The daemon that lives inside
your soul
Who'll always 'gainst you fight.
The heart of darkness that
dwells within
E'en if one serves the light.
Evil; your mortal foe
but is
It falling to your might?
These ebon thorns are
yours alone
Your Splinters of the Night.

Book I:
Splinters of Night

            "...Our only problem will be water," Charles said to those gathered in the hall. "Unless the gem below the Castle is still operational, or we find some other supply, we will run out in two days."
            I shifted in my seat as Charles sat down. During our imprisonment, Dupre had used the dimensional gem to travel to a land of ice caverns I had discovered. The ice had been our supply of water since.
            Nystul, the court mage, got to his feet and pushed the hood of his grey robe back from his white-bearded face. "I was able to speak with Nicodemus through magical means for a while," he told us, motioning for Miranda to unroll a map on the table. Nicodemus was another mage who lived in the northwest near the keep of Empath Abbey. "He was scrying Britannia for all the time we’ve been trapped here. The three keeps of Empath Abbey, Serpents Hold and the Lycaeum have been hardest struck by the enemy." He tapped the location of each place on the map with a finger and glanced around at all those sitting at the long table. "The Abbey, unfortunately, fell to the enemy. The other two have repelled the attackers for now and are still bottled in like we are now. From what Nicodemus said, Moonglow, Paws, Britain, Cove, Minoc and Vespar are lost to us. Trinsic is hard pressed but its walls hold. Jhelom was struck heavily, but its island state and the skill of its warriors kept it intact. " Syria smiled grimly at this last bit of news. "The islands of Skara Brae were ignored - probably because everyone there is already dead - as was New Magincia, but the Isle of the Avatar hath a large gathering of foes on its shores, as doth Terfin." He looked at Lord British. "Nicodemus hath no idea where the gargoyles went after Draxinusom helped defend Trinsic, Milord. All he knows is that not many humans consented to follow the gargoyles."
            Lord British nodded and the mage sat. Then he looked at Sir Dupre, who stood.
            "We think that no more foes walk the Castle," the knight said. "But be wary - there may be one or two still hiding in the shadows. No one is permitted near the sewer doors unless they carry a royal writ and speak a password that will be constantly changed with the guard. Captain Geoffrey and myself alone know the password." He lowered himself to his chair.
            "What's that about?" I whispered to him behind my hand.
            "What dost thou mean?" Dupre replied softly.
            "You're not telling me or Richard what the password is?" I asked, flicking my eyes past him to glance at Lord British.
            "'Twill be changed often, Elora. Our Lord hath other things to worry about more than a password - that's why we're here." He flashed me a grin. "To do all the unimportant work for him. Didst thou want the password, too?"
            "I guess not. I can always ask you for it, right?"
            "Only shouldst thou ask nicely," he drawled.
            The sound of a throat being pointedly cleared made me stifle my chuckling. Syria, now certain that she had full attention, made her report. "A fair sized force is at the Castle gates, as ye all can hear," the blonde warrior stated.
            The chant of "Ka-thra!" still continued outside, loud enough that we could all hear it.
            "Their leader, one Mors Gotha, reputed best swordfighter ever, is dead and even now entertains the kraken at the bottom of the moat." She paused, one hand resting on the hilt of her sheathed sword. "Whether or not the enemy have taken hostages is unknown. None have been seen or spoken of." She went on a bit about the enemy’s lack of firearms, siege weapons and organisation. It appeared that the invaders had expected to swarm the Castle easily first try.
            My turn was next. The king had asked everyone to share any news or ideas they might have. Putting the strange bracer on the table, I stood rather nervously for I’d never really liked being the centre of attention. I said, "I propose a return trip to where the blackrock gem lies." I'd used the present tense deliberately, not wanting anyone to think that this time we were without hope. "The Virtue Stones are not here for us to teleport ourselves with, the Orbs of the Moons no longer function and I wouldn’t suggest trying to Blink from the battlements - it’s a long way down." Blinking through walls was possible, but difficult to do, especially in a city. Since the spell was relatively short-ranged, chances were you’d blink yourself into the middle of the enemy army anyway. "At the moment, the dimensional gem is the only way out. I can go alone or accompanied, but I think I should go."
            Iolo, Dupre and Julia immediately voiced their desires to go with me. Lord British said, "Thinkest thou, Avatar, that thou wilt find help in another land?"
            I nodded. "As I did before, my Lord."
            "It is agreed, then. Those who wish to may follow."
            I sat down and the rest of the meeting passed in a blur, my attention suddenly diverted to the bracer Mors Gotha had worn. Turning the crystalline ornament over in my hands below the table, I frowned, wondering what it was that was teasing my mind. Staring at the eight small jewels circling the central gem - white, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, black - it hit me. A colour for each Virtue. This bracer had some strange connection to the Virtues. I couldn't quite place it, but it felt...wrong.
            Soon, everyone was pushing back chairs and moving away to run their own errands. I found myself wandering down the east wing of the Castle before I discovered I was heading towards Nystul’s chamber. For a minute I considered returning to my own room to get out of my heavy armour, but I quickly dismissed the idea with a shrug. I was still holding the bracer, so why not stop and see if the mage could say anything about it?
            As always, the air around Nystul's chamber felt strangely electric - charged because of all the magic the old spellcaster had used over his many years of service in the Castle. I rapped on the reinforced steel door and waited for an answer, idly guessing that a metal door was the prerequisite for a profession that involved so many explosions.
            "Enter," a muffled voice called.
            I went in, spared a slight frown as the magic-charged atmosphere tickled my senses, and instantly noticed the Killorn Keep warrior trussed up beside a wall. Nystul calmly explained that the warrior had been hiding under his bed.
            "I don't know how you can stand it in here," I remarked, ineffectually waving at the air in front of my face. "It feels twice as bad now that you've started casting spells again."
            "One gets used to it," the mage replied with a smile. "Besides, it doth not interfere with mine experiments, just a few of my senses. I can put up with that if it means I get to live within the Castle walls."
            Smiling, I shook my head and sighed.
            "So what brings thee here, Avatar?" Nystul asked. "Not a desire to comment on the quality of ethereal waves around my quarters, I presume?"
            "This." I showed him the bracer and told him what I’d seen it do. Nystul extended a hand toward it, but didn’t touch, and muttered something.
            "It’s the black jewel that holds the power," he said, confirming my suspicions. "It seems similar to the small blackrock stones thou didst use to activate the dimensional gem - maybe a smaller echo of the gem itself. That may explain how the Guardian’s forces got here."
            I nodded. "And the black mist?"
            Nystul instructed me to position my hand over the bracer and cast ‘Detect Magic’. I did and frowned. I could sense the teleportation properties but something else was there. Something that was more than magic.
            Pushing through the magic-heavy air with my mind, I incanted, "Wis Mani," then snatched back my hand as if it had been stung. Startled, I said to Nystul, "It’s alive!"
            He shook his head. "Not alive, Elora. The vibes are wrong." He drew his robes closer as if he suddenly felt cold.
            I stared at the bracer like it had turned into a viper. "What is this?" I whispered.
            "Ka-thra," I heard the bound warrior mutter.
            "What does that mean?" I demanded, rounding on him.
            He shrank back. "Whoever killed Mors Gotha and took the bracer is Ka-thra."
            "But what does Ka-thra mean?"
            "The Ka-thra speaks with the Guardian’s Voice! The Ka-thra is the bringer of the Guardian’s reign - his warleader."
            "How does it work?"
            The warrior hesitated, but I narrowed my eyes at him and he hurriedly said, "The bracer must be worn on the right wrist - the sword arm." He paused nervously. "Or the left, if thou art left-handed. Touching a facet with the other hand will transport anyone or anything to where the facet is tuned."
            I stared at him for a few seconds. "How do you know this?"
            "The Voice told me!" he stated proudly, then he looked suddenly afraid, as if he hadn’t meant to blurt that out.
            I let that pass for the moment. "What else does the bracer do?"
            "I don’t know, Ka-thra," the prisoner quavered.
            "Try asking the Voice," I suggested flatly.
            "Avatar - " Nystul began uncertainly.
            My brow furrowed slightly. The waves of ether swirling through the chamber were shifting slightly, as if magic were being used. I looked a bit closer at the soldier, certain it was he who was causing it, but the thick blanket of power in the room prevented me from being sure.
            The warrior stammered, "The Guardian says, ‘Arcadion would know.’"
            I shook my head in exasperation. The Blacksword, to which the daemon Arcadion was bound, I had left in an Inn in Britain the night before the Guardian had trapped us in the Castle. "That’s a rather lame attempt to get me to step outside the castle walls," I drawled.
            The warrior abruptly parted his wrists and the ropes binding him snapped. He tore off the ones at his feet then leaped at me with a guttural snarl. Having no time to bring up my axe, I punched with my steel-encased fists and struck him in the face. It was like hitting a brick wall. With a curse, I fell back and the soldier bowled me over. He snatched the bracer from me, then rolled away. Arching by body, I jumped swiftly to my feet and pulled out my weapon, suddenly feeling a strong, unmistakable manipulation of the ether. With a cold expectancy, I looked at the warrior to verify with my eyes what the ether-charged air had hidden from my mind.
            He was shape-shifting into a daemon.
            "Avatar!" Nystul yelled. "He’s vulnerable like this! Take him now!"
            I bounded forward and the half-formed daemon evaded, his hideous visage drawn into an evil, leering smile. Swinging the axe furiously, I backed him into a corner from which he retaliated, heedless of the steel scoring his scarlet flesh. One of his claws suddenly latched onto the axe haft and pulled, jerking me off-balance. A second later, his other hand was clapping the bracer around my right wrist.
            "The Guardian bids thee welcome, Ka-thra," the creature sneered.
            My right arm felt suddenly numb to the shoulder, so when the daemon released the axe, it was as if I couldn’t lift it. The steel half-moon clanged against the stone floor.
            "Quickly, Elora! It hath almost completed the change!"
            My strength returned. The Firedoom axe lashed out and crunched into the daemon’s chest. Blood spurted and hit the floor, sizzling like black acid, and the daemon-soldier laughed. I struck again, deeper this time and with flames exploding from the blade. The daemon toppled and fell silent.
            Forgetting all else, I dropped my axe, tore off my gauntlets and tried to take off the bracer. It felt cold, deathly cold, and the blood of the daemon was hot against my fingers where it stained the crystal. Nystul watched my efforts with a stricken expression as I strained, pulled, clawed and finally tried smashing it against a wall. I could feel something like a tiny seed burying itself into my mind. Deeper and deeper and deeper...
                With a scream of despairing rage that the whole Castle heard, I shouted, "GUARDIAN!"


            Dimly, I heard Nystul say, "It hath some kind of soul link."
            "What is that?" asked Lord British.
            I stared silently into space, looking at nothing yet seeing so much. Another trap, I thought bleakly. Another Guardian-made trap. Why did I always seem to fall into them?
            "'s something that stays with its owner until parted by death. Only then can it be removed. I think the bond is similar to the one Elora hath with the Blacksword."
            "Doth the bond cause any harm?"
            "To all current appearances, no..."
            My mind drifted again. There was so much happening in Britannia and now this. The thought of enemy soldiers marching across the land while leaving behind a trail of destruction momentarily drew me from my self-pity, only to plunge me into concern. What was this bracer really? What could it make me do against the world and people I cared so deeply about?
            I could feel something in my mind...
            "...and the teleportation powers we were told of could be useful."
            Never mind about the black mist I'd seen earlier. Remembering it sent a chill down my spine, but I had no idea why. Something evilly familiar about it teased my mind. It was not the Black Jewel of Mondain; of that I was certain. No force within or without Britannia could take the gem from the protection of the Guardian Statues.
            "...concerns me is that the bracer changed when it was put on her wrist."
            The transparent rainbow-riot of jewel had all turned opaque. Even the bracer itself, that had been as clear as glass, was now a milky moonstone texture. But the black gem had changed into a translucent, flawless diamond. The concept that the darkness might have drained from the gem and seeped into my mind made my jaw clench.
            Lord British said, "The thing hath some connection with the Virtues. Canst thou feel it?"
            "Again it feels wrong," Nystul replied. "Tainted, even. What its true purpose is we can only guess..."
            I rejected the image of a leash around my wrist at one end and gripped in the Guardian's fist at the other. I'd already been under his power once before and it had come close to making me kill my dearest friends and destroying Britannia besides. I did not want a repeat of that episode. I wouldn't allow it.
            "If death severs the bond," I said slowly, "can I not be killed? The bracer can be removed and then I can be Resurrected."
            Lord British's careworn face pulled into a frown. "If that be thy wish," he replied. "Thou art free to ask anyone to perform this act, but they are free to refuse thee."
            He left it unsaid that I could try killing myself, but I doubted I had the willpower to commit suicide - he probably did, too. But I couldn't call myself a coward in the face of such a reaction.
            "The bracer hath done nothing as yet," Nystul reminded me. "And in our current situation, its teleportation energies will be a boon."
            I nodded. "I don't like to agree with this, but you're right. Okay, then. I'll keep the bracer on - not that I have much choice - and see what happens." My skin crawled at the thought of all the possibilities.
            Nystul started to pace the room, muttering at his lack of sense to store enough reagents and other magical supplies for such an emergency. Lord British tapped me on the shoulder and gestured that we should leave him.
            "At least thou hast recovered from the initial shock," the monarch observed once we were out in the corridor.
            "Thou didst seem a bit out of it during most of that conversation, Elora."
            "Oh." I nodded. "I guess I was."
            "Art thou well enough to pursue thine idea to return to the Blackrock jewel below?"
            "Yes, of course," I replied quickly. "Dupre, Iolo and Julia want to come."
            "Really?" he asked with a faint smile. Then he laughed. "I'd never have guessed!"
            I grinned. "I guess being cooped up in the Castle for as long as we've been, even Nanna wouldn't mind slogging through the sewers to see something new!"
            "Neither would I." Lord British looked around at the grey stone walls, colourful tapestries and plants, which had died from lack of sunlight and water. "Sitting on a throne isn't much of an adventure."
            I fell silent, agreeing with him and wondering if I should voice that feeling. As much as I loved and respected the great King of Britannia, I wasn't sure if I wanted the responsibility of taking him through the perils of the Labyrinth of Worlds.
            "'Sitting on a throne isn't much of an adventure', hmm?" I replied with a sly smile. "I heard about the time one of the children from the nursery left a dirty diaper on your throne and you- "
            "Who told thee that?" demanded Lord British. Then he chuckled ruefully. "I ruined a perfectly good robe that day; the servants were in despair!"
            "I guess you were right when you said that kings and dirty diapers don't mix!"
            He laughed again and I mentally gave myself a pat on the back for getting around the issue. We reached the garden courtyard and the golden sunshine pouring in washed away all thoughts of the dark times before...and the darker ones ahead.
            For the moment, at least.


            "Well, I guess that's that," said Iolo.
            Dupre and I simply stared at the empty cavern. The pulsing blackrock stone that had teleported us between worlds was gone as if it had never been. It must have been destroyed when I'd liberated the Castle only yesterday. I'd known deep down that this would probably be the case, but couldn't have doused the faint glimmer of hope. Julia held up her flaming torch, which caused the ripples on the water surrounding the small, subterranean island to gleam.
            "Now what?"
            "We go back to the Castle," I answered reluctantly. "There's no point staying here any longer."
            I turned around and led my companions back from whence we'd come.


            Dupre pounded on the sewer door in a sequence then we waited as it was unlocked and opened to admit us through.
            "'Tis raining, Milords and ladies," one of the guards said as his friend shut the door behind us. "Lord British hath just about every barrel the servants can find lining the battlements and crammed into the courtyard."
            "Thanks for the news," I said. To Dupre, "Looks like an excursion to the Ice Caverns isn't as urgent now."
            The knight nodded. "I'm relieved."
            "We should find Lord British and inform him of our findings," Iolo interrupted.
            A short walk got us to the War Hall where Nystul, Miranda and Lord British were poring over a collection of maps by the light of a large candelabra. The king beckoned for us to come over.
            "Water is no longer a present problem," Miranda told us. She raked the shadowy veil of her dark hair back from her face and smiled. "As ye can see."
            I threw a glance towards the garden where a veritable flood was bucketing down on the brittle grass and dried up plants.
            The fountain's basin was not quite full, but close to it. "That's good," I replied, "because the teleportation gem is gone. We won't be getting water from anywhere else for a while. Or going anywhere, either."
            The others nodded and Miranda recorded my news on a parchment in front of her, but Nystul added, "I know how thou wouldst feel, Avatar, should we ask thee to try using the bracer." He paused, obviously waiting for a reaction from me. A slight tensing of muscles was the only sign I gave that such a request wouldn't be met with enthusiasm. "Which is why," the mage continued, "that I think thou wilt be happy to hear that we do, in fact have another way out."
            I looked at his craggy, white bearded face in surprise. "How?"
            He smiled, wise eyes sparkling beneath the cowl of his grey robe. "We had a visitor during the storm's cover. It was a winged gargoyle."
            Miranda opened one of the scroll cases on the table from which she extracted three parchments. Unrolling them, she said, "These are reports on what hath transpired in the time we were trapped."
            "Where is the messenger now?" Julia asked.
            "He left while the rain was still heavy," Miranda told her. "Lord British gave him a letter for Lord Draxinusom and he departed." She handed me a scroll. "The gargoyle lord observed that the Guardian's soldiers moved in only on areas of known location - with the exception of the Isle of the Avatar. His scouts and scryers saw no evidence of strategic placement in forests or mountains, only townes and cities."
            I looked up from my scroll. "So Draxinusom moved his people to the Isle of Fire and Ambrosia!"
            "Along with a goodly number of humans," Lord British said. "Those that didn't fear the gargoyles."
            "But Nicodemus said that not many followed, didn't he?"
            Nystul said, "As the number of mages in the evacuations grew, Lord Draxinusom decided that some kind of scrying shield should be raised to foil any enemy wizard attempts to trace the escapes. Therefore Nicodemus wouldn't have seen many of the ships sailing from Trinsic, and neither could he have known that they had disembarked at those two Isles. Both were shielded as soon as possible." He pointed to the scroll that Dupre held. "Draxinusom said that a good number of humans followed, but not many considering those that chose to remain."
            Dupre showed me a paragraph. "He also hath the entire population of New Magincia over there. Knowing that they hadn't been invaded, he decided to move them while he had the chance."
            Iolo looked up from his scroll. "The gargoyles and humans are repairing the fort on the Isle of Fire and getting supplies from Ambrosia." The old bard turned to Lord British. "Milord, how is he managing that? It's a week of boat travel!"
            The king shrugged. "We'll find out later."
            "And what's Draxinusom planning to do with the caddellite he's storing?" Caddellite was the name of a mineral we'd found on the lost isle of Ambrosia. A meteor of the incredibly hard, crystalline rock material had struck the mountains there.
            "I advised him to hang on to it," Lord British said. "It might come in useful...though how..." He shook his head. "Anyway, the gargoyles are going to be our key out of here," he said to me. "There's promise of a storm later tonight. Five gargoyles will fly in and transport five of us out."
            I glanced at my three companions, who smiled eagerly. "I assume that we four are included in the party, so who is the fifth?"
            Syria seemed the logical choice. Geoffrey would be needed at the Castle to oversee the guards, Nystul to serve as court mage...I considered the others. Miranda was a possibility, but not a very likely one. She didn't know much about fighting. Feridwyn of Paws, now he was an interesting idea for a companion. A former Fellowship man might be useful.
            I looked my king in the eyes and instantly knew that I'd been trying to deny that he himself might come. Would come. I inclined my head. "As you wish, my Lord."
            Lord British nodded to me. I thought I saw a faint smile of relief flicker over his face, as if he'd been afraid that I'd try to dissuade him. "Draxinusom's position as leader is precarious," he explained. "Sending messengers to me is all well and good, but they are gargish messengers. Thou knowest that not all our people trust them." He touched the Isle of Fire on the map. "Here is where we will be carried. Where we will have to organise the retaking of Britannia."
            I said nothing, merely nodded. But I suspected that his desire to leave the Castle was more to leave than to organise an army. Dupre was an able field marshal and an excellent warrior, Iolo could teach people to fashion bows and crossbows and how to fletch ammunition, as well as help them learn how to use the firearms in combat. Julia could use her tinkering skills to help rebuild the Castle and both forge and repair weapons. I could...
            What could I do?
            I was the Avatar, but I had no reason to be in this mission. I would be little more than a celebrity until a time came for me to start breaking heads. I felt more than a little ashamed at having doubted Lord British's worth in this task. As a figurehead, he'd be more important than I.
            "Miranda will run the Castle in mine absence," the monarch informed us. "We still have ample food and now plenty of water."
            "But what of the army in Britain?" Dupre asked. "There are enough of them to make me think that they will attack the Castle at any time."
            "Agreed, but there is no one to order such an attack, is there?" He paused, then glanced at me. Or rather, the bracer on my right wrist. "Yet."
            I looked at the bracer. "Perhaps I can speak with them. It's worth a try. If they think of me as their warleader...their Ka-thra, then my words might actually carry some weight."
            Lord British gave me a tight smile. "'Twould be appreciated, Avatar. Any time between now and dark."
            Despite the disgusting feeling that clings to you after a casual stroll through the sewers - not to mention the distinct fragrance - I felt suddenly invigorated by the idea of dispersing the enemy army with a few words. "I think I'll try now," I said with a smile.
            So all seven of us ascended to the battlements. The rainstorm was raging in full force and droplets swirled around the towers as the strong wind drove them. I could almost see the rain washing the Castle clean of its accumulated lichen, gathered when the Guardian had denied us sunlight.
            Standing above the portcullis where two guards stood on duty, we looked out over the moat where about thirty soldiers patrolled the street opposite us.
            "I feel like a metal drum," I muttered, as the rain happily banged against my armour. "Virtues know I must sound like one." I normally didn't favour plate armour. It was heavy, cumbersome, noisy and smelly. In my opinion, it was hardly worth the added protection, which was the only reason I'd worn it on the trip down to the teleportation gem. Agility and swiftness couldn’t beat some creatures in those other worlds. I put down my helmet then shouted down at the enemy patrol, "Who leads?"
            They halted as one and looked up at me, squinting through the downpour. "Whose voice speaks through the storm?" one of them yelled back.
            I steeled myself, knowing that they would recognise the title I was about to speak. "I am Ka-thra."
            They laughed. "Mors Gotha was Ka-thra, and she is dead. Who art thou to claim her place?"
            At their words, a voice whispered an answer in my mind. Not just any voice, the Voice. The Guardian. "By my hand was Mors Gotha slain. The arm that swung the deathstroke wears the aeth'raesh'al bracer. The mind that controlled the arm belongs to the Guardian."
            "Get out of my mind," I hissed, startling those standing nearest me. "The Guardian," I explained to them, wiping rain from my face. "Whoever wears the bracer speaks with the Guardian's Voice probably because he tells them what to say."
            Nystul's brow furrowed. "He needeth a bracer to do that?"
            I returned his frown. "I think it was the Time Lord that said one of the blackrock generators enabled - or helped - people to hear his Voice. When I destroyed it, it meant that no one could hear him any more - though I still could, for some reason."
            "As could I," Dupre said. "After the Black Gate was destroyed."
            "Maybe because we're not Britannian born?"
            Iolo said, "But everyone could hear him when the Castle was imprisoned."
            "Blackrock," stated Nystul. "Perhaps, Elora, the reason thou and those near thee could hear him was because of the Blacksword. A part of it is made of blackrock, remember?" He looked at the others through the rain. "Hath anyone heard the Voice since the destruction of the blackrock dome?"
            "Not until now," I replied while the others shook their heads.
            "It's a possible reason," Lord British said. "But something to discuss further in a somewhat drier place."
            I smiled, then returned my attention to the patiently waiting patrol below. The rain had slackened only a little, which made it easier to see.
            "I am the Avatar," I told them. I held up my right arm. "See? I wear the bracer of Mors Gotha."
            At that instant, a flash of lightning split the sky. It reflected off the jewels in the bracer and sent sparks of colour in every direction.
            "Ka-thra! Ka-thra!" the warriors shouted in unison. "Speak thy name that we may recognise thy leadership, Ka-thra!"
            The Guardian's crooning Voice whispered, "I am Mellorin."
            Thunder crashed above us. I braced myself in one of the stone crenellations, feeling suddenly dizzy. "What does 'Mellorin' mean?" I muttered, shaking my head.
            Nystul said in surprise, "Avatar? Thou shouldst know; it's gargish!"
            My mind cleared. "’Black Light Make’?"
            "What didst thou say, Ka-thra?" the warriors yelled.
            "Can it hurt?" I asked my friends. "Claiming to be this person?"
            "I wouldn't," muttered Julia.
            I nodded, smiling a little. "That'd be like obeying the Guardian's words, I guess." I looked down. "I am Elora."
            The warriors started muttering amidst themselves. Clearly, they hadn't been expecting my reply. I couldn't hear what they were saying, so I demanded, "Will you obey my commands?"
            One of them responded with, "No, Ka-thra, we will not. The Guardian says thou dost not yet speak with his Voice. We will not listen to thee."
            With that, they continued on their patrol.
            "Sorry, Milord," I sighed to Lord British. "I guess I didn't help much."
            "But we learned something," the king said in a soft voice. "If we take the words of those warriors at face value, they can hear the Guardian."


            After that, I had retired to my room. Using some of the Castle's now adequate supply of water, which I heated with my magic, I made some attempt at washing the worst of the sewer's gunk and the smell of my armour off my skin before readying myself for bed. I really needed to sleep. Even so, lying awake in my darkened room, I couldn't. After about an hour, I got up, pulled on trousers, boots and a shirt, then headed off to the training room with my axe.
            Julia found me there a few hours later. She watched me rather critically as I hacked and slashed at the unoffending practice dummy for a while, then asked, "Why an axe?"
            I paused to wipe the sheen of perspiration from my brow, then unleashed a backhand blow that would have torn a mortal opponent in two. Fortunately, the dummy had been enchanted to save Lord British the trouble of buying a new one every time I wanted to play with it. "I had trouble using swords after being separated from Arcadion," I said, darting to the left and crashing my weapon down on the dummy's head.
            One of her eyebrows shot up. "Why? Didst thou lose thy skill with them?"
            I laughed shortly amidst a combination of slashes and overhand attacks. "No. I just kept talking to them. I spoke to Dupre about it and he suggested a change in weaponry. Then he even went so far as to refuse to train me with a sword!"
            "Syria would have sparred with thee."
            I grunted. "At the time, she still seemed a bit upset with me for discrediting her old teacher De Snell. I didn't want to hurt her - or get hurt. So, I picked the axe. A bit inelegant for my tastes..." I pummelled the dummy a few more times. "...but they have their advantages, I suppose."
            Julia looked at me closely. "Thou seemest to be taking this rather calmly."
            "This what?"
            "This business with the bracer."
            I raked back my hair and gripped the axe haft tightly. "What else can I do, Julia? Running around hysterically won't do anyone any good - even though it would make me feel better. I'm more angry that frightened," I added, "and anger can lend one a lot of power if it's focussed well. I can either use it to scream at the Guardian, or..." My muscles bunched and I ripped the Firedoom axe across the dummy's chest with all my strength. The material tore from hip to shoulder in an explosion of sand and straw. I backed away, breathing hard, and watched the stuffing pour out onto the floor.
            Julia gave me a wry grin. "With anger like that, if I were the Guardian, I'd be out of here before thou couldst quote me the mantras."
            Brushing sand from my shirt, I chuckled. "So, why did you come down here? Looking for me?"
            She nodded. "Lord British asked me to find thee. It's almost time to leave."
            I nodded. "Thanks. I'll get some armour on then meet you at the garden."
            "Only leathers," she cautioned. "The gargoyles will have enough trouble carrying us without us being encased in steel."
            As she turned to leave, I said, "Julia?"
            "Yes, Elora?"
            "Do you have any idea why I'm coming along on this little trip?"
            Julia gave me her characteristically direct look, at once penetrating and curious. "I thought thou wouldst know. Why dost thou think?"
            I shrugged. "I've no idea."
            "Morale, Elora. Having the Avatar around who hath been defeating the Guardian on a regular basis will be invaluable for the morale of our people." She clapped me on the shoulder and moved towards the corridor. "So put on a brave face for their sake. With the odds we have against us...if we don't have the faintest hope of victory, we'll lose."
            I followed her out and gave the bracer a rather defiant glance, then muttered, "Over my dead body."

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