Sunday, April 12, 2015

Ultima V: Sacrifices

When I fired up Ultima V again and started by moseying my way over to Minoc, I had no idea just how appropriate that would turn out to be through the course of my session. Despite the leads I'd had and the importance a ship would have in following through on those leads, I'd decided to hold off on that for the moment, choosing time and effort in the name of experience and supplies rather than a expenditure of wealth in the name of a ship and expediency.

Well, that didn't go as planned...
And this initial plan went very well, at first. We got into several fights as we skirted our way around waterways and mountains, bumping into headless, skeletons (where the An Xen Corp spell proved handy to have around), orcs, and the occasional rat. I picked up a decent amount of money and equipment on the way, though I wasn't really focusing too much on equipment at the moment - gather a good stockpile of cash, then I could spend it on the necessary weapons and armor when I decided to prepare myself for diving into the more dangerous parts of the world. I gave Iolo and Jaana ranged weapons, Iolo because of his decent dexterity and Jaana to keep her at a safe distance, while Shamino, Gwenno and I held the front lines. I began to amass a nice little nest egg for myself as I approached the city of Sacrifice, and as I passed the lighthouse nearby, I found and even greater reason for my wallet to rejoice - a pirate ship on the horizon! If I could defeat its crew, then I wouldn't even have to worry about purchasing a ship. I could get one for free! So after some careful maneuvering to lure the pirate ship to a position where I could climb aboard and seize it for myself, we attacked.

This turned out to be a less than stellar idea.

The ship was teeming with pirates, who could strike from range, and the gangplanks that allowed our group's frontline fighters into range were narrow, meaning we had to deal with a hail of arrows - and scoop up the piles of treasure left behind by defeated pirates before we could move further forward in the process! The battle was long and difficult, Gwenno eventually switching to a crossbow and then throwing axes to support Iolo and Jaana's slings, trying to pick off as many of the pirates as possible while Aric and Shamino slashed furiously for their very lives. Jaana even halted her portion of the assault to throw the occasional desperate Mani spell their direction - but it wasn't enough. Aric fell to a pirate's blade, and Gwenno only barely pulled out of the struggle alive, while Shamino panted and gasped from his position at the ship's stern. The ship had been commandeered - but at what cost?

Windmire and Emilly sharing a meal.
Well, the cost of a resurrection at the healer's, of course. This was, however, complicated by the fact that the Shadowlord of Hatred decided to pay a visit to Minoc that night, and the group was certainly in no shape to face one of those at the moment. My companions scurried away from town and instead dropped in at the lighthouse of Stormcrow just to the south of the pier. Aric, of course, wouldn't find out about this until later, but the lighthouse was maintained by a rather friendly couple, who informed me a little about the port and what I could expect to find in Minoc. Though it cost the team in a different manor, what we were told about the shipwright in Minoc made me glad we hadn't given him any business - he did not sound like a friendly, pleasant character by any means whatsoever. As I left the lighthouse, I watched the keeper and his wife enjoy a meal - it seemed that while he maintained the light through the night and his wife kept things in order during the day, they at least took the time to eat together before trading off duty and rest with each other. It's just a small little bit of NPC scheduling, but for some reason I find it adorable and endearing all the same.

The sacrifices of my little band just kept coming, though. After a brief rest to heal while they waited for the Shadowlord to move on, they found themselves killing more than just time as they were beset upon by orcs, and while they had enough strength to fend them off, Gwenno was pushed over the edge by an acid trap on one of the chests they left behind, and what had started as a group of five was now down to three. Not only that, an honest-to-goodness dragon loomed on the horizon - Shamino, Iolo and Jaana were taking no chances. They turned tail and fled, and rushed into Minoc as soon as daylight broke.

I think he's the one doing the misunderstanding of the virtues...
If Yew was a city that hinted at Blackthorn's tight hold on the realm and his harsh laws, and Britain a city firmly certain of the oppressive regime and longing for British to return, Minoc was a city divided. Fiona who ran the poorhouse longed to have the kindgom's rightful ruler back, but not everyone in town shared her views. Sahra, for instance, who helped tend the sick with the town's healer (who lost no time getting Aric and Gwenno's hearts beating again, much to Iolo's relief). She spoke of the many factional skirmishes that arose in the wake of Lord British's disappearance, the injuries that caused, and how glad she was to see fewer of them once Blackthorn had established martial law. Tactus in the armory told me that his sales had increased threefold under the new regime, and when I grudgingly admitted that maybe there were some small ways the self-styled new monarch's approaches were beneficial, he told me to seek out Dryden in Yew and ask him of the Oppression. I don't yet know if I feel comfortable taking that route, though - maybe Blackthorn has done some good in the short term, but at what cost?

It was stopping by the shipwright's that told me Minoc under Blackthorn's rule took sacrifice too far, though. Blythe was all the blackhearted man that the couple in Stormcrow told me he was, forcing his two employees to work long hours day in and day out with little rest, one of them no more than a little girl. But a girl who worked as a sailmaker - hadn't I been informed that one of the council members had a daughter who did just that? Sure enough, when asked about it, Rew confirmed that her mother Fiona was part of the Council, and when I went back to her, after confirming my identity, she was quite willing to part with the Word of Power for Covetous, just around the corner from the pier.

After picking up a few strange keys from a tree in town, presumably left there by Shenstone, whom a beggar had told me he'd seen skulking about around noontime, and crossing paths with a guard enforcing the Fifth Law of Virtue (which cost me half my income, lest I have no income), I headed east for some other errands. Those in Empath Abbey had told me of a demon who lived in this part of the world who might be able to tell me more about the Shadowlord of Hatred, and sure enough, I found him living right where the village of Vesper used to be. It was a desolate land now, far from the pleasant little town that I remembered from my last visit to this part of the world. Sin'Vraal told me of his meeting with Lord British, and his former service for the Shadowlord of Hatred, even going so far as to tell me his name, with the warning not to speak it too loudly lest I summon him unwanted. This is knowledge that shall surely need to be guarded closely.

I get the feeling I'm not welcome here.
I found some mandrake root right where I did the last time around as midnight passed, and I boarded my newly commandeered ship as the sun rose to head for the Shrine of the Codex, remembering that the Shrine of Honor had bestowed upon me a quest to seek out the meaning of the darkness of dishonor. As I charted my course, however, I caught a glimpse of a castle, bathed in the torchlight I was using to steer by. Dropping anchor, I carefully stepped ashore, curious about this landmark that I didn't remember from my last venture in Britannia - and didn't get far before the ominous, imposing structure that screamed 'tyrannical lair' got the better of me and I ducked back out. Surely this was the castle that Blackthorn had claimed as his own - I was not ready to face the man who claimed to rule just yet. (Besides, the drawbridge was up anyway. Couldn't have gotten in even if I'd wanted to. Yeah, let's go with that. It's still an honest answer!)

So I hurriedly hopped back on my frigate and set sail east, and it wasn't long before I was standing before the Codex, which was already open to the page I needed, as the Codex is wont to do. It reminded me that it was the guilt, not the guillotine, that constituted the shame, then sent me on my way to return to the Shrine of Honor. Musing on this, I guided my ship toward another island on my map that I didn't recognize, recalling that I had been told to speak to Sutek, who lived on an island in this part of the sea. Sure enough, his cottage was there, surrounded by swamp, which I carefully navigated through so as to spend as little time as possible wading through it. Sutek himself was out in the graveyard around back (which makes me wonder what he's been up to), and told me of the shards of Mondain's Gem that were still around from when I shattered it way back in Ultima I - how they gave rise to the Shadowlords, and how to use them to defeat those dark entities once and for all.

Dagnabit, this is what I get for not cleaning up after myself.
After paying some brief respects to the denizens of Sutek's cemetery (HERE LIES RICHARD, BURIED ALIVE TRYING TO FINISH ULTIMA V), I hopped back on my boat and sailed west back to the mainland, guided by the beam of the lighthouse of Greyhaven just south of Trinsic. I dropped by to see who I could find there, and not only did I find a family of three there running the lighthouse, but I also found Sir Kenneth the musician, who gave me a harpsichord lesson, and Arbuthnot, the former coinmaker of the realm, now on the run for having helped mint the magical coin that brought me back to Britannia in the first place! I assured him I very much appreciated his work before I turned my attentions to David, the caretaker, and his wife and child. Charlotte, the keeper's wife, had some pretty extreme views on virtue, praising Blackthorn's interpretations of them, but I could not agree with them myself - and even David, her own husband, thought them strange ideas. Their son Anthony suffered from his mother's perspective, wanting to become an Avatar by studying and following the Laws - a noble attempt in theory, but not likely to come to fruition in practice, and he decried me for telling him so, even when I did so as gently as I could. David himself was a rather brusque sort of man, and did not seem fond of company, so I left him to drop by the Shrine of Honor again and share what I had learned from the Codex.

From there it was off to Buccaneer's Den to see what I could learn in that lair of pirates - unsavory characters they may be, but pirates are also well-traveled sorts, and perhaps they would have some clues for me. And that they did - I found a glassmaker there, and remembering what I had been told about glass swords, I asked him about them, to which he replied that there were rumors of magical crystalline swords somewhere in the Serpent's Spine. A wench named Tierra barely seemed willing to give me the time of day, until I offered her a drink and complimented her, on the advice of another pirate - she was rather friendlier after that, telling me that a man named Bidney used to climb mountains, and that I should ask him about it. Bidney himself was a drunkard of a man, but confirmed he used to climb mountains with a grapple, which he gave to Lord Michael of Empath Abbey. I learned a little more about David at Greyhaven from Scally the bard, who told me a story of his exploits and that the man had in fact invented the sextant, which could certainly come in handy if I got my hands on one. And finally, amongst the many other figures that I met in the Den, I bumped into my old companion Geoffrey, who was more than willing to lend his hand in the effort, and quickly reacquainted himself with the rest of my merry band.

I think it's a little more complicated than that, kid...
He was, unsurprisingly, swiftly welcomed, and after a few exchanges of stories and 'good to see you again's, we set sail once more, this time to head to Empath Abbey and obtain the grapple from Lord Michael, who gave it to us quite readily when asked. While there, the castle's bard made mention of Sir Kenneth, and an off-handed remark about playing certain music on certain instruments could have some very strange respects made me wonder. From there it was back to Lord British's castle - as much of a breach of privacy as it felt, I remembered being told about the magic carpet that was supposedly in the king's private chambers, and that would surely have its uses in our efforts to rescue him. Using one of the strange keys I'd found in Minoc, I made my way in, and as my companions rolled up the carpet, my fingers found their way around the opening strains of "Stones" on the monarch's personal harpsichord, just as Kenneth had taught me. A rumble of the wall behind us proved rumor accurate, and behind this secret passage was a sandalwood box. I had no idea what it was or what it contained, but if Lord British had gone to such extents to keep it concealed... I thought it best to keep it close and safe.

With that done, I decided to head back to Minoc and the surrounding area. I'd asked around about the shards in Empath Abbey, since they knew much of love and had pointed me toward a few clues about the Shadowlord of Hatred. They couldn't tell me much, but maybe Sin'Vraal, who had given me the Shadowlord's name, could help in that respect. He did indeed, telling me where the Shard of Hatred could be found and that I should enter through the dungeons in Lost Hope Bay. I don't think I'm quite ready for that yet, but that would be good to know for the future regardless. And since I was in the area, I paid a visit to the Shrine of Sacrifice, which exhorted me to visit the Codex to learn of unwilling sacrifice. I finished my session by doing just that, dropping by the Codex then returning to the shrine. It strikes me that the Shrines have been, in their own manner, expressing just what is wrong with Blackthorn's Laws - that it should be the guilt of the wrong action itself and not the threat of death that leads one to make amends, that sacrifice is a choice, not something to be forced. It makes me wonder whether these quests the Shrines ordain are specific to the Avatar, or whether they would be bestowed on any truly seeking enlightenment in this period of Britannian history - whether the Shrines themselves are trying to expose the nature of Blackthorn's misinterpretations of the Virtues. Perhaps that's why Blackthorn would be seeking the mantras and the words of power? The shrines themselves are pushing back against his rule? An interesting angle to think about, at any rate.

So ended the next chapter of my adventures, and I expect the next couple will be in a similar vein. I've only visited about half of Britannia's cities, after all, and there's surely much to learn in the others. There's still six of the shrines left to visit, too, and I still need to find Sir Simon to ask him of the crown jewels left to obtain. I need to figure out where I might be able to find the other two shards of Mondain's gem and discover the names of the other two Shadowlords, too... there's still a lot of intel to gather before I start planning my further strategies. The game engine still has a grating moment every now and again (NPC scheduling trapped me in Empath Abbey's kitchen for so long at one point that I got anxious and ended up attacking poor Lord Michael so I could make my escape) but I'm enjoying it immensely now that I'm starting to get into some of the meat of the game and its storyline. I think it's time I headed for Spiritwood next...

Why, what could this be...?

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