Hello, my friends. Stay a while, and lis... hey, come back!
Level: 8 (maximum)
Party deaths: 9
Now that I was finally elevated in the last two virtues, I began the quest to visit the Sacrifice and Honesty shrines to become the Avatar. From Lord Buttsteak's castle, we Mr. Edded through the moongates and into Minoc. In the poorhouse there, I rolled up my sleeves and showed Julia my blisters and scars from all that bloodgiving, convincing her that I had sacrificed enough. "Let me clean up here first and I'll join you," she said.
She undid her ponytail, letting her dirty but beautiful brown hair flow. Tubbs stared at the thing in her hand that had bound the hair. "Where did you get that polka-dotted scrunchy?" he asked in wonder.
"This thing?" she said. "It used to be my mother's."
Tubbs looked at her face for a long time, then showed her the bolo tie he wore around his neck. "Did your mother ever tell you about this?"
Julia was so amazed that she dropped the scrunchy. She gasped...
After a long and animated conversation between the two of them, Tubbs finally clued the rest of us in: "I had a ladyfriend in this town many years ago. She was a seamstress and a great gal. I went to Britain to become a bard, and promised I'd be back for her. I never did go back. Never did know that she bore my daughter. Never did know that she'd died on the Cape. Never knew I had a little girl in Minoc who'd never met her daddy, and knew nothin' about him except what her mama told her." He fingered his bolo tie. "Saus, I always felt awful for how I treated my lady, for not being man enough to keep a promise. That's why I joined you, to help people, to make up for the things I'd done."
"I bet you never thought you'd have such a chance at redemption," I said.
"No, I didn't," he said with his arm around his daughter. "And I ain't gonna blow it this time. If it's all the same to you guys, I'd like to remain behind."
"You have our blessings, Tubbs," said Jaana. "We will miss—"
"No!" interrupted Julia. "Don't leave your friends, Father. I'm coming with you."
After another long, more heated conversation, Tubbs grudgingly agreed to let Julia join the firm. He was a tough old man, but no match for his daughter's fierce will.
At the Shrine of Sacrifice, I earned an eighth of avatarhood. Just one more to go. We all felt pretty good about having a full team of lawyers and almost all the virtues, so I took on the guise of Sheep Shady and led a flavorful dance routine:
"That was a bit... much," commented Shamino.
We hiked through the mountain trail to go back to the moongate. Mondain was rolling happily along the ground, keeping up with us. He did this by pushing his jawbone against the ground, like a self-propelling wheel. He still managed to get his words in: "The guy who killed me was a real hero, I'll give you that much. Tough, smart, brave. He had to be in order to defeat a powerful, evil wizard like me. I'm not saying you've got it easy, Saucy. I mean, meditating at shrines, collecting silly artifacts, saying mantras like 'foo' and 'goo' correctly. That stuff would be difficult enough for a complete lout, so I can only imagine what a monumental challenge it must be for you. Hamumumumumu!"
"That's it!" bellowed Geoffrey. "I've had it with yer insults, skullface!" Geoffrey picked Mondain up and proceeded to chuck him off the precipice shot-put style. "Wait!" cried the skull. "Don't! Don't! There are so many things I wanted to do. I have plans, dreams! I never got to emcee a wedding or bar mitzvaaaaaaaaaaaah..."
For a blissful moment, we reveled in the peaceful, Mondain-free quiet. The sun seemed to shine a bit brighter, and we could hear birds chirping again. Then, we headed down the mountain to find the skull; we still needed it to complete our mission.
Mondain was shattered into dozens of pieces. We put him back together the best we could with twine and dried mud. "Ugh, what a mess you made of me," he groaned with groggy ingratitude. "My jaw's crooked, my eye sockets are asymmetrical and you've obviously used my teeth in place of the bits you couldn't find. I guess you never played with Legos. Couldn't you have at least made a proper glue from one of your horses?"
We quietly put Mondain into our empty Beefaroni barrel and proceeded through the moongate to Britain, where our ship was docked. The denizens of the wilderness seemed to know that I was close to attaining full avatarhood, as they beset our party in great hordes as if to stop me:
When we made it to our boat, I noticed the change that had come over Tubbs. Once easygoing and carefree, he now moved with a sense of purpose and vigilance. He assumed captaincy of the ship, rattling orders, making navigational decisions and leaving nothing to chance. When we came upon another vessel at sea, Tubbs didn't hesitate to rush to a cannon and unleash pink fury on the target:
I didn't have the heart to point out that the "enemy" had been one of our previously owned and abandoned vessels, a harmless derelict. If Tubbs thought he was protecting his daughter, that was good enough for me.
But as we got closer to the Shrine of Honesty, real enemies attacked us with greater frequency. After one lengthy and chaotic battle, Tubbs looked around and said, "Where's Julia?" We searched the ship with haste and alarm, finding her neither on nor below deck. Then, Mariah pointed at the ocean. Julia had apparently been knocked overboard during the fight, and was now floating face down and motionless. Not a second later, Tubbs himself was in the ocean. I swear he had said once that he couldn't swim, but he learned quickly as he pulled Julia back to the ship. When we got both of them back on board, Tubbs attempted to resuscitate Julia. Minutes passed. Julia remained still.
Tubbs took a long look at her. "One day," he said, his voice breaking in anguish, "Just one day in my girl's life, and look what happened. I was no good to her mother... no good... "
"Please don't say that," Jaana said, kneeling by him and hugging his shoulders as Mariah already began the process of resurrecting Julia through magic. Minutes later, Julia stirred. She looked weary and in pain, but her face lit up when she saw Tubbs. "Daddy," she sighed as she threw her arms around him. She insisted on staying with us for the rest of the adventure, but promised not to wander far from her father's side.
Later that night, we reached the Shrine of Honesty. I meditated three cycles and said the correct mantra. Maximum avatarosity, baby! I was hoping for some pomp and circumstance, or even a laurel and hardy handshake, for finally becoming the Avatar, but the game continued normally (perhaps because I can still lose avatarhood if I do something bad). So I had to fantasize about getting proper recognition:
But as I emerged from the shrine, my colleagues threw a surprise reception to congratulate me. Shamino opened a bottle of Dom Perrier champagne. As everyone enjoyed their caviaar and foie gras, I noticed the brand on the bottle label: LB Snacks™.
With the wisdom of avatarhood came dread and horror. "Let's get out of here, now," I said. "Back to the castle." My colleagues were puzzled, but didn't argue. We Gate-traveled to Britain and arrived at the castle grounds, where my fear was confirmed.
People had come from all over to celebrate my success. There were banners and booths, confetti and cacophony. When the crowd noticed our arrival, it surged to surround and cheer us. We slowly made our way through it, noticing what everyone was eating, what all the booths were selling, and what all the T-shirts were promoting: LB Snacks. The name was everywhere. The CEO of the company was on a stage, hailing my arrival with effusive praise in a speech about how my achievement would usher in a new era for Britannia. He gazed upon me with affection, genuinely glad that I had gone through the trials to become Avatar. I finally understood why.
Throughout my quest, I had traveled from town to town, buying food from the increasingly ubiquitous LB Snacks shops. Though the company had great market penetration, many people remained unfamiliar with the brand and resistant to change. LB Snacks couldn't corner the market until it won them over. To do this, the company needed an effective spokesperson, someone who promoted the brand by visiting one town after another and buying huge quantities of the product. This spokesperson had to be widely liked, so that the townsfolk who observed his snack-buying habits would want to emulate him. LB Snacks could create this spokesperson by finding some humble unknown and championing him as a wandering hero on an important quest to better all of Britannia. A person on a mission of self-discovery. A mission of virtue.
Later that night, as the festivities wound down and people returned to their homes, I followed the CEO to his throne room and confronted him. "Would you like me to travel some more?" I asked. "Sign autographs, kiss babies, pass out free samples? Perhaps I can star in some commercials on LBNN and say, 'I couldn't have become the Avatar without LB Snacks.'"
"No, no, no," he said, laughing amiably. "You've done more than enough for the company, though I do like that slogan and will use it with your kind permission. You are understandably tired. I think you deserve a long vacation, all expenses taken care of by me, to a locale of your choice. You like Moonglow, true?"
"What about the Stygian Abyss?"
"Well that doesn't sound like a fun time! Why would you want to go there?"
"Aren't I supposed to? Skull of Mondain, Bell of Courage and all that?"
"Oh yes, I had completely forgotten. Well, do whatever you wish, Avatar! LB Snacks is now the undisputed snack food empire of Britannia. Our products are sold everywhere and eaten by everyone. Now don't look so disappointed that I don't need you anymore. You should be very proud of what you've accomplished. Promoting the 'eight virtues' was a swell thing to do."
"How dare you mock us!" said a seething Jaana. "We faced horrible threats and went through hell to obtain those virtues."
"And each of us died at least once in the process," shouted Tubbs, "including my own daughter."
"Good Jaana and Tubbs, you may visit me at any time and ask for anything you want. You shall have it. But I would thank you to not address me in raised voices. Jaana, were it not for this quest, you would have remained a druid in Yew for the rest of your life, ignorant of the wonders of the world and the greater challenges awaiting you. Tubbs, were it not for me, you would never have met your daughter at all."
"She died! If I could go back in time and prevent that, I would, even if it meant never getting the chance to meet her."
"We were foolish to not have supported Sausalito's lawsuit against you earlier," said Jaana. "But we won't be fooled again. Tubbs and I still have our law licenses, as do our associates, and we will stop you."
LB laughed. "At this point," he said, "you have a better chance of surviving the Stygian Abyss than of prevailing against me." Then his eyes darkened. "In fact, why don't you go on that vacation to the Abyss after all? Do your heroic and virtuous things. Save the world. Just leave my castle, and do not return." His guards escorted us out.
We stood outside the castle and watched the groundskeepers clean up after the festival, feeling lost. "Well, now what?" I asked.
"We might as well see this through," said Tubbs. "Jaana?"
"Very well," she said. "We've come too far to turn back now."
So we went to Skara Brae and bought a massive amount of food, perhaps for the last time. We splurged: liver and onions, cheese crumpets, and a shoo fly pie were the order of the day for most of us. Dupre bought a Royale With Grease at the ramburger-and-rot-dog stand. Shamino made sure to visit the crab buffet before it closed. Then we went to Serpent's Hold and Empath Abbey to obtain the mystic weapons and armor, available only to those who've completed the virtues. Finally, we returned to our boat to enter the heart of the Stygian Abyss. Before we reached there, we were ambushed by the largest group of sea creatures we'd ever encountered.
Will the sea beasts send our heroes to a watery grave? Will they then reach the mainland, evolve into land-walking animals and ravage the countryside? Will Lord British then hire them as his team of valets during his pro wrestling sabbatical? Find out next time on ULLTIMMAAA IIIIVVVVV!!!!!