The Black Gate: Of Valor and Virginity

From The CRPG Addict

Surreptitiously awarding the Rune of Valor to Kliftin of Jhelom.

The more Gideon thinks about it, the more he doesn’t really like having a death-dealing demon bound up in his sword. The question is what to do about it. Ideally, there would be some magic ritual that would simultaneously release the demon and send it to another plane, but I don’t know how to do that, and Erethian–the person who bound the demon in the first place–is dead. I can’t drop it in the deepest part of the ocean (which, let’s face it, is only about 20 feet deep) because the interface doesn’t let you drop things over water. I’ll assume that for similar reasons, I can’t drop it in a volcano–if I can even find one. No spells destroy it. 

I think about trying to ruin it in the forge, and it’s in trying to put it on the hearth that I discover something unpleasant: I can’t even remove it from my inventory. If I lay it town somewhere, it just leaps back into my hand the moment I close my inventory screen. This also means I can’t try Plan F, which is to destroy it with Rudyom’s wand. (Rudyom’s wand doesn’t work on it anyway, even if I try it with the sword still in my hands.) I can temporarily stow the sword in a container, like my backpack, but if I then set down the backpack, the sword jumps back into my hands again. If I’ve already replaced the sword in my hands, it jumps into whatever container I’m carrying in place of the backpack, If I’m not carrying any container, it tosses whatever I’m carrying to the ground and puts itself in my hands. It will not be parted from me.

You cannot unforge what has been forged.

The best I can do for now is commit to not using it, which means taking Magebane back from Jaana and giving her her old regular sword again. I don’t need a sentient sword influencing my thoughts and actions, and that little confrontation with Dracothraxus was a bit too uncomfortable for me to trust that the sword isn’t doing either. Maybe I’ll figure out some other options along the way.
Before heading for Jhelom, the party returns briefly to Britain and cashes in nuggets and gems for gold. I spend nearly all my gold on new spells and reagents from Nystul. Now that the Avatar is maxed out in intelligence and magic, I want to get more out of my spells than usual, and I vow to find a reason to cast every spell and discuss them as I do. Before I get into this, it’s important to remember that spells in Ultima VII come in nine levels: eight regular levels plus a set of 8 Level 0 “cantrips” that you can cast indefinitely. Except for cantrips, each spell requires an expenditure of mana equal to their level plus the associated reagents. The syllables from Ultima V still exist, theoretically, but the player no longer has to know them. The spellcaster just speaks them automatically.
We get to Jhelom by heading south to Trinsic and then west across the lower continent and then across the channel. I’m doing this from memory, so I’m happy when we see roads and houses on the first island we encounter. We land near the dock, which worryingly has cannons pointed outward, as if expecting hostile ships to arrive. It occurs to me that cannons in this game can be moved but not turned, which is odd for a game that allows so much interactivity otherwise. It amuses me that Britannians, when they go to buy cannons, have to specify whether they want an east-facing cannon or north-facing cannon or whatever.

If the invasion comes from an oblique angle, they’re screwed no matter what.

We arrive at midnight, which I assume is going to give me a chance to use my first spell, “Awaken,” on a sleeping NPC. Oddly, although the first building we come to–city hall–has a double bed, there’s no one in it. There is, however, someone in bed in the hut across the way.


Awaken – AN ZU (“Negate Sleep”), Level 0 cantrip. A relatively useful spell that wakes up a sleeper. It doesn’t have to be a magic slumber: it awakens normal sleepers, too, and is the most reliable way of doing so. Unlike in Ultima VI, regular sleepers in VII will sometimes awaken if you just make a ruckus around their bedrooms, but it’s faster to cast the cantrip. I’m sure I’ve used it more times to wake up NPCs in the middle of the night so I could talk to them than I have on characters put magically to sleep.


Maybe the joke is there is no such cantrip, and the person really awakens from some idiot yelling “AN ZU!” in his room.

The sleeper turns out to be Master de Snel, head of the Library of Scars fighting school. (The name is a clear play on producer Dallas Snell.) He’s also a trainer. Some experimentation shows that he only raises combat, not the associated attributes, so I think Inforlem is a better deal. (de Snel gives +2 combat for 2 points; Inforlem gives +2 combat, +1 strength, and +1 dexterity for 3 points). I try to have Gideon train with him anyway, but he remarks that Gideon is already his superior in skill. I guess the Avatar just isn’t going to be able to spend those skill points. His statement that Jhelom is “devoted to the art of combat–not mere slavish military discipline, but pure violent confrontation” strikes me as a bit ominous. Jhelom used to be devoted to valor.
Back at city hall, the mayor, Joseph, has appeared, and he wakes up before I’m able to use the spell. He characterizes Jhelom as a rough place, and he’s called upon to maintain order with his sword as often as his pen. He says that fighters gather in the town square to duel every day, but then clarifies that they mostly use training dummies. It’s more like a mass workout than a battle. There are sometimes matches “to the blood,” though, and people bet on them. So far, Joseph is beating Jheolm in the contest for the Rune of Valor, but I’m not sure I like this place.

Is that because of its nature or because of people like you?

We take the opportunity to explore the empty Library of Scars. In addition to practice rooms, it has an actual library, which disappointingly has a “Britannian Purity League” flyer in a prominent place. The “Books of Britannia” entry is updated with The Accedens of Armoury. To make it easier to see, I cast the “Glimmer” spell, which I honestly forgot existed until I started reviewing the spells. I would have used it earlier in some of the dungeons.

Glimmer – IN BET LOR (“Create Small Light”), Level 0 cantrip. Creates a low-level light for a short duration–just long enough to check out a room. Still better than adventuring in the dark. Useful when you don’t want to waste reagents or spell points on “Light” or “Great Light.”

De Snel made me suspicious enough that I confess I swiped a key I found in his house. I justify it by saying I’ve been generally charged by Lord British with investigating what’s wrong with Britannia, and I need a wide mandate to do that. The key opens a locked office in the Library of Scars which has a couple of chests. One has The Book of the Fellowship and a serpentine dagger. The other has three gold bars and a Fellowship medallion. A parrot in the corner says “I know where the treasure is” in between “Polly wanna cracker” and “pretty bird.” But I can’t make it say anything else, even when I try to give it some fish and chips.
At this point, it becomes weird to rouse people from their beds, so I set up my bedroll and get a few hours of sleep. I still don’t know what the rest of the party does while I use the only bedroll. When I wake up, it’s raining and thundering, which gives me a chance to use another cantrip.

Weather – REL HUR (“Change Wind”), Level 0 cantrip. Makes it stormy if it’s sunny and vice versa. Not very “useful,” but it’s actually kind of unpleasant to adventure when it’s raining, so I use it just for aesthetic purposes. There are lots of other games that I’ve wished had this option, particularly the two Assassin’s Creed games where a storm seems to magically appear every time you engage in a sea battle. Note that the original spell of this title in Ultima V was necessary for sailing the direction that you want to go.

Kliftin, an ex-soldier, runs the town’s armory, but for some reason the armory also has a spinning wheel and loom, and I catch Kliftin operating the loom as I enter. He claims to have “seen [his] share of death and destruction,” which reminds me that the book talks about strife between regional leaders, but you really never have any sense of where these supposed wars happened. Britannia’s not that big of a place, and Lord British seems to keep it pretty orderly. Unnamed wars and campaigns simply don’t fit with the landscape. He’s a little less charitable in his views of the town’s duels, which he says are often fought to the death. He’s worried about Sprellic, the mild-mannered innkeeper, who stole the Honor Flag from the wall of the Library of Scars and has refused to return it. (I would have stolen it, too; it’s supposed to be the Valor flag. Doesn’t this town know its own history?) He’s therefore going to face three fighters from the Library in a duel to the death. He suggests I ask more at the pub. He sells equipment, but I need to save my money for spells and training, and I’m already doing a fine job finding equipment upgrades.
We cross a bridge to the west side of Jhelom, where we find nothing in a few houses. Then we find Sprellic hiding in his own house, where he begs Gideon not to hurt him “this time.” He calms down as we talk and explains that he arrived from Minoc a few years ago to buy the Bunk and Stool pub. He employs two barmaids who together keep the unruly fighters under control through charm (Ophelia) or physical violence (Daphne). Recently, a stranger came to the tavern claiming to be the Avatar. A member of the Fellowship, the man consumed conspicuously then went to bed. Not long afterwards, he complained that it was too cold, and he kept complaining even after he had every blanket in the inn. In desperation, Sprellic went running around town and found an “old tapestry” hanging on a wall, so he took it, not knowing he was taking the standard of the Library of Scars. In the morning, the “Avatar” was gone, with the tapestry, and without paying his bill. Later, three members of the Library of Scars–Syria, Vokes, and Timmons challenged him to duels to the death. Before I’ve left his house, I’ve agreed to serve as his champion.

This is a bad sign.

The last place to visit in town, believe it or not, is the Bunk and Stool. Right in the front door, we run into Syria, an olive-skinned “fighter from the south”–gods know what that means in the confusing geography of Britannia. It’s clear that Sprellic would have a crush on her if she didn’t terrify him. She got 10 lashes for allowing Sprellic to escape with the flag, so she’s determined to make him pay. I soon meet Vokes and Timmons, and they are similarly intractable when it comes to the subject. They refuse to believe it’s a misunderstanding, or to show any mercy to someone who clearly isn’t a fighter. Timmons isn’t even a member of the Library of Scars yet, but de Snel won’t let him join until he defeats someone who has challenged the school. I had started this quest by thinking that it’s solution would be finding the stolen banner, but now I’m thinking that these three deserve a good thrashing. 
Dupre is next. He’s his usual self, recently knighted, in the midst of “conducting a survey of all the drinking establishments in Britannia.” He confirms that Jhelom has gotten a lot more “bloodthirsty” and he summarizes what’s happening with Sprellic. I have him join the party, of course, determined to kick out Sentri if things get unwieldy. Dupre comes with chain armor, a sword, a shield, and a mug of beer.

To be fair, that’s what most RPGs are about.

It’s 11:50 at this point, and the duel is supposed to be at noon, so I have just enough time to talk to the barmaids before I have to head out. They’re taking bets on the duel, so I bet 100 gold pieces on myself–well, technically Sprellic, but I hope it will pay regardless. Daphne is heavy and unattractive and vocally resents Ophelia. Ophelia is both a bit mean, egging on Daphne, and bit daft, claiming that Sprellic is the Avatar in secret and will easily defeat the three fighters before opening his own fighting school.

Remember this quote.

The dueling grounds are back on the first island, so we head there. I soon find that there’s no good way to fight the three members of the Library of Scars solo. Going into combat mode engages everyone in the duel, which isn’t as unfair as it sounds because all three of the Library fighters jump in together instead of individually. There’s no way to tell my party to exercise restraint, so we actually kill all of them. De Snel is happy about the outcome and invites me to join the Library of Scars. Ophelia gives me 1,000 gold for the outcome (Sprellic was poorly favored by the odds). Later, it occurs me that there is a way to get the party not to fight–set them all to “retreat”–but slaughter seems like the wrong way to go about it. I try just knocking them out or putting them to sleep, but it just delays the inevitable end of the duel. They did insist it was “to the death,” after all.

Technically, your buildings are both on the north side of the street.

Reloading, I try some other options. De Snel has nothing useful to say about the upcoming duel. Joseph, for all his claims that he often intervenes, refuses to do anything about this case. He claims that he and de Snel have an understanding and that if he upsets that, de Snel is likely to assassinate him and take over the town completely. It’s Kliftin who has the answer. First, he figures that the false Avatar is Sullivan the Trickster, known to do this sort of thing. Second, he comes up with the solution: he can just weave a new Honor Flag. It will fool the fighters long enough to call off the duel, and if they ever do figure out it’s a counterfeit, they won’t be able to say so without looking foolish. Plus, they’d have to challenge Kliftin in that case, who’s a lot tougher to beat. It’s going to mean that I miss the appointed duel time, but I rationalize (correctly) that this game doesn’t have any way of telling today’s noon from tomorrow’s noon.
While we wait, we explore the rest of the island. Outside of town to the west is a cave, where we’re attacked by a single nameless fighter the moment we enter. The cave has a crate with a triple crossbow–supposedly a devastating weapon that costs a ton if you try to buy it in Iolo’s shop. I hate micromanaging ammunition, though, so I don’t bother with it. 
A cave system south of town is much more extensive, so much that I’m surprised it’s not a named dungeon. We fight some bats and gremlins as we enter; I’m still not sure why gremlins turn into food in this game. We soon come across a trap that generates a field of fire across the floor. I think this might be a good opportunity for a spell, but it turns out I’m wrong.

Douse – AN FLAM (“Negate Flame”), Level 0 cantrip. Supposedly douses flames, but doesn’t work on any flame that you’d really want doused, like ones blocking your passage in corridors. Only works on things like torches and campfires that you could douse by double-clicking on them. At least it doesn’t cost anything, which is more than I can say for Great Douse, or VAS AN FLAM (“Great Negate Flame,” Level 1), which supposedly douses everything in the area. While we’re at it, I might also discuss Ignite (IN FLAM, “Create Flame,” cantrip), which does the opposite. If you can think of a single use for these spells, even hypothetical, anywhere in the game, I beg you to comment.        

A wizard attacks us in a ruined structure in which two stone harpies flank a crystal ball. Trying to use the crystal ball prompts a voice that might be The Guardian to shout “go away!”

An interesting scene.

As we return to the entrance, the spontaneous flames are gone, so I use the occasion to try “Detect Traps” and “Destroy Traps.” Neither works, but it’s maybe the case that the flames’ appearance isn’t a “trap” as such. I’ll have to experiment some more before declaring the spells worthless. The dungeon has a few minor finds–a few reagents, a set of swamp boots, a little food.
On an island east of town, the Shrine of Valor is in pretty good shape. There are some gremlins running around the area, but it’s well-kept and has a sword on the altar, which I suppose is okay. It occurs to me that I didn’t hear the word “valor” once in Jhelom, which is a bit depressing, but I suppose I can’t expect cities to maintain their mission statements for over 200 years. It occurs to me that when the cities were created around the virtues in the backstory of Ultima IV, certain professions were naturally drawn to certain cities because of those virtues: fighters to valor, mages to truth, and so on. (Druids=justice and rangers=spirituality were always a bit of a stretch and should have been reversed in my opinion, and I guess tinkers=sacrifice never made much sense.) Two centuries later, the remnants of the professions are there, but not the virtues. Jhelom still attracts fighters and Moonglow still attracts mages, but they’ve become more about the realities of those professions than their aspirations.

The Shrine of Valor from above.

There’s a small island northwest of Jhelom with another cave entrance. It’s clear that someone’s been living inside, but I can’t figure out what they’ve been up to. There’s a huge barrel of beer in a corner–and next to it a set of thumb screws. At the south end of the cavern, a curtain parts to reveal a sack with a single key. The key opens two chests in the main room, and inside we find a couple of bars of gold, reagents, and a magic helm. The best I can figure is that some bootleggers operate out of here. On a fun note, if you turn the spigot on a keg of liquor in this game, your party members absolutely freak out, alternately screaming “turn it off!’ and “thou art wasting it!” Nothing brings them more distress, apparently.

It’s not like you were going to get to drink it.

Our final adventure in the Valerian Isles occurs on the southeastern tip of the main island, where we find a pirate and the remains of a ship. The pirate is pacing back and forth but refuses to talk with us even though his garbage pile and arrangement of furnishing suggest he’s been stranded here for a while. There are three barrels of gunpowder among the wreckage, and these are the first ones in the game that I feel comfortable (for role-playing reasons) grabbing for my own use. They generate explosions that can be useful on locked doors and in combat.

I like that graphics are advanced enough in this game to set up little “vignettes.”

I return to Jhelom, where Kliftin has created the fake Honor Flag. I return it to Syria, who takes it grudgingly and calls off the duel. Sprellic is overjoyed at the result. Ophelia refuses my arguments of a “moral victory” and I’m left with ten worthless chits. As for the Rune of Valor, I always interpreted valor as a mandate to actively seek wrongs and right them. You can life an honorable, just, and compassionate life just dealing with things as they come to you, but only the truly valiant do something proactively about an injustice that isn’t otherwise their duty. Thus, I give the rune to Kliftin, who came up with a solution to a problem that he could have ignored, taking some risk upon himself in doing so.

I was tempted not to, but the game didn’t give me that option.

We cap this long entry with a visit to the Dungeon Destard, which has always struck me as the least literal of the original eight dungeons (“Wrong,” “Deceit,” “Despise,” etc.), although as the opposite of valor, it’s clearly meant to evoke “dastardliness” or thereabouts.

In an early room, I meet an unlikely trio consisting of a fighter, a ranger, and a winged gargoyle. The fighter introduces himself as Cosmo. He claims to be betrothed to Ophelia, the Jhelom barmaid (who didn’t mention him once), but she’s apparently decided to make him prove his virginity before they get married. That sounds like she gave him something to keep him busy, because she certainly didn’t sound like a virgin. Anyway, he thinks there’s a unicorn in the area that only virgins can touch. This tickles a memory, but I seem to recall that the unicorn is in a different dungeon. His companions, the ranger Cairbre and the gargoyle Kallibrus, Kallibrus seems genuine but confused because gargoyles don’t have genders and don’t mate. Cairbre concurs with me that Ophelia just sent Cosmo on the quest to get rid of him, and he even shares my opinion about Ophelia’s likely virginity. Despite all of that, he has a fondness for Cosmo and didn’t want him to venture to the dungeon alone. It’s nice to meet another group of friends, even if their quest is stupid.

“Not that there’s anything wrong with that,” Cairbre hastens to add.

Deeper in the dungeon, we start running into dragons. Dupre proves himself the weakest link of the party, having joined when he was only Level 3 (everyone else is Level 6), so I get a lot of use out of:

Heal – MANI (“Life”), Level 3. A simple spell that heals about 10 hit points. A useful workhorse; probably the spell I’ve cast most since beginning the game.

There are a lot of caltrops in the corridors. I really hate those things. You never seem to get them all, and no matter where you move them, someone always seems to stumble over them later. But it’s worth it, because we soon find a bunch of gold bars just sitting in the hallway.

Can you even see these?

In a large, central chamber, we kill three more dragons and find the corpse of a man with a Fellowship staff, a chest with two Fellowship medallions, and a sack full of potions and reagents. Further along, another dragon cave delivers some huge dividends: stacks of gold, gold bars, gold nuggets, and gems, along with the 5-10 gems per dragon that we’ve already been looting from their corpses. Our economic prospects have definitely turned around, and it’s time to reflect that in spells, reagents, and training. Poor Spark has 15 training credits to use. There’s also a spellbook in one of the chests, but none of my party besides the Avatar can use it, and he has his own. I’m not sure that any NPC in the game besides the Avatar can cast spells.

Coming here should have proven our valor, but it just stoked our avarice.

We do find the unicorn, although in a separate set of caves that share the same mountain range with Despise (if there’s an illusory wall connecting them, I didn’t find it). He’s right in the entrance, prancing around a pool of water, and he introduces himself as Lasher. He tells a horrible story about why unicorns can detect virgins: they were originally a species of nature spirits, both male and female, bound to service by a wizard. When the leader of the clan decided to spend one night chasing females instead of heeding the wizard’s call, the wizard cursed the entire herd with chastity, forbidding them to mate. This curse caused them to kill all the females of their species and left them with a sensitivity to “sexual energy” such that they could only tolerate the presence of virgins.

I thought Britannia was a more enlightened society.

He’s aware of the presence of Cosmo and his companions, and he’s avoiding them because he’s “sick of being used as the instrument of women’s humiliation.” But he laughs when he hears that they’re looking for him to prove a male virgin and agrees to help. (I return to them later, but there are no new dialogue options.) During the conversation, he asks whether I’m a virgin. It’s an interesting question. I’m not, obviously, but I never thought about whether my character is. He didn’t explicitly have sex with Princess Aiela in The Savage Empire, and he rejected the overtures of the gypsies in Ultima VI. He seems pretty old to be a virgin, but one wonders if things back on Earth even count. I mean, his power and skill all reset when he walks through the moongate; why not his virginity? I err on the side of saying yes, and the damned horse actually has the nerve to accuse me of lying to avoid embarrassment! After my party has a good laugh at my expense, he confirms that I do regain my virginity upon entering the moongate.

Maybe I put that demon sword away too soon.

He then asks if I’m a virgin by choice or circumstance. I say “circumstance” because Jaana’s in a relationship and I’ve otherwise been surrounded by men since I got here. Lasher offers to help and asks if I want love or lust. The real answer is that I want neither in a society that has yet to discover deodorant or razor blades, but I choose “love” and he directs me to Nastassia in Cove.
I’ve already met Nastassia, of course, but the conversation reminds me that I promised to find out what happened to her parents. We’re going to make some spell and training stops along the way, but otherwise the next stop is Yew, city of Justice.
Time so far: 46 hours

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