Reconciling the Past: The One, the Three, and the Infinite
The One, the Three, and the Infinite
Numerology and Theology
There are a few “standards” in Ultima; one such are numbers. Numbers are important, and its uses them in important ways. There are eight Virtues (Honesty, Compassion, Valor, Justice, Sacrifice, Honor, Spirituality and Humility), comprised of three Principles (Courage, Love and Truth), and one Axiom (Infinity). There are Eight Dungeons that oppose the Virtues, and three Anti-Virtues. The Gargoyles also have eight Virtues (Achievement, Balance, Direction, Feeling, Persistence, Precision, Order, and Singularity) based on three Principles (Control, Diligence, and Passion). The Ophidians have three Principles (Balance, Chaos and Order).
At the center of the Britannian Virtues stands the Axiom of Infinity. Although rarely used, the concept of infinite *anything* has very strong implications. In the Ultima universe, this concept can be used to allow for inclusion of just about anything into continuity.
Let’s take a look at the infinite worlds of Ultima.
The One and the Three
The concept of a unique world must exist, or the idea of infinite ones has no meaning. When the universe began, there were only the unique, for the infinite did not yet exist. There was one Earth. There was one Sosaria. And there was one Ethereal Void. Each were connected metaphysically; overlapping one another perfectly. It was in the Age that primal magic was known, and feats of magic could be done on Earth as well as in Britannia.
The three were part of a whole, always in balance. Mankind was born on Earth, along with the animals we know. In Sosaria, Elves raised mighty kingdoms among magical beasts. In the Ethereal Void, nothing dwelled but the formless Daemons. For eons, things continued as they had; kingdoms grew, fell, and were replaced.
Eventually, everything changed.
Mondain came into power, and using his fell magic ruled for thousands of years. Although he was repelled from Akalabeth by British, he was not defeated. Not until the Stranger travelled through time and shattered the Sun Ruby Gem, just as Mondain was forming it into the Gem of Immortality, was the wizard defeated. The Gem was the cornerstone, for it drew the powers of the Ethereal Void and focused them upon Sosaria; its destruction caused the entire cosmology to shatter.
Imagine the three worlds as three circles, each overlapping slightly but equal. The shattering of the Gem of Immortality pushed the worlds out of their alignment. The Ethereal Void no longer overlaps Earth, but instead touches it only in one place. Sosaria also touches Earth only slightly. Sosaria and the Ethereal Void overlap each other to a much greater degree.
This shift changes the nature of the worlds.
Travel between Britannia and Earth happened in early Ages quite easily, for a simple moongate could transport one between worlds. No longer; only the blue moongate known as Siege Perilous could appear on Earth, or a red moongate created by an artifact such as the Orb of the Moons.
Magic becomes all but extinct on Earth, but strengthens into a codified system within Sosaria. As the worlds are still in flux, some magics wax and wane in power over time, leading to changes in their Circle or their loss and re-emergence. Some spells cease working as incantations, and require lengthy and complicated rituals to bring about their effects.
The most miraculous change happens to Sosaria itself. The Gem of Immortality was focused on Sosaria, displaying the world within the gemstone as it shattered. However, this image was not, as was originally thought, a remote image of the world, but a simulacrum; a duplicate. Within that Gem was a world; somewhere in that world, their version of Mondain was performing a similar rite upon another Gem of Immortality. Within that, another gem and another world. Infinite gems shattered at the same moment, creating infinite versions of the world.
However, all worlds are not created equal.
In some, history continued very much the same as in the one we know. Sosaria fell and Britannia was formed. In others, a different continent remained after the others were destroyed. In some, nothing survived, and the gem darkened. A few contain only minor islands on a vast sea, or nothing but ruins. As many variations as can possibly be thought of, and more, exist somewhere in the multiverse.
Thus, Ultima Online is played upon lands of very closely knit shards of a Gem of Immortality; each has very little difference between the worlds. The Lands of Danger and Despair that the Avatar and his Companions visit in Serpent Isle is actually a shard in which only that continent survived destruction, but remains close enough to our shard that travel between them is possible. The shards upon which Lords of Ultima is played feature nothing but the island remains of the Land of the Feudal Lords, reunified as Caledonia. The same is true for the shards of the Tokuno Islands.
Travel between shards that are “close”, perhaps only between shards that were part of the same Gem of Immortality, is possible, but requires artifacts of great power. For instance, travel between Britannia and the Serpent Isle required the use of the Serpent Pillars, once known as the Pillars of Protection.
Distant shards, shards that have become disconnected from others, or shards of different Gems, require the use of an interdimensional Black Gate.
Only upon the main Britannia did the Stranger return and succeed in the Quest of the Avatar. Perhaps one of the Companions became the Avatar on other shards. Upon still more, the Quest is still ongoing, with none able to achieve perfect enlightenment. Many never called the quest, or even formed a Britannia in which the call could be made.
I believe that the Guardian was also formed during the Shattering. The touch of the Stranger upon the Gem of Immortality created a distorted copy of himself within that image, which corrupted by Mondain’s magic, took on demonic characteristics and fell into the world. Seconds later, the worlds shattered, leaving the new Guardian in a nearly lifeless shard distant from others from the Gem. Through distortions in the ethereal nature of his prison, he counted thousands of years to grow in power, while Britannia counted only a score.
If this Infinite cosmology is true, then may of the inconsistencies of the Ultima series can be readily explained. So the next time you see a strange item with the Ultima title, rather than dismiss it as non-canon, perhaps just file it away as something that happened on a remote shard. After all, all things are possible!
This ends my trilogy of posts introducing my thoughts on reconciliation. In the coming weeks, we will examine each of the released Ultima products and piece together how they fit on our own Tapestry of Ages. Let me know what you’d most like to hear about first!