Friday, July 31, 2020

The Black Gate: Won!

It's not your place to decide what "won!" means for me.
          
Throughout the backstory and in the gameplay so far, there have been several hints about the calamity that befell Skara Brae shortly after the events of Ultima VI. In The Book of Fellowship, Batlin mentions the "terrible fires which ravaged that island." He goes on to say: "Later I made a pilgrimage to the desolate ruins of Skara Brae and there I had a spiritual experience so profound that I have vowed never to relate it to anyone." When I first read the manual, I regarded this as more Batlin balderdash--the kind of thing that a shallow "spiritual leader" would say when unable to describe an actual spiritual experience. It turned out, to my surprise, that Batlin wasn't lying--but more on that later.
   
Ultima VII's Skara Brae is no longer a city of rangers but rather a haunted ruin. The island is surrounded by stones placed at intervals close enough that no ship can approach, and although some commenters have said that there are a few patches clear enough to land a magic carpet, I never saw any. The casual player must approach by ferry from the mainland. The ferry is manned by an undead ferryman who demands 2 gold pieces to cross. No explanation is ever given for how he got his job or why he's condemned to do it for eternity.
        
The inexplicable ferryman accepts his fare.
         
We pay the fare and cross the channel, arriving about mid-afternoon. (My tendency to keep the "Great Light" spell going permanently has essentially erased my ability to assess the time, as if the game is taking place in Alaska in July. Fortunately, I have the watch.) We immediately start encountering ghosts. I have to cast the "Seance" spell to talk with them; one casting seems to last forever. I wish it worked in other places during the game.
     
The first person we talk to happens to be Quenton. Now, you may remember this story from Ultima VI. In that game, we encountered an emotional wreck of a woman named Marney. Her mother had been kidnapped and killed by "Mondain's henchmen," looking for someone named "Relthor" or "Renthar." As the events of Ultima VI were unfolding, her father, Quenton, had just been murdered. Although some witnesses claimed gargoyles had killed him, we found evidence that pointed to a man named Michael, living nearby on the mainland, who said cryptically, "A debt needed to be settled." It was never clear who "Relthor" or "Renthar" was, although the mayor, Trenton, seemed to be hiding something. It was never clear how "Mondain's henchmen" could still be around in living memory. And there was no official way to solve the murder, although my party killed Michael.
         
Why weren't you this talkative when I used "Seance" in the last game. Back then, you just pointed at stuff.
      
Quenton's story in this game "solves" the mystery but only by retconnning it a bit. Quenton's wife, Gwen, wasn't kidnapped by "Mondain's henchmen," but rather just "evil men." Quenton blames his own murder on having borrowed more than he had the ability to repay, and Michael is confirmed as the killer. We hear that Marney eventually succumbed to her grief shortly after we left last time, a sad end to a sad story, although on the positive side, both Gwen's and Quenton's killers were eventually brought to justice in Yew, my killing of Michael being apparently non-canonical.
    
Anyway, Quenton's story is of course less important than the story of what happened to Skara Brae to make it a burned, ghost-infested ruin. The full story becomes clear only after talking to multiple NPCs, but it begins with the mage Horance, once a goofy man, given to speaking in rhyme, who lived on an island off the coast in Ultima VI. I guess his rhyme-speak, which we found amusing at the time, was a sign of growing mental illness. Horance eventually decided to seek eternal life by making himself a lich (which the game insists on spelling as "liche"). Ultima in general doesn't go into a lot of detail about lich lore, but the ritual apparently involves inviting a demon to inhabit your body, which then represses the original personality, thus somewhat ruining the benefits of eternal life. In any case, the ritual worked for Horance, and he began terrorizing the town. One of his crimes was to kidnap Rowena, wife of the local blacksmith, Trent.
      
Trent is unhappy about this turn of events.
       
The town healer, Mistress Mordra, came up with a plan to free the town of the lich. She enlisted the help of the mayor, Forsythe, Trent, and the local alchemist, Caine. Trent was to build an iron cage to contain the lich. Caine was to brew a special potion to pour over the cage once Horance was contained. Somehow, Forsythe ended up with the list of ingredients needed for the spell, which he read to Caine while the latter was brewing the concoction. Unfortunately, Forsythe misplaced a decimal or something, and he accidentally told Caine to use 10 times the amount of "mandrake essence" as he was actually supposed to use. The resulting explosion destroyed the entire island and killed everyone.
      
Horance somehow prevented any of their spirits from moving on, and instead ensorcelled them so that all the residents of Skara Brae have to march to Horance's castle every night at midnight and participate in a "black mass." None of them actually remember this later. Meanwhile, Rowena sits at Horance's side, unable to remember herself. Trent, not realizing he's dead, continues to hammer at the cage. Miscellaneous skeletons and ghosts wander the ruins and attack. The souls of Skara Brae's past dead are trapped in the Well of Souls in Horance's tower. And poor Caine, unable to forgive himself for what he did to the town, imagines that he's constantly surrounded by fire. The other ghosts call him "The Tortured One." It's from him that Alagner the sage wants me to obtain the secrets of life and death.
         
The Tortured One explains how he got his name.
         
The quest frankly isn't hard enough to solve that it should have been left undone for 200 years. I see it as yet another black mark against Lord British. Mistress Mordra gives me most of the instructions, which boil down to completing the ritual that they had attempted in the first place. She provides all the ingredients for the potion, which we take to Caine's laboratory and create using his apparatus. Here, I'll pause to note that the "essence of mandrake" potion has some beautiful graphics. It's a marbled red and yellow, I think, but constantly shifting rather than a solid color. It strikes me as a lot of work, graphically, to put into such a small item.
         
Mordra walks me through everything.
Brewing the mixture. There's only one essence of mandrake, so you can't really screw it up.
        
We then had to snap Trent out of his haze by bringing him Rowena's ring. This, in turn, meant briefly waking up Rowena to who she really was by bringing a music box from her old house, putting it on the floor, and playing it. We met Horance during this visit, but he didn't seem surprised or alarmed by the party's presence. He says he intends to rule all Britannia, but come on, Horance--you haven't made any move off this island in two centuries.
        
Rowena comes to her senses.
Horance interprets both answers the same way.
          
Trent needs an iron bar from the cemetery to finish the cage. Once again, I read and translate every gravestone while I'm there. Unlike the ones in Yew, they don't seem to be in-jokes (although some sound like real names), but a lot of them are just weird. A whole batch of them involve food puns that aren't very good. Here you go:
             
  • REY. INSTALLED HERE.
  • JACKIE D. AS IN D FOR DINNER.
  • BRIAN S. FOOD WAS HIM.
  • MICHELLE G. BRINGER OF DINNER.
  • JOHN T. GONE AND WENT.
  • HERE LIES DONNA. SHE IS A GONNA. (This one is replicated in Yew.)
  • WAYNE S. THE FOOD WAS GREAT.
  • W. HAGY. FOOD FOR THOUGHT.
  • M. STEVENS. ARRIVED WITH GIFTS.
  • ELGELETH. QUEEN FOR A DAY. WORM FOOD FOREVER.
  • JEFF F. FED BUT NEVER ATE.
  • CRAIG C. WAS DELIVERED.
  • BETH AND MICHAEL. WORM FOOD.
  • RHOODE. A MORE DESERVING MAN NEVER DIED.
  • SARNAN. WAS NOT MISSED BUT IS NOW.
  • WAMPOL. HERE HE LIED, NOW HERE HE LAYS.
  • GREGHIM. OLD AGE NEVER LOOKED SO GOOD.
  • DESTRA. WOUNDED BY A LOVERS SPURNING.
  • JRRT. A GREAT MAN, A GREAT WRITER. (This in a gold plaque affixed to a statue, obviously referring to J. R. R. Tolkien.)
  • FOR THE LOVE OF MARNEY. (A gold plaque in a tomb with a secret door. An NPC mentions that Yorl, Marney's guardian after her father's death, erected this special tomb.)
           
Studying Marney's tomb.
      
  • KEVIN B. DIED AWAY FROM THE CHILTONS. 
  • GALLER. CAME, SAW, WAS CONQUERED.
  • DARREN MCDONALD. WHO IS FALTRAN.
  • HERE'S TONY MORSE. HE'S DEAD OF COURSE.
  • HERE'S LARRY SALAMOT. GROSS.
  • ERLEMAR. GREATEST ENCHANTER OF HIS DAY.
         
We have to dip the cage into the Well of Souls, then lock it onto Horance while he slumbers on a slab during the midnight ritual. Waiting for midnight took longer than anything else during this session, and I actually left the island for a while to clean up some errands on the continent, including selling gold bars and nuggets, buying more reagents, and spending my final skill-development points. I also took a ship up to Ambrosia and checked out that fortress building in the middle of the bay, only to find nothing important.
        
Dipping the cage in the Well of Souls.
         
When I return at midnight, everything goes fine. We snap the cage onto Horance and douse it with the potion. The "lich" part of Horance flees howling into the ether, and what's left is a kindly old ghost who apologizes for his actions. He asks me to bring Rowena home to her husband while he figures out how to destroy the Well of Souls. Rowena and Trent are joyously reunited.
         
Using the cage on the lich as the rest of the townsfolk sleep nearby.
       
(Since you kill the Lich during the ritual, all of the ghosts from the town are in the fortress at the time. If you speak with them, they have dialogues that include banter with each other--banter that would normally be impossible because during the day, they're in separate buildings. You'd only ever get the dialogue by speaking to these NPCs immediately after destroying the lich. It's funny that the developers put so much detail into this one area and overlooked so many other things.)
        
NPCs have dialogue that only makes sense for a few minutes in this one place.
        
Horance tells me that to destroy the Well of Souls, some soul will have to jump into it, sacrificing himself for the others. It has to be a dead soul, severed from the body, so my party is out of consideration. Horance doesn't volunteer himself for unknown reasons. He suggests I ask Forsythe, for as mayor, "it is his right to be considered before the others."
          
Maybe you could do it since you, you know, tortured everyone for centuries?
         
Forsythe would happily forgo that honor, and frankly I think what happens to him next is a bit unfair. He insists that I first speak to everyone else in town, including the ferryman, plus Trent and Rowena, who were just reunited. Now, Forsythe isn't being the bravest soul here, but it's still not exactly fair that he's automatically the default. And a lot of the other NPCs get out of it for awfully spurious reasons. In fact, only Mistress Mordra seems to have a good reason; she's tied herself to other entities spiritually, so that if she jumps in the well, it will have devastating consequences for the land.
    
Caine would be an obvious choice, for instance, but he just insists it's his lot to suffer forever in his imaginary flames. Yes, even solving the lich problem didn't free Caine. There should have been more options for me to convince Caine it wasn't his fault, and that he can both sacrifice himself and free himself from his self-imposed torture. Most other NPCs simply decline without considering it (the tavernkeeper: "Oh, goodness no. I do not think I'm the one thou wantest for that job.") or by pretending they don't even understand the question (the waitress Paulette: "Thou wantest met to jump in a well? Well, thou canst go jump in a lake!"). The ferryman would happily do it to relieve himself of his monotonous job, but he resignedly says that he cannot, because of whatever geas binds him here.

So Forsythe finally sucks it up, shows some bravery, and marches to the well. He tries to stall a bit but ultimately says, "I suppose I didn't make a very good mayor in life . . . At least in death, I'll make a name for myself and do the job right." He jumps, and the souls are freed.
        
I'm not even sure either of us is clear about what he's sacrificing. Is his own soul destroyed, or is it trapped in the well in lieu of the others?
       
Horance rewards us with a Firedoom Staff, which we immediately drop on the floor and leave there, since it's deadly to friend and foe alike. He announces his intention to stay and try to rebuild Skara Brae "into a shining example of spirituality; a shrine where people of good heart may live in peace and harmony." I have no idea how he plans to do that as a ghost, but lacking any other worthy living person to give it to, I drop the Rune of Spirituality beside him on my way out. I find myself wondering if Horance is really the right "person" to wield it and find I no longer really care.
          
Discarding the last rune.
          
My last stop is at Caine's. I've done what he wanted, and now it's his turn to give me the answers to the secrets of Life and Death. But he just smiles at me and calls me a fool. "There are no answers," he says. "Only questions." Then he demands I leave his shop.
       
If you weren't dead, I'd kill you.
   
Oh, young readers, I would like you to imagine the party riding the ferry on the way back to the mainland. Imagine that they are all smiles and happiness, reveling in their triumph over the darkness that had infested Skara Brae. Imagine that they ask a few pointed questions of the ferryman, who reveals that his enchantment is such that he may only escort the Avatar and the Avatar's companions, which explains why neither Lord British nor any other Britannian in the last 200 years attempted to free the island of its torments. Imagine, still, that upon arriving in Britain, Lord British falls on his knees before the Avatar, thanking him for ending this travesty, this centuries-old affront to the very ideals on which Britannia once stood, this wrong grave enough that its righting would be the entire plot of a lesser game. Imagine further that Lord British is convinced by the Avatar's evidence of the Fellowship's treachery, of the Guardian's threat, and vows to stir himself from his torpor and make himself worthy of the mantle of king again. Imagine that Lord British, the Avatar, and his worthy companions, working together, manage to end the threat and restore virtue to Britannia. Imagine such, and end your reading here. Close your browser. Move on to the next game, and pretend that all is right in Britannia forevermore.
          
Move forward at your peril. For I promise you: you are not going to like what happens next.
        
Imagine this.
          
My companions start demanding food as we take the ferry back across the channel. Oh, but I am so tired. So tired of them, and their inability to do anything for themselves, of their complete dereliction of duty whenever I'm not in town. So tired of this place, with its shifting stories that make no sense; with its inevitable degradation no matter how hard I struggle; with its absolutely useless ruler who doesn't even notice the decay around him; with its conniving, ungrateful population, the best of them sacrificing and the worst succeeding; with its insistence in calling me "the Avatar" but without showing any interest in me being "the Avatar." In my entire visit, I've spoken to maybe two or three people who I actually like, and a couple of them are clearly doomed, including the suicidally-depressed Nastassia. In her, I see a future Marney, no matter how hard I might try to build a life with her.
   
We land the carpet on the streets of Britain, and I lead the party into Lord British's throne room. I open a dialogue with him, hoping he has anything mitigating to say. Maybe a congratulations for freeing Skara Brae from a lich? Maybe an excuse for why he couldn't do it himself, or one of his knights couldn't have done, it for two centuries? Maybe some acknowledgement that the Fellowship is a menace and Batlin is the worst of the lot? But no, he just has the same pabulum as before. Sighing, I open my spellbook, look Lord British in the eyes, and say, "IN CORP HUR TYM."
         
This spell could easily be cast accidentally by someone choking while trying to say "Incorporation."
      
Magic bursts from me. The ground rumbles and the sky thunders. Behind me, I hear my companions fall lifeless to the floor. You will think that I do not grieve them, nor the other roughly-100 remaining citizens of Britannia who just died, just because the rest of this entry is not about that grief. But I do. I grieved them from the moment that I knew this would be the end. Their deaths were instantaneous, with no suffering, which is a far greater mercy than they would have faced under the Guardian's rule. More important, it is a far greater mercy than they would have faced under the capricious, indifferent rule of an immortal, indestructible sovereign who lets entire cities burn even as a sinister society schemes the throne out from under him using the most obvious means.
    
That sovereign, of course, is unfazed. With a look of anger, not grief, he bellows:
      
Fool! What possessed thee to cast that damned Armageddon spell? I knew it was dangerous! Thou didst know it was dangerous! Now look at us! We are all alone on the entire planet! Britannia is ruined! What kind of Avatar art thou?! Now, with no Moongates working, we are both forced to spend eternity in this blasted wasteland! Of course, it could be viewed as a clever solution to all of our problems. After all, not even this so-called Guardian would want Britannia now!
       
His words confirm the wisdom of what I have just done. The land was doomed anyway. Does that sound like the speech of a good king, grieving over the loss of his entire populace? It sounds to me more like a child, angry that I've just broken his toy. He's angry, not grief-stricken, not horrified. Just angry. He also unwittingly lets on that he knows about the Guardian--probably has known about him for a long time. And what's that line about the "clever solution"? How would such a thing even occur to a moral person, a true king, at a time like this? For the hundredth time, I have to wonder why Richard Garriott allowed his alter-ego to be portrayed this way. Lord British has literally done nothing worthy of his reputation since he converted that demon in Ultima V--and even that was rectonned so that the demon was a gargoyle and thus not really evil in the first place.
    
What Lord British doesn't know is that neither of us is going to be stuck in this world with the other, either. I remove the Black Sword from my pack. "Death," I whisper to it. What follows is a dramatic event, with the demon coming forward and speaking through my mouth and controlling my hands.
          
The sword and Lord British have unique dialogue for just this eventuality.
Including the moron calling for his dead guards.
    
The resulting graphic shows Lord British's decapitated corpse sprawled over his throne. I stare at it for a while and leave.
         
Mission accomplished.
       
I head into the lifeless streets of Britain and walk to the Fellowship Hall. Batlin is standing near the entrance, more bemused than horrified. As we gaze out upon the continual storm that "Armageddon" has unleashed, he tells me his story:
              
Many years ago, Avatar. I went to Skara Brae, the ghost city. The way the world is now reminds me of that dead place. In Skara Brae, I had a spiritual experience, so profound that I have never spoken to another soul. I would like to share that experience with thee now, Avatar. 

There at Skara Brae, I saw a man who was called The Tortured One. I asked this dead man, pray tell, what is the answer to the question of Life and Death? He gave me no reply, and I asked him again. I beseeched him to impart some small parcel of wisdom upon me. What is the answer to the question of Life and Death?! He said nothing, but in his eyes . . . In his eyes, I could see, Avatar, that he could not answer me for there was no answer to give. No answers to the question of Life and Death! It was then I understood. No meanings! No virtues! No values!!!

I commend thee, Avatar, for reaching the same liberating illumination. 
             
I turn to him, and he raises his face to meet mine. "I'm ready to join the Fellowship now," I say. He stares at me incredulously for a few seconds and then begins laughing--halting at first, but soon collapsing into an insane, never-ending bellow. It sounds a bit like a scream. His voice is still echoing down the streets of the city as I board the magic carpet.*
         
Batlin gets the punishment he deserves: eternity alone in a lifeless prison.
         
I dolefully make my way south to the Meditation Retreat, enter, and walk out with the cube prism. It makes people tell the truth, but there's no one left to use it on. I fly from there to the Isle of the Avatar and wander its halls until I find the chamber with the Black Gate. An image of the Guardian forms in my mind.

"Stop the Avatar!" it orders. But there's no one to stop me. Everyone in the room is dead, even Batlin (somehow). I thus take the three prisms out of my backpack and place them in their receptacles around the Black Gate, lowering its defenses.*
          
Removing the force field around the Black Gate. Knowing this game, there's probably some way to accidentally walk right through it.
         
"So, Avatar, the moment of truth has come," the Guardian booms in my head. "You can destroy the Black Gate, but you will never return--" He's still talking as I walk through the gate and out of Britannia forever, without even a look behind me. My only regret is that I won't see his face when he arrives to this cold and lifeless world.
       
The Guardian still doesn't get it.
        
"You wonder how you are to live with the guilt for deserting Britannia and leaving its fate in the hands of the Guardian," the game says, but it doesn't know what it's talking about. I don't wonder. Not at all.
    
Final time: 72 hours
  
 *Everything in this paragraph I made up because I thought it sounded good. Batlin has no dialogue after he tells his story.
  
**Batlin, Hook, et. al., actually have their normal endgame dialogue at this point, despite their bodies being dead on the floor, but it intrudes with my narrative, so I didn't include it. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Amberstar: Bird's Eye View

See below for more on this somewhat-inaccurate map.
             
I wrapped up the last session with 5 pieces of the Amberstar, not yet halfway through, but I still had a few leads. One of them took me to the Dragon Keep, on an island off the northwest coast. Ages ago, the ruler of Illien had asked me to slay the dragon that rules the place and steal his egg to be raised by the giant eagles. Before I could do this "honestly," though, I had to find the sheet of runes in the sewers. This allowed me to properly interpret the statues in Illien, which have the names of past guardians of the city, thus getting past the magic mouth in the Dragon Keep, who asks the name of the second guardian (GELINDA).

Approaching the Dragon Keep.
     
The fortress consisted of an outer area, an inner keep, and a second floor. In the outer keep, I found a potential NPC companion, a Level 5 halfling thief named Boldin. He might have had better stats than Silk, but Silk was about Level 13 by now, so I couldn't see any reason to take him. He said he was here for the dragon's rumored treasure.
     
The magic mouth opened the way to the inner keep, where the enemy of the day was "firebirds," very annoying beasts (frankly, every enemy in this game is annoying) who can cast mass-damage fire spells every few rounds. I had to battle a billion of them, find a key to the second floor, and find a statue so that I could provide another magic mouth the name of Gelinda's eagle (LUGTHIR).
         
Ultimately, we encountered the dragon, which attacked us alone. It was tough, but this is the kind of game where no single enemy is ultimately that much of a threat. Whether he breathes fire or uses a physical attack, he can only attack once per round, and I have five characters who can fight, cast spells, and administer potions in between his attacks. He put up a good fight for a few rounds and then perished.
          
I like the way the dragon has his hands on his hips, like he's so put out that I'm in his castle.
           
The dragon's cache included his egg, a piece of the Amberstar, some gems, a lot of gold, and a key called "Jonathan's Key," which I'm sure was meant for Jonathan's villa. How the dragon got it is a mystery.

We turned in the egg to Lord Pelanis in Illien and in return got a magic flute. The flute summons an eagle who will give us a ride on his back. It obviates all other forms of travel and runs no risk of random encounters (not there was much of a risk of those anyway). Unlike the magic carpet in Ultima VII, the eagle flies above all terrain. It's pretty awesome.
       
Cruising the landscape on our new "steed."
        
Before we made much use of the eagle, though, we returned to Jonathan's villa and again used his teleporter to return to the secret island, where (as we suspected) his key opened the way to the return teleporter. This allowed us to get his piece of the Amberstar and keep it this time.
         
That's seven!
         
At this point, I was largely out of leads (except I suspected I could visit Sansri's Insel now that I had the eagle). I took the eagle to 0, 0 and started exploring in north-south strips, stopping every time I found something interesting. Some highlights:
          
  • The Shipyard of the Far Isle (44,54). Here, you can buy a ship. But it's on an island that you can only reach by ship or eagle, so I'm not sure why you'd need one. Funny--I just said that about Serpent's Hold in Ultima VII.
  • Altar (49,329). This looks to be where I'll use the 13 pieces of the Amberstar when I have them.
          
Are you sure 10 isn't enough?
        
Ranger's Guild (81, 233). Wow, I finally found it. I'm glad I didn't want Viola to be a ranger. I'm not sure that I found a ranger willing to join me there, just the head of the guild, named Annorel.
          
Annorel greets us but will not join the party.
          
  • Windgate Hub (119,314). This area consists of a central altar dedicated to Theodorus Bargund, builder of the windgates. There are fourteen of them in the hub, going to different destinations across the continent. At the time I found the hub, the windgates weren't active yet.
  • Mera's House (140, 265) was probably the most important find of the search. It's on the way to Gemstone, but somehow I missed it earlier. Mera is a witch who has enchanted most of her furniture; the chairs scold you when you try to sit in them. If you give her a mushroom, she'll turn it into a potion that raises an attribute. I unloaded all my mushrooms on her and jacked up my strength and speed.
        
Mera creates a strength potion from a mushroom.
        
Mera has a cave behind her house. I explored it for a while and found her lost broom, for which she told me where to find the next piece of the Amberstar. It was under a big stone near a frog pond west of the house. That was number eight.
           
This was the easiest so far.
         
Amidst some islands in the northern sea, I spotted a whirlpool (146, 11). To get to it, I had to ditch the eagle and return to one of my ships. On the way, I was attacked by krakens. Wilderness encounters are so rare that I didn't even realize sea battles were a thing until then.

In real life, whirlpools are to be avoided, but in CRPGs, they usually bring you somewhere interesting. Amberstar was no exception. We were sucked down and spit out on the shore of an undersea area called Realm of Manyeye.
          
Arriving in the undersea kingdom. We will be avoiding as many of those octopus icons as possible.
        
Almost immediately, we were attacked by octopuses--easily the hardest creature in the game, though commenter Sinatar suggests this is because of a bug rather than by design. They last forever and absolutely exhausted my resources. I did my best to avoid any other combats with them, going so far as to save after every step and reload if I made a mistake and got caught by a group of them. They're only worth 33 experience points; they'd have to be worth about 100 times that to make it worth the time.
    
The Realm of Manyeye has a number of caverns and passages, most of them swampy and poisonous. To avoid poison, you have to avoid the squares that bubble, which requires you to pause every so often and wait for the bubble animation. Swampspiders and swamprats attack while you're trying to thread your way through. Something weird happens with light in the Realm of Manyeye. Since it's supposed to be deep underground, you need a torch or magical light to see. But once you have it active, the light radius expands and contracts with the day/night cycle just as it does topside, even though logically it ought to remain the same the entire time.
        
Navigating through a swamp at "night."
          
We soon came to a ramshackle village composed of other people who survived their respective shipwrecks and turned the timber into housing. They call it "Ship's End." There's a general store, a food shop, an inn, and even a temple to the god Sobek. We met a human ranger named Sheba who offered to join the party, but I think I'm locked with what I have. Sheba told me that many of the residents eventually go to the castle of Manyeye looking for an escape; none have ever returned, save one old man living at the trading post.
         
The village center.
        
The old man was a thief named Atagar. Decades ago, he and his brother tried to find escape through Manyeye's castle. As they approached, the were horrified to see piles of human bones outside the castle, but no skulls. Atagar's brother went on, but Atagar, paralyzed by fear, waited outside. On the third day, some door opened high on the castle, and Atagar's brother came plunging out, landing in a pile of bones, babbling that the "thousand-eyed fiend" wouldn't "drink from his skull." Atagar brought him back to Ship's End, where he died of infection a few days later.
        
Atagar relates his horrific story.
          
Atagar suffers pains in his joins and he begged for an "herb packet." At the time, I didn't know what that was. I tried giving him all of the herbs I had, but he didn't want any of them. Later, I found items specifically called "herb packets," but by then I'd moved on from Ship's End.
         
Approaching Manyeye's castle.
       
Through a long, mazelike series of mountains and swamps, we finally made our way to Manyeye's Castle, where the primary enemies were packs of hairy, ape-like creatures called "skullhunters" and umber-hulk-looking things called "mutants." The castle took a long time. The various first-person corridors led to stairways that led to iconographic sections, each with their own encounters and puzzles. The general idea was to find a hidden pressure plate in each of several areas, which together opened the way to the top floor and the final encounter with Manyeye.
         
"Mutant." Who are you trying to kid?
         
About halfway through the dungeon, my characters ran out of space for anything. Even picking up an extra scroll meant that I had to drop a few dozen gold pieces. Towards the end, I got to feel like the area was taunting me, offering huge caches of gold that it must have known I couldn't possibly pick up.
 
There were some gruesome encounters: plenty of skeletons with no skulls, a room full of wine goblets that had been made of skulls, a kitchen where human meat roasted on an open fire. We saved a little girl from a cage only to have it turn into a "doppelgaenger" and try to kill us. When we killed it, it turned back to a little girl and a voice said "thank you for releasing me" as it dissolved before our eyes. Doppelgangers must work differently in this setting than in most.
        
They also look quite a bit different.
        
In an ancient bedroom, a journal hinted that "Manyeye" had once been a human mage, obsessed with the secret of immortality (another Ultima VII similarity, if you read my entry in a few days). He cast some great spell on himself and was surprised by the result.
          
The diary of the mage who became Manyeye.
        
Just before we met Manyeye, we found a treasure chest with the ninth piece of the Amberstar. Manyeye himself turned out to be a beholder. with exactly five eyes: one large central one and four small ones on the ends of stalks. Fighting him was a bit tough because he attacked from a distance, and he was capable of casting from a distance. He had very little incentive to move forwards, therefore. My black wizard's Sickle of Returning was the only weapon that could hit him. But I kept pelting him with spells, wands, and the sickle until he slowly made his way forward and I was able to kill him in melee range.
           
"Onebigeye" would have been a better name.
          
Manyeye dropped the Wind Necklace, the item that makes it possible to use windgates. When I used it, it disappeared and became a permanent part of the interface, so I guess I can't return it to Thonion in Crystal. We soon found a windgate in the dungeon, and I used it to return to the surface world. It brought me to the hub of windgates, previously discovered.
          
I probably have no need for these now that I have the necklace.
        
After a long period of selling items, buying items, leveling up, and so forth, the party returned to its previous exploration pattern:
    
  • On the northern peninsula that also hosts the castle Godsbane, we finally found the Temple of Monks (177, 45), but either I couldn't get in or nothing important happened because I didn't take any screenshots. This would have been relatively accessible from the starting area, if I'd wanted my main character to become a monk, but I would have had no idea of knowing it was there. The map shows nothing but mountains at its location.
  • We found the Fortress of Godsbane (209,48) and the nearby Guardhouse of the Eternal Gods (214, 58), marking roughly the halfway point of the comprehensive north-south search pattern. The guardhouse showed signs of Marmion's recent attack. I could enter Godsbane and explore a few passages, but they dead-ended at a door with a seal in the shape of the assembled Amberstar. Clearly, this area will be important later. 
        
The guardhouse outside Godsbane shows signs of the recent attack.
          
At this point, I'll confess that everything I related above happened about two weeks ago as I type this. You may recall that in my last Amberstar entry on 21 July, I said that the narrative represented less than half of the time I'd spent. The story up to this point mostly represents the other half, but I had scheduled that entry pretty far in advance and had done most of the associated playing on 11 July. I'm typing this on 26 July. Compounding matters, I can't find my notes from when I was playing. I usually type them in either a draft entry or notepad file, but in this case I have neither. Probably I forgot to save the notepad file and the computer restarted to implement an update or something, losing it. Thus, I've reconstructed everything from memory and screenshots, both of which lack a lot of detail and particularly lack my reactions to things. If this entry has felt sterile, that's why.
    
My last major clue about anything has to do with Sansri's Insel, but that clue was related to the Wind Necklace, which I unexpectedly found elsewhere. I tried to land on the island in a previous entry, but found that a ring of mountains surrounded all but a thin crust of coastline. With the eagle, that's no longer a consideration of course, and I can explore the area. I technically landed on the island and noted a Temple of Sansri at 199, 357, before I found the Fortress of Godsbane, but I can only find a couple of medusa-like statues before I run up against a blank wall. The map shows that the wall is a secret door, but I can't walk through it or find any way to get it to open.
  
Sansri's Insel (as I pick up "live" from here) is more of a compound than a single location, and as I return on my eagle now, I realize I must have been very literal about the exploration pattern if I simply flew off after exploring the temple. The island interior has its own network of roads that meander through patches of farmland and forest; its own lakes and ponds and swamps, where I get attacked by a new creature, the winged snake. They're capable of causing madness, but they don't try until the third round, and I've often killed them by then. If they succeed, I have herbs to counter it.
         
Exploring the interior valley of the island.
       
The temple is at the extreme southwest. There's also a windgate at the extreme southeast, and a village called Snakesign in the center. This is the first village I've explored in a couple of dozen game hours, and I hope to find some clues as to the last four Amberstar pieces.
 
I encounter a woman named Shi'Ra on the streets. She introduces herself as a former high priestess of Sansri. She says that the goddess took "the side of the evil ones" and cast her followers out of the temple. Only she and her "beloved animals, the snakes" remain behind. This turn of events has obviated the quest of Melchior, a monk who came to the island to convert Sansri's people away from her. Melchior will join the party, but he's only Level 4 and I don't need a monk right now. Melchior tells me that the monks serve "Mork, the god of wisdom," which sends the party into fits of laughter, to Melchior's confusion. I can't wait to meet Alf, the god of compassion, and Bender, the god of temperance.
       
The princess of power!
       
The shops in town have weird operating hours. For instance, the wise man will only see people from 13:00 to 15:00, the healer is only open from 01:00 to 07:00, and the food store is open from 09:00 to 18:00. The inn is always open, and inside a young man warns us that there are snake symbols on the floor of the temple that cause damage to males but not females. There's something weird going on with the innkeeper's wife. When we meet her on the second floor, she insists that we leave immediately or her jealous husband will become violent. Then, there's a rapping at her window that she dismisses as woodpeckers. Later, exploring the alley outside the inn, we find a ladder propped up against the window. I can't figure out any way to investigate this further, though. I also find nothing to help me in the temple. Selecting a male or female as the lead doesn't seem to make any difference.
   
Moments later, the "woodpecker" started crooning, "The western wind is blowing fair . . ."

The fixed ladder suggests this happens often.
      
I'm just about to leave the island in despair when I decide to take another run at Shi'Ra and Melchior and make sure I've considered all the keywords. I find one I missed in my discussion with Shi'Ra, which is ENTRANCE. Shi'Ra tells me that the entrance is sealed, but Sansri opens it "in the middle of the night" so that messengers can get out. I thus return to the temple, park myself in front of the secret door, and start passing time.
        
Nothing happens at midnight.
        
The door opens not "in the middle of the night," but a little after 17:00. Winged serpents come spilling out, and I have to defeat three in a row.

What kind of clock is this temple on?!
         
The rest of the temple consists of a large main level and smaller areas above and below it. Early on, we find a statue that tells us to "find the eight signs." Throughout the levels, we run into eight magic mouths which, when prompted with SIGN, give us a single letter in the game's runic alphabet.
         
I still don't understand how creatures in this game are speaking runic.
        
There are numerous encounters with winged serpents. Fortunately, I discovered one of my paladins had a "Cure Madness" scroll, and I was able to memorize it. (Both paladins still have an abysmal success rate, even with skills above 50, but they get it eventually.) There were also a lot of sigils on the floor that caused minor damage (15 points or less) to male party members. Sometimes, there are alternate paths or illusory walls to get me around them; other times, I just have to suck it up.
           
Stepping on this will hurt 2/3 of my party, or perhaps 1/2 depending on whether the runes take their cues from the party members' hair.
       
There are a couple of squares, unmarked, that poison and stun male members. There are also numerous walls that open and close on timers, and blockages that require a pick-axe or shovel to clear. We have to check the automap frequently as we explore. Numerous atmospheric messages about statues in contorted positions warn us that Sansri is almost certainly a medusa.
        
"Realistic statues" is always a bad sign.
I can't tell if this is a joke.
         
The letters from the magic mouths ultimately spell SERPENTS. When given to a final magic mouth, the keyword opens the way to Sansri's inner chambers. We need a snake ring from there to get through a second door. There, after several combats with winged serpents in the hallways, we face Sansri herself.
        
Sansri greets us as we enter her chambers.
        
Speech saturated with sibilant hisses, Sansri praises the party's persistence, then assails us, assisted by eight winged snakes. Although she has a petrification attack (for which I have a couple of scrolls in reserve), she rarely uses it, favoring forward movement in the first two rounds and then physical attacks thereafter. She is immune to magic. We concentrate on wiping out her serpents with mass-damage spells in the first two rounds so we can concentrate on her thereafter. It mostly works. By the time she comes into melee range, I have three fighters, buffed, hastened, and positioned to begin attacks. We defeat her--a god--in a few rounds.
       
Every enemy except Sansri herself takes damage from a "Fire Cascade" spell.
         
She isn't dead, just bloodied and exhausted, and she begs mercy. We really have no choice, since there's no "attack" button in the main interface. Chests in her chamber hold a second Wind Necklace, Sansri's Whip, and Sansri's Collar. The latter two items are usable only by female party members but otherwise have no class restrictions.
        
A god begs mercy from a party that had trouble with giant rats a few weeks ago.
         
Solely from any desire to backtrack through the dungeon, we begin exploring her chamber for illusory walls, and we find one in the north center. As we walk through, she congratulates us on "knowing everything." She says that the chest beyond the wall has a piece of the Amberstar and a magic scroll that, if used in Bralkur's presence, will banish the demon from the mortal plane. She bids us to take both and promises to stay out of the conflict from here on.
        
Yeah . . . right . . . we knew that door was there!
           
It strikes me as I leave that Sansri's Temple is a pretty good RPG dungeon. It's not so large that it's exhausting. It has some good navigation puzzles but it doesn't overdo them. Atmospheric messages enhance the wall textures, which are okay in themselves. You have to become familiar with some lore to succeed. The combats are both individually and collectively challenging, culminating in a satisfying final combat and reward.

I don't even mind the idea of fighting predominantly one enemy. The game's approach has always been to introduce a small number of the enemy at the beginning of each dungeon, then slowly introduce larger mobs. The idea is that the player develops a solid expertise as to what works well and doesn't work well when fighting them, so that by the end of the dungeon, he's up to the challenge of the final battle. I like the variety of enemies in other RPGs, but so often they appear only once or twice, and thus aren't very hard to begin with and are particularly easy fodder for a second-time player.
   
We get our equipment identified, sold, and restocked, our characters leveled up, and then move on. (Side note: the "libraries" in the wizards' guilds do not restock their inventories of scrolls, making them less of a money sink than I'd hoped.) This entry is already pretty long, but I might as well wrap it up with the major findings:
   
  • We return to Crystal and give Thonion the second Wind Necklace. He rewards us with 5,000 gold pieces, which we absolutely do not need at this point.
        
We probably just dropped them immediately.
          
  • A Dwarf Mine is found at 260, 225. Upon entering, we find ourselves in a top-down area rather than a first-person one. A sign says, "Bora's Mine." A magic mouth wants to know why I'm disturbing its peace and quiet, and I have nothing to tell it. I have no notes on a dwarf mine.
        
Spotting the Dwarf Mine from the air.
      
  • We finally find the Tower of the White Wizards (279, 167). There's no particular reason we shouldn't have found it before except that it isn't on the way to or from anything. Like the Black and Gray Towers, there's a magic mouth who wants the name of the founder as a shortcut. Unlike the other two towers, the "long way" isn't full of enemies and multiple levels but rather a series of easy navigation puzzles involving teleporters, spinners, an area where we have to walk on the tops of bones to avoid damage, and an area where we have to find an illusory wall between statues. It's good that it's easy because the guild has nothing we need. The NPC who will join us, a gnome named Crag, is only Level 6 (my paladins, in contrast, are Levels 18 and 21). 
       
One of the tests in the White Wizards' Tower.
         
  • We start flying through the northern desert. Just as we abruptly remember the Rose of Sadness that Gwen wanted, we see the door to the Halls of Peace (315, 75), a relatively long dungeon that mixes indoor and outdoor areas. We have to battle umber hulk-like "planthulks," walking trees called "trents," and krakens to find four flowers (clover, rose, lily, and forget-me-not) and bring them to a central temple.
          
These guys were capable of blinding, but I had spells, potions, and herbs for that.

Yay! I'm "worthy" of something that makes you sad.
       
The Halls of Peace reward us with the Rose of Sadness, which we bring back to Gwen, who rewards us . . . with clues that would have helped us solve Sansri's Temple, including the existence of the final secret door in Sansri's chambers. She also gives us a "Teleport" scroll, which would have gotten us into the center of the island without requiring the eagle. Oh, well.
          
She's already suffered enough. We don't have the heart to tell her that her advice is too late.
       
After I was done with my journeys, I spent more time than made sense trying to reconcile the coordinates I'd found with the official game map. The map has a lot of extra water on the left and right sides (and is thus rectangular even though the coordinates posit a square world), and some of the landmass features aren't drawn to scale anyway. Even after cropping it, I still couldn't find a formula that coerced the coordinates into the precisely correct locations. I finally figured "good enough" when I got them into the general vicinity.
 
And that, my friends, is it. I find no other locations (that I haven't already found) east of the Halls of Peace. I have no other clues, with the sole exception of returning all the way back to Manyeye's Realm to give Atagar his herb packet, which I can't believe gives me an Amberstar piece. I'm three Amberstar pieces short of a full set. Just for the record, this is where I got my ten:
  
  1. Firlas in Crystal, after returning to him the magic bone.
  2. The secret hallway in Crystal, after getting the key from Orlando.
  3. The Lord Chancellor's house in Crystal.
  4. The Pharaoh's Tomb, along with the magic disk.
  5. Kelvin in Crystal, after returning his magic harp.
  6. Dragon Keep.
  7. The secret island accessible from Jonathan's Villa (which I never found on the world map, incidentally; it must be in its own plane).
  8. Mera's frog pond.
  9. Manyeye's Castle.
  10. Sansri's Temple.
     
I will thus accept light hints on where to find the other three, in the vein of "spend some more time in Wherever." Otherwise, I'll have to do a circuit of the towns again, and if I find nothing, look up more explicit spoilers.
  
Time so far: 41 hours