The wailing blizzard was one of the worst ever seen by mortal man, even
in the far northern reaches of the Dagger Isle. Four figures stumbled onwards
within the midst of the snow. Each longed for the warmth and comfort of
their homes, but still they pressed forward, for a great quest had been
decreed to them.
"Bloody weather." The oldest man remarked. From his belt he pulled for a thin sword of glowing flame, shining forth a beacon of light through the snow. "Art thou sure we're still headed north?"
"Aye." A middle-aged man with a short blond mustache replied. He pulled the compass out from his green and brown robes, glancing at it once more. "I feel as though we travel in circles, however."
"From what the legends say, it may well be so." The leader of the group replied. He shined through the mists in his mystical silver armour. A golden ankh hung from around his neck.
"I can't believe Lord British convinced us to go along with this." The final man, a burly figure with long brown hair, spoke up. "What canst we find here, Avatar?"
"Tis been centuries since the Grave of the Lost Soul was last scene within the realm, my friend." Shamino responded, tucking the compass back within his cloak. "Not since before the four continents of ancient Sosaria were split didst it appear."
"All the same…" Iolo stroked his greying beard, "Why must all these ancient artifacts and mystic appear in such out of the way spots? To give us bards more freedom in fabricating our songs and stories?"
The four chuckled, but a fifth voice interrupted them, emanating from a blue gem embedded into the hilt of the Avatar's sword.
"Mayhaps to lead off those such as thee to thine deaths? How many, I wonder, hath followed in thy Avatar's footsteps and died in this quest for fame?" A deep voice put in.
"Come now, Daemon," Dupre replied with amusement, "We hath spent our all-too-long lives in adventures such as this! If thou'rt such a coward to seek to go back, even so thou shan't dissuade us."
"If ye think I am no less a victim of foolhardy impulses than thyself, sir knight, thou art sadly mistaken." Arcadion almost sighed, the Gem of Dracothraxus fading away once more.
"We hath tarried long enough." The Avatar spoke up. "Come, my friends, it can't be too much farther. Blizzard or not, Dagger Isle remains the same as it always has."
The wailing of the winds grew louder as the four continued on. Each minute felt to the travelers as an hour, and fatigue had begun to set in amongst them.
Older than the others, the bard was the first to tire. He hid it as best he could, detirmined not to be a burden, but at last the strain was too much, and he collapsed into the snow.
"Iolo!" The Avatar knelt before his fallen companion, pulling forth reagents from a brown bag hanging at his belt.
"Wait!" Shamino called. "Listen!"
"I hear nothing…" Dupre muttered, looking around warily.
From somewhere far away, the slow beating of a drum began to echo across the snow-covered plains. At first it seemed but a single instrument, but soon it was joined by a second and then a third, until the sounds became uncountable.
The three companions looked around and called out, but received no response. They could not tell from which direction the sounds came; indeed, the drumbeats seemed almost to echo from within them.
Dupre collapsed into the snow. Shamino and the Avatar rushed over to him, but he had fallen into a deep sleep. The two looked at each other with a meaningful look, realizing that they had at last met their match; at last their adventures were over.
The drum beats grew louder…
Shamino rubbed his eyes wearily.
The instant he spoke, Shamino knew that it was not the Avatar's voice he had heard. It was softer, a woman's. The voice was familiar to him, which shocked the ranger greatly, yet he could not place it.
Shamino's vision slowly returned to him, and he saw a young womanof exquisite beauty standing before him, her hands upon his shoulders.
The name escaped from his lips automatically, and Shamino gasped. But indeed, he knew whom the woman was. He felt somehow that it should not be her, yet he could not guess the reason why.
"Art thou all right, Shamino?"
Slowly, Shamino sat up. He saw that he was wearing a thin blue shirt and that he was lying in a luxurious bed. Both of these seemed unnatural to him, but again he could not find an answer within himself as to why he was so disturbed.
"I know, I understand, my love." Beatrice replied. "Yesterday was a sad day indeed."
"Yesterday…?" Shamino tried to remember, but he couldn't.
"My father…" Beatrice turned away, and Shamino caught a glimpse of tears in her eyes. He tried to rise to comfort her, but felt weak and unsteady. The fair lady turned back to him, having regained some of her composure.
"But we must move on, my love. Thou art the King of the White Dragon now, thou hast a responsibility to the lands of my ancestors."
"Thy father… he…?" Shamino clutched his head. He felt sickly, his vision began to blur.
"Rest, my love. I shouldst not have awakened thee so early. Thou need sleep on a day like today. I'll return before noon, my love. Thou mustn't be late for thy coronation."
"Yes, I… Bea…"
The King of the White Dragon was buried in the same soil as his ancestors
of countless generations, deep within the courtyard of this mighty castle.
Shamino himself lay the first dirt upon the old king's casket, knowing
that it was he who was to carry on the legacy.
Beatrice… She had handled her father's illness remarkably well. The king had fallen desperately sick the previous year, and Shamino had been forced to remain on the continent, breaking his promise to British in the north to send reinforcements for his war with the Lost King.
And then the great calamnity had struck the land, sundering it forever from the other three continents. Only the White Dragon's kingdom remained, and now he too lay dying.
The king lived on for longer than any had suspected he could. At last he had passed on quietly in his sleep, never given the chance to bid farewell to his daughter.
Shamino himself had a great keep in the north, though he had departed it when the king's condition worsened, and it would be sad to leave it in the hands of another. But, alas, Shamino knew that tradition must be maintained. Now he was the King of the White Dragon, now he must live in the ancient castle of the White Dragon.
Peasant and nobleman flocked alike to the great courtyard for Shamino's coronation. He would be the first new monarch over the kingdom in nearly a century, for the last king had been extremely long-lived.
Yet still something troubled Shamino, some forgotten memory which seemed to conflict with everything else around him. A woman, he remembered, with shining red hair. But who was this he imagined? What was this figure that haunted his dreams?
"My subjects!" Shamino adressed the masses.
"There wouldst be many reasons that I might refuse this crown thou place now atop my head. I am but a ranger, a traveler of the lands. I never aspiried to nobility, nor did I seek power or renown.
"Yet my travels brought me to the court of the White Dragon, and therein I met thy king. He was a man of unsurpassed wisdom and courage, he carried justice within his heart. He saw a greatness within me, a greatness I myself was too blind to ever see.
"He chose to let the royal line of the White Dragon fall to me, he chose to take me as his son. It is he now who continues to reign as the true king of the White Dragon, for it is only because of his judgements that I now ascend to this throne.
"And by the trust placed in me by so great a man, I swear that I shalt not allow our kingdom to fall into dark times because of the calamnity! I swear that I shalt not let us fall apart and become divided because we hath lost contact with the other continents! I swear that so long as a single breath remains within me, I shalt not allow the Kingdom of the White Dragon to fall!!"
Cheers arose from the crowds. Shamino began to feel sick once more. As he tried to shake this feeling away, a brief vision of the red-haired woman flashed through his mind once more. A name came to him, but in the same instant it was gone. Shamino sighed, not knowing what it was that troubled him so.
"Now I am a king, then…"
Night had fallen outside. Shamino remaned as weary as he had been the entire day, though he tried to hide it from Beatrice. The constellations in the night sky appeared… different, somehow, though Shamino shrugged this feeling off easily. He had felt this way every night, he knew, since first the calamnity had struck.
"What is wrong, my love?" Beatrice slid up behind him, her hands curling around his shoulders.
"I do not know, Beatrice..." Shamino muttered. "Tell me, what was I like yesterday?"
" 'What were you like?' " Beatrice looked at him oddly.
"It's just… I do not know. I feel…"
"Please tell me, Shamino. Mayhaps I can help."
"I feel as though this is all a dream. Not this, not you or I ourselves, but my past, my memories… I know that they art true, yet somehow, since I woke up this morning, I have felt as though…"
"As though what, Shamino?" Concern washed over Beatrice's face.
"As though I was watching another's life, even if it were somehow… my own."
"There is more, Beatrice… I have more "memories"… These conflicting images within my mind, I cannot place them, no matter how hard I try… It--"
"Thou must rest, my love." Beatrice interrupted him. "These art trying times for us all, dear Shamino. Thou hast a kingdom to rule now. Please, let us sleep, and in the morn mayhaps thou shalt feel renewed."
"Nay, nay, I cannot. It is as if… As if this was all an--"
Shamino stopped. A memory suddenly passed through his mind, and with it came thousands more that same instant.
"An act!!!" Shamino threw his hands up in the air and laughed with glee. Beatrice stared at him dumbfounded.
"I understand it now." Shamino laughed, embracing Beatrice. "An act, Amber, an--"
Shamino looked into Beatrice's eyes. They had grown cold, distant.
"How dare thee!!!!" She cried.
"Beatrice, I didn't--"
"How dare thee!!!" She screamed. "It could have been!!!! It could have been if thou didn't leave!!!!"
"It is too late for us, it--"
"It could have been!!!! Why couldn't you have accepted it, damn thee, Shamino, why?!!"
Tears streamed down Beatrice's eyes as she collapsed to the floor. Shamino tried to speak, but could think of nothing to say.
Beatrice gazed up at her lover one last time. Her eyes were mixed between grief, hatred, and pity; pity Shamino knew was for himself.
A cold wind seemed to blow by, and Shamino saw Beatrice's skin grow pale. He realized that he could see straight through her, and that the magnificent room around them had changed to ruins.
A low drum beat began to echo throughout the halls. It grew louder as Shamino's vision faded into darkness…
Iolo blinked as the bright sun shined down upon him. The shadows were lengthening
and soon it would be sundown, but even so the air around the bard was warm
Autumn leaves rustled in the wind, sweeping across the ground. Iolo sat on a narrow log, idlely fingering a lute in his hands. Just behind him was a small wooden cottage, from which spread a short dirt path. Tall, thick trees of Yew wood stood all around.
Iolo recognized the house instantly as his own hut, but something felt… wrong. He could not place it, yet the bard could have sworn he was not meant to be here for some reason.
The leaves rustled and Iolo looked back down the path. A young man approached, wearing simple garments of browns and oranges. He wore no boots or sandals, leaving his feet bare upon the soil.
"Hello there!" Iolo called, putting down his lute.
"Hello, good sir." The young man smiled. "Might I have a seat?"
"Certainly, tis rare that I see travelers." Iolo replied. "Thou art from the Abbey?"
"Aye, a fine keep. A home to all who respect nature in its pure beauty."
"Back when I was your age, my boy, the same couldst be said of Yew itself." Iolo remarked. "Alas, the city is too built up now for my tastes, these past few years. More the city of bureaucracy more than the city of justice, I'd say.
"Oh but forgive me, how could I have been so rude as to not introduce myself? I am Iolo Fitzowen, a bard all mine life. I've lived in Britain for most of my days, though in later years I've moved out here. My wife still lives in Britain, in fact, managing the bowyer's we founded."
"A pleasure to meet thee, good bard. I am Toshi, a student at the Abbey." The two shook hands.
"How is the Abbey these days? I haven't been there for years."
"The current master of the keep is Lord Michael, one of the great explorers and scholars in this age. The Abbey hast fared well under him," The young man looked down, "Better than most of the kingdom, at least."
"Is something wrong?"
"Oh, nothing." Toshi managed a smile. "I just worry when thinking about the rest of the land. Thy wife, she lives in Britain?"
"Aye, for now, though my apprentice, a lass by the name of Gwenneth, will be ready to take over in a year or two."
"Well, she is lucky, Britain is by far the safest of the great cities, except perhaps the young Magincia. The rest of the lands… Well, thou know of the regent, don't ye?"
"I've heard the tales of him, as have we all. He is called by some a tyrant, by some an opportunist. Thou art dissatisfied with his rule?"
"Milord bard," Toshi's voice became pleading, "He is worse than Mondain or Minax! They were at least reviled by the people and forced to depend upon their monstrous legions. Blackthorn owns the support of the guards, Britannians like you or I! Where once the realm's enemies were forced to gather against a united land, now they rule the land themselves and dominate it from above."
"Surely thine words art harsher than thy thoughts!" Iolo was shocked, "British himself didst place 'Blackthorn' upon the throne in his absence. Have you no trust in the True King's actions?"
"But the True King is gone now, and the tyrant Blackthorn carew not. He may well be behind our liege's disappearance for all we know, lusting for ill-gotten power."
Toshi leaned forward, his voice grew calmer. "Master bard, doth thou know of the Avatar?"
"I hath heard of his great exploits, if that is what thou doth mean. I was a young man, rather a scoundrel, in fact, during the days of Mondain, and I saw quite a number of adventurers pass through Britain.
"In fact, I recall speaking with the Avatar himself once, decades ago, just after the True King had united the continent. He approached Gwenno and I-- Oh yes, Gwenno is my wife, my pardon.
"As I was saying, Gwenno and I were performing in the streets of Britain. It was still a small town in those days, so much was torn apart during the Great Cataclysm. A young man wearing an ankh struck up a conversation with me. He was filled with questions, questions of all sorts, from the simplest of common sense to the most ponderous of philosophy. He spoke of Virtue, and of ataining a sort of enlightenment. When I told him of the difficulty of this, he showed me the fabled Rune of Compassion. How he found it, I do not know, but the sight was one to start any man.
"We talked for quite a bit longer, until at last he bade me farewell. Had we known each other longer, I think we could hath become good friends. He even asked me if I wished to accompany him on the Quest."
"You were a companion of the Avatar??" Toshi's eyes widdened.
"Of course not!" Iolo laughed merrily, but a thought disturbed him in the back of his mind. "I had a life to struggle out, a woman to support. Gwenno and I were just a step above paupers, I could not leave her to go meandering across the lands in a search for a goal that was ultimately unattainable."
"Dear me," Iolo noticed the lengthening of the shadows. "I've babbled on for too long, my friend. Dusk is approaching, and you shan't get back to the Abbey before nightfall. These woods are too dangerous to travel in the darkness, when the creatures of the Underworld can prowl safely without fear of the blinding sun." Iolo sighed. "Ah well, I have room here in my cottage. Ye can stay here until daybreak."
"Thank thee, master bard." Toshi frowned. "But the reason I asked thee of the Avatar in the first place, milord, was not to hear a tale but to tell one."
"Eh? Tis getting late for stories, my lad."
"Wait…" Toshi's voice was pleading. "I am with the Resistance. We are planning to bring the Avatar back to Britannia to save us from Blackthorn's regime. Even if the True King is dead, the Avatar can restore virtue to the lands, allow us to live without fear once more.
"This is Britannia's only hope of salvation, master bard. I wandered these woods today not only in despair, but in searching for those such as thee who could aid their land in her darkest hour. Please, milord Iolo, can ye come to the Abbey with me tomorrow to speak with Lord Michael? Every last man and woman in the realm must work together if we wish to return to prosperity."
Iolo sighed once more. He felt conflict within him, but not solely over young Toshi's plea. A part of Iolo felt… lost, disoriented. A part of him felt as though none of this should be happening, as if he should not even be having this conversation.
"We'll talk it over in the morning, lad. Come, I for one am in need of rest."
Iolo woke during the night to the sound of horses galloping through the
woods. Moments later, a heavy knock sounded against the door.
"Wh--" Iolo was interrupted as a half-dozen men barged into the cottage. They were garbed in long black cloaks and suits of chainmail. Each had a sword strapped to his belt, and two carried torches.
"What is the meaning of all this??!" Iolo called as the leader of the guardsmen pushed him aside. The guardsmen ignored him, methodically searching through every nook and cranny of the cottage.
"Here!" One of the guardsmen called as he pulled Toshi to his feet.
"Aha," The leader smiled, "So 'ere's one. 'Ow's it feel now that yer're not safe 'n sound in the Abbey, aye?"
"Ah, so the Oppression finds me this dangerous, eh?"
"Bloody idiot!" The guards' leader struck Toshi across the face. "By order of the Grand Inquisitor Dryden, thou art a traitor to the Crown and shall be dealt with accordingly."
" 'The Crown', hah!" Toshi spat. "You foul dogs! How does it feel to lick the heels of Blackthorn?!"
The guardsman struck Toshi again. "Yeh'll know soon enough, Lord Braccus shall personally oversee thy interrogation. You'll be begging to lick his bloody boots for mercy before 'e's 'alf done with you.
"Yeh can make it easier on yerself, though, if you tell us now, get us a bit of a reward." The guardsman smiled menacingly. "What is the password of the Resistance?"
"You'll never know, not from my lips!" Toshi barked, blood trickling from his mouth.
"Idiot, the regent's vassals will beat it out of you. And then we'll burn your damned Abbey to the ground. We know you're hiding the fugitive Julia there, she'll die alongside the rest!"
"You shan't ever penetrate the Abbey!" Toshi laughed contemptuously. "Thy bloody tyrant is afraid of the three Castles of Principle, he fears the eternal flames! All three have shown open resistance to Blackthorn's regime, and he hast done nothing! He is powerless, and soon he shalt lose all that he has stolen from our realm."
"I've 'eard enough, take this bastard away!"
"The True King shall return, fools, Lord British shall return…!!!" Toshi's call faded away as he was struck across the face a third time.
"Now see here--" Iolo at last put in, trying to regain some of his dignity.
"And who's this old fellow, prisoner?" The guardsman remarked to Toshi. "Another of your conspirators?"
"I've told him nothing." Toshi spat again.
"Hah, I doubt it." The guardsman chuckled, turning back to his comrades.
"Burn the bloody place down, burn it to ashes! Yer lucky this time, old man, don't push yer luck. If I ever see yer face in Yew, I'll gut yah without a thought!"
The guard's backhand caught Iolo across the jaw. Iolo stumbled back, catching a glimpse from the corner of his eye as a torch was thrown against the wooden walls.
The next moments passed in a blur. Outside, Iolo heard the horses galloping away as the guardsmen rode off. The flames grew stronger as the smoke thickened, and Iolo found it hard to breathe.
Mustering his strength, the bard stumbled forward through the flames. The cool night air struck him as he rushed out, throwing off his burning robe.
Iolo stumbled a few steps further before taking one last glance at his burning cottage, illuminated in the night sky. Without another thought, Iolo collapsed into darkness…
The soft light of dawn shined down through the trees as Iolo opened his
eyes. He slowly dragged himself to his knees, turning to gaze upon the
ruins of his cottage.
Iolo stood up and took a few paces towards the rubble, hoping to salvage some of his possessions from amongst the debris. He collapsed to his knees once more, still exhausted from the events of the night.
Yet Iolo felt little despair as he viewed the remnants of his home. A certain euphoria passed over him, in fact, a detachment from all around him.
" 'The evil of thy reign did not begin within thy heart, though there it must be ended. I have no wish to see thee die for having been ensnared by dark powers that took thy will from thee.' " Iolo spoke, not knowing from whence the words came.
" 'Live thy life in exile in a place that neither I nor thee hath ever seen…' " Iolo sighed, pity in his heart, knowing somehow that Blackthorn's fate was already decided, that the True King would rule for centuries more, and that Iolo had played a great part in all of it.
"I have seen enough." Iolo muttered, memories flooding back to him. He sat on the ground calmly, waiting as the drum beat sounded around him, growing louder each moment…
Dupre glanced around sharply, feeling as if he were being watched…
Dupre sighed, wiping his brow. He was tired, he realized, getting excited of the simplest of noises. The days had grown long and tiresome of late, yet they faded together as if they were but one.
Glancing down at the parchment before him, Dupre completed the journal entry:
December 17, 151 AB
My impending loss has caused me to reflect much over my life in the past
decades. Since first Exodus fell and the continents were shifted, I sought
to make my fortune in the new lands, as did we all. Many were we paladins
who journeyed south from the sanctuary of Britain. We braved dangers unheard
of in this prosperous age, remnants of the days of Darkness. And at last
we came to the great rolling plains, to the plentiful bounties of the Great
Sea, upon which each day we were granted the sunrise. And it was here that
we dug the first soil and set forth the first stones of what would become
I served my kingdom and my liege with such courage and honor that soon I became the Trinsic's lord. Though my duties were many, I remained an adventurous soul always, and therein lies my regret.
One day, many decades past, three men passed through Trinsic. A ranger with the marks of nobility, an aging but clearly wise old bard, and a wide-eyed youth who stood as their leader. I met the three whilst drinking down at Terran's. The youth explained that he was upon the fabled Quest of the Avatar, and asked if I would care to join his company of adventurers for a time.
Mine emotions were torn. Though initially I doubted the youth could live up to his ambitions, there was something in his manner and the way he carried himself that compelled me to side with him.
Yet I showed away this feeling and declined his offer. Success or failure, I knew somehow that I would not return to Trinsic for a great time, if ever, and I saw no honor in abandoning my fief to partake so uncertain a venture. The youth left Trinsic shortly therafter, and I know now that I chose wrong; the youth I'd encountered was in fact the great hero who had slain each of the Triad of Evil, and the hero who would go on to become Britannia's first and only Avatar of Virtue.
I have continued to serve Britannia loyally. When the tyrant Blackthorn usurped the throne, I refused to let my guardsmen commit atrocities in the True King's name. I was forced to flee in exile to Bordermarch with my comrade Sir Sentri, but still I clung to honor, and at last the tyrant was deposed and I returned to Trinsic.
Thus I have continued to serve my land, until now. British has taken his final step in crushing the nobility and instituting a rule by the peasantry. I too am a casualty of this action, for now Trinsic has been taken from my grasp, to be auctioned off like a harlot to whomever bribes the commoners the most.
I know not how to feel and act. My emtions tell me that I have been betrayed by the monarch I've served with such loyalty, and yet if I am to cling to my honor, there is naught I can do.
Truly, is there dishonor in standing against thy lord when unjustly he strips thee of power? Must not the lord show honor to his vassals just as they honor he?
My thoughts are confused; my writing, jumbled and filled with sedition. I must rest now, I must leave my people to be governed by their chosen "mayor"…
Dupre sighed as he penned the final words. Slowly, experiencing fully every
last instant that he would spend as the lord of Trinsic and recording it
in vivd detail within his mind, Dupre undressed and fell into a slumber.
Dupre felt moderately better the next morning, though his thoughts were
still despondent for the most part. It was not even noon when he decided
to stop off at the Fool's Pair o' Dice to drown his sorrows in one of the
paladin's favorite passtimes.
"I'll be damned, Lord Dupre!" A familiar but unexpected voice called as he entered the tavern. "I'd think ye'd be sulking up in your tower on your last days as ruler here!"
"You?!" Dupre mustered up some shock, but his reply came out rather glumly as he took a seat beside the man, a youngish fellow with long blond hair and a beardless-face.
"Who else?" Mandrake the bard laughed. "I could hardly resist stoping off at Trinsic at such a tumultuous time as this. The most prestigious of the eight lords, at last deposed by the will of the people, even if it is at the king's order."
"Don't rub it in, old friend." Dupre replied. "I've aplenty to worry about as it stands."
"All thy worries could be summed up in what little I've said already, Dupre. And as much confidence as I have in the ways of wine and song, and women for that matter, I shan't allow ye to work thyself into a state of disregard through thy ale."
"Oh come now, Mandrake, what's the harm in a few glasses to take my mind off things?" Dupre sighed. "But in all seriousness, old friend, how do I look?"
"Ye look terrible, Dupre."
"I thought as much." Dupre replied, turning back to his ale.
"That glass won't change anything, Dupre. Nor will the next one or the one after that. Accept what has happened: ye are no longer a nobleman, ye are no longer greater than any other man in Britannia. That is the way to purge yourself of this sorrowful self-pity, not a tankard of that brew."
"Quite a skilled talker, ye are, old friend." Dupre smiled faintly. "I'm surprised ye don't take up a position as well with thy knack for swaying thy masses, just like old Tholden.'
"Pah!" Mandrake laughed. "Tholden's no fun these days! Work, work, work, that's all he speaks of, never time to share a bottle me! And a bard needs to keep his mouth watered, just as the warrior needs his sword sharpened.
"I'll tell ye, Dupre, thou'rt going to be better off without all of Trinsic as thy fief. Ye're free now, my friend, free to wander the lands as ye see fit, free to be an adventurer once more rather than a governor."
"Aye, adventuring, yes…" Dupre looked away.
"Ye still grieve over thy meeting with the 'Avatar'?"
"I know it was the Avatar I met, Mandrake… Don't ask me how, but I know. And he offered to let me join him, me! Imagine that, the greatest quest known across all the lands, a journey which legends shall speak of for eternity. And I could have been a part of it, Mandrake, I could have left my name engraved beside his, and fought beside him, died beside him if necessary, all in the quest to achieve true virtue…"
"Ye did what ye thought was right at the time, old friend, don't blame thyself for it now." Mandrake stared on piteously. "Aye, I could be singing tales of thee instead of with thee now, but so what? Fate has dealt thee your hand, Dupre, and thou hast made thy plays. Accept it, accept what has happened, and use it to make better decisions for thyself in the future. Look ahead, look at what remains of your life, do not dwell on what has passed."
"Aye…" Dupre smiled warmly. "Thou'rt right, of course. I shall try, my friend, I shall try, but…"
Dupre turned around, suddenly, as he heard another man enter the tavern. He gazed upon a middle-aged man with thining black hair. As Dupre's mouth hung open, he knew that Mandrake was silently marveling at the irony here.
"Lord Dupre…" Lord Whitsaber, mayor-elect of Trinsic, broke the silence calmly.
"Whitsaber…" Dupre tried to remain calm, though his composure had been
shaken greatly. "Come, come, have a seat…"
"I know how you must feel, Lord Dupre," Whitsaber smiled humbly, "I too know the pain of losing a power which you have strived with for years."
"How…" Dupre began.
"Please, milord, I'd rather not go into it. It matters not, all things considered." Whitsaber smiled again, and Dupre found the man's humble, almost contrite manner to be rather comforting.
"I know how thee feel, Lord Dupre. I know how long thou hast ruled over Trinsic, and I have long respected and admired thee.
"But times are changing. The ways of the land are changing, as our liege realizes his dreams for the land.
"I was chosen by the people, milord, worthy or unworthy as I may be. It was by our liege's command, but it was the will of many, and thus now I shall try to guide Trinsic as ye have.
"Mayhaps it is best this way. Mayhaps the land can no longer be ruled by the great warriors who first brought peace to it. Mayhaps… it is time for one such as me to step forward, to lead the city of Honor and to redeem himself…" Whitsaber trailed off, almost forgetting that he'd been speaking with Dupre.
"Lord Dupre, we all go through many changes in our lives. We are not the same people as once we were when born unto the world. Live on, we must live on, for the better or the worse, to live our lives and to experience life, as it slowly changes us…"
Whitsaber looked up and smiled once more. "Oh, forgive me, I tend to babble at times, milord. I'm sorry, I must have offended thee, acting as though ye were childishly upset over this matter."
"Nay, nay, not at all…" Dupre smiled, and for the first time that day, he felt truly happy. Several more feelings passed through him in an instant, all indescribable. He knew where his place lay, he knew of his destiny, and it only made his smile broaden.
Dupre strode out from the tavern, unconcerned as he heard the drum beats. As Dupre's vision faded into darkness, he saw a different city, a city of warriors and Courage, just as Trinsic had been. Dupre saw flames, a firey pit that reached out and beckoned towards him. Dupre saw the stars, and darkness. The Void. And within this he saw a faint, reddish glimmer, and he heard what sounded like the hissing of a snake.
And as the serpent spoke, Dupre was engulfed in darkness, and the drum beats grew louder…
Darkness surrounded the Daemon. Slowly, he spread his wings out, feeling
pleasure as he was free of ethereal prisons for the first time in countless
It is but an illusion, Arcadion thought to himself, But I must savour it. Ne'er again shalt I be granted such an opportunity, no doubt.
A light laugh broke Arcadion's thoughts. Calmly, the Daemon turned to face the onlooker.
"I am impressed, Daemon," An elderly man laughed, "Truly, not once in all these millenia hast one penetrated through the dreams to reach me, even those of thy kind."
"I am far more than you would suspect, spirit." Arcadion chuckled.
"No matter, no matter, thou hast thy secrets, as do I." The Lost Soul smiled. "But truly, I am at a loss for words, given this brief chance to speak to one of the living directly."
"I am afraid I do not seek thy council, nor the tales of treasures which hath brought others. I merely accompany the Four who now face thy visions; what has become of them?"
"All that hast become of any who ventured to my Grave. They shall see that which may be or might have been, and from this they shall learn to put aside fears and doubts that have plagued them, to turn away from the unchangable past and live their lives fully." The Lost Soul chuckled.
"These ones are old, their lives have been fraught with much. They shalt profit greatly from this meeting; rest assured, have no fear for their lives, Daemon."
"Nay, I didst not think thou would work 'gainst them, else none would hath e'er returned from thy Grave. But I shall not tarry here, however marvelous it feels to be rid of that accursed Gem.
"I have but one question of thee, spirit."
"Who was I? Is that not thine query, Daemon?"
A realization struck Arcadion.
"Yes, I was amongst the mages who first saved Sosaria from thy race's invasion. I was one of those who imprisoned thy people in Mirrors such as the one handed down to the Erethian who fills your thoughts."
"And so… I too have profited from this. Once I might have killed thee; or at least flown into a rage. Now… now I feel nothing. Even with my years of torment, I seek not thy life, somehow; I feel as thought my retribution has long since been quenched, or that it ne'er truly existed."
Arcadion paused. "Nay, that is enough. Allow me to remain here longer, allow me to wallow in this delusion of a release, and I shall not be able to accept my fate. Let me go, now, to Dracothraxus' gem, to the Dagger Isle of the lands of Britannia, wherein rests thy ancient Grave, spirit."
"I hath played my part, Daemon, and it is an honor to meet one such as thee. Go, as thou shalt, thy companions await…"
The Avatar stumbled through the mist, his vision still blurred. The drum
beats had faded away, the vision had faded away, and he was left once more
upon Dagger Isle.
"Wha…?" The Avatar looked about through the snowstorm. In the distance, he thought he saw a structure of some sort, a refuge from the fearsome weather.
"Master…?" The Black Sword spoke up quietly as the Avatar trudged onwards.
"A-- Arcadion…? What happened…? Where are the others…?"
"Master…" Arcadion's voice fell low. "What didst thou see?"
"Were ye not granted a vision, master…?"
"I…" The Avatar began, not knowing why he confided as such to a Daemon powerful enough to conquer the realm. "I was on Earth, my homeland… I was free once more… Free to live my life instead of bearing the responsibility of protecting Britannia and upholding the virtues…"
"And ye refused it, why…?"
"I… Felt I was not *meant* to be there, I *knew* that I yet had a responsibility to Lord British, that I could not abandon his realm…" The Avatar gazed into Dracothraxus' Gem, a thought striking him. "I take it ye were granted a vision as well, Arcadion?"
"Master," Arcadion chuckled slightly. "Of what transpired, I shalt never tell any, not even thee."
"Avatar…!" A faint call sounded in the distance. From within the blizzard, the Avatar could make out three weary figures stumbling towards him.
"Iolo! Dupre! Shamino!" The Avatar greeted them with joy. "I'd feared we'd be lost forever…"
"Nay, old friend, it will not come that easy for the four of us…" Iolo chuckled. The Avatar noted that something seemed indescribibly different about the old bard; about all three of his companions, for that matter.
"Well, where are we?" Dupre glanced around, wrapping his bearskin cloak tighter.
"I believe we've found what we came for." Shamino replied calmly, pointing to the structure in the distance. It resembled a small, domed temple, surrounded by eight crumbling columns of fine marble.
The Avatar and his companions entered the temple, looking around warily. Snow rushed in through a collapsed wall. The ruin seemed completely deserted save for a single object, a narrow stone marker, about as wide as a man's arm and as tall as his waist. Ancient runes were enscribed in a single vertical column over the marker.
"Here died the tormented, the forgotten, the despairing, the lost. Here died the restless, who walks yet so that others may live differently."
"And this is our reward…?" Shamino smiled dryly. "Ah well, so be it. What
are riches, what is wealth, what is… a kingdom, even? No matter. Avatar…"
"We shall leave." The Avatar replied without hesitance. "We shall tell Lord British that the fearsome blizzards drove us off; that we were unable to reach the Grave of the Lost Soul."
The others nodded calmly. Without another word, the party turned back to brave their way across Dagger Isle back to their ship.
"Yes, I can give up a kingdom," Shamino smiled to himself, "But
I could not give up my beloved. Yet it is best this way, I know that now.
It was meant to be this way…
"Her voice is gone, at last. After all these centuries, she calls to me no more. I know my destiny, I shall achieve it. I shall ne'er again be tempted by that which could have been…"
"A peaceful life in the Deep Forest, aye?" Iolo laughed quietly. "Ah,
I see now it was not meant for me. Bard or no, my kind are these ones;
these roguish, adventurous troublemakers.
"I may look an old man, aye, but I am not truly old unless I force myself to be. Ah, Gwenno, mayhaps ye'll return soon, I hath so much to share with thee…"
" ' Fate has dealt thee your hand, Dupre, and thou hast made thy
plays. Accept it, accept what has happened, and use it to make better decisions
for thyself in the future. Look ahead, look at what remains of your life,
do not dwell on what has passed.'
"Ah, so true, bard, so true… I am glad I picked the path I did, Mandrake, I am glad I didn't end up like Tholden.
"Truly, who would wish to be remembered as some stuffy noble? A traveling knight, that is the path for me! Honor is my call… Whatever my fate may be, I hope it can be said that I, Sir Dupre, died bravely…"
Arcadion chuckled silently to himself. Someday, someday he would be free
of this Gem, and he would not forget the wisdom that had touched five lives
upon this day, he would not forget the spirit called simply the Lost Soul.
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