Party deaths: 9
Our stalwart band had to tie up some loose ends at Serpent's Hold and Magincia. At the Hold, a friendly nixie paddling around in an inflatable swimming pool told me that I should talk to a survivor of the H.M.S. Cape shipwreck. It turns out that the Cape had a magic wheel that strengthened her hull. Ah ha! Of course, this didn't save the ship from being a bath toy for a giant squid, but I might be able to salvage the wheel and put it on my own boat so that I can enter Stygian Abyss. I knew I'd met the survivor before, but I hadn't found his story interesting enough at the time to note where I could find him later.
As we headed to Magincia, Mondain's skull, which I'd been carrying in the crook of one arm, made sure I remembered how evil and annoying he was. "You see, Sausalito," he said, "if you're the bad guy in a computer game, you're pretty much guaranteed to come back in a sequel. Look at me. Played Foozle in the first Ultima, and here I am three sequels later in one of the most celebrated games of all time. Do you think you're going to get an invite to a sequel ... avatar? Mo ho ho!"
Disgusted, I whipped him hard at a tree. "Oww," he groaned when he hit the ground. "Glad that tree was there to block my flight, else I would have landed in that soft bed of grass beyond it."
At pridefallen Magincia, I caught up with my pal Nate the snake who, while trying to swallow our entire party whole, told me to ask about the black stone at the pub in Britain. At said pub, Tubbs had to drink himself under the table before the bartender would tell him that only Merlin knew the secret of the black stone. Merlin, eh? Heard he had something to do with King Kong and the Knights of the Turntable. (They're the hottest DJs in Britannia. I've seen them spin at many weddings and bar mitzvahs.) I knew I'd bumped into him before, but again, didn't recall where.
So I now had two important people to track down. We hopped from town to town in search of them:
I eventually took mercy on myself and studied the online town maps, which show where every person in the game can be found. In addition to triangulating Merlin's vector to Cove, I discovered that there were recruitable characters in Trinsic and Magincia that I'd overlooked.
But first, our dogs were tired, so it was time to buy some horses. We had enough money to buy six of them from that stick-in-the-mud in Paws. "One horse per person!" Bah. Just an arbitrary rule to help the greedbag sell more horses.
The horses were of good quality, though, and helped us get around much faster. We rode south to Trinsic, entered the tavern there, and found one of the recruitable characters, the paladin Dupre, to our left:
We were disappointed. Dupre told us that he was the "towne leader," but he was actually an insane clod wearing a paper Burger Lord crown. Tubbs gave Jaana a there's-no-way-we're-hiring-this-guy look, but Jaana shrugged; she knew we had to have a paladin in our group to appease the Heroes Union Local 334. So our law firm brought Dupre aboard as a Very Special Associate (VSA). That made him happy. He carries a plastic sword and says "Loo loo loo!" a lot.
Dupre and Geoffrey shared a horse; we figured, with their combined IQs nearly that of the horse, they'd keep up just fine. Back in Magincia, we found the other recruitable character, Katrina. She had sullen eyes, pallid skin, all-black garb, and an entourage of black sheep that would occasionally let out an apathetic "baa." We left the goth shepherdess alone to her brooding, as two shepherds in the same party wouldn't have worked. She and I would have inevitably sparred, pitting our sheep against each other in Pokémon-style battle. Not pretty.
Our bellies rumbling, we went to Skara Brae where we enjoyed a picnic of dwarf-tossed salad and a bucket of fried dragonlings (extra crispy). For our horses, we bought a barrel of Beefaroni and feedbags filled with Alpo. Then, it was off to Cove to talk with Merlin. Legend speaks much of his wisdom and wizardry, but in person the guy was a putz. He has this superior air about him because he's such a celebrity, but would he bother to teach the Avatar one little spell? Oh, no.
At least he stopped grooming his invisible French poodle long enough to show us where the black stone was on the map. The object was stuck in Moonglow's moongate. It must have fallen out of its previous owner's pocket while he was teleporting. We went to the gate site and, as Merlin instructed, waited for both moons to turn new. Ironically, we could only see the black stone in total darkness. I picked it up and added it to the other two stones in our rock collection.
Tune in tomorrow for more heartstopping stories about gathering stones.