Ultima: The Mourning City

A Work of Fan Fiction

by Andrew D. Charlton aka Erratic Dragon aka Erraticus

The Avatar dodged the Guardian's blow, jumping to the side in the groundless void that was their battleground. The large red man wielded a sword, gleaming and razor sharp. The Avatar held the Black Sword, the sword he had made in the Forge of Virtue. The Daemon Arcadion, trapped inside the sword, was strangely silent.

The Guardian kept the same mocking grin as they fought, neither gaining an inch.

"I've played with thee long enough Avatar. Now it ends!" he said, in his deep, metallic voice.

He raised the huge sword, and brought it down in a mighty blow. I was all the Avatar could do to block the attack, which was of such a force as to knock him over.

The Guardian began to laugh. That mocking laugh that the Avatar had come to hate, was louder now than it had ever been. The Avatar tried to get up, but it was as if his arms and legs were locked into place.

"Wilt thou not even fight me Avatar? Is this pitiful resistance all thou canst manage?" He laughed once more, as he raised his sword once more, to deliver the final killing blow. He gave great peals of laughter, almost like thunder, which echoed and penetrated the Avatar's ears, filling his brain. 

"NOOOOOO." He cried. Awakening from the nightmare. The Guardian had been dominating his dreams for days. Since the Avatar had destroyed the Black Gate, the Guardian had already tried to enter Britannia once.

The Avatar was in his bed, in his quarters in Lord British's castle. He looked out of his window, to see Britannia's twin moons, Trammel and Felucca, high in the sky. The clock on his mantelpiece read 4am. He knew he wouldn't be able to sleep now. He may as well get dressed.

He washed his face, in the bright moonlight. The sleep was washed from his eyes, and with it, the memory of the dream faded, until, what was a few moments ago a very realistic experience, became a faded shadow of itself.

He dressed. His tunic bore, as always, the Ankh, the symbol of the Avatar. He skulked through the corridors of the castle to the kitchen, to grab a snack, only to find the kitchen door locked. It wouldn't be open for another few hours yet, when the servants began preparing breakfast.

He decided a little exercise before breakfast was a good idea. He went to the training room. The guards on the night shift gave him nods of acknowledgement as he passed them. The Avatar sneaking about at night was now a fairly common occurrence. The training room had dummies, waiting to be pounded, along with a good selection of weapons, blunted to keep from totally destroying the dummies. He chose a two handed sword, and began to practice. He pictured the dummy as the Guardian, and that was all that was needed to fuel the Avatar for a long, hard training session. He worked up a good sweat, and before he knew it, it was light, and one of the servants was calling, telling him that breakfast was ready.

Breakfast was a lavish affair, the delights heaped on the table were more than the few people who had the privilege of dining with Lord British could possibly eat. This was by design, the servants would take the leftovers and eat them in the kitchen later. The Avatar wasn't sure he approved of the system, and had voiced his concerns to Lord British, who had waved him away mumbling about affairs of state to attend to.

Lord British sat at the head of the table, the Avatar was next to him.

"I wonder if I might see thee in my chambers after breakfast," Lord British asked tentatively during a break in the boisterous conversation, "it is rather important."

"Of course," replied the Avatar, "anything for thee, my liege." 

Lord British's chambers were decorated as befitted the sovereign of Britannia. They both sat down.

"I'll get straight to the point Avatar. I've been worried about thee. Geoffrey tells me the guards have been seeing thou wandering the castle late at night. Britannia looks up to thee. Thou art a role model for all of them--all of us. I've been thinking, thou needest something to occupy thee. A quest, or something, and I think I have just the thing.

"I've sensed something north of here, near the north coast. Or more precisely, I haven't sensed anything. All my attempts to view the area have failed, and frankly, Avatar, I'm a little worried.

"I want thee to go and see what is going on." The Avatar was excited at the prospect of going off on an adventure, even if it may turn out to be nothing.

"Of course I will, thou knowest I will." The Avatar responded.

"Very well, then. Here is a map with the area I cannot see into marked on it. And as always, thou hast free access to anything in the castle. Oh, and one more thing Avatar, thou mayest need this." He handed the Avatar the map, and a small box. As he bade farewell to Lord British, he saw him grinning. He opened the box. Inside was a golden fork, engraved on it were the words - "From the table of Lord British.". The Avatar laughed. By the time he'd finished packing his equipment, put on his armour, it was nearly lunchtime, and he knew where Dupré would be at lunchtime. 

The Blue Boar tavern was bustling with activity. As the Avatar entered the room, he saw one man, along with a crowd of people. It was Dupré, telling a story.

"--and then the Avatar said 'Dupré! That's not virtuous!'" The crowd erupted with laughter, and Dupré took another swig of his ale.

"Good afternoon Dupré," The Avatar said, after sneaking up behind him, "telling stories about me?"

"Who me? Never! Thou knowest me." The half-intoxicated lout replied.

"Yes, Dupré, I do know thee. Far too well to believe thee."

"Enough of this, anyway. Barkeep! A mug of thy finest for the Avatar!"

"So, art thou up for some adventure?" The Avatar ventured. Dupré's eyes lit up.

"It's been too long since we adventured together hasn't it? Of course, what fair maiden are we to rescue today?"

"No maidens this time, unfortunately. At least I don't think so." The Avatar explained the situation to Dupré.

"An unknown quest, eh? Thou'rt baiting me. Thou knowest I cannot resist such an offer! But first thou must have a drink. It is always the best way to begin a quest."

"Thou thinkest that is the best way to start anything." He didn't object, further, though, and downed the mug of ale.

The Avatar ordered lunch, and they ate while talking and reminiscing over old times.

"We can't stay around here talking, there's work to be done. Thou wouldst not happen to know where I might find Shamino would thou?"

"Sorry, old friend, I haven't a clue. Although I'm pretty sure he's still in Britain. Mayhap he's with his sweetheart at the theatre?"

They arranged to meet at the castle later, so Dupré could pack his things, and the Avatar would look for Shamino. He took Dupré's advice, and looked at the theatre. 

Rehearsals were going on at the majestic building that was Britain's theatre. He looked around for Shamino, but he only saw--

"Lord British! What art thou doing here?"

"Nay, Avatar, it is I Shamino." He took off a false beard and crown.

"Why Shamino! I never knew how much thou looked like Lord British! Why the two of you could be brothers!"

"Amber is making me rehearse with her, but to be honest, I would do anything to get out of here." The Avatar grinned.

"As it happens, I was just coming to invite thee to come questing with me. I have already recruited Dupré." He told Shamino the rest of the story.

"No sooner said than done." He went over to the other side of the theatre where Amber was.

"I'm afraid there's some bad news," he winked at the Avatar, "the Avatar desperately needs my help to save the world once more, so I cannot rehearse with thee. We must leave immediately."

As they left the theatre, the Avatar glared at Shamino.

"It wasn't really a lie. Thou dost not know what is in that area. We may need to save the world for all thou knowest." 

They all met at the castle at the appointed time, and the Avatar pulled out his bag of stones, reached inside and grabbed a purple one. It vibrated with the magical energy imbued in it. It held inside it a little piece of the ether from Iolo's house, the ether's natural tendency was to return to where it came from, but the stone's own magical properties kept the ether locked within it. With a little spell, however, the Avatar could send the stone back, and it would take the three of them with it. He concentrated, making that little shift in consciousness that it took to attune himself to the ether. He saw the circles of magic expanding out from the centre of his head, and to a lesser degree, the heads of his companions, noticing, as he had done may times before, that Shamino had some magical ability he could use if he really wanted to. He reached his arms out to the fourth circle, and began to draw on the energy stored there. The power of the magic flowed through his body, engulfing him in an adrenaline filled ecstasy. He threw his head back and chanted the words of power, and felt the purple stone in his hand trying to wrench itself away. He focused once more, sending the right amount of energy to the stone, augmenting the ether inside, and finally giving it enough power to return home. More than enough in fact, there was enough to transport the Avatar, Shamino and Dupré as well. He caught a glimpse of the starry ethereal void, before the real world once again formed, and took the shape of Iolo's hut. 

Shamino and Dupré were safe with him, as they walked up to the hut. The Avatar knocked on the door, which was opened by a grey haired bearded man who was a little rounded, although not as much as he'd been the last time the Avatar had seen him. 

"Iolo!" he cried, "How hast thou been?" 

Inside, the hut was a mess. Rubbish all over the floor. Half-finished crossbows left lying on tables. There was no order anywhere. Iolo expertly picked his way past the debris, leading them along possibly the only safe path to the kitchen. On the stove was a pot filled with some nondescript grey substance. Occasionally a bubble would burst to the surface, spattering some on the stove.

"Methinks he is not coping too well with Gwenno's absence," Shamino whispered to the Avatar. Gwenno, Iolo's wife, had left on a trip to a place called the Serpent Isle over a year ago, leaving only a short note to Iolo.

"I offer thee some of my food. I do not have much, but thou art welcome to share it with me," Iolo ventured. The Avatar could plainly see the reason Iolo had lost some of his healthy girth, the food looked disgusting. He grinned with an idea.

"We would not wish to take the very food from thy plate, we ask only that we be allowed to share thy table to eat our own meagre rations."

"Friends, I am offended that thou wouldst even need to ask, my table is thy table." Shamino and Dupré began to fish around in their packs for food.

"Never mind about that," he whispered to them. He concentrated for a moment, pulling a few reagents from his bag. Drawing the power from the ether, and channelling it through the reagents to the table. It was only a first circle spell, and required little effort, the rush was also tiny, though, and the low level spells held little attraction to the Avatar after having cast much greater spells. A huge repast formed on the table. There were meats of all kinds, vegetables steaming with flavour. Sauces, salads, and tankards of ale to wash it all down. The Avatar's mouth watered as he saw the spread before them.

"Dig in boys," he said to Shamino and Dupré, "we wouldn't want to keep Iolo from his gruel." They each grabbed generous servings of everything before sitting down and stuffing their faces with food. Iolo picked at his bowl of gruel with his spoon.

"Come now Iolo we were only teasing thee. Share in our meal, and we will tell thee of the quest we shall embark on the morrow." With that, Iolo cheered up immeasurably. They all ate and talked. The Avatar told Iolo about the area Lord British could not see. Iolo agreed to come with no hesitation whatsoever. Their party was complete. They agreed to spend the night at Iolo's, and continue in the morning. 

They awoke at the crack of dawn and breakfasted on the remains of last nights feast. Iolo took them to his stables, a little way from his house.

"Ho, Smith," Iolo greeted one of the horses, patting it on the shoulder as he did so, "I can see thou wouldst love to carry the Avatar on his latest important quest."

"If that man tries to get on my back, he will be on his back on the floor, before thou canst say veramocor. Hast thou bought me carrots?" Smith, the talking horse replied.

"'Tis alright, Iolo, we can take other horses. Why would I wish to take this old horse, when there are younger faster horses right here?"

"Thy ruse will not work with me Avatar. I am clearly the fittest, and fastest horse here. I am quite happy where I am though, and will not be going with thee on any quests. Art thou not getting too old for this thyself?"

"If thou wilt not help us, then stand aside. We have work to do." Iolo chastised the animal.

"Oh, if its help thou wantest, why didst thou not mention it? I can tell thee that thou must enter the blackrock gem to enter other worlds."

"Thou'rt too late, Smith," the Avatar responded, "I already did that." And with that, they saddled up four horses and got underway.

"Thou wilt take care of the other horses Smith?"

"I am not a barbarian! I would not let others of my kind starve to death," then, as they rode off, the Avatar thought he heard: "--although I may keep a few more carrots for myself..." 

Iolo's hut was the closest stone to the blind zone that the Avatar had marked. They would ride north, to Empath Abbey, and Yew, then east, through the Deep Forest. The blind zone, Lord British had marked on the map, covered a small area of the forest on the eastern edge, close to the northern coast.

As they rode through the scattering of houses that Yew had recently become, they spoke to many of the people. Some, who had been east, told of being awoken in the early hours, by strange noises. They visited the Abbey, which was dedicated to the principle of Love, and bought a little wine for their supplies. 

Continuing east, they were crossing a bridge across a medium sized river, when seemingly from nowhere, two reddish-brown, leathery skinned creatures blocked their path.

'Trolls!' Shamino cried, spinning around, his suspicions were confirmed: There were another three behind them. Trolls always used the same tactic, but just because it was predictable, didn't mean it didn't work. Many innocent people had been murdered by trolls, their only motivation, it seemed, was to steal gold. Mutilated bodies were often found, looted by trolls.

Iolo was the first off the mark, pulling out his crossbow, he let a bolt fly with a satisfying clack, downing one of the ones in front. Shamino, with his back to Iolo, quickly drew an arrow from his quiver, and fired it off at one of the trolls behind. The arrow caught it in the shoulder, causing it to yelp in pain, and drop its weapon, a large club. Dupré, and the Avatar were now off their horses with their weapons drawn.

Another troll shot a stone from its sling, which glanced off Dupré's helmet, spinning off over the side of the bridge, skipping on the water a few times, before sinking. With two great leaps, Dupré was on top of the troll, which had dropped its sling in favour of a sturdy club. Dupré swung his axe at it, but was parried.

The Avatar took on the one troll which remained in front. This one appeared to be the leader, since it was wearing armour, and carried a sword, which it now brought up in a guard anticipating the Avatar's attack. The Avatar swung the Black Sword, the troll parried, expertly, sparks flying where the two swords met. The Avatar stepped forward, and swung again, forcing the troll back a step.

Shamino now discarded his bow, and drew his sword, jumping off his horse to engage the third of the rear trolls.

Iolo was fumbling with his quiver of bolts, desperately trying to reload his crossbow. The troll with the arrow through the shoulder started moving towards him.

Dupré kept up a strong assault on his opponent, and had the upper hand the whole time, although he did get klonked a few times with that huge club. The troll started backing away, Dupré followed.

The Avatar had now forced the head troll back off the bridge, and it now had its back to a tree. After a few more desperate parries, its fate was sealed, and the Avatar plunged the Black Sword into the trolls belly. He turned to survey the battle.

Iolo was trying to pick up bolts from the ground, panic overcoming him as he realised that he could not load the crossbow before the troll reached him. He reached for his sword but the troll kicked his legs from under him, letting out a mighty roar.

Shamino looked around to see what was going on, and nearly had his arm taken off by the troll he was fighting.

The Avatar rummaged in the bag at his belt, and found what he was looking for. It was nothing more than a wad of blood moss and spider silk, rolled into a ball. He incanted the words of power, throwing the ball. It burned up like a meteor, leaving a streak in its path. He felt the magic course trough him, as he was transported to the landing place of the ball.

Iolo was right next to him. He swung the Black Sword, and sliced the head of the troll off, just as it was about to deliver a killing blow to Iolo.

Shamino finally got an opening in his trolls defences, and speared it through the heart. As it fell, he stood, panting.

Dupré emerged from the woods moments later, dragging the corpse of the final troll behind him. 

They searched the bodies for anything useful, and examined their wounds. The Avatar cast a few healing spells, taking care of the minor cuts and bruises they all had. They found a few pieces of gold, and some food, deciding that this was as good a time as any to have lunch, they took the bodies a little way into the woods where the scavengers of the forest could feast, and ate a portion of their own rations. 

As they rode ever eastward, the Avatar began to notice a strange feeling in the ether. He surmised that they must be entering the blind area. He began to feel rather lonely, no longer able to feel the ever-present background vibration of life.

The sky began to darken into evening, and soon the moons and stars were out. There was a time when the Avatar could divine the destination of a moongate just by looking at Britannia's twin moons, Trammel and Felucca. Now, though, thanks to the Guardian, Britannia's moongates were no more, and the powerful mode of transport they provided was gone. Only the Avatar, with the eight stones of virtue was able to teleport. The rest of the populace had to rely on more mundane transportation. Even now, Rudyom was researching other forms of transportation. The Avatar was curious as to what he might come up with.

They made camp, a little way from the road. The Avatar could see that they were nearly out of the forest, but thought it was wiser to keep in the cover of the trees. They built a fire, and spent a while telling stories of the last three months, since the last time the Guardian struck, by encasing Lord British's castle in a blackrock gem. Then, they settled down to sleep, revelling in the glory of battle, and wondering what the next day might bring. 

"Good morning, Avatar! Wakey wakey, rise and shine!"

The Avatar's eyes shot open. That was the Guardian's voice! Did he really hear it, or was it the remnant of a now-forgotten dream? The Avatar had an eerie feeling that this one was different from the other nightmares he'd been having.

He looked up at the sky. It was cloudy, with the glow of pre-dawn. There was little point trying to sleep again now. He looked to the east, seeing the mountains that separated this place from Lost Hope Bay, and beyond that, Minoc. He thought he could see, in the distance, some people. They were dressed as merchants. The Avatar wondered what they could possibly be doing way out here.

Gradually, the Avatar became aware of a low rumbling, an earthquake, and looking across the plain, from his vantage point, just inside the forest, he saw a huge shimmering in the air. He felt it, too, as a disturbance in the ether. This was some great magic operating.

"Iolo! Shamino! Dupré!" he cried, the three rubbed their eyes, grumbling, but quickly perked up as the Avatar pointed their gazes in the direction of the shimmer.

Tall spires became visible, one taller than any structure the Avatar had seen in Britannia. It dwarfed even Lord British's castle in height, and even the much taller skyscrapers of the Avatar's native Earth could not compare to the intricate beauty. The smaller spires, radiated around it, it became clear the tallest was in the very centre.

A bell rang out, not loud, but resonant through the air and the ether. The whole place, the city, became more solid by the second.

The bell rang out again.

The spires were now all completely visible, Details began to emerge. High bridges connected the spires to one another, tiny figures could be seen walking along them.

The bell rang out once more.

The city was surrounded by a huge iron fence, stretching higher than anyone could hope to climb. Its bars curled around in a baroque pattern. This was no prison, it seemed like it would be a privilege to be kept within those bars.

Yet another bell rang out.

At the front of the city was a gate large enough to fit a house through, the gate was closed, and a large number of people were gathered just inside it.

One more bell.

The Avatar's gaze turned once more to the highest spire. Looking to the top, a clock, which had not been fully visible before was now clear. Its hands showing the time for all in the city, and all those for miles around. The larger of the two hands pointed straight up. The other, straight down.

The bell the Avatar realised would be the last rang out.

As if any more confirmation were needed, as the huge gates swung open the Avatar read what was written above the gate.

"Welcome to Dawn" 

The four men rode across the plain to the gate where a large amount of activity was going on. The merchants who had been waiting, were now trading with people who had brought large cartfuls of stuff through the mammoth gates. Large amounts of money were changing hands, and the rumble of the negotiations was audible from a long way off.

They spotted one man who had just bought a large cartful of strange looking goods.

"Sir," The Avatar called out, "Why has word of this place not spread? There looks to be a lot of trade going on, why has word not leaked out?"

"The people of Dawn are anxious not to be overwhelmed with tourists, they have made us all make a vow of silence on this matter, or they will not trade with us. This is the best merchandise in all Britannia, we have no wish to lose their custom."

With that, they rode through the gates.

"May I take thy horses?" A young boy asked. 

The city was even more magnificent inside than out. The finely crafted detail of the buildings was now apparent. The huge towers stretched way above them, casting shadows on all the streets down here. The street lights were all lit.

Early as it was, the streets still bustled,. Traffic to and from the front gate was thick, as shopkeepers went to sell their wares to the Britannian merchants outside.

They were on a long main street, stretching in a long, straight line, right from the front gate to the central clock tower. Shops lined the streets, but many were not yet open as their keepers were away selling outside. Many others, though, were open. Wonderful smells emanated from the shops, and quickly reminded the Avatar he'd not had breakfast. He wondered if they used Britannian currency. He decided to find out.

He lead the troupe into one particularly nice smelling shop, a bakery. The smell of freshly baked bread was wonderful, and emanated from racks, and racks of the stuff. There were tables in the front of the shop, making a makeshift cafe, so patrons could eat their fresh bread right on the premises, the tactic seemed to be working, there was only one table left. The Avatar send Shamino to reserve it, while the others went to the counter.

"Dost thou take Britannian Gold Crowns?" He asked the man behind the counter.

"'Course we do sir," he replied, taking a brief pause from eating a bread roll, "I say, thou dost look like a virtuous fellow--"

"What dost thou think gave it away?" Dupré whispered in the Avatar's ear, "The huge ankh on thy chest?"

"--I need someone to look after the shop for a while, I just 'ave a couple of errands to run."

"Certainly, sir" said the Avatar, and that was that. The man hurried from behind the counter, and out the door.

"Thee three, go and explore the city, meet me back here in an hour or so." Dupré immediately rushed out the door, and could be heard: "Ah, my good man. Couldst thou direct me to the nearest tavern?" Iolo and Shamino also wandered off, in search of things that may catch their eye. 

Not quite realising what he'd got himself into, the Avatar went behind the counter immediately as three customers arrived wanting quick service. The Avatar served them as best he could, but it was all too much, he was the only one in the shop, and things quickly got on top of him.

Almost as quickly as it had started, however, the rush of customers stopped half an hour later. The shop was empty, and the Avatar had nothing to occupy himself. He decided to do one of his trademark good deeds, and made some bread of his own. Just as it was coming out of the oven, the shopkeeper returned.

"Ah! Thou hast done well, friend, thou deservest an extra something for thy good work." The man gave the Avatar a small, but heavy bag of gold. The Avatar sat on a bench outside the shop to wait for the others. One by one, they arrived, Iolo first, then Shamino. Dupré came walking down the street, he was not alone, there was a woman walking with him, and they were chatting an laughing away.

"Avatar!" He said as he approached, "This kind woman has agreed to show us around the fair city of Dawn." 

"Dupré has told me a lot about thee Avatar, my name is Dawn."

"Pleased to meet thee, Dawn. Thou hast the same name as the city?"

"Yes, my mother named me after the city, she has very strong feelings for it, she's the mayor."

"Really? I must---", the Avatar broke off in mid sentence, the clock tower began to ring seven, the huge gates of the city were swung shut, and Britannia outside began to fade away. The blue sky of early morning was replaced by the blackness of the ethereal void. The Avatar knew void was a misnomer, since the void was anything but empty. He could see twinkling lights of all colours dancing in the distance. As he looked out, he could see a faint outline of a dome covering the city, it joined with the clock-tower, the highest point of the city. The Avatar could only speculate about why the dome was there, he knew the void was not a vacuum, it could support life. Then again, there were many strange creatures floating around in the void, no doubt some of them could be dangerous.

The streetlights now lit the city, giving it a nocturnal quality.

"I guess we're here until tomorrow," ventured Shamino.

"Shall we see the city then?" Dawn asked. They all nodded. 

Along the street a short way was a staircase leading to the next level of the city, they climbed it, and saw the city in a whole new light. While still in the lower parts of the city, they could see much below them now. Dawn pointed out plants growing on some roofs.

"They are ethereal mushrooms," she explained, "they are one of our chief exports."

The party continued along the bridges, and tunnels through buildings, Dawn pointing out many landmarks along the way. Up to the next level, then the next, seeing more and more of the city which buzzed with activity. Tiny, antlike, they scurried along, their business seeming very important, way up here, in the serene heights of the city, it was difficult to remember anything ever being so pressing. Not that there weren't many people up here also, far from it.

Dawn lead them across bridges, spanning between the towers, which would have been amongst the clouds, were there any clouds in the void. Through buildings which were as open to them up here as any shop on street level.

The Avatar looked above him, through the dome, now very close, into the void, marvelling at the dazzling lightshow he saw. He looked right around, seeing new wonders in every direction, finally he looked above him, and nearly passed out with surprise, and fear.

There was a large, red man, several times the size of a normal person, crouched, spread-eagled on top of the dome. The Avatar had only seen the Guardian twice before, once, when he appeared on his computer monitor, just before he went through the moongate to Britannia, and the second time, when he was attempting to come through the Black Gate, just before the Avatar destroyed it. Although he seemed bigger than he was before, this was most definitely the Guardian.

His large, yellowing, clawlike fingernails, scratched on the surface of the dome. There was a large groove in the surface, he had clearly been at this for some time. His glowing yellow eyes scanned the area, his gaze finally landing of the Avatar. His mouth spread into a smile, revealing his crooked yellow teeth. Though no sound came through the dome, the Avatar knew the Guardian was laughing.

"Run!" shouted the Avatar, herding the others away, just as the Guardians hand broke through the dome, swiping at the Avatar who deftly hopped out of the way. The huge hand swung past, smashing the bridge into tiny pieces. All those around ran to safety.

"Avatar! Thou'rt a coward! Face me like a man!" His inhuman voice now coming through the small hole he'd made. It was only large enough to fit his arm through, and by now everyone nearby had run well out of reach. His fiercely angry face quickly mellowed, he smiled at the Avatar.

"Thou wilt not evade me for long, Avatar. Soon I shall make a hole I can fit through, then when this city returns to Britannia, so shall I." He drew his arm back through the hole, and again began to scratch at the surface of the dome, making barely perceptible lines which would, all too soon, broaden into grooves, eventually allowing the Guardian to extend his small hole.

The Avatar knew the futility of talking with the Guardian, he would just ignore whatever he said, just as he had when he spoke in his head during the Black Gate quest. No matter how much he had shouted, and insulted him then, he could never get a response, and so, now he would not give him the pleasure of ignoring him, the Avatar would ignore the Guardian for a change.

Dupré made no such vow, though, and hurled the foulest language the Avatar had ever heard up to the Guardian. The Guardian barely even blinked.

"Leave it, Dupré," the Avatar patted his friend on the shoulder, "there's nothing we can do about it right now. Dawn, thou said thy mother is the mayor?"

"Yes, that's right."

"Please take us to her." She nodded solemnly, and began to lead them away from the wrecked bridge. 

The mayor was a stately woman, in keeping with her status. Her network of contacts throughout the city meant she was well informed of the incident before the party arrived.

"Thou," she began, "art the Avatar?", the Avatar nodded, "I have heard of thee, although thou art not so famous here, as in Britannia. Thou wilt find we are rather isolated here in Dawn. Thou knowest who this "Red Man" is?"

"He calls himself The Guardian, I know little more than that. I have twice prevented him from entering Britannia, and with thy help, I hope to do it again."

"He is attacking Britannia through Dawn?"

"Yes. The Guardian already has free access to the void, and since Dawn travels between the void, and Britannia, he hopes to ride along with Dawn when it returns."

"Thou hast brought this menace upon us!" she said fiercely. Dupré broke in--

"'Tis not the Avatar's fault the Guardian wants to take over Britannia, thou canst not blame him!"

"But if the Avatar had not--"

"Please," said the Avatar, "now is not the time to place blame. If we work together, then we can save Dawn AND Britannia." They all nodded. "Now dost thou know any way to fix the dome?"

"Alas, no. The city is ancient, the technology that made it has long since been lost."

"Lost? Entirely?"

"Many generations have passed, why this city is as old as a dragon."

"Dragons?" asked Iolo, "Avatar, I think she may have something. The Dragons would remember the city being built, we should ask them."

The Avatar pondered a moment. "How long dost thou think it would take the Guardian to make a hole large enough for him to fit through?"

"At the rate he was going, I would think not much longer than a day." suggested Shamino.

"Then we can't go to see the Dragons, we would have to leave the city tomorrow morning, then return the next day, the Guardian would have broken through by then."

"Could we perhaps try to return within the hour? Thy magic carpet is parked near the Weyrmount. If we rushed, we could make it."

"With time to talk with the Dragons too? If they don't try to eat us. No... not us, just me!"

"I cannot allow thee to face such danger alone, Avatar, I must insist on going with thee." protested Dupré.

"That is very noble of thee, Dupré, but the only way I can possibly make it in time is to go alone. Besides, if I fail, who will help the city?"

"We have our own heroes! We needest not the likes of thee to save us whenever we get in trouble." snapped the Mayor. The Avatar gave a small, apologetic bow.

"I apologise for the implication, but my companions have been on many an adventure with me, and are the most courageous, and loving thou wilt find anywhere. I would be doing thee a disservice if I did not ask them to stay to help thee with thy problem."

"I accept thy apology."

"What are we supposed to do until morning?" asked Dupré, "we cannot just sit around doing nothing."

"Agreed. Perhaps we should look into the cities history, perhaps we could find something there to help us. After all, we don't want to stake the city on a long shot do we?" 

The mayor's office was at the very top of the clock tower building, below it was the library, rivalling the Lycaeum in size, and beauty. This was unfortunate, with so many books, it made it that much harder to find the books they needed. Here was a mountain of information at their fingertips, if only they could find the pieces they needed.

The librarian was a great help, but still they ended up with a huge pile of books for each of them to wade through. The Avatar scanned through the first few in his pile, they made no reference to the dome, and had nothing on how the city was made.

The next book was much older, and was written in a variation of Britannian runic script. This one looks promising, thought the Avatar. It turned out that in ancient Britannia, not long after the universe formed, there was a lot of stray ether that had not yet solidified into matter, much of this was highly unstable, but some was not. One of these stable pieces of ether kept flicking between the real world, and the ethereal void. Each time it entered the void, it would suck up a little more ether, and so it could remain stable on returning to Britannia.

Centuries later, although still in ancient times, a group of trainee mages were wandering in the wilderness, having magically transported there only moments before. Much of the magical ether still had not settled, and magic was much easier then, than now. It was early in the morning, one of the mages saw something in the corner of his eye. Lying on the ground was a strange, glowing stone. They sat for a while studying it, for their young minds were hungry for knowledge, when it began to fade out of existence, eventually, disappearing entirely.

They could not understand what had happened, and were about to leave the area when it reappeared. Where does it go? They asked each other, but of course none of them knew. It would, they decided, go again soon, perhaps if they held onto it, they would go where it did. They all took hold of it, and a short time later, the stone disappeared from their hands. One suggested they would need some spell to more tightly bind them to the stone, and once it had reappeared, they tried again, holding on with magic, as well as their hands. The place they arrived at was black, with swirling coloured lights, and strange mystical creatures. All too soon, the young mages returned.

In the days, and the weeks that passed, they kept their secret, and worked on the stone. They experimented with ways of making the trip to the void last longer, and eventually, they stabilised its cycle, to one hour in the real world, the rest, in the void.

It was around this time, that the antics of the young mages was discovered, and they were hailed for finding this wonderful artefact. Word spread over the world, such that it was at the time, and people came from all around to see it, and take a trip to the void. Platforms, and eventually, buildings were constructed around the stone, and were magically bonded to the stone.

It happened that one day, when the platforms, and buildings around the stone had become a huge complex, and many visitors came every day, one of the strange creatures living in the void attacked a tourist, and dragged her off, never to be seen again.

There was much discussion, they thought of destroying the stone entirely. The people of the nearby town, which had sprung up from all the activity, and which was called Dawn, in honour of the trade they would get early every morning, when the stone, and its platforms were about to arrive, complained bitterly. The town would die without the stone.

Finally, it was decided, by the people who decide such things, that the stone should be surrounded by a protective shell. And it was done.

The marvel of the place grew, and grew, and it wasn't long before the business men, and women of the town of Dawn realised that they could trade with the tourists all day if they were inside the dome, and travelled to the void. The town of Dawn quickly deserted, as everyone there moved into the dome. Those who had constructed the shell had known, for they were cunning people, that this would happen, and the shell had been made as large as a city in readiness.

Dawn grew to the size of a city, and all too soon, the land was filled up. They then built upwards, until their towers reached the top of the shell, and still they wanted more room. They dug down into the ground which filled the entire lower half of the shell, and filled that up too.

There have been many catastrophes in the outside world, it has changed many times, and the people of Dawn have forgotten their heritage, and much of the treasures that can be found within. The stone, now hidden in the lowest reaches of the shell, became known as the Heart of Dawn, until even that was forgotten by all but a few. 

"Avatar, I think thou shouldst get a good night's sleep if thou art to go gallivanting across the country in the morning," said Iolo.

"I shall make sure thou wilt be woken in plenty of time," said Dawn, who summoned a servant to show the Avatar to his room.

The Avatar barely slept. He knew it was crazy, but he thought he could hear the Guardian's scratching all through the night. He went over his plan in his head again and again, finally, out of sheer desperation, he mixed every spell he might conceivably need.

When the servant came, and woke him, it was still dark outside-- he caught himself, of course it was dark, they were in the void, but even in Britannia the sun would have been nowhere in sight.

He downed a hearty breakfast before bidding his friends farewell, and taking the walk to the front gate.

The guards at the gate told him to wait, he glanced up at the clock. It was about to turn six. The time seemed to drag, as it always does when watching a clock. The huge hand suddenly lurched, and the bell started to chime. Outside the dome, the blackness faded out to be replaced by the familiar blue of Britannia. The gates swung open, and the Avatar rushed out.

The ether flowed through him as he cast mark, a short distance away from the gate. He steadied himself, and cast recall on another stone. He was wrenched across the world, and up into the clouds. He found himself standing on his magic carpet which he had parked up in the clouds to keep it safe. He had a stone marked for the carpet itself, so wherever it moved, he could recall himself to it.

He needed to orient himself, and the best way to do that was another spell. He cast locate, and zoomed up into space. The spell allowed him to see the whole of Britannia, and where he was. The great, reverse-L shaped continent had been a home away from home for the Avatar, and now he had been stranded here by the same act which kept the Guardian out. Right at the inside corner was the towne of Britain, Lord British's castle in the centre of the town. North of Britain were the Serpent's Spine mountains, that was where he was heading. The vision moved back down to his body, and merged with his earthly perceptions.

He turned the carpet, and gave the command to go full speed. The clouds sped past, the wind blew his hair, the cold bit at him. Guiding the carpet below the clouds, he saw his objective, the Weyrmount, home of some of the more benevolent dragons of Britannia.

He flew down close to ground level, to navigate the tricky valleys of the mountains. He swerved around boulders, and the odd tree which still survived on the harsh, rocky ground. The cave mouth came into view, and the Avatar landed the carpet right in front, and walked in. 

He was greeted with the sight of a huge cavern, so large, it barely seemed he was indoors at all. Scattered all over the cavern were dragons of every kind, long snakelike dragons, traditional dragons, and many other kinds never seen on earth. They were made of many substances, and there were some of every colour of the rainbow, and then some. Stripy dragons, spotted dragons, dragons which seemed almost invisible. Each dragon was different. One dragon was perched at the entrance to a tunnel half way up the wall. The cavern walls were dotted with similar entrances leading to the many sections of the hollowed out mountain. The dragon noticed the Avatar, spread its wings, and just dropped from its perch. It glided across the cavern, swooped, and looped around (The cavern was that big) before approaching the Avatar, stalled inches from the floor, and landed feather-softly, barely making a noise.

"What is this?" it mused out loud, this attracted the attention of several other dragons, who swooped down to investigate.

"Its a human," volunteered one, this attracted fierce stares from others who thought that it was obvious.

"Should we eat it?" asked another.

"'twould hardly be a snack."

"I say when dinner walks into thy mouth, thou wouldst be a fool to spit it out."

"Would thou all be quiet, we cannot eat THIS human, it is an Avatar."

"Do Avatars taste bad?"

"I heard they were crunchy."

"That's just the armour, they are very tasty with pepper."

"How wouldst thou know? Hast thou ever eaten an Avatar?"

"I have eaten several, as I say, good with pepper."

"Do thou fools know nothing? Thou canst not have eaten an Avatar, there is only one."

"We had better eat this one then, so we WILL know how it tastes."

"What would be the point, if there is only one, we'll never catch another one, so it doesn't matter how it tastes."

"I want to eat it anyway."

"Art thou not curious why this 'Avatar' is foolish enough to walk into our home?"

"Maybe we should ask it."

"I still think eating it would be a better idea."

"Art thou trying to impose a government on me?"

"Avatar," said one, finally, "why art thou here?"

"Ask it if it tastes good!"

"I have come," said the Avatar, "to ask for thy help."

"Speak up!" said one at the back of the rapidly forming crowd.


"Our help?"

"What kind of a world is it when food comes and asks for thy help? I ask thee. I say, 'Avatar', how wouldst thou feel if a loaf of bread wanted thy help?"

"Please! This will effect all Britannia, thou included!"

"Thou intrigue me, 'Avatar', what is this problem thou hast?"

"I need thee to help me stop the Guardian from entering Britannia."

"Guardian? What is a Guardian."

"Sounds like a nice name to me, 'Guardian', nice and protective. Who art thou who wants to hurt our Guardian?"

"Do not be silly, thou knowest nothing about this Guardian except its name, and thou art already on its side? Maybe we should let the Avatar tell us what the Guardian is."

"I wouldst not trust him, he has already said he wants to hurt the Guardian. He'll probably say its a big red man, with evil yellow eyes who wants to take over the world."

"That's EXACTLY what he is!", the Avatar pleaded.

"I think I have heard of this Guardian. I heard stories that he has tried to enter the world twice before."

"I've heard that too."

"Why does it want our help?"

"I need to know about a city called Dawn, founded hundreds, even thousands of years ago. Thou art the only ones in Britannia who might remember."

"I'm too young for any of that."

"I think it was made just before I was hatched," said one, very wrinkly dragon.

"He'll have to ask the Old One, then."

"Yes, the Old One will remember."

"He cannot even remember what he had for breakfast!"

"The Senile One is more like it."

"Thou'll never get anything out of him."

"Please, couldst thou take me to him?" the Avatar felt his hopes drain away. His only chance was a senile old dragon who couldn't remember what he had for breakfast?

"I'll do it." said a dragon who flew over, and grabbed the Avatar tightly between its claws, only his armour prevented his rib-cage from being crushed. 

The dragon flew up in the cavern, leaving the crowd behind which soon dispersed. They flew down one of the tunnels, not much larger than the dragon, but it flew so expertly, it never even touched the walls. The tunnel opened up into another cave, smaller than the central cavern, much more cosy. The dragon the Avatar assumed was the Old One sat, his tail stretching, and curling behind him. He stared at a strange crystal on a table before him. The Avatar looked at the crystal, and was rather shocked to see an overhead view of himself, and the room. In the crystal, he saw the dragon who had brought him leave. Turning round, he saw it actually happen. The old dragon slowly turned away from the crystal, to face the Avatar. The dragon wore huge spectacles, even so, he squinted at the Avatar, looked back at the crystal, back at the Avatar. He coughed a little before he spoke.

"I have been watching thee," he said.

"Art thou the Old One?"

"Old One indeed! Dost thou think I have no name, they could hardly have been calling me the Old One my whole life, now."

"Then what is thy name?", asked the Avatar. The old dragon's eyes rolled back in his head, he let out a long slow groan. Soon, a frown came across his face, and his eyes snapped back to the Avatar.

"Do not bother me with details!"

"Dost thou know of a city called Dawn."

"Dawn? Never heard of it. Good day." the dragon snapped, waving the Avatar away.

"It is a city which appears in Britannia at dawn every morning. Please, try to remember, thou art my only chance."

"Every morning? Maybe I do remember, what dost thou want to know?"

"I need to know how it was built, how I might fix the dome which covers the city."

"I'm afraid, young lad, that it cannot be done. That dome was made by the best wizards in the world at a time when magic was far more plentiful than it is today."

"Then there is no hope?"

"That is not like thee, Avatar," the dragon winked at him, he clearly knew more than he was letting on, "there is always hope, thou hast triumphed against worse odds than this."

"Then what can I do?"

"Think! Thou needs to stop the Guardian from entering Britannia," the Avatar had told him nothing about the Guardian, "then thou must stop Dawn from entering Britannia."

All became clear to the Avatar, he knew exactly what he must do. He checked his pocket-watch. He only had a few minutes to reach Dawn!

"I'm afraid I must rush, sir. I thank thee for thy help.", the dragon gave a slight bow of his head.

"I quite understand."

The Avatar cast the spell, and his body was once again wrenched across the world to the gate of Dawn. 

As the Avatar arrived, the gates were being swung shut. He launched himself into a run, managing to slip through the gate just as it closed, the world faded out, and the void faded in as the clock rang out.

He saw his companions there waiting for him.

"I know what we have to do," the Avatar proclaimed, "We must destroy The Heart of Dawn."

"The Heart of Dawn? I ran across that name in my reading," said Shamino, "It is what makes Dawn move between Britannia, and the void."

"That's right."

"But if thou destroy that, then Dawn will be stranded in the void!" said Dawn.

"Its the only way to stop the Guardian. Dawn can survive in the void, it is entirely self-sufficient. If we don't do this, then Dawn will perish, along with the rest of Britannia."

"Hast thou thought this through, Avatar?" asked the mayor, "If we are sent to the void, the Guardian will still be able to get us. Thou'rt just saving the hide of thy worthless Britannia, thou dost not care about Dawn."

"But the Guardian has no reason to attack Dawn once it has no link to Britannia. Its Britannia the Guardian wants," as soon as he spoke the words, the Avatar realised their falsehood, the Guardian would not pass over a sitting duck like Dawn. The Avatar would be dooming the people of Dawn to slavery under the Guardian. "No, thou'rt right," he said resignedly, "I can see no way to save Dawn. Please believe me, I would if I could, I can see no way. We shall have to evacuate Dawn."

"Evacuate Dawn! Avatar, thou goest too far!"

"If there were any other way, believe me, I would use it."

"Art thou not forgetting something, Avatar," said Dupré, "We are in the void now, how can we evacuate? The Guardian will break through before tomorrow, that much is certain, and I don't think thou wilt fault me for saying that thou canst not defeat him, not here and now."

"We will have to stall him. Keep him out until morning, then we can evacuate the city, destroy the stone, sending Dawn back to the void."

"Easier said than done." said Iolo.

"How many mages are there in the city?" the Avatar asked the mayor.

"I think there are around twenty, I am not happy about this. Thou art asking me to abandon my city!"

"Please get them, we will need them to help keep the Guardian out while we go and search for the stone."

"I will do as thou ask." 

At the top of the city, just out of range of the Guardian's grasp, the group of mages gathered. The Avatar had prepared a spell which he hoped would do the job, sacks of reagents were being brought in by more people, before morning, it would all be used.

"What art thou doing, Avatar?" asked the Guardian, "Thy spells will not keep me out forever. Thou canst gain nothing from this futile effort." His hole was getting large, soon he would be able to come through, if it were not for the spell, that was.

The mages arranged themselves around several bridges, encircling the area below the hole, carefully staying out of the reach of the Guardian. Each took a large handful of the mixed reagents, and cast it towards the Guardian's hole. They began a chant, and their own wall of magic filled the hole the Guardian had made. The Guardian was not discouraged, and continued to work on the reinforced dome.

The reagents began to stream, slowly, from the sacks, glowing yellow towards the hole, the sound of the chanting filled the air, and, for those attuned to it, the ether too.

"Lets just hope that this gives us the time we need," said the Avatar, "Now, we need to go underground, the Heart of Dawn is deep below the city."

"The underground city has been abandoned for centuries, all entrances have been sealed up." said the mayor.

"Why would half of the city be sealed off?" Iolo asked.

"Officially, it was 'unsafe', I know not the real reason. I only have this much information because I am mayor."

"Is there ANY way in?" asked the Avatar.

"There is one way," said the mayor, "In the very bottom of the clock tower is a locked door, I was entrusted with the key when I became mayor."

"Did no-one ever think to explore down there?" asked Shamino.

"It has just been forgotten about, it is simply not done." 

They returned to the mayors office, where she kept the key.

"Thou shouldst prepare thy people for the evacuation," said the Avatar to the mayor who nodded. The rest of them made the long trek down the stairs to the bottom floor of the building. They saw a mix of different architectures as they descended. The lower floors were clearly the same as they had been thousands of years ago, barely touched after the population moved upwards, and outwards.

Just as the mayor had described, there was a door, small and unimpressive, unlocked by an equally small, and unimpressive key. A stone staircase went down a little way, then turned, they could see nothing further.

"Shall we?" ventured Dupré, who took a few steps down and disappeared around the bend, "Thou all HAVE to come and see this!!"

They rushed to follow Dupré, and saw the sight that had excited him. Around the bend, was another archway, then a bridge. They looked over the bridge, and looked down onto the lower city. It was just the same as the upper city, but everything was upside down. Towers stretched down, and met the floor of the dome, bridges stretched between towers, just as they did above ground, the entire underground was hollowed out, and as open as the above ground. The only difference was that in this half, there were no people. It was completely deserted, and it felt eerie to be all alone in a city of this magnitude.

The Avatar realised the dome itself was providing much of the structural integrity of the whole city. The towers here were like pillars propping up the floor on which the whole upper city stood, the pillars stood on the bottom of the dome. If the dome failed, the whole city would be destroyed, and the Guardian's hole was like making a hole in a bubble, the spell keeping the Guardian out, could well be holding the entire dome together, and the city.

"How do we find the Heart?" asked Shamino, "This place is HUGE!"

"The book I read said it was in the deepest part of the city, I guess that means down there." He pointed down at the tower stretching below them, it was the mirror image of the clock tower above, complete with its own clock.

"I guess we just go down the stairs then," said Dawn. They looked into the alcove they had come from. It had stairs down just like the tower above. They set off on their journey. It was the complete opposite of the journey down the upper tower. The structure seemed old at first, gradually getting newer an newer as they descended. As new as some parts seemed, there were plenty of signs of decay, broken walls, and sometimes floors. All the more worrying if the Avatar was right about the structure. They continued their descent, until they came across a section of missing stairway. Looking down the hole that was there instead, it seemed even if they could pass this part, there was more damage to the stair below.

They agreed they would have to find some other way down. 

They went back up to the next level of the building, a bridge extended from here to the next building. It looked worn, but it would support their weight. They crossed.

This building was as badly worn as the clock tower, it wasn't long before they found a broken staircase there too. The bridge back to the clock tower was broken too. They had no choice but to go even further from the centre.

The further down they went, the more worn the city was, it almost looked like some of the walls were intentionally knocked down. It became increasingly difficult to find any way down at all. At one point they had to backtrack up two levels when all the stairs and bridges on one level were completely destroyed.

"We can't go on like this," said the Avatar, "we're getting nowhere fast!"

"Perhaps we could climb down," suggested Dawn.

"We do have the equipment," said Shamino, "There are still sturdy places we can tie ropes."

It was agreed. Each time they encountered a missing staircase they would just climb down with ropes. In practice this became very difficult, there were sturdy places to tie ropes, but these were usually nowhere near the smashed stairs. They proceeded slowly, but surely, a level at a time, gradually making progress downward, it took them the better part of the day to reach the bottom of the tower.

They were now some distance from the central clock tower they were heading for.

"Can we walk on the dome?" asked Iolo.

"I don't see any reason why not." replied the Avatar.

They climbed out of the window, dropping the modest distance to the dome. It yielded to their presence, like walking on a rubber floor. But when the Guardian had broken through above it had shattered. There was something oddly inconsistent here. This WAS a magical structure, so anything was possible. The Avatar's mind returned to the picture of a bursting bubble. Perhaps Dawn's bubble was ALREADY bursting, in slow motion! He hoped the mages could hold the structure together long enough to evacuate everyone.

Walking on the strange ground was difficult, but it seemed the only option. The destruction on the lower levels of all the buildings here was terrible, there were almost no bridges left, and all the stairs were gone. The Avatar wondered how long Dawn had rested on these shakey foundations. The clock they were headed to was now reading late at night. The Avatar hoped they would be able to find a faster way up. These things, the Avatar found, usually worked themselves out. Sometimes the Avatar felt he was invincible, when he felt like this, though, he had strange visions that he had died, many times. He didn't know what these visions meant, he knew he'd been lucky up to now, he prayed his luck would hold.

They slowly made progress towards the tower, weaving around the tops of all the other towers. It was all downhill. The dome was a perfect sphere, and the clock tower touched at its very lowest point. 

They reached the tower, and wondered how to get in. There was a window some distance up, just below the face of the huge clock the Avatar tried throwing a grappling hook, it barely missed the window. He tried again, and got the hook through the window. He pulled it through, slowly, until it caught on the window opening. He tested the rope, it seemed secure.

The Avatar climbed up first, carefully, and soon reached the window, he climbed through. He found himself in a huge room, the floor was level with the clock faces, which showed through in mirror image. There were four faces, one facing in each direction. Large gears cranked forward, a notch at a time, large arms extended to each of the clocks. There was a large, room sized pillar in the middle extending from the roof of the room, right down to the floor. There looked to be an opening up a ramp which lead to the very centre of the room.

The others had scaled the rope, and were now staring in awe at the huge room. The Avatar pointed the way up the ramp, and lead them forward. A simple wooden door was at the top of the ramp, the Avatar turned the knob, and the door swung open. They stepped inside the pillar.

The first thing that caught the Avatar's eye was a glowing purple-red stone, floating in the middle of the room. That, the Avatar thought, must be the Heart of Dawn. Three tendrils of energy extended from the stone towards three statues. Directly ahead of the Avatar, the middle statue was a man, but he looked odd, not entirely human, he wore a crown on his head. One hand, he held at his side, and it held a rolled up piece of paper. His other hand extended in front of him, and from it came the tendril which extended to the Heart. He faced the door from the opposite side of the room.

To the left of the strange man was another man, A man in full plate armour, no trace of his body could be seen. The only other distinguishing feature was a medal, a heart with a clock on it which hung on his chest above where his heart would be. One hand at his side held an axe, his other hand extended, and the tendril to the stone came from it. He faced the stone.

The third figure was on all fours, it was a lion, fiercely showing its teeth. One paw looked like it was grasping at something, from this paw came the tendril extending to the stone. Around its neck, it too had a medal, The Avatar looked closely, it had the word "Courage" on it. It too faced the stone.

It was then the Avatar realised what the other two figures were. The man in plate armour was not wearing armour, he was a man made of tin. The strange looking man looked strange because he was made of straw. This was a scarecrow.

It came as quite a shock to the Avatar to see characters from the Wizard of Oz in a city built thousands of years ago. It was almost as much of a shock to realise that they represented the three principles of the Avatar. The scarecrow had wanted a brain, he was searching for truth. The tin woodsman wanted a heart, he was searching for love. And the cowardly lion, searched for courage. The Avatar also thought it strangely appropriate that he searched for a way to return to earth, just as Dorothy had.

The Avatar knew that Lord British had not invented the virtues, he had merely rediscovered them from ancient writings, perhaps these were the remains of the culture which had written those texts. He wondered, too, if L Frank Baum had visited Britannia, or whatever it was called then, Oz perhaps. In the Avatar's time on earth the time on Britannia went very quickly, two hundred years had passed from when he last visited. It could easily have been a thousand, or more years since the Wizard of Oz was written.

"I sense a seeker of Truth," came from the Scarecrow though it did not move its mouth.

"I sense a seeker of Love," said the Tin Man, again without moving at all.

"I sense a seeker of Courage," said the rock solid lion.

"We will each answer thee one question," they said in unison.

The Avatar turned to the Scarecrow.

"How can I destroy the Heart of Dawn?"

"It is just a rock," said the Scarecrow, "destroy it as thou wouldst any other rock. This is the truth, use it well."

The Scarecrow's tendril to the Heart Disappeared. The Avatar turned to the Tin Man.

"Can this city be saved?"

"No," the tin man said, "The only loving thing thou canst do for the city is to let her die."

The Tin Man's tendril disappeared. The Avatar turned to the Lion.

"Can I defeat the Guardian?"

"Not now," the lion said, "true courage is knowing when to run away. Thy time to face the Guardian will come soon enough."

The lion's tendril disappeared. The stone began to drop. The Avatar dived and caught it before it hit the ground.

"We give thee, 'Avatar' this last piece of knowledge, a way to return to the surface."

The sparkling tendrils appeared again, this time pointing at the ceiling. A trapdoor opened up, and a box descended, and landed in the space between the statues. The box had doors which slid open. The box let out a satisfying 'Ding!'. 

They stepped inside, there were buttons on the wall. The Avatar pressed the topmost button, they felt the box accelerate upwards. It took some time, but eventually the box stopped, and dinged again. The doors opened, they were at the very top of the clock tower, now, in the upper city. They stepped out, and walked out onto a bridge, where they could see the whole city. A huge crowd was gathering way down at the front gate, it stretched halfway to the tower, and spread out several streets to the side as well. Looking elsewhere, the city now seemed as deserted as the lower city. The Avatar checked the clock, they still had an hour before the city would return to Britannia.

They made their way to the area where the mages were gathered, keeping the Guardian out. They now looked exhausted, there were servants bringing sacks of reagents, and the sacks were glittering with the magic. Up, on top of the dome, the Guardian still scratched at the top, sapping the mages magic as the mages battled against him to keep the spell going.

The Avatar signalled one of the servants to bring him a sack, and the Avatar began chanting with them. His reagents sparkled from his sack, floated up into the air, and joined the streams from the other mages, he could see them visibly relax, as some of the strain was taken from them. The Avatar could feel the influence of the Guardian, his scratching now felt like fingernails on a blackboard, scratching right into his soul. His head filled with noise, and he saw his companions shouting at him, but he could not hear a word they said. His sight became distorted, he could barely see anything, the last thing he saw before his sight returned, was Shamino join in the spell. The Avatar knew Shamino only had limited magical ability, and he rarely used it, but at this stage, any help was good, the Avatar could feel a little of the strain disappear as Shamino's spell joined with the rest.

Time seemed to have no meaning, the Avatar just concentrated on chanting the words, and channelling the ether. His earthly senses now useless, he could still see the barrier they were creating, as he was magically linked to it. He could also see the Guardian, trying to disrupt the spell. Throbbing pains began in his head, and spread all over his body. Suddenly, the Avatar felt a break in the spell. With a jolt, reality came back to him, and he could see that Shamino had collapsed. He could also see that the Guardian was dropping through the hole that was now left wide open.

"We have to start the spell again! Enclose the Guardian!" the Avatar roared. It took great effort, but each of the mages began to chant again. Now, they created a bubble around the Guardian as he fell, and now he was suspended in mid-air inside the bubble. The real world faded again, the Guardian struggled against the walls of his prison, stretching the walls, and roaring. He changed tactics, and started to taunt the Avatar.

"Thou canst not do this forever, what dost thou hope to gain?" The Avatar knew the Guardians power had been sapped, both by trying to break through the city's dome, made of such powerful magic, even the Guardian was exhausted after that. That was the only reason they could trap him now, the Guardian was exhausted.

The real world encroached once again, the city was returning the Britannia, the Guardian was IN Britannia! The Avatar exerted extreme effort to keep his view of the city. He saw the crowd at the gate begin to move, and file out of the city.

Only a little longer, he convinced himself, refusing to acknowledge that the worst was still to come. The pain in his head, and his whole body was intense, but still he kept the spell up. Another jolt as one of the mages passed out. The spell was again broken. The bubble around the Guardian disappeared, and he fell onto a bridge several levels below them. The Avatar used the last of his magical energy, and drew on that of the rest of them, to cast a blink spell on them all, and transported them to the base of the tower. The Guardian was climbing down one of the towers, and was making fast progress. The Avatar looked at the crowd, it was nearly out, only a few were still inside, and were rushing to the exit.

"RUN!" the Avatar cried, taking the initiative himself, stumbling and falling because of his weakness. His companions picked him up, and helped him move, the other mages had help from the servants, they made slow progress towards the gate.

The Guardian had reached the ground, and was running after them.

"Yes, Avatar, run! Ha, Ha Ha!! Dost thou not see I have won! I am here, in Britannia, and thou canst do nothing to stop me!"

They ran, now the only people in the city, the crowd outside the gate cheered them on, as they got out of the way of the Guardian's path.

They reached the gate, and ran through. The Guardian just a few steps behind. The Avatar reached into his backpack, and took the Heart of Dawn, he threw it with all his might back into the city, it hit the road, and smashed into a thousand pieces. The city, the Guardian in it began to fade quickly, the Guardian's scream of rage faded just as the city had. 


The dispossessed people stood around the clearing where the city had once appeared.

"Well, Avatar," said the mayor, "Thou has succeeded in completely disrupting all our lives, but I suppose I must thank thee."

"So," said the Avatar, "what wilt thou do now?"

"Thou dost not get off that easily, Avatar! Thou art going to stay for once, and see the consequences of thy actions!"

"What dost thou mean?"

"Thou art going to help us build New Dawn."

A quarry was established in the mountains to the east, and logging began in the forest to the west. The game in the area was plentiful, and the soil rich. There was no trouble building farms, hunting for food. The area seemed the perfect place for a city, no doubt one would have been built there before were it not for Dawn.

The Avatar and his companions helped out, the Avatar's magic helped with some of the heavy lifting, in a very short time, a city had sprung up, many wooden cabins, and a few stone houses. Reports went out to Lord British, who arranged for supplies to be brought until the city could sustain itself.

The Avatar surveyed the scene from a nearby hilltop, he was pleased they had settled in so well. A voice appeared in his mind, it was the Guardian:

"Next time, Avatar! Next time..."


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This story © copyright 1996 Andrew D. Charlton. Ultima, and Britannia, and Origin are registered trademarks of ORIGIN Systems, Inc. The Avatar is a trademark of ORIGIN Systems Inc. Please don't sue me.