Sausalito's journal has been brought to you by LB Snacks™. "When there's only choice, choose the best for your family: LB Snacks!"
On Level 8, the last floor of the Stygian Abyss, we walked through a rocky corridor that grew narrower with each step. We had to walk in single file, and then even walk sideways, as the walls closed in. The passage soon became so cramped that we had to climb to the ceiling, where it was a bit wider, to continue. After several hundred feet of crawling through what had become a tiny tunnel, we saw the light of what appeared to be the outdoors. We emerged from the tunnel, slid down a short slope and took in our new surroundings.
Rolling hills spread out for miles, dotted with groves of oak and elderberry. A mild, sun-filtered breeze carried a deciduous scent. This was not the first time that the chaotic magics of the Abyss had mixed indoors and outdoors, so we were not taken aback by the sight. In fact, we found it a pleasant change from the dark, forlorn corridors.
However, after we walked some distance, the ground felt a bit different, the air smelled less fresh, and the trees stood not as tall. One of them fell right over when Tubbs leaned against it to adjust his sandal strap. Jaana sat on a boulder, which collapsed like paper under her weight. "What goes on?" asked Julia as she pulled up a patch of grass to find wooden floorboards underneath. Then, the breeze brought to us the sound of distant voices. We followed it, treading lightly and staying in the shadows of the dubious trees as we got closer to its source. As we cleared a hilltop, we saw a large group of people standing in a clearing, and quickly dropped prone to avoid being discovered.
Some people in the group stood, while others sat in chairs. Some handled strange devices and equipment. All their attention was on eight people standing in the center, talking to one another. The eight were dressed and equipped like my own party of eight. They were trying to talk like us, too.
"They're making a bloody film about us!" whispered Geoffrey through gnashed teeth.
"And it's a bloody awful one," commented Jaana. The actor who resembled me touched the arm of the actress who resembled her and said, "I hate swamp. It's filthy and poisonous. Not like you. You bathe."
"I thought that breeze also carried the smell of ham!" said Shamino as he unsheathed his sword and stood up, heedless of being detected. "Let's slash their production values!"
Enraged by the corniness with which our lives were being portrayed, we fell upon cast and crew, scattering everyone from best boy to key grip. Our look-alikes tried to hold their positions, but since they were mere actors, they could only pretend-fight and were no match for us. "Keep rolling, this is great!" shouted the director, whose own head was also rolling after a swipe of Dupre's merciless halberd. Julia smashed the lights and boom mikes as Mariah set fire to the camera and film inside.
After making sure that this movie would never come to a multiplex near you, we noticed someone cowering behind the overturned catering truck. Geoffrey pulled him out and shoved him into our presence.
"Curses!" cursed Lord British. "I didn't think you'd actually go to the Abyss, much less make it this far."
"No wonder, then, you would think it safe to make your film down here," I said.
"Our Trollywood agents must have sold our story rights to you," said Jaana. "And you didn't even have the decency to come to us for script consultation?"
"Don't flatter yourself," replied LB. "Just because the movie was to be about you does not mean it needed you. This sabotage of my blockbuster is an outrage. You even got past the Spanish Armada?"
"Hasta la bye-bye," said Tubbs. "And the same goes for you." Tubbs whipped out his mystic sword and held the edge close to the sovereign's face:
"Yes," said Jaana, "this travesty of filmmaking adds to the long list of crimes for which we are placing you under arrest."
"Wish I could stay," said LB, "but I have a market to manipulate. Ta-ta!" Before we realized what he was doing, he crossed his arms genie-style, wriggled his nose, and disappeared in a puff of Styrofoam peanuts.
Dejected, we all stared at the spot where the CEO of LB Snacks had again escaped justice.
"Someday," promised Jaana.
"Let's move on," I said. "We are near the end."
We found a cave that led back into the caverns and spelunked further, mopping up the final enemies in the dungeon with refreshing style.
We found the door to the Chamber of the Codex. I used the three-part key to open the door's bizarre lock. The tumblers fell, but the door would not open. We all jumped at the sudden, loud ring of a voice over the intercom:
"Word of Passage?"
Ah, so this is the part of the game that some of you were complaining about on the first page of the thread. I knew the three syllables of the Word: "Amo," "Cor," and "Ver." But what was the correct order? This would be easy, thought I. I had to use the Bell of Courage, the Book of Truth, and the Candle of Love, in that order, to enter the Abyss, so the Word surely had to be "corveramo." How could those other Gone Golders have had so much trouble here? I am so smrt! Imagine my surprise when the voice over the intercom told me to try again. I suspected that I would not get an infinite number of chances, so I looked up the walkthrough to learn the correct Word. I spoke it into the intercom, and there was a loud buzzing sound. The door was unlocked.
Beyond the door was an antechamber in which a bored uniformed security guard was doing a Jumble word puzzle at her desk. She didn't look up from her puzzle as we entered and stood in front of her. After we stared at her expectantly for a minute, she finally sighed and drawled, "Yes?"
"We'd, uh, like to see the Codex?" I replied nervously.
"Sausalito Johnson McGillicutty."
"Shepherd. Was also a lawyer, until—"
"Single and unbetrothed."
The guard slowly got up and walked to a filing cabinet, making a big show of the effort. She pulled out a sheet of paper, sat back down heavily, and began reading aloud a series of questions to quiz me on the virtues and principles. The questions were on the order of, "Which virtue dost thou practice whilst sharing thy ham sandwich?" I had to look up a walkthrough for some of the answers, because the questions were kind of vague. The final question was the game's equivalent of "What is the answer to life, the universe, and everything?" I guess this was the Pure Axiom, which I had heard of in my overland travels but never deduced.
"Erm ... Truth! Love! Courage!" I attempted.
"No," answered the guard.
"Till all are one?"
"Be excellent to each other?"
"For those about to rock, we salute you?"
"What do you mean, African or European?"
"One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish?"
"I'm about to look up a walkthrough to find out what the Axiom is, since you won't let me pass without it, and I've gone through too much trouble to turn back now?"
Each of the "visions" I'd received while gaining an eighth of Avatarhood included a squiggly symbol. I figured that these symbols meant something, but I had no idea what. As I learned from the walkthrough, the symbols were letters from the game's runic alphabet, and I was supposed to write them down and decode them for the final answer. Oh well. I gave the guard the answer and she replied, "Go on in," followed by some mumbled instructions I couldn't make out. She picked up a pencil and returned to her Jumble puzzle. Not once during the entire exchange had she made eye contact with us, an admirable feat of apathy.
I stared at the doorway leading to the Chamber of the Codex. "Go for it, man," said Tubbs. "That place is for you and you alone."
"We'll be right here if you need us," said Jaana.
With my heart doing tai-bo kicks in my chest, I stepped slowly through the doorway. The Chamber was a little room even smaller than the antechamber, containing nothing but a rack of pamphlets and brochures with titles such as:
Looking and Feeling Virtuous
Are You Eating Enough Snacks?
Men Are From Mars, Women Ask For Directions
Are You an Orc or a Troll?
Humility: When You Stink at Everything Else
How to Perform a Navel Self-Examination
Chicken Vindaloo for the Soul
I'm 'Meh,' You're 'Meh'
Talking to Your Children About Safe Specs
After some perusing, my eyes fell upon the object of my quest:
I took the one remaining copy and sat in a corner to read it. It stated that the Quest of the Avatar was really a lifelong journey, and that avatarhood was a living gift that needed to be nurtured constantly, and so on. I fell asleep trying to get through the thing, and when I awoke, I was back where I was before this whole story began: at the stonehenge. "Welcome back to the real world," I told myself.
It was over; the quest was finished. My shepherd's cane and Mystic Robe were gone, replaced by my favorite mesh shirt and Cavariccis. In one hand, I held my only souvenir from Britannia, the prize for enduring the ordeal:
I stuck the Ankh in my back pocket and trudged to my home in the suburbs. I fixed myself a pickle-and-Vegemite sandwich and plopped in front of the television. In a curious intersection of realities, the evening news was reporting my achievement:
I took the Ankh from my pocket and stared at my reflection in it. I thought of all the things mentioned in the Codex, and all the virtues I discovered. What was the point of finding them? Hadn't I only succeeded as LB's pawn in his mad quest for power? Did I inspire common townsfolk to be virtuous, or was I just passing by as they fell sway to his dominion? Who exactly did I help?
I flung the Ankh across the room, glad to put the whole sham behind me. The Ankh bounced off a wall and landed in a fish bowl, frightening the little goldfish inside so much that it leaped out and began flopping on the rug. My cocker spaniel, Chepito, made a beeline for the fish, knocking over a lamp that hit a bookshelf on the way down. The bookshelf had never been properly secured to the wall, so it now came down bringing all eighteen volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica upon my noggin. As I slowly extricated myself from the mess, covered with the bruises and papercuts of education, I realized the answer to my question. I did help some people, and now I wanted to be with them. I ran out of the house and belly flopped into the stonehenge by the fair, where a blue gate was shimmering...
"How many shrines must a shepherd find
Before he becomes Avatar?
And how many snacks must Lord British sell
Before he owns all near and far?
And how many posts will a gamer write
Before he decides it's the end?
The answer will be in the Codex, my friend
The answer will BLAAARRRGGHH!"
Tubbs's daughter had him in a playful headlock and pulled him to the ground, guitar and all, as we laughed at the old bard's awful songwriting. "Tell your old man it's time to retire, Julia!" said Shamino.
The moongate in the stonehenge had taken me back to the Renaissance fair, where I begged the gypsy to send me back to Britannia. She once again deposited me in Magincia. I used the Moongates to travel to where Tubbs, Jaana, Mariah, Shamino, Geoffrey, Dupre, Julia and I had planned to go after completing our quest: our vacation spot, Moonglow. My friends were relieved to see me after my disappearance from the Chamber of the Codex, and now we were enjoying an evening clambake on the beach near our favorite pagoda.
As Tubbs tuned his guitar for his next song, I got up to retrieve the six-pack of Balronkugel that I had left chilling in the ocean water. Jaana ran out to join me, and we waded together through the twin moons' reflections in the water.
"So, Jaana," I said as I tore off two beers from the six-pack, "what are your plans?"
"We're going after Lord British," she said. "Rather, I'm going after Lord British. We all seem to be heading our separate ways. You truly are going back to shepherding?"
"Ba-a-a-a!" Jaana gave me a shove. She hated when I did that. "Yup, tis the shepherd's life for me. Won't it be hard to take LB down on your own, though? We couldn't even touch him as a firm."
"I'm retaining a grassroots activist litigator named Zachariah Blackthorn. He's supposed to be very good."
"Good luck with that," I said, handing her a beer and opening my own.
We leisurely waded back toward the others in the cool ocean water. After a few steps, Jaana stopped and faced me.
"Sausalito," she said, "I know I took the firm on different paths than you envisioned. I know I marginalized you. I didn't return your affections, and can't blame you if you want to depart. But everything I have now, I owe to you. You showed me a world bigger than Yew, and brought out strengths I didn't know I had. I still need you. We have to prevent LB Snacks from destroying the junk food industry and dominating the economy. I cannot imagine doing it without you by my side. You may not be able to practice law, but we could start a new firm with you as our corporate executive. You'd make the business decisions, while Blackthorn and I fight in court. What say you?"
"No, Jaana," I replied. "I've decided that every person is an Avatar, and must go where his soul takes him. You're destined to become a great antitrust lawyer, while I'm just a simple shepherd who can't even cast spells. But a shepherd has battles, too, and people to help. My calling might not be as grand as your struggle against Lord British, but my sheep need me."
Jaana swallowed hard, and now stood very close to me. "But what about us?"
I took her hand and looked into her eyes for a long time. Then I turned to the moons, twin sentinels of a departing day. "Our destinies may take us apart," I said, "but we helped each other find them. That's our 'us.'"