Part 11: The Black Gate - The Isle of Freebies
The Isle of Freebies
The carpet wasn't behaving and boats are for losers, so here's what the approach to the Isle of Fire looks like. You can't really go in those towers, they're mostly just there for effect. The interior of the island's mountains are where most of the expansion takes place, but you disembark once you've sailed into the center of the island.
This mirrors Ultima III, kind of, except most people never played Ultima III, and even if they had the whole thing just isn't the same without the Great Earth Serpent guarding the way (that's what Serpent Isle is for).
"Was it the earthquake that we all felt and are still recovering from that tipped you off, Shamino? Where would any of us be without your prescient connection to nature? Truly, this island which arose from the floor of the ocean, this ocean that I and most of you are actively and totally familiar with since we have been here, might possibly be unstable! How novel!"
"I was just pointing it out, but now you've made me sad."
The keep of Exodus (kinda) lies battered by time.
"This nice open central area would be an ideal place for a smithy."
"Too bad there isn't one here."
"Yeah, and we don't really have any reason to do it either."
"Maybe a wizard will make us one!"
"Ha, yeah, and maybe a magic fairy demon man will come live in our maaaagic swords!"
"Guys, that actually happens here."
"Are you kidding me!?"
Three statues are found at the end of the hall. This is the meat of The Forge of Virtue, where (once more) the Avatar is tested in the Virtues. The rewards for this are awesome, and after finishing these trials the end of the expansion isn't all that far away. Honestly, it's more of a sidequest.
Suddenly, your mind is filled with the crystal-clear resonance of an authoritative voice. "Greeting to thee. I am the keeper of Truth. Dost thou seek the wisdom and boon of Truth?"
Answering yes will teleport us directly to the test. We don't want to do that (yet).
An unearthly beautiful voice sighs gently into your conciousness. "Greetings, Avatar. I represent the embodiment of Love. If thou dost seek enlightenment , thou must take the Test of Love. Its path lies through the glowing, blue portal to the south."
Her portal is to the southwest there.
A strong, vibrant voice rings out in your mind. "Greetings seeker! I am the Keeper of Courage. If thou hast the will to seek my reward, thou must enter the portal to the south."
His is southeast.
We'll deal with the tests once we're clear on what the hell we're doing here.
And he can help us! Maybe.
At your approach, the old man straightens and looking directly at you he says, "Well met, Avatar. I am called Erethian. Although thou dost not know me, I know thee well. I have seen thee destroy Mondain's power and so defeat that misguided mage, I have seen thee vanquish the enchantress Minax, I have also seen, in a very unique way, how thou brought low the hellspawn Exodus." He falls silent here and you notice that the old man's eyes are milky white.
"We probably shouldn't tell Steve not to mention his eyes."
"If we tell her about it, she'll bring it up. Thus, if we don't..."
"This seems stupid, but I've got to go with the crowd on this one."
"What are you talking about?"
"I am a follower of the principle of Truth. But unlike those of the Lyceaum, I would prefer to seek out the knowledge instead of waiting for it to come to me. It is this curiosity which has brought me to this island from which Exodus, the spawn of Mondain and Minax, sought to rule the world. The books and scrolls here have taught me much of Britannia's history and other... interesting subjects." His clouded eyes sparkle with intelligence. But you can't help wondering how books and scrolls are of any use to a man afflicted with blindness.
"I wasn't actually talking to you, but for some reason I can't quite put my finger on I guess it's okay."
"If thou art interested, feel free to inspect them. This is no library." As if regretting his gracious gesture, he adds, "However, I trust that thou wilt take utmost care with the older ones." He stops, on the verge of saying more.
"So I guess you'd say you're kind of a fan."
"He seems more interested in Mondain than thee, Avatar!"
Erethian scowls, "Now there was a mighty wizard. A bit twisted but then who knows what happens to the human mind when 'tis subjected to the powers he wielded. 'Tis even said his skull alone had the power to destroy enemies... he must have locked a magical matrix upon it, I'll have to research that." He nods his head, seemingly making a mental note, then continues with a wistful look on his aged features, "I would have loved to study that fascinating Gem of Immortality, but alas, I was born in too late an era." Milky eyes glitter up at you like twin marbles, "Ah, yes. But thou knowest all too well about that little bauble. After all, it was thee who smashed it into the shards which caused thee so much trouble during the regency of Lord Blackthorn. So much power that even in a shattered state, its magic still flowed. 'Tis sad to lose such an artifact." As if suddenly remembering with whom he is speaking, he amends, "Much better than having Mondain running about mucking with things, I suppose."
"I would not speak so casually of that skull, wizard!"
"'Twould seem that someone," he pauses dramatically, "let that slip into a volcano..." His wry smile belies his careless tone.
"I know, I was surprised when I did it too. So how much else do you know about me? Or Minax or something."
A sad sweet smile comes to the wizard's face, "She was quite a comely lass at one time, with a mind forever searching." His expression darkens, "But then Mondain forced all of the good sense from her. She became a power unto herself, in time. I do not think she quite rivaled her former mentor, Mondain, but she was a force to be reckoned with, nevertheless. And that thou didst, with the Quicksword, Enilno. That act will most likely have tales sung about it for the next eon." Under his breath he adds, "Even if Iolo's the only one who sings it."
With a look of indignation Iolo says, "Pardon me, sir. But I'll have thee know that ballads of the Avatar still grace all of the finest drinking establishments of Britannia."
"And what a dubious distinction that is." The corners of the mage's mouth come up in a delicate smile.
An angry retort dies on Iolo's lips as the elderly mage lifts his hands in a gesture of peace.
"Please, forgive the offense I have given. Thou shouldst know that I have seen, almost first hand, the Avatar's bravery in the face of adversity. I have nothing but the highest regard for the Destroyer of the Age of Darkness and Harbinger of the Age of Enlightenment."
"Wish I knew where I left that sword, though."
"Ah, now there's a question. I've heard naught of it's existence since the Age of Darkness ended. Would that I knew its location. It was reputedly a great item of magic. Didst thou find it so?" He cocks his head to one side as he asks the question.
"Eh, it was alright. So so."
"No? It didst seem to serve thee well enough to dispatch the enchantress Minax. But then I suppose only a poor bard blames his instrument." He winks mischieviously in your general direction.
"Dude, leave me out of this."
"Now Exodus... that being has become a passion of mine, lately." He almost glows with excitement. "Indeed, 'tis what brought me here. While I was at the Lyceaum, I happened upon a passage in a manuscript that described an Island of Fire. Upon further research, I found that the entity known as Exodus was not truly destroyed. The interface between its two parts and the world was merely severed."
"Wait, what? I fucking killed him! With punchcards! ...actually when you put it that way I guess this makes sense."
"One part, his psyche we shall call it, was taken by the gargoyles who live below us in a realm on the other side of the world. A truly fascinating culture they have, but I digress..." You begin to wonder just how long this old man has been out of circulation. He continues, "The other, I have here. I call it the Dark Core, because without the psyche, it is mostly lifeless." His face appears to youthen, and you feel as if you're speaking to a child describing his new toy... or perhaps, pet. "I believe 'twas the removal of the psyche from the Core that caused this island to sink beneath the waves."
"Really though, I was under the impression I'd blown him up."
His expression is unreadable, "The machine that thou destroyed was Exodus' means of communication with and control of the world. When it was destroyed, his psyche could no longer retain its hold on the Dark Core. I have often wondered if another interface was implemented, would the psyche return, or possibly be regenerated..." As his idle musings begin to run toward possibly dangerous conclusions, his mouth audibly snaps shut.
"Um, yeah, about the psyche part..."
"Eventually, I shall turn my studies to that being. The gargoyles have placed it within a statue, in a shrine they dedicated to their principle of Diligence. Interesting creatures, thou mightest call them balrons, but they are not the beasts that history has made of them. The larger, winged ones are intelligent and magical by nature,while the smaller, wingless ones appear to be the work force for the species." He turns his head in your direction with a puzzled expression in his eyes, "I have the oddest feeling that thou hast heard all of this before..." Erethian falls silent.
"So there's a part of him left, and you still have it?"
"Yes, here it is. It is the cylinder sitting upon yon pedastal." He motions in the direction of the Dark Core. "I have found it to be quite a treasure trove of useful facts. Its sole purpose seems to be the storage of information. Much of the information is trivial, such as the detailed description of the color of the sky on a particular day eons ago, while other bits give instructions for the manipulation of the world. Within it I even found the knowledge to raise and sustain this island we stand upon. It is truly a remarkable artifact." He thinks for a moment, then looks nervously in your direction, "Please, do be careful around it. Artifacts seem to have a tendency to, shall we say, disappear around thee."
"I'll, uh, be on my best behavior. That's not technically lying."
"Goodbye and good luck... Thou'lt need it." The old mage snickers under his breath as if enjoying a personal joke, quite possibly at your expense.
Note that Erethian's dialogue is unmodified. He's a pretty well-written asshole, all told.
There is a scroll among Erethian's things.
It is something of an inside joke.
It is also needed to finish the expansion. If you're good at logic (or code), I'm sure you already know how.
We won't touch it, because it's not going anywhere and Steve has a habit of losing stuff. I lost the white virtue stone for three whole updates before I noticed.
The Dark Core actually isn't where Erethian said. It's here on the other side of the castle.
You feel as if your mind is being probed, delicately at first, then with more insistance. Images of long past memories flit before your eyes and old emotions resurface. At one point, the images pause as you remember the words Love, Sol, Moons, and Death then a strange sense of deja vu comes over you as the vision comes up to the current time. The images cease and a vast wave of power overwhelms you. A wall of darkness falls...
"Ow, my brain!"
"Let's do it again!"
Your mind is quickly probed, then cast aside, leaving you feeling slightly ill and filled with an irrational sense of forboding.
Finally, we have a mysterious mirror near the Dark Core.
Looks like somebody's home!
"Yes, Master. How may I serve thee..." The wavering visage in the mirror hesitates for a moment, "Thou art not my master."
He then continues with a small bow, "Greetings Britannian. What dost thou wish of the great daemon, Arcadion?"
"How's life in a mirror in the middle of nowhere?"
Arcadion attempts to smile, but failing miserably, he gives you a grimace that could turn a dragon to stone. "I am currently in the service of one mage, Erethian by name." He states, rather formally. You get the distinct impression thatArcadion would just as soonrip Erethian limb from limb as serve him.
"Not a big fan of Erethian, eh? He seems okay."
"He is my master..." The daemon's smile contorts into a scarcely hidden scowl of hatred. "Until other... arrangements can be made." Arcadion's toothsome smile appears on his shadowy features.
"I do not think we should trust this daemon, Avatar."
"What are you, racist?"
"In this case I believe he actually is a daemon."
"That is how thy people address those of my race." You can't tell from Arcadion's tone of voice whether or not he minds that fact.
"So Erethian's kind of got you by the whatever-it-is-you-people-have."
The large daemon's eyes close as he appears to be restraining the force of horrific emotions, "I have served that blind,old fool for over two hundred years!" Arcadion pauses, regaining his composure. A thought visibly crosses hisdarkened face, "Perhaps thou mightest assist me to free myself of this unwanted bondage. I could prove an invaluable ally." The daemon pauses to let his offer sink in, then, "Well, mortal. Wilt thou help me?"
"This can't possibly work to my disadvantage. It's a deal!"
A wicked look of triumph flickers across Arcadion's face to be quickly replaced by a ludicrous semblance of gratitude, "Thou art truly courageous to vow to release me. My gratitude hath no bounds." An oily grin coats the daemon's face, "Thou hast made quite a powerful ally this day, mortal." His eyes blink in what is possibly meant to be a charming manner. "I'll need a special gem in which to house my essence when thou crackest this prison of a mirror." His eyes are alight with the possibility of his impending freedom.
"Any old gem?"
"As I said, a special one. I have a certain one in mind... There was one on this island, that much I know. Find it. Bring it to me and together, we shall break this mirror which binds me to that blasted mage."
"This doesn't seem wise, Steve."
"Don't worry, I have a plan."
"How can you have a plan? We just got here half an hour ago."
Arcadion winks in a very undaemonlike manner, "Farewell, brave mortal. Thy courage is unsurpassed among humans."
In case you haven't noticed, Arcadion is trying to use us. He just didn't count on the Avatar. And never, in a million years, would he count on this Avatar. But we can't help him out yet.
I'm putting this one in Cheater's Corner because it's just pathetic. The first test we'll be doing is the Test of Truth. I'd give you guys the choice between the three, but seriously, this one is pathetic.
The warning at the start of the test the Shrine of Truth teleports us to. Good advice, as you'll see.
The first "test" is an invisible wall. It's not even much of a test since you can see the hallway beyond it.
If you step onto the X in the center of this room, you get shot by lightning bolts (and also Exult crashes). I think some skeletons also spawn around you or something. It's easily avoided by, get this, not stepping on the obvious giant X. Go figure.
Okay, so we stop here at this strange marker (it's a hood, if it matters)...
...walk north through the wall...
...keep moving along the invisible path...
...and there we are!
Located within the room is an amulet. Pick it up, and the Test of Truth is over.
Seriously, it's done. Finished. Complete. That's it. That's all you have to do. It takes two minutes. I mean yeah, if you don't know about the trick you can get lost in tunnels for a while, and "truth is simple" and all that, but seriously, this is pretty pathetic. You could stumble onto this one accidentally.
"It wasn't exactly hard."
"Use - and respect - thy powers well, Avatar."
"Did you just say pzow?"
"I thought it needed a sound effect."
"Thou hast now experienced the full meaning of the Principle of Truth. The value of such is beyond measure, for truth shall guide thee throughout thy life's endeavors." The statue's voice takes on a warning tone. "Know this Truth: the Psyche returns to the Core..." With that said, the statue becomes quiet once more.
"Exodus will return!?"
"Guys, guys, don't worry about it."
"For some reason, I've just been struck by the realization that I am once again smart enough to deal with this issue."
Yeah, that's right, complete a test, get the related stat set to 30. That's all you have to do. 2 minutes' work for 30 Intelligence. And this doesn't even begin to approach what we'll get in the rest of the expansion.
The other two tests (Love and Courage) are longer. We'll need to finish both before we go on. Which would you like to see first? I kind of like the story in Love, but Courage, as you'd expect, has more beating up shit and taking its stuff. Courage also sets our Strength, and thus Health, to 30, although the Test of Love does not require having a ton of health to survive or anything.