me, I would be eternally grateful!"
Chiyo: "I may have that spell on me, here... I will check."
Raissa: "Please! Please, if you have the spell or can get it...I beg you to help me!"
Fortunately I already have a scroll of lesser restoration and use it on her, which cures her of the Skin Dancer magic. Overjoyed, she thanks me and runs off toward Tiris's house.

After heading back to Tiris's parents and basking in their adoration--they say that Tiris and Raissa are off to be married, which seems pretty sudden but maybe they want to make sure it happens before anything else goes horribly wrong--I head to the blacksmith who refused to deal with me before. Not only is he willing to trade, it turns out that he has Xan's robe of the archmagi that I found for him in Baldur's Gate! Due to Shadow Thief-related problems he's unwilling to simply give it back, but I gladly hand over the five thousand gold he asks, which is much less than I've made in my murderhoboing around Trademeet. After selling my gear and buying a few potions and a scroll of summon Nishruu for Xan to add to my anti-caster arsenal, I head into the tavern and am greeted by a man who cries out in fear:Viekang: "What...no! No! A Bhaalspawn? Here?!"
Chiyo: "How do you know what I am?! Speak!"
Viekang: "No, no! Not after all this time! I won't...ah...AHHH, NOT AGAIN!!"</blockquote>He screams and vanishes in a flash of lightning. None of the other patrons react to this at all. How...odd.

I do a bit of poking around, but surprisingly this tavern doesn't have anyone looking for murderhobos. So with my tasks here done and my coin purse much richer, it's back to Athkatla. Time to investigate Mae'Var and see what kind of people these Shadow Thieves are.

On the way out of town, I talk to some...well, they call themselves Rom, so. One of them offers to tell Chiyo's fortune, and she accepts:
Kveroslava: "As you wish. Come and sit beside me, good woman, and I shall take ahold of your hand. Close your eyes and let Kveroslava feel your aura... You are a strong woman. You have powerful blood and a...a destiny that shines so brightly. It is...it is the blood of a god that flows in you... But you are not alone...there is another. Another who calls to you for help...and I see a man, a dark man whose life has been taken from him... I see this other...she screams! She screams! There is a beast...a beast of terrible power! And...a dark man...the Exile. He smiles! He smiles! I... I...NO! No more! P-please forgive me, good woman. Your path has overwhelmed my limited gifts. You... frighten me. I wish you... good fortune."
Xan: "What... what has this crone said to you? She is shaking, and you... Do not let her frighten you. You are stronger than this. I know you are."
With that omen hanging over my head, I head back to Athkatla.

Game time elapsed: 29 days, 9 hours.
Imoen rescue fund: 26,955?????????

Ten thousand gold richer, even counting the spells and the robe I bought. One of the merchants had a cloak of displacement and a belt of inertial barrier that I was really tempted to buy, but I think I'll need to head back here after I have more money, since the two combined would cost around ~14,000 gold. When I don't know what the price of the Shadow Thieves/people who totally aren't vampires' help is, I need to keep a cushion of money just in case.

As gamist as I was for most of this playthrough, dodging in and out of the rakshasa hut and using the Faldorn summoning bug to win the duel, there is one situation I refused to exploit for gain. It turns out that Lord Alibakkar has a suit of elven chain mail, and I could have gotten a hold of it had I been willing to set the two noble houses to fighting each other. But I wasn't. I'm willing to use cheesy tactics in battles, but I'm not willing to game quests in a way that Chiyo (read: softlykarou) would never do. There are other suits of elven chain mail in the game, and I'll get one of them eventually, and I'll set Chiyo up with buffs and summons and anti-caster spells and I'll rip through wizards for the rest of the game. But it's not going to happen yet.

A month in-game and something like 36 hours of real-time playing and I haven't even tried to go after Imoen. I need to be careful, because this kind of thing is exactly why I lost interest in the game last time. But like I've said before, writing these posts provides both an external reason: to keep the series going; and an internal reason: I can always go back and read them if I get lost, so I'm motivated to continue. Even if it takes me until the end of the year (and it probably will at this pace), I will beat this game.

Next: Part XI: Grave Consequences.
Current Mood: accomplishedaccomplished
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