Thirty years I was trapped upon Britannia…
Now I feel the Moongate envelop me… drag me back to the Serpent Isle…
The voice… I knew it well… Horance, the spirit I lived with upon Skara Brae…
"What seek thee, fellow Necromage?"
"Upon the Serpent Isle, thou might come across my brother."
"Thou hast never spoken of a brother before."
"If you meet him, tell him it is too dangerous."
"What is dangerous??"
"It doth not matter to thee! He will know!"
"Very well, Horance…"
"Thank you, my friend…"
The light grew brighter around me. I felt myself drawn near an entrance towards my home.
The Tale of the Necromage
Chapter the First:
The City of Illusion
In an instant, I was bombarded with familiar sights and sounds. The winds
of Moonshade blew by. I heard the birds cry and soar. I felt the grass
beneath my feet.
For a moment, I considered rolling on the dirt, laughing at the ecstacy of it all. Thirty years! Three decades wasted away upon Beast British's land!
I paused. But what of my homeworld in that time? The Avatar spoke of a great calamity that killed most of the Three Cities' populace. What wouldst I find here?
I looked around. I stood near the ancient Ophidian Serpent Gate, just inside the southeast entrance to Moonshade. Nearby were Gustacio's manor and Fedabiblio's Seminarium. Both were trusted friends of mine. Whom shouldst I first tell of my arrival?
I smiled. The last person I wanted to talk to right now was Gustacio. While our friendship won me a seat on the Council of Mages (which would otherwise have gone to that whore Frigidazzi), his experiments with the Imbalance Storms were the very reason I was trapped on Britannia in the first place!
Above, the sky was strangely calm. So the Avatar truly had restored Balance to the land. Still, Gustacio was certain to think up something that would send me to my doom.
But what of Fedabiblio? If his students were yet there, I wouldst be deprived the privacy I desired. And both he and Gustacio were quite old, the oldest mages in Moonshade other than Melino. Either might be dead by now.
Ah well. If I were weak and indecisive, I would never have advanced to where I am today. I headed towards the long entrance to the Seminarium.
The Seminarium wast built into the face of the hills surrounding Moonshade
to the south and east. Other than the antechamber, the entire structure
Ever since the days I first studied here, the central room had changed little. Scrolls and other mementos littered the long tables and walls. Yet now this place felt empty, without the voices or presences that I remembered. In a corner sat Fedabiblio, the sole man in the structure. He had changed little in this time, but his face did show a few more wrinkles, his expresion betrayed weariness and depression.
"Mortego?!!?!" The old man cried, rising from his seat. "I'd thought thou wert dead, after what Gustacio told me!'
"I am equally thankful to be back myself, old friend. What has befallen the City of Illusion in the three decades I was gone?"
"Three decades???" Fedabiblio looked at me strangely.
"Wait, how long has it been since I disappeared, Fedabiblio?" A thought came over me. I remembered the Avatar's tales of travel through the different Universes and through Time itself.
"A little over eight weeks, Mortego! What hast happened to thee to think three decades????"
Eight weeks… decades, nearly half my life, all a mere eight weeks upon my homeworld.
"A strange tale it is, Fedabiblio. Not since the Osprey's voyage has such events occurred." I told the old mage of how I appeared at the Shrine of Tolerance, how the Avatar saved me, yet I was wisked away by lightning only moments later. I told him of the thirty years I spent upon the isle of Skara Brae with the undead Horance. Finally, I told of my travels with the Avatar through this land Britannia, and how the archmage Sutek sent me home through a moongate.
My tale took at least an hour. When I had finished, Fedabiblio slumped back, still taking it all in.
"Incredible… and you look not a day older…"
"Aye, a reason for which I know not. Yet the Avatar also traveled between worlds countless times, and never seemed to age. The Baleman Gorn and the Earthen Beast British both wert still alive after centuries on Britannia, having come from different worlds. But what of Moonshade, Fedabiblio? The Avatar spoke of a great calamity."
"You do not know?" A pained expression appeared on Fedabiblio's face. "A sad tale, quite sad, old friend.
"It began one morning when a ranger heard screams from Frigidazzi's manor and found the corpses of Filbercio and the Ice Sorceress. Twas the first time in our fair city's history a Magelord was murdered, old friend.
"It was nearly noon when Gustacio and that merchant wench Bucia arrived at my manor, both pale with fright. The great leaders of the city, both Mages and Mundanes, were gradually meeting at the Magelord's palace. Great beasts and monsters had mysteriously appeared, lurking the streets. Then a Daemonic cackling began to echo from the rangers' barracks. Gustacio and Bucia investigated and found all the warriors dead, the only survivors being Julia and Enresto, who were at the palace. But in the center stood Shamino, one of the travelers to pass through here. Do you remember him?"
"Aye, I… met him again in my quests through Britannia."
"He was possesed by evil, now. A blue aura of magic hung about him, so powerful that even a Mundane could see it! He called himself the Anarch, and proclaimed that his rule would dominate Moonshade.
"As Gustacio finished the tale, this evil figure intruded into my manor. His powers dwarfed mine, I was petrified of the man. 'Kill these two and I will spare you.' He gloated. But I would not. Even in my Cowardice I refused. With a wave of his hand, he turned me into a statue of stone. Then he turned upon Gustacio and…
"No, I cannot bear to describe wat happened next. He slew both of them, while I watched, unable to do a thing. He left me a statue.
"Later that afternoon, I heard Melino trying to rouse Gustacio from his manor across the street. He said that Torrissio had proclaimed himself Magelord. Old Melino then turned to my manor, where he found myself and the two bodies. He screamed and ran away, never to be seen alive again.
"How many days passed, I know not. Eventually, I was discovered by Andrio and Freli, two of my apprentices. They tried to free me, but failed. Sometime later, the Avatar came back to Moonshade. He used that wand of Torrissio's to free me. He told me that his friend had been possesed by an Ophidian spirit, and requested an ancient scroll from my person to aid him. I gave him the scroll, and never saw the traveler again. Eventually, the Imbalance Storms stopped, and I can only conclude that the Avatar succeeded in his quest."
"And what since then?" I pressed. "How did Moonshade fare?"
"Answer me, Fedabiblio!"
The old mage looked down. Tears welled up in his eyes.
"Less than a dozen survivors, Mortego…" He whispered.
Moonshade… my city… a great landmark with hundreds of prosperous citizens…
"It is the truth, Mortego. I did not wish it either."
"Whom survived?" I choked.
"Myself, Torrissio, Andrio and Freli, Enresto the ranger, the merchant Ducio, and that thief Stefano. And the automaton Petra, I suppose, but she's hardly a living being."
"Is that all…?"
"Aye, my friend. I grieve as much as thee. All but two of my apprentices met their deaths at the Anarch's hands. I shouldst have pervented it, somehow…"
"Why do you not move to one of the other cities, Fedabiblio?"
Once again, the old mage appeared pained. "It was not Moonshade alone, Mortego. Other cities suffered even more than ours. One survivor from Monitor, two from Fawn."
"No… the whole world is in decay!"
"Aye, tis Armageddon. Only Monk Isle remained untouched. The prophetess Xenka has returned to the living world to guide them. The survivors of the other cities now live there. But most of Moonshade's populace remains here."
He sighed, "Tis hard to say, I keep to myself. Torrissio remains, shutting himself away from the world inside the palace, becoming like Erstam, prehaps. Andrio and Freli still live here in the Seminarium, yet they wander through the ruins most days. Enresto has taken to exploring the wilderness of the isle, coming to me occasionally for human conversation. He feels responsible for the catastrophe, as do we all, I suppose."
Even through his depression, Fedabiblio looked at me and smiled. "Welcome back home, Mortego. Welcome back to the City of Illusion."
I tried to salvage what I could from my manor, but it was no use. The building
had decayed and crumbled, my automaton servants had rusted away, my reagents
had rotted, and my cache of magic scrolls had been stolen. Ah well. Even
in this state, I was at least upon that which was once my home.
Yet what did I have left? Why would living in the ruins of Moonshade be any different than the ruins of Skara Brae? What goal did I have upon this ruined world?
"Upon the Serpent Isle, thou might come across my brother." Horance's words as I entered the moongate. But whom was his brother? What purpose wouldst this hold to reclaiming my life?
I paced through the deserted streets. I saw Fedabiblio's two apprentices, but ignored them. The young ones held nothing of interest to me.
Somehow, I felt drawn to the Blue Boar tavern. Fedabiblio said the feminine automaton Petra remained functional. If she remained in the city, doubtless she'd live here.
Cobwebs hung around the large room. Rats squeaked under my feet. All was dark save for the sunlight shining in from holes in the ceiling.
"Petra! Show yourself, automaton!"
I felt a presence from the far side of the room. Crumpled against a wall lay the broken ruins of the mechanical woman.
I sighed. It seemed I would not received any information from her, at least not without a cost. Drawing forth some of the reagents I'd found on Britannia, I let out an incantation.
"In Ort Xen!"
The spell cost a Serpent Scale, which I'd been carrying in all these years since I was teleported to Britannia. There was only a limited supply of these reagents, a supply which would eventually be exhausted.
Yet I had acomplished the goal I sought out. Blue light returned to the automaton's eyes. The creature called Petra was restored to sentinent life.
"Why have you brought me back?!" She snapped. "I ended my pathetic excuse for a life for a reason. Leave me be!"
"I have many questions to ask you, Petra."
"Mortego?" The automaton looked up at me. "So, you've found out what has happened to your beloved city? It was the damned Avatar's fault! His companions were the ones who destroyed the cities and killed my beloved Rocco!"
"Hmph." Petra smiled bitterly. "Yes, I suppose most automatons don't feel emotions. I envy them. It's so much simpler that way. But Torrissio built me to be more human-like than any other of his creations. My thoughts were jumbled with various other drives I never understood. Then it changed.
"The Avatar used an Ophidian device to transfer minds with me for a brief moment. During that time, I felt all the emotions I'd experienced before a thousandfold. Now I was human, and knew everything I had felt. That bastard Torrissio created me as a plaything for his sick and twisted mind to hate and abuse! But Rocco had saved me and employed me! I felt gratitude, affection, and love towards him! I hated the Avatar and his companions for killing him! But all this lasted only a minute. The Avatar reclaimed his body, and I was forced back into this hollow metal shell. But I remebered what I had felt, remembered all those painful, confusing emotions. Tell me, foolish one, how could you bear to live without them once you had sampled their sweet nectar?
"I put an end to myself because I could not exist without those emotions! But now you have brought me back, and I must 'live' once more. No, forgive me. I shouldst not blame you for what you have done. I should not succumb to… anger…"
"What has become of the survivors of Moonshade, my friend?"
"Before I'd 'died,' that swine Torrissio was still alive, ruling over this broken land from the Magelord's palace. Stefano disappeared without a trace, where to I know not. The others may still be here, I have no idea."
Once again, I had discovered nothing. So be it. I wouldst have to consult the "Magelord."
"Thank thee, Petra. I am sorry for disturbing your rest. Farewell."
My footsteps echoed through the empty halls of the Magelord's palace. Debris
was strewn about the great corridors. An air of decay littered this place.
Laughter sounded from another room.
In Filbercio's bedroom resided Torrissio, who chuckled as I entered. His robes hung in rags, his face was unshaven, and a mad glow hung in his eyes.
"Mortego! Mortego! I never thought I'd see thee again!" The mage appeared quite jovial, contrasting the despair I felt around me. "How, pray tell, have you been, young one?"
The same Torrissio as always. The same contemptuous tone. The arrogance steming from his lineage, his family had been strong in magic since the days of Old Sosaria. But he was not the same. All of the mage's dignity was gone. He sat huddled among his own filth, oblivious to what lay around him.
"Torrissio, what has become of Moonshade? What do you know of our beloved city?"
"Hehe… sad, isn't it, my boy? So many dead, so many gone! Oh, but it matters not! Oh no, we have much more important things than to grieve over the Mundanes! Filbercio was a weakling to have been bested so easily! As always, it falls to me to carry on the City of Illusion's legacy."
"Have you no mind, young mage? The city needs to be rebuilt! We must rise Moonshade up to surpass its former glory!"
"But all are dead, Torrissio! They cannot be resurrected now. Their deaths were caused by one too powerful."
"Hah! Is that all you think of, little Mortego? Hmph! How conveinent for the city that I, the Master of Life Spells, the Master of the Automatons, am the one to survive! Don't you see yet, Mortego? Don't you see what I can do?"
I made no reply. The madman did not seem to care.
"Automatons! They can be programmed with anything! That little barmaid was my masterpiece, but not for long! I shall revive the entire city with Automatons in the place of the people!
"Don’t you see? A perfect society, greater than even the last Moonshade! An uncountable legion of Mundanes who never tire, never starve, never are overcome by greed or lust! And serving the Magelord and his Council to the last! We shall repopulate all of Serpent Isle, Mortego! We shall create a perfect world!
"Hehehe… but do not worry, I know why you returned… You'll have your place back on the Council, don't worry… Heh heh, I would have placed Fedabiblio and one of his apprentices on it, but it's all the better that you returned! I'll raise you higher than you were before, Mortego! I'll give you Gustacio's position, second only to me! Fedabiblio can wallow in your former station! But, you must remember, little Necromage, Gustacio held his position through several Magelords and changes in the Council because he held no ambition, because he wasn't trying to overthrow the Magelord. That's what you'll have to be like if you want the post, eh, Mortego?"
"I have no time for these antics, Torrissio." Twas obvious the mage was insane. "Do you know of the other survivors of the debacle? Ducio? Stefano?"
A look of astonishment passed over Torrissio's face, followed by one of understanding. His face beamed with a mad glow. Anger washed over him.
"I know now, little one… I know… You want to be Magelord, don't you? You think you deserve this because you were already on Filbercio's Council? You stupid fool! I am the ruler here! I control the Automatons! Without me, the plans will never flourish! Upstart!!! You're an uneducated bastard, no better than a Mundane! You were another one stolen away be Fedabiblio, unfit to rule alongside the purebreds like myself and Filbercio!"
Anger swelled up in me. His insanity was no excuse. How dare this foolish clown mock my bloodline?! He dares to condemn me for parents I never even knew?!?!
"Vas Frio Hur!"
At Torrissio's incantation, a ball of blue flame flew at me. I jumped aside as the ethereal object flew past me, coliding with and destroying a large portion of a wall.
"Heh. You won't escape me, little mage! Ort Grav!"
"Uus Vas Jux Ylem!"
"In Jux Por Ylem!"
Our battle grew more and more destructive. Nearly all of the palace lay in ruins. Yet still Torrissio persisted in facing me.
"YOU SHALL NOT ESCAPE THIS TIME, MORTEGO!!!!!!!! KAL VAS AN GRAV!!!!!!!!!!!"
Imbalance. The most powerful spell known of upon the Serpent Isle. There was no way to evade it. Unless…? The spell had ceased working during the storms, but now that the Balance had been restored…?
In an instant, I'd blinked away from the maelstrom of magical energy. I stood just paces behind Torrissio. He turned, but not quickly enough. I would not let the mage triumph.
"AN GRAV EX!!!!!!"
Vibrate. A weak spell, one not designed to inflict damage upon one's opponent. Yet it threw Torrissio off balance, and I hit him with the blunt end of the Death Scythe, the weapon I'd wielded upon Britannia.
Torrissio slumped to the ground, staring up at me. I held the blade of the scythe against his throat. Duels such as these were not common, but even by the laws of old Moonshade, I had every right to put an end to Torrissio's life here and now. Fear crossed over the mage's face, then replaced by resignation. He looked at me, his expression almost one of sanity.
"Well? Get it over with!"
I paused. Ah, how I could have gloated with the mage at my mercy. Yet I did not. I was not the same person I'd been before my travels in Britannia.
I smiled to myself. I was growing weak these days. The Avatar has influenced me too much. Were Moonshade the same city I'd once lived in, I would not survive.
"No, Torrissio. I have no need to take the life of one of the last humans alive. Rebuild your castle if you wish, but respect and honor the memory of the City of Illusion, do not defile it."
I slung the scythe over my shoulder once more. The mage was speachless. Slowly, I turned and walked away. Torrissio stood up and called after me.
"Wait! Mortego, wait!"
I turned back to glance at him.
"Don't leave me like this! Don't leave me alone in this dead city! Please, Mortego! Kill me!"
And now the mage pleaded for an end to his life. How pathetic. Torrissio's meager strength has deserted him following the destruction of Moonshade. Insanity was his only refuge.
"Then that is your sentence, Torrissio: life. Live it, and prehaps you will someday rebuild Moonshade, somehow…"
As evening drew near I headed south, away from the city. Wherever my destiny
lay, I knew it was not Moonshade. I had to leave this island.
While I could prehaps blink myself to Monk Isle or the mainland, I was still warry not to waste away my reagents. When I'd first been teleported from the city three decades ago, the ship the Arabella had been docked at the southern tip of the isle. Mayhaps the ship still remained.
A cobbled path led several hundred yards south, then was replaced by a dirt one. After another short distance, this path also faded away. I made my way through the thick trees, hearing the waves crash against the shore to both the south and west.
As I continued south, I heard the sound of wood being chopped in the distance. At last I came to a small clearing. The Arabella sat humbly upon the shore. A shirtles, middle-aged Mundane was cutting apart logs. Sweat creased his brow.
"Ducio…?" I muttered.
The man stared at me in surprise. Then he recognized me.
"Mortego! By the Serpent Pillairs, how did thou return? We felt certain you were dead!"
"Tis a long story, Ducio. What art thou doing?"
"Repairing the Arabella, so that we may get off this forsaken island. I was lucky Enresto found this. We've been working for nearly a month. Fortunately, I'd been trained as a shipwright during my apprenticeship, so I knew how to fix this strong vessel. She held up quite well through the storms, I must say. Captain Hawk was a fortunate man."
"Where is Enresto now?"
"Off hunting. He and I have been camped here for some time." Ducio motioned to two bedrolls nearby. "It's lucky you found us when you did. I believe the Arabella will be ready to sail by tomorrow. Twould be a honor if you'd acompany us."
"Thank thee. I've been looking for a way off Moonshade myself. What of the rest of Moonshade? Why doesn't Fedabiblio know of you?"
"Fedabiblio?" Ducio looked at me oddly. "He knows of us. We'll probably take him and his apprentices with us."
"Hmm. Strange that he did not mention this."
"Ah, it must have passed from his mind at the moment."
"What of the others?"
"I wish I knew. None have seen Stefano since shortly after the catastrophe, and Petra comitted suicide. As for Torrissio, I don't trust him. His sanity slips away day day, or so I've heard. I don't venture back into the town anymore. Too many old memories."
"I've resurrected Petra. I believe she'll journey with us."
"Indeed?" Ducio looked pleased. "A good deed. She was always quite a character, Automata or not. Twas a shame to see her life end."
A green-clad ranger stepped out from the woods, carrying a dead carcass on his back. His mouth dropped open as he saw me.
"The Necromage!" He struggled to place my name. "Mortego! You've returned!"
"Aye, Enresto. Ducio tells me the Arabella will be ready to sail by tomorrow."
"If that is what the master Artisan says, then it is no doubt true. But enough of such talk, the sky dims and the sun fades on the ocean! While this freshly-killed food might not be what you're used to, it is all we have."
"Oh?" I smiled. "Rather paltry for such an event. Today calls for a great banquet! In Mani Ylem!"
Twas a minor spell, yet its effect was certainly appreciated by Ducio and Enresto. In front of us, a roasted turkey appeared on a silver platter. Engraved goblets filled to the brink with Ice Wine appeared in our hands. A copurnica of fruits sat beside the turkey.
"Now, my friends, let us celebrate this reunion, and hope that better days shall once again rise upon the Serpent Isle!"
We ate well that night and slept contented. At morning all that had not been devoured had disappeared back into the Ether, even the platter and goblets. I set out for Moonshade once more, to bring back Petra, Fedabiblio, and his apprentices.
"A way off the isle?"
"Aye, Petra. Do you truly feel contented here in this desolate place?"
"Nay, I do not. But how can I leave this poor tavern, all that is left of my beloved Rocco?"
"The decision I yours, Petra. I cannot force thee to do anything."
The female Automaton sighed, a gesture I thought impossible for her. "You are right. I should join you and head to Monk Isle. Shall we set off at once?"
"If you have any posessions, feel free to take them. The Arabella is at the south of the isle. You go on first. I must consult Fedabiblio."
"Very well, Necromage. May you find contentment in your travels."
"The same to thee, friend."
I left the Blue Boar, satisfied. Now all that remained was Fedabiblio. I stopped off briefly at my manor, knowing this may be the last time I saw what had been my home for most of my life until I was wrenched to Britannia. I once again entered the Seminarium.
Fedabiblio and his apprentices awaited me. Neither Andrio or Freli appeared surprised by my presence; Fedabiblio had apparently told them of me.
"Has Ducio finally rebuilt the Arabella?" The old mage spoke before I'd uttered a sound.
"Why didn't you tell me of Ducio?" I spoke. "You said you did not know of his whereabouts."
Fedabiblio smiled. "And what would you have done? Immediately approach him and try to leave the isle. No, do not misunderstand me, Mortego, I did not want to strand you here. But I wanted you to see the City of Illusion, to see what had happened to it. I wanted you to confront the destruction rather than flee from it at your first chance. Forgive me."
"Nay, not at all. Come, we must leave now."
"I am not going, Mortego."
"But you must!" I was shocked.
"No, Mortego, I am the oldest survivor of Moonshade. I am set in my ways, and cannot leave this city. Besides, I was always despised outside of Moonshade. Many would remember how I stole their children away to the Seminarium. No, I cannot go with you. If ever I change my mind, I can blink myself away. But for now I feel best to stay here."
"And what of your apprentices?"
"We are staying as well." Andrio remarked. "We won't leave until we complete our training under master Fedabiblio." Little Freli nodded vigourously in agreement.
"If that is as you wish Fedabiblio…" I turned to leave, but a question struck me.
"Something wrong, Mortego?"
"Who were my parents, old friend? From whom am I descended?"
I smiled. "Yes, I know I am not supposed to ask that. I know I am overpresumptuous. But, prehaps this is what comes from three decades upon a completely different world. Prehaps that is what comes of associating with this… Avatar."
"Your parents were from Monitor. Your mother was already fairly old when she gave birth to you, and died shortly after, though it was not a peaceful death. Neither of your parents were mages, but your grandfather and your mother's brother were, or are…"
"Who were they??? Why did they not live in Moonshade if they were related to a powerful mage???"
"No, Mortego, I cannot elaborate. I cannot answer any more, at the risk of your own sanity. Forgive me, but you do not want to know the truth behind your ancestry. Please…"
I stared into the old mage's eyes. He spoke the truth as he preceived it. I tried to put it out of my mind, but it was no use. Fedabiblio's tantalizing clues only sucked me deeper into curiousity.
"Farewell, Fedabiblio. May we meet again someday."
"May we meet again at a time when the world is once more stable, Mortego."
Chapter the Second
Isle of the Prophetess
"Monk Isle, Mortego! The last bastion of humanity upon New Sosaria!"
Seagulls flew by as the shore approached in the distance. The Arabella had sailed for nearly a week now. I'd kept to myself most of the trip, occasionally shifting the winds in our favor. Ducio tried to encourage conversation within me and the Automaton Petra, but his efforts were of little good. I still felt morose and despondent over Fedabiblio's riddles and his decision to remain in Moonshade.
Our ship had clearly been spotted as we approached. As we docked at the southern shore, seven black/grey-robed monks stood to greet us. The foremost figure was a tall, middle-aged man of brownish skin.
"Greetings, travelers. I am Karnax, secondary Abbot of the Xenkan monastery. If you seek shelter or food, we shall provide you with what we can. If you wish to settle here, as many have, we will not press upon you to join our order. You may live as you will, provided you do not cause acts of violence upon our land."
"Thank you, kind sir." Ducio stepped forward. "We come from Moonshade. I believe all of us seek to live here. Do you supply your food through magical means?"
"Nay, we have but an orchard and a wheat field. If you desire meat, I'm afraid there is no livestock upon the isle. I am sorry."
"Not at all. Are you the leader here?"
"As I said, I am the secondary Abbot. I serve--"
"Second, Karnax?" A figure called from too far away to have heard our conversation. This figure approached quickly. It was an old woman, garbed in a hoodless Xenkan robe. The humility and simplicity in her face could not deter the air of power and presence about her.
"I told thee, my friend, I am a simple woman." Xenka spoke. "I only became known as I now am because the Serpents somehow chose me to be their prophetess. Now that the Hero from Another World has fufilled the prophecy and saved our land, I have no reason to press my leadership over you."
"My lady," Karnax replied. "You first established the Xenkan order centuries ago shortly after the Osprey first landed upon these shores. We owe all to you."
"It is of no concern." The prophetess smiled, turning to us. "You may live amongst us and do as thou wilt. We welcome all travelers. Live in peace."
As we walked down onto the grass, I noticed a monk staring at me oddly.
His face was covered by a red beard and his eyes appeared a thousand times
older than he or I.
"Greetings, traveler." He spoke in a familiar accent, one which Xenka had vaguely used as well.
"Greetings. I am Mortego, Necromage of Moonshade. And thou?"
"I no longer think of myself by any name, though those on the isle refer to me as the Child of the Corn. But… you may call me… Braccus…"
I sensed somehow that this man rarely revealed his name, and it seemed odd that he would tell it to a stranger such as myself.
"Yes… A pleasure to meet you, Mortego, a pleasure. Forgive me, I am rather eccentric these days. We must speak again sometime. Yes…"
The days and then weeks passed without event. Initially I and the other
travelers from Moonshade kept in contact, but we began to fade apart and
go our own ways. Most of the monks had taken an oath of silence, and I
began to take up solitary habits.
I became good friends with Braccus during this time, however. He fascinated me, somehow. An otherworldly presence hung about him. A presence of…
"An air of Britannia hangs about thee, doth it not?"
These words were not my own. One evening, almost a month after my arrival on Monk Isle, Braccus asked this of me as we talked within the monastery's rooms.
"Then you are from that world?" I asked, knowing now why I had been drawn to this figure.
"Aye," The monk replied. "But I did not come from the Osprey. I am too young for that. I did not flee a world I'd grown to hate. Oh no." His voice was full of pity, yet not towards himself. Somehow towards all of the world around him, a desparate plea that it doth not sink further into decay.
"You tale is tragic, is it not?"
"You couldst say so, but my banishment is of my own choosing. It was the only way I felt able to redeem myself." The monk sat down in a wooden chair and placed his face in his hands.
"Tell me of thyself." I pulled up a chair across from him.
He looked up at me and smiled weakly. "Do you truly want to hear of myself? I have little knowledge or philosophy to offer, as you seem to seek."
"Anything can be learned from a man's life, Braccus. Please, I am quite curious."
"Very well, Mortego. Tis a long tale, but I see that thou hast time. Then hear of a misguided one who sought acceptance and repentance in a new world."
I was born in the city of Trinsic in the year 105 A.B. You are familiar
with the geography of Britannia, are you not? Good, twould be hard to explain
where Trinsic lay. What year was it when you arrived in Britannia? Dear
me. Oh dear, oh dear…
No, no, I'll continue. Don't mind me. Twas a bit of a shock, but I shouldn't complain. I've forsaken all claim to Britannia. I shall never return to that land.
As I said, I was born in the great city of Trinsic. Twas a noble city, dedicated to the principle of Honor. The greatest knights of Britannia, the Paladins, made their homes in the city. Many who were born or raised in the town would live their adolesense at the Serpent's Hold, learning the ways of Courage. Many dreamed of completing the Quest of the Avatar, which the grat monarch Lord British had decreed would represent the Virtue of all Britannia.
I was born of a rich, noble family, son to one of Trinsic's great lords. When I was four years old, a great hero completed the Quest, becoming the Avatar of Virtue. The Order of the Silver Serpent grew still, propelled by the tales of the Avatar's courage. Yet my father did not want me to grow up a Paladin. He felt my mind was more suited towards politics.
"Enough already wield swords in the defense of Britannia." He told me when I was sixteen, the age at which most of my friends set out for the Hold. "No, a hero of the courtrooms and palaces is needed in thee." My father's expression and tone changed. He grew serious. "Swear to me thine oath you will not become a Paladin, Braccus. You are capable of much greater things."
Reluctantly, I gave him my pledge. The next I stowed away on the skiff of one of my friends, detirmined to be a warrior of Virtue, even if it meant disobeying my father.
Baron Sentri himself welcomed us as we arrived. Yet the note my friend's father had sent the Baron in advance stated only that his son would be accompanied by a single manservant. The Baron was suspicious of my identity. I told him of whom I was, and how I had gone to so much trouble to come here. I spoke with Pride, certain that he would be impressed with my Courage.
"No, young man," The Baron replied. "You are not fit to join the Order. While you serve Courage, you defy Truth and Love in doing so. Look at yourself, boy! Are you Honorable? Nay, you lie and break the word of your own kin. Are you Selfless? Nay, you show no Love nor respect towards your father's wishes. Courage cannot stand by itself. It must support and be supported by Truth and Love. If you abandon any one of these, yong man, that is the path of Falsehood, Hatred, and Cowardice."
The Baron sent me back to Trinsic, where my thoughts brimmed with Hatred. Fearful of what path I wouldst take, my father sent me to Yew, to learn under the retired judge Dryden, an old friend of his. Dryden was my greatest influence in life. He taught me of the Eight Virtues, he taught me of Justice, the combination of Truth and Love. I am forever indebted to him.
"But how canst one follow all Eight Virtues as the Avatar does?" I asked him once.
"They cannot be followed at once, my friend." My tutor replied. "The paths will contradict each other at times."
"But then how do I choose which Virtue to follow?"
Dryden looked at me, and stared through his sharp eyes deep into my soul. "Then do what you feel will inspire others upon the path of Virtue, Braccus."
By the age of twenty-two, my legal knowledge was great enough I could have
become a judge in the Druidic Courts. Instead, I traveled to the great
capital of Britain, where I became an aide to the mayor. Britain was still
one of the smaller towns at that time, hardly as impressive as Trinsic
or Jhelom, let alone old Magincia in its great days. But Mayor Shalinar
had many great plans for the city.
Shortly thereafter, Lake Prosperity dried up, forming a terrible desert known as the Dry Lands around the Shrine of Sacrifice and the city of Vesper. Soon, Vesper was abandoned, and many of the peasantry fled to Britain, where they were greeted with Compassion. Shalinar knew of the prosperous plains that lay between Britain and Castle Britannia. He founded three small farming communities, West, East, and North Britanny, surrounding Castle Britannia and forming a link between the distant castle and the city itself. While Britain remained one of the smaller towns behind its walls, the Britannys grew alongside it and formed a great sphere of influence that would prosper more than old Magincia ever did.
During this time, I began to assume control of many of Britain's day to day affairs. While Shalinar worked on advancing Britain's status as capital of Britannia, I managed the city itself and tried to keep the meaning of Compassion within the hearts of the people.
I still remember one minor case, too trivial for the Druidic courts in Yew. Quite clear-cut. A thief had been caught in the act of stealing fruits, and, as the law dictates, his right hand was to be cut off. But was this Compassion or Justice? Neither. It was Hatred, vengeance. I spared the thief. I helped him to revoke his unvirtuous ways. Mayor Shalinar and many of the people commended me for this deed. I tried not to show Pride, however, instead dedicating myself to bringing Virtue upon all the people.
The thief's name was Saduj. He would become one of the most important people in my life.
In 133, Shalinar died a natural death. I, a mere lad of twenty-eight, was
to become the next Mayor. But other events were brewing.
Lord British himself personally attended the funeral of Shalinar. For the first time in my life, I gazed upon the monarch. He spoke briefly and casually to me, but I could not keep the sweat from dripping down my brow.
Several weaks later, I heard the news. The king, who had long sought to distribute power in a more equal fashion across Britannia, was using Shalinar's death as an oppurtunity to abolish the Mayorships. They were replaced with an eight-man council elected directly by the people, whom would not only rule over the individual towns but also meet at Castle Britannia to serve as advisors for our liege.
For the first council, Lord British sought to fill this group solely with skilled mages, whom could wield enough power to impose martial law if need be yet also show wisdom and justice. While I had studied some magic in Yew, I had little hope of fufilling these requirments. When the king summoned me to his castle, I did not feel optimistic.
"My liege," I spoke, kneeling before the throne. "I am to understand that I shall be leaving the government?"
"On the contrary, Lord Braccus (never before had I been adressed with such a title), your talents are too great to be wasted in my council!"
I was dumbstruck as the king informed me that I would be granted a large fief and estate wherever I wished, and that I was to become one of the powerful noblemen of Britannia.
Shortly after the Quest of the Avatar had been completed, a mysterious isle rose up midway between the Isle of the Avatar and Serpent's Hold. Three volcanos dotted this dangerous island, and it became known as Terfin. I asked that I be allowed to build my keep upon that isle.
Lord British and many of the other nobles were shocked. While the isle was quite safe (the volcanos had never errupted anywhere near the island's centre) and it was at least as large as where Serpent's Hold resided, a strong superstition prevailed over the secrets of Terfin. Nonetheless, the monarch agreed and I founded what I hoped would become one of the land's great castles.
On my way to my new home, I stopped at Trinsic for the last time, intent on paying my respects to my ailing father. His condition was worse than I'd heard, for he could not even rise from his bed. I knelt before him and told him of my successes. He spoke his final words to me.
"Do not let power corrupt you, my son… Remember the legend of Lord Blackthorn…"
Three days later my father died. I received word of his death the same evening my serfs began construction of Castle Blackthorn.
Have you heard of the legend of Lord Blackthorn, my friend? Ah. No matter,
tis not important. Suffice to say, Blackthorn was a ruler of ancient Sosaria
during the days before the Triad of Evil. He was a mighty ruler, but he
became cruel and insecure. He killed his most trusted followers because
of his delusions of betrayal, and was eventually overthrown himself.
The legend of Blackthorn intrigued me. True, it was clearly a morality tale, with little basis on reality, but it still seemed quite interesting. Blackthorn was often mentioned as a great general and tactition. The insults raged upon him after his defeat probably came from whomever finally deposed him. In my eyes, Blackthorn could be seen as a tragic figure, who strived to reunite Sosaria, but ultimately failed.
I began to associate Blackthorn with myself, somehow. I decorated my keep with a serrated ankh, a combination of Blackthorn's symbol and the Ankh of Britannia. Whenever I saw the master bard Lord Kenneth, I'd often insist that he play the Ballad of Blackthorn. Twas my favorite tune, more so than even his majesty's beloved Stones.
You've never heard the Ballad of Blackthorn? Sample it here, my friend. Ah, but I must continue with my tale.
My political enemies began to mock me with the name Blackthorn. I merely smiled and accepted the title. I knew that I had earned the respect of the king and I was detirmined to keep it.
And so the years passed. Then, in late 138, the council undertook their most dangerous project yet; they planned to raise the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom from the very void itself!
You've never-- Yes, why should you have heard of the Codex? No matter, tis the most powerful object in the Multiverse, containing the wisdoms of all the ages. The council wanted this wisdom for the enrichment of the kingdom, and used their combined magic to bring forth the holy object.
But trouble rested within Britannia because of their actions. Foul creatures began to pour out from the dungeons onto fair Britannia, and great tremors shook the ground. The council sealed off the dungeons through magical Words of Power, but to no avail. Other entrances to the dark realm beneath us began to appear. A group of warriors escaped from one of these, and told Lord British and his court of the "Underworld".
My liege was intrigued by these stories. With a band of stalwart mages and warriors, he planned to explore the depths of the Underworld himself. But how couldst the monarch leave his kingdom? The king assembled a great meeting of all the lords and nobles in Castle Britannia.
"Blackthorn!" A voice called to me as I arrived at Britain's docks. I recognized Baron Sentri.
"Hail, my friend! Tis good to see the young Braccus who wanted to be a paladin having made a name for himself in politics!"
"Thank thee." I smiled back. "I'd heard thou hast retired from your post."
"Aye. Lord Malone canst lead the Order of the Silver Serpent. Just like 'Lord' Dupre, I grew tired of life in a castle."
"Where is the former mayor of Trinsic?"
"Hasn't settled down once in the decades since he traveled with the Avatar! Still adventures around Brtiannia, righting wrongs and solving great quests. He's forsaken all his right to nobility, you know? Twould be nice to join him in such a simple life someday, but I suppose I'm too pampered from the Hold."
"Nonsense, Sentri. If you follow Virtue within your soul, you canst achieve anything. Look at myself. I am thankful that thou didn't accept me into the Order of the Silver Serpent!"
That evening Lord British held a great banquet for all of us. He stood up and raised his jeweled goblet.
"My friends! As you all know, I will soon set out for the world below us! I may not return, but let us not think of such bleak matters! Rather, I must choose a great man who carries Virtue in his breast to reign as I depart from my throne.
"I have thought long and hard over whom shall ascend to this place. I have examined the deeds and acts of you all. In making my decision, I assure you that I feel this to be the right choice.
"For his years of dedication and service unto Britannia, for his loyalty and sense of Virtue, I decree that Lord Braccus be dubbed the next king of Britannia!"
All eyes across the long table turned towards me. I sputtered and coughed, trying to think of something to say. Excited talk and whispers echoed all around me. A few nearby friends congratulated me. But I did not here them. I stared speachlessly at Lord British, still not convinced that this wasn't a strange dream or delusion.
"Or, shall I say," The monarch grinned. "Lord Blackthorn shall be dubbed the next king of Britannia."
The night before Lord British left on his expedition, we drank together
in his study over a game of chess. Neither of us truly concentrated on
the game, however.
"How does it feel to know that you are to become king, Braccus?"
"I cannot say, my liege, for it is still hard to even believe I am to become king."
The monarch smiled. "Come now, old friend, you and I have known each other for long enough you can dispense with the formalities. Still, I realize it must be quite a shock for you, Braccus."
"Thou canst call me Blackthorn, milord. As you've seen, the name has rather stuck."
"The Blackthorn of legend killed his liege to become king, my friend."
"Tis much easier for me." Being rather drunk, I began to take liberties I would not have dreamed of otherwise. "My liege is going to throw his own life away. Check."
"Hah!" Lord British, also quite drunk, laughed as well. "Still, I need not worry. I have a certain artifact I plan to bring with me that will ensure I escape alive."
"Eh? How so?"
"No, I would never reveal that, even to you. Prehaps if you were able to find the Sandalwood Box and open it, you would see for yourself."
"How canst your artifact be within a box that has no openings?"
"Find the box yourself and see if you can find the answer, Braccus. Checkmate."
That morning was a great day in the city of Britain. Travelers from all
across the land flocked to see as Lord British's ship departed and I was
to be crowned king of Britannia. The only well-known figure missing was
Chief Judge Talfourd of Yew, whose health had been ailing as of late.
Iolo Fritzowen the Bard and many other figures roamed the streets. A grand orchestra was drawn up at the docks. As the rope was cut and the grand ship departed for the River Maelstrom, Lord Kenneth gave a signal and Rule Britannia played over the entire festival.
I stepped atop the docks to a small pedestal, beside which waited countless other nobles. From the pedestal I lifted forth a jeweled crown. Twas not the crown of British, which remained in Castle Britannia, but it was a symbol of what I had achieved.
As I stared into the bright jewels, I felt my destiny all around me. I felt myself becoming one with the will of of Britannia itself, becoming a figure of history.
The orchestra began to play the Ballad of Blackthorn. I chuckled, then laughed for reasons unclear as I placed the crown upon my head.
Lord British had left behind the Sandalwood Box. I did not know how I knew this, yet I knew. Even more confusing, this thought delighted me.
On that day, January 11, 139 A.B., I, Lord Blackthorn was crowned king of Britannia.
The days and weeks passed as I ruled from Castle Blackthorn. Then the long-ill
judge Talfourd passed away. In his place I appointed my longtime mentor
Dryden, whom I knew would keep Justice within his heart.
At this time I began to see strange figures in my dreams. Three tall humanoids of undistinguishable gender wearing black robes. Their skin was a pale white and their eyes glowed a mighty red.
"Who art thou? What do you want?"
"We shall serve thee in thy quest if you serve us."
"Your quest to bring Virtue across Britannia. Side with us and you shall show all of Britannia the true path of the Virtues."
"And what do you need in return?"
"Allow yourself to become our subject. Allow yourself to become one with our whims. Let us advise and help you in your tasks, as we complete our own plans for Britannia!"
"For Virtue, Blackthorn! For Virtue!"
"For Virtue!" I cried, detirmined I had made the right choice. "Yes, I shall serve thee!"
The figures showed know emotions, yet I detected pleasure amd triumph about them. Whilst I could not see through their hoods, I could have sworn I detected a smile on the face of the foremost appirition.
"You have made your choice, Blackthorn, and sealed your destiny through all the Ages. Forever in Britannia shall you be remembered for your deeds and actions, as we shall for ours."
"What do you mean?"
"Enough! Do not presume to control us. Serve Virtue, Blackthorn, and let yourself be guided as to the true path of Virtue."
I tried to speak, but no sound came from my throat. The ghostly figures disappeared, and I awoke with a start. It had all seemed but a dream, yet it as much more. Much more…
The next morning two figures appeared in my court. They were the knight Shaana and the Royal Scribe Remoh, both of whom accompanied Lord British on his quest into the Underworld. I heard their tale of how the expedition had faced great monsters, and that these two were the only survivors.
"What of the king? What of our royal monarch?" I asked.
"On the fifth day, wraiths came for him, milord." The scribe replied.
"There were three of them, sire, garbed in black robes. Our liege tried to fend them off, but they took him away into the darkness. We were powerless to stop them. I am afraid we all are."
The wraiths? The three figures from my dream? No…
But why not? If I could bring Virtue across Britannia, more so than ever Lord British did, what kept them from having the right to take the king with them?! If I am to be a better leader, then so be it!
"The crown is yours Blackthorn." A ghostly voice whispered from beside my shoulder. I turned to look, yet saw none there.
"The throne of Britannia is thine, Blackthorn. Claim Lord British's Crown and become the true lord of Britannia!"
I need no tell you of the horrors the followed. I declared martial law
and stored Lord British's Crown atop my castle for safekeeping. Within
weeks the entire Britannian army had been reorganized, filled with local
bullies and brigands whom would do my bidding for a purse of gold. From
these were trained into my elite of warriors who kept peace in Britannia
and insured that the Virtues would be followed.
Organizing the army was the mercenary knight Thrud, aided by his sorceress mistress Elistaria. In reward for their services, I presented them with the keep of Windmere to the far north,where they continued to serve me loyally.
At Castle Britannia, trouble opposition brewed against my regime. Fearing that I wouldst comandeer Lord British's Royal Scepter as well, the Court Jester Chuckles secretly sent an envoy with it to Serpent's Hold, where Lord Malone would guard it. I found out of this only through my ghostly companions, whom seemed to know everything.
"And what shouldst be done of this?" I asked the appiritions.
"Fear not, Lord Blackthorn." My title was used almost mockingly. "Nosfentor intercepted the envoy near Trinsic and brought the Sceptre back to our worldly keep."
"Where is this keep?"
"Stonegate, within the mountains south of Lost Hope Bay. You shall never find it yourself, however, for the mountains are impossible to cross by humans."
"And why doth thou need the Sceptre?"
"Do not question us, Blackthorn. We have our reasons."
"Answer me or our deal becomes null and void!"
"Oh?" Again the figure seemed to smile. "You shall never break your pledge with us, Blackthorn. Twould be dishonorable. But we admire your insolence. We need the Sceptre to ensure that Lord British shall never return from the Underworld."
"You wouldst keep our liege locked away?!"
"You wouldst abdicate your throne to him once more?"
I lowered my head. They were right.
"We did not think so, Blackthorn. We know of all your thoughts and ambitions."
"What are you, creatures of evil?"
"You may call us… Shadowlords…, Blackthorn. And we have many important plans with Britannia, that you shall aid us in."
"Very well." I knew there was no escape.
"Good. But you shouldst remember to keep your throne, Blackthorn. You shouldst remember the dangers the lie around you."
"Lord British's Sandalwood Box. What if someone ever finds it? You must pervent that, Lord Blackthorn. You must keep the box for yourself, so that you may reign over Britannia!"
"Yes! Yes, I will! I will send my best men to find it within Castle Britannia!"
"Beware of conspiracies again you, Lord Blackthorn. Beware of Lord British's Council, and of the Eight Companions of the Avatar."
"They are supporters of Lord British, my friend! They will try to overthrow you, lest you stop them."
"I will! All shall be declared outlaws!"
"And we have one last gift for you, Lord Blackthorn."
At my feet materialized a massive sword with a black blade, it's hilt marked by an empty hole."
"What is this?"
"An artifact forged by three Daemons. It is the Sword of Chaos, and we need you to use it to aid us."
"Then I am to wield this weapon?"
"Prehaps." Somehow I knew the appirition to be lying. "Within the Underworld lie three Shards. They belong to a… gem. Repair the gem by fitting the remaining shards within this sword's hilt, and the powers of the three of us will be combined, and our master shall gain control of Britannia!"
"Who is thy master?!"
"That is not your place to ask, Blackthorn! Obey our commands, and let Britannia be yours!"
"Yes! Britannia is mine! I rule over the land! I shall bring Virtue across the land!"
"You have bartered away your soul, Blackthorn, yet carew not. You have forsaken yourself to forever walk the path of Doom. Farewell, Blackthorn. We shall meet again."
And so my will became that of Britannia. In Moonglow, the mage Mariah protested
against my reign, but was defeated by one of my mysterious "Shadowlords".
She fled to the Lycaeum, as all of the Avatar's other companions had fled.
Only the three Castles of the Principles and the villiage of New Magincia
still resisted me, but could not for long. Though the Shadowlords somehow
avoided those parts of the realm, doubtless I wouldst soon give the order
fro my troops to swarm in.
The Council memebers fared worse. I captured Hassad of New Magincia and Felespar of Yew. The others hid under assumed names, though Sutek of Skara Brae had disappeared before I even assumed command of Britannia, and I presumed him dead.
"Then still the council members conspire against me?" I asked of the Shadowlords, whom now regularly appeared within the cities and my castle.
"Yes, Lord Blackthorn. Hassad and the other five met at New Magincia, though your legions did capture him upon our advice."
"Mayhaps if he was the ringleader, the rebellion will fall apart."
"Nay, at least two of the other mages remain active. Goeth of Jhelom and Sindar of Trinsic."
"Why did you not tell me of them earlier? I shall lead my forces to imprison them at once!"
"No, Blackthorn, we shall handle these two. Both are slowly being driven insane by the visions we show them. One can barely speak, while the other sleeps day and night."
"Very well." I slumped back. "Have you anything else to report to me?"
"Have you found the Sandalwood Box yet?"
"Give my men more time, Faulinei!" This was the first instance where I used the appirition's name. "They shall bring it to you!"
"We hope so, Blackthorn, for your sake as well as ours. Always remember what would happen if Lord British returned to Britannia."
"You insult us with your behavior, Blackthorn! Why didst you abandon the sword?"
"The Sword of Chaos! You locked it away in your dark passages, and you have yet to search through the Underworld for the shards!"
"My men are interrogating the two wizards as to the Words of Power to unlock the dungeons, yet neither has revealed the secret to me!"
"See that they do, and remember that we are your masters, Lord Blackthorn, and that you shall do as we wish!"
Sweat dripped around my forehead as the appiritions faded away. I figure knelt behind me.
"Infiltrate Castle Britannia. Find the Sandalwood Box at all costs!"
"As you wish, milord."
"And have a message sent to Lord Flain of Skara Brae and Lord Dryden of Yew to tighten their grip upon dissidents. I do not want my reign marred by foolish uprisings."
"Of course, milord."
Twas only a few weeks later I took a short trip to my brithplace of Trinsic.
Twould be the first and only time during my reign that I left Terfin.
As I passed through the streets on horseback, a small comotion was heard a few blocks away. A thief had been caught stealing fruits. Eyes looked at me to resolve this petty dispute.
I remembered how years ago a similar case had come before me. I smiled somehow at how ignorant I had been back then.
"Execute him." I spoke. "That will teach these vagrants to live with more Compassion in their lives."
"He is here."
"The Avatar?" I questioned the Shadowlords once more. "How can you be sure?"
"His aura of Virtue is too strong to go unnoticed. We found him and one of his companions near the south of the Deep Forest."
"His powers are strong. With a coin in the symbol of the Codex, he banished us away. But fear not, Lord Blackthorn, he shall confront us once again soon enough."
"You seek to kill the paragon of Virtue, then? Why so? And why does the holy symbol of the Codex inspire fear in you?"
"No, his death is not our goal. But if he could be turned to our side, he would be a powerful ally. Mayhaps he would find the three shards, and unite us once more in the Sword of Chaos."
"Then you intended to lure the Avatar here all along?"
"Yes. He would be a great aid in our master's struggle against the Time Lord."
"Then you oppose the master of Time itself? What are you, Shadowlords?"
"The embodiment of the Three Principles."
"Truth, Love, and Courage? That is difficult to believe."
"No. Falsehood, Hatred, and Cowardice."
"Eh?? Then why do I serve you?! You follow paths opposite to mine! You work for evil!"
"And what have you done under our command that has not conformed to the Virtues?"
I was silent.
"Of course not. We have not corrupted you in any way, Blackthorn. But remember that the Avatar is a servant of Lord British. He wouldst seek to free Lord British and dethrone you! You must not let that happen, or you would never be able to bring Virtue across Britannia!"
"Yes! As always, you are right! I shall outlaw the Avatar and see to his death!"
"No, do not kill him. Leave him for us."
"Very well. His life shall be spared, and he shall become as thy servant."
"Good. We shall await your progress, Lord Blackthorn."
As the days passed, new reports continued to pour in. The Avatar had been
spotted in nearly every town. He had released two prisoners in Yew and
Dryden had raised the bounty on his head. Saduj had met him and tried to
kill him, but the Avatar had survived. Worse still, my assassin feared
the Avatar had found the Sandalwood Box, prehaps dooming all I had worked
"You continue to fail us, Blackthorn."
"The Avatar has invaded Stonegate and made off with the Sceptre. Soon he will begin to use the Words of Power to open the dungeons. He might find Lord British's Amulet, or worse: the three Shards."
"Did you not want the shards found?"
"By those loyal to us, yes! But if he finds them before he has sworn allegiance to us, he may discover how to use them to destroy us!"
"Then you have a weakness." I smiled.
"Do not toy with us, Blackthorn. You would have achieved none of this without us. Even now, if we abandon you, your fate shall be sealed."
"Nay, forgive me. What shouldst be done about the Avatar?"
"He will still need the Crown if he wishes to free Lord British. When he comes here to your castle, do not let him escape!"
"Fear not, he shall never grasp the Crown! I have hidden it atop my castle in a room guarded by stone Gargoyles! His doom is nigh!"
"Then let it be so. Do not fail us, Blackthorn."
Only a few days later, the Avatar attempted to infiltrate Castle Blackthorn.
But without a Black Badge, he was easily spotted and imprisoned in my dungeon.
I went to speak with him personally.
I offered to release this hero if he told me one of the eight Mantras. He refused. I threated to kill two of his companions, the fighter Maxwell and the bard Toshi. Yet still the Avatar refused. Their deaths would have been horrific, sliced down the middle. At last, the Avatar repented. He told me of the Mantras.
"Good! And as a reward, thy companions shalt be granted a merciful death!" I told him, reaching through the Ether to incinerate the two companions in a painless death. The Avatar and his remaining companions were jailed in the same cell as a filthy barbarian named Gorn. I doubted that I wouldst ever see them again.
The Shadowlords appeared before me. Yet now there were only two of them.
"Where is Nosfentor?"
"Dead, because of your foolishness!"
"The Avatar escaped from your dungeon with the Crown! He talked to that mage Hassad imprisoned in there and found the Word of Power for Hythloth! In the Underworld below Hythloth, he found the Shard of Cowardice and used it to destroy one of us!"
"But how would he have known the correct process?"
"Only another Shadowlord would have known! He must have spoken with the meddlesome Sutek, who I can sense has appeared on Britannia!"
"Sutek? Is he not dead?"
"No, he is not even human. He was within the Underworld and escaped. Wherever he hides, the Avatar has found him and learned of our weaknesses! He may have also heard of the Ararat…"
"The ship Sutek was on which crashed through a maelstrom into the Underworld. If Captain Johne is still alive, the Avatar might find out the secret of our origins upon this plane! And the Shard of Hatred is nearby…"
Unlike before, the two Shadowlords' manner was much more nervous, subdued. I began to feel that my deeds were wrong, that I had been tricked by these appiritions.
"We shall come again, Blackthorn! Kill the Avatar if ever he returns!"
It was only a few days before I felt the presence of Astaroth disappear
from Britannia. I wandered my castle in a daze, slowly realizing what I
"Blackthorn…" Faulinei's voice continued to stalk me, but it was without menace. The last Shadowlord begged me to lead my men to the Castles of the Three Principles, but I ignored it. I had caused enough evil. My deeds were done.
Soon this last voice ceased as well, leaving me alone. My two Daemon guards were gone one day, the entire castle felt empty except for myself.
I sat on my throne and pondered. I realized what a fool I had been.
"Justice… Did I serve Justice?" I spoke to myself. "I served Truth, but ignored Love in doing so. Through that I abandoned all the Three Principles, and walked the path of Falsehood, Hatred, and Cowardice…"
As afternoon approached, I heard a single pair of footsteps through the empty corridors. I sat resigned upon my throne. The footsteps grew closer and louder, yet I still did not leave my place.
A figure walked up towards me. Lord British stood in front of my throne, wearing dirty, tattered armor. Yet a regally bejewelled crown sat on his head, a serpentine amulet was hung around his neck, and the True King carried a golden sceptre in his hand.
"Thy deeds were black, yet thy punishment is not mine to give." The monarch spoke softly to me. "The evil of thy reign did not begin within thy heart, though there it must be ended."
His words were true. I could not shift the blame for my actions. It was my fault for allowing myself to be taken in by the lies of the Shadowlords.
"I have no wish to see thee die for having been ensnared by dark powers that took thy will from thee." The king continued. "Instead, I offer thee a choice. Thou canst return to Castle Britannia with me, and accept the trial and verdict of the Great Council. Or…"
The king raised forth his Sandalwood Box and pulled a small black orb from it. The orb landed a few feet away, and a bright red Moongate sprang from the ground.
"…thou canst enter this Gate, and live thy life in exile in a place that neither I nor thee hath ever seen."
I looked into the shimmering Moongate. Had I the Courage to face my actions? Or should I depart from Britannia forever, and seek my fortunes and repentance in another world?
No, what Courage lay in allowing other to quench their Hatred of me? Only by following all Three Principles couldst one truly engulf the Path of the Avatar.
I rose slowly, tiredly, and stared into the king's eyes. I wanted to speak, I wanted to tell him of all the things I had learned and thought of. But it was no use. I now knew my destiny had been sealed the moment I agreed to aid the Shadowlords. I knew I could not change the past, but prehaps aid others in the future.
Without a single look back, I walked to the Moongate. I breathed in the air of Britannia for the last time. I knew Lord British's gaze fixed upon me, yet I did not look once more at him. My purpose was not for Britannia, my life and it's goal were for another world, another land, somewhere far away, somewhere I might make ammends for the evils I caused to my homeworld.
I stepped through the door of red, and left dear Britannia forever.
A flash of thunder marked my entrance to this realm. I stood, trembling
and wet, in the middle of the corn field here on Monk Isle. A mighty storm
raged through the night, and I stumbled through the darkness, searching
for shelter. I saw the light from the monastery, and cried for shelter
at the door.
The monks here gave me food and protection. I told them my name was Blackthorn, and that I was an exile from far away. I found out how these were the descendents of the Osprey, of whom I'd heard tales during my childhood. I was upon one of the original Sosarian continents, before Mondain tore the land asunder.
As I found out that this was the only building upon the isle, I decided to remain here. Eventually I became a Xenkan Monk, and embraced these people's culture. I learned of how ranks and positions were nothing compared to one's own actions. I called myself by the humble name of Braccus once more. As the years passed, I abandoned all names at all, referring to myself only as the Child of the Corn. Karnax respected me and my efforts in studying the teachings of Xenka, and so I became one of the senior monks, receiving the privilage of being allowed to speak to outsiders.
Yet though I embraced this new philosophy, I had no chance to test my devotion. I still had no means of redeeming myself in my eyes for the crimes I had done to Britannia.
Eleven years I passed away like this, forever pondering my course of life. Then came an incredible day: the Avatar arrived on the isle.
I had suspected that the "Hero from Another World" Xenka's teachings spoke
of might have been Britannia's Avatar, but twas only an asumption. Now
that same "Hero" from the visions arrived upon Monk Isle, and I knew him
to be a figure from the past, I began to feel that prehaps my destiny would
at last come to an end.
The Avatar and I met, though he did not recognize me. He asked for my help (my help!) in procuring a quantity of Mandrake Root. I told him of places on the isle where he couldst find the reagent. The Avatar and his three companions (also from Britannia, all of whom had fought with him against my kindom) departed, yet I knew we would meet again.
Like many Xenkan Monks, I began to feel a certain sixth sense pretaining to the Avatar. I always knew where he was on the Serpent Isle, whether he needed aid or not. I read through the scrolls of Xenka's teachings once more, and came to a passage from one of her visions. It said that the Hero from Another World would be aided by an old enemy of his. I knew instantly that this was me, that somehow I would be essential to the Avatar's quest.
Weeks later, I felt the Avatar needed assistance at the ruins of the Castle of Shamino. Arriving there, I found the dead body of a young girl named Cantra. I took her back to Monk Isle, promising the Avatar that I would resurrect her.
But, as with all good deeds, twas not easy. Though I, like all Xenka Monks, could easily reunite body with spirit, the girl's body had been possesed by a creature of evil, a Chaos Bane. Though I brought breath back into the body of young Cantra, I could not heal her mind. The girl had been rendered insane by the possesion, and I knew of no way to cure her.
For days and nights, I pondered. Others whom the Banes had possesed were brought here by the Avatar. He cured some with sacred waters from the frozen north, but young Cantra had been afflicted for too long. He could not help her.
The Avatar continued on his quest, as I still waited here. Occasionally I saw him, yet I did not offer conversation. Then the Prophetess Xenka herself was reborn, and set about aiding the Avatar in the final steps of his quest. I continued to search for a cure, but it seemed an impossible task.
I consulted Xenka as to a solution. The prophetess told me to find the Water of Ethicallity in the frozen north. I told her that the Avatar had tried this and failed, but she remained adamant. I left the isle to seek out my destiny.
Eventually, I did find this water, and brought it back to the isle. Pouring it over the insane Cantra, I saw a sudden change come over the young girl. Sense and logic returned to her eyes, and I knew I had succeeded.
"How…?" I asked Xenka.
"You alone could have done this, Braccus, for you devoted yourself solely to the cause without thought of logic or reason. You acted unreasonably with Love and Courage, and thus atained a certain sort of Truth. With mastery of all Three Principles, you carried Virtue in your heart and couldst easily have seeped it into another. The water was worthless, Braccus. The Hero from Another World already tried to use it and failed. It was you yourself, your aura, your Virtue, which purified young Cantra."
"I cannot express my gratitude, Xenka. You have helped redeem me as I've strived to for ages."
"It was you, not I, Braccus. Remember always, however, to keep this Virtue within your heart."
As Braccus finished his incredible tale, I sat speachless.
"And that is how I've reached spiritual contentment, through aiding others, my friend."
"Amazing… I never thought you wouldst have such a surprising history…"
"What, pray tell, did you here of myself in Britannia?"
"The Avatar and Horance both spoke of you as a tyrant."
"They were certainly right, for I was. I can only thank Lord British for allowing me this chance at repetance. And what do you plan to do now that you've returned to the Serpent Isle? I'm afraid it isn't all that you're used to."
"I have no idea, but there is one thing." I paused. "The Necromage Horance spoke of a brother upon this land? Do you know of any other native Britannians?"
"Britannians… there is myself, Xenka, and a seaman named Ruggs, though he's far too young to be a sibling of Horance…"
"You knew Horance?"
"Knew him? He's one of Britannia's most famous mages! But no, don't tell me of the land and how it's become. I try to think of Britannia as little as possible. My life in connection with that world is over."
"Are there any other Britannians?"
"I doubt it. The Osprey departed years ago, yet… of course!"
"I think I know of whom you speak, Mortego. But he doesn't reside on this island. Come, let me take you to someone who can lead you there."
A Man of Stitches
To the far north of the isle rested a small wooden cabin. In it resided
a single man, whom preferred a solitary life to that around the monks.
This was the man Braccus took me to. He was a strange man, nearly seven
feet tall, stitches covering his body. He looked pieced together, as though
he was not even a real person. I recognized this as one of the Avatar's
companions from Serpent Isle itself. I stood before Boydon.
"Who goes there?" The tall man barked.
"Tis I, one of the monks." Braccus replied. "My friend here seeks to meet thy former master, Erstam."
"Erstam?" Boydon's eyes narrowed on me. "Why are you foolish enough to seek the Mad Mage? Look at me! I was once a normal being like thyself before I became the subject of his experiments! True, I have lived much longer than a 'normal' person, and I have been repaired by the man after losing my limbs many a time, yet I still feel I wouldst have been better never knowing him!"
The Mad Mage? Was this the man I sought?
"I bring a message to Erstam from his brother."
"His brother? That's news to me. I never knew he had a brother. But, if you really insist on seeing him, I could give you directions to the small island on which he lives. I believe Vasel has both a skiff and a map."
"Thank thee." Braccus interjected before I could speak. "Farewell."
As we left Boydon's hut, Braccus spoke to me. "I doubt we shalt ever meet again, Mortego."
"Eh? I am planning to return to Monk Isle when I am done."
"Nay, I can see your destiny in your eyes. I fear you shall ever leave Mad Mage Isle."
"Why do you say that?"
He sighed. "Never mind me, Mortego. Do not worry, you shall not come to a violent end. But… well, take care of thyself, old friend."
"The same to thee, Braccus."
Chapter the Final
The Immortal Legacy
My small skiff pulled up at the shore of Mad Mage Isle. A single building
say on the isle, built of decaying red brick. The door remained ajar.
Strange sights abounded around me, but I ignored them. I knew of the Mad Mage's experiments. When I finished with my task, I wouldst return to Monk Isle.
The founder of New Sosaria sat on the floor against a wall, somehow expecting me. His aged, ancient eyes pierced through me with a stony gaze.
"I knew you would come at last, Necromage…" Erstam spoke. "I knew of you, Mortego…"
"There is little upon the Serpent Isle I do not know. Oh, I seem but a senile, insane, rambling fool to you. But without me, none of you would be here! The Osprey would never have crossed the Serpent Pillairs, yet see how you treat me now!"
"I mean thee no harm."
"Of course. Do not mind my outbursts. I prefer the solitude here, to continue my experiments. Now, this place gets emptier and emptier. Xenka has returned, but at what cost has her prophecy been fufilled? The world lies in disorder and disarray! And now, what are we left with…? Vasel and Boydon have left, but I continue my dream, my legacy…"
"Yes, don't you understand? My father and his father have given their lives and sanity trying to solve this problem! And now, when I am so close to the answer, another problem emerges."
"What is that?"
"I am dying."
Dying? Erstam? The founder of both Moonshade and New Sosaria itself?
"Yes, tis ironic. For all these years, all these centuries, I have lived solely to find the secret of immortality. Now, having lived longer than any other in the world, I am still to die. I have found no solutions. Boydon, prehaps, is a step forward, but not enough. Another must carry on for me! One of my blood!"
"I bring a message from thy brother, Horance of Britannia."
"Horance?" Erstam raised an eyebrow. "He stayed behind on Beast British's land, didn't he? My brother. Has he had success in the experiments?"
"Nay, he studied black magic of the Triad of Evil and it cost him his life. He begs me to tell you that it is too dangerous, and that you should stop."
Erstam chuckled. "Too dangerous! Yes, that is what has always been said! Wasting away our lives like this, we regret the legacy only at the very end! My father was the same way! And when I die, no doubt I will be overcome by grief of how I spent my years in this solitude searching for what may be impossible…
"But tis not impossible, Mortego? Don't you understand? When I die, you must carry on this task for me!"
"Forgive me for placing this task upon you, but I have no other choice! My son Pothos has died in Moonshade! My other relatives have passed on as well. Only you, only you can continue the legacy!"
"But I am not of your blood!"
"Is that what you truly believe…?" Erstam stared at me.
"Mortego, I have watched you for many a year. Fedabiblio hoped I would not know, hoped you would be spared the legacy, but it has not been so. Your mother, a Champion Knight of Monitor, was Jenna, my sister! You are my nephew, Mortego! You must continue the legacy for me!"
"It is the truth, Mortego! You must continue on for me!"
"Why? Why does this damned legacy of our family continue? Canst we not accept or mortality?!"
"I wish it were so, but we do not have that choice. We must continue for our ancestors! We must not let them have died in vain!"
"Tell me, Ertsam: is there a solution? Or is this a meaningless quest?"
"I do not know, Mortego. I devoted my entire life to this, following only clues and intuition. Now, I leave the task up to you, my nephew. I--"
The aged mage coughed and spit up blood. I realized for the first time how frail he truly was. Somehow, I knew he'd only clung to his life so that he could meet me.
"Heh. Horance said the legacy was too dangerous! Hah! How right he is… But what a prize it doth promise to whomever finds it!
"Ah, Mortego, prehaps it will be your successor who finally finds the secret! Or prehaps…" His breathing became strained. Within seconds, the mage would expire.
"…prehaps it will be you who find the secrets, Mortego…"
"Thank you, my nephew… thank you for taking up this task…"
Erstam collapsed onto his back. But he was not yet dead. His eyes stared with awed fixation upward.
"Drogeni… You were right… I should have abandoned it…"
The "Mad" Mage lay dead. He whom had founded New Sosaria, yet had been rewarded only with mockery and ridicule. His quest, his legacy that he knew he would never achieve! Now it has been passed on to me. A quest of Sacrifice, a legacy that would cost me my reason and sanity, yet would mark a greater good. A legacy like Braccus's, one that would at last allow me to find inner peace!
"Fear not, Erstam, I shall carry on for thee. The legacy of our ancestors shall continue, and I swear that I shall be the one to discover the secrets of immortality."
A figure approached from the mountains to the west. It was a young, blue-clad rogue I remembered well.
"So you've found your way to the isle! I thought I was the only one to get off Moonshade!"
"How did you come here?"
"I found the caves in those mountains long ago. There's a teleporter near my house that leads to them. I think that the Avatar might have found it, but otherwise it was my secret.
"And what are you doing here? Is the Mad Mage dead at last?"
"The Mad Mage? Erstam is dead, but…" I smiled wearily. "I fear the Mad Mage has not. Prehaps he has simply been reborn as another, as a different man to carry on the quest."
"Don't mind me, Stefano. I'm merely rambling."
I stared out to the waves crashing against the shore. "There is a skiff not far from here. You can sail to Monk Isle, where the other survivors of Moonshade have regrouped."
"You're staying here???"
"Aye, Stefano. It seems I am the next 'Mad Mage' of the Serpent Isle. I believe I will find it best to remain upon Erstam's isle, prehaps study his notes."
"But, what if you ever wish to leave??"
"I doubt the urge shall overtake me, but if it does, I can always blink myself back to Moonshade or Monk Isle. Go now, Stefano, I shall seek my destiny upon this desolate place."
"If you insist, old friend." Stefano replied reluctantly. He turned away slowly and headed to the shore.
Braccus… Fedabiblio… I have found my destiny and purpose now.
I have found the lecagy of my ancestors. From this moment forth begins the Tale of the Necromage.
And, like all endings, this is simply a new beginning.
First, I would like to thank Lord Sergorn Drakael (LSD) for pointing something
very important out to me in a chat a while back. Shortly before I began
writing this, he told me that the Necromage character from Serpent Isle
was NOT named "Mortego", he was named "Mortegro". I found this fact very
odd, since I'd always thought of this character as Mortego whne playing
Serpent Isle, and somehow my mind had just canceled out the extra "r".
Nevertheless, I checked and found that Sergorn was right, it WAS spelled
"Mortegro". However, I personally feel Mortego sounds better, and I called
him Mortego all the way through Ultima IX, so I decided to continue calling
him Mortego for this. :)
Nextly, some comments on the entire Blackthorn sequence, which is nearly half of this fanfic. While I'd been wanting to write something about Blackthorn for quite some time, it was Origin's Ultima IX's 1-dimensional portrayal of Blackthorn that really inspired me ot do this. Originally, I'd been planning to write a separate fanfic that would be set directly before Ultima V and show events leading up to that classic game. I took a lot of ideas from that (it ws going to open with the LB/Blackthorn chess game; the docks scene was going to be bigger and feature all the companions reminiscing about their travels; a few of Blackthorn's conversations with the Shadowlords would have been the same). Ultimately, however, I abandoned the project since I realized that it was too similar to this, yet did not have enough opportunity to show Blackthorn's complete personality. While it might have had more story depth (focusing on everyone instead of just Blackthorn), Blackthorn would have had to appear BASICALLY villainous, which I don't think would do justice to the complexity of his character. (Actually, let me rephrase that: After the way Origin showed Blackthorn in their U9, any portrayal of him as a villain [even a misguided villain] would have seemed unfair, at least for now. I wanted to do something where Blackthorn was definitely the good guy.)
And as to the cliffhanger ending: If/when I ever write "my" Ultima X, the Avatar will revisit many other worlds in it, including Serpent Isle (I won't mention any others, but some should be pretty easy to guess). In that, Morteg(r)o will once again make an important appearance, prehaps even finding the secret of immortality. :)
Oh, and even if I don't write an Ultima X, there WILL be another sequal to "my" Ultima IX, this one set in Britannia. It will be entitled "Valoria", may be as long as (if not longer than) my U9, and I am planning it to be much more than a tale of a guy with an ankh who kills monsters and casts magic.
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