All right, guys, I hope you're in the mood for a book.
Party deaths: 8
Please allow me to relate to you the tragic story of a clown named Chuckles. We were on our way out of Lord Buckwheat's castle when we noticed a rheumy-eyed jester with a 40-ounce flagon in each hand. We recoiled at the sight and stink of him. I warn you to brace yourself for what you are about to see:
Friends, I do not know what this poor fellow had been through, but I know in my heart that no other circus attraction has seen more suffering. He stumbled in a tight circle, ranting incomprehensibly while his flagons took turns rising to his mouth to fill it with the only friend he had left in life. A brother jester in another town had advised us that Chuckles knew a clue, so we haltingly asked him for it. He steadied himself to look in my eyes and pointed one flagon toward the castle interior. "WAA-TAAH," he grumbled, "AAL-TAAH." We looked at each other, confused and uncomfortable, then Tubbs asked, "You mean the water can tell us something about that altars?" "AHH-HAA," the clown affirmed. "Thank you," said Tubbs. Chuckles nodded as he tried to drink from both flagons at once, spilling most of it on his stained, no-longer-frilly jester outfit. As he turned to leave, he slipped on the spilled hooch and fell hard on his back, his forties flying from his hands to tumble noisily down the corridor.
We went to the water room to have a talk with the water, who told us about the importance of the altars in the dungeons. Later, as we exited the castle, we saw two guards walking in the opposite direction, and Chuckles floating in the river behind them. He was on his back, too inebriated to move, bawling helplessly as the river carried him out to sea. We silently wept as we imagined the exploitation and abuse the once-noble entertainer must have suffered at the hands of Lord British and his disreputable snack food conglomerate.
That appalling incident was not the only thing weighing on my mind. I had been thinking about our first, abortive sea voyage to Magincia. I vividly recalled the relentless waves of nixies and giant squid slamming against our boat hull. I couldn't afford to turn my head even for a second during those battles, but I could hear Jaana behind me, grunting with every attack she made and blow she endured. At the time, I had believed that our reason for sailing back to the mainland was because Jaana's hit points were running low. But I realized now that it hadn't been a mere tactical decision. I had given the order to flee because, in the back of my mind, I'd felt guilty for tearing the young druid from her world of tranquility too quickly, and exposing her to danger too soon. I had become protective of Jaana as more than just a colleague.
Postponing our goal of reaching the shrine of humility, we took the moongates to Skara Brae, the home of spirituality. It was a quaint little villa whose only notable feature was an ankh planted in the middle of town. Though just a humble wooden statue, the ankh seemed to beckon us...
As we approached it, the ankh spoke, promising to tell us the location of the spirituality rune if we knew the mantra. We had overheard the mantra from a nearby group of pilgrims; it was, fittingly, "OM." The ankh then told us that the rune could be found in the Britannian treasure room. "In Lord British's treasure room? That's impossible!" Tubbs insisted. The ankh did not answer him, and said no more. I hoped that we had misheard it, for if we hadn't, the implications would be quite troubling.
While browsing at the discount food market for any bananas that didn't bear the LB Snacks™ sticker, we met a ranger named Shamino. He was a dashing young dandy, as cocky as he was polite. I did not like the look of him, and even less the look he gave to Jaana, who met his improper gaze with calm amusement. Nevertheless, we needed someone with a strong bow arm, so we asked him to join us. He agreed, then shrugged with a helpless grin when I asked him where his bow was. Very well, we now had a ranger so self-assured he did not bother carrying a bow. The day was getting better and better.
We moongated to the poor town of Minoc, where the virtue of sacrifice was most valued. We nearly sacrificed ourselves while retrieving the sacrifice rune from a blacksmith's hot forge. Later, someone offered to sing us a song. This person was no Britannian Idol, but the song revealed the sacrifice mantra.
Back at Lord Bisquick's castle, we discreetly entered the treasure room for what we hoped would be only a wild goose chase for the rune of spirituality. Surely, such a sacred object could not be in that vulgar stash. There were three guards protecting the hoard. One of them watched me closely with a menacing grin, as if he'd been expecting me. We quietly looked around without touching anything. Then, Mariah pointed at a treasure chest in a corner. The rune of spirituality was stuck under the chest's lid and jutting partially out. I tugged at the rune, but the lid was clamped too tightly on it. The menacing guard was just a few paces away, watching my every move. As quickly as I could, I opened the chest without looking inside, picked up the rune, and slammed the chest shut. Mr. Menace stared at me with a big grin on his face, nodding slowly at some evil vision inside his head. None of the guards followed us as we left the treasure room and scurried out of the castle, but I dreaded the day we'd return.
We went to the honor shrine near Trinsic on the advice of the scoreboard sorcerer. (Will I ever learn to refer to Seer Hawkwind by his proper name?) There, I achieved partial avatarhood in the virtue of honor, and was rewarded with a high-resolution black-and-white picture depicting the virtue. I guess that the graphic came from the enhancement pack for the game. It was very nice to see the picture and to finally make real headway toward becoming the avatar. We then went to the shrine of spirituality, accessible only by moongate, where I made the same achievement for the virtue of spirituality (and got another high-res picture for it).
Then, we headed to Jhelom, home of valor. It was full of strange people walking around wearing armor and weapons, apparently hoping that some army would attack them. I learned the mantra of honor from one of them, but no one in town had anything to say about the rune. Guards, warning me of restricted areas, prevented me from entering certain passages. Also, at the inn, a housekeeper told me there was a room in which people kept disappearing, but the door was locked and I had no key. In fact, I've yet to find any keys in the game. The weirdness culminated when a pregnant woman asked me whether I was the baby's father! She seemed very relieved when I said no. We decided to take a hike from this Twilight Zone.
It was now time to try for the shrine of humility again. We gated to Moonglow, hoping that Mariah's casting of the Blink spell could teleport us from there to the island of the Abyss where the shrine stood. Alas, the spell was not powerful enough to cross the distance. Mariah seemed quite dejected that she couldn't help, but Jaana put a comforting arm around the frail girl's shoulders. We did a bit of hunting to earn money for food and spell ingredients, and encountered a gaggle of Latino Britannian dragons:
(Translation from Mexican to Tex-Mex: "Take a gander, y'all, it's the Avatar!" "We're gonna kill him, ah reckon?" "Yer darn tootin'!")
We wandered the shores of Verity Isle, hoping that some boat would come along so that we could hijack it, Grand Theft Auto-style, and sail south to the island of the Abyss. After a long time of trying, we gave up and mooned it back to the mainland to board the S.S. Rainz. It would be an even longer, more dangerous sea voyage than our failed expedition to Magincia, but we were ready this time. Mariah, still a bit sad from her Blink spell failure, climbed up into the crow's nest, spread her arms, and cast Wind Change. The ship took off like a rocket as a great wind suddenly filled the sails. We sped east, laughing at the sea creatures that had no chance of catching us. We cheered Mariah on, encouraging her to keep up the pace. She remained standing in the nest above us, arms spread like wings, face full of triumph. Due to our high speed, we only had two encounters at sea: one with some easily dispatched giant squid, the other with pirates who tried to board our ship. Given our numbers, the pirate attack was kind of sad...
We forced them to swab the deck, scrape the barnacles, and perform a two-man interpretive reading of the screenplay from "When Harry Met Sally" before letting them go.
We sailed into a bleak fjord and landed at the foot of the mountainous island. The shrine was high up on the hills. As we climbed, a very strange thing happened. We were ambushed by demons. After we beat them, another wave immediately attacked us. Then another. We didn't have the chance to rest until we beat seven waves of demons, who seemed to have come out of nowhere. Then, as we climbed further, another seven waves of demons attacked us. It made me wonder if the game had some kind of bug. By the time we reached the shrine, we'd fought 30-40 waves of demons. The red demons were manageable, but were sometimes accompanied by nasty blue Balrons who could cast poison, fire, and mass sleep.
Shamino, bowless ranger that he was, died early in the battles. No big deal, though, since the lessons of the shrine of humility would probably have been lost on the cocksure fool.
In the shrine, I prayed to earn partial avatarhood for humility, and was kicked out for using an incorrect mantra! Not only that, the game told me that I'd lost "an eighth," which was presumably an eighth of my avatarhood. I wasn't having any of that after all the trouble I'd gone through to get there, so I exited the game and reloaded. I tried again, typing the mantra "MUL" very carefully, and got the same result. I looked up a walkthrough, and discovered that the mantra given to me in Magincia was for pride, the opposite of humility. I had not read the dialogue carefully. I tried again, typing the correct mantra for humility: "LUM." Bingo! Three down, five to go! To celebrate my being humbler than anyone else, we sailed to Moonglow where we could get some well-deserved R & R. And have Shamino resurrected. If necessary.