DISCLAIMER: Hi, Dragons. I asked if I could post here a while ago as JBeanfest. Well, here comes the real me. This is my first and possibly last Ultima 'fic. And my first post on a newsgroup, so bear with me. Anyway, this piece of writing describes the time after the Avatar has liberated Castle British from its blackrock prison in Ultima Underworld II, Labyrinth of Worlds. The timeline coincides with the games. I have six months before we're shipped off to Serpent Isle, remember? And something happened in that time span, right? Or, at least something happened right after the blackrock prison crumbled to the ground. This something? Probably not, but. . . Playing the games are like reading a book. You get into the plot and can't put the damn thing down and thirst for more after the end. And going with the book analogy, you bring your own past along and weave it in with the story. So if this single perception of this world conflicts with what you imagined, or what was meant to be, well, that's life. Hopefully you can see my side too. That goes for not only the world layout, but characters as well ('Specially British. Sorry if I make him seem, well, old.) The world I use is mostly U7BG combined with UWII. You should probably know the plot of UWII pretty well to get what's goin' down here. Anyway, here goes. Oh, yeah. One more thing. I'm sorry. Most of this stuff doesn't belong to me, and I'm probably breaking the law by borrowing. But who cares! No, just kidding. I really am sorry, Origin and Garriott, and I'm making no money at all here, believe me. But I am taking totally unrelated contributions of kitties. Seriously. And I won't blow 'em up.

Got comments? I'd like to hear 'em, brutal or whatever. Send e-mail to my alias BloodyCats@aol.com. AKA Zenith the Avatar. FYI, this particular Avatar is seventeen years old and female. (BTW, that makes me four or so when the first Ultima came out!) Just warnin' y'all! I reccomend you read all parts in one straight shot, or else it loses a lot, I think. One last warning, this isn't supposed to be cute. IT'S PRETTY DARN POINTLESS, to say the least. It's probably more cheesy than anything else. No real plot, just. . . well. . . me. Heh. Enjoy. 


by: BloodyCats

done: summer/fall '96

I struggled to lift my head and kicked. Cool air lapped at my left foot. I kicked again, and the air hit my calf and thigh. I kicked again, and the blanket fell back on my leg. I reached over and ripped it off. And cursed.

"Surely that is no way for the Avatar to speak," the voice froze me. I let my head sink back into the pillow and closed my eyes tight.

"Fuck you, Iolo." He laughed, a short bark. A noise, like newspapers being crumpled came from the direction of his voice, and then uneven footsteps. A chill ran the length of my spine. I held in my breath. I could feel Iolo's presence hovering next to me. The warmth of his lightly trembling hand placed on my shoulder confirmed it, and I let out my air in a short puff.

"I thought thou wouldst never awaken, Zenith." His tone was as grave as a pastor's. I sighed.

"No such luck for either of us." My back screamed as I pushed myself up. My skin refused to move in sync with the muscle underneath. My whole body felt bound with twine, not just cut as it was. And it itched. Iolo's face hovered like a cloud above me. I needed to scratch, but he was looking at me intently with his smilecreased eyes.

"How art thou, Avatar?"

"DON'T call me that!" I cringed as soon as the words popped out. As did he. His smile turned to a deep frown and his eyebrows furrowed. I slid my legs over the side of the bed. The floor was damn cold on my feet, even though the light from the fire fell across my toes.

"Well, good morning to you, Sunshine," Dupre's bass came from the hall, followed by footfalls. What business was it of his? Or even Iolo's?

"Why was the door kept open? Can't I sleep in peace?"

"Why Avatar," Dupre began.

"I said don't call me that." I got to my feet. I was wearing only my thin cloth leggings and undershirt, and felt my cheeks growing hot even in the presence of these two great friends.

"Zenith. . ." Iolo sounded like Nana scolding one of the children. I glared at him purposefully and he let his jaw drop slack. Dupre sighed and coughed. I noticed the bandages then. His arm was done up in white, and his tunic was a considerable amount lumpier than usual. My eyes flicked to Iolo and I saw that he was wearing not leather leggings under his long coat, but soft pants. I looked to where he must have been sitting when I awoke, and there was an old walking stick propped against the wall.

"Iolo, Dupre. . . are you all right? I didn't think many guards attacked before the blackrock fell. But they must have. Are there any of ours dead? Julia? Julia was cut. Is she all right? Dupre?" I leaned back on one of the small tables. My stomach had suddenly hollowed out.

"Everyone is all right. Another wave of Mors Gotha's guards attacked after you. . ."

"No one was seriously hurt," Iolo abruptly cut off Dupre's explanation.

"After I what?" Dupre's mouth was shut into a thin line. Iolo wiped at his forehead and scratched his scraggly white beard. They glanced at each other briefly. "Answer me please. After I what?" My voice gave way at the last part of "what," and I coughed at the frog in my throat. Why didn't I know what they were talking about?

"You fell, milady. The blackrock came down and you fainted, I guess."

"I fainted, you guess?" The most rediculous thing I'd heard from Dupre, and that was saying something. Iolo sighed and came forward. Limping. Pain flashed across his features with every heavy step. I reached out to him, but he waved me away with one hand. I noticed a cut there. Dupre crept up behind him, frowning.

"Ava-- Zenith, thou cried out and fell to thine knees. Lord British ended up carrying thee here. Thou hast been sleeping for three days."

"By the virtues, no." I whispered. My face became extremely hot and I turned away from my friends for a second, hoping to shield my mask of embarrassment with the harsh tones of light coming form the fireplace. I was an idiot. I was weak. In front of the eyes of the castle *and* and Gargoyle army. I didn't want to believe it. I could remember tremors, and the blackrock crumbling, and the explosion as the stained glass window behind the throne fell apart. But I could remember nothing after looking out of the balcony, and into the faces of a thousand Gargoyles.

"Zenith, there is no reason to be embarrassed. The air-djinn was a burden for your body, as was the blowing of the Great Horn. They celebrate you even now, in the Great Hall. Hold your head up, Avatar. Thou hast saved this realm once more."

"Please, friend Iolo, do not call me Avatar. I do not feel like an Avatar." I whispered. Dupre opened his mouth to comment but I shut it by speaking first. "What happened to you, friends? I can't help but feel partly responsinble." I tried to smile, but don't think it came out right.

"As I said, a few others from Mors Gotha's army broke through our guards and attacked. Some of Lord Draxinusom's army were able to get into Castle British to help ward them off. The Guardian's soldiers may have hit us a few times, but we hit back harder. The My sword was covered in blood by the end. Sure, we were banged up a little, but no one was wounded badly. We triumphed, following thine example."

I sighed. "It looks bad to me, Sir Dupre."

"We'll live, I assure thee," Iolo smiled and clapped me on the back. I smiled back, but it was a fake smile. My stomach knew it. It flipped and twisted and growled. Half of that was hunger, but still, I felt horrible. My skin was dry and itchy and nagging. Reminding me that my friends had similar cut wounds and that it was partly my fault. After blowing the Horn, I should have seen that the last of Mors Gotha's guards were dead. Or at least under control before I flipped out. But did I flip out? Maybe not. Just fainted, I guess.

"If thou art still tired we can talk later," Dupre hinted, leaning toward the door. I wondered how I looked. Must be bad if Dupre was willing to leave me sleep. I sure felt like hell. These men should have never seen me like this. Bruised, angry, and yes, tired. After sleeping three days? It made more sense than it should have. I had just saved a people. Not alone, but it had still been hard work. I had new battle scars crossing ones barely healed. And the Voice was still with me, compounding it all. Not in my conscious thoughts, and not strong or confident, more whispering, but there. I wish I could tell Dupre then, but he likely knew. There was the gleam of alcohol in his eyes, which reminded me of Lobar back on Killorn. And the Voice.

"Yes, Zenith. Thou mayest join the festivities in the Great Hall when thou dost feel up to it. There shall be plenty of time to speak of our experiences later. Rest now." Iolo let Dupre get his cane for him and help him a little on the way out the door. They both grinned at me as they left. I bet it was to mask their pain.

"Sweet dreams, Avatar," Iolo said as he crossed the threshhold into the hallway, whispering the last word in such a soft, almost passion, that I could not object. I am the Avatar, after all. Doubts and fainting spells cannot take that away, can they? No, of course not. I am the Avatar, and that meant facing the music now in the aftermath. And I could handle it, right? How could I hope to rest when the castle could be in peril and the outside world wracked with the destruction and fear of war? I reached for not my breastplate and mail, but some soft leather leggings and a top from my hardwood chest. I fastened my red cape on my back, put my jeweled longsword in its scabbard at my waist. I slipped on leather boots that had formed to my feet long ago with my wanderings and searching for a place to call home. Butterflies' wings battered my empty stomach. I hoped I looked presentable. For a hero. That is what they expected. They expected a hero, and that is why I did not want Iolo calling me Avatar. My eyelids were heavy and my skin was a tight fit. I felt like no hero. ><

The shouting and singing hit me first. Drunken voices clashing and mixing into a melodious ballad. The loudest voice I could decipher was a deep, shouting tune in what I recgonized as Gargish. Probably a war victory song. The smell hit next, the aroma of food and drink, and hot, sweaty men and women. I momentarily longed for the over-air-conditioned buildings of Earth.

My stomach dropped as I approached the corner. I had not a bite to eat for three days, but still my stomach threatened to empty its contents onto the cold stone. The voices were loud, throbbing in my ears. The smell of people and food, and ale forced its way into my nostrils, stopping my breath. I reached for the wall. My hands shook like a banner in the wind. My knees gave out with a pop. Pain rolled down my skin like rivers of acid as I came to rest on my knees, hands and forehead resting on the cold, wet stone wall. My breath resumed in unfulfilling ragged, quick gasps. I could not breathe. Three days of sleep was maybe not enough. Maybe Iolo had it on the mark when he said the air djinn was too great a burden for my body. I was only of Earth, for god's sake. Earth. I snapped my head up. There had been a change in the ether, a tingle on my skin. I had expected a moongate gleaming in the hall. But the only thing there was the noise and the smell and the shadows dancing across the ankh banner hung in the hallway. Tears squeezed from my eyes. What the hell was wrong with me? I cursed under my breath and used the wall to stand myself back up. Slashes on my thighs and back bit into my conciousness with saber teeth. Muscles ached. I forced myself down the hall, using the stone wall to half support, half guide me.

"Avatar!" one voice shouted, and the whole of Castle British exploded in thunderous cheering whose sharp lightening attacked my brain. I smiled. It was a grin that ate my face, but it lasted only seconds. A huge winged Gargoyle stepped forward, along with a knight I didn't recognize, Syria, and my old Companion Shamino. They advanced and the grin faded fast. Laughing drunkenly, the mob reached for me. I took an involuntary step back, but was too stunned to do anything more. They lifted me on their shoulders. The crowd's volume was deafening. Torchlight danced eerily on the walls. Someone screamed my name. Shamino held my left leg. I suppressed a scream as his hand brushed a tender sword wound. Tears squeezed from my eyes. A missile flew by me, brushed my ear, and I teetered backward. The gargoyle reached up and steadied me. I swayed uneasily despite his steel grip. I looked back to see a bloody-colored rose lying on the stone floor.

"Speech!" Someone cried out, and before I could open my mouth, it was turned into a chant. My head throbbed with the rhythm. I held up a hand for them to stop. Insane cheering followed. Three days, I thought, and the party is still going on. Mugs raised in the air, people hooted, and then grew silent as my hand was noticed. I was shocked. They fell silent for me. Two hundred inebriated men and women, shouting and singing and dancing stopped because I held a hand in the air. A hand that was crusted with filanium mud and solid blood. A hand that would not stop shaking.

"Friends," I cried, my voice breaking horribly. I coughed hard. The wheezing, gurgling noises my lungs made caused alarm to flash through my skull. My body became unbalanced again and grips had to be repositioned on my legs and hands dug into bruises and cuts. I grimaced, and saw more than a few surprised glances from the crowd. The silence was thick and strangling. I opened my mouth again, cleared my throat once more and spoke. "Friends, the Red Bastard had fallen. But it was not I who dealt the fatal blow. 'Twas the whole people of Britainnia. . ." The second after each word came from my lips, I forgot what I had said. There were smiles and cheers at the end, but I couldn't remember why the masses were cheering. I know at the end I yelled, tears running from both eyes, "Let us celebrate!" Even though what I wanted to do was go back to my chamber and sleep. Make that cry myself to sleep. I could not stop the thin rivers of tears flowing from my eyes. I wiped at them with my bloody hands. As I brought my hand from my hot, flushed cheeks, I caught Shamino's eyes. He was looking up at me, brow furrowed, mouth open slightly.

"Zenith," he breathed, "it is good to see you, my friend." The hands on my body began lowering me to the ground, and I breathed a sigh as my feet touched down. I put a hand to the wall to help me come up with balance once again. I turned into the crowd. I was facing Shamino now, and he reached out and set his hands on my shoulders. He was as battle-scarred as any here in the castle, and my heart sank at the sight of him. But he was smiling. The breath coming from his mouth reeked of alcohol, and he stepped often, trying to recapture his balance. If he was like this, I thought with a sigh, how could any of us deal with Dupre?

"And it is good to see you. What hast thou been doing since we crushed the Black Gate a year ago?" I asked the question and my mouth twitched, longing to frown. Saying the words "the Black Gate" was increasingly hard as I became more accustomed to Britain. Through the Gate was Earth and home, and I would *never* forget that.

"Settling down, Avatar." I cringed inwardly. He grinned widely. I was about to ask him if how his "friend" Amber was when a booming voice interrupted us. It was a voice deep and rough with years. Lord British.

"Avatar," he said, and I turned in the direction. He stood underneath the grey stone Serpent ornament on the wall that led out through the courtyard.

"Excuse me, Shamino," I said. He gave a slight bow as I left him.

"Avatar," Lord British said as I approached, and I twitched involuntarily, scowled. "Is something wrong?" Many patches of white and red stood out on British's body, bandages. I frowned.

"No, Milord."

"Thou wouldst lie to me, Avatar? I canst hardly believe mine own ears!" He was smiling warmly. Chills danced across my back.

"Please do not call me Avatar," I said, voice trembling.

He put his hand on my shoulder and suddenly, I was shaking hard. My teeth were almost chattering with the violence of the attack. I was afraid. Home on Earth I could believe such reactions after a stress such as the djinn-bottle I had been, but in Britannia, I was supposed to be near-invincible. I often felt that way. But not now. Now I had to bite into the flesh of my lip to keep from crying out. British's hand slid around my back, and he led me away, trembling, through the courtyard. We crossed the threshhold to the Throne Room. Sunlight was spilling through the broken window. Voices raised high into the morning. Shouts of "Avatar," "Hero," and even "Saviour," hit me like rocks in the head. The purple carpet was stained dark in many places. My chest hitched and a sob came from within. I jumped. The noise was horrible, pathetic. British's grip tightened on me and he kept leading. Tears pushed their way forth and I watched one darken purple carpet. British led me through the crowd; it parted for him like the sea for Moses. I tripped on a stair leading to his chamber, and he held me tight, helped me regain balance. I wanted to push him away, but my teeth were chattering together now, and my chest heaved with sobs.

End part one

He sat me on a chair. Firelight played on my leggings and the heat was like Shamino's breath, only scented of burning wood. My hot hands found my face, and I leaned forward, despite protests from my back. Tears poured down my face, dripped from my nose, got stuck between fingers. My chest wanted to explode with the force of my sobs. British's hands were there, on my back, warm pressure that leaked through my cape and shirt. They were unmoving, like just another layer of armour to slap on this mortal's shoulders. I left them there.

He stood as an unmoving statue behind me. When the sobs reduced to short hitches of breath, I did reach up and remove the hands from my back. I stood, feeling the cape tug at my shoulders as it's full weight fell around my body. I started to leave. I wanted to leave, but his voice stopped me.

"Zenith, sit down."

I cleared my throat. "Milord, I beg leave of thee." My hands found the hilt of my sword and traced the rubies embedded in the steel. My chest hitched. I looked away.

"Sit down, Zenith," his tone indicated it was an order.

"I'd prefer to retire to mine own chambers, Milord." He laughed at that, a cruelly soft chuckle. I paced back to the chair, Staring at the ankh pattern in the rug beneath it.

"Something is troubling you." *No kidding,* I thought. The fire surged and cracked. The voices downstairs were like a faraway, tinny tune on a radio, singing one drunken victory song in intertwining harmonies.

"Avatar, thou art a great friend to me. Thou dost know it is my job to see you happy, no matter the cost," I could hear the smile in his voice.

"I miss Earth," I stated blandly. I reached back to my side. The sword was heavy there, I drew it with one liquid move, strong and fast. The blade reflected the fire as a mirror, and I watched tiny, dancing flames as I held my blade before me. I traced the edge with one finger. It was exquisitely sharp.

"Avatar," British walked in front of the fire where he could look me in the eyes.


"Give me the sword."

"What?" I tightened my fingers on the hilt, curled the other hand gently around the blade. What could he want with my sword? Unless he thought. . . no. I was feeling a little off-key, but not *that* unbalanced. Surely he was joking.

He sighed and stepped one step closer. "I asked you to give me your sword."

I shot to a standing position. My body whined in a chorus of pain. British leapt back. I was in the correct position, I suppose, to gut him like a deer. "Dost thou not trust me? Am I not the Avatar? Your "great friend?" Did I not just save your ass and every other ass dancing in this castle-- no-- this world just three days ago? And you do not trust me with the same sword that saved you?" I advanced on him, and his hand went to the hilt of his dagger, resting conveniently in his belt. I raised the jeweled blade and walked British into the wall. I Put the blade on his chest, not flat, but on its edge, so that if I pressed, the sharp steel would pierce his skin. "Dost thou not trust me with mine own blade?" I looked him in the eye.

"Thou mayest hurt thyself." I laughed. Laughed, but tears of rage spilled over my cheeks. I dropped the blade to my side, and then to the floor. It's plunk on the rug made a terribly hollow sound. My hands balled to fists and I turned away.

"Thou dost not trust me," I whispered. My stomach was flipping and my head was buzzing. It was hard to breathe. I was acting like a lunatic and I couldn't stop it. "I'm sorry, by the Virtues, I'm sorry, Milord." I thought, but then clasped one dirty hand over my mouth. I had not intended to speak aloud.

"Thou art not well. Iolo was correct in saying thou hast been through much with the air-djinn and all." He grunted, and soon after, cold metal was being pressed to my fingers. My hand coiled around the jeweled hilt of my sword, and I sheathed the weapon at once. "I trust thee, Avatar. Thou knowest that."

"Yes, Milord." I turned to face him. He looked older. His eyes were creased and his mouth seemed to twitch ever so slightly. "Thou art hurt," I said, alarmed. He nod and tugged at the bandage at his left shoulder, bright with fresh blood.

"Yes, but 'tis not serious."

"It is serious, I let thee down when I. . . when I crumbled after the blackrock prison."

"Avatar, thou art too hard on thyself! Thou hast just saved us all from dying in Castle British, and leaving all of Britannia to fend for iself aginst the Guardian without a leader-- without many of the important figures of our world. Thou art worried about a few knicks from the blades of a few badly-trained men? Oh, Avatar," he sighed. The red on white grew larger, even now after three days.

"I have a friend who lives in Cove, Milord, Jaana. She is a healer. I should get her to look at that shoulder," I stood. There was a painting of me on the wall. My figure poised, blade drawn, ready to face an Abyss-dwelling Feral Troll lurking in the background. I stared at its horrid colors, did not face British. Footsteps echoed on the creaking wood beneath the carpet. British was behind me. He laid his hands on my shoulders and gently pushed. I turned for him, turned and he grabbed both sides of my face and forced me to look into his eyes.

"Zenith, I am worried. Thou hast known me for a long time now, and thou knowest I have only thy best interests in mind. Now, tell me what troubles thee. I want to help."

His eyes gleamed with what may have been tears. Or the firelight could have been playing games with the tears stuck in my own eyes. The only thing I knew for sure was that my chest ached with the words I needed to say. His hands were light and dry on my cheeks. I couldn't look away, couldn't tear my face from his gentle grip.

"Zenith," he pleaded, fixing me in place with his eyes. A leftover sob made my chest shift up and back quickly. I swallowed hard.

"I. . . don't know." His hands released me, and I looked down. Then suddenly, I snapped my head back up. I swiped the tear tracks from my hot cheeks. This was no way for an Avatar to act, no sir. I was ashamed. The sooner I could get back into the Great Hall, now, the better. Show my new home I was strong and here to stay. Forget everything that had just happened. I coughed hard, trying to get the last of the doubt out of my throat. British shook his head.

"Avatar, I want thee to rest if thou needest it. Thou don't have to go back out there. I'm here now, we can talk. . ." It was my turn to shake my head.

"I thank thee, but I know what needs to be done. We must move on. Tis the time for healing in Britain. For all of us." I sighed. On Earth, such pretty fake words would have never come from my mouth. Lord British looked at me disapprovingly. I could not tell what he was thinking, but his eyes were faraway with worry. He shrugged, and winced. The shoulder wound continued to bleed. I reached into the runebag I kept always at my waist and then walked over and lay my hands upon him.

"Vas In Mani," I whispered, carefully forming the proper gestures with my hands'. My body floated with the power, it was a freeing feeling to be able to cast such a great spell in Britain. Lord British's body trembled as the mana left my body and entered into his in the form of magical energy. His eyes flashed with momentary fear. I withdrew my hands, then started undoing the blood-reddened bandage. He looked on me with startled awe. The wound had scabbed over. Not full healed, not gone, but on the way to healthy recovery. Greater heal was the spell, and I had used it on myself a hundred times. But performing it for another was a whole different experience. I felt Avatarish once again. British smiled at me, a weak, frightened smile.

"Thank thee, Zenith."

"Thou art welcome," I placed the runes back in my bag and stumbled toward the stairs that led to the Throne Room, a sad smile on my face. I hoped by now Dupre would have a cold, dark bottle of ale sitting in front of an empty chair next to him, with my name on it. 

In-between Dupre and Shamino was indeed an unoccupied chair with a tall dark bottle and cup sitting on the table there, alongside a plate piled with food. Iolo, on Dupre's left, saw me approaching first and looked up to me.

"We saved a place for thee, Avatar," his tone was quiet. Had he seen me break down alongside British? I shuddered to think so.

"Yes, Ava-er-Zenith, we are pleased that thou wouldst join us." The words of the knight were greatly slurred. Dupre raised his goblet as he spoke them. Dark ale sloshed out of the cup, onto the table, but my friend didn't seem to take notice. His eyes were very glassy, and even sitting, he seemed to be unbalanced. In this time of celebration, he was expected to celebrate, of course, but my mind refused to stay on the bright side of things. Immediately I thought of Lobar back on Killorn and the Voice. I looked at Dupre, scarcely able to hold his cup steady as he took another long drink of ale and my stomach siezed up. The light here in the Great Hall was dim and dusty with the commotion, and in the shadow of the banner hanging over the table, I regarded Dupre, and imagined the Red Bastard's words to him. His studded leather armor reflected light in millions of directions as my eyes teared again. Water shortage in Britain my ass.

"Art thou all right, Zenith? Have a bite to eat. Iolo tells me thou slept for these past three days. Thou must be famished." Shamino gestured to the plate before me. It was relieving to look at his kind face. His eyes were calm and patient and although he reeked of drink, he was not intoxicated. I reached out for a pastry.

"Yes, I feel as if I could eat the Guardian alive," I took bites of the cake and reached for my own bottle of ale-- screw the glass sitting there. It was my turn to get falling-down drunk. The only ones who weren't already were Lord British and Iolo. Shamino was on the borderline. Something struck me then.

"Shamino, hast thou settled down yet?" I love watching him squirm. His color deepened into a healthy red. Iolo laughed and leaned back in his chair.

"Yeah, how is that actress-girl of yours anyway? Art thou planning on having children?" Iolo's left-field question doubled me over with heavy laughter. It hurt my chest, and my eyes watered.

"Ugh, now I feel old," Dupre groaned. Shamino rolled his eyes.

"Beacuse thou art old, Dupre. I see a hint of grey in thine moustache. In fact, thou art at the age where thou should be rearing grandchildren, art thou not?" Shamino teased. Dupre looked back with a lopsided grin on his face and his cup held up, ale sloshing, threatening to rain out onto the table. He took a long drink.

"Hmm, I suppose thou art right," Dupre's tone had changed to seriousness. "We art all getting too old for running around, save Avatar. She's as hung. . . uh," he laughed sloppily, "I mean she's as young as ever. My apologies, Avatar," his cheeks turned the ruby color of the gems in my sword. The others laughed. I lifted my bottle to my lips, smiling at Sir Dupre.

I drank deeply of the dark ale. *But I will grow old here, in Britain,* I thought and sighed. My chest felt heavy once more. Yes, now I was stuck in Britannia, and doomed to age slowly as native friends around me grew old and died. Even the Earth natives Iolo and LB would be gone soon. The dark ale burned in my chest. I drank again, letting it warm me inside as it traveled slowly to my head. I would be stuck in a world who didn't know *me.* It was already happening. When I came to crush the Black Gate, people didn't even recognize me. I didn't fit their idea of the Avatar anymore. I could imagine myself as the retired movie star who the people recognize, but can't recall what movies they've done. I'd see another hero come, another Avatar. I'd live, fall into the simpler life in Britannia, and wake up sweaty, and tearful and longing for home. For hundreds of Britannian years. If I kept up thinking in this vein, I would have to convince Lord British to make pessimism the ninth Virtue.

The men around me continued to talk, Iolo's slow voice twining with Dupre's drunken laughter and Shamino's cheerful baritone. I stared through their words, at the ornamental swords crossed on the far wall. I thought I saw Julia the tinker, speaking to Geoffrey, captain of the guard, but their shadows mingled with the crowd, and I lost my friends amidst tall, red gargoyles and dancing townspeople. I looked into the crowd, just staring, hearing Dupre's laughter again, and Shamino's voice working in a smart comment. As I sat, a dark shadow slowly crept over the plate of food in front of me, slithered up the wooden tabletop as a snake would. I looked at the dark spot, and had the feeling suddenly that I was backed up against a wall. I regarded the strange peaks atop the mountainous shadow and immediately froze. Behind me stood Lord British. Now I could smell him, the familliar musky warm scent he carried always. His accented voice sprang in between Iolo's and Dupre's. A scraping noise flanked my right side. I tore myself out of my thoughts and looked up. Shamino was sliding over. A hardwood chair, carved with the design of a Serpent slid into the empty space. The purple cloths of Lord British's dress came into view as he sat next to me. I raised the bottle to my lips and downed the remaining liquor.

There were more bottles piled in the center of the table and I stood and reached for one. After a thought, I brought back two. I turned to Milord and handed him the cool green glass. He took it, to my slight surprise. I worked my stubby nails into the soft cork and yanked it out. Lord British did the same.

"Now that the Black Gate is smashed, and we are rid of that dreadful blackrock prison, the Moongates may be in working order, Avatar. The Guardian's grip on this world has slipped," Lord British took a drink of his ale and his face contorted in a sour grimace.

"I still feel his presence here," I said in a near-whisper, and added in thought, *I still hear his Voice.*

"Thou must not give up hope," LB said quietly. His face was close to mine and I could smell his musty breath. Maybe I could handle that. This world was one of occasional chaos, true, but we had always been able to make our way through it, Lord British, my Companions and I. I shrugged and drank more ale. Now my head was buzzing lightly. Good. I was ready to get drunk. Hell, I deserved it.

British pat my arm and took another sip of his ale. He did not cringe this time. I tuned in to a story Shamino was in the middle of telling, sipping at the green bottle in front of me and watching the kaleidoscope of people dancing in the dusky Hall. 

End Part Two

The sky and walls were black. I confused them as I slid down the floor, struggling to keep balance. I hit the black wall hard, on my left side. The force spun my body, and for a confused moment I stared back at the purple ice I'd already slid across, and the spot of red blood I'd left on the wall. I was still bleeding from a wound given to me by an imp's lightening bolt on my left shoulder. But the force had been enough to spin me the full 360, and I turned away from the blood as soon as I'd set eyes upon it. I teetered on unsteady feet. The floor was a hard purple substance I didn't recognize as Earthly or of Britannia, and slippery as hell. I held out my arms and pushed away from the black wall and lost my balance. My hands caught only air. Black air and black walls look the same in the Void. I fell on the glowing purple path face first, not able to brace my fall, and the air flew out of me in a painful rush. I gasped for breath, eyes bulging. My body spun and I could see only flashes of purple between long black periods. My body eventually straightened out, and I sailed down the purple path, gasping for thin Ethereal Void air. And as soon as I caught my breath, it escaped me again. I was hurtling face first into the open purple visage of the grinning Guardian. I screamed in a choked whisper as I reached for my blade.

It wasn't there, nor was my scabbard. I reached and felt cloth beneath me, warm cloth. I blinked hard. Dreaming, I was only dreaming. I let my breath out in one hard puff and searched the bed around me, because I never do sleep without my sword. It's a habit I cannot afford to shake. My head throbbed lightly underneath the haze in my eyes, reminding me of the night before. I had been very drunk. That explained the vivid dream of the Void. I pat the bed around me, the dark blankets like rough feathers brushing against my skin. My hand hit something solid. I grabbed onto the pommel of my blade and sighed with relief. I knew the dreams could not follow me out of the Void, but having the metal in my hand was comforting. With my free hand I reached up and wiped sweat from my temple.

"Just wait, Avatar. I have a surprise for you." The Voice came from all directions, deep and accented slightly, and evil. Downright evil. It came from inside my head, the voice of the Guardian. I froze. My hand tightened involuntarily on my sword, but my grip was weak because of the sweat between the weapon and my palm.

"You never will have enough of me, will you, Guardian?" I called into the darkness. A booming laugh filled my head. There was a tingle in the air, a change in the ether as the Guardian's prescence left again. I couldn't help but shudder. To know that that bastard was watching every single move I made, watching and tormenting me even as I slept. Bringing down the Blackrock prison was merely another step in the battle. There was more to come, as Guardian promised, he still had a few surprises for me.

I hauled my aching muscles out of bed. I knew trying to fall back asleep would be a joke. I squinted in the dark and shuffled across the carpet. After a little digging, I found a worn dagger amidst my belongings. I find it smart to be armed in Britannia at all times, for as Faridwyn once mocked, trouble seems to follow me around.

I stepped into the hall on tiptoe, hands against the wall. A blast of cold air hit me as I left the sheltered heat of my fireplace. I stepped slowly, trying to avoid creaky spots in the weathered hardwood floor. The plush purple carpeting masked the smaller groans, but as Julia told me once after the murder of Lady Tory, she could hear the footsteps of people around the perimeter of the castle from behind the sealed door of her own chambers.

My eyes refused to adjust to the darkness of Castle British's massive halls, so as I turned toward the throne room, I kept my hands firmly on the stone. My fingers brushed a portrait of Lord British I knew well, from passing it in the hall countless times. It was beautifully done, but it didn't seem like the Lord himself. The painting showed a storybook icon, the British I knew was as real and flesh as myself.

I found the steps that lead to the throne room and descended. The dark night shining in through the broken window was enough to allow me to let go of the wall. I found the ribbon of purple that ran to the throne and followed, slowly, still afraid of being too loud with my footsteps. I stared into the dull blue light oozing onto the ankh patterned tapestries that hung from just below the ceiling. I froze and squinted into the darkness. I thought I caught a faint movement at the corner of the open window. A rush of salty air blew in across my face, lifting my hair gently. I reached to my belt and grabbed the dagger. Icy fear took my by the chest. I could hear the echoing of my breath in my ears, mixed with the Guardian's malevolent voice. I have a surprise for you. . . After everything that had happened in the past month, I could barely get my feet to move toward the shapes. My heart was racing in my chest. I felt dizzy. What if I fainted, like after the fall of the great rock prison? What if I froze and was not able to fight like I once had, or I tried to utter a spell and could not get the motions to properly follow the words? I stared into the dark and waiting for another movement. None came. The only sound in the whole gargantuan castle was the rush of my heavy breath. I stepped forward. I told myself that all of this doubt was a waste of time, and that the shadow was most likely a castle guardsman, but I clutched the dagger just in case.

I saw no one in the dim moonlight as I came close enough to see the edge of the balcony. My breath came in a great rushing sigh, and I relaxed a little. My heart still pounded the side of my throat, but I was able to continue.

My hands were shaking by the time I stepped out on to the fresh air of the balcony. I reached to put the dagger back at my belt. A single step echoed on the stone beside me and I jumped to the ready, spread my legs into a fighting stance and raised the dagger above my head.

"Thou couldst not sleep either?" Lord British stepped into the sparse blue light.

I was close to screaming. He had scared the very hair on my arms to attention, and a shudder wracked my body into a backward jump. "Oh, gods," I whispered, dropping the dagger and clutching my heart. *Settle down, Avatar,* I told myself.

"I apologize for startling thee." British said. He placed his hands on the stone railing and looked out across the city behind him. What lie there was mostly cornfields, shadowed by the Serpent's Spine mountains, but tonight all we could see was the dark shilouette of the distant rocks and the street immediately behind us. Only four days ago, a vast army had stood under the balcony here. It now seemed like a whole different world. Peaceful and mysterious and slow. A land from dreams.

"I didn't know it was thee," I answered sheepishly, walking to British's side. He kept his eyes straight ahead, on the ghost mountains as he spoke.

"Tell me of thy dream." I shuddered all over again. The way he said it, like a normal thing anyone would say, like someone would say "How about this weather," froze me.

"I uh," I started, but didn't know how to say anything more.

"I felt the Guardian's presence here, Avatar, it was very strong tonight."

"I dreamed of the Void." I said, sighing. "And when I awoke, he was here waiting for me. He told me he has a surprise for me. And then he left. Or at least I thought I felt him leave. There was. . . a kind of ripple in the ether. I couldn't get back to sleep. How about thee? Didst thou dream?"

"Aye. I saw Britannia burning. All the land was aflame, and my head was filled with the laughter of the Guardian. When I awoke, I could feel him somehow, and I too could not get back to sleep."

"I fear that he is not done with us, Milord."

"I knowest what thou mean, Avatar."

Silence followed. I reached back to pick up my dagger and fit it back at my waist. When I rejoined Milord at the railing, he looked at me with his kind eyes and sat on the stone rail. I followed, sensing that we would indeed not get back to sleep this night. The fatigue and effects of the alcohol seemed to be gone from my body, and what was left was simply a dull body ache coating a renewed vigor. I hoisted myself atop the ledge and looked to the fragile amount of space that separated the castle from the small moat. Hopefully, neither I nor Lord British would be going for a swim this night.

Lord British spoke again, quietly, staring out at the shilouette of the mountains. "The restoration must go on." He sighed. "It has been a long year, but we made a lot of headway. The people were eager to get the country back up on its feet. I get the same feeling from them now, despite this," he gestured to the blackrock shards that had fallen from the castle. "But if he comes again, the people may not be so eager. In my dream I saw Britain aflame. It was so real, I could feel the heat. When I awoke, sweat covered my body. I fear, Avatar, that a great trial stands before us. You and I and the ones loyal to us. Stay strong. That is all I ask of you. Whatever the Guardian meant by his threat to thee, and whatever the visions I had mean, please remember to stay strong for Britannia. And remember I will be here always." He sighed again. I thought I smelled smoke and looked around, wide-eyed. But it was my imagination only.

"I promise." I whispered. The wind made a ghastly moan as it swept through the open window. I knew what he was speaking of, the threat, the smoke, the subtle changes in the ether. Something big was coming. Big and red and evil. He gave us a whole year the last time, but how long would it be this time? "After we smashed the Black Gate, did you have any nightmares?" I asked.

"Not that I recall, Avatar. Didst thou?"

"Aye. But not about Guardian. About Earth. About my family and friends looking for me. About going home. I dreamed that I was back on Earth, and then I'd wake up. I still have those dreams sometimes." The air carried a salty flavor on it, from the moat or the sea. It made my breath taste like tears.

"I see."

"Before the Blackrock trapped us, did you dream then?" I noticed I had dropped out of speaking Britannian and back into regular old Earth English.

"I do not recall. 'Twas a rough time for me. Many requests were coming to Castle British for help and such, and I had to deal with them. It was also exiting to see Britannia coming back to it's full splendor before mine own eyes. I hast always had vivid dreams, but I do not remember any from the time before. Only now." He stopped speaking and took in a swift breath. I wondered if he was afraid to go back to sleep. It was very possible. His past month had been as rough as mine, maybe even harder. He felt responsible for Tory, Nelson and Patterson, maybe even more so than I. Because he was here the whole time and I was not. He had mentioned his feelings after both murders. Especially after Tory died. He had even said he felt it was partially his fault. And damn him if he didn't feel the same sense of responsibility towards every single person in Britannia. I tried to imagine being in his place. In his dream. Watching from your balcony as the people who counted on you to keep them safe burned to death. Listening to the collective scream of your people as they watched their posessions and lives melt in the flames. And not being able to do a single thing. I did not envy him. I almost pitied him, would have, except I felt a bit of that responsibility too.

"Well, Zenith, it is four in the morning. What do you propose we do?" Lord British stood up and stretched, and his face twisted into a grimace. He took a few steps into the throne room, moving slowly and stiffly. I followed him, watching close through the darkness. I hated to think he was getting old. "How about a walk through the city? Maybe into Paws? I haven't been out there in a while, and I need the air."

"A walk at this hour, Milord? It sounds a bit dangerous to me. You know, back on Earth, the President doesn't set foot outdoors without ten armed men surrounding him."

"I hast thou, do I not, Avatar? Go get dressed and meet me in the Great Hall in ten minutes. Bring that flashy sword of thine if it dost make thou feel better." He grinned and headed for the stairs that lead to his chambers. I shrugged. If he wanted to walk, I would go. Gods forbid I turn him down and he wanders out by himself, all the way to Paws or farther. Through the swamps. Thinking of alligators, I ran to my chambers, forgetting to walk quietly. 

British's eyes glittered in the dim light as he nod from around the corner. I took a deep breath and stepped to the front door. The blue-uniformed guards stood erect and unmoving, watching me silently. I took another breath and dove in.

"Guards!" I cried, softly enough not to wake Geoffrey sleeping on the other side of the wall, but loud enough to hopefully sound urgemt. My stomach sank as the guards looked at me. What if they didn't go? I swallowed my worry down a dry throat and yelled, "There are giant spiders in the Throne Room. I can't attend to them. Go, hurry!" I used a commanding voice and threw in a tad of mock fear. The guards didn't question my words. They took off, brushing past me without a sound. I motioned back into the dark hall and Lord British crept around the corner, grinning like the cheshire cat. He made me trick the guards so he could get out without the Britannian version of the Secret Service at our heels. I almost didn't agree to the lie, but his uncharacteristic malevolent grin changed my mind. There was a gleam at his side as we passed under the torches, and I was surprised to see a longsword at his belt. I had my own sword-- I chose the broadsword instead of the jeweled long-- hanging across my back, secure in its scabbard.

"Nice work, Avatar," he congratulated as our heels made heavy plunks across the wooden drawbridge.

"Didn't know such deviance was in me, did you?" I asked, my voice now totally devoid of Britannia-speak.

"I suspected thou had a treacherous side, but didn't want to tap into it, lest it be used for evil."

"When the citizens of Britain find our bodies in a ditch outside of Paws, they will certainly not think what I just did was good."

"Do not worry, Avatar. Who wouldst attack me when you are at my side? And if we art attacked, we wilst show the perpetrators what's what. I am quite handy with a sword." I almost laughed.

"Is that so?" I smiled and he returned it. The contrast the harsh streetlight put on his features made him look younger. He drew his longsword.

"Come, let us spar and thou shalt see."

"I can't do that. I've been training hard for the past month and I might hurt you."

"Nonsense. Draw or I shalt be forced to kill thee." A prickle of fear raced down my back, and a small bit of pain coursed through me as he placed his blade, which did not quiver in the least, on my chest as I'd done to him in his room the day before. The ground squished underfoot as he pressed me back onto the grass. I stopped then, let the blade dig into my skin.

"Kill me then."

"Avatar, I may look old, but I am not so frail I cannot handle a sparring match. First blood wins, now, come on."

"No blood," I said. The broadsword was considerably more heavy than the jeweled long I'd left back in my room. It was a flatter blade that caught the streetlights and bounced them off blindingly as I drew.

"On guard!" British called, raising his battered longsword to the ready. I sighed. Control. Strength. Defense, not agression. Don't let him get cocky or win, but don't hurt him. Just beat him. Easy now.

I clenched teeth and braced my arm. He swung first. Sparks flew between the metal. My arm was unsteady as I swung half-heartedly, and he blocked it with ease. He wasn't bad. Syria would put him to shame, Doorstag would have set his skull on his creepy little pile of bones, and I could kill him with a few expert strokes, but considering who he was, he was good. My heart thumped in my chest as I dodged another swing. I felt the wind on my cheek. This was simple sparring, but if I got too lazy it would kill me.

Adrenaline started coursing through me, leaving my limbs a bit tingly. A few yells erupted periodically from around us, but I ignored. I was getting into this, it was great for my defense technique.

"Avatar, I order thee to fight like thou meanest it!" British called. His thrust breezed my thigh. I drew deep breaths through my nose and thrust back. He jumped back and away while slashing at my exposed chest. There was a hollow thump against my leather breastplate. I jumped back with a gasp, but it didn't hurt. And I was trained to fight through the pain and little nicks, so I raised my sword overhead and swung hard. Metal crashed in a combo of sparks and thunder. British had seen that one coming and blocked it. Someone screamed behind me.

"It's alright, we're playing," I huffed.

"Playing," British echoed, out of breath. The gleaming metal of his sword came by my ear and I felt my stomach flip three times in a row. I swung again, brushing by his leg. Barely. He answered with a big swing that could have decapitated this Avatar. I thrust back. Thrust. He grunted. I froze. My crotch was kicked. I had no breath. He fell back. My stomach jumped out my open mouth. His sword clanged on cobblestone and he grunted again as he joined it. And then my broadsword joined it with a metallic clash. I was shaking as I ran to him, my head was buzzing with adrenaline. He was flat out lying on his back and the light was so cold and harsh and it magnified the tightness of his face, the clenched teeth, the squeezed eyes.

"Milord!" I yelled. His hand was bloody, clasped over his chest. Where his heart was. I felt like urinating in my leggings. My hands were shaking and his skin was clammy. One hand went to his back, lifted him up. The other went to the hand over his heart.

"First blood, you win." He said it through clenched teeth. I peeled the rigid, treebranch fingers away. The purple robe was torn, the skin underneath open and red for an inch or so. Not deep. I almost did pee my pants. The air came out of me in a tremendous rush.

"No, actually you hit me first, but art thou all right? Jesus. . ."

"I'm. . . okay." He looked down at the wound and sat himself up. "Nice shot, Avatar."

"I hurt you. Holy shit. Let's go back to Castle British." I could feel the eyes of a small crowd gathering. They were all on me.

"Nay, Zenith. I'm fine. Just a flesh wound. Did I really draw fist blood?"

"Yes," I gestured to the nick in my breastplate, smack in the middle of my chest. The leather was ripped and I could feel the sting beneath it, along with sticky blood pulling my shirt against my skin. It was not comfortable. It was like having a warm glob of jell-o stuck between my breasts.

"Well, I won then, did I not? Why didst thou not stop us?"

"I am trained not to feel during battle. I hardly knew you cut me." Lord British grinned. He turned to the crowd and stood. I reached out to help him, but he shooed me.

"Go to bed, people, dost thou not know what time it is?" He demanded.

"But, Lord British," a young man said. Lord British turned on one of his stern looks and shot it from one end of the crowd to the other. The ten or so who we had awakened dispersed. I returned the heaviness of my broadsword to my side. Thank the gods no street guards had seen us. We'd be in trouble. I heard the groan from LB as he bent to retrieve his sword. I sighed.

"Let's go back. You're hurt," I said quietly.

"Nay, Avatar. Dost thou not want to breathe in this fresh air, enjoy the freedom of this countryside? Let us continue on." He tucked the sword in his belt. Pounded off down the stone breathing ragged breaths. I jogged to his side, gasping for air, feeling the adrenaline tingle in my muscles.

"I'm sorry," I said.

"For what? Oh, this.," he gestured to the tear in his tunic. "Do not apologize, Avatar. 'Twas all in fun."

"Yes, fun," I mumbled under my breath. He smiled thinly. I gave up. "Can I ask a favor of you?" I asked, then bit my lower lip.


"I'd prefer if you called me Zenith. Not Avatar."

"But why? Thou art the Avatar, after all. Guilt or not, thou art the one who hast saved this land more times than I care to count." Guilt? What was that supposed to mean?

"I prefer Zenith. Less formal." There we go. I grinned stupidly, he stopped, leaving the world silent without the matching rhythms of our bootheels. He sighed.

"Alright, Zenith it is. But thou art still my Avatar, and always will be, my friend."

I smiled supidly. "Where are we headed?" He had turned us around, and we now faced east if I was correct. And I was. The British road stopped only a block away, at the bridge leading out of town.

"I've decided we art going to pay a visit to the Shrine of Compassion." The adrenaline pump in my veins kicked on again.

"All the way to Cove? What if we can't get back by daybreak? Dupre and Iolo will have twin heart attacks."

"Maybe so, but Miranda is capable of holding the fort. They will think we art still sleeping or something. Do not worry." He started off down the road and I had no choice but to follow. That bottle of ale last evening before we all went to sleep, to dream our dreams, may have been a mistake for him.

"No offense, Milord, but what's gotten into you?" He laughed deeply. It was a great sound.

"Being trapped in a musty castle with twenty restless people and a handful of guards for eighteen days, and then having a four day long party just ouside my chambers, that's what. I needed to get out, Zenith. And now we are, so let's make the most of it. True, it's strange for me to leave Castle British unguarded at four AM to go for a walk, but who cares? I tust thee to beat off any threats to our well being. And I haven't been out lately. I haven't been to see the shrines in a great deal of time. People forgot the virtues for the Fellowship, but I heard the Shrine of Compassion is still well-groomed. I'd like to see it at sunrise, wouldn't you?" He shrugged and stopped. I nodded to him and he continued down the road. The dirt was dry and crumbly under my boots. I hoped to the gods no bandits would meet us near the swamp. At the time of the Black Gate, mauraders had attacked Dupre, Iolo, Shamino, Spark, Jaana and I many times there. A yawn gripped me. It was a big one, made my head feel light. Dust crept into my nose and mouth. It smelled warm, and clean somehow. British was a shadow beside me, quiet and comfortable. The walk was nice, quiet. The world was still for us. I felt the wind, the night land-breeze, but didn't hear it through the trees. The trees themselves were nothing but silhouettes, like Serpent's Spine had been. The only noise was British's and my own boots crunching dust, and the only sight was darkness. Quiet open darkness. My body felt light, and the sword wound on my chest felt as if it had disappeared. My steps were also light, I thought I could fly on the gentle land breeze if I stepped up right. I found myself smiling at the dark, and I could swear British was smiling at the dark beside me.

End Part Three

The leaves rustled to our left. British was closer to the rustling than I, yet he didn't hear it at first. I put my hand on his shoulder to stop him, and then drew my sword. It was heavy in my hand and made no gleam of reflection here in the woods. British looked at me questioningly and I tossed my head to his left and he looked. We both listened in silence. He heard it this time, I could tell by the way he stiffened. He drew his sword carefully. My stomach dropped. I did not want him fighting. I stepped slowly on the balls of my feet around him, holding him back with one hand.

"Aaaaaaiiiieeeeeee! Prepare to die!" The shout preceded the two shadows from the swamps. Two men in chain mail came running. One wielded a sword, the other a halberd.

"Shit," I growled. "Milord, please stay back, please?" I kept my hand on his arm behind me, pushing back. He didn't answer. The sword was thrust in my face and I couldn't worry about Lord British any longer. I struck at the moving shadows.

Adrenaline was gone from my system, which was no good, because it fuels me in battle. Instead I had to rely on the terror clenching around me like a giant fist. I did not play this time. My first thrust hit home. The squish of wet blood and flesh against metal mingled with a strangled scream as I buried the flat blade in the swordsman's stomach. The guy kept up the fight, though. He struck my arm and I yelped. But his face disappeared when I slashed across it. Lord British yelled in anguish behind me. I turned, gasping for breath.

British was thrusting, holding the halberd-wielder back. I pounced, raised my sword and brought it down on the man's skull. Darkness swallowed the space where the man had once stood. I gagged and turned towards Lord British, wishing he hadn't had to see such violence. My body realized the battle was over, and it dropped out of fighting mode. I dropped my sword. Lord British was tenderly feeling a dark spot on his head.

"Are you all right Milord? Again? Jesus. Jesus. Is that your only wound? Oh, gods. . ."

"Aye, this is it. I'm all right. Worry not." He wiped a smear of blood on his purple tunic. I grabbed him by the soft embroidered cloth at his shoulders and pulled him gently closer. His blue eyes looked up at me as I examined his forehead. Thank the gods. Another flesh wound. I came close to wetting my pants again. My heart was in my throat, beating like restless native drums. He was okay, that was the important thing. I pulled a handkerchief out of the pocket of my leggings and dabbed at blood. He winced.


"It's all right. Thank thee for the protection. Now I know how thou really fight. Wow, Zenith. Thank thee."

"No problem," I handed him the handkerchief. He dabbed blood. It didn't look bad. I could not believe it. Gods forbid we would have an uneventful night. 

"Zenith, how far is it to the Shrine? The sun is ready to rise and it will be a shame if we cannot watch it in the company of the Shrine."

"Not far, Milord. See the bridge there? It is just on the other side." British wiped more blood from his forehead. Iolo and Dupre and Miranda and Geoffrey and the guards, not to mention all the people of Britain were going to kill me for this. We would not get back until well after the sun had climbed up the sky, and they would freak out at the sight of their Lord. His forehead was smeared with blood, his tunic was spotted dark with it from both his chest and drips and wipes from his forehead. I stopped, he stopped. I reached towards his head and he slapped me away. His hand on mine stung. I shook my head.

"Are you *sure* you're okay?"

"For the ten millionth time, Zenith, aye. I am fine." We were at the bridge now. I clutched the railing.

"Be careful, bridge is slick," I warned, sliding my boots along the stone. It was like ice. From the stagnant smell, I decided it must be covered in moss. I crossed, planting my feet firmly before taking the next step and listening to Lord British's equally erratic footsteps. I jumped off when I was sure I would make it. My boots squished loudly in the soft mud. Lord British was right behind me. I squished the darkness from my eyes to see where the path led. I knew the Shrine was directly south, but it would be safer to travel on the road, because the way this was going, there were wolves in these woods. Ten-foot-tall wolves with swords.

The sky was gently becoming lighter. I found the path and waited for British to get off the bridge. He squished up to me in the mud and stood quiet behind me, waiting for me to go on. I looked both ways. Cove was sleeping to the East, and open land was lying dormant to the West. I watched and listened 'till I was sure we were alone, and then went on. Lord British said nothing. I thought he was probably tired, now. He'd end up falling asleep on the shrine, and I'd have to carry him back to Britain, and the locals would see me hauling him home with the blood on his forehead and they'd forget the hero crap just long enough to stone me to death.

But I was being paranoid. Saving the world does something to your mind, I guess. I found myself yawning. The flowers on either side of the little path to the Shrine flavored the air. The girl who takes care of the shrine, whose name I forgot, had done a very good job of keeping the Shrine of Compassion nice. Sculptures still flanked the path. The flowers she grew were kept in neat little gardens, now disguised as masses of dark on dark in the sparse light of dawn. I was glad British hadn't wanted to venture to one of the other shrines. The other seven aren't kept this nice, and they're quite a bit further from safe Castle British. I yawned again and kicked a rock from the path with one boot. The shrine rose in the foreground as a black, mysterious shadow. The crunching sound of Lord British's footsteps became shorter and more staggered as he passed me by. I watched his shadow blend into the shadow of the shrine. Their crisp black stood out against the bluish pink sky. He sighed and the break in the silent cold air sent a shiver across my shoulders. I watched my boots clop up the stone stairs. Yellow had joined the orange and red and purple at the horizon. Far back in the forest, a bird chirped. Lord British grunted and lowered himself down on the other side of the stone altar. I joined him on the top step, facing back east. I couldn't relax. I tried, leaning back against the and stretching my legs out, but my muscles would not relax. I breathed slowly, through my mouth, to keep it soft, quiet. Lord British stretched out next to me and my muscles pulled tighter. Even my breath sounded too loud to my ears.

"Now we canst talk, Zenith. What hast been bothering thee? I knowest that thou miss thine own place on Earth, but I also know that is not the reason you are so upset. Talk to me, Zenith, thou hast no chioce this time. For if thou chooseth to lie to me again, I'll run thee through with my sword." I chuckled, but his face stayed serious. I sighed.

"'Tis nothing more than homesickness," I said. I lied. What's bothering me? Whatever could it be? I wanted to know why I *fainted* after the blackrock canopy broke and crumbled to the ground. Homesickness? Yes. But that was no reason for me to feel suddenly like crying. That was no reason to just faint like a woman in a bad fifties horror flick. I could feel Lord British watching me, gauging my response. I didn't want to look at his face. Didn't need to. I know he was shooting me a disapproving glance that accused me of lying. I reached down and played with my sword and thought of the misunderstanding with my jeweled sword the day before. Had he really thought I would hurt myself with it? Was I putting out vibes that bad? Lord British sighed.

"Art thou sure?" Lord British asked. He wasn't buying it-- that I could tell from his tone, but at least he wasn't pressing on. Maybe he didn't want me going psychotic on him again. Had I really done that? Gods, I froze. My chest was suddenly tight. Tears sat waiting on the surface on my eyes. I had only to blink to start the flow. But I couldn't let Him see me cry again., I cleared my throat and looked out ahead. The waxing light illuminated the fringes of the gardens and I could make out dark tangles of flowers.

"Aye." Birds chirped in a disjointed chorus. The air was thick with water, and smelled of spring. It was picturesque, and I'm more than sure Carroccio and his lot would be quite inspired by the view, but I was less than impressed. I couldn't much appreciate beauty then. Instead, memories nagged at my mind. Gargoyle faces. Shards of blackrock on the ground. Blood. Slick mud. Images flashed beehind my eyelids as voices clamored in my brain, urging me to get us back to the castle. My chest remained too tight to suck in a full breath. The servants would be up already, and it was only a mere matter of time before we were missed.

"I'm glad we came. It's been a long time." Lord British said. Ice water shivers trickled down my spine.

"You should visit more often. I'm sure if you did, others would follow the example." I yawned, used it as an excuse to clear out my watery eyes as I pulled my hands across my face.

"Thou art probably right. I suppose it would do good now, to try and reinforce the virtues now that the Fellowship has been dismantled."

"Mmm-hmm." I stood. The sun was low and red in the sky. If we left now, we'd be back by about eight. That would be safe enough, I hoped. I yawned again, louder than I meant to. My shadow spilled out across the stone stairs, black and contorting as I stretched.

"Avatar, thou art in such a hurry," British said. But he stood, following my example, taking my hints. I suppose he knew what the reaction at Castle British would be if we were both found missing for too long.

"I apologize, milord, but I really do think we should be getting back." He shrugged, put a hand up to stop a yawn, and followed me back up the road. 

The End! Well not really. It's not done, per se. It just ENDED. You see, it wasn't really getting anywhere, so I just stopped. See, angsty, and pointless, and cheesy. Oh, well, thanks for reading, anyway. And, if you care to know, I like comments. Brutally nasty ones, even. I need all the help I can get, considering I'm only 17 and thinking about (?) fiction writing as maybe(?) a direction to take my life in(?)!!?? So, what did ya think? C'mon, you had the time to read this, you have the time to E-mail me. BloodyCats@aol.com 

"Killing worms can be boring." --The Avatar 



"I don't get you."

"Nobody does. I'm the wind, baby." -Gypsy, Tom Servo -MST3K 

HTML Conversion by Erraticus for Dragon Press