We traveled south down the road, as we had for several days. Not once did
a single sign of life interrupt us.
"Avatar," Tseramed asked one day, "Why walk on the King's Way? This road has been used for centuries. Shan't the Guardian's men easily find us here?"
"Let them come." That was all I could reply. I had lost all enthusiasm for this quest. I knew it was my destiny, I knew I would confront the Guardian, but I no longer yearned for it. Since the death of Julia, I had become a dead shell; a husk of what I once was.
On that day we entered what was once Paws. Now the city was dead and deserted. Naught but a hall of ghosts.
"Eh?" I drew the Black Sword.
"Avatar! Thou didst kill us!"
"Who art thou?"
From the ruins rose spectres and skeletons. Undead figures marched slowly upon us.
"We art those dead by thy hand, Avatar! Thy blade is covered in our blood!"
"Who art thou??!"
"Avatar! I am the Lord of Malice! Do you not recgonize your old companion?!"
At the head of the figures stood a tall skeleton. A horned helm sat on his head, his hands and feet covered in plate gauntlets an boots. A mourning star rested in his hands. Though now dead, I recognized a figure I hoped never to see again.
"Aye, Avatar. Because of thee, I died following the demise of Blackthorn's Oppression. Because of thee, I now serve the Guardian, and shall destroy thou and thy minions!"
"Then draw! Let us fight here and now!"
"Nay, Avatar. The Guardian has more in store for thee. I shall not kill thou yet. But let it be known that your death shall come by my hands!"
As the skeletal figure's laugh echoed through the ruins, his legions disappeared, one by one. We were once more alone in Paws, yet the laughs of Saduj still sounded in my ears.
"Vhat now, Avatar?" Gorn queried.
"We continue southwards. We leave this hellish place."
We cowered under a ramshackle tent, listening to the pouring rain outside.
The rains had grown heavy in the days since we left Paws. We wert about
midway to Trinsic, yet couldst not continue through the weather.
"The sky shalt clear up by tomorrow," Tseramed spoke to me. "Thou shouldst not worry, (AV)."
"Tomorrow? Hah. I am years late. With every instant, this world becomes more the Guardian's."
"Thou hast found three parts of the Mystic Arms. Excluding Gorn, all of us now wield enchanted weapons. I'd say we art quite well off."
"Thine optimism is appreciated, old friend, but I doubt that-- Wait! Didst thou hear that, Tseramed?"
"Eh? I heard nothing!"
"Shh!" Gorn whispered. "I veer sometink too!"
The hoofs against the wet mud slowly grew louder. At least three or four mounted figures were approaching.
"Horses?" Trevor muttered. "Few horses exist still in Britannia. Twas amazing that Lord Sentri gathered as many as he did."
Four silouettes appeared in the distance. An air of darkness somehow hung about them. I reached down for my sword.
The figures clearly saw us, but took no notice. They continued on their path straight towards us. We stared silently as they stopped just a few feet away.
Each was garbed in massive black robes and rode a skeletal horse. The lead one turned slowly to look at me.
"The Avatar of the Human Virtues?"
"What other kinds art there, creature?" I spat.
"Many. Thine wert only born from opposition towards the Daemonic Virtues."
"What seeketh thou?"
"We serve Klep-Summ, the Lord of Betrayal. We come to bring thy head back to him."
In an instant, the Black Sword flashed from its sheath towards the lead figure. The dark creature drew a silver longsword and met my attack.
"Run!" I called to my companions. "We canst not fight all of them!"
We dashed off through the thick woods, the skeletal horses rearing up from behind. The terrain wast rough here, mostly sloping downwards. The horses wouldst not be able to make good speed through this stretch. Drawing forth his bow, Tseramed shot an arrow into the haze from which we came. A body fell to the ground from atop a horse.
After a half hour, we no longer heard the dark ones in the distance. I collapsed under a decaying tree, yet found little shelter from the ever-increasing storm. Ah, how ironic that Tempestry was the only Elemental School of Magic I hadst yet to master!
A twig snapped a few yards away. I sprang up and once more drew the Black Sword. This day we wouldst find little shelter from the dark forces.
"Who goes there?" Inlor-Om called.
Two figures approached, both clearly human. The first was short and swarthy, with matted hair and a ruffled mustache. A dagger hung at his side. The other was younger and clean-shaven. The chain coif on his head wast his only noticable piece of armour. A two-handed sword slung across his back.
"Blimey!" The swarthy one called. "A Gargoyle! 'Eard they wert rare even on th' surface!"
"Who art thou?" I called to the two, seeing that they weren't hostile.
"M' name's Macaedon." The swarthy one replied, sitting down by me. "This 'ere's Denfri, me' companion for years."
"How hast thou all survived these years?"
"Oh? You're surface people, aren't ya? Wells, we're Outcast folk, a hardy breed if ever I saw one."
"Outcast folk?" Mortegro inquired.
"Yep. Never 'eard of us, 'ave you? Not surprisin'. Well, itsa long story, ya still wanta 'ear?'
" 'Ell, back years ago, we lived in th' blooming Stygian Abyss! Som' bloody baron threw all 'is criminals in 'ere. But 'dere were all these other monsters too! Goblins and trolls and worse! Anyways, the bloody Avatar ended up comin' down there, helpin' out the baron's guards. 'Ell, don't ask me how, but we all got blinked right out to this 'ere dungeon of Destard, 'ere we could leave whenever we liked. Th' baron got wha' he deserved, though. Whole city of 'is was abandoned!"
"How long ago was this?"
"God knows. I didn' live through it. But anyways, all the 'civilised folk' didn' want us soilin' the streets. So 'lot of us stayed down 'ere. Don't look so nice up 'ere anymore, though. We've kept in touch wit' the surface, and 'eard 'bout all the troubles 'been havin' up here."
"But why are the two of you up here?"
"Well, Destard's gettin' too small for all of us folk. Lot of us 'ave been seeking our fortunes 'ere in recent years. An' who might you be?"
I sighed. I knew it would come to this. Oh well, best to tell them the truth.
"Twould be no surprise if thou doth not believe this, friend, but I am the Avatar of Virtue, and I remember traveling through the Stygian Abyss."
Macaedon remained silent. Then he began to chuckle. Soon, he had errupted in gales of laughter.
"Hehe… bet thou art. Thas' too foolish a thing for anyone to say 'less twas th' truth. Who was th' first man you met in there?"
I thought for a moment. "Bragit."
All the humor disappeared from Macaedon's face. The color drained away from him. He turned away.
"Bloody 'ell! An' I thouht I found m'self a looney! C'mon, Denfri. Les' go."
"Wait!" I cried. Once again, horses thundered through the woods. Yet this time there were more, at least a dozen. They came not from one direction, but from all sides. Within an instant, a circle of robed figures on horseback surrounded us. Several charged. My companions and I drew our weapons, desperately trying to fight our way out.
"Avatar, behind you!" Trevor called. I began to turn, catching a glimpse in the corner of my eye of a figure wielding a mace riding at me. Before I could complete the movement, I felt a hard blow on my head, and I was engulfed in darkness.
I felt the burning sun above me, slowly opening my eyes. My companions
and I were chained around a large, open colosseum-like structure. In front
of us stood a large Daemon, surrounded by several undead servants.
"Greetings, Avatar. I am Klep-Summ, Lord of Betrayal. Twill be a pleasure to best he who killed two of my fellow lords!"
I struggled to speak. "Thou art nothing. The Bal Lem holds the Guardian's favor."
"True, but I hath greater plans than mere Britannia. Look at this world, Avatar. It is dying. There is nothing left for thou to save. Storms around here art frequent. Weather grows worse and worse across the entire realm. The very Ether is repulsed by Britannia. Even with its plentiful Blackrock, I can't see why the Guardian wouldst leave his eight most powerful lieutenants here.
"But when he is done with this pathetic world, those of us who distinguished ourselves will be remembered. For thy capture and death, I may become regent over a powerful world, such as thy Earth, mayhaps."
"Damn thee! Wert I not chained to these walls, I wouldst slay thee now!"
"Oh, you'll have your opportunity to face me, Avatar. But first, I hath another opponent."
Several undead minions released Denfri and led him to the foul Daemon.
"Fight me!" The Klep-Summ ordered. "If thou canst pierce my skin, I shalt let thee go."
Slowly, Denfri drew his sword and slung it at the Daemon. Klep-Summ dodged several attacks, chuckling.
"That's the spirit! Fight harder!"
The Daemon evaded several more blows. "True, Avatar, thou didst kill Uman-cor and the Slasher of the Veils, but they wert weak. I practice my skills every day. Like this!"
With lightning speed, the Daemon's claws sank straight through Denfri's right shoulder. He cackled loudly. Clutching his sword in his left hand, Denfri brought the blade upwards towards the Klep-Summ's outstretched hand. It sliced through a portion of the Daemon's skin, blackish blood splattered on the ground.
"You? A mere animal dare draw my blood?" The Daemon lifted his other hand upward, bringing it down upon Denfri's head. The Outcast was killed instantly, his skull crushed into pieces.
"Traitorous coward!" I shouted.
"Didst thou truly think I wouldst let any of you go, Avatar? I take it thou doth want to fight next?"
"Aye! I shalt kill thee!"
"Very well, poor deluded human. I wouldst hath saved thee for last, but why wait? Twill be just as fun to kill thee now!"
The undead minions unchained me, then striped me of my weapons and armour. I was given a shortsword and a wooden shield.
"Tis best to make this fight a fair one, Avatar. I wield no weapons, nor wear any armour. Tis thine advantage that I let thou wield a sword at all!"
"Enough talk, Daemon. I shalt destroy thee here and now."
The creature charged. I blocked its attack with my puny shield. Each of the Daemon's claws stuck through the shield. I thrusted with my shortsword to the Daemon's chest, but the blow glanced off.
His claws still caught in my shield, the Daemon pulled the shield away from me and snapped it into splinters. I hadst nothing to defend myself with but the sword. As a second attack came at me, I raised the sword. The weapon shattered against the Klep-Summ's blow.
Throwing down the sword hilt, I let myself be engulfed by Ether. I tried to muster forth my powers, but there was little time. Again the Daemon charged at me. I punched it in the jaw with all my might. One of the Daemon's fangs broke off.
One of the Daemon's claws cut across my forehead, sprawling me to the ground. I was too weak to move. The Klep-Summ kicked me in the ribs twice, satisfied that he had won.
"Take them away!"
I felt dark forms dragging me somewhere. I did not care. My entire body ached and felt of pain. Once again, I was engulfed in darkness…
My companions and I were imprisoned in a tiny cell. I slumped down in a
corner. All were silent. Only Macaedon, who sat opposite me dared break
"Avatar be damned! Thou'rt not so great anymore, ain'tcha? Jus' another one of us in a cell. Prob'ly never been jailed before. Jus' legends! Thas' all you are! Stories and fairy tales!"
The Outcast picked up a stone and threw it at me. I was too weak to move. He rose and approached me.
"Away from him!" Trevor cried, reaching for his sword. None of us wert still armed, however.
Trevor and Macaedon stared at each other for a moment. Then Macaedon nonchalantly slumped back into his place.
"Lik' I care! Lik' anythin' bloomin' matters anymore."
"Carew that little of thy homeland?" Trevor sat back down.
"Shut up! You 'eard th' demon! Britannia's dying! There's no bloody world left anymore! Jus' a bunch if idiots lik' us who 'aven't died yet."
"Mayhaps thou'rt right." I spoke up. "Tis not thine fight. Thou wert never true Britannians."
"An' what of you? They say you're from a whole different world."
"I am. But it is still my fight. I am Britannia, in a way. I am naught but its defender, protector, holiest knight. I am without soul or caring. I am alive only because of my duty."
"Dost thou truly feel that, Avatar?" Trevor asked.
"No, I do not. I know I hath emotions, and that is why I have always failed. Britannia wants me to be a mindless savior, a hero who cannot live without his duty to these people."
"Then let Britannia die!" Macaedon put in. "It don't affect you!"
"No, it does. I hath become too attached to this world. I canst not abandon it. But I must do the same for all worlds, that is the curse of the Avatar. I abandoned Pagan for Britannia, and have thus betrayed virtue. The entire multiverse has become my land. Not one plane of reality must not be protected by me. A terrible life. But that is what I must do if I am to reclaim virtue."
My vision began to fade. Darkness engulfed me once more…
The cell door creaked open. The Klep-Summ stood there, smiling mockingly. I tried to lunge at him, but collapsed halfway across the cell.
"Please, Avatar, save thy antics for a more fitting time. Come. All of you! Come!"
"Eh?" Mortegro whispered.
I remember not how, but the Daemon led us through several twisting passages, until the sunlight at last shown down upon us. We stood at docks. Behind us was the walled city of Trinsic.
"The eight-man skiff has already been stocked with thine supplies, Avatar. Take it and leave."
The Klep-Summ smiled. "A whim. A random act of mercy. Go! Hurry, for when next we meet, Avatar, be assured that thou wilt die at my hands!"
We boarded the skiff. Yet Macaedon still stood on the docks.
"I cannot go with thee. Farewell, Avatar."
With incredible speed, the Outcast drew a concealed dagger and threw it into the Daemon's right shoulder. He ran south, away from the city. Without waiting to see what wouldst happen, Tseramed and Gorn cut the rope, sailing the skiff away from Trinsic.
"Where to, (AV)?"
"Where else? Buccaneer's Den."
Thou try my patience.
My lord, tis no catastrophe. The Avatar shalt not escape thou.
Thanks to thee, twill be many more of my servants lost in finding the Avatar.
I knew not thou hadst such high regard for thine subjects' lives, my lord.
Silence! No matter, he shalt not escape me for long.
Fool. Know thou not that he faces the Bal Lem next?
And still it shalt continue,
Oh quest of fools and weaklings.
-The Daemon Arcadion
I'd like to thank Caleb M. Hoffman, who wrote the story "The Decision." (Which I am linking to this page.) It was a touching story where the Avatar and the Guardian realize that they were created by Origin and must decide whether to enter Ultima IX's Britannia, becoming bland caricatures of themselves, or to remain in stasis, so that only smaller entities (I interpet it as Fanfiction writers) can manipulate them, though they will never be able to change Britannian history. Reading the story was what gave me the extra push to finish Book Nine. As a slight afterword to Mr. Hoffman's story, I must say that "my" Ultima IX shall try to do what most fanfiction cannot: change the events and history of Britannia. Show what would really happen when the Avatar of previous Ultimas returned to Britannia. So far, I would like to think I am doing a good job of it. We're now a bit over halfway through the story, and things aren't looking good for the Avatar or Britannia. Six of the Guardian's lieutenants remain, and five pieces of the Mystic Arms have yet to be found. With any luck, this will make for a great second half!
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