Or has it already begun?
Has it already ended and withered to dust?
I don’t know. I don’t even care.
All I know is that I am where I belong.
I shan’t care now, for I am here.
Here in Britain.
Where I was born and lived out the first decades of my life.
I’m home at last.
The birds. The trees. All are so beautiful.
And her. Her…
Is she not dead?
Chapter the First
It was still raining heavily, but that didn’t matter much. All of us were
used to the rain, and we had not a single horse. All the men were assembled
in front of my tent. As I looked out at the crowd of nearly four hundred
burly fighters, I saw that nearly all of them were wearing either chain
or plate armor. I myself was wearing chain mail, gauntlets, plate greaves
and boots, a wolf-skin cloak, and a crested helm.
I addressed the gathering with my hands raised "Fellow Britannians! Today we stand at the climax of a legacy! Today we shall see whether The Cause we have labored for for five years is destined to fail or succeed!
"Twelve years ago, in the year 374, the armies of the Great Daemon first attacked the castle of Serpent’s Hold and began this terrible war! Seven years later, the great warriors and companions of the Avatar, Sentri and Shamino, perished in the final battle at Minoc, and the Great Daemon was able to claim all of Britannia as his own.
"When I heard of this tragic defeat, I swore by the Avatar and by our dead sovereign Lord British, killed at the Shrine of Sacrifice just days before the fall of Minoc, I swore that I would do everything in my power to reclaim Britannia from the Great Daemon in the name of the Eight Virtues!"
A cheer erupted from the crowd and I continued. "Now, five years after I made my vow, we stand here ready to fight the first battle of The Cause against the Great Daemon! We stand ready to claim our great capital of Britain once more! We stand ready to fight and overcome the forces of the Great Daemon!"
Another cheer erupted. At least they’re enthusiastic. I motioned, and we marched down through the Serpent’s Spine mountains towards the city of Britain, glorious capital of Britannia, which fell to the armies of the Great Daemon in 378.
The city of Britain and the great castle of Lord British in its center
were easy to see. My army was about 300 yards from the city, and approaching
rapidly. Most of the men were armed with swords or bows. Their blades and
arrowheads were fashioned from silver, as the metal seemed to have a greater
effect on the Greater Daemon’s undead legions than standard weapons did.
Having lived in Britain, I was shocked by what I saw as I approached the city. All the buildings lay in ruin and disrepair. Even Castle Britannia looked withered and moss-covered. Was this the great city I dreamt of? Were these ruins the heaven I hoped to escape to?
I could see figures scavenging about upon the streets. They were clearly not human. One looked up and saw us through its great helm. It said something in a language foreign to me and motioned to the others.
"Charge!" I yelled. "Kill all you can! Fight for Britannia!"
My army rushed towards the small group of undead soldiers and then spread out through the city. Many more were advancing upon us. Britain was a huge town, yet my men fought through nearly all the streets and buildings of it, sometimes winning, sometimes losing.
"To the castle, men!" I yelled at the immediate group of fighters around me. "To the castle!"
Slowly we hacked our way through the armies of undead, making our way towards Castle Britannia. As we got closer, I stole a glance at what had once been the royal orchards. Now all the trees were dead or withered away.
She was once caretaker of the orchards until she moved to Yew. My love, how I would hate for you to have seen what has become of your beautiful garden…
Suddenly I awoke from my reverie to see a huge undead warrior raising a scythe towards my head. I was too late to avoid or parry the blow, but the monster lurched back as three crossbow bolts stuck squarely in its chest. I turned to see Samanzius behind me reloading a triple crossbow. With one slash of my silver sword, I decapitated the undead creature and proceeded into the castle.
It seemed the mindless undead at least had enough sense to make the castle their fortress within Britain, and the castle was swarming with the foul creatures.
Yet they had not destroyed enough for me to forget memories. I was raised in the castle. I was the son of a servant. There was the training room of Geoffrey, the Captain of the Royal Guard and a former companion of the Avatar, who later died at the first battle of the war at Serpent’s Hold. There was the room of the great Archmage Nystul, Lord British’s adviser…
Once again I realized I was wasting time with old memories. Slowly I fought my way through the courtyard and towards one of the stairwells. I did not know why I wanted to get to the castle’s roof but I did.
Once one the roof I once again felt the sting of the pouring rain. I fought my way towards the southern wall, from where I could see most of the city. The victories and defeats between my men and the undead legions were about even, but I knew it couldn’t last forever. My men would soon be exhausted, while the undead never felt fatigue.
All of the undead on the roof had been destroyed, but more were coming up. I only had Samanzius and half a dozen other fighters with me.
The battle was going worse and worse, especially on the roof. "We must retreat milord!" A fighter shouted at me. I realized that I was surrounded by three undead. I slashed two of them but the third brought his scythe down from behind. It would have been a fatal blow, but another man saw it and pushed me down, catching the blow straight in the chest.
"Fiend! Murderer!" I shouted and destroyed the undead with a few slashes from my sword. I bent down to help the dying fighter who had saved my life and found it was Jovred, the young man who woke me up scant hours ago.
Blood was streaming from his mouth. "Milord.. save yourself…you are invaluable to The Cause… we are expendable…"
"Shit." I muttered. The battle was going terribly. If this was any indication of what our future battles would be like (provided that we survive) then The Cause is doomed. Fight our way into a corner and let ourselves be slaughtered. How did one as pathetic as me become a leader?
Most of the undead stationed at Britain were either defeated or swarming the castle, but a fresh regiment from Paws was marching through the roads. At its head I could see a skeleton wearing a horned, open-faced helmet, leather gloves, leather boots, and wielding a massive halberd.
Samanzius walked up to me. "Unless you want your Cause to die its death here, there is only one alternative. We must burn the town."
Burn? Burn our glorious capital? Burn the last physical remnants of times of peace? I was horrified. I would not. I could not. She only exists in memories! I’d be killing her!
"Its our only chance! And, to be quite frank, it your bloody, god damn, Cause's only chance as well!" Samanzius screamed at me.
He was right. It was our only chance. But I would rather die. But could I let all the other men die for me like Jovred? Could I let the cause die for my memories?
I made my decision. I walked up to the edge of the rooftop, and screamed at the top of my lungs "Burn the city! Burn it all down!"
The men down in the city seemed to hear me. It was their only chance to survive and I believe they understood the city could not be reclaimed. There were enough scones and torches lying about in the ruins in working condition that could be used. I and the other men on the rooftop fought our way back down into the castle. "We must burn this, Tarnor! Don’t let your emotions get in the way!" Samanzius shouted at me. Burn even Castle Britannia? But it was the only way. The only way to destroy all these wretched undead legions.
It broke my heart to do so, but I did. I grabbed an old torch and set fire to the very rooms in which I was born and raised. The undead legions hated fire and nearly all perished in the blazing inferno. The regiment from Paws was driven back at a great cost by my men, and slowly my battered forces trudged their way out of the city.
Samanzius and I were separated from the other men, and slowly made our way back towards the mountains on foot. We were about 100 yards from the city when an ornate, serrated arrow struck Samanzius in the back. I saw an armored figure galloping away on a skeletal horse.
I quickly pulled the arrow out from Samanzius’ back and help him get up. Slowly, we tried to make our way back towards the mountains, but the wind and rain confused my sense of direction.
"Its no use, Tarnor. Leave me here to die." Samanzius said, coughing up blood.
"No! Twice this night thou hast saved my life. How canst I let you die?"
"Idiot! I’m just a poor, nihilistic survivor of a dead kingdom. You! You are more you have something left! You have The Cause! You have a reason to keep on living!"
"I wouldn’t if not for thee."
"That doesn’t matter! Just live, damnit, and keep The Cause alive! It doesn’t matter what The Cause does! It matters what The Cause is! Britannia cannot give up hope! Hope! Hope that it can overcome the Great Daemon and restore peace to the land! Keep The Cause alive for that reason! Keep The Cause alive…"
The poor, nihilistic, survivor of a dead kingdom, as he called himself, was dead. I stared up at the huge fire burning down the glorious city of Britain. The clouds all around it were turning red, and the heat made it quite warm despite the pouring rain.
I hope those Daemon bastards in Vesper see this. I hope the rumored other Britannian survivors hiding out near Minoc see this. The Cause is alive. The Cause will bring back hope to Britannia. And this, our first battle, I dedicate to the late Samanzius, the giant fire being of his design.
I sat there for nearly an hour until a party of two dozen or so men came up to me, led by Garvin.
"Milord! Art thou alright! We saw thee not at camp!"
"I’m fine. How didst the battle fare?"
"About a third of the men were killed, milord, but both the regiments from Britain and Paws suffered heavier losses. That fire was an excellent idea, milord."
"It was not mine. It was his." I said, motioning to Samanzius’ body.
Garvin seemed slightly taken aback that the "peasant" he had let see me was the hero of the battle, but said nothing of it.
"Milord, the regiment that retreated back to Paws was seriously weakened. If we hurry, we couldst route them and capture the village."
"And what would we achieve?" I replied, remembering the words of the late Samanzius, "A few days elation of occupying an empty city before the garrison from Trinsic or maybe even Vesper comes and wipes us out? No, Garvin, our job is to inspire hope. And today we have done just that. Britannia sees now that it can fight back and it will. That is all. Lets return to the encampment."
Chapter the Second
It begins once more.
Is it a dream?
Or is it reality?
And the "real world" is but a dream.
Britain. I’m in Britain once more.
Such a beautiful town and her…
Why did I engulf the capital in flames?
Why did I burn our liege’s castle?
Why did I destroy all but memories?
I awoke with a start. It was light outside the tent and I realized I was
back at the encampment. How did I get back here? The last thing I remembered
was speaking to Garvin and the others when they found me by Samanzius’
Samanzius. So he was really dead. And Britain. Did I really burn down the great capital? Of course I did. It was all coming back to me now. I must have passed out from exhaustion, and the men brought me back here. Someone had also removed my armor. How long had I been asleep?
Slowly, I eased myself out of the old cot which I considered a bed. I was still wearing my dirty, rain-soaked clothes from however-long ago so I proceeded to change. My armor was stacked neatly beside the cot, and I put it on (not out of paranoia, but over the past five years I’ve gradually gotten more accustomed to wearing armor to the point where I feel practically naked without it). Now fully dressed, I stumbled out of the tent.
From the sun, I could tell that it was around ten o’clock. It had evidently been raining the night before, though I doubted that I could have awakened after but a few hours. Still, there was not a single cloud in the sky and seemed a rather warm day.
"Thou’rt awake, milord!" A young fighter guarding my tent shouted enthusiastically as he saw me approach.
"How long have I been asleep?"
"A day and a half, milord. I feared thou wouldst not awaken. I shall have to tell the others."
"Who’s been leading you men during that time?"
"Garvin, milord. But we’ve done nothing really but wait for your orders."
I smiled, thinking of the unnecessary loyalty the men showed me. "I thank thee and the others for their loyalty. You may inform Garvin that I am awake and would like to speak with him."
"With pleasure, milord. Is there anything else you need."
This is terrible. The last thing in the world I need right now is a few hundred people worshipping me as though I’m Lord British. "No, thank you. All I need right now is to speak with Garvin."
"Yes, milord. I’m honored to be of service to thee."
With the young fighter gone, I hobbled back into the tent. Well, these men seem to be showing a lot of respect to the person who had a third of them slaughtered by the undead legions of the Great Daemon.
A few minutes later, Garvin entered the tent. "Its good to see thee awake again, milord!" he said grinning. "I’m, ah, sorry about what I said about that pea- citizen last night. I didn’t—"
"Pay it no mind, Sergeant Garvin. Thou hast learned an important lesson in humility and should be thankful for it. Now then, how are things?"
"Quite well, milord. Despite the heavy casualties two days ago, morale is quite high. You brought us an amazing victory."
"I’m glad to see the men have that kind of faith in me, but the credit for the victory should go to Samanzius. He was the one who decided to burn the city."
"Still, milord, you were a fine judge of character to trust a man like him. All of us do feel the credit should go to you."
I gave up. It was no use trying to convince my worshipers that I wasn’t the Avatar reincarnated.
"Well, milord, where shalt we go now?"
"Now that we’ve attacked Britain, milord, what are our next steps?"
The question caught me off guard for, admittedly, I had no idea. I had spent nearly five years planning this attack on Britain, and now that it was over, I had a certain feeling of emptiness. I certainly couldn’t disband my army and end The Cause when Samanzius’ last words were to keep it alive, yet I could do little for The Cause but let it rot and stagnate.
"Yew." I said, "We’re leaving. We’ll recamp in the Deep Forest near Yew and the Empath Abbey."
"Yew, milord?" Garvin asked quizzically. "The Daemon’s troops did little but pass by that area and slaughter the inhabitants. There aren’t any fortresses or garrisons near there. Why move near an empty city?"
Why indeed? I had no idea. I didn’t even know why I mentioned Yew in the first place. Was it because of her? Because she…
"We’re moving to Yew to avoid retaliation from the Daemon’s forces." I lied "Once there, we can begin restocking our supplies and training for battles to come."
"I see. Excellent idea, milord. Shall I tell the men or wouldst you like to inform them yourself, milord?"
"You may inform them, Garvin. Tell them to begin packing immediately, I want to be able to leave in a few hours. Everything that they can’t take with them should be burned," I felt a sharp twitch as I said the word describing what I did to the glorious capital of Britannia "and I don’t want there to be any trace the even a single man was camped here. Is that understood?"
"Perfectly, milord. I’ll see to it that they are informed immediately."
Well, my instincts had apparently dictated what the next action of The Cause was to be, so I might as well follow them. I had no material possessions save three sets of clothes, the armor I was wearing, and this tent and cot. The tent and the cot would be burned (again that sensation!) as there was an ample amount of houses and beds in Yew.
It took less than an hour for all the men to be ready. After everything left behind had burned and the fires were put out, we advanced north through the Spine towards the Deep Forest.
"Be careful, milord." Garvin warned me. "Though the Daemon has little influence here, the area has been divided into ‘kingdoms’ of several different warlords, mostly trolls, cyclopes, and the like. Perhaps we should stay off the main roads, milord."
"No, Sergeant. By traveling along the roads, all we risk is a few ambushes. Should we stumble our way through the woods, lost, we could run into far larger parties of these creatures, perhaps even their base. Its safer to follow the roads."
I was slightly disappointed that Garvin had not tried to argue with me over our route. Ever since that battle, the men had been treating me far to respectfully. Either I’d have to do something foolish enough for them to lose that respect, or I’d have to do something heroic enough to be worthy of it.
A scout marched up to me and reported "There’s trouble ahead at the bridge, milord. Two trolls and one orc."
"Perhaps we should take another route milord to avoid them, milord. There may be many more." Garvin interjected.
"No. I can hardly see what three opponents could do to us, and I doubt if they’re expecting a force this large. I’ll lead a few men towards them. You stay behind, Garvin."
Well, I was about to do either something heroic or something foolish, so I might as well go through with it. As I approached the bridge with four other men, I also saw a fourth figure, a cyclops with a crossbow, hiding in a bush. The orc trembled at the sight of humans, but one of the trolls held it in check.
"Well, well. What does puny humans want?" the first troll said as I approached.
"I and my men would like to pass. Let us do so and you will remain unharmed."
The two trolls chuckled. The first one replied "Puny humans no pass until tribute be paid."
"Tribute to whom? You? Do you fancy yourself a warlord because you have two orcs and that cyclops hiding in the bush under you?"
The second troll seemed annoyed that he was referred to as an orc and all three seemed shocked to learn that I knew there accomplice was in the bush.
"No!" the first troll yelled. "Tribute to Sahkander, greatest warlord in world! Great cyclops! Me his most trusted li-eutenant! Hurt me and Sahkander kill you ten times over!"
"What do you want? Gold?"
Both the trolls chuckled, having regained their composure. "Haha! That stuff worthless!" the first troll howled. "Food and supplies we want. Hand over!"
"I shan’t be giving any of my supplies to a braggart troll."
Both trolls seemed genuinely shocked that a human would have no fear of them. The orc moaned and trembled. "Then…you.. DIE!!!!" the first troll yelled and charged at me with a spear.
I dodged the blow and the troll stumbled, not having factored in that his target could move. The cyclops launched a crossbow blot at where I had been standing seconds ago, and it pierced straight through the troll’s skull. Seeing his leader dead, the orc dropped his mace and fled.
The cyclops fumbled while trying to reload his crossbow, and one of my men stabbed him through the heart. The second troll charged at me with a club, and I stabbed it through the stomach.
Garvin and the other men rushed out from the way I came. "We heard shouts, milord…"
"Its all over, Garvin. No one’s wounded, and the bridge has been cleared. Have the men take whatever weapons and armor they need."
"Perhaps you should have been more careful, milord. The monsters may work for one of the larger warlords, and if so he’ll want revenge."
"No. It was obvious they didn’t work for anyone but themselves. A warlord would have heard of our approach from scouts and had a large enough party to defeat us ready. Those four had no idea we were coming, or they would have either brought more troops or avoided us completely. In fact, I doubt that they were expecting to fight at all. When there bluff failed, two of them were defeated simply by fear and carelessness. They’d probably never even seen as many as five humans together at one time, let alone well-armored ones with no fear of them."
When I’d finished, Garvin seemed almost speechless with awe before he was able to pull off a efficient nod and a "Yes, milord." As he walked off, I could tell he was pondering whether I was really the Avatar or Lord British.
Now I had earned at least a bit of the respect these men showed me. Perhaps, someday, I’d have earned it all.
The rest of the journey to Yew was uneventful. The ruins of the city itself
were deserted save for rats and the like. I suspected that the creatures
populating most of the Deep Forest had a superstitious fear of these old
relics and artifacts of man, and so it would be safe to stay here.
It was getting late, and my men were simply finding shelter, leaving other matters for the morning. I was going to retire soon, but first I felt like exploring the ruins of the Empath Abbey, a great monastery that was built centuries before the city.
As I walked through the main hall of the Abbey, I saw that the years during the war had not treated it well. Walls were crumbling, passages were blocked by cave-ins, and the ceiling was littered with holes. I doubted that the very door I had opened had been moved in years.
Why did I come to this forsaken place? I know the answer. ‘Tis obvious. It was for memories. With Britain burned I simply seek my memories elsewhere. I came here because of her. Because she spent the last years of her life as a monk in this Abbey. Is this all I am capable of? Remembering times when the Great Daemon was just a tale from legends of the Avatar, and the realm was in peace? How can I lead The Cause?
Suddenly, I heard a shift in rocks and the sound of rats scuttling about. I reached for my sword and turned to see an elderly man stumbling out of one of the passages. He appeared very frail and weak; as though he could be snapped like a twig.
"Hello…? Is someone there…?" the old man said in an equally frail voice.
I relaxed and put my sword back. "Don’t worry, old man. I’m not one of the Daemon’s. What are you doing here?"
The old man found it difficult to speak, as he had probably not talked to another human in years. "I…. I heard marching… and loud footsteps…. I thought the armies were returning…"
"Don’t worry, my friend. All of us are humans, and mean you no harm."
The old man seemed to smile with glee "Humans…? More humans here…? How… how many are there?"
"A few hundred or so. Not enough to be a real army."
The old man seemed to laugh and cry at the same time out of joy "I… I thought I was the only one left…" he said tears streaming down his eyes.
"How did you get here, old man? I thought Yew had been deserted since the war."
"I… survived…. I hid…. in here and… escaped them… I thought I was the only one left…."
"Well, don’t worry. There’re others now. Come with me, there’s probably somewhere better for you to sleep in this city."
"No! I mean… I… I haven’t seen other… humans since the war… I don’t… I mean…. so many of them…"
"All right then, old man. You can stay here until you feel like meeting them."
I turned to leave, but the old man stopped me. "Wait! Why… why are you here?"
Once again, I was caught off guard by this question. I began to give him the same answer I had given to Garvin, but he interrupted, "No! Not Yew. I meant… why did you come here… to the Abbey?"
I was shocked by the question. Could an old man I’d just met have guessed as much about me as Samanzius did in four years? "I… I’m mourning someone." I replied truthfully.
"Oh. I… I’m sorry. I… didn’t mean to… upset you."
"No, that’s alright, old man. I’d better leave now…"
"Wait! Who… are you mourning for?"
"A friend." I started to leave once more.
"No! Please… stay here… I want to talk to you…"
I sighed. "Very well, old man. Of what shall we speak?"
"Your… friend. Who you’re mourning… it was a woman, wasn’t it?"
Once again I was shocked by the old man’s knowledge. "Yes, it was, old man. A monk at this monastery."
"I… suspected as much. My only consolation in life… these past few years… was that my wife died before the war…"
"Who are you, old man?"
"I… I was a cartographer. A… a famous cartographer. I made some of the best… best maps in Britain… Britannia. I retired… to Yew… about a decade before… the war. I have… four sons… and…. eleven grand children." The old man stated as proudly as he could. His tone abruptly changed as he added "Or at… least I… had before… the war."
"I understand nearly all of Britannia was wiped out during the war."
"No… no. I never heard of… any of my… children dying… but after… communications… broke up… after the war…"
"So you don’t know what’s become of any of them."
"No… But I’m… still glad… my dear wife… did not live to see the war."
"You still haven’t answered my question, old man."
He narrowed his eyes. "Eh?"
"Who are you really, old man? Whats your name?"
The old man’s voice was joined and almost eclipsed by another voice. "I am the wail of the winds of a storm. I am the heat of a blazing fire. I am the rumble of a massive earthquake. Who am I? Look, and thou shalt see."
For a mere instant, I saw the old man dressed not in rags but in flowing, blue robes. For a moment, I saw not fear and weariness in those eyes, but wisdom and determination. For a moment I saw not a tired old man but a great archmage with powers beyond comprehension.
The vision was gone in an instant, but the look remained in those eyes.
"Rest, my son. There is nothing more that can be done for me or this town. Journey to the fair Verity Isle, and find the wizard Mariah, former companion to the Avatar. I am not the master of your destiny, Tarnor Dredanal, but I shall do what I can to help you achieve it."
I blinked, and the apparition was gone. I was alone in the Abbey, and at my feet I saw a rotting skeleton wearing what were once flowing, blue robes. Several arrows were stuck in its back, and on the skull was the image of a blue pentagram.
"Rest, Nicodemus. I shall find my destiny."
Chapter the Third
The memories… the fire…
All the same as always…
But what’s this?
A new figure?
An aged man in blue robes?
"Seek out Mariah on Verity Isle, Tarnor Dredanal."
"Achieve your destiny!"
I awoke. It was morning. I’d decided last night not to tell the men about
the apparition until the next day. Now would be the best time to break
it to them, before they were too settled in.
I left the small house I’d made my bed and shouted at the first man I saw.
"Get Garvin and tell him to meet me at my house immediately!"
"Right away, milord."
After returning to the house, barely a minute passed before Garvin entered.
"Garvin," I said before he even had a chance to greet me, "there’s been a change in plans. Have the men construct a skiff large and durable enough for transport to Verity Isle."
"Verity Isle??" Garvin asked. "Captain Dredanal, we’ve barely moved in here and you want us to leave? All that’s on Verity Isle is the ruins of Moonglow and the Lycaeum. We couldn’t get anywhere else except by ship once more! Besides, we can’t build a ship large enough to transport nearly three hundred people! You ask the unreasonable, Captain."
At least some good has come of all this. I’d lost all that worthless respect.
"I understand, Sergeant. I simply want a ship large enough to transport myself and maybe a half dozen other people. The rest of you will stay here and train for future battles until I return. I have some very important business in Moonglow. I believe that The Cause depends on it."
Garvin seemed slightly calmed down, but he still said "Why didst thou not tell us about this earlier, Captain?"
"Because I myself only found out about it last night. You may leave now, Sergeant. I want construction to begin immediately."
The construction of the ship took the better part of a week, though I’d
thought it would take longer. I had several former shipwrights and artisans
under me, which was probably the reason.
The ship was actually larger than I’d planned, and could hold enough room for a dozen people and their supplies. She was built like a typical Britannian ship, though much smaller. At the prow was a beautifully carved dragon’s head, which my men insisted on making. I was given the honor of naming her, and chose to call her the Samanzius after my departed friend.
I had already selected eight stalwart fighters to accompany me to Verity Isle. Though the Samanzius could hold more, I did not want to overweigh her on her first journey, and I found it fitting since the Avatar gathered together only eight companions in his journey throughout the land to find the Codex of Infinite Wisdom.
Today at sunrise the ship would sail off. The food and provisions for the journey had already been stored in the hold, and I’d given Garvin instructions for how to lead the men while I was gone.
As I walked towards the docks where the Samanzius was moored, the men assembled in two lines and saluted. I and the other eight men manned our posts on the Samanzius. As the rope tying the ship to the dock was cut, a cheer broke out from the crowd. The sail was raised, bearing a golden ankh on it as all Britannia ships do, and the Samanzius sailed off to the west. I had chosen to set sail today because of the strong eastern wind, and I suspected we’d reach Verity Isle by mid-afternoon.
The first sighting of land actually came around noon, when the Samanzius
approached Dagger Isle, which was just to the north of Verity Isle. It
was only a few hours later before we reached Verity Isle, and the former
city of Moonglow.
Like Yew, the city had been abandoned by the Daemon after its capture. But Yew was situated on the mainland, while Moonglow was on an island, so the fabled city of honesty was most likely completely deserted?
Or was it? Would I have come to a deserted city? Will I find the mage Mariah waiting for me there? Alas, I’d never been to Moonglow before today. A pity that I would only see the city as it had become than as it had been meant to be.
Indeed, the entire isle had become one, great city before the war, and was now simply a great ruin. The only building I could see that still looked substantially was the Lycaeum, a great library and keep of knowledge.
"Split up, men. Fan out across the city and find what survivors you can. Meet me in the Lycaeum in one hour."
I headed towards the Lycaeum itself. Though still proud in figure, the keep lay in ruins, and many walls had crumbled away. It appeared as though a massive fire had burned the building.
Burned. Just like Britain. Burned.
Inside, I saw that, indeed most of the building had been burned. The great shelves were all scattered with ashes, and maybe half a dozen books remained readable out of a library of thousands.
An aged woman was sitting against the wall. As I approached her, she looked up and I saw she was not as old as she looked. Her face had few lines or wrinkles in it, though her hair was almost completely gray and made her look nearly twice her age.
"How nice to see you, Captain Dredanal." Her voice croaked, and sounded somewhere between the two ages I had guessed.
"You know me?"
"How canst I not? With all those damned visions and prophecies and this and that. Britannia is dead! Go away! Wait! What are you looking at? I’m not as old as I look, is that it? Well, you’re wrong! I’m over two hundred years old, and I’ve been a companion to the bloody Avatar himself! And the last decade or so’s been the worst of it, I’ll tell you!"
"You’re the mage Mariah?"
"Really! Do I need to tell you? Get out!"
"I was sent here by Nicodemus."
"Who? Oh, him. That old coot. He can’t let Britannia go. Why’s he want it saved? There’s nothing left to save anyways. Tell him to enjoy the last decades of his life or he’ll end up like me."
"The archmage is dead. He’s been dead since the war."
"Dead? Dead?? He’s dead… hmm…" the aged woman, Mariah, ignored me for a moment, lost in thought. Then she turned to me again, and spoke in an entirely different manner.
"Forgive me for being so discourteous after your long journey, Tarnor Dredanal. The times when I truly come to my senses are few and far between these recent years. An after-effect of the Guardian’s Tetrahedron Generator. No, don’t ask. Its a long story, one of those Avatar myths. So, you were sent here by Nicodemus’ shade?"
"If you mean his ghost, yes."
"Then he presumably thinks you are capable of aiding me in my quest."
"To save Britannia. I know I said it wasn’t worth saving a few minutes ago, but, as I told you, I wasn’t in my right mind. I’d suspect you and your army have the same goal in mind, but you won’t succeed. If Britannia is to be saved from the Guardian, or, as you call him, the Great Daemon, it shall be saved by the Avatar, not you."
"The Avatar’s returning to Britannia?"
"Why, yes. After he left Britannia twenty-five years ago he was banished to another dimension by the Guardian. When he returns to Britannia in a few years, he shall have acquired godlike powers and control of the element Ether. I also know that when he arrives in Britannia, our kingdom will still be under the Guardian’s rule, so anything you do will be useless, Tarnor Dredanal."
"Then why do you fight to save Britannia? We must all do what we can for our kingdom, not rely on mythic heroes!"
Mariah smiled. "There are many across Britannia who think like you, Captain. Either that the Avatar has abandoned them or that he never should have become a hero in the first place. But you forget, Captain, that I was a companion of the Avatar myself two hundred years ago. He is more than a myth to me. He is a true, living being with thoughts and…" Mariah trailed off and stared blankly at nothing. Then she blinked and said. "What was I saying?’
"You were mentioning the Avatar."
"The Avatar! The Avatar was a person, not a god!" Mariah had apparently reverted to her first state of mind. "He fought for Britannia countless times and asked for nothing in return! How do you think it must feel?! To be depended upon by thousands of people?! No one, not even he, could be completely honest, compassionate, valiant, just, selfless, honorable, spiritual, and humble every moment of his life! Yet, as the Avatar, people counted on him to act like he could! Oh, if only you could have seen into his eyes just once. You would not have seen one of those blank expressions in a tapestry. You would have seen pain and weariness. Were I him, I would not return to Britannia. I would leave it a dead shell in the universe."
Mariah’s voice crept down to a whisper. "But don’t think for a moment that it was just him. Oh no! All his companions felt it too!"
While I wanted Mariah to return to sanity so I could finish our discussion, this current line of conversation was intriguing. "How so?"
"How do you think it would feel to have aided and fought alongside a god? Would not you be revered as a demigod yourself? Look at myself. I, a foolish, young mage became one of the great archmages of the realm only because of my quests with the Avatar. Did you ever here how the Avatar first recruited me on his quest to find the Codex? Even if you did, it was doubtless not the true story.
"Do you want to know the truth? I stole the Rune of Honesty. I stole it so that when the Avatar came, he’d have to get it from me! I still remember with glee as I saw him cross the bridge into Moonglow with Iolo, Shamino, Dupre, Jaana, Julia, and Geoffrey. Katrina and I were the only of his original eight companions he had not yet recruited.
"It wasn’t long before he figured out I had the Rune. First he came and asked me for it. He didn’t know how I got it, so he just asked me for it. I refused. I said I’d only give it to him if he allowed me to join him on his quest. I was that naive back then! I wanted to join him on his quest!
"At first he refused. Finally, he relented and told me to bring out the Rune. I opened up my chest of gold, but the Rune was gone. It was gone! What could I say to him now?
"As he saw my expression, he laughed and pulled the Rune out of his bag. He’d been able to steal it from me, and I hadn’t even noticed. I got down on my knees and begged him to let me join him on his quest all the same. He laughed once more and accepted.
"I was elated, but see all the good it has brought me in all these years. During Lord Blackthorn’s brief reign, I was declared a heretic and forced into hiding. Once Lord British became our monarch once more, I became a scholar at this Lycaeum. I perfected my magic and had to live over two hundred years. I was forced! Do you think the archmages choose to live centuries?! Do you think they want to see countless generations of friends grow old and die?! It is the price you pay for mastering the use of magic! And I never would have paid it if I remained a simple thief! Geoffrey was right! Magic is just a tool of those too weak to swing a sword!" Without warning, a tear trickled down Mariah’s cheek. She fell to the floor and sobbed. "Geoffrey… Geoffrey…"
Mariah looked up. "You don’t understand, do you? Fool. Geoffrey, he understood. He understood how detestable magic was. And he was disgusted with me because of it. Yet how I wish I could have told him what I’ve realized now! He was right! But I was a fool. I wallowed in the filth of magic, yet I also dared to love him! I wanted both! Yet I chose magic over him! I was too foolish to see what I truly wanted. And now, it’s too late, because of that red bastard!
"He killed Geoffrey! Killed him at Serpent’s Hold, right at the beginning of the war! Even if it kills me, I’ll get back at that bastard! I will!! I will!!!!"
Mariah started screaming and wailing hysterically. Finally, she stopped, wiped her face, and said. "Wh-oh, yes. I’m terribly sorry. You were saying?"
"You were telling me about how the Avatar shall save Britannia."
"Ah, yes. That is why I believe your Cause is useless, Tarnor Dredanal. But, I do not believe the people of Britannia are helpless against the Guardian."
"While the Avatar himself will be the one who saves Britannia, we, its people, must do all in our power to aid him on his quest." Mariah rummaged through her robes and pulled out a blue stone. "This is one of the eight mystical Stones of the Virtues. Shortly after the Avatar left Britannia to journey to the Serpent Isle, Lord British gave one of these stones to each of the eight, greatest mages across Britannia. When you found Nicodemus’ body, did you search through it? No, of course you didn’t. But if you did, you would have found a green stone on it. That is one of the Virtue Stones. When the Avatar arrives in Moonglow, I shall give this to him. "
"And what can I do to aid the Avatar?"
"I believe that the Codex of Infinite Wisdom will be essential to this quest. Its knowledge was indispensable when the Avatar resisted Lord Blackthorn. Years later, the Gargoyles fought a devastating war over it. Clearly, the Avatar shall need it to defeat the Guardian. But where shall he find it? To answer this, he might have to find its very maker. I am too weak to travel about, Tarnor Dredanal, but you are able-bodied. Find the Gargoyles, who had the first contact with the Codex of all races, and see if you can find where the Codex is, how it can be reached, or who was it writer. I’d suggest traveling to the island of Terfin, the Gargoyle city on Britannia. Around the middle of the war, the Gargoyles mysteriously disappeared. Perhaps on Terfin you can find where they went."
I could hardly refuse the Archmage, after having spent days building a ship to reach Verity Isle. But now, for the first time since I burned down Britain, I finally had a goal to reach for a conceivable purpose: I shall find the Gargoyles and the Codex.
Chapter the Fourth
When my men returned, they had all, predictably, found no life on the Isle.
"It doesn’t matter. Our purpose here has ended. Prepare the Samanzius for sailing."
"Aye, milord. We should reach Yew before dawn."
I turned to look at the young fighter. "We’re not going back to the encampment. Not yet. We’ll set sail to the island of Terfin."
"Terfin?? Milord, the journey will take days. Garvin and the others are expecting us to come back immediately!"
"We have enough food and supplies to last a month. As for the others," I smiled, "they’ll have to learn to be more independent."
I looked around at the men and saw mostly skepticism in their eyes. "This journey to Verity Isle will be pointless if we return to Yew now. We must travel on to Terfin. We may even make a few more stops after that. Any of you who wish to remain on this isle may do so. Otherwise, we should leave immediately."
Within two hours, the Samanzius was ready to sail. Incredibly, a strong northeastern wind was blowing. Interestingly enough, I heard the mage Mariah mumbling the words "In Hur" minutes before the wind began. Perhaps magic does still exist in Britannia
The winds grew weaker by the end of the second day, but we spotted the
island of Terfin at dawn the next morning.
The island was never claimed by the Great Daemon’s forces. Five years into the war, the Gargoyles mysteriously disappeared, and the Daemon apparently saw no reason to attack a deserted island.
Yet as the Samanzius approached the island, I saw not only the deserted Gargoyle village, but also a dark castle in the hills.
Terfin was where Lord Blackthorn built his castle centuries ago. But the castle was destroyed shortly after the Gargish War ended. Where did this castle come from?
"Milord!! There’s a man standing at the docks!!"
I looked out towards the docks, and saw a hairy, copper-skinned man wearing plate armor, swamp boots, and a spiked helm. He carried a longsword and a spiked shield.
"Hallo there!" the man called with an odd accent. "My master vishes to speak with thee!"
The Samanzius docked and I stepped out onto the wooden planks. "Who are you? And who is your master?"
The man smiled. "My name ees Gorn. You shall meet my master soon eenough."
"Gorn?? Weren’t you a companion of the Avatar during both the resistance against Blackthorn and the Gargish War?"
"Jah. I, like ze Avatar, come from another vorld. I come vrom Balema, a vorld of ice eend snow. I vas eemprisoned een Blackthorn’s castle when ze Avatar rescued me. After Lord Breetish became monarch once more, I veturned to Blackthorn’s dungeons to vind a vay back to Balema. I vas then recruited by ze Avatar vonce more during ze Gargish Var. I zpent the next voo hundred years searching for a vay back to Balema. Then I heard the voice of Brom. Brom vas the savior ov all Balema. I heard his voice eend tracked eet to an island. I met ze Avatar vonce more there, but Brom told me he vas my enemy eend I drove heem away. I’ve now vound out vrom my master that Brom was actually evil and lied to me. Several years later, dis var started. I vought in eet vor Lord Breetish, but vas forced to vee avter a deveet at Trinsic. I velped save ze Gargoyles eend some of the people vrom Cove by bringing zem here. My master can tell you more."
"Who is your master?"
Gorn grinned. "Ah. You vill see. You vill see."
I and my men followed the world-traveler through a passage in the mountains to the castle. Unlike Blackthorn’s castle, this castle was built directly on top of one of the three mountains, often known as the Sorcerer’s Peaks.
We entered through a tall, double door built into the mountain side. A corridor led to a long, spiral staircase.
"Who doth thou think his master is, milord?" one of the men asked me.
"Patience. We shall see."
The staircase led to a trapdoor built into the ceiling. Gorn pushed it open, and we climbed up into the castle.
Despite being two stories tall and nearly as long and wide as Castle Britannia, the castle was a single, huge room, excluding a small door in a corner which apparently led to a bedroom. Strewn about the entire castle were various strange objects and equipment, mostly magical in nature. There were also many half-finished or failed "experiments" there was a spiral staircase leading up to a balcony overlooking the entire room. On the balcony were table with more common magical devices or "experiments" that were clearly completed and of no further use. On all four sides of the castle were huge windows with iron bars overlooking the island or the ocean. In a corner on the balcony, there were some weapons and armor next to a cot, all presumably belonging to Gorn. Near the center of the room was an aged man with white, disheveled hair wearing blue-black robes.
"Welcome, Tarnor Dredanal. I knew you would arrive soon enough. I had foreseen it."
"Might I ask your name, mage?"
He chuckled. "Oh yes. I am Sutek. I trust thou hast heard of me?"
I drew my sword. "I certainly have! You were the insane mage who made Blackthorn’s castle your home after he was dethroned!"
The mad mage chuckled again. "I’m afraid I’ve regained my sanity by now, Captain Dredanal, so you won’t receive much but your own satisfaction from killing me. Besides, I suppose one aquatinted with the legends of the Avatar such as yourself would remember that the Avatar could never have defeated Blackthorn or the Shadowlords without my assistance?
"No matter. You came here to discover the secrets of the gargoyles, correct?"
I sheathed my sword. "Aye. That is true."
"Then I shall start at the beginning. After the Avatar dethroned Blackthorn and restored Lord British to the throne of Britannia, I abandoned my hut on the island of Spektran. I traveled to this island and made my home in Blackthorn’s castle so I could unravel what turned a loyal subject of Lord British into an instrument of the Shadowlords. I needed isolation for my experiments, and so pretended to be mad to drive off all adventurers.
"When Gorn returned to the castle in search of a way back to Balema, I befriended him and made him my assistant. He left during the Gargish War to fight alongside the Avatar, however.
"After the war had ended, the castle of Blackthorn was destroyed and the Gargoyles built a village on this island. I retreated into the mountains to continue my experiments. Shortly after the Avatar left Britannia for the final time, I uncovered the answer. The Guardian, the being whom the Avatar had fought and defeated twice during his travels in Britannia, was responsible for the deeds both Blackthorn and the Shadowlords.
"Soon thereafter, Gorn rejoined me. I uncovered more about the Guardian from his tales of "Brom" and the world of Balema. I was able to convince Gorn that the Guardian was evil, and he once again pledged loyalty to me.
"When the great war between Britannia and the Guardian began twelve years ago, I foresaw that the Gargoyles would return to the other side of the world where they lived before the Gargish War. In the middle of the war, I sent Gorn to rescue the survivors of Cove, Trinsic, and other captured Britannian cities and being them back here to Terfin.
"The Gargoyles took these survivors with them when they fled this side of the world, leaving Gorn and myself alone upon the island of Terfin. We erected this castle, and I continue my experiments to find a secret towards saving Britannia and aiding the Avatar.
"Now, Captain Dredanal, does that answer your questions? The entrance to the other side of the world is through the Caverns of Hythloth, located on the Isle of the Avatar. I may call upon your assistance for my experiments in times to come, but the Avatar is the only one who can save Britannia, not you. Find your information for Mariah, but do not think your destiny will lead you to the conquest of Britannia."
Chapter the Fifth
"We’re approaching the Isle of the Avatar, milord!"
The isle was only a short distance east from Terfin, and so we reached it at noon the same day as our encounter with the mage Sutek. I pondered his words about the uselessness of The Cause. If my only goal for the past five years was without purpose, what would I do when I finished this quest? Where would I go? What would become of my army? All that would be left would be memories…
Now we had reached the Isle of the Avatar. According to popular legend, the entrance to Hythloth was on the east side of the isle. However, I saw no reason to sail around the isle, so the Samanzius was docked at the first land we reached. The isle was small and it wouldn’t be more than a quarter of an hour to walk across it.
The journey across the isle took slightly longer than I expected, for the isle was rather rocky mountainous. The entrance to Hythloth itself was easy to spot. It was a rather large cave opening in the mountains. It immediately sloped downhill, somehow reaching down to the other side of the world.
"Be careful, men." I warned as we descended into the dark cavern. "The are many foul creatures living within these caves. Even a few dragons."
"That’s not entirely true," a scholarly voice pointed out. "though I don’t believe there have been many new tomes written on non-humans since the Lycaeum was burned."
All of us turned in the direction the voice came from. A torch made out a human with a neatly-trimmed beard wearing a plumed hat and worn sea captain’s clothes.
"There was a rather large tremor in 379 that caused many of the passages to cave in and killed much of the wildlife. Quite a pity, really."
Even for those only vaguely aquatinted with the legends of the Avatar, the man was quite easily recognizable.
"Captain Johne! But, thou must have perished over two hundred years ago!"
"Ah, my boy, if so many of the other companion’s of the Avatar could live for centuries, why can’t I? Though I’d attribute it more towards my contact with the Gargoyles than with the Avatar. But what of thyself and your companions? I see other humans so rarely, I could hardly waste their time telling them about my life. So little happens. At any rate, why hast thou come to Hythloth?"
"I and my companions are searching for the Gargoyles. We heard of Hythloth’s connection to the other side of the world, and came to investigate."
"You were correct in your intuition, my boy! The Gargoyles do, indeed, live on the ‘other’ side of the world. And I was correct in my intuition as well. I rarely explore this far up (or down, depending on your opinion) into Hythloth. It was fortunate that we met. You may never have found your way through the maze-like passages, my boy. But I prattle. It is time to find the Gargoyles."
Captain Johne led the nine of us through the twisting passages. Only once
were we attacked by a creature. It was a large drake, but Johne showed
no fear. He threw an orange vial at the drake, shattering upon impact.
The liquid seeped through the drake’s scales and drifted it off into sleep.
"Johne," I said as we descended through the passages. "do you live on the other side of the world?"
The good captain laughed. "Oh mercy, no! I’ve lived underground for so long that I can’t stand the sun or any bright light. I live in an old hut I built near the exit to the overworld." He corrected himself. "On the Garigsh side, that is.
"But I should be able to escort you to the Gargoyles now, as its the middle of the night."
One of my men spoke up. "’Tis only noon, Captain! Thou hast spent too long underground!"
"Aha," Johne said, lifting a finger. "But you live on the other side of the world. It should be midnight for the Gargoyles."
Johne turned back to me. "I’d probably still live underground even if not for my eyes. I like to use Britannian time myself, which means I often think in reverse." He laughed. "Still, it does get lonely, ever since Umdelor died."
"The Avatar met him as a child once during the Gargish War, while he still had a child name. Beh Lem he was called. He always used to visit me, even after most of the Gargoyles moved to Terfin. He was an excellent student. But he died to soon; did not have a chance to see Gargoyles and humans living in peace."
"Living in peace?" To the best of my knowledge, the enmity between humans and Gargoyles hadn’t abated in the days before the war.
"Oh yes, you wouldn’t know. When the Gargoyles left Terfin, they took many humans with them, mostly refugees from cities lost in the war. The humans have formed two large communities now. One that embraces Gargish culture and customs, and one that strictly adheres to the Britannian way of life. Lord Draxinusom (he’s the king of the Gargoyles, you know) offered to make me mayor of their communities, but I declined because of my eyes." Johne appeared saddened at the memory of what he couldn’t possibly attain.
"You mentioned earlier that most of the Gargoyles moved to Terfin. I thought that the entire race agreed to move in the Treaty of 161."
"Oh, it was nothing important. A few wingless Gargoyles too weak to make the journey, and two great scholars who wished to live out the rest of their lives in their land of birth. Valkadesh and Naxatilor. Truly great people, both of them. The Avatar met both of them, I believe. They’re still alive today and have aged well, thanks to the climate, but the wingless Gargoyles who stayed behind are all dead now. They have far shorter life spans.
"Ah! We’re almost there now. Look!" Johne pointed at a cabin. "That’s my house! It may look Britannian on the outside, but its decorated in a Gargish manner on the inside. Well, only a few hundred yards more to the exit. I hope you find what you’re looking for with the Gargoyles."
The caverns began to slope downhill a short distance after we passed Johne’s
house. Soon, we saw the night sky peeking out through a rocky corridor.
Finally, we emerged into the fresh evening air.
"Ah, welcome to the realm of the Gargoyles, my boy." the good captain said. "We’re on the main island, near the city of Investigation."
"Milord! Look!" One of the men pointed out towards the ocean. We were near the coast and I could see that the water disappeared and was replaced by darkness and void only half a mile from the shore. But the most surprising thing of all was that ropes were attached to the mainland and connected to wooden planks built atop the void.
"Johne! How is that possible?!" I questioned.
"After the Avatar rescued Lord British from the Underworld, the effect caused great tremors which caused all of the Gargish realm to fall into the void with the exception of this island and its one city. Shortly after the Gargoyles returned to this world, they built wooden planks over the void to expand their space. The ropes keep the planks from drifting off into the void. There’s a few bridges for humans and wingless Gargoyles, but you won’t need to walk on them. Lord Draxinusom lives on the mainland."
"How large an area do the planks cover?"
"Oh, they spread all across the island from all four sides. And its not separate; they’re all connected. But the distance from one edge to another is approximately several miles. I don’t mean from all across the island; I just mean from one side of the, say, southern planks to the other side of those same planks. But the distances vary; there’s no definite shape to the plank mass. Lord Draxinusom’s planning to build upwards and downwards too, I hear. Soon the Gargish realm will be as big as it was before the days of Britannia."
"How do the planks stay level with the ground? Even if they’re connected by ropes, they should hang down below the rest of the island."
"A good question, my boy! You’d have to see the far edges of the plank structure to understand that. You see, the planks are held up by giant, silk balloons. They’re all built from the same plans the Avatar used to build a balloon to travel over the mountains to the Shrine of Singularity. The only difference is that the balloons are not attached to large, wooden baskets, but to the very planks themselves. That’s another reason for the ropes, my boy; they keep the planks from drifting off whenever the wind is brisk. Ah, but we waste time here. Come! Its time to get to the grand capital of Investigation!"
The journey to Investigation was a short one, but quite interesting. We
followed the coastline and came across several more ropes attached to the
planks. On the mainland, we also saw several lava pits and lakes filled
with void rather than water.
"The collapse of the Underworld did this." Johne explained. "Eventually, all of the mainland will sink into the void, but not for countless more centuries. And by then, the planks will be sufficient for life by themselves."
"How? Don’t they require exports of food from the mainland?"
"They do, for now. But dirt is gradually being shipped as well. Then seeds will be shipped. Eventually, there will be little of the planks that are not covered with soil and plants. I would so love to see that day come, but I doubt that I will. I grow old, and life has passed me by."
We walked on in silence for several minutes before Johne mused. "A wise man seeks to find his destiny, a wiser man seeks to change it."
"Oh, nothing. Just a saying a… friend of mine told me a long time ago."
We saw a large building a short distance away. Its walls sloped inward like pyramids, but there was no roof. A hole shaped like a trapezoid was carved into the northern wall, leading to a road. Two ceremonial pyramids were at either side of the road.
"That’s the Hall of Knowledge." Johne explained. "We’re near Investigation now."
"Are all Gargish buildings built like that?"
"Why yes, of course. Gargoyles rely on flight as their most important means of transportation, so they build no roofs. If you’re wondering about weather, Gargoyles aren’t affected by rain, and it never snows on this side of the world."
We followed the road until we came to two traditional Gargish houses on either side.
"The one on our left is Lord Draxinusom’s house. Unlike Britannian rulers, all Gargoyles live under the same conditions; there are no palaces." Johne remarked. "Come, I’m sure he’ll want to meet you."
We entered through a hole in the walls carved in the trapezoid shape. None of the buildings had doors, merely openings such as this. These doorways were huge and obviously designed for beings much larger than humans.
"Lord Draxinusom!" Johne called in a strange tongue. "To be Johne! To bring other humans from Britannia!"
"A large, regal Gargoyle approached. "Johne?" he said. "To bring humans from Britannia?"
The Gargoyle turned to look at me, and said in thickly-accented Britannian. "To greet you, humans. To be Lord Draxinusom, lord of all Gargoyles. To ask how Britannia fares?"
"The war has ended, milord." I said. "Lord British is dead, all the cities have fallen, and all the armies have been routed save a few comprised of civilians. We our in are darkest hour."
The Gargish king looked downcast. "To have long suspected this. But to have hoped it was not so. To have hoped that enough of Britannia remained to aid it in their struggle. To feel sad to abandon the land of the An-Bal-Sil-Fer. To regret I could not render aid."
I knew that the Gargoyles had a far better chance of triumphing over the Great Daemon than my poor, weak army did, so I pressed the point, ignoring Mariah and Sutek’s prophecies. "Milord, surely the Gargoyles have enough sheer manpower to win a few victories. My army will fight alongside you. We canst—"
The great king of the Gargoyles smiled weakly and said "To admire you for your optimism and determination. But to say we have no strong army. To only have several hundred able bodied men, less than half of whom are trained fighters. To not want to abandon Britannia, but to be useless for both humans and Gargoyles to die in a futile struggle. The dark armies may try to find the Gargish world, but they will never find their way through Hythloth.
"To remain here, if you wish. To bring your army here to rest and gather with other Britannians."
A pity. I truly thought that there was a last chance here. A last chance? Was I truly giving up after but five years? Yes. There is nothing left. Nothing but memories. I may not even return to the army.
But I still had a goal left. I would find the secret of the Codex. "I thank thee for thine invitation, Lord Draxinusom, but my duty remains to Britannia. However, I did not come to the Gargish world to enlist your aid. I came searching for information about the Codex of Infinite Wisdom."
"The Codex? To have been before my time. To have been before the time of all but Naxatilor. To have been he who first banished the Codex into the void where the An-Bal-Sil-Fer found it and later the mages of Britannia seized it. Speak to Naxatilor. To live in the house across from mine. To wish you the best of luck in your travels, Lor-ku-ante-um."
"He called you ‘light within shadow,’ my boy." Johne explained. "I believe he means you are all that’s left of true Britannia."
The other Gargoyle house was similar to the first, but smaller and with
only one room. Naxatilor the sage was already awake when I entered.
"To have foreseen your arrival, human. To regret not telling Lord Draxinusom in advance. To ask how I may help you?"
"Great seer, I search to find the origin of the Codex of Infinite Wisdom and how the great tome may be returned to Britannia and dispense its wisdom once more?"
"The Codex cannot be returned to Britannia. The wisdom of the Codex must be spread to all worlds. But if you wish to see the Codex from Britannia, you must travel through the Great Stygian Abyss with the necessary artifacts of the legends. The one you call the Avatar is the only human on Britannia capable of the journey. But to wish to hear the origin of the Codex? I shall tell you all you wish to know.
"Daemons were born from the ashes of those dead across all worlds. They spawned from those who were irredeemably evil, and whose hearts were as black as the void. Their only purpose was to cause havoc and confusion where they went, and destroy all that was in their way.
"Hundreds were born across the infinitely spanning Multiverse, and more were born each year with the deaths of all evil beings. The more powerful of these Daemons took on the title of Balrons. But it was destined that four of the most powerful Daemons would rise up throughout time and become creatures called Guardians. Each of the Guardians represented a principle; Falsehood, Hatred, Cowardice, and Doom. These were the principles that founded Daemon society and culture upon the Realm of Fire, the world all Daemons were reborn on.
"Eventually, the first Daemons began to breed amongst each other, leading to strange mutations. Finally, a group of Daemons born in their world saw the folly of Daemon culture and sought to stop it. They escaped to the realm of Sosaria, land of the four continents. These renegade Daemons called themselves Gargoyles, and founded the principles of Truth, Love, Courage, and Infinity, the opposites of the Daemon principles. To contain these principles and teach them to other worlds so that they may fight the Daemons, the Codex was written. The aged Gargoyle who labored centuries to write it is no longer among the living. He died minutes after the Codex was completed. He is referred to in legends as the In-Vas-Wis-Kodeks, or ‘Creator of the Great Wisdom of the Codex.’
"As I was his eldest disciple, the duty fell on me to cast the Codex into the Void as the Book of Ritual tells. From here the Codex could be reached by any world, and the hero who would defeat the Guardians would be able to find it.
"Gradually, we realized that the principles of Truth, Love, Courage, and Infinity could not be followed by the Gargoyles, for they were written in the Codex and if all beings in all realms had the same principles, it would lead to conformity. So the principles of Control, Passion, Diligence, and Singularity were founded.
"We Gargoyles took three figures from Sosarian history as representations of these principles. Mondain, Minax, and Exodus. By this point, the four Sosarian continents had split up and become separate worlds, accessible to each other only by magic. We Gargoyles lived under the second continent which became known as Britannia.
"The hero who found the Codex has become the Avatar of Virtue, the Great Hierophant of Balance, the Titan of Ether, and countless other titles. The Guardian of Falsehood has destroyed the other three Guardians to master the powers of all four anti-principles.
"You asked for the origin of the Codex, and I have told thee. Leave this realm now. Your destiny awaits on Britannia."
As I turned to leave, I heard Mariah’s voice in my head. "You have done well, Tarnor Dredanal. The Avatar shall greatly profit from this information when he returns to Britannia.
"But what of you? You fight for Britannia of the past, not the future. You have nothing left but an army with nothing to do. What shall become of you?"
Silently, I whispered "I know not. I know not."
Chapter the Sixth
At last we emerged from the dank caverns on our side of the world. Captain
Johne had drawn us a rough map of Hythloth so that we could find our way
back up. He himself could not accompany us because of his eyes.
Slowly, we proceeded back across the isle towards the Samanzius. One of the men struck up conversation.
"Milord, shall we return to the encampment in Yew now or will we head towards Moonglow first?"
At this point I lost my temper. The sense of defeat I’d been feeling since I left the Gargoyle world was growing, and I took it out on the stupidly faithful dogs who were my men.
"How the bloody hell should I know?! Why should we even return to the damned encampment at all? After all, nothing we do will be of any consequence! All the blood and sweat of a million men couldn’t turn the tide an inch against the Great Daemon! We should just wait around and compose music and write poetry until the bloody Avatar waves his hand and kills all the Daemon’s armies! After all, what’s millions of living, breathing, men when compared to a damned immortal bastard with an Ankh who can do any god damn thing he wishes!
"Leave me. I need to find sense in this world that relies on legends to solve its problems."
I headed north through a pass, ignoring my men’s cries. I came to two large stone statues of what resembled Gargoyles.
These must be the Guardians. They were the mystic beings which guarded the shrine of the Codex. Cautiously, I approached them. Neither showed any sign of movement. I walked through the path between them, expecting a mystic force to bar my way. None did, and I safely passed through. I saw a small building up ahead. It must be the shrine! Why I wanted to find it, I know not. But it was the first strong intuition I had felt since I left the Gargish realm.
The building had but one room, a narrow hallway. At the end of the hallway was a reading stand. On it was a scroll. Behind the stand was a large brazier with a glowing blue flame. It must be the Flame of Infinity, embodiment of the Virtues. The Flames of Truth, Love, and Courage resided at the Lycaeum, Empath Abbey, and Serpent’s Hold, respectively. Or at least, they did before the war. Yet this one continued to burn, untouched by the ravages that befell Britannia.
The reading stand must have been where the Codex was located. It had been cast back into the void by the Avatar over two hundred years ago. The scroll in its place was signed by Lord British and Lord Draxinusom. It explained the story of the banishment of the Codex into the void from Britannia.
At last I was alone, with but my thoughts. Why had I run from those men? It won’t do any good. Even if I did win back Britannia, I’d just be worshipped the way the Avatar is. But then I will have failed Britannia whether or not I continued with The Cause.
"It doesn’t matter what The Cause does! It matters what The Cause is! Britannia cannot give up hope! Hope! Hope that it can overcome the Great Daemon and restore peace to the land! Keep The Cause alive for that reason!" Samanzius’ last words. Hope. That was what I must accomplish with The Cause. I must give Britannia back the will to fight for itself.
"But how?" I whispered. "How can I do this, old friend?" It was no use. Samanzius was dead, and he could not answer me. The Codex was gone, and could not spew forth its infinite knowledge. I was alone, and would have to answer my questions myself.
I headed towards a cave to the west of the shrine. In it I saw a huge stone throne carved for a being quite larger than human or Gargoyle. I sign near it said in Britannian runic "Throne of the Guardian."
The Guardian. That was what Mariah had called the Great Daemon, wasn’t it? Yes, I remembered now. In the legend of how the Avatar destroyed the Great Daemon’s Black Gate, he found this throne. Later on in these caverns, he found the Gate itself.
Damn the Daemon, whatever he wished to call himself. He was the one who first lead the undead armies upon Britannia. He was the one whose legions killed her…
No. I must leave. I cannot allow myself to be caught in my own memories.
As I headed back towards the shrine, I heard a voice. It was neither high nor low, it was not loud or soft. It was not even distinctly male or female. It was impossible to describe in a million words, yet I would remember it for the rest of my life.
"Faith in oneself comes from sacrifice to a greater good. Insecurity stems from selfishness."
I knew in that instant that it was the Codex I had heard. I knew the question I asked of Samanzius in the shrine had been answered.
As I walked back out between the statues, I saw the men approaching me.
"Don’t waste your breath. There are more important things now."
I could see the men’s puzzled expressions.
"Sacrifice." I whispered. "We shall find the Shrine of Sacrifice."
Chapter the Seventh
It would be an understatement to say the men were startled by my decision.
After my sudden outburst, their titanic awe over me had faltered. My unexpected
plan had ended it, at least for a while. All the better. Let them build
faith and confidence through real deeds rather than perceived ones.
We had now been sailing north-north-west towards the drylands on the mainland for four days. At noon on the fourth, we spotted land. However, if we landed immediately we would no doubt be too close to Vesper, the Great Daemon’s capital on Britannia. Its plentiful mines full of substances rumored to give the Daemon his powers were the very reason minstrels during the war told that the Daemon invaded.
When the war started, we didn’t think the Daemon had a chance of winning. Britannia had triumphed over many foes over the past centuries, and we were all certain this would be no exception.
It was our foolish dependency on the Avatar. He had saved Britannia eight times during its history, so we expected him to return once more. If only I could teach Britannia to fight for itself…
During the afternoon of the fourth day, we sailed up through a river, passing Vesper. By the evening, the river had ended and we were close to the shrine.
The walk across the burning desert was of little note. Eventually we saw a small lake with an island in the center, connected by a bridge. We had reached the shrine.
"Milord," one of the men began. "there mayest be traps set on the bridge-"
"Set by who?" I replied. "And for what reason? You men wait here, I’ll cross to the shrine alone."
The island was barely more than an outcropping, and the shrine took up all of it. It was simply eight monoliths in a circle, with eight stones forming a smaller circle within. In the very center was an empty pedestal.
I keeled down and whispered. "I have come as I thought a prophecy guided me to, and I await whatever vision I may have. Thy wisdom may take time to impart, and I shall wait."
I meditated there for a quarter of an hour before on of the men crossed the bridge.
"Go back! I’m alright! There’s no reason for you to come here!"
"Milord, it isn’t safe being this close to Vesper. Who knows what could be lurking about? We shouldst head back to the ship."
"We won’t until I give the order. If you see or hear anything coming, call me and we’ll leave. Otherwise, just stay back there with the rest of the men."
Nearly an hour passed from when I first came to the shrine. Finally, I gave up. Perhaps I wasn’t supposed to have anymore of a prophecy at all. Perhaps the first voice I heard was just a delusion brought on by my depression.
Just as I stood up and took a step towards the bridge, I heard two voices, speaking the same words simultaneously. One of them was the same voice I heard at the Shrine of the Codex, but the other was Samanzius’ voice.
"Heroes and braggarts, prophets and liars, saviors and fanatics. All are the same. All shall perish or face themselves and the world with Truth and not Falsehood, Love and not Hatred, Courage and not Cowardice. True followers of the Eight Virtues of the Avatar need not an Avatar to serve as an example to them."
So this was my message. The virtues must be followed without a mythical figure who has perfected them. I had not gained any advice on what to do, but I had gained knowledge. I knew what Britannia’s problem was, but had no clue as to how to solve it.
I laughed. It was good to not depend on mysticism and magic anymore.
"Head back to the Samanzius!" I shouted at my men. "We’ll sail back to the encampment tomorrow!"
Chapter the Final
The dream begins.
This is not the dream.
There is nothing here.
Nothing but… darkness.
"Tarnor Dredanal." A booming voice said.
"Who are you?"
"Are you versed in the legends of the Avatar?"
"Then you will know!"
"Enough! It is time to fulfill your destiny, Tarnor Dredanal!!"
The light grew brighter.
I shielded my eyes as I woke up.
It was dawn. All the other men were asleep onboard the Samanzius.
"Shit." I muttered. Once again I had to enact the damned prophecies of a mage. But this time I wasn’t trying to find a purpose in life. This time I would be content to return to Yew and train my men for reclaiming Britannia.
I sat up and pondered until all the other men were awake. Then I emerged from my quarters.
"Prepare the Samanzius for sailing. Wait until there’s a strong northeastern wind."
"But milord," one of the men stated. "We’ll need a west northwestern wind to sail back to Yew."
"We are not heading towards the encampment. We shall sail towards Trinsic."
"Last night you stated-"
"Something urgent has come up. I swear we shall return to Yew once this is over."
I was finally able to convince my men to head towards Trinsic. With any luck, the overwhelming respect I’d received was over at last. An hour later, we set sail for Trinsic.
It was dawn on the fifth day that we spotted land. The Samanzius
docked a reasonable distance south from the city. I led the men northward
towards the city.
"Milord, surely thou canst not expect the nine of us to be able to capture an entire city?"
I smiled. "No, we’re heading towards the circle of stones, just south of the city."
We reached the circle soon enough. It was just as all the legends said, but its lack of impressiveness was still surprising when encountered face to face. It was simply a rough circle made out of eight fairly large stones, with a tiny clearing inside. There was nothing majestic about it in the slightest, yet a sense of awe surrounded us, mixed with our disappointment.
"Now what, milord?" one of the men asked.
"Now we dig. Right in the center."
"What for, milord?"
"Where else could anything be here but under this circle?"
And so we dug for nearly a half hour, using our hands, weapons, and any other instruments among us. I felt like laughing at several points at the sheer pointlessness of this enterprise. But I knew I had nothing better to do for the moment than dig a hole (mayhaps I’ll find the Gargish world if I dig far enough!), so I proceeded.
After we dug a hole nearly a foot deep, I caught a glint of something in the dirt. Brushing off the dirt, I found what I had expected to find. A tiny stone that was colored white and black, forming a picture of a moon at gibbous waning. This was one of the eight Moonstones, objects that held the power to transport one across Britannia, or so legends say. Each was located in a circle of stones, near the city of a Virtue. The legends say that the Great Daemon disabled the Moonstones through his black magic to ease his conquest of Britannia.
Regardless of the truth of legends, I had found one of these fabled Moonstones. This was clearly the object Sutek spoke of, for the Avatar had often used the Moonstones during his quests in the legends of times of old.
"Stop, men. I have found what we came here for, and now we must set sail for Terfin once more, to so deliver this object."
The men put up quite a fuss over the journey back to Terfin, but in the
end they agreed. I was glad to see the amount of rebellion they were showing.
It would do no good to have men so faithful and dependent on me.
At sunset on the second day at sea, the Samanzius approached Terfin. Sutek and Gorn were waiting at the docks for us.
"You’ve come!" Sutek called as the Samanzius approached and docked. "And you’ve brought the Moonstone, I see. Give it to me."
I stepped onto the docks and handed it to the mage. "Ah, the moonstones. They were first brought to this world by the sorceress Minax in a plot to destroy Britannia. Back then they were more powerful and were called Time Gates, for the silver gates that rose from them took the user through space and time. Minax’ death at the hands of the Avatar weakened the Ether’s effect on them-"
"Ether?" I asked.
Sutek frowned. "Ether is the substance that holds the Multiverse together. Each universe is surrounded by a shell. The Ether, or the Ethereal Void, resides outside of those shells and keeps them from drifting into each other. The waves generated from Ether are also that which enables magic. Other universes situated at different positions from ours may have stronger or weaker magic, or they might not have magic at all.
"Where was I? Ah yes. Minax’ death altered the Ether’s waves on Britannia, making the Moonstones weaker. They could only be activated during the night at the proper fazes of Britannia’s moons, hence their name. They also created blue gates, which only had the power to teleport a person or group of people to the location of another Moonstone. During the Gargish War, the Moonstones were used by the Avatar to power the Vortex Cube in order to send the Codex of Infinite Wisdom back into the Ethereal Void, bringing peace between humans and Gargoyles.
"Two hundred years later, the Moonstones began to malfunction as an affect of the Guardian’s Spherical Generator. When the generator was destroyed by the Avatar, it caused the Moongates to be permanently disabled. It also disabled the Orbs of the Moons, three slightly stronger artifacts, owned by Lord British, Lord Draxinusom, and the Avatar, which could create red Moongates that could transport their user to the location of any Moonstone, regardless of time or phase.
"This is all common knowledge to any mage. But what isn’t" Sutek paused dramatically, "is that the Moonstones and the Orbs of the Moons were made of Blackrock!"
Sutek appeared deeply annoyed that I had not understood the meaning of his speech. "The material that the shells around each universe is built of! Blackrock is that which binds and harnesses the Ether into magic! It is the mineral which the Guardian conquered Britannia to find in the mines of Vesper! It was first discovered in Britannia during the Guardian’s first attack on this world, for he built his three generators out of it, and used large enough quantities of it to create a Black Gate that could transport him to our very realm across the Ether! But while the Black Gate was strong enough to transport one to other universes, the Moonstones could only work across a single universe, though they transported one through time and space. They were weakened further by the death of Minax, and so could only transport through space in their universe.
"But that will change now." Sutek smiled grimly. Gorn handed the mage a strange, black device.
"I have constructed this device from Blackrock over a period of years, Tarnor Dredanal. It can redirect waves of Ether. By using it on this Moonstone you have brought me, I can make this Moonstone strong enough so that it can create a Time Gate once more. Ah! Its time!"
The sun had set and the moons were out. I suddenly understood why Sutek had wanted the Moonstone from Trinsic. The moon Trammel was in its Gibbous Waning faze, and Fellucca was at the Crescent Waxing faze.
Sutek placed the Moonstone within his device. A silver glow began to emanate around the device and the Moonstone, accompanied by a faint hum.
The hum grew louder and the glow became brighter. Sutek pulled the Moonstone out of the device and onto the sand. A silver Moongate sprang up.
Sutek laughed with glee. "It works! It works! All those years have paid off! Hahaha!!
"You fool, Dredanal, don’t you understand? With the Time Gates, the Avatar can not only save Britannia from the Guardian, but stop the Guardian from ever conquering Britannia in the first place! Twelve years of hell during and after the war can be wiped out entirely! Mayhaps the Avatar could even stop Mondain, Minax, Exodus, the Shadowlords, and all other enemies of Britannia from ever existing!"
I wasn’t listening to Sutek. Neither were my men. We all stared at the silver Time Gate before us. I could see through it the streets of Britain, the birds singing, and memories of times of old.
Her! I could meet her again! I could find the past that had been stolen from me!
"Milord," one of the men said, "if the Avatar could really save Britannia, than perhaps there is no need for The Cause…"
I did not reply, but nothing needed to be spoken. Slowly, the men and I inched forward towards the Time Gate. I wasn’t thinking anymore; my mind was filled with joy and elation. I was a step away from the silver gate when, with a scream, I picked up the Moonstone and tossed it into the ocean.
Sutek, Gorn, and the men stared at me, speechless. I collapsed to my knees, exhausted.
"You fool! You bloody idiot!" Sutek yelled at me. "Why did you do that?! Britannia could have been saved! You’ve thrown away everything!"
I panted. "I’ve thrown away my past, nothing more. You. You are the fool. You would throw away your future and that of Britannia because of your faith in the Avatar. Britannia must fight for itself before it can triumph over the Great Daemon."
Sutek continued to glare at me. "Idiot. You know nothing. Nothing at all. Gorn! Come! Let us return to the castle and leave these fools to wallow in their ignorance."
I sat there, still regaining my breath. I’d done it. I had sacrificed my past and my memories for Britannia, and I did it precisely because I didn’t believe the Avatar would save Britannia. Whats more, the men with me would see this, see my confidence that Britannia could fend for itself, see that I was willing to leave behind the past to fight for the future, see that their own happiness and pleasure was below that of Britannia.
I heard naught but the crashing of waves on the shore, yet I heard Samanzius congratulating me on my achievement. It was over, I knew. I would never be haunted by the dream again.
The men approached me. "Milord, why? Why didst thou do this?"
I sat there for a moment before I whispered "To save Britannia. To save our glorious kingdom from dependence and faith in myths. To give Britannia a chance at the future, rather than to escape to its past."
On February 4, 387, Tarnor Dredanal led a force of several hundred men in an attack on the city of Vesper. The Blackrock mines were destroyed and would not be rebuilt until 389. Dredanal and three-fourths of the men perished in the battle.
In the year 391, thirty years after the Guardian’s first attack on Britannia,
the Avatar returned to this realm.
A cool pic of Tarnor made by Houston Dragon
to the Library