"Forget this avatar business," I said, stomping off to the tavern. "A drink needs me."
"I'll have a Grog-and-Coke," requested the skull of Mondain. "In fact, order a round for everybody, I feel like celebrating! Sausalito's finally reached the acceptance stage of coping with being an incompetent dolt. Now that he's abandoned his quest, the world will be mine! I planned it all so well. In fact, ever since Ultima II, I—hey, where are you taking me?"
"I don't think they serve your kind," said Shamino as he carried Mondain outside the tavern, where he tied him to a post. "Sit tight, we'll be back."
"Wait! Don't leave me outside where all the dogs are leashed! Have you forgotten what they do to bones? I'll be quiet! Take me inside, please! I make a fascinating centerpiece!"
We got a table and sat down. When the serving wench came by, Tubbs ordered me a cotton gin. Jaana, in a lapse of decency, ordered a shepherd's pie. We sat in gloomy silence, staring at the table while the sailors around us caroused merrily.
"What's it going to take?" I finally said. "We've been fighting reapers, crawling through filthy dungeons and poisonous swamps, and what have we got to show for it? A pot of gold that will never be enough to even buy a decent weapon. A bunch of stupid colored rocks. I haven't even made Avatar yet! Why not?"
Jaana read the to-do list on her Palm Boy. "You still haven't completed the virtues of Honesty and Sacrifice."
"Honesty? I haven't told a lie or stolen anyone's gold in a long time. And sacrifice? Shoot, we've given away all our gold to beggars a bunch of times, given blood, given our lives. I even lost my law license to Lord Blowfish. What's left? How about we just leave all 1500 of our gold here as a really big tip? How about I just toss all my sheep into the Abyss and jump in after them? Is that what the ankhs want, Jaana? Is it?"
"I'm not certain..."
"Quick!" cried Geoffrey as he shot up from his chair. "To the Internet!" Like a bat out of Hell, he bolted noisily through the swinging saloon doors and disappeared from sight. The rest of us saw no need to leave with such alacrity, but downloading a walkthrough was a good idea, so we paid the tab and left.
All the terminals at the nearby Internet café were occupied by people playing the hottest game: Akalabeth Online. I'd heard about it on an electronic entertainment news segment on LBNN. In the game, players could fight monsters (or even each other) with weapons purchased from shops run by other players, who in turn had bought the weapons from "crafters" that had spent hours mining metals, hauling them back to their forges, and melting them into sharp steel. They developed skills, pursued quests, interacted in "chat rooms," formed guilds and even ran their own cities. It was nothing less than a living, breathing virtual world. Unimpressed, we tossed one of the gamers from his computer and viewed a walkthrough on the Internet.
"Ah, for honesty, we need to overpay for reagents," said Jaana. "That... makes sense."
"And for sacrifice, I just need to give a lot more blood," I observed. "No problem, I've gotten tired of carrying it all around, anyway."
"Hey, a Magic Bow will cost 2,000 gold, and a Magic Wand 5,000," said Tubbs. "We've almost got enough for the Bow."
"Forget about it, we need the money to overpay for reagents. And it says the H.M.S. Cape survivor is in Serpent's Hold. Let's go there first."
We collected Murray—I mean Mondain—from the post. The dogs had indeed been thorough with him. "Blech," he muttered. "You fools have no respect for the undead. Why'd I ever sign on to this game? 'Join the party,' they said. 'See the world!' they said. I'd rather be—Geoffrey, what are you doing? Don't you dare put me back in that sack, you overgrown imbecile! It's hot, dark, and smells like potatoes!"
"How would yeh know, no-nose?" Geoffrey said as he stuffed the skull into his sack and tied the drawstrings.
We sailed to Serpent's Hold and talked with the survivor of the H.M.S. Cape, the famous luxury liner that had been destroyed by a giant squid. "Yes," he said in labored whispers as he lay in his cot at the infirmary, "the horrible monster snapped the Cape in half with a double-blow from its mighty tentacles, in the deep waters of the Cape of Heroes. I'll never forget how he..."
He droned on about his bad day as we left for our ship. The Cape of Heroes was not far, though we wondered whether the giant squid still lurked there. We sailed to the middle of the Cape, where Tubbs retrieved the jewel-encrusted magical steering wheel with his fishing pole. All was quiet, but as soon as the wheel landed on the deck, the baywater began to bubble and boil. The tides rose and spun our ship in a circle. Then, a massive form emerged from the depths...
It was all we could do to hang on to the railing as our ship spun out of control. We were entranced by the beast's giant, obsidian eyes, gleaming with hatred.
"We're doomed!" cried Shamino.
"And I'm gettin' seasick!" yelled Geoffrey.
The creature lifted two arms, each many times larger than our ship, into the sky, blotting out the sun. As it brought them down with full force—
(Sorry, everyone, I lost six pages of work in a computer crash. I'll post what I was able to salvage.)
"Wow, what a fight!" I said as I helped Mariah off our intact ship. "I thought that thing was going to kill us!"
"It would have had Dupre not done his paladin-ninja jump attack," said Jaana as she dried off the magical wheel with a cloth. "I'd never seen such bravery."
"Shamino, you have got to teach me how to do that five-finger-exploding-heart technique. I didn't know you knew Tae Kwon Leap!"
"I didn't know either," said the ranger. "It just came to me. Maybe it was divine intervention on account of Mariah's magic spell."
"Yeah, what was that about?" I asked the mage. "I can't believe you summoned a thousand angels and led them in a chorus of 'Holding Out for a Hero.' Why didn't you tell us you had such a beautiful voice?"
Mariah shrugged and smiled coyly.
"When our boat transformed into a giant robot and threw that eight-armed juggernaut into the sun... well, that's just about the most amazing sight I've ever seen," said Tubbs. "I'm glad I was alive to witness it."
"Hear, hear!" I answered. "Now let's do some shopping."
At Moonglow, we bought reagents one piece at a time and paid double the price in order to win Honesty points. Then we went to Lord Bungie-Smurf's castle, where the scoreboard sorcerer, now wearing an expensive new robe made from the finest materials, told me that my Honesty level was still not high enough. At the healer, I began the cyclical process of donating blood and getting healed in order to raise my Sacrifice. As I swooned with pain and fatigue, I tried to comfort myself with the thought of my heroic story unfolding on the big screen after we sold our movie rights to Trollywood. Eventually, I fainted from the process and had a fitful nightmare...
When I came to, the scoreboard sorcerer was standing worriedly over me. He assured me that I had sacrificed enough.
We toured the four magic shops across Britannia, buying all the reagents we'll probably ever need and paying double the price. Back at the castle, the scoreboard sorcerer, now wearing custom-fitted rings on all ten fingers with rare gems that matched the color of his new robe, suggested that I try a little harder to elevate my Honesty. We went to Skara Brae and paid well over half the going rate for a few herbs. When we returned to the scoreboard sorcerer, he was sipping cognac, smoking imported cigars, and speaking into a cell phone. "Yeah, I think we'll open a new herbal shop in Britain, maybe even another in Jhelom," he said. "Business has never been better." Then he noticed us, said, "Hang on for just a sec, lemme take care of this," and turned to us. "Honesty shrine, right?" he asked with a gold-toothed smile and a thumbs-up sign. "You're good to go!" Then he returned to his phone call to discuss the lucrative possibility of selling nightshade and mandrake root.
"That seemed kinda suspicious," said Tubbs as we left.