Part 12: The Black Gate - Test Your Might!
Test Your Might!
Courage kinda sorta won so whatever, this one has the badass award of badass awards.
As you would expect, the Test of Courage is all about being courageous, which in Ultima terms means "okay, you can finally indiscriminately kill these guys." About damn time.
In the first room, a mage is sacrificing a baby to summon a lich. Then some skeletons and headless attack.
I think the lich is supposed to do something here, but he's just standing in the summoning circle spamming lightning around himself dramatically. That's kinda cool, I can respect that, but he's worth experience so we'll hackmove him out of there and beat him to death.
That's better. Headless often drop gold nuggets, but they're almost never carrying anything other than clubs and slings, so it kind of balances out.
On the corpses that litter the room is some magical stuff. Dupre gets it this time-
-since he's actually in melee and not actively sucking at it all the time.
"Quick check, who saw the golem statues coming to life and attacking us coming?"
"I was kind of expecting it in the last test, to be perfectly honest."
"Yeah, we've kind of been through this about six times already, Ultima, you could at least teleport them in or something first."
The next area has quick-spawning spiders and scorpions. A pair of switches open the walls that allow us to move on.
The next area has drakes, the little cousins of dragons. They're not as tough, but still pretty dangerous.
However, they (and dragons) are also loaded with gems. Gems are slightly harder to unload than most valuables, but the jeweler in Britain will take them for a pretty decent price. I think it's something like 20-30 gold, so this drake is carrying over 100 gold. There happens to be a dungeon (which we will see later) that is full of dragons. It's very, very good money.
"What wonders doth mine eyes behold in yon crystal balle?"
"You know, you're right, when somebody else says it we do sound like we're incredibly lame."
"A vision of the future... OR OF THE PAST?"
"I still don't get it, a glass sword is really good?"
"Damn straight. Kills anything."
"Yeah, but then it breaks."
"Why not make a sword that can kill everything and not break?"
"That's a dangerous dream, Spark. A dangerous dream... but maybe the world needs dreams like that. And dreamers... like you."
"I'm suddenly not as comfortable hanging around with you as I once was, Steve."
Sadly, we have to sacrifice this particular glass sword...
...in order to get the key out of here.
The next area features a magic helmet just sitting out in the open. Score! Or is it?
Yadda yadda statues are alive. Funny enough, if you walk around in combat mode your allies just dogpile the golems before they start moving. This isn't entirely unrealistic because I sure as hell would probably do the same thing in any dungeon I'd wind up in.
Slimes. As annoying as always but almost entirely harmless. They take forever to kill off because of all the splitting, which would be a good way to earn experience if they were worth very much of it.
Gazers (the spider guys at the top of the screen, there's one on the right side of everybody but it's behind a ceiling piece) are formidable foes. They don't have much health, but they shoot paralysis and lightning rays that are fairly dangerous. I think they're used more extensively in parts of Serpent Isle, where they come in bigger packs. Or maybe I dreamed that while high on NyQuil. I hate these guys.
Another, this time non-magical helm.
"Why did you take the non-magical helmet and replace it with the magical one?"
"Because it's obviously a puzzle."
"Maybe whoever lives here just really likes helmets."
"Well in that case I just don't want to shatter his dreams."
This is a puzzle. You won't see the effects until a little later.
To get to that point, we need to battle several trolls and a cyclops. And by "battle" I mean "murder in their sleep" since half of them don't even wake up before Spark and Dupre rip their heads off.
Search every corpse. Even the blasted-out charred outlines of what used to be a corpse can have good stuff on it. A magic axe is a nice haul. It's not the ultimate weapon it was in U5, but it's still an infinite-uses ranged weapon that does considerable damage. Shamino's out of arrows so he might find it of use.
There are two entrances to this final area, each blocked by two metal doors. The great helm and magic helm both need to be on opposite pedestals in order to open each set of doors.
Of course I'm going to just use my Jedi powers to yoink that magic one because goddamnit, I want it.
Plus, we won't need the doors open anyway. Notice the black virtue stone there under the spellbook check. Mark and Recall are spells which may be somewhat familiar to Morrowind players. Using a virtue stone as the focus for Mark, you can return to the spot you bound it at any time with Recall. I think the stones are initially calibrated to their associated shrines or dungeons or something, but there's no reason to ever actually go to the shrines in this game so screw that.
Yeah, this doesn't look like good news. There's a glass sword on that charred corpse though, and we're about to use it, because there's also a dragon in this room.
"Well met, seeker. I am Dracothraxus. Thy test, and I fear, thy defeat lies before thee. For thou shouldst know that I am made immortal by the Keeper of Courage. 'Twould take a truly powerful artifact to destroy me... one that does not exist." The great dragon paws the earth in expectation of your imminent battle.
And so we beat her up. She has high HP and does a lot of damage but the glass sword kills her swiftly... or does it?
"Well done, little human. Thou art as powerful as thou art courageous. Do not think that thou hast destroyed me, thou hast merely bested me. And for this wonderous feat, I think thou dost deserve a reward. I have a truly magnificent gem that I would give to thee, if thy courage can but continue for a bit." Dracothraxus opens her mouth wide. Within, you can see a multitude of teeth, each one needle sharp. Also, near the back, you see a small but brilliant blue gem. Do you reach in and take it?
"If you think I'm stupid enough to stick my arm in a dragon's mouth just to gain ultimate power, well you're absolutely right."
As you place your hand in the furnace that is the dragon's maw, you can't help but wonder if a small gem is worth the risk. Nevertheless, you persevere and retrieve the lovely little gem. "I go now to rest, but I shall return. The door will not open until thou hast found a way to best me for good and for all. Farewell, little mortal."
And like that, she's gone. And the door to the end of the test remains closed. Isn't this a pretty pickle?
Trust me on this one, this will feel like cheating when we're done.
Maybe Erethian knows what to do.
"You got anything that can slay a dragon? Like a really, really big jerk of a dragon? Bigger than usual. Then bigger than that. I'm talking serious motherfuckery right here."
"I once attempted to create a sword of great power." Erethian frowns in concentration then says, "if thou wishest to continue my work, thou shalt have need of some few pieces of forging equipment... And a place to put them... I know just the spot. Come with me and I'll see what I can do to help thee."
"This is where you wanted to go? This was ten feet from your room. Also, why am I white all of a sudden?"
"Just shut up for a second, would you?" A look of grim determination comes to Erethian's lined features. He pushes up his sleeves like a blacksmith about to shoe a high strung horse, "Careful, now." The old mage says solicitously, "The powers I am about to release are capricious and fickle. I wouldst not like to see something untoward happen to thee." You feel a great surge in the ether, which seems to temporarily stabilize it in this area.
Amidst muttered curses detailing the uselessness of ether and bothersome inter-dimensional beings, Erethian intones the magical words, "An Vas Ailem! Kal Bet Ailem!" Little beads of sweat appear on the elderly mage's furrowed brow. "That was a bit harder than I'd expected." He pauses to mop his forehead with the tip of his sleeve, "I had to redirect a small underground river for the well to tap. Now, then. Thou shalt have need of some few tools to make use of this equipment, shan't thee?" His rhetorical question goes unanswered as he once again prepares to unleash his will upon the world.
"No no no!"
"Whoa, take it easy there cowboy."
Erethian's face begins to take on an ashen palor, but he looks contented with a job well done. "As I have said, I myself once attempted to create an artifact of great power. I crafted the hilt from a dark substance that is immutable, save by magical means. The blade, however, is cast of an alloy of this substance and the purest metals known to Britannia. My artistic skills served me well enough to fashion the hilt but, alas, the strength was not in my arm to beat a good temper into the blade. Perhaps, thou canst finish this great artifact for me..." He pulls a poorly worked blade with a fine hilt out of thin air. "Fear not to touch the hilt when the blade is hot, for heat apparently does not travel well across the medium of the pure, black substance. I wish thee good luck." He places the sword upon the firepit and wearily turns away.
And now we've got to forge the sword. At the moment we only have a blank, rough and unfit to swing. We'll need to correct that. First things first though.
Get some water from the well.
Fill the trough. Don't halfass it either; do it three times so that the trough is full.
Now we start pumping the bellows.
Little by little, the sword heats up. Once it's red-hot, we take it and place it on the anvil.
And pound it with the hammer.
It isn't possible to finish hammering it in a single go, so we'll have to heat 'em up again.
And pound. And pound. And pound. Finally:
"Well, it's about as sharp as I can make it, but it's too heavy and unwieldy to actually use."
"That kind of sucks."
"I've still got a crazy idea, though."
"I don't like where this is going."
Before we do anything with the sword, we need to temper it with a quenching dip in the trough.
Now we've got a forged but useless sword and a mysterious gem that has no power. Let's go punch Arcadion's mirror with the gem to correct one of these things.
"I'll make them all pay for every decade I spent within that accursed mirror!" The gem glows brighter, and you expect the world to come apart at the seams... then, nothing. "NO!" The daemon's primal scream sounds a bit crystalline through the medium of the gem. "This cannot be! That old fool was right. I'm still trapped!" The daemon's anguished voice falls silent.
"What did you think was going to happen when you moved from a mirror to a gem? That doesn't even make sense."
Arcadion sounds a bit pensive as he replies, "Forgive my momentary indiscretion, master. My bitter emotions overcame my reasoning for a brief time. I shall not let it happen again."
"So what can I do with you now?"
"It would seem that Erethian was correct in his assumption that should I enter this gem, my power would not be set free to use as I wish, instead it is at the beck and call of the one who possesses the gem." You hear a faint sigh, then, "Wouldst thou care to partake of my power?"
Arcadion can now restore Steve's magic points to full any time she asks. That's a pretty good reward, mind you, but it's about to get even better.
"Ah, so thou hast met that old windbag. Truly, I feel that I would do better to free myself of that burdensome beast, but he sometimes proves to be useful. If it weren't for his whining, perhaps he and I would get along better."
"Better than that, I've unwisely trapped him in an even smaller prison!"
"So... thou hast made a servant of Arcadion. 'Tis good to be rid of his incessant whining. I hope that thou findest him to be as useful as I didst." You're not sure, but his words might be construed as a curse.
The gem glows brighter, "'Tis good to see the last of thee, also, old man. Perhaps in another life, I shall be thy master, and thou the slave." The daemon lets out a chilling little laugh.
Erethian looks a little shaken at hearing the daemon's voice, but quickly recovers his composure. "I think not, daemon. I'm not at all sure that there is a way for thou to get out of that little gem." The elderly mage's expression is unreadable.
"So that's one problem solved. But I still have another. Your sword is a piece of shit."
Erethian nods his head when you tell him of your dilemma with the black sword. "Yes, I can see how the blade would be too clumsy to swing in combat. However, if thou were to bind a magical source of power into the hilt of the blade, thou mightest be able to counteract the unwieldy nature of the sword."
The little gem sparks up at this turn of the conversation. "I believe that in my current form, I could serve perfectly well as the blade's stabilizing force. In truth, this would allow me to give thee access to some of my more dramatic powers." The daemon sounds excited at this prospect, perhaps a little too excited.
Erethian's voice is quiet as he says, "Consider well before thou bindest Arcadion into the sword. For it is true that he will be able to solve the sword's problem of balance, but will he be able to solve his own problems as well?"
"Not following you."
"Didn't you ever read Elric?"
"I would be somewhat surprised if Steve had ever read anything at all."
"This is thy choice to make. Apparently thou hast need to make this sword function, but if the daemon is thy only recourse, I pity thee. For as surely as Arcadion will be bound within the sword, thou wilt be bound to possess it. I can tell thee no more."
Hmmm. This sounds like it could be bad. Let's do it anyway.
"If thou dost wish me to bond the gem to the sword, thou hast but to command me, master."
"It will be done!" As the gem touches the crosspiece of the sword, the sound of tearing metal screeches through the air. The blade shifts and shimmers almost as if alive. Slowly, the sword settles into its original shape, except for the blue gem glowing in the hilt.
"There can be only one!"
"This is so the worst thing you have probably ever done."
The sword glimmers darkly as you speak to it. "Greetings, my master. And how can thy humble servant aid thee?" The daemon's voice has regained much of its oddly disturbing humor.
The daemon sword's tone is rather ominous as he says, "I am, and ever shall be, thy servant Arcadion. I am the Shade Blade. My destiny is to serve thee until we are..." The sword pauses, "'parted.'"
"So what can you do now?"
Let's see, the Black Sword. What is there to say about the Black Sword? It has one of the highest base damages in the game, for starters. As if that weren't enough, it instantly kills most monsters anyway. And by talking to it you can use Arcadion's powers, which have expanded.
The Black Sword can restore Steve's magic, just as the gem could, although it occasionally needs victims (which are in no short supply). It can shoot a blast of fire. It can instantly slay on command (in case just swinging it isn't good enough). And it can teleport the Avatar back here to the Isle of Fire.
So how good are these powers? Let's try 'Fire' for a second here.
"HOLY MOTHER OF GOD."
"I think this is the start of a beautiful friendship."
"I think so... master. I think so."
Dracothraxus is clearly afraid of the Black Sword. For good reason. It can actually kill her.
Or rather, it's supposed to. But Arcadion is a whiny bitch, so first I'll use a diaper to keep her from attacking me.
This keeps happening. I can't really get any closer to Dracothraxus, and Arcadion refuses to actually kill her.
So screw it, we'll beat her up until she vanishes and hackmove past the door. Here's what was supposed to happen:
"Ah, Dracothraxus. We meet once again. 'Tis a pity thou shan't survive our meeting this time. Perhaps if thou hadst given the gem to me when first I asked, none of this unpleasantness would be necessary."
The dragon responds with great resignation. "My will is not mine own in this matter, Arcadion. Mayhap thou art finding too, that thy will is not thine own."
The daemon, possibly stung by the dragon's repartee, falls silent and goes to its bloody work.
And there's the medallion of courage.
"Well done, mighty warrior! The unsurpassed Courage which flows through thy veins could be none other than that of the Avatar. Thou hast proven thyself worthy of the reward of Courage with Valor, Sacrifice, Honor, and Spirituality... Receive it now in Humility." Urgency breaks into the voice of the statue. "I lay upon thee a geas, and as thou art the Avatar, thou art bound to respond. Thy quest is to seek the Talisman of Infinity. Within this castle there lies a scroll which can tell thee of its use. Go now, for time grows short."
30 Strength and a sword so good you couldn't get anything better if you were cheating? Yeah, I'd say that's a pretty good reward. It's mostly all downhill from here, but we may as well finish this sucker out to max out Steve.