I awoke at the Shrine of Sacrifice. My companions yet slept, though the
light of dawn peeked out from the east. Damn them. We hath a quest essential
to the preservation of Britannia!
A Daemonic wind swept past me. A wind of death. The wind I now associated with Buccaneer's Den.
A shadow cast down upon me. I looked up to see a figure of pure black armour. Not one inch revealed skin. From the opening in his winged helm, I saw only blankness. Not good, not evil, but simply blankness.
Not a word was exchanged between myself and the Bal Lem. We walked together some distance from the shrine. The sands blew violently across the desert.
We now stood several yards apart from each other, and slowly drew our swords. I wielded the Black Sword, blade I'd forged upon the Isle of Fire, now in my possesion once more following the death of the Slasher of the Veils.
The Bal Lem also wielded a two-handed sword. Yet it was no ordinary sword. Darkness hung about it, dark as the blade itself, black as the armour of this Shadowknight. Like the Black Sword, a jewel held its place in the center of the hilt. This artifact instantly repelled me, a feeling of déjà vu haning about it.
In a single stroke, our swords met. Our battle wast not marked with any kicks or bashes. It was entirely fought with the swords, both of us becoming a single, graceful image, forever twisting and writhing in it's patterns, complex yet beautiful.
Neither of us advanced or retreated. Less than two steps were taken once the battle had started. Yet I began to weaken. The Black Sword grew heavy in my hands.
I swift strike knocked the blackrock sword from my hands. I fell on my shoulder, unable to move.
The last thing I remembered was the Bal Lem raising his dark sword, bringing it down upon me…
With a start, I woke up. It had all been a dream. Trammel and Felucca painted
the night sky above me. My companions slept soundly.
It was more than a dream. I saw the Bal Lem, the dark figure who slaughtered all of Minoc and Stonegate, slaying Sentri in fair battle.
"He is perhaps the most powerful of all the Guardian's lieutenants…" Those had been among Sentri's last words. What wast this creature? Couldst ever I stand against him?
"Eh?" I looked about. Trevor was also awake.
"Thou look worried, friend."
"Aye, Trevor. I hath done little since I arrived in Britannia. Stonegate and Minoc fell because of me."
"Nay! Do not blame thyself! Without thine aid, we wouldst never hath captured Minoc at all!"
"Indeed. Mayhaps thou'rt right. But are we virtuous?"
"Are we virtuous, Trevor?"
"But of course! The Avatar must be virtuous!"
"No, we are not. We fight virtue, but all we gain is glory and adulation. Our deeds of evil outnumber our deeds of good."
"Thou speakest of Pagan?"
"The trial was not fake, Trevor. All the charges brought against me wert real. I hath yet to redeem them."
"I hath my faith that thou shalt."
I smiled, but I was a smile of pity. Pity for those who always believed in my virtue, those like Maxwell and Toshi, Mikael and Trevor. Three of them died because I wast foolish enough to let them. Trevor wouldst die the same way, I knew, and it would be no less my fault than the other deaths.
"Sleep well, Trevor. We shalt continue our journey tomorrow."
Weeks passed from that day. We headed south towards Cove, where I'd first
had my vision of Buccaneer's Den. Now we stood on the Bloody Plains. It
was only a few days' walk to Cove.
Several figures surrounded us from all sides. In front of us stood a halfbreed human/goblin wielding two mourning stars.
"Drop thy weapons, travelers. Leave thy supplies and thou canst leave here alive."
I gave no response. Instead, I concentrated with the Mystic Gauntlets worn upon my hands. Instantly, the weapons of all my attackers flew from their hands and landed on the ground by me. The halfbreed alone I left armed.
"A mage, then? Thou hast the build of a fighter. Paladin?"
"What thou wouldst believe."
"I see. Wouldst thou accept a fair duel?"
"Aye, from me. Dost thou think thyself superior, just because thou'rt a fullbred human?"
"I shalt accept thy challenge, vermin!"
I drew the Black Sword. My companions and the halfbreed's lackeys all stepped
The halfbreed charged at me, swinging both his mourning stars. He fought expertly, but left himself open. After several minutes, I'd disarmed him of one of the mourning stars. Unpreturbed, our battle continued.
I felt myself weaken as the halfbreed's offense became fiercer and fiercer. A swift blow clanged against my helm. I stumbled back a few steps. The halfbreed charged.
At the last instant, I ducked, bringing the Black Sword upward. The weapon stabbed straight through the halfbreed's chest, sticking out of his back. As I removed the sword, my opponent fell to the ground, still alive.
"What art thou waiting for? Kill me!"
The halfbreed's men drew their weapons, as did my companions.
"No!" The halfbreed shouted. "We hath been bested! Leave them!"
I turned back to the dying halfbreed, shocked by his honor. I reached out with my mind, staring into his soul. Yet all I saw was pure, cold hatred staring back at me. Repulsed, I brought my sword down, decapitating the fiend.
The halfbreed's men stared at myself and the dead body. Slowly, one by one, they walked away.
"A splendid duel, Avatar." Tseramed remarked. Trevor placed the Sword of Justice back in its scabbard at his belt.
"Indeed, my friend."
And so our journey continued. But despite all the praise I'd received, another layer had been pulled from me. My descent into the darkness was becoming complete.
The halfbreed showed more virtue than me. I dared to hate him for what he was. I deserve not even the right to live.
Cove had not changed in the months since I passed through here. Barren
and desolate, save for the wind.
"Search the docks! See if you canst find a ship or skiff! I'll be at the Shrine of Compassion!"
The Shrine of Compassion was closer to a city than any of the other shrines across Britannia. A small bridge separated Cove from this holy place.
Upon the altar rested a glowing breastplate. Over it hung a beautiful red sircoat, painted with a golden ankh in the center.
"Tis a magnificent artifact, Avatar! It looks wonderful upon thee!" A mocking voice called from behind.
A large Daemon stood behind me. Oddly colored, his face shone grey while his wings were dabbed with yellow.
"Who art thou, Daemon?" I cried, drawing the Black Sword.
"Thou dost not remember me, Avatar? I am Virtuebane, whom you met in the ruins of Magincia centuries ago!"
"And now thou'rt a lackey of the Guardian, like all your people."
"Fool! The Guardian hast made me the Lord of Pride! Quite fitting is it not?"
I charged at the Daemon, brandishing the sword of blackrock. Virtuebane drew a large scimitar and parried my blow.
"Heh… Thou'rt an idiot, Avatar. I can't see what British and the Time Lord saw in you! I did not come to fight, fool! No matter. I wouldst love to kill thee myself, but twould ruin my master's plans."
"What plans, foul Daemon?'
"Oh, thou wilt find out soon enough…"
Still chuckling, the Daemon of Pride disappeared in a burst of flame. A scroll appeared where once he stood. It read:
The time has come to settle our conflict. Meet me tomorrow at dawn on the roof of Castle Britannia. One of us shall not survive past the day.
I continued to stare at the note as my companions approached.
"We found no boats, (AV)." Mortegro said. "They docks were mostly destroyed."
"That matters not, Mortegro. We hath other business now."
Most of Britain hadst burned down. Trevor explained that a group of Britannians
hadst attacked the city several years ago, but to no avail. Yet Castle
Britannia was still as recognizable as ever.
Throughout the streets, we saw skeletal figures. None took notice of us, however. All seemed to know of our arrival.
I ascended the winding, circular staircase to the roof of the castle. Julia stood there, garbed in black, wielding the same flaming hammer I'd seen at New Magincia.
"Well met, (AV)! A pleasure to see thee once more!"
I drew the Black Sword. "Then we fight now, Julia."
"Aye. I am sorry it had to come to this, (AV). But twould be best to die by my hand rather than that of a Daemon."
"Why, Julia? For years we traveled Britannia together. Now thou hast turned to the Guardian, siding with his evil forces. Why?"
"Evil? Yes, they are evil. I am evil. I cannot deny this. But still I fight for Britannia! Mayhaps I am evil, but only as a sacrifice, so that Britannia can live on. Thou wouldst follow thy path of 'good,' yet Britannia wouldst die because of thy interference."
"And mayhaps thou speak the truth, my old friend. Since I slew the Slasher of the Veils, often have I pondered whether I truly am a paragon of virtue. I no longer care. Good or evil, it is my destiny to free Britannia from the Guardian."
"So be it. With the Hammer of Sacrifice, a weapon I forged from brimstone myself, I shall fight thee, and one of us shall die."
"Indeed. Twas inevitable."
"Not even the Time Lord couldst hath pervented it."
Our weapons met, and a spectacular duel began. In both offense and defense
we fought equally. Yet it was not a match of strength. It was a contest
of wills, of eithics, of virtues.
Still our weapons clashed, yet neither of us thought of the battle. Virtues engulfed us. We wert naught but principles, our duel simply a debate.
Yet I weakened, as did my virtues. Mayhaps I wouldst destroy the Guardian. But would that make me any better than he? Or would that simply make me Britannia's new Guardian?
Nearly an hour passed, and still we fought. My grip upon the Black Sword loosened; I felt the fight dying within me.
Yet the Mystic Breastplate began to radiate with a glow. An aura of virtue, of love, of all-caring kindness. I felt revived. I must press the fight onward!
"Mu… mu… mu…"
Chanting the mantra of Compassion, I redoubled my efforts in the battle. Julia weakened. A swing cut through her throat and sent the Hammer of Sacrifice flying through the air, landing down below the Castle. The virtue around me dimmed, as I realized what I had done.
"I was weak…" My companion muttered. "I could not bring myself to slay the Avatar of Virtue… I could not do what I must to save Britannia…
"Avatar… Was it wrong to give up my own virtues for the good of Britannia… I ask you, was it wrong to sacrifice myself for our land…"
My companion was no more. Her last words still echoed across the battlefield that once marked the very embodiment of Britannia.
"Quickly, (AV)!" Inlor-Om cried. "To leave! To see they are coming for
Below, the undeads swarmed around Castle Britannia. Seeing Julia defeated, they now gathered around to destroy us. Already they pressed their way into the Castle; soon they'd reaach the roof.
"Jump into the moat! Tis our only chance!" I yelled.
As I leaped from the roof, I felt a hard snap. The moat around Castle Britannia had mostly dried up, yielding only a few feet of protection. My right leg went limp, as it cracked against the hard ground. No time for healing spells. I struggled through the streets, my companions following me.
The hoard of undead charged after us. Soon they would overtake us. I turned back to look at them, concentrating through the Ether.
"IN VAS CORP!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"
Grant Peace. A Necromatic spell. The undead army writhed and twisted, dispersing one by one. The various corpses crumbled away to dust, leaving us unharmed.
Upon Pagan, this spell only affected one creature at a time. Now, through my Titanic powers, I couldst destroy an entire legion with a wave of my hand!
Onward we stumbled, towards the south exit. More undead still resided in Britain. There was not much time.
At last the cobbled path was replaced by a simple dirt one, the ruined guard towers marked the exit to this hellish city!
"Avatar! Didst thou think thou couldst escape so easily?!"
From above soared Virtuebane, wielding his scimitar. I drew the Black Sword once more and we clashed, ever fleeing southward.
A blow from my sword cut off the Daemon's right hand, disarming him. The foul creature screamed in pain.
"Damn thee! We shall meet again!"
Never shall it end, for never did it even begin.
-The Bal Lem
There are some things I could have done in this book that I'm very glad
I didn't. I could, for example, have made Julia realize in her dying moments
that she was wrong, the Avatar is good and virtuous and savior of Britannia,
blah blah blah. Instead, I chose to have her retain her views to the last,
leaving the reader to wonder whether it was she or the Avatar who was right.
Another note on Julia: In Origin's Ultima 9, several of the Avatar's old companions have sided with the Guardian. I did NOT get the idea for this from Origin's Ultima 9; I thought up having Julia work for the Guardian before Ultima 9 came out. There are only two things from Origin's Ultima 9 that I've used: 1. The game starts out at Stonegate. 2. The Avatar's Mystic Belt, which can hold an infinite number of items. I thought of both of these before Ultima 9 came out, but they were based on things I heard about the game. (Note: To the best of my knoweledge, there is no Mystic Belt in Ultima 9. What I mean is that I got the idea for the Mystic Belt from the Avatar's toolbelt, though that only carries twelve itens.)
I also realize this book is extremely short, as are most of the later books. I freely admit that the length of these books is not based on size, but on the events that happen within it. The conflict between the Slasher of the Veils and the Avatar deserved to conclude a book, as did the duel with Julia, negating the possibility of attaching this book to the beginning or end of another. Well, that's all my babling for now. Enjoy!
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