Friday, February 20, 2015

Ultima IV: Always More to Learn

The road to enlightenment may be a rocky one, but once tangible progress begins to evidence itself, new epiphanies tend to cascade. Or at least that's how it tends to go in Ultima IV, I've noticed. It's a slow start to increasing your virtue scores, but once you start getting partials, the rest start falling into place pretty quickly.

Clearly not the friendly, patient sort.
I started this session with partials in Honor and Justice, and with Sacrifice, Humility, and Valor all ready to advance. So, naturally, I blew them off for the moment to head over to Buccaneer's Den, that dreadful hive of scum and villainy that a hopeful Avatar candidate really has no business being. Except that I did, as I remembered that I was told to ask after the skull of Mondain here. Plying the townsfolk for information proved a bit of a troublesome task, a lot of them were unsavory characters with a tendency to turn away if I was too inquisitive, but I did eventually find out that an extremely poor, destitute beggar named Jude might be able to tell me something. I did some restocking while I was in the Den, finding a rare source of magic keys and magic gems in town. So too did I find a reagents shop, which I made use of - only to get attacked by a balron sitting in the corner! Fine way to treat honest customers, by siccing one of those on them!

I hightailed it out of there, done with the town for now, though I expected I'd have to return eventually. The shops there did, after all, stock some very nice-looking weaponry, and I hadn't had enough money to purchase the sextant the guild shop owner kept behind the counter, either. For now, though, it was smooth sailing back to Britain, and I managed to commandeer yet another ship near Paws. I think that's four total now - I've been exceedingly lucky in that respect this time around, sometimes I have to make judicious use of blink spells to get around to the shrines I need! Doesn't seem to be the case this time around!

From the mouths of babes... sage advice.
With Sacrifice ready to advance, I hopped the moongate to Minoc, learning what I could there. I still can't quite figure out why they thought to keep the rune to the shrine waaaaaay in the back of the blazing hot forge, but I came out little worse for the wear because of it, so I suppose all was well. At least the smith was rather helpful, this turned out to be Zircon that I'd been told I should ask about the mystics. Apparently he gave them to Sir Simon and Lady Tessa, whom I remembered meeting in Paws. They'd told me they were the keepers of what they could not say - maybe now that I knew, they would be a bit more forthcoming. Having heard the mantra of Sacrifice sung in a bard's song, I next dropped by the poorhouse, and it was here that I found Jude. The poor man, he was clearly consumed by guilt for having made use of the skull himself once. A promise to never use it except to destroy it at the entrance to the Abyss seemed to be enough to gain his trust, however, as he gave me coordinates to where it could be found, on the darkest night. Saving up for a sextant became very important indeed.

Wait, haven't I met you before... did Minax hire you?
With a new companion in tow (I'd asked Julia at the poorhouse if she'd be willing), I made my way to the shrine, and after some time deep in thought, I had my third partial. Vesper was only a short jaunt away, so I paid a visit there. A group of shepherds told me a bit about the situation concerning the shrine of Humility - where it was, the fact it was guarded by demons, that its mantra was the mantra of pride reversed, all in all very helpful. Taking note of this, I made my way back to the moongate, and remembering that the Shrine of Spirituality was found through the gate of double full moons, I paid a visit to it, where I was rewarded with the knowledge that the white stone could be found in Serpent's Spine. But how do I search a mountain? Maybe the lighter-than-air device I heard about in Buccaneer's Den might be able to help there.

Maybe I should have stayed at the shrine a little longer, though, because when I made my way back to Hawkwind, he told me I was ready for advancement in Spirituality as well. So it was back the shrine for more meditation, and then I set my sights for the locale where I could learn more about what the shepherds in Vesper had hinted at. I headed for Magincia.

One of my favorite lines in-game, I must admit.
Magincia is one of my favorite parts of the game. Exploring the ruins, meeting ghosts and skeletons in varying stages of grief and regret, the missing walls, the encroaching swampland - it's all very poignant, and a very stark lesson in humility in and of itself. It's a reminder that there's a flipside to virtue, and that it can have very dire, lasting effects. The town and its denizens serve as a lesson by way of example of what not to do in contrast to the light, jovial feel from the rest of the settlements. I even love the fact that not everyone in Magincia seems to recognize these lessons - the nobleman who seems very convinced that of course I should have heard of him and his family coming swiftly to mind. Understanding humility in Ultima IV is inextricably tied in to understanding its antithesis is well, and I love that effect, because, as C. S. Lewis puts it in The Screwtape Letters, it's a particularly delicate virtue, easily shattered by the very fact that once one realizes one is acting humbly, then "almost immediately pride - pride at his own humility - will appear." It's even brought up by one of the resident ghosts to beware becoming too proud of your own virtue, lest you lose it in the process. It's a nice reminder that stands in stark contrast to the rest of virtues and seeking enlightenment in them as the game goes about it, and it's somehow fitting that attaining anything related to humility, whether it be the rune, the mantra, the stone, or its shrine - is somehow more complex than most of the others.

Anyway. While exploring the ruins of the town, I learned again of the demons that guarded the shrine, and that there existed a silver horn to ward them away. The lady in waiting of the Queen of Love was supposed to know something, so I made a note to myself to stop by Empath Abbey as soon as I was able. I discovered the mantra of pride - MUL - which meant that its reverse was the mantra I wanted. The locals informed me that Nate the snake would tell me of the rune and stone if I asked before it strike, and in return I was told to ask Barren in Paws of the rune, and at the pub in Britain of the black stone. I said hello to Katrina on my way out - I wasn't experienced enough to bring her into the party, which somewhat disappointed me. I know Katrina gets something a not-entirely-undeserved bad rap as a companion, with all the limitations shepherds generally have, but I've always liked her as a character, at least. The only survivor of a ruined city, presumably spared because she actually understood the virtue her home was supposed to honor and represent, sitting there starting out over the ruins. Once again, a poignant image of humility.

No... no, can't say that I have.
I moongated back to Trinsic and walked back to Britain, stopping in Paws along the way to ask after the rune of Humility (which turned up in the hills on the edge of town) and to ask Sir Simon and Lady Tessa about the mystics - which they told me could be found by one who was an eight-part avatar. They won't tell me anything more until I reach that point, so I bought some more reagents and headed for the Britain pub, where I learned Merlin the wizard could tell me of the black stone. Hawkwind told me I could elevate Honesty at this point, but I wanted to follow up on the horn, so some running about Empath Abbey informed me that I could find it off the tip of Spiritwood.

My session ended when I made my way once again to Castle British, where Hawkwind told me I could achieve a partial in Compassion (for some reason that's always the last one I seem to be ready to advance), so I ran over to the shrine, meditated, and called it a day. That gives me five partials under my belt now, and the other three ready for the gaining. I think it's time to hit the seas, visit Moonglow, drop by Jhelom and Spiritwood, then make for the Shrine of Humility. I'm becoming enlightened - but there's still much more to be learned before I can take a peek at the Codex.

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