Thursday, September 24, 2015

Ultima VI: The Best of Both Worlds

Unconvinced of my understanding of the Gargish way of life, the Shrine of Singularity had sent me on a pilgrimage to each of the other Gargish shrines, one dedicated to each of the three principles around which their philosophy revolved. I still had a few matters to attend to back in Britannia, but I figured it was best for me to see through this insight into the Gargoyles to the very end, while I was here. My surrender and demonstration of submission to Draxinusom demanded nothing less of me, really - how could I truly act in their interest if I had not yet properly wrapped my mind around what defined their way of thinking?

It was... what, last June when I actually did that?
So it was to the west that I traveled next, in search of the Shrine of Control. Poking through the mountains on that side of the city eventually revealed an entrance, which led to a room absolutely filled with levers, along with a portcullis on the northern side. Some quick experimentation revealed a long corridor beyond the portcullis, blocked by several more, all controlled by various levers in the entry room. I pressed forward as far as my initial curious level-pulls allowed, fighting off a drake or two on the way, then left it to Dupre to fiddle with the rest of the levers, pushing forward when he pulled one that offered me the chance to do so. It was perhaps a little tedious, but not particularly difficult, and it was a relatively simple matter to reach the Shrine proper, where columns surrounded a single statue on a pedestal. I figured that this was the entity that the Shrine of Singularity had told me was the embodiment of Control, and so approached it - only to pause as I neared, as the statue was familiar.

Immediately my hand flew to my weapon, but then the statue spoke, which in and of itself was enough to give me pause. It was indeed with Mondain's voice, though something had... softened, about it. After assuring me that I had nothing to fear from him and that he was no threat in this particular state - assurances that I held a healthy degree of skepticism for, all things considered - he set about explaining his new task, enshrined here by the Gargoyles as the embodiment of Control. He expounded on Control itself and the Gargoyles' understanding of it, the importance of self-control, and implying the responsibility to guide that goes along with the power that accompanies control. After passing on the mantra of the principle, Mondain fell silent once more, and I spent the long walk back through the corridor musing on what all he had told me.

I suppose fire is appropriate for Passion.
Night fell as we exited the Shrine of Control and made our way to the east, where we expected to find the Shrine of Passion. It took us a while to find an opening through the twisted passageways in the mountains there, but eventually we found a cavern, marked by several of the explosive fumaroles that had dotted Hythloth. It proved a recurring motif once inside - though it was a simple path to the Shrine itself, short and direct, fire littered the pathway, whether it was the lava we had to walk over or the fire fields blocking our path - thankfully I had plenty of reagents to dispel them. Simple Dispel Field spells gave way to spells of a more forceful sort, however, as a horde of demons (what is the proper term for a group of demons? I was looking up ones for birds earlier this week, but I have no idea what it is for demons) swarmed us upon approach. The fighting was fervent, furious, and more than a little confusing. With that many charm spells flying around, it was sometimes difficult to keep track of just which of my allies were currently on my side proper. Aric favored slinging spells over his sword, between trying to de-charm allies and keep them in good fighting condition, and what little opportunities he did have to straight-out attack were spent with Chain Bolt and Explosion, trying to do as much damage as possible to as many demons as were in reach - which sometimes also necessitated a Reveal spell to keep track of them. I believe it was the first time I'd burned through enough spells to completely drain MP throughout the course of the game, and it was not a fight easily won - everyone was battered and scarred by the end of it. Once the dust settled, we limped before the statue in the center of the room, the dance of flaming fields surrounding it on all sides, and once again the image was familiar, even before the voice that accompanied it spoke.

This time it was the face and voice of Minax, Mondain's apprentice and lover, who had reached through time and space to confront me in the name of revenge. Well did I remember the chase she gave me throughout the castle she had claimed outside of Time itself, and like Mondain before her, she now found herself enshrined as the personification of Passion by the Gargoyles. She too assured me that she was no threat to me now, musing on her own passion and how it eventually consumed even herself in its fires. After a warning on the dangers of unbridled passion, she remarked on the Gargoyles' understanding of it, the passionate leading the directionless, giving them the will to survive, and passed on the mantra of the principle she represented. Then she too fell silent once more, and left me to my thoughts.

I needed it to get through all those demons!
Considering how battered we were after that last fight (not to mention that both Iolo and Blaine had run out of arrows in the process, entirely my fault for not checking their quivers recently), we used the Orb of the Moons to return to Britain, stocking up on ammunition and asking Lord British for healing. Then it was back to the Gargoyle lands, and off to the south to find the Shrine of Diligence there. In light of who I'd met in the first two, I had a good idea of who I'd find at the end as the embodiment of the principle, but I had to get there first. Room after room after room, each one nearly identical to the last save for the monsters we were forced to fight, on and on and on, until a few uses of the Wizard Eye spell to get my bearings revealed a ladder behind a secret door, and it was with relief that we broke free of the monotony to continue on. Yet sounds ahead in the corridor the ladder led to suggested another potentially harsh fight - I surmised it might be better to slip on an invisibility ring and scout ahead on my own.

Sure enough, demons hung around this shrine as well, and small wonder, because a statue depicting Exodus, the half-demon half-machine thing I'd caused to destroy itself awaited me, as I'd expected. And the voice that spoke to my mind was much the same, a strange sound that was distinctly inhuman in its tone. Yet Exodus too assured me of its focus on the task the Gargoyles had set for it now, and that I had nothing to fear from it now. Exodus expounded on Diligence, what little worth it had without a goal, that the means cannot replace the ends, and that it was the diligent of the Gargoyles who led the wayward and allowed them to maintain the rough life they had carved out for themselves. After passing on the mantra, Exodus left me to reflect upon the words I had just heard as I made my way back to my companions.

Tell that to those demons still hanging around...
We returned to the Shrine of Singularity, having completed the pilgrimages it had set for me, and after stringing the three mantras I had learned together into the mantra of Singularity, the Shrine glowed with a blue fire. I had come to understand the meaning of unity of purpose, and I knew my purpose now - to encourage unity between Britannia and the Gargoyles. The Codex awaited, and it was there that I would achieve my goal and both avert and fulfill the prophecy - not with the sacrifice of myself, but my sacrificing of the Codex itself, not to destroy the Gargoyles, but to rescue them, though it was perhaps already too late for their homeland.

I still had business to take care of back in Britannia before I could do so, however. I still needed a second lens of human make, according to Naxatilor, and there was still the Vortex Cube to find. It was to Moonglow that I went for the first, remembering a man there who was nearly always at his telescope. Sure enough, explaining the situation to Ephemerides was enough to pique his interest, and after giving him the Gargoyle lens as a pattern of sorts and a glass sword as material, he crafted me the concave lens that I would need to return the Codex to the Void.

I'll do my best!
The Vortex Cube had been stolen by a band last seen heading for Stonegate, and there I found a young boy raised by a pair of cyclopes, who had lost their own son and cared for the child as their own when he was shipwrecked near their home in the remains of the castle. Speaking with them suggested that I might find the Cube in their basement, which was kept under lock and key. The key was in the male cyclops' possession, and he was willing to exchange it for - a fish. So I spent some time on the coast nearby until I had a bite, and made the trade. The basement of the castle was difficult to navigate, mostly because of tight quarters and secret doors, but I found the Cube behind some energy fields and reclaimed it.

From there I used a summoned moongate to get to the Shrine of Humility, and then sailed from there to the Shrine of the Codex. The stone guardians allowed us to pass, thanks to the quest the Shrine of Singularity had bestowed upon us, and the Codex itself was open to the page I needed, detailing what I needed to do in order to send it back into the Void. I placed the lenses at just the right places to direct the light from the two flames near it, then placed the moonstones I'd collected at the very beginning of my adventure into the Vortex Cube and set it at the base of the Codex. This was enough to send it back into the Void, and though Lord British and Draxinusom both barged in through moongates of their own, exceedingly irate, once I pressed the lenses into their hands and let them read some wisdom of their own from the Codex, they looked at each other not with hatred, but with understanding, and I knew that my quest had been completed.


It sure took a lot of Diligence to find this.
There's a lot packed into these last few legs of Ultima VI, which I suppose isn't entirely surprising. This is the end of Act Three of the narrative, after all, and that's where you bring out all the good stuff in order to tie everything into a nice little package for the ending. Two things stood out to me in particular as I went through this portion of the game. First were the Gargish Shrines, and once again how they demonstrate contrast to the Britannian philosophy. While Britannia focused more on the Virtues, the result of the combination of the thee Principles, it was the Principles themselves that the Gargoyles place in the forefront of their philosophy, looking to them to guide, drive, and maintain their actions as they naturally extend into the eight virtues that derive from those principles. So too were the specific choices of those principles very well suited to tie in to the antagonists from the first three games - I don't know where in the creative process the decision to bring in Mondain, Minax and Exodus again came in, before or after the choice of Control, Passion and Diligence as the Gargish principles, but it's a very nice match when it comes down to it. Especially considering that each of their speeches mention how they went overboard with their respective principles - Mondain's desire for control led him to rule the world with an iron fist, Minax's passion sent her into a rage when her mentor and lover died, Exodus' mechanical nature brought about unwavering, disciplined diligence that could not understand nuance nor feeling. And this, too, is a contrast with the Britannian system - many of the anti-virtues are a lack of the counterpart, whereas the errors that the sort-of-reformed Triad of Evil mention stem from an excess.

Everything in its place once more
The second thing that caught my attention came at the very end, and it was just a very small detail when it comes down to it, but I felt it was the best way to go about the final scenes. And that's the fact that we don't see exactly what the Codex reveals to Lord British and Draxinusom at the very end. Negative space is a powerful thing in storytelling, and I think it works better here than any eloquent speech that could have been written in its place. It's already stated that the Codex is always open to exactly the page that's needed - all we really need know is that the Codex shows the two monarchs the precise bit of wisdom they need to hear in order to realize each other's standpoint. It's simple and elegant, calls back to a few tidbits about the Codex, and ultimately means that the instrument of division between the two races also ends up the instrument of healing. And I do have to admit I very much like stories that come full circle.

Well, that does it for Ultima VI, folks! As always, I'll have one more post about my closing thoughts on the game, and then it'll be time to take a detour for a few spinoffs! The Age of Enlightenment comes to a close, but the Age of Adventures calls my name...

That's all it needs to say, really.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Linguistic Asides: On Gargish

Alternatively, "Lingustic Dragon Geeks Out at the Chance to Actually Put His Degree to Use for Something."

As my choice of Dragon name might imply, my academic background is (mostly) in linguistics - it wasn't what I went into college for, but it's the degree I came out with. It's a broader subject than most people expect, but to put it in as succinct terms as possible, it's essentially the science of language. From sentence structure to how languages are related to each other and change over time, from how new words form and enter the common vernacular to etymology and local slang and dialects - they all fall under some branch of linguistics. Language and its uses fascinates me. I spent a half hour in a class once discussing the differences in the subtleties behind 'unlawful' as opposed to 'illegal' and loved every minute of it. My parents sent me a book on the Hawaiian language as a souvenir from a trip they took several years back, and I spent weeks poring through it for some fascinating tidbits (like the fact there's four separate words in the language for 'we', depending on how many people are in that 'we' and whether you're including the person you're speaking with). I've studied four languages besides my native English, though I'm not really fluent in any of them, and I analyze speech patterns and dissect accents about as naturally as breathing by this point.

All of this is to give a little perspective on exactly why I've been eagerly awaiting the right moment to do a little analysis in regards to Gargish. This is a complete side-post that has absolutely nothing to do (expect perhaps tangentially) with my playthrough, just a subject that I had too much to say on to leave it to a tangent on a normal post. So if that's what you're here for, feel free to skip this one. If watching a language nut nerd out over fictional alphabets is something you find particularly interesting, though, then read on!

My degree gave me a taste of most of the larger sub-fields of linguistics, but, perhaps due to the fact I'm a rather auditory person to begin with, two that clicked with me particularly well were phonetics and phonology. These are the branches that deal with the sounds of language - there's a considerable amount of overlap between the two, but loosely speaking, phonetics deals with individual speech sounds and the mechanics of their formation, whereas phonology is essentially phonetics 'in practice,' the study of the sounds of a language and how they interact with each other and shift in everyday speech. From pronunciation to syllable structure, everything that deals with the spoken word falls under some facet of these two subjects. So what I'm about to do is make a few conjectures on the subtleties of "proper" Gargish speech based solely on this:

This chart is probably familiar to any Ultima fanatic - the set of runes used to write anything in Gargish. Unlike the Britannian runes, they're always presented in this five-by-six tableau, never in the alphabetic order we English speakers are used to. There's also a good deal more double-character runes in the chart as compared to the Britannian runes. And there's very good reason for both of these facts - like Tolkien's Tengwar script used for the Elvish languages he developed, the Gargish runes form a featural alphabet, a script where the shape of the individual characters is representative of the characteristics of the sound it represents. Each symbol is representative of an individual sound, and the fact the design of the alphabet relies so heavily on the features of the sounds they stand for is what enables one to make a few educated guesses on how the language might sound without hearing a single word of it spoken. Whether they're accurate or not is another thing entirely - there's a whole branch of linguistics devoted to the study of how languages change over time, including phonological shift (English itself had a massive shift in vowel quality over the course of a few centuries, referred to as the Great Vowel Shift), but hey, that's the scientific method, right? Hypothesize, test, compare, adjust.

So let's see what I can do off of this particular data set, so to speak. In order to properly discuss the matter, though, we're going to have to spend some time discussing classification of speech sounds. And in order to do that, I'm gonna pull out a couple more charts for the sake of further visual aids. Allow me to introduce those of you unfamiliar to the International Phonetic Alphabet.

One of the marks of a linguist is the above chart (or similar ones) popping into your head when the acronym "IPA" is uttered, ahead of the beer. Think of it as a sort of standardized notation for the sounds of language. Languages may use the same alphabet, but there's no guarantee that they pronounce each letter the same way. Take the letter J - the French typically pronounce it 'zh,' whereas in German it's more of a 'y'-like sound, neither of which is how it's most often pronounced in English. With IPA, each individual symbol is indicative of one sound and one sound alone - that J becomes /d͡ʒ/ in English, /ʒ/ in French, and /j/ in German. (There's actually a distinction between placing IPA symbols in slashes, like /ʒ/, and between square brackets, [ʒ], but that's a finer distinction than I find necessary for my purposes here.)

The above chart covers most of the consonantal sounds used in the languages of the world. Others exist beyond the ones listed on this particular chart (note the 'pulmonic' descriptor, which doesn't include such things as clicks), but these are essentially the more "standard," and it'll be enough for my analysis. Consonants are distinguished from vowels by a constriction somewhere in the vocal tract, and are described based on what sort of constriction it is and where that constriction is. The labels along the top of the chart indicate the place of articulation - this describes where in the vocal tract the defining obstruction is, such as the lips, the roof of the mouth, or the back of the throat. Down the side list the manner of articulation - how the sound is made around that obstruction, whether it's a full obstruction, forcing air over a partial obstruction, moving it through the nasal cavity instead of the mouth, and so on. And finally, there's a third feature used to describe consonants called voicing, which is basically an indication of what the vocal cords are doing when producing the sound. You can feel the difference by placing your hand on your throat as you make and prolong a 's' and 'z' noise in turn - the buzzing you feel beneath your fingers for the 'z' is the mark of a voiced sound, whereas its absence indicates a voiceless sound. In the chart above, when symbols are paired, the left is voiceless, the right voiced - so /p/ is voiceless, /b/ is voiced.

Vowels are also described by features, though a slightly different set, and as a result, they've got their own chart.

Unlike consonants, there's no obstruction in the vocal tract, which makes the classification of them a bit more nebulous. It's something of a fuzzy line as to where one vowel shifts into another, but generally speaking, vowels are described by the shape of the vocal tract and the location of the tongue to produce the sound. "Backness" describes how far forward in the mouth the tongue is - you can feel the difference between the 'ee' sound (/i/ on the chart) and the 'oo' sound (/u/), the former made closer to the teeth and the latter more toward the uvula. "Height" measures the other direction, and can easily be felt by how open your mouth is when pronouncing the vowel - your mouth is considerably more open when pronouncing the low vowel 'ah' (/ɑ/) as it is when pronouncing the high vowel 'ee' (/i/). And then there's "roundedness", which describes the shape of the lips when pronouncing the vowel in particular. Again, this is easy to feel the difference, as your lips are rounded when pronouncing 'oo' (/u/) as opposed to the unrounded 'ee' (/i/).

So putting all of this together, what have we got in regards to Gargish?

As mentioned before, the table is arranged entirely on the features of the sounds involved - try to ignore the letter transcriptions by each rune, and remember to think of them as sounds. The five rows on the table organize the runes by place of articulation (or backness, for the vowels), moving roughly from the front of the vocal tract to the back. The first row denotes the bilabials and labiodentals (articulated either by both lips or a combination of the lips and teeth), the second the alveolars (made at the roof of the mouth), the third the post-alveolars (just behind the roof of the mouth), and the fifth the velars and glottals (the back of the mouth and the throat). The fourth is a little harder to pinpoint, on account of these particular transcriptions not really representing sounds often used to an English speaker, but I'm inclined to mark these down as palatals, on account of them being between the post-alveolar 'sh' (/ʃ/) and the velar 'k'. At the same time, there's the palatal 'ny' (/ɲ/) in the third row, so it's also possible that these are retroflex sounds, made with the tongue curled back toward the back of the throat. I'm more inclined to call them palatals, as they're closer to the 'kl' and 'gl' the chart gives as a transcription, and perhaps the 'nl' is a retroflex proper (/ɳ/).

The columns, on the other hand, organize the table by voicing and manner of articulation. The first column are the voiceless stops or 'plosives' (sounds involving a complete obstruction), the second the voiced plosives, the third the nasals (where the air moves through the nasal passages rather than the mouth - you can see this for yourself by making an 'm' or 'n' noise and then plugging your nose while doing so), the fourth the voiceless fricatives (where air is passed over a partial obstruction), the fifth the voiced fricatives, and the last the vowels. In addition, affricates - sounds that are a combination of a plosive and a fricative, like 'ch' (/t͡ʃ/) are included in the first and second columns as appropriate, and the liquids or 'approximants', sounds with less of an obstruction than a fricative, are included in the fifth column. These columns are roughly in order of sonority, which is essentially a measure of how resonant they are - I say roughly because nasals are generally more sonorant than plosives or fricatives, and liquids more sonorant than nasals.

So now that we've gone over the general organization of the Gargish alphabet, we can determine a bit more about the quality of the individual sounds. For example, let's examine the Gargish R. The English R is /ɹ/, an alveolar approximant. The Gargish R, however, is enumerated with the bottom row of characters, which makes me more inclined to think of it as the more throaty version used in a language like French or German - either the uvular approximant /ʁ/ or its associated trill /ʀ/. (if you can roll your r's, that's the trill /r/, typically used for the Spanish or Italian R). Then there's the vowels - since U is in the first row, with the most forward sounds, I'm more inclined to think of it as closer to a /ʉ/ or possibly even a /y/ rather than the typical 'oo' (/u/) sound we English speakers are used to. Then there's the dot over the symbols in the first three columns - it's possible that this is a diacritic of sorts, although I'm more inclined to think of it as simply a part of the letter, like the dot over an i or j. However, it does differentiate the bilabial /p/, /b/, and /m/ from the labiodental /f/ and /v/ in the first row, as well as the velar /k/, /g/, and 'ng' (/ŋ/) from the glottal /h/ and the probably-uvular /ʁ/. And if this is the case, it may be indicative of 'frontedness,' which would imply the Gargish /t/ and /d/ to be dentals rather than alveolars, made with the tongue against the back of the teeth rather than at the roof of the mouth and therefore giving it more in common with the Italian T and D rather than the English ones.

We can make a few other conjectures on the nature of Gargish pronunciation by extending analysis to the Gargish vocabulary we have access to - since it's a featural alphabet we're working with, we can draw a few conjectures based off the choice of spelling in certain words. For example, 'summ,' meaning 'honor' - why is this spelled with two 'm's? The presence of double-consonants in the spelling of a language using a featural alphabet suggests to me that the language makes use of what are called 'geminate' consonants - essentially the consonantal equivalent of a prolonged vowel sound. It's something that comes up frequently in Italian - compare /papa/, the Italian word for father, with /pappa/, the word for pope. The latter's a geminate consonant. (Pairs of words like this, that differ in only one sound, are referred to as 'minimal pairs,' and are what's used to identify a speech sound as distinct in the set of speech sounds, or 'phonemic inventory,' that a language uses, rather than simply a variant of another sound used in the language, or an 'allophone.') In addition, take a Gargish word like 'beh' or 'kah' - in an English pronunciation of these words, those h's would probably be silent, but for a language involving a featural alphabet, I'm more inclined to take this as a mark of aspiration, which is a sort of breathyness added to a vowel - if you distinguish the pronunciation of 'witch' from 'which,' then you can hear what I'm talking about. 'Witch' begins with an unaspirated W, whereas 'which' starts with an aspirated W.

There's a couple other things that some more time and perusal of the Gargish vocabulary might suggest to me upon closer inspection, but I think what I've got here is a good taste of what all's involved in my field of choice. How accurate am I with these conjectures? Well, there's... not really a good way for me to tell. Pretty much the only example of spoken Gargish we have in the series is a few bits in Ultima IX, and... well, I don't really think that's enough to go on to do a completely proper phonological analysis, especially considering much of what I've said above is probably a much more in-depth look at the phonological basis of Gargish than was probably meant. At the same time - am I really going to pass up a chance to take a closer look at a fictional language? If nothing else, it gives me a few things to go off of while I practice my Gargish accent!

I mean, I do have a pretty decent microphone. Maybe recording a few practice phrases down the line isn't out of the question?

(For interactive charts - with audio, so you can actually hear the sounds I'm describing! - you can find a pretty good one here. I've only scratched the surface of the ins and outs of phonetics and phonology here, and I'm a huge advocate for Learning New Things! If you find this or other language-analysis topics interesting - or just linguistics in general - hit me up, I can try to point you in the right direction. There's a contact box over to your right, I'd be more than happy to chat.)

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Ultima VI: How the Other Side Lives

So apparently last week marked the second anniversary of Official Dragonship for me - my join date's listed as September 2, 2013. Funny, it still feels like it's only been a few months or so. But hey, what better way to celebrate than with another session of Ultima VI?

All this ash should come in handy.
When I last left off, I was gearing up for another trip, this time into the depths of Hythloth. I'd been informed by Sin'Vraal that his people dwelt on the other side of the world through the dungeon on the Isle of the Avatar, and there was no way I would be able to resolve anything between us if I didn't take the time to understand them.At the same time, this would not be a pleasant trek in the least - Hythloth was, after all, a cavern located on an island fraught with volcanic activity, all to lead me to a place where every resident likely despised me enough to desire my death.

Could I really do anything else in good conscience, though?

It seemed fitting that the closest to Hythloth the Orb of the Moons could take me as of yet was the Shrine of Humility. Carefully we wound our way through the explosive fumaroles still burbling on the island, then entered the caves. And sure enough, our path was perilous indeed. The ground shook on occasion, lava flowed profusely throughout the tunnels, the volatile nature of the fiery depths made manifest. Even worse were the beasts such an inferno was wont to attract - a few drakes here and there at first, but the deeper we went, we found ourselves fighting off the beguilements of demons, and the terrible might of dragons lurking amid the flame. I found myself leaning heavily on my magical abilities, and while the caverns proved a fine source of sulfurous ash (meaning I had little worry when it came to running low on reagents for Light spells), it was my dwindling stash of mandrake that I was truly worried about - I was burning through Great Heals like no tomorrow.

I wish learning new languages was this easy.
Yet eventually, battered, burned, and weary, we saw a sight we hardly expected to see here at the bottom of the world - a dwelling. Here was were Captain Johne now made his home - why he was content to settle here of all places eluded me, but it was good to see his friendly face. He too pleaded with me on behalf of the Gargoyles, having spent some time learning about their culture. He told me their lands, once as large as Britannia itself, were now reduced to a single city, their center of learning and government the only bastion of civilization left to them. We spoke a little of their society and their beliefs, but of most interest for the moment was their language. How was I to help and understand a people I could not communicate with? Johne provided me with a scroll of basic vocabulary, which I proceeded to pore over, and he also pointed me in the direction of Beh Lem, a Gargoyle child that had helped him learn the language himself. He stressed the importance of seeking him out, as the rest of the Gargoyles would likely attack me on sight without his presence in my company.

I found the youth just outside Hytholth's egress, just as the captain had said I would - they met at that particular spot rather regularly, at approximately that time of day. Beh Lem confirmed the fear his people had of me, but remarked it was not a fear either he or his father Valkadesh shared. Believeing his father, a respected scholar, might be able to help find a way to heal the rift between our respective peoples, he eagerly joined us and guided us around the mountains to his home - after, of course, I took a moment to outfit him properly, so that he wouldn't start exploding every few steps after an unprotected stroll through a swamp. He thought it best to avoid the heart of the city until we had a more concrete plan, and I saw no reason to dispute him.

Um... that's a problem.
Valkadesh did indeed prove helpful. He believed and believed strongly in the error of the Book of Prophecies and that I, the False Prophet it spoke of, could be reasoned with and in fact persuaded to help save his people rather than condemn them. It didn't take much for him to do so, as that had been my intent in coming, but the only thing he could think of as an alternative to sacrificing myself would be to return their most holy book, the Codex itself. He elaborated that 'sacrifice' could mean that of self, of others, or of valuables, and that perhaps Naxatilor, the wisest Gargoyle there was, might be able to help discern the nuances of the potential interpretations. But he warned me that it would be unsafe to wander the city without first surrendering myself to the Inquistor - to submit to the local authorities would be a way of demonstrating my goodwill toward them, thus making me less hated by the populace.

And so I made my way to the quarters of Draxinusom, who thundered about my audacity in coming, demanding to know what I was doing there and making it very clear that the presence of a Gargoyle child was the only reason he restrained himself from slaying me where I stood - Johne had been correct on that particular matter, it seemed. Though shaken a bit on the inside, I calmly informed the Inquisitor of my purpose - to surrender. Draxinusom was skeptical, but upon telling him I had been discussing with Valkadesh about how I could go about providing the needful sacrifice, he presented me with an amulet, telling me to don it as proof and demonstration of my submission. Dupre was uncomfortable with this, believing it to be a magical trap of some sort, but there was no other choice, the way I saw it. I removed my ankh and replaced it with the amulet, and that was that.

Gotta say, wasn't in a hurry to see this again.
As I made my way to Naxatilor's, the populace did indeed seem to relax slightly once they caught sight of the amulet around my neck. I made a note to see what I could learn from them after my meeting with the wisest of Gargoyles. Naxatilor confirmed that I was indeed fated to destroy their world, though he said that he found this surprising, as he could tell that I was truly a being of honor. We spent some time in discussion of what sacrifice truly meant, and he echoed what Valkadesh had told me - that in their language, it could mean sacrifice of the self, of others, or of items of value. Sacrifice of my self was something I had come to avoid, and it would hardly have been virtuous of me to resort to the sacrifice of one of my companions, and so that left items of value. The only thing of true value to both peoples was the Codex itself, and Naxatilor agreed that the only clear options were to give up my own life, or else return the Codex. It turned out that he was the one who drew the Codex out of the Void in the first place, and directed me to the Hall of Knowledge and the Book of Rituals to learn more about how that had been done and what might be needed to reverse the process - as well as retrieve the lens that lay within one of the chambers. As for the Codex's current location, he told me to speak with Captain Bolesh, recuperating at the healer's just to the north of his residence. He had just returned from the Shrine of the Codex, and could perhaps tell me more about how circumstances there lay.

Well that's depressing.
Having made several pilgrimages to the Shrine of the Codex on the previous adventure, it was perhaps not strictly necessary to pay Bolesh a visit, but I felt it would be at least a gesture of goodwill and faith to demonstrate a bit of concern for the well-being of Gargoyle captains. Much of what the recovering captain told me was indeed knowledge I already had - that there was a force surrounding the Shrine that prevented anyone but those on a sacred quest from approaching, that perhaps I could obtain a sacred quest from the Shrine of Singularity here in the realm of the Gargoyles, but that I would need to fly in order to reach it. I left Bolesh to rest and took some time to explore the rest of the city. I found the very slab I had been lashed to during the Gargoyles' initial attempt to sacrifice me, along with numerous graves, of the honored sacrifices and of those with no names, and a tomb where they laid their monarchs to rest - I chose to let them be. I spoke with some of the shopkeepers, none of which had names save that of their profession - the Foodmaker shared some of the local specialty with me (which turned out to be horsemeat!), the Weaponsmith spoke of the catacombs that housed shrines to the Gargoyle principles, the Goodscrafter blamed me for his depression and crisis of faith after the loss of his family in the wake of the cataclysms brought by the theft of the Codex. I spoke with two farmers who had very different ideas of how the wingless in their employ and care should be treated. But at the same time, I didn't want to overstay my welcome, and so I headed for Minoc, remembering mention somewhere in my travels that they knew the secrets of flight.

A brief conversation with Lady Isabella pointed me in Selganor's direction once more, and he in turn told me that the inventor of the balloon (though considering I had flown one many years prior, I personally thought it was more likely he was its re-inventor) had headed to Sutek's island, east of Serpent's Hold, something about a job he had there. And so I set sail once more, navigating the channels through the islands until I reached the one I remembered as the wizard Sutek's.

Uhhh... I'll just see myself to the exit.
I made landing at his dock, and took note of the abundance of rabbits near the entrance of his abode. I thought little of them - until they began to attack, with sharper teeth than expected! It turned out the island was full of creatures that were not all that they appeared, the results of mad experiments - dual-headed creatures seemed to be the favorite, including alligators, cows, and those cursed giant ants I'd fended off earlier in the desert. Clearly Sutek had changed over the years. It took some careful searching and well-aimed spells (including Telekinesis just to lower his front gate!) to navigate his once-simple home. Energy fields, secret doors, levers, pull-chains... Sutek made use of all of them, and they were guarded by his frenzied experiments. It all culminated in another hydra, guarding the only passageway to both Sutek himself and the chambers beneath the structure. I tried speaking with the mad wizard, but he was of little help, only cackling when I asked about the balloonist, and telling me he was deep in the catacombs beneath his home. So down I plunged, fending off the most gigantic serpents I'd ever seen and wrestling with the riddles of a two-headed horse known as the Pushme-Pullyu. I feared the worst for the poor balloonist, but I did find one still-living friendly face beneath Sutek's. Gorn, a barbarian with a rather thick accent, lamented his lack of traveling companions, and so we invited him to join with us. The last I'd seen of him was in the depths of Blackthorn's dungeons - he seemed a tad simple, but well-meaning, and we were glad to have him along.

Our fears for the balloonist proved well-founded, as he lay dead in a corner of the deepest part of the catacombs. He did, however, carry the plans for his balloon on him, listing rope, a cauldron, a large silk bag, and a basket large enough to hold several people as the necessary materials. He also made mention of an anchor as excellent ballast should it prove necessary. And so it was off to the craftsmen of Britannia to gather what items I would need to construct the balloon. After a pit stop in Moonglow to once again restock reagents, I headed for Paws, where I bought rope, and Marissa confirmed she could make a bag out of silk, if I would procure it for her. Arbeth just down the road spun a good portion of my spider silk into thread, and in New Magincia, Charlotte wove the thread into a bolt of cloth. Then it was back to Minoc, where Michelle happily put her skills to the test and wove a basket large enough to fit all of us comfortably. Then it was back to Paws once more to get Marissa to sew the bag itself. Once she had finished, I followed the plans to put everything together, and voila! I was in the possession of my very own lighter-than-air device.

I wonder who that could be!
I headed back to the Gargoyle lands, and after boarding the balloon, I soared around the area for a while, looking for a place to pass over the mountains. The magic fan that had been among Hawkins' treasure proved a treasure indeed, as it made directing the balloon a good deal easier than if I'd had to subject myself to the whims of the weather, and didn't cost me any reagents. Eventually I found the Shrine of Singularity. I was uncertain as to whether the Shrine would bestow a sacred quest upon one not of the Gargoyles, but upon approaching the Shrine, a voice resonated in my head, asking me for whom I truly sought the Codex. A moment's consideration, and I gave the Shrine my reply - for everyone, both human and Gargoyle. The voice replied that my answer had been wise, but how could I work for the good of a race I did not truly understand? I was told to seek out the three Shrines of the Gargoyle principles - Control to the west, Passion to the east, Diligence to the south - where I would find a being exemplifying each principle. I was to return when I had done so.

I think this one's gonna need a rewrite.
I left the Shrine with a new sense of purpose, but there was one more thing left to do in the city. I hadn't yet paid a visit to the Hall of Knowledge, and Naxatilor had told me there was information (and an item) that I would need. The Caretaker of the Hall told me a bit about what lay within - one room held books of import to the Gargoyles, another relics of my own realm, and a third the lens I sought, along with the pedestal where something called the Vortex Cube once sat. Apparently it had been stolen some time ago, and rumor had it that it was taken to Stonegate. I made a note to drop by there when I had opportunity. In the meantime, I picked up the remains of the shattered lens, and learned of the retrieval of the Codex from the Void, of the relationships between winged and wingless Gargoyles, and a glimpse into what the Gargoyles interpreted of Britannia. Still musing over everything I just read, I took the lens to the Gargoyle Lensmaker, who repaired the one I had in my possession. Naxatilor was pleased when I showed it to him, and informed me I would need a second, made by a human lensmaker, which would also need to be concave.

That left me with much to do, but also much to sift through. So I decided to call it a day there, and give myself opportunity to let everything I had discovered about the Gargoyles sink in.


Let's take a moment to talk about contrast.

It's a powerful device in any sort of narrative. In fact, one could argue that it's just about necessary in order to give one a good sense of stakes. Why should one care about how things have changed, or might change if something isn't done, if one doesn't have a baseline to compare it to? But more than that, contrast is great fodder for conflict, for development, for friction and, eventually, the learning of lessons in a story. It's boring to read about two characters who are so similar that they agree on practically everything. There's nothing to move anything forward in that sort of situation - it's contrast that drives them to discuss and deliberate, to consider, to take action. Even if it's not strictly conflicting contrast, it's important to give a good sense of both sides of the story.

This session was practically all about the contrast. The Gargoyle Realm stands in pretty stark physical contrast to Britannia - sloping, pyramidal structures as opposed to the rectangularity of Britannian buildings, triangular signage with weird letters, holes of pure void that need to be skirted. The rocky, rough terrain of the city as opposed to the wide open spaces and clear roads of Britannia. The floating, tri-colored lights, the glowing heat sources, the mats the Gargoyles sleep on - practically everything in visual design and structure stands to distinguish Gargoyle society in stark contrast to Britannia, from nearly every angle.

But it's not just contrast in the sense of the visual, either. Even several of the residents serve as evident contrast to others. Farmer Krill is all business, believing the wingless under him need to be strong-armed and kept on tight metaphorical leashes, whereas Farmer Nash does less well, partly because he feels he should give the wingless more freedom to make their own decisions. The Weaponsmith is disgusted with the Goodscrafter, both having lost someone close to them in the cataclysms, yet the Weaponsmith clings tight to his beliefs and principles, finding solace in them, whereas the Goodscrafter falls into despair and depression, casting them aside. The willingness of Valkadesh compared to the thundering anger of Draxinusom, the fact half the town's residents don't even have names beyond their job - there are so many ways to stand the Gargoyles in contrast to each other, and yet this has the effect not of distinguishing them from Britannians, but portraying them as similar. Though representing two very different societies, these are all the sorts of problems humans face as well as the Gargoyles, and here, contrast isn't just used to differentiate, but to make the Gargoyles relatable. It's wonderfully utilized here, and as wildly dissimilar as the two worlds are meant to be, it's these little touches that reinforce what the player is trying to do - give both sides an opportunity to understand the other.

I also don't want to let this session go without mentioning how much I love the fact the balloon-building focuses on the craftsmen. The first part of the game involves hobnobbing with the uppity-ups, the ones in power - Lord British, his trusted advisors, the mayors. But the latter part of the game, it's all about the lower classes, and while pirates and thieves would probably be enough to demonstrate that, the game goes one step further, utilizing the more virtuous and good-natured lower classes in the form of the craftsmen scattered around Britannia. Great use of contrast once more, and I wish this sort of thing was done in more games. I mean come on - look at how excited Michelle is to help out in an endeavor like this!


I can't quite move on from a post in which I explore Gargish society without going into the language, but that's more fitting for a separate post. I've got a heck of a lot to say about that particular topic, considering that sort of thing is my bread and butter. But hopefully it'll be ready to get out there soon, and then I can gather the last few pieces I need to finish up Ultima VI - the end is in sight, folks!