"Uman-cor is dead, lord."
"I know that already, as do thee!"
"I know, lord. But I am his opposite. If he cannot kill the Avatar, prehaps I can."
"The Avatar was aided by an undead spirit. Besides, he has killed you once already."
"I have grown stronger since then, lord. Let me destroy him!"
"Who resurrected thee after the Avatar bested thee?"
"Thou did, lord."
"Of course. Remember that. Remember who holds thy leash. Thou hast my leave. But thine fellow lords shall also search for him. If you canst destroy him, I shall give thee powers equal to the Bal Lem."
"Thank you, my master! I shall not fail thee!"
"Remember that if you do, I shall not resurrect you again."
"Of course, lord."
I woke up. A dream. It was a dream. Yet this time it was not a taunt from
the Guardian. This time it was as though I was observing something far
away. But where? How? One of the two voices was the Guardian, but who was
the other? One whom I had killed. But when? Over these countless years,
I have fought and slain hundreds. It couldst be anything from a lowly Orc
to a mighty Daemon.
Dupre and Trevor were asleep. Good. I did not want their wit or encouragement to cheer me. I must concentrate. What was it I saw?
Wait. Tseramed was gone. Quickly I stood up and looked around. He was nowhere in sight.
I spun around. Tseramed emerged from the trees behind me. Since I’d met him in the Bee Cave, he’d cut his beard into a short goatee. He wore not his armour nor carried his weapons.
"Merely enjoying my last moments in the Deep Forest, (AV). Unlike our last quest, this time I doubt if ever I will return. I am sorry to have disturbed thee."
"Nay! Tis alright. My apoligies. But art thou not worried about—"
"Monsters attacking me?" He smiled. "Nay, the years since the war have been hell to me. How I’ve longed simply to die. To die now would be even better, for I would die knowing that you shall save Britannia. I would greet Lady M. in the next world with my heart content."
"Thank thee for thy kind words, Tseramed, but I truly doubt that I acomplish all thou dost believe."
"Nay, Avatar. Thou alone canst save Britannia. I have my complete confidence in thee."
"As does he," I pointed to Trevor. "For he is still young and looks towards his elders. But thou art aged and wise. You need not praise me."
"Mayhaps it is my wisdom that confirms thy destiny, (AV)."
The archer’s expression changed. "Nay, I did not understand. After Blackthorn executed two young companions of thine, thou hast always shunned away respect. My apoligies, (AV). I hope thou hast a good night."
The next day we continued to follow the southern path, at last leaving
the Deep Forest and nearing Spiritwood. By noon, we reached a T-interection
in the road. We could either continue south or take the short path west
towards Skara Brae.
"Tis thine decision, (AV)." Dupre commented.
"If we follow the southern route, we’ll end up near Britain, which we were avoiding in the first place. Let us take the western path. The bridge to Skara Brae is probably long gone. When we reach the coast, we can follow it south until we’re within blinking range of Bordermarch."
"Very well then, Avatar." Trevor agreed.
The western path was very short. Soon we reached the coast. Yet the coast was not barren as I hadst expected. Instead, a black-robed figure carrying a scythe stood upon a raft, ready to sail us unto the blackest pit of hell.
"The Ferryman!" I cried. My companions and I raced over to the undead figure.
"Damnit," I muttered, "I won’t be able to talk with him. I have no Séance spells."
"I hear and respond to thee, Avatar." The Ferryman’s voice echoed.
"What? How canst thou?"
"Who art thou talking to, Avatar?" Trevor asked.
"Your companions cannot hear me." The Ferryman responded. "Only you can. You have powers to speak with the undead at will."
Most interesting. So this was another effect of Ether.
"Why art thou here, Ferryman?"
"I told thee before, I shall guide the ferry for eternity."
"I see. How fared Skara Brae during the war?"
"Avatar?" Tseramed querried.
"Left untouched. It remains lifeless." I couldst have sworn the undead creature smiled. "Almost."
"What dost thou mean?"
"I canst ferry thee to Skara Brae."
"Avatar??" Trevor asked.
"I canst ferry thee to Skara Brae." The spectre repeated.
I sighed. "Very well. Take us there."
"As you wish, Avatar."
I sighed once more and turned to my companions. "Sit down. We shall travel to Skara Brae."
A foul mist still hung about Skara Brae. The entire island lay in decaying
ruins, just as it had when last I was here.
"Where to now, (AV)?" Trevor asked.
"Horance’s castle. He and Caine are the only spirits left on the isle."
Unlike my last journey here, my party and I were not beset by attacks from skeletal and undead creatures once. At last we reached the Blackrock Castle, which appeared unchanged by the years. In front of the path stood a ghostly figure wearing all black.
A figure stepped forward from one of the passages. Indeed, it was Mortegro, Necromage of Serpent Isle.
"Avatar! I’ve been waiting for thee for years!"
"How didst thou come here, Mortegro? What happened to thee after thou wert struck by lightning outside the Temple of Tolerance?"
"Mortegro!" Dupre cried. "We thought thou wert dead!"
"Who is this man, Avatar?" Tseramed asked.
"Mortegro is his name. He is a mage of the Serpent Isle. Prehaps Shamino or Iolo told thee of him."
"I have many questions for thee, Avatar," the Necromage stated. "Just as I am sure you have many for me. I’m afraid my story is rather short. The Imbalance Storm brought me here to Skara Brae, where the undead Horance told me of this world. Eventually the storms stopped. Years passed here on this isle. I remained here for thirty years waiting for thee to return."
"Thirty years?" Dupre asked. "Thou dost not look a day aged!"
"I know not the answer to that, knight. Prehaps it comes from traveling between different worlds of the multiverse. I cannot say. But what of thou, Avatar? What happened to Serpent Isle?"
I told Mortegro of my travels through his homeland. I told him of how only a dozen or so humans outside Monk Isle remained alive after the Chaos Banes attacked the cities.
"Then I left my world behind forever…" Mortegro said slowly. "I have nowhere else to go, Avatar. I wouldst join thee and aid thee on thy quest!"
"Him, Avatar?!" Dupre whispered harshly to me. "He sentenced thee to the Mountains of Freedom!"
"Please, Avatar. I do not want to spend an eternity on this wretched isle. I have several spells prepared and a quantity of reagents. I also have this." Mortegro produced a crooked, glowing blue scythe.
"What is this?"
"Horance calls it the Death Scythe. He found it in the crypts. Tis certainly a powerful magic weapon."
"Thou mayest join my quest, Mortegro. I have need of thine skills."
"Art thou sure, Avatar?!" Dupre whispered to me once more. "He probably just wants to get back to Serpent Isle so he can make himself Magelord."
"Please, Dupre. I know how you wert arrested in Fawn for proposing a toast to Lord British, but the New Sosarians are people as well! We cannot condemn them for their beliefs."
"As thou wish, Avatar." Dupre muttered.
All four were clearly human. So this was it. I’d found Bordermarch.
"We’ve seen naught other humans since the end of the war." One of the men said to the leader. "None of the townspeople would wander out into the desert. He also wears armour like a warrior. We’d better take him to Lord Christopher."
"Yes, of course." The leader muttered. "Come along, citizen. We’ll take thee to our lord."
I was helped onto one of the men’s horses. They galloped off to the south. I saw huge mountains in the distance. Eventually, we reached the base of the mountains. One of the men dismounted, pulled an invisible switch near the mountains, and a passageway opened into the mountains.
Inside I saw an amazing sight. For miles below stretched different underground levels. On each resided huge numbers of people, all in traditional Britannian buildings and garb. I would not be surprised if it led down ti the underworld itself. In the very center was a huge pit. Below it was only blackness. It did not seem to have an ending on any one of the levels.
As we entered, sand blew in from the outside. The passage closed automatically. Torches hung from the cavern walls, allowing us to see. Above, I noticed more levels of humans spanning upwards.
"What is this place?" I asked.
"This is Bordermarch, citizen. The last refuge of Britannia and Britannian culture from the undead armies. How thou got here remains a mystery. We saw a flash of light where thou appeared and came to investigate. That is all we know if thee. Follow us. We shall take thee to Lord Christopher, the leader and cofounder of Bordermarch."
A stairwell was located not far from the entrance. We ascended up several levels. Then the men led me through to a large stone building with towering double doors. At the end of a long hallway was a throne. In it sat a middle-aged man with a thick, blond beard.
"Lord Christopher! We found this man to the north of the island, milord! We decided to bring him to you."
I looked into the man’s face. Despite his age, I saw features all to familiar. I saw youth where now age rested. I knew who I saw, though I could not believe it.
"(AV)??" My companion asked.
"What is it, milord?"
"This man is the Avatar!" Spark cried. "He has returned to us!"
The four men with me looked now with awe, as though I was some sort of savior. Yet their glances faded to skepticism.
"Milord Christopher, art thou sure? True, thou wert a companion of the Avatar, but—"
"Silence! It is Him! After all these years!" Spark almost cried with joy. "Inform the entire community that the Avatar has arrived! Prepare a celebration!"
Quickly the men departed. "Lord Christopher—" I began.
"Please, (AV), leave off the lord. I am only a blacksmith’s son."
"Christopher, then. How didst this place come to be?"
"I know not how the isle rose from the depths, if that is what thou dost mean. But Sentri and I founded this city near the end of the war. It is a refuge for all Britannians. But what of thee? I’ve heard no tales that don’t end with thine entrance to the Wall of Lights."
Once again I launched into a narrative of my travels through Pagan and Britannia. When at last I finished, Spark wiped tears from his eyes.
"So Sentri has died. He wast my mentor and my best friend for years after didst leave Britannia, (AV). He taught me all I know of swordsmanship. At least I am certain thou wilt avenge his death."
A younger man burst in. He had a thick, blond mustache.
"Father! What this I hear of the Ava—"
"This is the Avatar. A celebration of his arrival is being prepared. Bring Bahb and Rianna here. I want them to see him."
The man left. "Thine son, Spark?" I whispered quietly.
"Aye, (AV). It has been thirty years since last thou wert here. He’ll go far. His mother was a world traveler, came from the Serpent Isle in fact. Dear Cantra…"
"Cantra??" I remebered the young girl I’d met on Serpent Isle, possesed by a Chaos Bane and later kidnapped by Batlin.
"Aye. She’s dead now. Died fighting in the war, as all of us seem to die."
Spark’s son returned with two children, a boy and a girl.
"(AV), I want you to meet Bahb and Rianna, my two grandchildren. That is the Avatar, my dears. He is the greatest man in all Britannia."
"Children, Spark?" I whispered, almost to myself. "Thou wouldst bring children into this wretched world? They are still innocent. They will not know any other life but that in Bordermarch."
Realizing the turn our conversation was taking, Spark’s son took the two children and departed, leaving me once more with the aged Lord Christopher.
"Understand me, (AV). They are my flesh and blood. If I fall, they must carry on for me."
"But the war is not over, Spark! How couldst thou bring children to this hell, when every moment there is a chance they could be slaughtered?"
"We shall not be slaughtered, (AV). Bordermarch shall forever remain the last outpost of Britannia."
"It cannot forever, Spark! The Guardian will find this place eventually!"
"We are safe…" Spark broke off and began to cry once more. "Twas not my fault, (AV)! I had no choice! Tis the only way!"
"Please, (AV), I must keep Britannia safe! It was only Sacrifice!"
"Spark, what art thou talking about?"
"They found Bordermarch long ago, the Guardian’s soldiers did. I made a deal with them… Every six months, thirty humans would be turned over to them for whatever they may wish.
"Please, (AV)! It’s the only way! Some must die so that others canst survive!"
"My god…" I muttered.
"Please, tell not a soul of this, (AV)! Only you, I, and a few others know. I do not want it spread that I wouldst kill them…"
Another man entered. "Milord, we’ve found four other men in various locations across the isle."
"Thine companions, I presume." Spark said to me. "Send them in. Treat them as honored guests."
The man left. Spark sighed. "Twill be good to see Dupre again, at least."
"Fear not, Chistopher, I shall not let even them know the secret of Bordermarch."
Soon, my four companions were escorted in. "(AV)!" Dupre cried. "We wert wondering what became of thee! And who is this fellow on the throne?"
"Dupre! Tis I, Spark!"
Dupre appeared even more surprised than I was. "Spark??? Thou hast certainly aged!"
Spark turned to Tseramed. "And thou, Tseramed! Another old friend from before the war! A pleasure to greet thee once more!"
Spark eyed Trevor and Mortegro. "And who are these two, (AV)?"
"That is Trevor, a survivor of Stonegate, and that is Mortegro, a mage of Serpent Isle."
"Another world traveler then. Hmm…" Spark trailed off. "I suppose I shouldst show thee to our armoury. Feel free to take what thou wilt."
The armoury was a few floors below. Inside I found a complete suit of plate armour for myself, including a box helm like those crafted on Pagan. Dupre replaced his scale arm guards with chain ones. Trevor readied scale arm guards, an open-faced horned helm, chain leggings, and chain mail. Tseramed armed himself with a magic bow and arrows, gauntlets, and swamp boots. Mortegro, who was not strong enough to wield most protective gear, wore only leather armour.
"Milord!" A man came rushing in to Spark. "Several ships are approaching from Jhelom!"
"Damnit." Spark muttered. "Evacuate all civilians to the lower levels! Get the soldiers up on the battlements!"
He turned to me. "Thou and thy companions hadst better come with me. We’ll see what this threat is about."
Spark led my companions and I to the top floor. Even here the mountaintop
continued to block out all light from above. Yet all around the floor were
windows carved into the rock. Some had telescopes in front of them, others
had cannons. Various soldiers rushed about and crowded in from of the windows
facing south. Some readied bows and crossbows.
I looked down through the window and saw ten, twenty ships. Each had a crew entirely of skeletons. At the head of the lead ship stood a mighty Daemon. Unlike Uman-cor, this Daemon was clearly a skilled warrior. At his side was a double handed sword.
"Here me, humans!" The Daemon roared with a mighty voice. "I am Vasjux, Lord of Selfishness! I represent His Eminence, the Guardian!"
"Leave, Daemon!" Spark bellowed from the battlements.
"You have commited a grave offense against the law of the Guardian! You grant asylum to the one called the Avatar, an enemy of the Guardian! Surrender the Avatar and his four companions, or you shall be slaughtered to the last man, woman, and child!"
Tseramed fitted a magic arrow to his bow and aimed at the Daemon’s throat. His accuracy, combined with that of the magic bow and magic arrow, was perfect. In an instant, the Daemon caught the arrow in two fingers, inches from his throat.
"Fools!" Vasjux bellowed. "Every last one of you will die horribly unless you surrender the Avatar now!"
"Tis my fault." I whispered to Spark. "I’ve brought this upon Bordermarch. I shall surrender to him."
"Never, (AV)!" Spark whispered back to me. "Thou art indispensible to Britannia! We shall suffer if we must for you!
"Listen," Spark continued. "Near the eastern exit on the ground floor are several eight-man skiffs. Take one and escape while you still can! We’ll try to hold them off for you!"
"I cannot abandon thee!"
"Tis thine only choice, (AV)! Hurry!"
"Very well, Spark. Walk in Virtue, old friend. We may never see each other again."
"Walk in Virtue, (AV)."
Quickly, I raced down to the ground floor, my four companions following
me. The floor was recognizable only by the pelethora of sand strewn about.
We headed east until we reached a stone wall. Then I realized I had no
idea where the lever was.
"Now what?" Trevor asked, out of breath.
Without even thinking, I walked over to a nearby wall and pulled an invisible lever. I hadn’t even stopped to think, it’d simply been reflexive. The Ether was growing stronger and stronger within me.
"We must hurry!" I shouted back at my companions. Already I was making my way towards the skiffs. A strong wind was blowing about.
We boarded and set sail. When out to sea, Dupre inspected the hold. It was filled with several weeks worth of food as well as torches, gems, and lockpicks.
"Well, we’re out of that now." Dupre sighed.
"Avatar, may I have a word with thee?" Tseramed asked.
"What is our destination now, (AV)?" Trevor commented.
"Wherever the winds shall blow us, Trevor. What wert thou saying, Tseramed?"
"We’d best not depend on the winds," The ranger replied harshly, "For this is a strong northern wind."
For a moment I did not comprehend the significance of what Tseramed said.
"We’re sailing south towards those ships, (AV)!"
"Oh shit." I muttered. "We’ll have to raft! Get to your positions!"
"The wind is too strong, (AV), and there’s only five of us!" Tseramed cried.
"Mortegro, canst thou cast a wind spell?"
"There was naught of Blood Moss upon Skara Brae, Avatar!"
While distant, the ships of Vasjux were within sight now. It would not be long before they spotted us.
"Steer her a bit to the east! With any luck we can pass them without being noticed!" I yelled, but with little hope.
We were almost parallel with thei ships now. They had certainly spotted us. Suddenly, a huge cannonball sailed straight into the hull of our ship.
The ship broke in two. We clung to pieces of wreckage, but were being pulled south. We drifted for some time. Eventually, we crashed on the northern coast of the Valorian Isles, near Jhelom. All of us were still alive.
"Gather up what you can carry. The Daemon will figure out where we are any moment."
Just as we were rising to our feet, I heard a voice of pure evil behind me. It was one of the voices from my dream.
"At last I have found thee, Avatar!!!!!!"
In front of me stood a fearsome liche. A dark red robe was draped over
his skeletal form. Atop his head he wore a golden crown.
"Hast thou forgotten me already, Avatar? You shall suffer all the more for your ignorance!"
A blast of fire errupted from the liche’s hand. I jumped to one side, barely avoiding it. An entire section of the ship’s wreckage burst into flames.
"Already hast thou forgotten Aram-Dol, whom thou slew upon the Ophidian lands?!"
Aram-Dol! I met him during my quest to find the Silver Seed! He had been one of the most powerful liches I’d ever faced!
"So now thou art a servant of the Guardian, Aram-Dol?"
"The Guardian resurrected me after I died at thy hand, Avatar! Now he has made me the Lord of Deceit!"
A bolt of lightning struck out at me. I drew my broadsword. I saw my various companions drawing their weapons as well.
"Fools! Vas An Xen Por!!!!"
Aram-Dol’s spell froze myself and all but one of my companions in place.
Mortegro’s voice rang out at the same instant as Aram-Dol’s. The two of them alone retained movement.
"So, the Necromage from my homeworld. Impressive. I have not dueled in magic for quite some time."
"If a duel is what thou dost wish." Mortegro stated slowly. "Then I shall see thee dead once more."
Aram-Dol chuckled. "I doubt it. You are a mere apprentice when compared with me! But I came here to slay the Avatar, not his manservants. I shall return!"
The liche disappeared in a burst of flame and brimstone. In an instant, I was released from the paralysis spell. For quite some time we all just stood there, speachless. I at last broke the silence. We still had a quest to acomplish.
"Quickly, Vasjux must be sailing his ships back as we speak!"
We hurried south towards what was once Jhelom. A bridge connected the northern-most isle (which we were on) from the central isle the city was built on. The city lay in ruins and appeared deserted; apparently Vasjux had led his entire forces against Bordermarch.
As we crossed onto the central isle, Dupre spotted the ships in the distance. They were approaching rapidly. We ran south.
"Damnit, now what?" I muttered.
"Our ship is destroyed, the moongates haven’t functioned for years. There’s no other way off the Valorian Isles, (AV)." Tseramed answered.
The ships were landing now and their undead armies poured out.
"Kill them all!" Vasjux bellowed. "I want their severed heads brought to me!"
"I suppose negotiations won’t work, eh, (AV)?" Durpe muttered.
South of Jhelom was a fairly large, one-roomed wooden building.
"In there! Barracade up the doors and windows!" I cried.
"That will only delay their onslaught, (AV)!" Trevor yelled back at me.
"It will buy us time to formulate a new plan." I replied.
None of the others had any better ideas, so we rushed into the building. The floor was covered with debris and trash. Many wooden planks lay about. Dupre, Trevor, and Tseramed began blocking of the doors and windows.
"Mortegro, couldst thou manage a Blink Spell?" I asked the Necromage.
"Where to, Avatar? I’ve studied maps of this continent and the Valorian Isles are nowhere near any other land mass. We’d end up in the middle of the ocean!"
"What about these Virtue Stones?"
"Virtue Stones??? I hath no idea what thou’rt talking about, Avatar."
"These!" I showed him the three stones I’d aqquired.
"New Sosarian mages have never seen objects like there, Avatar. I couldn’t cast any spells upon them."
"Damnit…" I muttered.
"The armies are approaching!" Trevor called to me. "Vasjux is at the lead. They’ll find where we are in moments!"
I concentrated. Ether. I could destroy these creatures with Ether. I concentrated. Nothing happened. I still couldn’t master it’s powers at will.
"They’ve spotted us, Avatar!"
Think! What other spells couldst get me off this island? No, not that. It’d been lost forever. But if I had it…
A flash of brimstone and flame appeared behind me. I recognized an all to familiar Daemon.
"Thou called, master?" Arcadion asked.
"Arcadion!" I cried.
"What…?" Tseramed gasped.
"I couldn’t help but see you were in trouble, master." The Daemon smiled sardonically. "Your life is of great concern to me."
"Whence last we met thou didst not recognize me at all, Daemon."
Sounds began to errupt around the building. Vasjux’s forces were trying to break through.
"What a feeble little human mind you have, master." Arcadion replied. "Not all timestreams are parallel to each other. How did two hundred years pass between visits to Britannia, for example? Master, thou met me before I hadst even known of thee; before I hadst even met that wretch Erethian."
"Why dost thou still call me master, Daemon? I released thee on the Serpent Isle."
"Alas, master, our binding through magic was more powerful than even I expected. Though I am free of that damned sword, I am yet bound to thee. It has proven quite useful, in fact."
For the first time, I noticed that Arcadion carried the Black Sword with him.
"Don’t think about it, master. You abandoned the sword when you traveled to Pagan, so now it is mine forever."
"Daemon! Give me the sword or I shall slay thee as I should have from the beginning!"
"Watch thy tounge, worm! I may not be able to harm you, but I can always destroy these pitiful walls that protect you and let Vasjux kill you."
"Art thou a servant of the Guardian, then?"
"Of course not, my simple-minded master! He wouldst never hold power over me! I was one of the four Arch-Daemons; more powerful even than Balrons! In fact, I am the only surviving Arch-Daemon!"
"Because I slew Balinor and Quaskorp, Arcadion!"
"Of course thou didst. But neither were practitioners of Sorcery as I am. If you wish to try and kill me, go ahead. But you clearly have other worries at the moment."
The entire building was shaking now. Skeletal arms and legs began to break through the walls. Arcadion stared nonchalantly at us as we hacked down the creatures.
"Why art thou here then, Arcadion?! To gloat?!"
"Why of course, master! It will be so good to be free again for the first time since Erethian put me in that mirror!"
"Arcadion, I command thee to aid us!"
"Our bond is weak enough I do not have to obey thy commands, master." Arcadion sighed peacefully. He then fixed his gaze on Mortegro.
"And what have we here? A little mage from the Serpent Isle? How amusing!"
"Arcadion," I yelled. "Either help us or get out!!"
"I wouldst never dream of helping thee, master. But, thy friend here sentenced you to the Mountains of Freedom, where you found and released me. I’d still be in Serpent Isle if not for him. So, I suppose I shouldst repay thy debt."
An entire wall crashed down. Vasjux drew his massive sword and carged at us.
"Besides, Avatar," Arcadion began to fade and disappear. "The pleasure of killing you will be mine alone!"
The five of us appeared upon the Isle of Fire. Arcadion was nowhere to be seen, yet his final words still echoed in the air. A cold wind blew across the island. I thought of Aram-Dol and Vasjux. I knew my quest was far from over.
Onward they shall journey.
Forward they shall spring.
Aid shall come from Daemon.
While Liche holds the Ring.
-Horance of Skara Brae
Onward to the Next Book
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