This tale was assembled from the posts made by members of the Ultima Dragons Internet Chapter to the newsgroup. The thread was initiated and maintained by Lumina Dragon, without whom this story would not exist. The other participants were (in alphabetical order) Concussed Dragon, Destrius Dragon, Dracos Dragon, Dracotheran Dragon, Helgraf Dragon, Lost Dragon, Paulon Dragon, Sheriva Dragon, St George's Dragon, and Thanian Dragon. It is the tale of the intrepid adventurers who chose to oppose the Shadowlords and the mysterious entity who released them once more upon the Realm of Britannia

In piecing together a coherent story, liberties have been taken with the original posts, mainly to clarify who is speaking, or performing a given action. Spelling and occasional grammar corrections have also been made. However, also be aware that minor modifications have been made to cover plot inconsistencies that occurred when sorting the various posts into order, and that the original Usenet posts have been hacked apart and reassembled by paragraphs rather than on a whole post basis.

NOTE: For a frame of reference, it is nearly three Britannian months since Lord British sent the Avatar to the Serpent Isle. (He has since been shunted to Pagan, where he will stay for the equivalent of one Britannian year, starting after one month of being in the Serpent Isle. He will therefore be gone for about another ten months.) It is early summer, year 363 (U7BG was 361, right?). And I'm starting us off in Moonglow. Enjoy.

A New Age of Darkness

a plot thread from RGCUD

I looked out the window of the Observatory at the city. Britannia was still recovering from those strange storms which had plagued it for a while in the spring. Moonglow was fairly untouched by any of the larger storm-related events; the only building lost to them was the new Magic Guild, formerly the Moonglow Fellowship Hall. It has since been rebuilt, but people became concerned at the prolonged absence of the Avatar once those storms stopped. They believed, rightly according to Lord British, that he was responsible for stopping them. But why then hasn't he returned? My musings were cut short by an exclamation from Brion, the Head Astronomer.

"By the Virtues...." muttered Brion, "Kenneth, thou must see this!" I went outside to see Brion beside the telescope, frantically scribbling notes onto a scroll. I had not seen him this excited during my entire visit.

"What hast thou discovered, Brion?" I asked. He would not be like this for anything less than a discovery, and, I must admit, the amateur astronomer in me that took the trip from Trinsic was rather curious about it.

"A comet! Look for thyself," he said, gesturing to the telescope. I looked, and indeed there was a comet hovering amidst the stars. Brion continued, "There has not been a comet in... nearly 200 years, during the Fifth Age. Nasty, that. I wonder what this one means? Unlike the others it is not near one of the--," his voice cut off as if a knife had been taken to it.

I looked at him. "What?"

"Would that I had not seen it with mine own eyes, I would not believe it.... Kenneth, I just saw what looked like a shooting star, but it shot upwards, from far to the west? What sort of phenomenon...." But I had stopped listening, and turned the telescope in that direction myself. I saw the 'shooting star'; it was another comet, which visibly moved into the sky until resting not too far from the planet Justice. My thoughts went back to what Brion said about the Fifth Age. Justice meant Yew, and Empath Abbey was more or less a part of Yew now. I shuddered at the implications. What if the first comet had originated the same way? It was not near another planet though, and that was puzzling.

Abruptly, all my thoughts scattered as I felt a rush of heat. I whirled around, and saw a roiling fireball fly out of the Lycaeum, streaming towards the heavens. With a sickening sense of what I would see, I looked back into the telescope. Sure enough, when I had located the new comet, it was in place near a bright blue orb. Honesty, planet associated with Moonglow. Moonglow, home of the Lycaeum. The first comet was near no planet, as the Serpent's Hold was near no Town.

I turned to Brion and said, "I'm going to the Lycaeum to see what happened, but I fear I know already. Also, I will need thy new orrery viewer." He absently nodded, and looked to the telescope to see what I saw in it that so worried me. He saw. Fortunately, his new orrery viewer was imbued with enchantments to account for phenomena outside what can be readily calculated; it magically reflected the actual Sosarian system, and that would include comets. Even as I picked it up, I was already running to the Lycaeum.

When I got there I was met by a very flustered Nelson, still recovering from the shock of the rising comet. I asked him if anything happened that might have precipitated the 'giant fireball'. He shook his head and said he didn't know, but then I heard Mariah speaking from within. "Oh no. By all the Virtues, how could this happen?" I rushed in to see what so shocked her, and was dimly aware of Nelson following. Upon entering the central room of the Lycaeum, I stopped dead and did not notice anything except what I saw before me.

In the center of the room stood an ornate brazier, which had for over three centuries burned with a blue flame. It now stood empty, it's flames extinguished despite the impossibility of such happening.

The Eternal Flame of Truth had been put out. A flame which had burned since the founding of Britannia three hundred and sixty-three years ago, and which had for one hundred and ninety-five of those years held the fell being known as Faulinei, the Shadowlord of Falsehood. Now that the Flame -- the Flames, I correct myself, recalling the other two comets -- are gone, the Shadowlords are no longer bound by the purity of the Principles.

And even as that fact sunk in, I noticed one more thing. The Shard of Falsehood was not there. Someone must have taken it, for the fires themselves could not have burned the crystal tempered as it was in so many sorceries. Was it the Shadowlord? Or was it someone else?

Deep within the Bloody Plains, a small, humble hut rests decorated with the talismans and memoirs of an ancient and adventurous time, when the daemons walked abroad and dragons threatened many a passing traveller. Simple charms dangle from the open doorway and wind chimes jingle with every breath of wind.

Dracotheran now resides within this simple dwelling, practicing the simple arts of magic, creating light at night, magically lighting candles and such. Hoping that one day he too shall have mastered the arcane arts and travel across the countryside inspiring even the most stubborn of fighters with his mystical prowess. Even though his previous attempts at somewhat powerful magics had all met a miserable defeat, he still tried to tap the power of the void, relentlessly toiling to attain even a slight increase of magic ability. In the past he had been able to fend of small hordes of giant rats and create food enough for living on, but as with all mages he wished for more. The power to change the lands to his will, to destroy massive armies of evil, and to become a hero to even the simplest of men. Perhaps if he were to tap some power long forgotten or to create his own source of power. Perhaps an ethereal lens to focus the powers of the void into himself. Or to discover a low level spell that could channel even the slightest fragment of the void's power to his control. A pendant perhaps made of the finest of gems yet powerful enough to contain the power of wizardry.

Alas, all of these were far beyond the reach of such a simple mage. He would have to find another source to feed his magical desires. After thinking this over, Dracotheran leaves his pathetic excuse for a home, and headed for Minoc. After all, Minoc IS the town of tinkers, perhaps someone there could help him attain such great power, or perhaps even Moonglow would be better, the Lycaeum is the center of learning in Britannia, perhaps there is something there that could help him. Dracotheran reconsidered his trip to Minoc and headed for the docks at Vesper hoping to catch a ride to the Lycaeum.

Some time later, Dracotheran arrives at the docks of the Lycaeum and rushes in to see what knowledge he can acquire there. Shortly after, a massive ball of fire bursts towards the sky and positions itself near the Planet of Honesty......

Within a small cave within Spiritwood, seated upon a wooden chair, Destrius looks up at the ceiling of his simple home and sighs.

"It is time."

Standing up, Destrius walks towards a simple closet to the southern end of the room and takes out his nondescript bamboo staff.

"The heroes of Britannia will meet in Moonglow. That is where I shall go too."

Destrius raises his hands and begins to cast a simple teleportation spell to take him to the Lycaeum.

A flash of darkness.

"What? Will Britannian magic not function? This is strange, strange indeed. There is no way they could have done this....


"The Old way it has to be then."

Destrius mutters a few arcane words of magic, magic that is not of this world. He slowly fades away, disappearing...

...into the night.

< Buccaneer's Den>>

It is reasonable to say, that in the finest gambling hall of Pirate's Cove, where sits the largest hulking sentry known to creation - Grandill, The One-Eyed fleshpot - dealing from the bottom of ones deck is not the safest of activities.

Seoman had never been the safe sort. Of course, Seoman had never really been the lucky sort either. Tonight would prove no different.

The dice called to Seoman.

Vigorously rolling them up was a signature move, especially when accompanied by the much vaunted chant at lady luck:

"One last throw before we go.." "One last roll to save my soul.." "Sweet mother of light, we're going to win tonight!"

As the dice made their irregular way across the table to stop and form a winning 7, Seoman jerked his arms in a herculean display of victory - ripping his sleeve in the process, and sending a bouquet of cards - Aces - flowering into the air, one landing squarely on Grandill's nose.

As the cacophonous roar of the Silver Mast Gambling Hall thinned to a meditatively quiet whisper, one could make out the very distinct sound of Grandill's roughly hewn muscles stretching and bundling, fibre by fibre. As the man-oak arose from his seat, his leathery face upturned in an expression that would have been a grin on a normal man's face, Seoman made his plea:


"Now, now, Grandill.. 'Tis only a game chap, you know, to have fun.. Eh.. No, No - don't get up <Ooo - that sword of yours is quite sharp> Yes, yes <OW!> I .. I'll just be taking my leave of.."

Grandill, being neither dull-witted nor slow, raised his mighty-thewed forearm and clasped the bard hard 'round the neck, quickly silencing the last of his clamouring.

"The Silencer", as Grandill liked to be called, well.. He enjoyed his work. For Grandill, a thousand words could not convey the sheer joy in watching a man's head pop off, or seeing yet another bit of tattered flesh fall from an already shredded and weeping back. What some men spoke in words, "The Silencer" voiced in agony. Grandill, long overdue for some "fun", was about to speak a volume...

It was at that time that the front of the Casino became the center of attention. A Gargoyle, red winged, and mightily built, was now making its way to Grandill's position. It spoke no words, but instead uplifted its darkened, red hands and revealed to Grandill several vials..

Serpent venom - there was no doubt in Seoman's mind (a mind that was quickly growing dim from lack of oxygen). Amazingly, as soon as it had come, the iron gloved hand of Grandill was gone. In its place was a rusted ring of metal, flaked with blood, and linked to a long chain - the end of which contained many other Britannians in similar plight.

Seoman had been sold into slavery for the cost of Grandill's venom addiction. As he was tugged from the casino and lead to a dark, barnacle-encrusted vessel, matters looked grim.

A shipload of Britannian slaves were pushed to the lower decks by callous Gargoyle claws, Seoman among the destitute lot. Above, in a moonlit silhouette the Gargoyle captain poured over an ancient map, pointing repeatedly to a newly developed star.

In the sky above them all, countless miles above, a comet raced red through the heavens.

<<The Lycaeum>>

Behind Dracotheran, a column of air vibrates and warps, slowly turning into the figure of a mage. The figure soon becomes Destrius, who looks at Dracotheran and smiles.

"Greetings, Dracotheran. I am Destrius the Mad Mage. A great event has just occurred, one which will forever scar the history of the fair land of Britannia.

"You are one of the Chosen Heroes to defend Britannia while the Avatar is away in dark Pagan. We must now seek Kenneth, who will be able to tell us more than what His blurred vision can see."

Shortly after, in Trinsic, a luminescent form soared to a landing just outside the South Gate. As it settled down, an onlooker would see it was a dragon, with yellow scales which glowed softly, which made it so visible in the night skies. In moments, however, the Radiant Dragon known as Lumina blurred for a second, to be replaced by a somewhat well-built warrior of the Paladin class, and headed into the city.

As a Dragon, Lumina had the advantage of being around a long time. He had lived through the Fifth Age, and knew the time the Shadowlords held sway. He also knew of the Avatar's accomplishments of trapping the Shadowlords and freeing Lord British from the Dungeon Doom. However, Lumina had not spent as much time than among the people as he does now as Kenneth, and so his knowledge is simply that.

Kenneth entered his home, a modest one-story building in the southeastern part of Trinsic. He set about gathering together his equipment for the journey that lay ahead of him. As he donned his armour, he thought on what he had seen in Moonglow, and what it meant. The Shadowlords were loose: that is what it boiled down to. The Flames of the Principles had been extinguished, although how that was possible remained a mystery. And who or what extinguished them in the first place? For what reason would someone want to release the Shadowlords? *Power, of course. Some would-be tyrant seeking their aid, most likely. Didn't they recall what happened to Blackthorn? Fools.*

Fully garbed in a suit of chain covered with a purple tabard, with his great, two-handed broadsword slung over his shoulder, his Fire Sword sheathed at his belt, he slung his Shield on his left arm. Made of the finest steel, it had forged into it a pure silver serpent, outlined in gold which radiated the faint glow of magic. The serpent matched that sewn onto the front of his tabard; the emblem of the Order of the Silver Serpent. Finally, Kenneth put on his Ankh pendant, symbol of the Virtues. *Can never have too much help, and Virtue on my side will indeed help.* Thus garbed, he headed back out of the city.

Once out, he peered once more into the magical orrery Brion had lent him; the comets were on the move. The Shadowlords were heading to other parts of Britannia. Would their visits be the same reign of terror as before? Very probably. *And how will we defeat them this time?* With that last thought, Kenneth cast a spell to return him to the Lycaeum entrance, now better-equipped to face the road ahead. He vanished in a burst of light.

The dissipating forces of the Flame of Truth strike resonance within an artefact buried in the ground to the south of the Lycaeum. For an instant the area behind the Mad Mage and alchemist is lit by a wall of blue light as a Moongate shimmers into existence. A figure stumbles through into the Britannian night, and then the gate is gone. The figure straightens up as he recovers his balance. As the eyes of the duo adjust to the changes in the light, they see the figure is a male human, strangely dressed, wearing a backpack and carrying a slender pointed object. A puzzled expression rounds out the impression of someone who belongs a great distance away. Looking around, he notices Destrius and Dracotheran and speaks: "Excuse me, gentlemen. Could you please tell me where on Earth I am? I seem to be a little lost."

Destrius responds to the newcomer. "Ah. You are from Earth. Nice umbrella too.

"You are now in Britannia, once known as Sosaria. This world is not far from your home planet, but only accessible through moongates, similar to the one that you did come through.

"My name is Destrius, and this is Dracotheran. What may your name be?"

Before the Earthling can formulate a reply, a blood-curdling scream erupts from across the land. A speck appears in the distance, running at impossible speed across the ground. Drawing closer quickly, the figures standing around are able to discern the characteristic features of a huge leopard. It takes only a few moments for the beast to reach them. When it is almost upon the group, it slows to a confident walk. Stopping about five feet away from Dracotheran, it lets out another scream. In the middle of its call, its outline distorts, and begins to flow into another form. In a moment, where the great cat had stood before, there stood a powerfully built man of average height in leather armour. Though he wore no other armour, he carried a Firedoom staff in his hand. Speaking in a strangely urbane and mellow voice he introduced himself. "My name is Sheriva. At your service." With this he bows. He straightens up, maintaining his solemn demeanor. A twinkle in his eye belies his seriousness, and he smiles widley.

Paulon is a little dumbfounded by this new apparition, but nonetheless responds to Destrius' question. "You may as well call me Paulon. I get called other things, but they aren't quite so polite."

Paulon looks around at the scenery, up at the sky, then looks down at the ground. Pulling out a light from a pocket of his backpack, he peers at a scorched line where the moongate had stood. "If this is Britannia, then I guess I got here through a moongate. I thought they were out of order though." He pauses then continues "And I didn't think they incinerated the grass either. It's almost as if something pushed a such load of power into the moonstone that it got goosed into working again, just for an instant. So much power that it reached Earth instead of another gate in Britannia, and yanked me here. A really strong surge of magic would probably do the job, and something that puts those three comets back in the sky probably counts in that department."

Kenneth arrives in Moonglow, and sees a group of three people standing nearby. He approaches them, and hears the end of their conversation.

"If I want to get back to Earth, I'm going to need some peace and quiet to figure out how. With three Shadowlords wandering about, there won't be any quiet, much less peace, so the first step is to get rid of them."

Paulon bows to Destrius. "You know this place better than I. Lead on, and let's get started."

Surprised, Kenneth turns to Paulon. "From Earth? Same as The Avatar and Lord British? Impressive. And thou seemst to possess some knowledge of our land..... How knowest thou of the Shadowlords?"

Lumina then surveys the others. Mages both, by the looks of them. And one seems to be of quite great power indeed. It is the one to whom the one from Earth so recently bowed. He turns to this mage and says, "Greetings, mage, I am Kenneth Whitten, Paladin of Trinsic and Knight in the Order of the Silver Serpent. And what art thou known as? And thy companions?

Destrius smiles at Kenneth.

"Greetings Kenneth. We were just about to seek you, but it seems you found us first. My name is Destrius. This is Dracotheran, whom I believe you may have met before.

"Paulon here is from Earth, as you heard. I do not know much about him, though, so perhaps an introduction would be proper? He seems to know a lot about Britannia too."

Kenneth replies. "It seems that thou hast already learned of the Shadowlords' return. We must find a way to stop it. Fortunately, I have a way to track them." Kenneth pulls out the magic orrery viewer. "I happen to be a friend of Brion's, and he lent me this to keep tabs on the comets; and therefore the Shadowlords." Kenneth then looks into the viewer. "That wasn't there before.... no." He looks rather distressed, and turns the eyepiece of the viewer to let Destrius see. Destrius takes a look, and sees....

All three comets clustered together near a planet that was not there before. Settled in an orbit between Justice and ringed Sacrifice, it was darker than that of Humility, and larger as well (not hard considering Humility's size; but this planet was larger than nearly all eight). And even on it's lit side, the blackness was quite evident. It looked like Blackrock. Abruptly, an idea came to Kenneth, and as Destrius looked back up and returned the viewer, Kenneth said questioningly, "Stonegate?" Only there would the Shadowlords congregate. And it only made sense that they would reinhabit the long-abandoned fortress upon their return. But to be reflected in the orrery as a planetoid? Something doth not seem right. Too many unanswered questions.
Too few answers.

But one answer was obvious. "We'll need more help than the four of us to face this. Mayhaps there are others from the other holds who have discerned the matter as we have? They would no doubt gather together as well. But of prime importance, our Liege should be notified of the peril to the land. I suggest we head to the Castle first. After that? To Empath Abbey, or Serpent's Hold?
Or maybe somewhere else?"

Destrius looks up at the sky for a while, apparently considering.

Soon, he looks back at Kenneth, and points his staff east.

"Skara Brae. Someone seeks to aid us there. Once we meet that person, we shall travel on to Britain and inform Lord British. Actually, I believe he knows of the Shadowlord's return. Someone from Yew would have definitely rushed back to Britain.

"Is this itinerary alright with the rest of you?"

Dracotheran thinks about Destrius' plan for a short moment then agrees in an indifferent manner and quietly slips away into a more discrete location before returning to another question that he has been mulling over for the last few hours since the beginning of this crisis. A few moments deep in thought lead Dracotheran to the scrap of paper in his left pocket. He pulls it out and shuffles it around, turning to certain angles and finally arrives at just the right placement. He then sits on a nearby rock and stretches the paper across it's surface. After quickly looking it over, Dracotheran pulls out a large square of cloth and places it next to the paper. He pulls out a quill pen and an inkwell and begins scribbling down various notes and compass locations on the paper. Then, he pulls a sextant from his pocket and takes an exact location of the now extinguished flame of truth and writes it all down on the paper. As soon as he finished, Dracotheran stuffs the paper and cloth deep in his pocket and heads back to the company of Destrius.

"Ok, I'm ready when you are." the alchemist states.

The paladin considers for a moment. "Very well, but 'twould be best if we visit LB even if he already knows; he may provide some insight for us. He was, after all, deeply enmeshed in what happened with the Shadowlords in the Fifth Age.

"But perhaps a stopover on the way would not be too much to ask. I must wonder, however, who awaits us in the city which is still more dead than alive. It has been less than two years since the rebuilding started, and there was MUCH to rebuild. As for getting there, might I suggest...." "VAS REL POR!" After a few moments, a shimmering gate appeared. "It would appear that Paulon was right. The magical and cosmic forces releasing the Shadowlords hath disrupted the Guardian's sorceries that ended all moongates. Go on through; I must go last, of course, or the Gate will close behind me. Skara Brae awaits."

Paulon slips his light into a pocket, and wanders over to examine the moongate. It stands rock-steady, without any flickering or distortion. He looks up to see Kenneth's curious gaze.

"Let me guess. It's Name Job question time." Paulon grins at some private joke. "I call myself Paulon, partly from force of habit, and partly out of an old joke even I don't quite remember. I enjoy that kind of thing. As for a job, mostly I live a dull ordinary life on Earth.

"Unfortunately I have a knack for falling into any stray wormhole, dimensional warp, or gate that opens up in my vicinity. And they do that fairly often." Paulon sighs.

"The result is that I've learned to improvise, and be bad at a lot of things, rather than good at one or two. No great magics or flashy swordplay from me, but I can manage the odd spell, and survive a fight."

"I once ran into someone who visited Britannia, so I did my best to find out more about the land. What I know tends to be more historic detail than practical knowledge, as I've never had the fortune to be transported here before. Still, enough about me. We really ought to get on with dealing with the Shadowlords. To Skara Brae!"

With that, Paulon steps into the moongate, and is gone.

"The person we shall meet is not yet known to me." Destrius states. "In fact, it may not be a person at all, but some other creature. All I know is that one awaits our arrival. It is up to that entity to reveal itself."

Destrius enters the moongate.

After Paulon and Destrius pass safely into the moongate, not more than a moment before Kenneth enters, a point of absolute darkness forms in the center of the portal, which doubles in size until the black shadow eclipses the shimmering door. The creature blends with the pure energy of the moongate and takes on a humanoid form, both of darkness and light, and steps before Kenneth.

"Greetings," the man exclaimed as he bowed to Kenneth, "and well met!" The shadow-form creature which stood before the moongate not more than a moment ago, had taken upon the guise of a white-robed human mage, holding a silver talisman of the twin moons, Trammel and Felucca, in his right hand. However, the man was surrounded not by the glow of the moongate, but by the light of the sky!

"Worry not about your friends, I had waited until they safely arrived at Skara Brae before I 'borrowed' your dimensional gate. I know you have no reason to believe the truth in what I have said, nor what I have to say, but hear me out.
About one month ago I was researching a new spell, one which could restore the moongates or provide a similar passage to the learned, when a minor accident occurred. I succeeded. What I believe to have happened is not my doing, though I am powerful, I am definitely not powerful enough to open a gate such as the one I was drawn into, and I fear, one from which the creatures who were powerful enough to open a 'void gate' escaped from, into this world. Least you misjudge me, I did not know that the 'knock' on the door to the void would be answered, much less torn open then sealed inside... But I've began to trail from the subject at hand, we must quickly rejoin your companions, yourself to continue your mission, and myself to discover how these creatures knew I would provide them with access to our world. Do not bother with your moonstone, I have a more unique method which will also show that I speak the truth."

Kenneth ponders the mage's words, and then replies, "The creatures you speak of are called the Shadowlords. Over two hundred years ago, they wrought a reign of terror upon this land, Britannia. They were sealed by the Avatar, our hero of legend, for all the time since. I know not what the spell is that thou hast cast, but I do not believe it to be the source of their release. I have a sort of..... feel..... for certain magics, if they are strong enough. The spell which extinguished the Eternal Flame of Truth, and thereby released the Shadowlord of Falsehood, was cast from within that same room. It was no magical accident which did this. Given that the Shadowlords were released one after the other, I assume that whoever released them had means to teleport to each location, cast the spell, and then move on. The cosmic forces released by the Shadowlords' return, however, may have latched onto thy spell and drawn it hence. The same thing happened to Paulon, who was pulled into a spontaneous-forming moongate not long before yourself. What I would like to know is who would be so twisted in malevolence as to release some of the most powerful foes in our history.

"..... Oh, one more thing. Exactly what world dost thou come from? Obviously not Britannia, given your lack of knowledge of certain things, but your world has moongates, you say, and ones that had stopped function, as ours have. And thou hast not the look of a Britannian in thee."

The mage intones Vas Rel Por An Lor Tym while grasping the amulet in his right hand. The air in front of Kenneth and the mage begins to ripple, then tears apart, showing a swirling tunnel of stars with Paulon and Destrius, frozen in place as if they had just left a moongate, standing before Skara Brae. The mage, grabbing Kenneth by the arm, takes the step into the portal. As the stars scream past them the mage turns to Kenneth.

"By the way, the name's Myrmidon."

Dracotheran comes running out of Moonglow to the location where he last knew his companions to be, all of which are now gone.

"Ok, this isn't good."

Dracotheran looks around as if to make sure nobody was looking and casts Vas Rel Por.


"Damn! I can never get the gesture right. I guess that leaves me only one option."

Dracotheran then heads for the dock hoping to catch the next ship to Skara Brae.

Destrius looks at the new mage who appears along with Kenneth from a portal.

"It seems we have another partner in our endeavour. Hmmm.... let's review our party...

"3 mages, 1 paladin, 1 ummm... Paulon, and that strange feline person we left behind in Moonglow."

"Being Moonglow, I am not surprised we are mage-heavy," Kenneth comments.

Destrius looks a bit sheepish.

"Forgot to ask him to join us. But no doubt he'll appear quite soon, with his apparently magical capabilities."

Looking around at the barren landscape of charred Skara Brae, Destrius ponders for a moment and then abruptly sits down on the floor.

"We shall wait here for Sheriva, if that is what he is called, as well as the entity seeking us. With luck, they should appear soon."

"I don't know about Sheriva, but would one of those qualify as the entity?" the Paladin asks.

Looking where Kenneth indicates, the others see two forms approach. One is the Archmage of Skara Brae (and ex-lich), Horance. The other is a stately winged Gargoyle who touches down in fron of the group just as Horance arrives. Just as suddenly, a third person appears in a flash of light. The new arrival does not look to be a mage, however, and upon arriving, a ring on the newcomer's hand vanishes in a similar flash of light.


'Tis monotonous, life on the sea. You're either up, or you're down. Hours pass headlong into days which slip and slide into weeks. Time passes slowly on a ship when one has nothing but shackle and oar. The rowing is constance. The rowing is sanity. The rowing never ceases.

And then one day... It did.

There was no fight left in Spellsinger today. A goodly beating at Gargoyle hands saw to that - if you could call them hands. Brutish things the Gargoyles - daemons from below Britannia. They did not belong here. There were folk of Britannia who decreed "Send them back!" Spellsinger was woefully inclined to agree.

Seoman sighed, dropping his head to his knees, in the universal gesture of the defeated. "There would be no luck for this bard tonight. This stop - no good shall come of it." he thought. Through a tiny fissure in the ship's hull, a morbid light seeped through.

The view (through what turned out to be a small knot-hole) held no promise. Grey lands lie wounded under a scarred grey sky, with mercurial waters lapping at its frayed edges.

"We must be off the shore of Skara Brae. If the Gargoyles leave us too long, the dead shall make us their own."

"I should probably find delight in such a fate for this moment. To glide from my bindings and be free of this tortured form.. Take us, oh walking dead. Free us from these shackles of bone and blood.."

Seoman gazed once again through his tiny window.

There, in the fog strode the Gargoyle Captain, along-side him a very gnarled and ancient seeming man. In the far distance, there were more figures still, some small, some larger still..

"What fate awaits thee, figures in the mist?"

<whispered> "What fate awaits me, tired as I am.. What fate awaits me?"

<<Skara Brae>>

Destrius looks at the two who approach, and motions at Kenneth.

"That's Horance. I haven't seen him for a while. Always too busy with rebuilding this damn place. He doesn't seem to be doing his job quite well, though.

Destrius indicates at the scorched land beneath him, devoid of any vegetation at all, and still smelling of mandrake root.

"And that gargoyle looks familiar. He's in the slavery business, by the looks of that ship."

A mischievous thought enters Destrius' mind as he looks at the ship. Something else soon catches his attention, however, as a flash of light heralds the appearance of another figure, and a smaller flash the disappearance of a ring.

"Who is that!? That ring that disappeared! I know it! I can feel it's power!"

Noticing his companions looking at him quizzically, Destrius calms down and explains.

"The ring that was on that person's finger is the Ring of Haeth. It is one of the Two Magian Rings, the other being the Ring of Xiesh.

"These two rings were designed by a great mage in the very early days of Sosaria, long before Lord British appeared in our land. The plans and magicks required to craft them were written, but the designer died before she could make them.

"The Ring of Xiesh gives the person who wears it the ability to cast spells without the need to reagents. I have heard that it was crafted by a Shal of Serpent Isle.

"The Ring of Haeth, is the exact opposite. It allows the one who wears it to possess an infinite amount of etheral power. This would mean that you can cast any spell that is magically possible. The power the ring grants is so strong that the standard words of power are not needed at all. All one has to do is to think of the desired event, and it will happen.

"I have never heard of someone actually creating it, though. The magick needed is immense, and such an event would cause a tremendous disruption in the ether. All the mages in this universe would have felt the pulses.

"But I ramble on. I had best go forth and inform see what Horance thinks of this, and find out more about the two strangers."

So saying, Destrius walks towards the archmage of Skara Brae, who is busy talking to the gargoyle.

"Greetings, Horance. It has been long since we met. Who may these personages be?"

"Destrius! When did you arrive? I did not see you... come, please help me settle this matter.

"This imbecile of a gargoyle you see here wants me to let him keep his slaves here. To hide them from the paladins seeking to stop slavers such as him, no doubt. I naturally refused, Skara Brae being no criminal's hideout. A day's voyage to Buccaneer's Den would be much better both for him and for me.

"He doesn't seem to understand me, however. Even tried to threaten me. Me, of all people. Why, I could just blow him apart with a fireball if I wanted to..."

Horance looks at Destrius pleadingly.

"...but then I'd rather not waste my magic-"

The gargoyle suddenly interrupts Horance in perfect Britannian.

"Do not insult me. Leave your pathetic island now, or I will have to remove you by force. You cannot use your magic - no mage can cast any spells now."

"I cannot use my magic? Ha! I'll show you some magic, you reptile-"

"I tire of this conversation."

The gargoyle waves his hand, and from the ship a horde of winged gargoyles fly out, each carrying two wingless counterparts. They swoop down and land next to Horance, and proceed to grab him.

Destrius, alarmed at the sudden attack, quickly casts a spell in Old magic.

"Ast jharos rianos/Saj Etar morkhas san."

Three small projectiles fly out of his palm and hit the gargoyles attempting to accost the archmage. They jump back, feeling the eerie magic burn their skin.

The battle is on.

The other stranger, owner of the Ring of Haeth, stands apart from the brawl, smiling quietly...

Two winged gargoyles converge on Paulon, swooping inwards, laughing as he throws himself to the ground to avoid the attack. As they swing around to attack again, Paulon scatters a packet of fine dust up into the air. Unable to avoid it, the Gargoyles fly into the small cloud, and abruptly drop from the sky, sneezing from inhaling ground pepper. Two blows on the head from the umbrella in Paulon's hands renders them unconscious.

As more gargoyles turn their attention to him, Paulon backs away. "I hope someone can come up with something useful. There's too many to fight directly with just an umbrella."

Moving backwards, he bumps into the stranger and stumbles. The Gargoyles take immediate advantage of the distraction, rushing in and restraining both Paulon and the stranger.

Kenneth draws out his two-handed broadsword and proceeds to make Gargish mincemeat. Spells from the mages flash by him, hitting any targets not within sword's reach. Soon, the Gargoyles are felled to the last. Kenneth looks around, and sees Paulon and the stranger getting up from where two Gargoyles, now sporting large holes through their mid-sections from a pair of lightning bolts, were restraining them. Kenneth turns toward the stranger and asks, "Who are you?"

While Kenneth and the others await the stranger's answer, Horance has slipped off toward the slavers' ship and proceeds to set free its passengers. In a short time, he returns with one of them, a bard by his clothing (which is rather torn at the moment). Horance addresses the group, saying, "This one insists on meeting with his benefactors. He gives his name as Seoman the Bard."

Destrius' eyes light up as he hears the name.

"Seoman... yes, I believe that's the one..."

He greets Seoman with a bow, introducing himself.

"Greetings. I am Destrius."

Then, without waiting for a reply, he quickly pulls Horance over to one side and whispers into his ear.

"Horance. That stranger over there. He has the Ring of Haeth!"

Horance looks at Destrius in astonishment.

"The Ring of Haeth? But...but how?"

"I do not know myself. He has made it invisible, I think. Perhaps we should question him, but I'd rather see what He has to say."

"Yes, that would be better."

Destrius and Horance quickly return to the group.

As the group awaits the stranger's response, Kenneth sees a blaze erupt in the sky to the east. Not another astronomical event -- this is in Britannia's own sky. *Dragonfire!* Kenneth thinks reflexively, knowing that it could be nothing else and look as it did. *And above Britain, or Paws, by the distance of it.*

To the others, Kenneth quickly says, "I'll go see what that is about. I should be back soon." Leaving the group to the matter of the stranger and this Seoman, Kenneth walks off to a clear area nearby... and morphs. Moments later, a Dragon with bright yellow scales which emit a faint light in the night launches himself into the sky.

Lumina Dragon heads eastward in a beeline toward the source of the dragonfire. Suddenly, it erupts again, slightly to the north. *Over Britain, definitely.* He adjusts his course, and soon arrives at the source of the fire...

He sees a Dragon's form fall into the Royal Orchards near the Castle, and sets down there. He sees that the Dragon is gravely injured, and not from its fall. Four gaping wounds marked the Dragon's side, all with a distinctive silvery arrow of magic embedded deeply into the flesh. There was a Shadowlord in Britain. At least one. The Dragon focuses on Lumina for a moment, but is unable to say anything before its strength leaves it for good. Lumina intones the spell of Resurrection, but in vain. One bolt from a Shadowlord causes wounds untouchable by normal curatives; four is a death sentence, it seems.

Lumina then turns to the sky again, and manages to see the culprit, in a side street leading off from the Castle. Lumina swoops down; the Shadowlord whirls and spots the newcomer Dragon instantly.

It hurls a bolt, which Lumina easily dodged in flight. Lumina then makes his counterattack.

A beam of noonday light bursts forth from Lumina's jaws, hitting the Shadowlord dead-on. It staggers, but is otherwise unaffected. A surprise; the Lucent Beam usually incinerates all creatures of Shadow and darkness; it should at least hurt a Shadowlord. But other than writhing as if uncomfortable, the Shadowlord shows no sign of being affected. Lumina ceases the beam.

The Shadowlord rasps, "That.... was most uncomfortable. But not insurmountable. When next you cross my path, I shall use your own power against you. Until then..." And the Shadowlord vanished into the darkness.

Mulling over these events, Lumina made his way back to Skara Brae.


Daybreak often does not wake Dracos, but this day was different. Lying in his cot, the dreams of the past night had been fragmented and altogether strange. Three shards of crystalline glass had impaled themselves in him, and as the wounds had magically sealed, three dark shapes had formed around him. They whispered names he could not hear, but names he knew he should remember. The darkness that was their forms had crept over him, making him feel colder and colder, until he was sure that the cold would swallow him, wiping him away.

It was then that he woke, and his blearly eyes could just pick out the gentle touch of light that streamed in through his tower's window, that ray of sunshine that only just touched his body. His heart was pounding, and sweat streamed from his brow.

"Another dream." Dracos swung out of his cot. "Uriel, Uriel where are you?"

The sound of footsteps clumsily climbing the stairs was punctuated by the sound of cutlery falling down the stairs. The door to Dracos' tower room opened, and a dishevelled figure, clutching a tray, pushed the door open.

"My, my lord." Uriel slid into the room, his shoulder holding the door open. "I'm, I'm sorry, my, my lord, I dropped the, the cutlery."

Dracos stood and took the tray from the trembling hands of Uriel. "What happened in the night?"

"My lord?" Uriel stammered.

"What happened in the night? Speak, boy." Dracos clicked his fingers, causing Uriel's face to glow momentarily.

"My lord, I do not know what happened in the night. But there are rumours..." Uriel looked around as if he were expecting someone else to be listening. "They say a great fight of fire took place in Britain. They say a group of adventurers seek to find the cause of the new moon. They say many things about the sexual proclivities of the yaks, too."

Dracos frowned. "Damn spell is fouling up again." He clicks his fingers again, and Uriel's face glows again. "Fetch me my travelling cloak, and my bag of runes. I am going on a journey. Oh, and bring me some paper, I must leave a message for my customers."

Uriel nodded before leaving the room. Dracos stripped himself of his nightclothes, and in the morning sun, the thin lines of tattoo that covered his body looked freshly inked. The tattooes were spells; all the spells Dracos had ever been able to collect from the tomes of ancient Sosaria. His body was his spellbook.

Dracos pulled on a deep purple robe, and fastened a belt around his waist. To this he afixed a series of pouches, some with reagents, others with pre-mixed spells. Around his neck he placed his Talisman of Sight, a small iron necklace that allowed him to see in the dark. It was the only magical artefact that had survived the fire that had destroyed his first home in Moonglow; the same fire that had destroyed the spell book that his grandfather had first begun to write, and that he, Dracos, had hoped to finish.

Uriel knocked before entering the room. He dropped the items Dracos had requested on the desk, and waited patiently in the doorway.

"Ah, Uriel. I'll leave the note on the desk. Come and get it in a few minutes, will you? You can have the rest of the week off. I'll leave another note in seven days time telling you of what is happening."

Uriel nodded, and left the room. Dracos smiled wryly. Was this the last time they would speak? Should he have said something? It was too late now. Dracos scribbled a quick note, and placed in on the desk under the inkwell. He then took a rune from out of his pouch, and rubbed it thoughtful, muttering arcane words under his breath. A blue portal rose in front of him, and he stepped through.

Uriel found the note half an hour later. It read:

"Greetings. Dracos the Vizier is no longer able to provide his services to the citizens of Moonglow due to pressing needs. Should anyone need to contact him, he is currently in Skara Brae, although it is not known for how long."
A second note, addressed to Uriel, read:
"My friend, if I do not come back, the tower and its belongings are to be sold, and you are to have the money. Go and buy that boat you have always wanted. I have left because I feel I might be of more use elsewhere. The Shadowlords have returned, and I feel I must aid the fight against them. I will not be long in Skara Brae, I fear.


Upon the distant isle of Skara Brae, a shimmering in the air heralds the appearance of a moongate. As the blue plane of light ascends from the ground however, the air grows still, then trembles as a magical shock wave flashes through it. Far above the realm of Britannia, a noxious green radiance jumps between the three comets and outlines the mysterious black planetoid they cluster around. The moongate vanishes before the unknown traveller can complete his journey.

Paulon looks up and swears as he suddenly understands the fireworks to the east. "The Vortex Cube! The Shadowlords must have tried to steal the Cube from the Museum, and the light show was someone's attempt to stop them!"

The green glow around the comets and planetoid suddenly jumps in intensity, momentarily lighting the world below like an evil new sun, before fading.

"And given the way things are going, they likely got away with the thing, and are using it's magic for something nasty now. I hope whoever was trying to use the moongate is OK, wherever they wound up."

Just as Dracos prepares to step out of the moongate in Skara Brae, the icy blue of the magic flares to green, and the gate closes. Dracos finds himself standing in a maelstrom of flicking green lights, and he seems to be floating above a solid landmass far below. His eyes strain to pick out what lies beneath him, and he espies three dark shapes walking along the landmass. Shadowlords. And what they seem to be walking to is a simulacrum of Stonegate, which glows brightly even amongst the storm of light that surrounds it.

"Interesting, and very annoying." Dracos frowns at the land beneath.

"How am I to get down to you?" He flaps his arms experimentally, but nothing happens. He mutters a spell under his breath, and can feel the magic immediately dissipate. This is a realm without magic; perhaps it is magic itself, and refuses to allow itself to be used. No matter what, spells will not free Dracos. So he waits.

<<Meanwhile, far to the east...>>

To the Northeast of Britain lies a large swampland called the Bog of Desolation. Within the Bog lie the ruins of Stonegate, the Shadowlords' earthly fortress. Yet now, they are not ruins. With the freedom of the Shadowlords and the rise of the Black Moon, Stonegate has been restored. With one significant alteration: the walls of Stonegate are now constructed of Blackrock-mixed bricks, influenced by the Blackrock Moon in orbit.

Within the castle Stonegate, in the chamber where, three hundred years ago, the Sceptre of Lord British rested, a strange apparatus now occupies that same pedestal. Made of Blackrock, diamond, and more, this apparatus focuses magical energy into the object located therein: an unassuming, dull black cube. The Vortex Cube, stolen from the Royal Museum in Britain not even two hours ago.

Suddenly, the Shadowlords stop casting spells into the apparatus, and float back a pace as it goes to work. Above the apparatus, a Vortex opens, and whisks off to the west, passing through the walls of Stonegate itself.

<<Back in Skara Brae...>>

Shooting in from the east, a black vortex comes to rest in the middle of the group.

Upon its arrival, the stranger wearing the magical Ring speaks up.

"Ah. So they have it already. Rather good test use of it, too, since it beats walking back." To the others assembled, he says, "I enjoyed your company and everything, but my ride's here. Time for me to go." With that, he steps into the vortex, and it closes behind him.

Destrius tries to stop the stranger, but is too late.

"Damn. We've lost the ring."

The mage hurriedly chants a spell of wisdom, focussing his thoughts on the vortex that had just disappeared.

"Black... Stone... Dark, very very dark... and very magical too."

Relaxing, Destrius sighs and looks at the rest of the group.

"The ring is too powerful. I cannot penetrate the ether shield surrounding it to determine its current location.

So, what should we do now?"

Looking around, Kenneth suggests, "Might I suggest a change in locale? If 'they' are who I think they are, 'twould be a good idea to vacate Skara Brae for the time being." After a moment, he sighs and says, "And now, if the stranger does side with the Shadowlords, they know of our group. We appear to have lost the element of surprise."

He sweeps his gaze over the group, resting it on Seoman, the ex-prisoner of the now dead Gargish slave ship. To Destrius, he adds, "I presume Seoman shall come with us, given that you named him as the one we were to meet here.

"I propose as our next destination either Serpent's Hold or Empath Abbey. We might be able to gain new clues missed at the Lycaeum on how the Shadowlords were freed. Before we go, I think I'll check on our "friends'" whereabouts once more as well." Peering into the magical orrery viewer, Kenneth sees two of the Shadowlords gathered at the Black Moon, while a third was speeding from the planet Compassion to an as yet unknown destination. He relays to the group that two are at Stonegate and the third just left Britain. *A pity I can't tell the comets apart,* he mused. *Then again, I couldn't identify a specific Shadowlord by appearance either.*

"So, where to? The Abbey or the Hold?"

<<Central Britannia>>

By a clearing in the Great Forest, a man stands, watching the sky. Concussed takes another deep breath, still struggling to believe what the dawn had revealed. High above, in the dawn sky, hangs a new orb in the skies, greater that either of the twin moons, and black as the color of night. The forest is unnaturally silent, and far in the distance, Concussed thinks he smells something burning. Shouldering his bow, he walks into the clearing. Rummaging through his backpack, he finally comes up with an enchanted scroll. He puts on his reading glasses and begins intoning the mystical runes inscribed upon it. A bright flash later, the clearing is empty ...

Concussed materializes on the outskirts of Britain. Around him are signs of a recent skirmish. From the scorch marks on the ground. and the several burning houses, he surmises that at least one of his kinsfolk, in his true form, was involved. Of the combatants, though, there is no sign.

Again, he looks up at the impossible moon high above in the grey sky. It stares back at him, as if it were a gigantic eye, and he gets the uncanny feeling that it is watching him, calling out to him ... Concussed shakes his head, and clears his mind of such senseless thoughts. "That moon - or whatever it is , surely needs to be investigated," he mutters. "But how to reach it? Hmmm... its seems that that ship will come in handy after all ...". He begins to head east, across the fields.

At the back of the field, Concussed stops, and pulls out a remote control. He pushes a button on it, and a strange vehicle is suddenly revealed. Concussed had came across the wreck, which had fallen from the stars about two years before, and with the help of a manual dating back to the First Age of Darkness, restored it to working condition. Well, or so he hoped, because he had never actually taken the damn thing out for a test flight. "Anyhow, we'll know now, won't we?" . He opens the cockpit and begins to power up the machine. He also turns on a homing beacon, so that the other Dragons can find the ship.

Behind him, he hears a rustling sound. Concussed is seized with an irrational fear and is suddenly afraid to turn around. He thinks he hears someone - or something calling his name. Involuntarily, his body begins to move to face the sound, though his mind screams at him to stop. His eyes slowly meets with those of his assailant, the gleaming, souless eyes of - a Shadowlord. "It cannot be! They cannot have returned! Even then, they could not travel by daylight!", Concussed gasps in realization. These are his last conscious thoughts before the Shadowlord takes over his mind....

<<Skara Brae - Where the Moongate rises>>

High above the land, an azure dragon speeds northwest as fast as his wings can take him.

A band of raiders had landed at Skara Brae, and were even now planning to march upon his home, the Great Forest, and the peaceful city of Yew.

Still, at the back of his mind, a thought comes to him. How did I come to know this?

As swiftly as the thought came, it was gone. It does not matter, he thinks. These invaders will soon pay for their misdeeds.

And now, in the distance, he sees his destination. A ship stands adrift by the lonely isle, its entire crew slain. It appears, to the eyes of the dragon known as Concussed, to be a ship of the Royal Britannia Navy. Anger wells up in him as he spots the perpetrators standing by the shore. These are the raiders I seek, he thinks. Looking closely at them, he has the strangest feeling that he has seen some of them before ...

Clearing all doubt from his mind, the dragon prepares to attack..

Below, an armoured figure speaks words meaningless to the enraged Dragon.
"So, where to? The Abbey or the Hold?"

Without warning, a streak of blue suddenly dove from the sky, spewing flames upon the party ...

"What the void..."

Looking up at the approaching dragonbreath in shock, Destrius quickly creates a water shield to keep the fire away. The sheer power of the flames is too great, however, and still manages to scorch the party.

"What is that idiotic dragon doing!? Attacking us for no reason, and with Kenneth in the group too--"

Destrius stops abruptly, and signals for Kenneth to try to hold the incoming dragon back.

He fiddles around with his staff, closing his eyes and searching...


An answer.

"This Dragon is not well. Try to paralyse him or something, so we can cure his ailment, if that is possible..."

Paulon looks up in shock at the airborne adversary. "If I can get him get him in close, you mages stop him." He runs clear of the group and yells at the hostile Dragon.

"Hey Lizard Lips! Yes, you, you oversized cigarette lighter! That dragon's egg I had for breakfast tasted great! A relative of yours I hope?"

Paulon stands his ground as the now furious Dragon swoops towards him, intending to use fang and claw to rend the infuriating human.

"Come on guys, do something..."

Kenneth swiftly becomes Lumina Dragon and engages the attacker, bringing both to the ground.

"I have him down!" Lumina calls. "If you're going to paralyze him, do it now."

Lumina brings Concussed close enough for Paulon's spell, and Paulon casts it.

Paulon uncrosses his fingers as the spell takes effect.

Remaining in Dragonform, Lumina asks Destrius, "What do you mean when you say something is wrong with him?" He then keeps guard over the held form of Concussed Dragon.

As an afterthought, to Paulon, he says, "By the way, you might start readying any apologies for those taunts when the spell wears off. Most Dragons don't take well to such."

The expression on Paulon's face is undecipherable, as he looks up at the glowing creature he had known as Sir Kenneth. "Believe me. I intend to."

He turns to regard the paralyzed blue Dragon in front of him then speaks again to the other Dragon. "If you actually find someone that does take well to those kinds of words, tell me. I'd like a photo."

"One thing's for certain. Whatever's affecting him doesn't distort his hearing, or he wouldn't have got so furious at me. False visual input?"

Lumina does a quick magical spell on Concussed, and as quickly withdraws the magical probe. "He is tainted by Shadow. The Shadowlords have likely made him see what they wish him to see, to foil our plans. I think I can do something, though." Concentrating, he emits a Lucent Beam at the Held form of Concussed Dragon. He withholds the physical burning effect of the breath weapon, focusing it only upon the spectral shadow-energies within.

After a few minutes, he ceases, and motions Paulon to release the spell.

Concussed slowly comes to, groaning in pain. Clutching his head, he returns to human form. He blinks, and then looks around him. Last he remebered, he was in a field near Britain preparing to take a closer look at the mysterious Black Moon. And then ... here his memory becomes hazy, and he struggles to remember the events that followed.It seems to him that he was in a dream, where he was fighting off reavers. Waking, he found himself miles away in Skara Brae in dragon form, and with a splitting headache. Around him are the faces of some he knows and others he does not. "Oh, hello guys. Good to see you." he says, getting up, and spotting Paulon nearby. He begins to say something else, and then stops, sensing something.

Everyone around feels strongly the presence of a malevolent entity. In their minds, a hollow voice rings out.

"Know that this is but a little demonstration of our power. None can stand against the forces of Falsehood, Hatred and Cowardice, for we cannot be destroyed. I would continue this little game, but my siblings need my attention elsewhere. Even now, the orbit of the Black Moon draws it closer to Britannia. Where is your precious Avatar to save you now? By all means, continue with your pathetic struggle. It is most entertaining ..." And with that, the dark presence vanishes.

"Whoa. What the heck is going on here?!" exclaims Concussed.

Lumina explains quickly to Concussed the situation with the Shadowlords and the group's attempt to stop them. As he finishes his tale, he morphs back into the form of Kenneth Whitten, human paladin, and says, "If you have mastered shapemorphs, it would be wise to travel in human form. A Dragon working with humans is likely to be noticed by many. But back to our current decisi--"

He is cut off by the magical hum accompanying a rising Moongate.

A figure in black robes steps out of *elsewhere* at the point where the Skara Brae Moongate would rise. He walks across the grassy knoll, and sees Concussed, Myrmidon, Paulon and a few others gathered.

He clears his throat. "I presume we're here to try and put things right.Count me in."

"Glad to hear it," Kenneth says. "The more the merrier. Well, the more, the better chances anyway. As I was explaining to our draconic newcomer, we are now faced with the option to go next to Serpent's Hold or Empath Abbey, to learn more of how the Shadowlords may have been freed. Or at least to get a better idea of where to head afterwards. Your vote?"

Destrius glances at the newcomer curiously.

"Certainly. But please introduce yourself."

"Empath Abbey sounds a good idea to me." Paulon states. "I understand the High Court is there nowadays, so we can take those two Gargoyles I knocked out off Horance's hands and turn them over for trial. They also knew enough about the situation with disrupted magic to count on Horance being unable to stop them when they came here, so questioning them would seem logical.

"I think we should see about moving quickly. If we don't the Shadowlords will probably keep throwing distractions at us to wear us down while they do whatever they are up to. First though..."

Paulon turns to the looming shape of Concussed. "I wish to apologize for the insults I used to get you to attack in fury. I regret the necessity of using them to enrage you, and can only say in my defense that I thought they would be more effective than something like "Excuse me. Could you please come closer so I can cast spells at you?". I am sorry.

"While I am not certain of local customs, if you require some other form of satisfaction, I am willing to provide it, once the immediate problem with the Shadowlords is dealt with."

Dracotheran, stumbling slightly from his over lengthy rest, approaches the group.

"Might I suggest that, since we are fairly close to the Abbey already, we head for Serpent's Hold? It has been my experience that short journeys are often fruitless and wasteful. Also, if the Shadowlords were going to attempt anything nasty, they wouldn't do it right next us would they? And if they did it would most likely be along the lines of an ambush. I hate to say it, but I don't exactly think we're in the shape to be taking on all three Shadowlords. At the Hold, we could at least get some aid, whether it be in arms, armour, or manpower, it'll be more than we could get from the dwindling town of Yew."

After throwing his ideas onto the ground before his companions, Dracotheran waits quietly for a response.

Destrius contributes his vote. "I suggest we try Empath Abbey. With wisps in the vicinity, we may be able to gain more insight into the matter."

The figure in black chuckles quietly. "For the time being, you may call me Helgraf."

He stretches idly, standing on the balls of his toes while doing so, then relaxes. "As for the matter of where to go next, the Empath Abbey was a safe refuge during the last incursion of the Shadowlords, so tis yet one more reason why it seems the best choice when added to those ye have all presented."

He reaches into the fabric of his robes, fingers passing through the material as if it were not there, and draws out an antiquated silver sabre and scabbard, which he attaches to the whipcord belt about his robes.

"I find myself suitable accoutred for the time being. Shall we go?"

Kenneth surveys the group, and sees nods of agreement with the choice of Empath Abbey. He then faces a clear spot nearby and intones, "VAS REL POR!" A shimmering blue moongate obligingly rises, showing the way to Empath Abbey.

Before anyone can enter, however, the Gate becomes fringed in shadows. Furrowing his brow in concentration, Kenneth intones a second spell while yet maintaining the first. "VAS IN LOR AN BAL UM!" The shadows recede as the moongate becomes bathed in a radiant light. Kenneth shouts to the others, "Hurry through while I can still maintain the spell!"

One by one, the group files through without further incident, despite the two prisoners requiring some extra incentive to move forward. Finally, Kenneth himself follows the others, jumping through the portal. He soon finds himself in the Deep Forest, midway between Yew and Empath Abbey. The party is assembled about him, having just come through the gate themselves. The moongate shuts behind him and he slumps to the ground, spent for the moment.

Helgraf mumbles quietly to himself. "This is bad - the moongates have always been clear of evil influence in the past."

He lifts a hand quietly and intones. "IN WIS JUX". Several things in the trees glow briefly.

Destrius raises his eyebrows in surprise.

"Are you a Dragon too? How did you use Britannian magic?"

"Actually," Kenneth says, "it seems as though the instability caused by that Ring you spoke of has passed. My spells have been flowing more smoothly lately, which indicates that normal magic has regained operability. Things are back to normal, now. On the down side, the Shadowlords are attempting to assault our spells with their own. They knew where we were, and so focused their spell an any tapping of ether from the vicinity. We lost them now, until they re-locate us."

Destrius pauses for a moment, and feels the ether with his mind.

"Yes... the ether does seem to have returned. Strange indeed."

"We're in trouble." Helgraf warns. "I'm tracking at least twelve hostiles converging on our position."

Destrius hmms.

"Another battle, it seems. Let's get ready."

"So it seems." Kenneth draws his two-handed broadsword, and casts "Vas In Sanct!" on the group. He then faces the woods, sword at the ready.

As the spell of Protection washes over him, Destrius casts his own Bless, and readies a few exotic reagents required by the otherworldly magic he wields.

"Let me see... several fireballs, dozens of bolts, a polymorph, and some spare malleable. Should be sufficient."

Helgraf coughs quietly.

"To answer your question, I use Britannian forms when in Britannia - but you may notice the lack of reagents. I draw my power through ... other methods - but I use Britannic/Gargish runic structure to minimize interference waves.

"However, at this time, I would rather we took care of the hostiles tracking our position - we can discuss the peculiarities of my magic at a later date."

Helgraf draws his silver sabre, and takes a guard stance.

Kenneth peripherally notes that the others have become battle-ready and feels the added protection of another spell, cast by Destrius. Then he ceases to pay attention to such details as he notices motion from the woods in the direction he is facing. He hears one of his group call out "Here they come!", telling him that the enemies are coming from all sides at the same time. He looks for the first visible sign of something to attack and soon sees it. Several skeletons and zombies emerge from the woods. The Shadowlords were sending undead!

Kenneth swung his sword in a flurry of slashes, carving the dead flesh from the nearest zombie. An instant later, he is his by a ball of fire which his armour barely absorbs. He looks up intime to see a bolt of lightning shoot from the hands of a decrepit form in tattered mage's robes. *Liche!* he thought. He dives to the side, letting the bolt hit the skeleton engaging one of his companions.

The skeleton gets hit by the bolt of electricity, and momentarily shakes as the current runs down its bony joints and towards the ground. It then recovers, lightning having little effect on its body.

Destrius quickly swings his bamboo staff in a horizontal arc, the force of the wood combined with his magically-enhanced skills sending the skeleton's skull flying across the sky.

Turning his attention to the other enemies, he sees Kenneth handling most of them, including a liche that had escaped his attention, with powerful Britannian magic.

"Vas Flam Hur!" Kenneth shouts, causing a wash of fire to sweep over the enemies in front of him, including the liche. He follows the spell with another, "An Corp Mani!" The liche returns to lifelessness from the onslaught of spells. Noticing the effects his Flame Wind had on the local foliage, however, prompts Kenneth to quickly cast "Vas An Flam" before he returns to the melee.

Settling another skeleton, Destrius proceeds to send a bolt through the torso of the last remaining zombie.

Shortly thereafter, the fight is over, revealing an array of dead undead littering the clearing, including another liche. Kenneth looks around and sees that all incurred injuries were already tended to, and so tends to his own with a Vas Mani, and following that, a Rel Sanct Ylem for his armour. He then feels dizzy for a moment, which tells him that the many spells he cast since departing Skara Brae have finally depleted even his draconic stores for the moment.

Destrius quickly wraps up a cut on his right arm with a handy bandage, reluctant to waste magic on the minor injury. He senses that there is more trouble to come.

As if that realization were a cue, Kenneth hears more noises from the woods. *What now?* he thinks, as he turns to face the source of the noise.

From the trees in front of the group, 5 trolls appear, their sizes much bigger than an ordinary troll.

"Magic at work again."

Destrius hardly finishes uttering this comment before a scream echoes through the forest. Looking at the direction of the cry, the group sees a young child being picked up by a 6th troll, which licks its lips in anticipation of food.

An black fletched arrow sails through the air and pierces through the chest of the troll. Dropping the child, it staggers backwards from the pain. Anorher arrow pierces the troll through its head, ending its misery. Concussed lowers his bow and runs towards the child. Reaching the child just as the other five trolls are closing in, he grabs him and activates the ancient magic amulet around his neck. The two of them are teleported a short distance away. But already, the trolls see his new position and charge at him.

Concussed lets fly another arrow, and realizes that he has only one arrow left. He had not expected to be caught up in a heated combat situation when he had started out on his expedition. He is too weary after his recent ordeal with the Shadowlords to attempt a complex spell, and has no time to revoke the shapemorph spell to return to dragon form.

He has only one hope ... an obscure cantrip from the Third Age, designed to fight such foes ... if only he could remember it ...

What was that word of power?



Concussed's last arrow thuds into the torso of the leading troll, but lost in its bloodlust, it feels no pain. It hefts a crude battleaxe and lunges at Concussed.



The troll wounded by his last arrow roars in rage, and draws back his weapon to cleave the dragon in human form in two. The terrified scream of the child rings in Concussed's ears. And then suddenly he remembers the Word of Power and yelled in out at the top of his voice, with the required gestures.


A blinding flash surrounds Concussed and the child. When vision returns to those around, they see that the trolls have vanished completely, banished to another realm of existence.

A moment of silence passes. Then Concussed feels the unmistakable vibes of a teleporation spell in action, and nine gazers begin to appear from nowhere.

"The Shadowlords are gating in monsters to our location!", he yells to his companions."We must counter their sorcery or be overwhelmed!"

*Is there no end?* Kenneth thinks. He quickly rummages through his beltpouch for a vial of Mandrake Essence to restore his mana. He soon comes up with a vial of the shimmering liquid and drinks it down. Feeling some of his magic return, he prepares to cast a teleportation spell to move the party to a safe location. "In Por!" The group vanishes in a flash of light, leaving the oncoming Gazers with no prey.

As this is happening, Concussed notices Helgraf heading off into the woods alone, seeking the focus of the teleportation spells, which he also senses. "Stop! It's too dangerous!" yells Concussed, just as the gazers begin to materialize. Helgraf doesn't seem to be able to hear him. Cursing the foolhardy Helgraf, he hands the crying child to the nearby Dracotheran. Then, he closes his eyes and concentrates on returning to his true form. Moments pass, then a shimmering blue glow surrounds Concussed , growing steadily brighter - and then suddenly it is gone. Concussed spreads his wings and takes off, just as Kenneth's teleportation spell takes effect. "We'll meet up later at the Abbey!" he shouts, in his now draconic voice, uncertain that they can hear him.

In the clearing between Nicodemus's hut and Empath Abbey itself, a flash of light heralds the arrival of the group. As the others orient themselves, Kenneth casts two more spells to ward off the inevitable attack. "Vas Sanct An Jux!" A greater Protection spell. "Vas Tym Sanct Ort Vid!" Protection from magical tracking, extended duration. Kenneth starts to move towards, Nicodemus's hut, then collapses, having used far more mana than is healthy in so short a time.

<<Back in the clearing>>

Helgraf watches the flow and spike of the ether as more teleportations are worked. He is quite confident his allies will be able to handle the first waves of the enemy, and strides deeper into the surrounding trees, seeking the origin point of the ether warping that is allowing these constant teleportations. Finally, having pushed his way through mulitple thornbushes, and paying more than a little blood to their greedy branches, he stumbles upon a small clearing - within which is a small stone pedastal, atop of which is a misshapen piece of what he presumes to be Blackrock. The stone is spattered with blood - it seems a sacrifice had been made here - recently judging by the flies. Covering his mouth, he grabs the misshapen stone and focuses his will upon it through the Britannian runes.

"An Rel OrtMani Rel Gravmaniailem!"

A thunderclap sounds overhead, and simultaneously the teleport gateways blow out. Unfortunately, Helgraf was unprepared for the last trap of whomever prepared this, because even as the blackrock breaks apart into powder, it discharges a thunderbolt through him, tossing him into the bushes with thunderous force.

He tries to focus on the Linear Help cantrip, but the pain and trauma is too much as he slips into unconsciousness.

Passing low over the trees, Concussed grabs one of the gazers with his hind claws as it turns to face him. He smashes the multi-eyed horror into the ground , crushing it under his body, then incinerates another two going after Helgraf with his fiery breath. Taking off again to avoid the energy bolts of the remaining gazers, he hears a sudden crack of thunder, and a gasp of pain and suprise. Helgraf! he thinks. And now he sees the black robed magic user,unconscious in the middle of a circle of stones. Beside Helgraf are broken pieces of a black mineral, possibly blackrock, that crumbles away to nothing even as he lands. Concussed picks up Helgraf gently. As he takes off yet again, the first of the gazers bursts through the trees, and a lightning bolt strikes Concussed on a wing. Struggling to regain control, he rises into the sky, out of range of the gazers' attacks.

<<Nicodemus' House, Empath Abbey>>

Destrius quickly signals for Paulon to help him carry the unconscious Kenneth into Nicodemus's hut.

"Nicky! Open up! It's me!"

Destrius bangs hard on the door.

A few funny whizzes and bangs are heard within, and soon the door vanishes, leaving the doorway open for the group to enter.

"Destie? Is that you? Why the ether didn't you teleport in? You know how troublesome it is for me to set up the damn door what with the eth-"

Nicodemus stops short as he notices the rest of the group. His eyes narrow and scan each person, seemingly drawing information from their faces.


Destrius nods.


"I shall see what I can do. But from your current condition, it seems that they were conjuring stuff to attack you?"

"Exactly. Get it out."

Nicodemus nods, and walks to a small chest on the southern wall. He rummages through it, and comes up with a small black prism, uncanningly resembling the ones used by the Fellowship not too long ago.

He places it upon a stone pedstal, and gestures for Destrius to begin his magic.

Destrius focuses his mind on the blackrock, and slowly mutters ancient words of magic. Nicodemus joins in, and soon the room is filled with spidery chants.

The prism glows bright blue.

The chants stop.

A swirl of sapphire blue bursts out from the blackrock, surrounding the room with powerful magical energy.

Slumping onto the floor, Destrius groans, quite exhausted by the spell.

"T'was fortunate you had thought of this use of blackrock. It would have been better if more research was done into making the spell less bloated, though."

"But of course. Now, however, I think you should inform your friends of what we have just done."

Destrius turns and looks at his companions.

"Nicky and I just cast a blackrock shield around his house. As long as the prism is untouched, the shield will stay intact.

"Theoretically, we now exist in a separate dimension because of the shield, out of the influence of absolutely anything whatsoever.

"We can rest here for the time being and recuperate, after which we can open the shield and make our way to Empath Abbey. The Shadowlords will send us more enemies during the journey, of course, so we'd better be ready."

"Sounds.. urrgh... good to .... me," groans the barely-conscious Kenneth.

His voice gains coherence as he becomes fully conscious, yet he is still slumped on the chair he was set in. "Extradimensional shelter. Good idea. Should work; don't know full capabilities of the Shadowlords with the Black Moon about." He suddenly turns toward Nicodemus; too suddenly, for he experiences a moment of dizziness. "Nicodemus? Do you know anything about the Black Moon other than that it's related to Stonegate and the Shadowlords? That reminds me..." he gestures to his pack. Myrmidon, can you check the Viewer for me?"

Myrmidon reaches into the pack and withdraws the magical orrery viewer, and then peers inside. "One at Stonegate..... another in Moonglow... the third..--" he looks up quickly. "The third is near Yew." He then replaces the viewer.

"Should be safe in here, though," Kenneth comments. "But we'll have to come out eventually. Once we're better prepared." He then falls asleep, resting from the past several hours.

"Charming." Paulon remarks to Myrmidon. "What do you bet that magic stops working as soon as the shield is lowered?"

Destrius closes his eyes and sighs as a thought strikes him.

"Oh yes. Concussed, mind if you find out who the child you saved is?"

"... Concussed?"

Destrius looks around at the faces around him in the room and realizes that two of the party are missing. "Where are Concussed and Helgraf?", he exclaims.

It was Myrmidon who responded. "I think I saw him head after Helgraf once we teleported. We'll meet up with them later, I guess."


High above a green void, Dracos still floats. His mind is in a quandry, for he is having two conflicting thoughts. One is that he has not been above this magically glowing Stonegate for long at all, and the second thought being; Gods, it feels like I've been hovering up here for a very long time...

Dracos is still undecided over whether he is looking over a magical simulcrum of Stongate or he is somewhere in the ether itself, seeing the magic that surrounds Stonegate. All he does know is that the Shadowlords having been moving in and out of Stonegate a lot, and that something very powerful is inside of the keep. Very powerful indeed. And Dracos cannot move at all.

Suddenly, something happens. Dracos shakes his head. He must focus on exactly what it is. He turns his head very slowly, and scans the green void. At some distance, a large black shape is forming in the miasma. The very structure of the void fluxes, and momentarily Dracos can feel the magic returning to him. Using the brief instance, he forces his body to move towards this black growth. Then, as sudden as its appearance, the magic fades away. Dracos grinds to a halt, still some distance from the growth. Another wave of magic forms, and moves forward again. Many times this happens, and many times he moves only a few inches forward, until he is floating just outside the blackness. He reaches forward to touch it, and his hand passes through it. The magic surges, and he forces his way into the blackness, thinking it can't be any worse than this exile in the void.

High above the forest, Concussed looks down to see that the home of the reclusive wizard Nicodemus is now encased in what appears to be a blackrock gem, similar to the one that Casrle Britannia was once trapped in several years before. He groans inwardly. "Don't tell me we now have the Guardian to deal with, as well as the Shadowlords?" he mutters. He knows that it is inpenetrable from the outside, and turns towards the city of Yew, seeking the healer.

Later ...

Reyna the healer finishes binding Concussed's wounded shoulder. Concussed looks at the still unconscious Helgraf.with concern. "Will he be alright?" he asks Reyna. "Oh, he'll be fine. Your friend just needs some time to rest, and he'll be as good as new." Getting up, he thanks Reyna and hands over a few gems. "When he is better, tell him to meet up with the party at the Abbey. Oh, and you might want to warn the townsfolk that there's a pack of gazers hanging out there in the southern woods." Concussed turns to leave.

Heading northeast from the city, skirting around the swamp, Concussed comes to his dwelling in the woods - a giant hollowed-out tree. Entering, he rummages around in his storeroom, then stuffs a backpack with various supplies. He also fills his quiver with arrows. Slinging the backpack over his good shoulder, he leaves his home, heading towards the Abbey.

* I wonder what the others are doing?* he thinks ...

Slowly, Helgraf regains consciousness inside a small wooden building. The gentle face of a woman is staring down at him.

"You've been pretty reckless, it seems, stranger. You're lucky someone friendly found you before those gazers did," she says with a smile.

Helgraf lets out a quiet groan, then stretches. Managing a weak smile, he nods. "I forgot to account for a trap . . . Who brought me here?"

"Well, he didn't give his name, but said to meet up with the party at the Abbey. Does that help any?"

Helgraf considers this for a moment, extending his thoughts into the surrounding ether - quickly finding the blackrock barrier. It does not take him long to determine the probable reasons for it. He then nods to Reyna, smiling, "Aye, it does indeed. Oh, and here, " saying which, he reaches into his robes and removes a bouquet of flowers, "for your troubles." He also places a small pouch of coin next to the flowers as payment for his healing.

Helgraf then quietly gathers his things and begins to head northwest, toward the Abbey proper.

Concussed stands outside the Abbey, waiting for the party to arrive. Absently fingering the amulet around his neck, he suddenly notices that the red gem set in its center has begunpulsing, like a thing alive.

From the southeast, a dark vortex appears in the sky, heading for the Abbey. It hovers high above the astounded Concussed for a moment, then it descends. As it begins to vanish, a strange man steps out of it. Concussed doesn't recall seeing him before.

"You sure have a way of making an entrance. I suppose you, too, are here to aid us in our quest.", Concussed says, regaining some of his composure.

The newcomer smiles strangely, as if he is amused in some way.

"Indeed. Come, let us adjourn to the chamber of the Flame of Love."

"Perhaps we should wait for the others. Anyway ...", Concussed starts to speak, but the stranger is already striding through the abbey.

Uncertainly, Concussed follows after him.

A monk stands before the door from the chamber. Apologetically he bows and says "I am sorry, but you can't go in there right now, we're having a ..."

"AN XEN POR!" the stranger intones, and a paralyzation bolt strikes out and hits the monk. Brushing the immobile monk aside, he enters the chamber.

Concussed stares in horror. The gem is now pulsing madly, as if it would burst. Nocking an arrow and aiming at the stranger's back, he shouts "Stop! Who are you really?" The stranger half turns, and in a mocking voice, says. "Ah, you foolish dragon. Did you really think that you and your friends had any chance against us? Witness the fall of your ridiculous principles then, and despair! " With that, he begins another spell. "VAS AN TYM ..."

Concussed releases the arrow, but it never reaches its target.

As the deadly missile speeds towards the stranger, it slows, then stops, hanging in mid-air.

Time comes to a stop for all things nearby, save the Eternal Flame, which continues burning as it always has. The stranger laughs, then walks between the frozen monks gathered in the chamber, as if they were statues. Before the Flame, he stops, and holds the Ring of Haeth aloft. Muttering arcane words of darkness, he begins a ritual...

<< Great Forest - en route to the Empath Abbey >>

Helgraf mumbles to himself as a great shifting of the ether occurs, and then mighty magics are worked. Quietly he curses, and draws forth his silver sabre.

Gritting his teeth, he gashes his left arm, and allows the blood to pool in his free hand while he sheathes the sabre. Once a sufficency has collected, he focuses his will and incants the Brittannian/Gargish syllables.


The blood in his cupped hand begins to bubble and boil away. As the last of it dissipates, so does he.

<< Empath Abbey - Eternal Flame Chamber >>

Helgraf materializes inside the chamber which holds the Eternal Flame of Love - and the Stranger wearing the Ring of Heath. Drawing his blade, he calls out.

"Magic that is not used in accordance with the virtues will lead to the loss of the ability to use magic."

The Stranger turns from his ritual for a moment, an evil grin decorating his face, as he speaks, "You cannot stop me, interloper. I don't know how you managed to avoid my TimeStop, but that is immaterial. Try this on for size!"


Recognizing the shaping of a Swordstrike spell, Helgraf throws himself to the side, but is still caught by two of the blades, cutting furrows across his chest, and forcing a scream from his lips.

The Stranger laughs quietly, "You are nothing. Watch as your precious Eternal Flame is snuffed..."

Helgraf lies on the ground, blood welling forth from his chest ... and gathering in his left hand, while the Stranger resumes his ritual.

Although it makes him dizzy, he waits until there is enough ... enough to work the magic since he cannot draw Britannian mana.

He points a shaky finger at the Stranger and incants the words, blood spilling over the cup of his left hand.


The Stranger turns, and recognizing the enchantment forming, if not how it is being powered, draws a great deal of power through the ring and incants his own spell.


Just as the enchantment which would have stripped him of his magical powers launching screaming toward the Stranger, he disappears in a backglow of purple radiance.

Helgraf curses quietly, "Damn, damn damn.", and begins to bind his injury. The only positive note is that the Flame of Love burns still... but even now, as he watches, it begins to flicker and die.

Slowly, the flow of time returns to the room, and the suspended arrow continues on its trajectory, but its target is no longer there.

Striking the opposite wall, it falls to the ground and lays still.

"Where did he go?!" exclaims Concussed. "Who the hell was that, anyway?". He takes in his surroundings.In the chamber, two monks stand, looking slightly disoriented. Helgraf is rising to his feet, his bloody hand clutching his wounded chest. Concussed crosses the room, and helps the injured Helgraf up. Hoping that his mana source has had enough time to recharge itself, he whispers an evocation.


The open wounds on Helgraf's chest quickly mend, their healing accelerated by Concussed's spell.

Brother Wayne, stumbles forward, as the paralyzation spell on him wears off. Entering the room, he sees the flame still burning and breathes a sigh of relief. Then, with a renewed sense of urgency, he calls to the other two gathered monks. "Quickly! We must continue the ritual before the flame dies out again!". Nodding, the other two monks join Wayne as he bows his head and begins chanting from the ancient mysteries of the Brotherhood of the Rose.

As the chant begins, the flame appears to strengthen for while. But slowly, inevitably, it weakens, gradually dwindling away to nothing.

The chant continues, but nothing happens for a long time.

The monks stop the ritual, exhausted. "It's no use, we can't get the Flame to keep burning." Brother Taylor says.

"All is lost ..." whispers Brother Aimi.

Having failed to do much but get the stranger to vacate the premises - and that at the cost of being victim of a Swordstrike spell - however well healed by his companion at arms - has done little for Helgraf's disposition. Quietly he walks over toward where the flame was lit, and performs a scraping of the inside of the great holder, brushing the powder into a small belt pouch.

After talking to the monks for a while, he purchases some grapes to sustain him, a bottle of wine, and some spider silk, then sets out for Nicodemus' house.

<<The Home of Nicodemus>>

Dracos finds himself falling from a considerable height, his fall about to be broken by the roof of a hut. As Dracos passes through the roof, he sees, before hitting the floor and blacking out, the familiar form of Nicodemus, and the known visage of the Mage, Destrius. Other, unknown figures are there too, but Dracos has no time to reflect on exactly what they are doing there. The floor is hard, and something cracks as he falls heavily on it.

Myrmidon reacts first, saying, "how did he get in here??"

Kenneth, awakened by the noise, comments, "Not sure. Possibly was already in the void when the sphere formed; Void entry wouldn't have worked once the barrier was raised. He'd have to have been close, too, or the barrier would still have repelled him. And someone make sure he's in better condition than the chair under him." With that, Kenneth tries to rest once more.

"That is quite likely." Destrius agrees. "But how he managed to get there in the first place is an interesting question. One that would lead to some good discussions on magic, but I am too tired to think right now."

Destrius looks at the similarly exhausted Nicodemus and silently mouths the word "leak". The other mage concentrates, frowns and then shakes his head.

Paulon helps the tattooed mage to his feet. The chair is flattened, but the stranger seems to be suffering no more than shock, saved from worse by a thick cushion.

Paulon takes him to one side, and quietly introduces himself and the party, while Sir Kenneth and the mages rest. In the midst of hearing Dracos' own tale, Paulon suddenly turns, and raps one of the Gargoyle prisoners with his umbrella, snapping the command "Freeze!"

The Gargoyle had been reaching for the blackrock crystal maintaining the shield, but was frozen by the minor spell.

"I think perhaps it is time you two came clean with your part in this mess." Paulon comments to the prisoners. "I suspect that since you seem to have failed at whatever you were doing in Skara Brae, those whom you were working for would not be exactly kind to you, so if you are prepared to reveal what you know, perhaps we can arrange something to protect you. Otherwise you've got both sides mad at you..."

The unfrozen Gargoyle looks around, sees the intent faces around him, sighs, and sits down. "To be slavers, as you have guessed. To have been delivering our cargo from Buccaneer's Den and then Jhelom to the mines in Vesper. To have stopped at Skara Brae to forage for supplies. To know not our employer, but to know he has interests in the blackrock obtainable from the Vesper mine. To have dealt with an intermediary named Cador, from the Britannian Mining Company in Vesper. To know his orders come not from the Minoc Headquarters, but from Buccaneer's Den itself, where the deal was made. To believe his masters to be based near the Den, but to know not where. To know no more, and," he sighs resignedly, then continues, "to expect a long stay in the Prison in Yew."

Paulon looks at the slaver calmly. "You have to admit it beats the alternatives. At least you will be alive."

A crystal ball in the corner of the room flares to life as a voice rings from its direction. "Nicodemus? Are you there?"

Nicodemus heads toward the sphere and answers, "Nystul? Is everything all right at the castle?" He mentaly answers the question himsellf, since Nystul never uses the crystal ball to communicate unless the need is dire.

"Quite so," replied the Court Mage. "First, we have the return of the Shadowlords after some three hundred years, and now there's some strange mage visiting the Castle. He's putting on airs of civility and the whole act, but there's something about him I don't trust. Not to mention the fact that since he arrived, magic across the land has ceased to function -- for the second time in the past week! I'm not sure, but I think it has something to do with his ring. He can cast spells fine, himself, and the ring always flashes when he does. Until he saw me watching and made the blasted thing invisible. Is that ring the Ring I think it is?"

Nicodemus was scowlong now, from the first mention of the Ring. "I believe so. I have Destrius here and he says that he met a man wearing the Ring of Haeth while he was at Skara Brae. It's influence interferes with the ether on the entire plane unless shielded in something like blackrock, opaque to etheric waves. That's probably why magic was operable for a while earlier. You'd be right to be wary of him. Anything else?"

Turning away from the Gargoyle, Paulon catches the last of the message from Nystul.

"Actually, yes. We've recieved word from the three Keeps that they are unable to relight the Eternal Flames. I'd like you to see if there's any lore in your tomes that may be of aid. Barring that, ask the Wisps. We've already checked the Lycaem's library, but it seems that whoever put out the Flame of Truth took a few books as well; probably the ones we need. We need the flames back up in order to end this threat, so, I implore you, find the means to light the Flames."

With that, the crystal ball fell silent.

Paulon speaks to Nicodemus. "I'm not too surprised about the Flames. Just putting oil in the brazier and dropping in a match isn't going to do more than create an ordinary fire. Do you have any histories about the founding of the Keeps? The Flames had to have been created by some sort of magic, so there may be some hints there."

Nicodemus walks over to his bookshelves, and pulls out several books, the top one labeled The History of Britannia, which he hands to Paulon.

"Mayhap thou wilt find something useful in these tomes. Those of us with more knowledge of spellcraft will seek clues to those spells in books of magic." He makes other selections which he hands to the other members of the party, who scatter and begin reading through the books, hoping to find the knowledge they seek.

Unnoticed in the rush to seek information, the rescued child smiles. The expression doesn't belong on a human face...

Dracos turns quickly to face the child, aware that something has happened, but the child is simply sitting on the floor, staring at the flagstones.

"Dracos, be thee all right?" Nicodemus places one hand on the tatooed mage's shoulder.

"I'm, I'm fne, Nicodemus. I just felt that there was something we were meant to see, and we missed it. Perhaps the fall has done more to me than I thought."

"Aye. Perhaps ye should drink one of my brothes."

"Nicodemus, the last time I drank a broth of yours, I was paralytically drunk for a three days, and the hangover lasted a week. I think I'll just sit here a while, and read."

Paulon finds a chair and gets comfortable. Opening the topmost book, he finds the handwritten text difficult to follow. A wave of his hand and a muttered command of "Translate" creates an illusion of the text being rewritten into a far neater and more regular font. He skims through the book until he reaches the chapter dealing with the beginnings of the Age of Enlightenment. Finding nothing more than the record of the construction of the Keeps, he puts it aside and moves on to the next book.

The second book is a little more fruitful. Paulon pulls out a folder and a pen from his backpack, and jots down a couple of notes. He rips a bit of paper of the pad in the folder and inserts it at the page in the book. Putting book, pen, and folder aside he opens the third and final text.

Once again skimming the earliest portions, he finds some more information, which he duly copies and marks.

Reading over his scanty notes, Paulon shakes his head. "Not precisely useful."

The page reads

"1) ... and the Flames were kindled from the Fire of Eternity.
2) ... tinder representing the Virtues of Courage was placed in the braziers and the Flame was ignited at high noon...
3) ... it was seen that the Flames were as blue as the sky from which they were born."
"Has anyone found a mention of a Fire of Eternity?" he asks.

"No, but I have found reference to a candle lit from an Eternal Flame around the same time. Possibly they are one and the same. The candle was given to someone in Moonglow, who then moved on to Magincia. The records end there. If we could find this candle..." Dracos places one hand over his brow. "Something really bad is happening, I can feel it."

"I've.... <yaaawwwn>... heard of it," yawns the just-awakening Kenneth, who spent the time that the others were studying in recuperation. "The Flames of Infinity and Singularity were ignited from it, as well. As mentioned, you need special tinder to light it. Each human and Gargish virtue uses a special material as tinder to light the flame. The tinder is ignited with the aforementioned Flame of Eternity. I once read a tome on the subject during a visit to the Lycaeum shortly after the end of the Sixth Age. I don't recall it as telling where the Flame is, but the needed materials were listed in the book." He turns to Nicodemus, and asks, "Do you have a copy of 'Flames of Principle', by the mage Shalineth, written around the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment? That'll tell us what we need as tinder, and finding the needed materials shouldn't be *too* hard. The problem remains in finding the Flame of Eternity."

Kenneth then joins the others in searching for the needed tome.


The night sky, black and starry, shifts, the tones of night changing to dark colours of purple and green. The new moon, a weight of blackrock, begins to glow with an eerie light. All over Sosaria magic flares with new life.

<<In the hut...>>

The mages clutch their heads as they begin to feel the very ebb and flow of the smallest magics, while the might enchantments are like hammers striking the very depthes of the brain. A rumbling sound of falling stone echoes around the hut. And then, quickly as it began, the sound ceases. Dracos, swaying uneasily on his feet, opens the hut door.

"Ah, we have a slight problem. The unbreakable, non-penetrable blackrock dome that was protecting us all... It's fallen. And the moon seems to have grown larger."

Destrius awakens from his rest, jolted into consciousness by a blade of magic so powerful that it burned of liquid ether.

"Arrgggh. Something cut through the shield. Something very, VERY sharp. And from the inside too..."

The mage looks hard at Dracos.

"We'll find the traitor soon enough. But now we must protect ourselves from that which will definitely arrive in just about..."

A dark form coalesces in front of the doorway.


In the doorway stands a night-robed figure, its eyes glowing gently under the darkness of its hood. It is a Shadowlord, and it radiates fear. The adventurers are unable to move; terror has gripped their bodies, but Nicodemus walks forwards.

"Good, you have come as I asked. These pesky adventurers have proved themselves... problematic to my study of the new moon. Dracos here somehow managed to trap himself inside the ether the moon embodies. Getting him out has proved a greater task than allowing the Ring of Haeth to be used. How is our mutual friend, anyway?"

The Shadowlord bows.

"He is? Good. Now, if you could dispose of these... fools for me. Dracos' re-entry to the real-sphere has given me an idea of how to study the moon in true detail. Pity he won't live to see it happen."

Kenneth's eyes narrow as he hears Nicodemus's words. When the comment on the group's fate is made, he springs into fast action. Sensing strange ether waves between the blackrock stone used for the shield and the Shadowlords nearby, he hastily cast a spell. He pointed at the blackrock and chanted, "An ort mellap!" The blackrock's glow dims, and Kenneth casts another spell. "An mellap ailem!" The blackrock fades away, leaving behind a core object.

Blacker even than its former housing, a shard of the Gem of Immortality lay on the pedastal. He reaches for it even as a silver bolt struck him. The Shadowlords had realized his intent the moment he cast his spells. He strained to reach the shard, knowing that the Shadowlords themselves could not take it but worrying that Nicodemus would try. He needn't have worried, as Nicodemus instead fired a plast from his firedoom staff. Grunting with the pain and knowing he would not last much longer under this barrage, he called for help.

Fortunately, help came fast. Destrius had already woven fields of force to stop the Shadowlords from pressing the attack, and snatched up the Shard while Nicodemus was occupied with undoing the fields. He followed it up with a healing spell done in his arcane magics, but the spell had quite minimal effects against the burning of the Shadowlord's bolt.

Inspiration suddenly struck Destrius and, hoping he was right, he tried mentally withdrawing the bolt using the shard. The bolt came free and quickly evaporated into nothing. Destrius again intoned the healing spell, with much greater success. Seeing this feat, one of the Shadowlords quickly withdrew into the shadows.

Staggering upright, Kenneth saw that the other two were not so deterred, and that the fields constructed by Destrius were falling to Nicodemus's spells.

Dracos turns to Paulon, who was hiding under the same table as he.

"With the shard having become apparent, it seems the Shadowlord's effect is weaker. I am going to try something risky. Cover me, will you?"

Dracos crawls out from under the table. Nicodemus, his face transformed into a snarl, is casting strong magicks against Kenneth and Destrius. Dracos unfocuses his eyes, and looks at the ether form of the mage, hoping that his old colleague, and friend of the family, is not the person in front of him. But he finds, with regret, that it is Nicodemus.

"Now," Dracos whisphers to Paulon. Magic flares around the tattooed mage, and he leaps forward towards the pedastel, muttering arcane words. One hand is out-stretched, while another is mixing reagants in a pouch. The din of the firefight muffles his words, but a strong glow develops around the mage's body, which then ripples and reforms around his reaching hand. The Shadowlord sees the sudden movement. It moves forward. Dracos leaps the final distance, and his hand grasps the shard of the Gem of Immortality. In that instance, everything grows quite. The Shadowlord fades out of existence, and Nicodemus waves one hand, and gates away. Dracos falls to the ground, his outstretched hand open and empty.

"Sorry," he whisphers as his breathing slows. "Thought the only way to stop this was to block the shard. I've, I've absorbed the gem fragment."

He stops breathing, and his body turns deep black, as if an entrance to some dark void. The chest rises again, and colour returns. "With luck it can be removed via magic, but if we remove it..." The breathing slows.

"If we remove it, the Shadowlord will return, and I doubt we will survive that. We must find the flame... Otherwise, I will be transformed into..."

The mage grows quiet as he slides into unconsciousness.

As he comes through the woods, Helgraf sees the blackrock pyramid suddenly writhe and then seem to dilate upwards - up up up until it joins with the blackrock moon. Quickly, he picks up his pace, hoping he's not too late, and throws open the door, to see Dracos on the floor, Paulon, Kenneth and Destrius in various states of disarray.

After briefly noting Helgraf's return, Kenneth turns to face Dracos, and chants arather complicated spell. "Vas Sanct Mani. Vas Mani Lor. Vas Sanct Mani An Um!"

"Damn, I was too late," curses Helgraf under his breath.

"But I can report that the monks of Empath Abbey have precious little knowledge to share - they were assaulted about an hour or two before the attack here, I'm guessing by your appearances. The man with the Ring of Heath was doing something with the Eternal Flame - odd though it had already been extinguished. Had I been a little bit faster, he would have been stripped of his magical powers - but alas, things went no better for me than for you august gentlemen.

Kenneth replies. "Indeed. Nicodemus turned on us, the Shadowlords came after us, and Dracos is not going to regain consciousness while the Shard is within him. If he does, it means the Shard overpowered Dracos's psyche, and my magic, and we will have one unfriendly person on our hands. One can only imagine the struggle within him."

"Given the amount of congruence of events in this land, and the apparent predictability of our moves thus far, I have thought of a possibility," Helgraf continues.

"We know the Avatar sent the Codex into the Vortex with the moonstones and the Vortex Cube - and that the Codex could be viewed by use of the convex and concave lenses - provided a gargoyle holds the convex one. Now, with the return of the Codex, it follows the Guardians have in all likelyhood followed suit - so if we return to the Isle of the Avatar with the lenses and a willing gargoyle, we may be able to find the answers we need to work this problem out.

Kenneth turns to the Gargoyle who confessed earlier. "Well? How'd you like to takethe part of the willing Gargoyle? You do this, I'll see if I can get your sentence halved for helping to save the world."

The Gargoyle accepted the offer, as was expected. Kenneth then added, "Good, but you realize we will still have to keep an eye on you until this is all over. And a half sentence for your crimes is still quite heavy. But it beats one twice as heavy. And it's your only option, since we don't have time to hunt down another Gargoyle."

"Yes, this plan isn't perfect. But at this point, nothing really is."

<<In the Deep Forest, near Nicodemus' hut>>

As a black arrow takes down the last of the wandering gazers, Concussed retrieves his missiles, then turns towards Nicodemus' hut, which he last saw from the air, encased in a blackrock pyramid. An hour before, he had witnessed an assault on the Chamber of the Flame of Love as the abbey. The monks were performing a ceremony in an attempt to relight the Flame of Love, but were unsuccessful. "So why did the Shadowlords attack the chamber, if there were no hope of reviving the flames. No, there must be another way ..." he muses to himself.Then there was that unearthly sound that came from this direction soon after the attack... His fellow adventurer, Helgraf the mage, had suggested heading for the hut to check it out. Stopping for a while to clean up the remnants of the monsters summoned in the earlier battle, he now heads towards for the hut also. I wonder if the others are also there? he wonders.

For the second time this day, he feels a teleportation spell coming into effect. Oh no, not again! Concussed thinks, and prepares for a fight. In a bright flash of ether, a decrepit old mage appears from out of nowhere. Concussed a the vague feeling that he has seen him before ...

"Nicodemus?" he whispers hesitantly, for he had never seen such an expression on the face of his fellow recluse, an old, gruff, and somewhat befuddled wizard, last he saw him. An expression of unmeasurable, thwarted hate burns in the mage's eyes, and a insane grimace warps his wrinkled face as Nicodemus catches sight of Concussed and tosses a Death Vortex in his direction. Shocked, Concussed barely activates his amulet and blinks away before the deadly spell engulfs him.

"OK, OK, so I still haven't returned that ancient tome I borrowed. Geez! Don't you think you're overreacting just a little?"

Concussed sees no response from the old mage, and wonders if Nicodemus is in his right mind.

"Nicodemus? It's me! What in Zog's name are you doing!"

In answer, the old mage begins chanting the words to another spell ...

"Snap out of it!" Concussed cries, diving to the ground as a Death Bolt streaks overhead. Cursing, Concussed activates the amulet in mid-dive, materializing just a foot away from the feet of the mage. Tackling the old wizard from below, he brings him to the ground.

"I really don't want to do this ..." Concussed says, raising a fist above the wizard, who is getting up, mouthing the beginning of yet another spell.

Nicodemus collapses backwards as Concussed's fist connects with his jaw. Bending over to the prone wizard, Concussed makes sure that he hasn't hit the old mage too hard. Satisfied that Nicodemus is unconscious but otherwise relatively unharmed, he slings the mage over his shoulder and staggers towards the hut.

Kenneth turns his attention back to Helgraf and adds, "Maybe the Codex can tellus where to find the Flame of Eternity.

In the meantime, I'll--" He is cut off as another figure approaches.

As he draws near the hut with his load, he detects the same evil presence that he had felt early this morning, before his memory gap. Only this time, it is much fainter, as if it is trapped ... in something. Nevertheless, he is instantly on his guard. Concussed sets Nicodemus on the ground, and enters the hut, bow drawn and at the ready. He lowers it again, seeing the devastation within, and the gathered adventurers.

"Wow. This place has really been trashed. I ran into Nicodemus out back. Boy, was he mad. What happ .."

He stops in midsentence, spotting the unconscious Dracos, and sensing the evil shard that is radiating from inside him.

"There is a Shadowlord in him! But why...?"

Myrmidon addresses Concussed, filling him in. "Short version: Nic's inleague with the Shadowlords. They showed up. Ken uncovered a Shard they left in Nic's possession. Dracos absorbed it by some odd magic, and Ken cast some spells to suppress the Shadow influence. We need to relight the Flames fast, notably the one corresponding to the Shard in Dracos, so we can purge it from him as soon as possible. We're heading to the Codex for answers."

Kenneth then speaks up. "Anyway, while you're off doing that, I have one more thing to do here. I think I can get the other tome we need, to learn of the materials needed to start the Eternal Flames once we find the Flame of Eternity. First, to cut your journey in half. As I recall, the Avatar returned the Lenses to the Britain museum. I think I'll open a gate there. Getting to the Isle of the Avatar will be trickier, since Gate Travel doesn't go there, and I'll still be up here anyway. I'll meet you on the Isle as soon as I can. Until then... Vas Rel Por!"

A shimmering moongate rose up from the ground.

As the moongate appears, Concussed speaks. "I think I can find us a swift means of getting there. Oh, also, Nicodemus is lying outside the hut, out cold. If he - is - working for the Shadowlords, I suggest you take some precautions before he wakes up." Saying this, he steps through the moongates with the others.

Destrius, still rather dumbfounded by the sudden agression of his old friend Nicodemus, scratches his hooded head slowly and mutters something in a tongue alien to this world.

After the various members of his group leave the area, the mage walks over to Nicodemus' prone body and casts a spell of binding.

"Something is not right."

An understatment indeed.

Destrius clapses one of Nicodemus' hands in his own, and recites transdimensional teleportation magic. A flash of blue, and both mages disappear.

<< Destrius' Hut, Bamboo Forest, Weyrmount >>

Placing Nicodemus down on a simple bed, Destrius proceeds to cast a few more spells to keep his friend confined to the hut. He then produces a large supply of food and quite a few interesting books.

"Your magic will not work in the land of Dragons, and definitely not in my home. Stay here till I find a way to relieve you from this ailment you suffer from."

With that, Destrius casts another spell of teleportation and appears back in Britannia.

<<Back at the Abbey>>

This time, no shadow magics touched the portal as the group headed to the moongate just east of Britain. Hoping his comrades would be all right, Kenneth headed east into the Deep Forest, seeking the 'home' of the Wisps.

"Ken? Can you hear me?"

A shimmering figure, clothed in a blue robe, appears before the valiant hero.

"Ken, listen. I am a projection, an amalgam of both Dracos and the Shard. I am both Shadowlord and human, and I and not either. I have the magick of one sphere, and the power of another. I could tear the world apart. But I will not. The part of me that is Shadowlord wants only respect; we do not want to take the world and kill all those who live upon it; we simply want our aspects to be used. I want to be feared, so I cause chaos. Hatred causes dispute, and Cowardice makes those who would fight hide. This world of yours is too virtuous; you have forgotten about the vices that give virtue meaning. If this continues, all that is held dear, the virtues, will become twisted. They shall become vice, and this world will fall. Blackthorn saw this, but Blackthorn was marred because we were there. Perhaps had we never been formed, his rule would have been a btter one than your Lord British."

The shape shimmers. "Ken, this is the more Dracos side speaking. The battle within me is not going well. I could wake at anytime; I might sleep for days. I cannot tell. The journey through the moongate has released this aspect; two beings cannot co-exist together within the moonstones. When the others exit, I shall once again be joined to my body. So listen. The book you seek, if it is not with the wisps, can be found in Moonglow. Find my servant. He will guide you to it. And do not trust the wisps, they sold information about us and our world to the Guar..." The vision vanishes.

After the apparition fades, Kenneth heads east at a brisk pace, mulling over the message. *The Shadowlords only want their aspects to be acknowledged, and nothing more? Hah. I dount that. Talking about what he wants, and what Hatred wants, and what Cowardice wants, like it's all reasonable.....* His thoughts drift off as he goes over that again. "Thought you could fool me, eh?" he mutters to himself. *Faulinei, Shadowlord of Falsehood. How can I take your words at face value.* Kenneth smiles to himself, then suddenly frowns. *I have to finish up here fast and get back to the group. They'll need to know this! Especially since it tells us which Flame we need lit first.*

He arrives at the Wisps's home rather quickly. Dracos's own words come to mind about not trusting the Wisps. "Don't worry; I've got it all taken care of."

He enters, and is quickly approached by one of the motes of energy.

"Xorinia greets the Britannian entity called 'Lumina'. What is 'your' 'need'?"

Kenneth, unsurprised at the Wisp's knowledge of his true identity, replied, "Nothing much; I just need to consult one of your books. A tome called 'Flames of Principle' by the mage Shalineth."

The Wisp answered, "That is agreeable, as 'we' have already absorbed all information contained within the 'book'." Then it receded into a side room. For lack of a better place to start looking, I checked that room.

As it turns out, the book was in the third room I searched, but at least I found it. I flipped through it, looking for the part on the materials needed to light the flames. After awhile, he comes upon the correct passage, and notes to himself what they'll need.

Honesty is represented by a page of vellum.
Compassion is represented by a rose flower.
Valor is represented by blood moss.
Justice is represented by a rod of yew wood.
Sacrifice is represented by four drops of blood.
Honor is represented by a drop of dragon's blood.
Spirituality is represented by a scale from the Silver Serpent.
Humility is represented by ash from wood uncut from the tree.
Closing the book, Kenneth thinks. *Okay, so we need a page of vellum, a rose flower, and a cluster of blood moss. We need TWO rods of yew, eight drops of blood, two drops of dragon's blood,* he winces at the thought, *and THREE scales from the Silver Serpent!* That would be the hardest to get. The blood for Sacrifice and Honor could come from the group. One of our many mages should have some bloodmoss on him. A rose and a page of vellum should be easy to find, and as for a rod of yew wood... Kenneth snaps a large tree. He then morphs into Lumina and heads to the Isle of the Avatar, using his claws to carve the stick into two rods as he flies.

<<East of Britain - Moongate Circle>>

Helgraf emerges from the Moongate inside the stone circle between Britain and Cove, and immediately begins to scout the surrounding area while waiting for the others to come through. As they emerge one by one, he nicks a finger, then sheathes his sabre, and quietly incants a spell : IN WIS JUX : and focuses on the surrounding area, then gives his report.

"One or two potential hostiles - nothing currently heading our way though. If we keep quiet, we should be able to avoid unwanted attention."

Stepping out from the Moongate, Concussed looks arround at his new surroundings. This area is near where he had left the spacecraft earlier this morning. He turns and addresses the other members of the party. "You go ahead and get the Lenses from the Museum. I'll prepare our getaway vehicle." With that he heads north towards the spacecraft. He reaches the vehicle, and begins to perform a brief check. Relieved to find it undamaged and unaltered since his encounter with the Shadowlord, he opens the cargo compartment. Satisfied that it can fit the entire party and the Lenses, he closes it again. The Barataria is powered up and ready to go. Concussed climbs into the cockpit. The ships slowly hovers up to tree level. "Let's see, this should be the throttle ... yahhhh!"

In the forest of Yew, Kenneth spies a streak of orange passing overhead. "I don't even want to know ..." he mutters.

About five minutes later, having gotten used to the Barataria's controls and having orbited Britannia several times, Concussed finally slows the machine down and heads it in the direction of Britain.

He lands the craft near the Moongate and awaits the return of the others from their errand in Britain.

There is considerable confusion in Britain, and both citizens and guards are on the streets, awakened by the magical battle that had taken place hours before. The party slips through the crowds gathering to gawk at the deceased dragon, carryuing Dracos as if he is drunk, and enters the deserted Museum, collecting the Lenses from their place of honor in tha hall. It seems that the theft of the Vortex Cube is as yet unnoticed by the authorities.

With the Lenses in their possession, the gathered adventurers once more brave the crowds and leave Britain behind them, returning to the Moongate where Concussed and his craft await them.

Once the party has boarded the Barataria, Concussed lifts off, setting course for the Isle of the Avatar, and the Shrine of the Codex thereupon.

<< Cave, Spiritwood >>

"Let me see. More reagents, that new spellbook I was preparing, this strange sword, a couple of potions..."

Destrius hastily grabs all the items he thinks important to the current situation, and dumps them into a small bag that apparently has infinite capacity.

"There. The rest should find these useful where we will be going. Oh, and I must remember to get Kenneth to morph into a Dragon before proceeding."

Noting that it is about time to go, Destrius quickly murmurs a minor cantrip that sends him to the Isle of the Avatar.

Not too long after, Lumina lands at the Shrine of the Codex, and sees Destrius.

Before he can call a greeting, he notes that Destrius is looking oddly at something nearby. Following the mage's gaze, Lumina sees a strange construction of metal in a shape resembling something made to fly. It opens up, and he sees the rest of the group file out and approach them. Seeing the unconscious form of Dracos, he is reminded of the mage's message earlier.

The cockpit of the Barataria opens, and Concussed climbs out. Seeing Lumina, he greets him. "We acquired the Lenses with little problem. I trust that the Wisps have told you what you wished to learn?"

Once the group is gathered up, he returns to human form and relates the particulars of the message, notably that the Shard within is that of Falsehood, necessitating they relight the Flame of Truth first. He follows this up with what he learned of the materials needed.

"... So, essentially, we only need to obtain a rose, a page of vellum, and three scales from the Silver Serpent. After we learn the location of the Flame of Eternity from the Codex." Seeing the lenses, he concludes by saying, "It seems we're ready. Let's get to it."

"A page of vellum?" Concussed blinks. " Wait a second, I think I have some here." He climbs back in the cockpit, rummages in there for a few moments, and comes back with an ornate logbook of sorts. It is half-filled with notes in Concussed's scrawly handwriting. Turning to the back of the book, Concussed tears out a blank page. "Will this do?" he asks.

Kenneth peers at the paper, and nods. "Yes, that's vellum. Good job."

"I don't believe I saw any roses growing in the Abbey when I was there earlier," Concussed continues. "Then again, I was rather preoccupied at that time ... Roses ... if I recall correctly, there is this guy in New Magincia who also grows flowers. Perhaps he would have a few in stock. Or we could check back with Brother Aimi."

"A Silver Serpent? To date, I have not seen one with mine own eyes, so I know not where such a creature can be found. But I have heard rumors, that before the publication of Csil's papers on its dangerous side-effects, and the subsequent strict legislature imposed by Lord British, Serpent Venom was being openly imported out of Buccaneer's Den. I suppose someone there will know where to find a Silver Serpent."

Kenneth thinks a moment. "Don't worry about finding the Silver Serpent. If memory serves, the Horn of Summoning still resides within the Britain Museum. If only we knew sooner that we'd need it, we could have picked it up with the lenses. We can get the rose from New Magincia, since it's on the way to Britain. We had best be started, so as to get there as fast as possible."

"Yes, let us begin. I await the... computations such a path will take."

The once slumbering form of Dracos is now standing beside the 'craft' in which he was carried. His form is black, but it is not robed. It is as if Dracos has become a window to the night sky; his form is present, but the details are deepest black.

"I am not what you think I am; I am three. I am the tatooed mage, helper of the needy in Moonglow; I am the vessel that Nosfentor took; Kenneth, do not be surprised, Falsehood is with us too, but that form is different to my own; and I am the shard. A war wages within me. I am all three parts, and only one can survive the conflict." The Shadow notices Destrius' hand movements. "Stop, mage." The being begins to radiate fear, causing the companions to stumble and fall to the ground.

"Let me finish. I wish this war to end; Dracos is a most persistent foe. His time trapped within the ether has empowered his magicks to a point I cannot comprehend. The power will pass, but until then, I am humanised. Which is why I must do this..." The Shadow turns and faces the small child. "Faulinei, appear." The child shape changes to that of a Shadowlord. "See, you have helped one of my kind. It has lied to you all. Nicodemus posed no threat to you, but Falsehood created a new past for him to live with, a false past that put you in peril. And Faulinei did well, for with Nicodemus safely locked away, the Stranger and his Ring of Haeth can finish this all. Which is where we, my triad of persona, comes in."

The Shadow flicks one finger, and a lightning bolt emerges from it, striking the Shadowlord to the ground, where it fades away. "Dracos' power is great; Falsehood will be crippled for days. Now go, and light the flames. Purge me of this body, and put me back in the minds of Brittanians, and not in the flesh. Remember, a world of supressed vice will make virtue into a new vice, one to which there is no cure. And get to Stonegate. If the Stranger has his way, magick will be no more." The body falls to the ground, colour returning to it. Dracos looks very pale, and his breathing has slowed almost to a halt.

Helgraf staggers slightly, then a quiet whisper, spoken with a voice heavy with some unknown burden, "I will go to Stonegate - you must proceed with the relighting of the flames. Go to the Isle, seek the Eternal Flame. Do not let this one's words change the course. He may not be the Shadowlord - but he is still the shard - and the shard can twist truth to its own greatest desire yet without being allied to the Stranger. Relight the Flames." Unconsciously his left hand grips the sabre through its scabbard.

He speaks again, ignoring the protests that follow, "The Stranger must be stopped. He does not know my magic, however well he may know the Britannian/Gargish structures. My magic is, in a very literal sense, my blood - it is fully internal, beyond shields, beyond compulsion. Dragons, " he tips his head in respect, hand gripping tighter still, knuckles white, "your ether comes from within, but still the structures of Britannians magic can contain it if he expects you - and surely he will by now. I have used the Britannian runes, but told you before that they were not required. This is true and false - the use of your world's structures reduces the personal . . price . . I must pay when I invoke the magic."

"Yes, this is in all likelyhood a suicide mission. However we do not have the luxury of time, and the sacrifice is mine to make. Go forth my friends, and speak well of me in the days to come."

With no further words, he turns, shielding his hand, bleeding from where the edge of the blade dug through the leather of the scabbard and into the flesh. He walks a few steps, then incants, almost silently Vas In Por - and vanishes.

<<The ex-ruins of Stonegate>>

The Stranger paces the room containing the Vortex Cube in fury. "How soon before the Cube is ready again for use?" he shouts impatiently. A pair of glowing eyes shine through the gloom, revealing a shrouded figure, terrible and dark. From the darkness, "Save your petty vengeance for later, Ringbearer. The Wisps have informed us that those whom seek to thwart you have learnt of the Flame of Eternity and are even now seeking it. Turn your attention now to this matter instead. Or have you already forgotten the purpose for which you called us from out of the Flames?" A sibilant laughter rings through the halls of the empty fortress.

"Do not tell me what I should ignore and what I should heed! Astaroth, remember you well who is master here!" The stranger now raises his left hand, revealing the dark ring on his finger. A uncanny black glow seems to radiate from it.

"Indeed. Then you should be pleased to know, my - master - that the interloper who routed you earlier is now heading for this very place."

Saying this, the Shadowlord laughs again, then fades away into the gloom.

"What?!" The stranger crosses to the next room, where a crystal ball lies on a table. Activating the device, he scrys the surrounding countryside for Helgraf ... and finds him.

"So, my litte friend. You would confront me here, in my domain? Welcome then. I have a little surprise in store for you. Even your strange magics will not save you this time, I fear!" he sneers.

<<Outside the Shrine of the Codex>>

Destrius stares at the empty spot where Helgraf once stood, and sighs.

"I should go with him -- my magic will function against the Stranger too. But my duty is to be here, and not at Stonegate.

"Kenneth, morph into Lumina, and lead the way."

Kenneth smiles at Destrius. "Not just yet. We still have to consult the Codex."

"Helgraf went off by himself. He said he was going to Stonegate to face off the guy with the ring, and teleported away before we could stop him.", he continues. "A brave soul, but reckless." Concussed sighs.

Concussed unloads the Lenses, then shuts the cargo hold, and joins the others. "Alright then, lets see what the Codex has to say about the Flame of Eternity."

Kenneth watches as Concussed steps forward with the Britannian Lens, and the more cooperative Gargoyle steps forward with the Gargoyle Lens. They approach the dais where the Codex once rested, and focused light through the lenses on a single point behind the dais.

At that point, a rift in reality opens, showing all a view of the Ethereal Void. Within the rift, the Codex slowly opens.

"Flame of Eternity, Eternal Flame, which rests in the Chamber of Virtue at the deepest point of the Stygian Abyss. To bring this Fire to the surface, one must contain it within the Key. Lay the tinders in the brazier where the Flame shall be lit, and place the Key acting as a Vessel for the Fire on that tinder. Thus shall the Flames shine once more."

As the two started to move the Lenses, the page turned, and they hastily brought them back up to read the new passage.

"In the Castle of Shadow rests the Stranger, the master of the Ring. Served by the Ring of Haeth and the Black Moon, he can only be stopped by the return of Principle and the banishment of the Shards. His defeat will require five artefacts of power. Three rest near the monarch's throne. One lies within the Fire. The last is most important, and was made by a madman centuries past in another world. The Mage must wield these against the Stranger, else the magics of Haeth shall rend the land asunder."

Destrius starts, and looks rather astonished.

"Another world..."

"The Serpent Isle?" Paulon asks.

The Codex then closes, and fades into the Void once more. Concussed and the Gargoyle lower the lenses.

"Hmm..." Kenneth mulls over the clues. "First one is farily obvious. We'll find the Flame of Eternity in the Abyss. But we need some sort of 'key' to get it out. The second one obviously dictates our quest, but these five artefacts it means are largely confusing. I'd guess that the three near the throne are Lord British's regalia, simply because they were used against the Shadowlords before. Any ideas on the other two?"

The Mad Mage replies "The one that lies within the Fire would be found here, I suppose. Either that or in the Flames.

"And with regards to the second one... I have my suspicions, but I shall not make them public at the moment."

Paulon thinks out loud. "If it's the ring I think, retrieval could be difficult. Neither likely location is easy to reach."

<< Mountains near Stonegate >>

Helgraf has been climbing south through the foothills just north of Stonegate, toward the structure of Blackrock, doing his best to avoid both using his magic and drawing attention of the sentries posted along the route. Finally, after a series of narrow escapes due to skill and a healthy measure of luck, he manages to approach the Siege Perilous - the gates of Stonegate Reborn.

Quietly, he removes a small silver amulet and slips it over his neck. His next action is to remove a small dagger and nick his wrist to allow the blood to pool in the cup of his hand - only a small amount, the magic he needs to weave is a minor one - and instead of chanting the Britannian runes, he just sits there, an intense concentration washing over his entire form. Slowly, the blood begins to boil away, and he fades from sight, cloaked in a personal invisibility spell similiar to, but not the same as, Bet Sanct Lor.

Now physically cloaked, he cuts a slightly deeper wound, allowing the blood to pool again in his hand, a larger pool this time by far, cupped in both hands, which he uses to render himself invisible to Britannian magic. Again, the blood boils away as the spell takes hold.

Finally, he steps between the dread doors, and into the Blackrock Fortress searching for the Stranger and the Ring of Haeth...

<<The Shrine of the Codex>>

"In the Flames...." Kenneth muses, "or in the Flame, perhaps. Remember what it said in the first part. How it kept referring to the Flame of Eternity as 'the Fire'. But at the bottom of the Abyss? The Fire must be lava; what can exist in there? For that matter, how are we to get anything from there?'

Answering his own question, "Of course. Flameproof magic." He goes back into thought on the words of the Codex, then finally snaps out of his musings. "Anyway, will our next stop be to the Abyss, or to get the remaining tinders?"

Destrius smiles.

"As I said, morph into Lumina. A Dragon should be able to explore the lava and find what we need.

Kenneth replies, "I'll morph once we get to the lava. I'm not certain my Dragonform will fit through the corridors of the Abyss.

Paulon chips in with his opinion. "We're already on the same island as the Abyss are we not? We already need to do some backtracking, and with Helgraf at Stonegate, time is critical. Given the lack of a Key, the best place to find out anything is the Flame itself, or I think the Codex would have said something more. We should try to pass this info on to someone else though, so if we fail, others have a chance to succeed."

Paulon pauses then adds "Anyway, if the Abyss is as bad as reputed, we are going to find the tinder for Sacrifice and Honor quite quickly. Anyone got some vials?"

"Hmm.... if we need these artefacts to succeed, it would probably be a good idea to send someone to pull Helgraf out of Stonegate before things get sticky there, and then have them get the tinders while we're in the Abyss." The paladin consideres for a moment. "Myself, I'll join the group going into the Abyss. I'm curious as to a few things about our quest that I may learn in there."

When Kenneth falls silent, Myrmidon speaks up. "I'd like to volunteer for the group getting the tinders. But I think I'll need someone whose magic works, as it'll be impossible to subdue the Silver Serpent without magical aid."

"Then you shall want mine." The group turns in surprise to find Dracos sitting up from his supposed deathbed. "No, it is all right." He reaches for his chest, where a shard of crystal can be seen. "I am winning the battle against our foe; I am forcing the shard out of me by will alone. I realise that until the shard is completely removed many of you may not trust me, but I assure you that I am willing to be subjected to any spell necessary to check my honesty. If you will are willing, Myrmidon, I will go with you. I am still empowered by the ether, so my magic works very well."

Myrmidon nods. "Alright. But I'd still be careful if I were you; we're going to be visiting Stonegate to get Helgraf, and with the Black Moon directly overhead, who knows how that will affect the Shadowlord within." He turns to Concussed and askes, "Mind if we use the Barataria to get there? You won't need to fly to the Abyss, and we plan on much travel."

Concussed nods, handing the logbook, part of which describes the operating of the Barataria to Myrmidon."Bring her back in one piece, will you?"

In a more serious tone, he adds,."We should hurry. The only reason the Shadowlords haven't moved against us yet is because Helgraf has been buying us time at Stonegate I wonder how he is faring?"

"That and the fact that technically, I am Nosfentor, and that I have damaged Falsehood to such a degree that it will take sometime to reform." Dracos adds. "The Shadowlords are little threat at the moment. Should I encounter the third, I shall do unto it as I have done unto the others. The Stranger is our greater foe."

<< Stonegate >>

Having worked his way through the intial chambers and into the bowels of Stonegate via a spiral staircase carved into the rock, Helgraf continues to follow his trace on the Stranger. Having experienced the Stranger's spell-shaping firsthand, he is able to trace his presence when he is in close enough proximity - and the BlackRock screening out all other Britannian magic makes the job easier.

Down a black corridor he moves, until at last he comes to an archway which opens into a chamber apparently designed for rituals of dark portent. Thaumaturgic circles are inscribed in the floor, with triangles worked into some of the designs. Helgraf is about to cross the archway when he notes the tiny runes woven into the doorframe.

He curses quietly, "An alarm spell . . ."

He removes the silver amulet from around his neck, and opens it. Inside, a tiny piece of rock, of a similar consistancy to that surrounding him, but mirror bright, reflecting its surroundings, which he removes and tosses through the archway.

As the stone passes the length of the archway it stops, hanging in midair, and a spiderweb of white lines spread forth from it, until they reach the runes carved into the blackrock.

For a moment, there is a clear sound, as if a bell rung but once, a high pure note, and as it echoes, Helgraf dashes through the doorway, drawing clear his silver sabre and turning it against his left forearm, knowing he's going to need a lot of blood to do this thing.

As the blood begins to well on his forearm, he weaves between the thaumaturgic circles, and sweeps a bunch of retorts and glassware off a table to the floor where it shatters. He then points at the only door in the room with his sword and focuses - the blood running down his arm begins to boil away as the door is limned by a white glow and opens - revealing the Stranger before a pedestal, performing some kind of ritual with the Ring of Haeth.

<<The Shrine of the Codex>>

"With regards to the items we need, could you list out everything we need to find once more so we can all allocate a certain item to each of us and seek it out, please Kenneth?" Destrius asks.

"Where the Tinder is concerned, we already have most of what we need. In total, we need one page of vellum to represent Honesty for the Flame of Truth, one rose of Compassion for the Flame of Love, one piece of blood moss symbolising Valor for the Flame of Courage, two rods of yew wood for Justice, one each for the Flames of Truth and Love, four drops of blood for each of the Flames of Love and Courage as the tinder of Sacrifice, two drops of Dragon's blood symbolising Honor, one for Truth, and one for Courage, and one scale from a Silver Serpent, representing Spirituality for each of the Flames."

Kenneth pauses a moment then continues. "We don't need the tinder for Humility. As things turn out, the only tinders not readily available are those of Compassion and Spirituality."

"We'll have to pick up a rose somewhere, and does any of us have some blood moss?" Concussed asks, then adds "But the serpent scales will be more difficult. Lumina mentioned that The Horn of Summoning at the museum will be needed to find a Silver Serpent."

Myrmidon says, "We should have the moss; most of us are mages."

Kenneth comments, "It won't be the summoning that's difficult; it'll be the getting of the scales once the Serpent is summoned."

"Also, the 'tinder' of humility may not be needed as fuel for the Flames, but I suspect that it is part of the ritual in some degree, else why would it be named? What does 'a stick of ash uncut from the tree' mean? "

Kenneth speaks up again, "I've thought of it myself, and as near as I can tell, it is only in the Flame of Infinity itself." Kenneth points at the brightly burning flame near the altar of the Codex. "The book stated that only the Virtues possessing the needed Principle are required for lighting the Flames."


The Stranger turns to face the interloper, hand extended, the words of a spell forming on his lips "VAS AN -" when he is picked up and thrown against the wall opposite as if by some invisible hand.

Helgraf smiles grimly, "I remember your spellcraft Stranger. Now you will remember mine."

Quickly he cuts a gash in his left leg, blood flowing freely and focuses his mind. He extends a finger toward the Ring of Heath, knocking it off the altar to the floor below. The Stranger dives for the ring, and a fireball explodes around him.

Helgraf takes a step forward, still focusing. The Ring of Heath begins to vibrate violently - but so does Helgraf.

<< Throughout Britannia >>

For a few minutes, the Ether returns, but it roils and boils, not unlike an overly shaken bottle of champainge. Mages who don't use their own source of mana clutch their heads, gripped by a massive migraine . . .

<< Meanwhile - back in Stonegate >>

The sympathetic vibrations caused by Helgraf's magic working upon the Ring of Haeth continue to build. Helgraf is now bleeding freely from the nose and ears, and the Stranger is buckled over on the floor from the pain, while the ring bounces and clatters about the floor, it vibrates so hard.

The vibrations grow steadily worse, until there is a loud bang - and what is left of Helgraf is struck by a wind of pure mana and teleported away. The Stranger is for the time being, rendered comatose by the explosive outpouring of mana. The Ring of Haeth, looking hardly worse for the wear, lies untouched in a two foot deep crater in the floor of Stonegate, sitting in a pile of powdered blackrock.

<< Outside the Barataria >>

There is a sound like an explosion, only in reverse, and the severely wounded body of Helgraz appears in the air, dropping to the ground, bleeding from several wounds.

The only thing he says before slipping into unconsciousness is something about time.

<< Same time - Britannia >>

The etheric disturbance grows worse and worse - and then suddenly it stops - and the Ether vanishes once again.

<< Outside the Barataria >>

Kenneth hurriedly casts a spell of Restoration on Helgraf. "Vas Mani!" He then asks what happened that threw him here, and if it was related to the monstrous etheric disturbance that rocked Britannia moments ago.

After Helgraf's answer, he then briefs Helgraf on the situation, and asks, "Would you like to get the remaining tinders with Myrmidon and Dracos, or to head with us into the Abyss to find the Flame of Eternity?"

Helgraf considers the matter quietly for a moment, then speaks.

"If the information Nosfentor, " jerking a thumb at said worthy, "is reliable - and to my mind that is *still* a big if, then the Shadowlords will be busy with their own problems. The Stranger is out of the picture for a while - at least until he recovers from his injuries and reattunes himself to the Ring. Therefore the path of greatest danger is where I should apply myself. I go to the Abyss."

Paulon too casts his choice. "In the interest of maintaining some balance between our parties, I believe I should journey with Dracos and Myrmidon. Someone else needs to keep an eye on the Shadowlord." Paulon turns to Dracos "No offence intended to you Dracos, but I doubt anything could contain it indefinitely. So, when do we start?"

"Now's as good a time as any," Kenneth says, "And better than waiting around. Any objections?"

No one raises any objections, so Myrmidon leads Paulon and Dracos to the Barataria, turns to face the others, and says, "Good luck with the Abyss." Kenneth nods. "And you."

Myrmidon leads the others into the ship, and after a minute, it takes off.

"We should probably get moving as well... Oh, and I just remembered; wasn't there an eruption of the Abyss a couple years back or so? It's likely that that would have changed the terrain down there, blocking some paths and creating others. And who knows what creatures may have found their way in through the new passages? We'd best be careful." Saying this, Kenneth sets out towards the most navigable pass between the mountains, heading toward the Abyss.

<<The Mouth of the Great Stygian Abyss>>

Soon the party finds the entrace to the Abyss. The great doors overlook a great chasm, created by the vast forces of the volcano the legendary dungeon had come into existence around.

Concussed looks over the edge at the lava field far below, then turns and exclaims. "Damn. It seems that the volcano on the isle has become active again. We -could- teleport down to the bottom of the Abyss, but there's no telling what's down there. We could materialize in the middle of a lava field, or over a deep chasm. Seems like we'll have to take the long way down."

Walking over the ancient doors blocking the entrance to the Abyss, Concussed places one hand on the metal doors, and calls to memory an ancient invocaton..

-APPAR UNEM-, he intones. A faint glow radiates from the red gem in his amulet, as its recently charged mana is released to power the cantrip.

Absolutely nothing happens.

"Perhaps another spell ..." Concussed mutters. He searches in his pouch for a few moments, and comes up with a Magic Unlock scroll. Peering at the scroll through his reading glasses, Concussed recites the words of power written on it.

- IN EX POR! -

A magical flame consumes the scroll as the spell is activated. But apart from that, nothing else happens, and the gates remain shut..

"This ... is most unexpected ..." he begins. "Let me think for a second ...". Concussed closes his eyes and struggles to remember the method to open the doors.

About a minute later, he opens his eyes, certain that he has found the way. At the top of his voice, he confidently shouts out the Word of Passage.


"No...?" Concussed says, in a less confident voice. Desperately, he stands before the great gates, invoking every single Word of Passage he knows ...



- MELON! -

...Three minutes later ...

"A G HHHH! What the @$*# is wrong with this #$&* gate?", Concussed curses, and kicks a door in exasperation.

Worn down by the passing of nearly two centuries, and volcanic activity both past and recent, the decrepit old door collapses inward, unable to take any more abuse. It breaks into pieces upon impact. The entrance into the bowels of the earth is revealed.

Non-plussed by this unexpectedly simple solution, Concussed's eyes widen in disbelief. Collecting himself after a few moments, he picks up his backpack.

" .. I mean ... Ah, never mind"

Somewhat embarrassed, he turns to address the party.

"Well then, shall we proceed?" he enquires.

Helgraf sits quietly, laughing so hard he starts to wheeze.

"All that effort - an' he just kicked the door in - ohh that's just rich!"

Eventually he pulls himself together, and removes a series of small metal amulets from a pouch about his belt, handing them out.

"Stories of the Abyss spoke of how it had an almost corrupting effect on the virtuous. These amulets should ward off such influnce - though they cannot stop the full force of a Shadowlord's anti-principle."

Kenneth looks at Helgraf for a moment oddly. "How did ye know to have such on hand?"

"Retroactive vision. Unfortunately, once I entered this reality, I discovered that part of my vision had been . . . veiled. It now takes me as much effort as any other mage to pierce the veil of time - which is to say, a great deal. However, this does not get us any closer to the bottom of the Abyss." Helgraf adjusts his belt, shifting the sabre to his left hip.

"I am not eager to see how my magic will work in this place of abomination. It should be mostly unaffected - being mostly internal, but this is the Abyss. I will spend some time carving a set of runestones - last I heard Runic Magic still worked in the Abyss and if it still does, I will be able to perform my magic with less . . sacrifice . . of my own.

Kenneth ponders Helgraf's words, and decides there is only one way to find out.

"Vas Uus Sanct!" he shouts. The familiar sense of magical protection settles on the group. Having settled whether magic would work, he then casts, "Vas Lor!" Magical radiance flares into existence all around. Turning back to Helgraf, he says, "I think the tumult that caused the Abyss to go active again also pulled it away from being so loosely tied to the Britannian plane. Magic should work as per usual here. Barring the effects of the Ring of Haeth, of course." He then leads the way deeper into the Abyss, his path decided by which passages lead in a downward slope. After traveling a while, he comes across a river of lava. Casting "Vas Sanct Flam" to protect the group from the lava, he suddenly is jolted by a hurled fireball!

As he turns to face the direction of its origin, he mentally remarks on his Mass Flameproof being rather timely. And then all thought is driven away when he sees three hordlings and several imps. He hears a comrade cry out, "Daemons!" and then battle is joined.

From the roof of the cavern, a horde of screeching winged terrors descend, hurling magical flames at the party, then darting away before the party can counterattack. Seeing that the fireballs have little effect on the party, an imp shrieks out an order. Again, they come in for another pass, but this time, target the party with lightning bolts instead.

Concussed curses loudly as his arrow misses an attacking imp. He prepares to fire again, but sees an incoming spell, and dives out of the way. A lightning bolt scorches the ground where he was standing a few moments before. Getting to his feet, he quickly picks a target, and releases another arrow. An imp screeches and plunges from the air, dropping into the lava and sinks from sight. Concussed takes down another imp, then prepares to blink to a better firing position. Too late, he hears the sound of beating wings, and begins to turn, just as a Hordling strikes him from behind, raking a wound in his back with its sharp claws. Gasping in pain, he drops to the ground. The Hordling advances on Concussed, going for his throat, when to its surprise, it finds a arrow pierced through its left eye. Roaring in pain, the Hordling reels back, dislodging the arrow in the process. Panting, the bloody arrow gripped in his hand like a dagger, Concussed staggers to his feet, and fires the arrow, sending it through the brain of the Hordling. Quickly, he activates his amulet and blinks away to a ledge above, just as the surving imps zero in on him. As Concussed prepares to let loose a barrage on the bewildered imps, he spies a great winged shadow descending from smoky roof of the cavern. It wields a great scimitar in one hand, and a barbed whip in the other. Realizing what the creature is with dawning horror, he sees it heading towards Kenneth, who is busy finishing off a Hordling. He shouts a warning to the paladin below.

"Kenneth! Above you to the left! A Balron! A Balron has come!"

Helgraf, hearing Concussed's cries, curses under his breath. A Balron - or Destroyer - as they were oft known, was the last thing they needed right now.

Quietly, he gashes his thumb for a bit of extra . . ummph . . and begins focusing his magic through the Britannic forms.


There is a low thrumming noise for a moment, then, as one accord, the imps fly toward the Balron, bombarding it with the lesser magics at their disposal.

The Balron lets out a hideous noise, snatching the nearest Imp and stuffing it in its mouth, then points at a cluster of Imps, which explode.

Even as the Balron turns from the last of the Imps, it is hit by a ball of flame, as a Hordling falls under the influence of Helgraf's ritual and assails the far superior foe.

Helgraf yells, "Quick - while he is distracted - STRIKE!"

Kenneth wheels around, his two-handed broadsword extenmded in front of him. As he turns to face the Balron, the sword's momentum carries it into the Daemon's thick, leathery hide. Unfortunately, due to the thickness of that hide, the attack barely hurts the Daemon. And draws its attention back to Kenneth.

Changing tactic, he hurriedly casts a spell. "In Jux Por Ylem!" The Daemon shrieks in agony as a whirlwind of blades form in it's innards. It staggers forward in a desperate attempt to claw off hit slayer's head before he dies, but is thrown back by another blast from the ensorceled hordling.

Of course, with no other daemons to fight, the Hordling breaks from the spell and attacks the group, but is quickly dispatched.

Catching his breath, Kenneth sheathes the sword, and then says, "Shall we continue?" before leading the group deeper into the Abyss.

Helgraf chuckles faintly at Kenneth's comment.

"We dinnae hae a whole lot of choice, lad. Naught if we wish to go forward wi' this mission. The Flame of Eternity won't come tae us, ye know. And considering tha' e'ery time th' Avatar himself came 'ere, 'e 'ad to go through near th' entire Abyss to reach the bottom, I suspect we shan't be able tae use teleportation magicks tae hasten the journey."

"Something tae consider, however. We met a Balron on the first level of the Abyss. What awaits us in the deeper levels? We will need to husband our magical strength with great care to see through tae the end."

Kenneth nods grimly. "We will have to persevere. Britannia depends on our completion of this mission."

The group makes their way steadily down through the tunnels of the Abyss. Due to the volcanic eruption, much of the structures from the civilized times of Sir Cabirus were worn away; stairwells became smooth (or not-so-smooth) slopes. Upon reaching the fourth level of the Abyss, they come across an area which was actually untouched by the flows of lava. A long hallway of cut stone walls, with two doors on each side, and a large room just before it, from which the party had just arrived. At the far end was a cross-hall. The objects lying around were mainly weapons, armours, and the like. It appeared to have been the home of a group of warriors, but there are not signs of anyone.

Suddenly one of the doors along the hallway opens, and someone steps out. It is a human woman, and a mage as well, if her attire is any indication. Yet the style of dress is different from a Britannian mage's robes. It looks like she has been in the Abyss for quite some time, and alone at that. After sizing up the group quickly, she approaches.

"'Tis a surprise to see anyone else coming into the Stygian Abyss, given the dangers within. Perhaps you could lead me out of here? I have been trapped in here for over two months, give or take a few days. It is rather hard to judge down here." She gestures at the cavern ceiling. Suddenly, she remembers to introduce herself. "Forgive my manners; I am Altara, refugee from Killorn Keep. I came to this world eight months ago from my world to escape those who would kill me. I have made my home in Moonglow until the time when the Avatar left for the Serpent Isle. One of the magical lightnings struck me and I found myself in these caverns. This place foils all magical transportation I know of, and the only way out was blocked by a large stream of lava. I have therefore made my home here, sine it is the only place I can find that is fit to live in.

"But you must have a way of crossing the lava, else you wouldn't be here! Please! Take me with you!"

Kenneth introduces himself and his companions, and responds, "My apologies, but we must first travel further down before we take our leave of this place. You are welcome to join us, since we will eventually be leaving. But before that, we need to reach the Chamber of Virtue, at the bottom of the Abyss."

After a few moments' thought, Altara agrees. "Very well. And if it's down you need to go, the eruption that devastated this place has burrowed a tunnel from an area to the northeast of here which slopes down for two levels. The area it leads to looks to have been the home of mages, since that is where I got all the reagents I have been using, but it is almost completely filled with lava flows, as well as a good deal of creatures."

Destrius, who had been strangely silent throughout the journey underground, suddenly looks towards at Altara.

"Reagents? Does normal Britannian magic function in this underground realm? Previous ancedotes all indicated that runic magic was to be used. If you can cast a spell with reagents, then something peculiar is happening... But then again, you may be using a different form of magic like some of us in this group."

Altara looks at Destrius, confused. "I had not noticed any such problems with normal spellcasting. I know not what this Runic magic is, either. But I do know that a few days ago, there was a large disturbance in the ether that has impaired my ability to cast Britannian magic, which leaves me with only my native magic, which does not work well in this land."

Altara leads the group to the upper mouth of the tunnel, in a rather large room in the north part of the fourth level. The mages cast several protection spells, as well as one of mass invisibility and a renewal of their mass flameproof, then head down the two-level slide.

Enshrouded in magic, the group progresses through the tunnel, keeping care not to disturb any of the would-be hostile creatures they meet in the way. None of them see through the spell, nor are they beasts of much danger, and soon the party reaches a large open area.

Molten lava slides lazily across the smooth floor surface, radiating immense heat and scorching its banks with sizzles and pops. Pumice and sulphur hang heavy in the air, and occasionally short shrieks or screeches ring throughout the room, emmited from unknown creatures lurking in the far ends of the cavern.

Destrius closes his eyes and concentrates, drawing upon the arcane power that he taps. The group suddenly feels a cool wave hit them, like a gentle breeze, and the mages in the party know that Destrius has cast a spell of some sort without intoning any words.

"There. Now we may talk unnoticed by whatever resides in this area. My silence spell will last for about an hour, so we must discuss our further plans as quickly as possible before venturing into what I forsee as an endless number of battles. Beyond this temporary sanctuary lie many creatures harnessing the powers of magic, and so we must be prepared to fight our way to the next point of rest, wherever that may be.

Kenneth interjects, "I'm not so certain we will have such an opportunity before reaching the Chamber of Virtue. It will likely be lava and monsters the rest of the way down."

"Hmm. Perhaps. I do hope we will get one last rest before the final step, however."

"First, we need a proper battle plan. Everybody list out their names, and any skills they may have. With this, we should be able to decide who leads, who flanks, and who guards our backs.

"If worse comes to worse, I'll dragonmorph," Kenneth responds, "But I hope not to have to do that, especially since I don't think I can in these tunnels. However, my store of mana remains strong, and if we get into a real spot of trouble, I know the spell Freeze Time. As long as the Invisibility, Flameproof, and Silence spells hold, we should be ok. And the protection spells will last much longer, affording us protection once the other spells wear off. As for positioning; I'd like to stay at point. Being a paladin in a group of mages, I am the best armoured."

Destrius nods.

"I shall stay behind you. My magic offers a special form of protection that should prevent excessive damage to my physical body. It will cost in other ways, though, but I can take it."

"Let's hope so," Kenneth says, "Your unusual magic has helped us greatly thus far,and I fear we ,may yet need such strong magics."

Destrius smiles.

"Next, magic," he continues. "There is some strange scent in the ether, something foreign, but yet very similar, almost identical, in fact, to that which it resides in. My magic is not at risk as I do not use any form of ether at all, but for the other mages, this may pose a great danger should the alien affect the proper workings of a spell.

"Can you discern what is causing this? Is it the Ring causing more etheric havoc? Or something else?"

"It may be the Ring, but my previous meeting with it did not produce such an effect. The Ring is the ether, in a way, so it cannot possibly be foreign.

"But what I fear is that the creation of the Ring and the subsequent damages it sustained may have caused an etheral draft, resulting in contamination. A sentient being that is made of a substance similar to the ether could have entered via this draft, and draw energies from magic. The ramifications of this is much greater than the 3 Shadowlords combined.

"Truly, an unpleasant thought. What can we do about it?" Kenneth asks?

"Nothing that I know of. Nicodemus is the real expert on the ether, so perhaps we should consult him instead. Now that the Shadowlord has revealed the trickery that led to Nicky's apparent hostility, a second trip to his real home would not be out of order."

"Perhaps when we are finished in here. Or should we relight the Flames first?"

"Thus I suggest that we prepare simple charges of various spells, which absorb the present ether that is still safe for use. Helgraf has some runes we can use, and I shall try to enchant some items so they can be used as well.

"I will be using the charges as well. My store of energy should be reserved for more crucial spells when we arrive at our destination, and not for ordinary battle."

"Very well. I shall prepare some of these runes, even if only for quick castings if necessary. Draconic ties to the ether are different than most other creatures'. The only place I anticipate having trouble would be the Chamber of Virtue itself; that place may still retain its ties to the Void, even after the eruption two years ago." Kenneth responds.

"But do be careful," Destrius cautions the paladin. "If what I described is true, you may be in greater risk than all of us, as a creature that has its own ether is a perfect host for a being living in magic. In the meantime, though, you should be safe. Stop using magic immediately if you feel anything strange."

"Very well. But it would indeed be best if we resumed moving now; our defenses can't maintain themselves forever." Saying this, Kenneth leads the group through the tunnels, aided by what little Altara learned of the lower levels. Eventually they find a half-ruined staricase leading to the seventh level. The group cautiously descends, taking care not to slip on the parts of the stairwell that have been melted smooth. Upon reaching the bottom, they see myriad elementals of Fire roaming the lava which practically dominates the entire level. Still undetectable, the party searches for the stairs to the final level.

Feeling the presence of magical creatures somewhere nearby, Destrius casts a spell of protection to further keep the party from harm.

As the party continues onward, it comes across a collapsed tunnel which they detect strong etheric emanations coming from. They begin to dig through the rocks, thinking they are on the right track, when suddenly the pile of rocks showers outward at them, buffeting them with hundreds of rocks (which do practically no damage to the extremely protected group).

When the rocks stop bombarding them, the group sees the reason for the explosion. In their path stand three despoiler daemons, three fire elementals, two stone golems, and a black-cloaked wraith. *Shadowlord,* Kenneth thinks, and the others doubtless realize it as well. *Likely Hatred, being the only one active at the moment.*

In the same split second before the creatures attack, Kenneth notices a shimmering barrier of nearly solidified ether far behind them. It is obviously the source of the etheric pulses they all felt, and is likely to be blocking the way down. *Of course, I have to get by seven very powerful monsters driven literally by Hatred.*

If there had been time to do so, Kenneth would have smiled as he realized something which put the odds back in his favor. Instead, he simply clutched one of the runes he empowered and said, "An Tym."

Mentally thanking Destrius for suggesting the runes, Kenneth watches as the creatures stop in their tracks. Yet Hatred is oddly unaffected even by this powerful spell. "Why so surprised, dragon?" the Shadowlord asks. "You should know that our ally has magics enough to immunize us from your attacks. A pity I can't extend it to my ambush, or you wouldn't stand a chance. You don't anyway, of course. Feel the power of HATRED!"

Everyone in the group is suddenly overcome by intense hatred, influenced by the Shadowlord's power. Almost immediately, the wave of hatred is broken by Destrius's extra protection spell, and everyone regains their senses.

They turn to see a very unhappy Shadowlord, poised to shoot a shadowbolt at Kenneth. It fires, but one of the mages in the back manages to cast a telekinesis spell and directs the bolt back the way it came, past the Shadowlord, and into the etheric barrier.

In that instant, several things happen. The barrier is violently dispelled, causing major etheric disruptions in the area. The members of the group, all sensitive to the ether since they use magic, collapse with a splitting headache. Their spells are magnified greatly by the incoming ether. The daemons are banished to their foul plane, and the golems and elementals become inert stone and normal fire. And the Shadowlord flees as fast as possible from the Abyss.

When everyone in the group at last comes to, they find that some of their spells have elapsed despite their augmented power. They are no longer invisible, their physical protection has worn off, and the time freeze has ended. Kenneth recasts the protection, but is overcome by nausea left over from the aftereffects of the barrier's disruption. The spell takes effect, but Kenneth is discouraged from casting any more at the moment.

The group proceeds forward and finds that the barrier was indeed concealing the stairs down. If you can call them stairs. Lava flows were very strong here, and the stairway has become a very steep incline instead. The group descends it, and find themselves in an immense lava field which covers the entire level.

"If I recall my lore right, the Chamber of Virtue is right in the middle of the level. I can see a corner that way," he points to their right, 'so I figure we should head the other way."

As the imposing exterior of the Chamber of Virtue comes into view, the group halts as it sees a very familiar man wearing a very familiar ring.

Helgraf moves quickly, pulling out the silver amulet from around his neck and striking it with the hilt of his sword. A strange keening sound begins to emanate through the chamber.

The Stranger's reaction is immediate - he launches a bolt of pure purple death toward Helgraf, which strikes him full on.

Helgraf wobbles . . . and crashes to the earth, but the keening sound continues - and gets louder.

The Stranger yells, 'What? What is it?' ...

"Helgraf's magic. I would expect you to be familiar with it now."

Not wasting any more time talking to the Stranger, Destrius immediately unleashes one of the charged spells he prepared.

A blob of yellowish light appears in front of the mage, quickly shaping itself into a long weapon an exact replica of Destrius' bamboo staff, but seemingly made of the rays of the sun.

Destrius swings his staff sharply downwards, and the other staff moves in a similar fashion, except that it does not stay still but whirls at high speed towards the Stranger, a blur of magical yellow.

The Stranger raises his ring in an effort to absorb the apparently etheral staff, but nothing happens.

"Tis not a staff of ether, fool. There are more sources of magic than what you know of."

The magical staff continues to rush forward, the Strager too late to dodge it. With a muffled *whoof*, the corpuscules dissapate into the man's body, causing tremors of powerful magic to travel through every vein and nerve.

The Stranger screams in pain, and casts several healing and pain relief spells in quick succession to ensure he isn't knocked unconscious, as any other creature would.

In the meantime, though, he is preoccupied enough to be defenseless against other attacks.

And even as the ether reforms itself into the various spells each mage is using, the keening grows, and widens...

Desperate to flee the auditory assault on his senses, the Stranger hastily teleports away. With his disappearance, the keening stops. The group quickly recovers from the ringing it started to cause in their ears, and proceed toward the Chamber of Virtue.

They find the massive iron doors wide open, and notice something odd in them. Gemstones set in metal, surrounded by an obvious indentation, indicating the thing is removeable. Having a suspicion, Kenneth motions everyone inside, and removes the strange, Y-shaped object. As he suspects, the doors slowly swing closed, but he keeps the item in his hand rather than replace it in the door.

He turns back to find the rest of the group looking at him as if he were crazy, so he explains.

"The codex said that to carry the Flame out, we would need the Key. Next to the gem in each segment of this, there is a hollow indentation. It is not unreasonable to assume that this is the key we need. As for our escape route, look up." The group sees the shaft tunnel leading straight to the top of the volcano.

Kenneth splits the Key of Infinity into its separate parts: the key of Truth, embedded with a sapphire, the key of Love, shining with a topaz, and they key of Courage, displaying a ruby. He dips each into the lava of te room, and finds that a single drop adheres to each key. Magically adheres, for it does not come loose.

He then casts a spell of Flight, modified to affect the entire group, from one of his runestones. He had this escape method planned in advance, for he figured that the Key needed would be the Key of Infinity, and he recalled hearing about the Avatar's journey into the Abyss, and where the Key was.

The group soon finds itself at the peak of the volcano, out in the open. They quickly see that there is an aerial battle ahead, between the Barataria and a creature vaguely draconic in appearance, yet looking more like a Dragon that's been dead for a few days.

Kenneth sees something glinting on the otherwise dark hide of the creature. A shimmering silver bolt, embedded deep into the skin.

*That's the same Dragon the Shadowlords fought in Britain that drew my attention a few days back!* he realizes. *And apparently in thrall as Concussed was later that day. Not to mention made undead.*

He calls to the others, "Hurry down before the spell wears off; Concussed, morph and help me up here!" He then morphs into the form of Lumina Dragon and joins the battle.

As Kenneth and the others make their way through the Abyss, the Barataria lands just outside the Royal Museum of Britain. The hatch opens, and Dracos, Myrmidon, and Paulon step out, ready to get the remaining tinders.

Myrmidon, emerges from the museum with the Horn of Summoning. Before calling the Silver Serpent, he calls to Paulon and Dracos, "I hope you have spells of immobilization ready; we can't afford to mess things up and get killed." He grins, then raises the Horn to his lips...

... and before Paulon can stop him, he blows. Rather than the deep booming one would expect from such a large instrument, the sound is tinny and harsh. As the trio waits, nothing happens.

"What?" Myrmidon peers at the horn in bemusement. "Why does it not work?"

Both Dracos and Myrmidon examine the Horn.

"It seems to retain magic," comments Myrmidon, "so perhaps something is countering it." finishes Dracos.

"Maybe not." Paulon says, looking at the horn. "Either of you got a bit of iron?" Dracos wordlessly hands Paulon a small chunk from a pouch.

Taking it, Paulon holds the metal against the Horn. Nothing seems to happen for a short while, then the Horn ripples, and a cheap brass finish spreads out from the iron. A minute later the 'silver' horn is revealed as a brass fake. "Illusion. I guess reading a little mythology comes in useful. I thought it looked a bit light for the size of it."

"Do you think the Stranger anticipated us?" Myrmidon asks.

"It seems unlike his prior actions." Dracos responds.

"I agree. I think the real horn is likely to be in Buccaneer's Den. How else could they guarantee a supply of snakes to get the venom out of? Farming them would be too much work for drug pushers." The contempt in Paulon's voice is clear.

Myrmidon sighs. "From the charts we flew over Buccaneer's Den on the way here. I hope that whatever magic powers the Barataria will not be exhausted soon."

The group reenters the Barataria, and heads to Buccaneer's Den.

Dracos waits until the others are in the craft before he speaks. "I think we need to be careful in the Den. I have heard rumours of a plague that threatens to wipe out the civic population there, and the two of you might be at risk. While I contain the essences, I should be fine. I am not techically alive or dead at the moment."

The others nod. Myrmidon powers the craft, and it soars somewhat jerkily into the air. Pressing random glyphs upon the glowing panel in front of him, Myrimidon manages to create glowing flares of light that streak out from the craft into the air. Parts of the craft detach themselves from the hull and rocket off, the noise overwhelming.

"Sorry," Myrmidon says, "not quite sure what I am doing."

"Obviously," Paulon mutters.

The trip is short, and by the time the craft has finished landing next to the abandoned Fellowship Hall, the three adventurers can see that not all is well in the township of Buccaneer's Den.

They land next to the abandoned Fellowship Hall, and make their plan.

Myrmidon tells them, "If I recall correctly, the Avatar found hidden tunnels in many of the important buildings on the island. I figure that if the Horn would be anywhere, it would be in these tunnels. Since the Fellowship Halls are now abandoned, it would be our best point of entry."

Dracos mutters a few words and throws a few reagents into the air. Swarms of green clouds appear, swirling through the streets.

"I've cast a spell of my own invention; it allows you to see sickness in the air. If you keep out of the way of the clouds, you should be fine. I do not know what this illness is; we might be able to cure anyone who gets infected by magic, but we might not. Come, we must find the horn, or a serpent."

The group leaves the Barataria and heads into the Hall, which is fortunately clear of the green miasma revealed by Dracos' spell.

Heading toward the back, they find the secret entrance to the hidden tunnels once used by the Fellowship. However, they are not as empty as they should have been, for they hear voices down one of the tunnels. The group unanimously decides to head down the other tunnel.

"We're in luck I think," Paulon whispers. "The local's seem to have barricaded themselves in against the sickness. Let's hope they're also staying away from each other to avoid catching it off each other."

Eventually they come upon a closed door, and more voices can be heard behind it. Throwing aside all caution, Myrmidon slams the door open while the others ready spells. Behind the door, two people dressed in the unmistakeable clothes of pirates lunge at them, but swiftly fall asleep as Dracos unleashes a spell.

Seeing an obliquely angled hall across the room, the group heads that way. They come to a locked door rather quickly. Dracos says, "Wait here a second," heads back the way they came, and comes back with a ring of keys, obviously lifted from one of the sleeping pirates. Dracos grins.

Sure enough, the second of the two keys fits the lock. They enter what appears to be a storage room. At the far end, they see a barred door with some very rare items behind it, including the Horn of Summoning. The other key opens the door, and Myrmidon takes the Horn.

Before he can raise it, though, the pirates who just woke back up enter the room, swords bared. As they rush forward, Paulon grabs a black stone from the shelf and throws it to the ground. As he had hoped, a shimmering red moongate rises from the ground. He runs through, and is shortly followed by Dracos, then Myrmidon, who snatches up the Orb as he runs through. The gate closes behind him.

The group reappears in New Magincia, as they soon learn. Wondering as to a means of departure, they remember that the Barataria is still on Buccaneer's Den. Myrmidon, however, has an idea. "Dracos, do you know the Fly spell? That could get us as far as Buc's Den, and we could reclaim the Barataria there."

Even as Dracos nods affirmation, Paulon remembers something and tells the group to wait on that spell. He heads to the south end of town, where the group finds a jovial old man tending a flowercart. Quickly catching on, Myrmidon flips a gold coin at the man and asks for a rose blossom.

As they head to the western shore of the island, Myrmidon asks Paulon, "How did you know there was a flower seller here? I thought you were from Earth?"

Paulon smiles enigmatically and replies, "Let's just say I know a few things about Britannia. Anyway, now the scales are the ONLY tinder we yet need."

Dracos calls the group to a stop. "This is the closest part of the island to Buccaneer's Den. Here is where we fly. Vas Uus Por!" He lifts off the ground. Pointing at Paulon, he intones again, "Vas Uus Por!" And as Paulon rises, he casts the spell again at Myrmidon.

Once all three are airborne and heading west, they notice that Dracos has become rather pale and is sweating. He explains that is is just the effects of magical exhaustion comnined with the Shard's influence, which his control of slipped as he spent the mana. He tells them he merely needs to rest his magical energies for awhile.

The group finds the Barataria surrounded by pirates who obviously came from within the hideout and planned on taking the vehicle. Fortunately, they couldn't figure out a thing about it, and the group snuck up behind them and brought them sleep of a less peaceful sort, induced by fists to the backs of the pirates' heads. Paulon leads the group into the Barataria, and they head to the mainland, finding a relatively clear spot between Britain and Cove to summon the Serpent. Once again, Myrmidon prepared to blow the Horn...

Seeing that both Paulon and Dracos are ready, he places his lips on the horn, and exhales. A sonorous booming note is blown forth from the great horn, and the shimmer of magic is seen around it as the enchantments upon the Gargoyle artefact are called into play by Myrmidon's breath.

A hissing is heard from behind Myrmidon, as a gigantic creature materialises behind Myrmidon. The great Serpent's scales are the colour of purist silver, polished until they seem mirror-bright. The sheer size of the snake causes Paulon's jaw to drop - the Serpent could easily open it's jaws so that a man could walk down it's throat!

However Dracos is not as startled by the appearance of the creature, and chants "An Xen Por", freezing the creature where it has appeared, ready to strike.

Dracos falls to his knees, his face ashen. "I used magic too soon after mine other spells," he states. "With more rest I will recover once more."

Myrmidon helps Dracos back to his feet and helps him to walk back to the Barataria, which he leans against. Paulon walks over to the Serpent, and examines it's left side. "We're in luck. It's shedding it's skin, so there're some loose scales. We don't have to hurt it to get what we need." Paulon takes some of the loose skin, complete with a number of large silver scales. As he does so, another loud hissing is heard...

Spinning, Paulon sees a second Serpent rapidly approaching, it's jaws gaping wide to strike. "Freeze!" Paulon yells, but his magic fails to have any effect. A sinister laugh, recognisable as that of the Stranger, echoes through the area.

As the snake slithers towards Paulon, Myrmidon dashes for the controls of the Barataria. Once again he strikes the same keys as when leaving Britain, sending bolts of light straight at the serpent. Much of the beam reflects harmlessly off the creature's scales, but enough gets through to scorch it, causing even the beast's simple reptilian mind to pause.

Despite the intervention from the Barataria, Paulon still has nowhere to run, trapped between the immobilised body of the first Serpent and the newcomer. The second Serpent coils for a moment then strikes at Paulon.

There is a flash as the Barataria's weapons are fired again, but the energy misses its mark, instead bending in mid-flight to strike the umbrella in Paulon's hand. Paulon drops to the ground, avoiding the Serpent's strike, and reaches with the umbrella to touch the Serpent.

Once again he yells "Freeze!", drawing on the diverted power taken from the Barataria's weapons rather than the ether. The Silver Serpent is instantly paralysed, the kinetic energy of it's hurtling body sending it headlong into the first. As the bodies of the serpents tangle, Paulon rolls out from under them.

"Trust me to forget that the Horn brings three snakes," Paulon mutters angrily. "Where's number three?"

Myrmidon calls out from the cockpit of the Barataria, "Do you really want to stick around and find out? Let's move!" He motions for Paulon to hurry in and join him and Dracos.

Paulon makes a run for the ship, but is forced to veer off at the last moment as a wall of silver moves between them. Myrmidon calls out, "Have enough power left for a Banishment?"

Paulon replies, "Not quite; think you can send some my way?"

In response, the Barataria lifts off just high enough to clear the height of the serpent, and fires its weapons at Paulon. His umbrella absorps the energy, and he then shouts, "Get Lost!" The summoned Serpents vanish into shimmering vortexes of light, returning to wherever they had been summoned from. The Barataria lands long enough for Paulon to climb in, then makes its way to the Isle of the Avatar to rejoin the others.

Once on board the Barataria, Paulon holds the umbrella out and concentrates. The energy inside washes out over the craft and it's occupants. Both Myrmidon and Paulon straighten as fatigue is banished, and the ashen pallor upon Dracos' face is dispelled by the influx of magic. A shimmering nimbus surrounds the entire craft for a short period before dispersing into nothingness.

"Would it not have been wiser to retain that magic in case of another attack?" asks Dracos.

Paulon looks embarrassed. "Unfortunately it wouldn't have been exactly the safest of moves. Take a close look at this thing." He hands his umbrella to Dracos who examines the physical shape, then focuses upon the magic infusing it.

"Oh. The spells are ... tangled dangerously together."

Nodding, Paulon agrees. "Yes. My bright idea was to make a storage device for magic directed at me, so I could use it back at whatever had thrown it at me to begin with. Of course you can imagine what happened when an amateur like me tried to work out an enchantment like that. I think I was lucky to get away both breathing and in the same shape I started in. The enchantment did work, sort of. My umbrella, which wasn't what I'd intended to use, wound up with the ability to absorb very bright light, and doesn't do anything about magic. Ordinary daylight just doesn't give it much to work with either, so usually it just keeps me dryer in the rain. If I get it in the way of a light based weapon though, it can grab quite a charge, and lets me use it much more effectively than my usual skill at channeling the ether. Unfortunately I don't often wind up somewhere where light-based weapons and magic both work, so it's more of a curiosity than useful."

Dracos looks curious. "And the reason you were so hurried in releasing the power?"

"The more power the thing has, the bigger the chance of a random discharge. The whole lot gets let loose at once, and there's no telling just what a big load of undirected magic will do to the area. It's not something I intend to watch again eit-"

Paulon is cut off as the Barataria shakes, and a section of the inner hull begins to glow cherry red. Myrmidon curses, and the alien craft begins to career across the sky, as the inexperienced pilot attempts to dodge attacks from an external foe.

Concussed quickly morphs into dragon form in a shimmering of light. Taking off from the peak, he joins up with Lumina and prepares to head towards the undead dragon.

Meanwhile, the Barataria is barely holding out against its opponent. For a rotting carcass with tattered wings, the dragon is surprisingly swift, and sears the canopy of the ship with its breath as it passes, dodging the return fire from the Barataria.

Looking at the undead monstrosity, Concussed thinks - I hope that wasn't anyone I knew - and shudders.

As the undead dragon turns to make another pass, Concussed and Lumina attack the creature. The dark dusk sky becomes alight with the fires of dragonbreath ...

This is not good ... Concussed thinks, banking out of the way to avoid the flaming horror descending on him. So far, the attack on the undead creature have merely served to divert its attention onto Lumina and himself. Though their breath attacks have burnt away the wings and putrid flesh of the creature, leaving scorched bones, it somehow remains magically airborne. If they have done any significant damage to the creature, it is not evident.

As the undead dragon turns to face him, Concussed spies the silver bolt protruding from its chest. He feels a dark energy radiating from the bolt. *Perhaps this is what is driving the creature?* he thinks.

Diving, he grabs for the bolt as he passes, but misjudges his timing, crashing into his opponent instead. The undead dragon tears at Concussed as he struggles to grasp the bolt. Just as Concussed's claws closes around silver bolt, the creature breathes right in Concussed's face. Jerking his head back in time, Concussed avoids being killed outright, but still takes most of the attack in the chest.

His mind blinded by agony, Concussed barely feels the bolt in his grip come loose from the creature. Meanwhile, the combined weight of the two dragons locked in mortal combat proves too much for the magics keeping the undead dragon airborne, and they begin to drop from the sky ...

The two grappling dragons, one dead and another nearly so, both engulfed in flame, plunge from the air like falling stars.

The last thing Concussed sees before he loses consciousness is the sea rushing up to meet him.

<< Abyss - Outside the Chamber of Virtue >>

Quiet. Little moves beside the slow bubbling of the lava that flows around the Chamber of Virtue. A lone form lies prostate on the floor where it dropped in the battle with the Stranger. A few Imps circle the huge domed cavern, hurling globes of magic energy at one another and the few bats not killed in the previous chaos - most having plummeted into the lava when the keening threw off their echolocation.

Nothing out of the ordinary?

A single musical note, high and sweet, like the breaking of a mouse's heart followed by the low noise of tearing metal.

Deep in the Ether, something new. A torus shaped ring of silver forms, trapping a portion of the mana within it. Slowly it moves through the void.

<< in the meanwhile >>

Lumina swoops down and rips the dead Dragon away, then drops it. He then casts a spell on Concussed to slow his fall, and a telekinesis to move him over to the group. He then sees one of Concussed's claws burning, due to the Shadowlord's bolt he holds. Using the telekinesis again, he wrenches it away from the unconscious Dragon.

Suddenly, a tower of shadowy energies erupt from the sea, right where the dead Dragon just fell in. It shoots straight up, and passes very close by Lumina, knocking him from flight. And by some strange twist of chance, Lumina falls into the caldera of the Abyss itself, landing once again in the Chamber of Virtue. He quickly crawls out of the lava and onto the ledge surrounding it, thankful that the flameproof spell lasted so long.

As if on cue, the heat waves from the lava pit make thewmselves felt. Fortunately, when he prepared the runes earlier, he anticipated that the flameproof might wear off while they were still in here. He calls upon the power of that rune and the heat subsides.

The lava splashes up onto the platform ledge, here and there, but seems to part around the feet of the still unnoticed body of Helgraf. His boots begins to sizzle slightly, until a pale nimbus of blue emits outward, cooling the lava droplets, just as...

As he prepares to launch back up the tunnel, Lumina sees something rise from the lava. Two fire Elementals take form, obviously disturbed from whatever passes for rest among them by a Dragon falling in their midst. They move forward, tossing fire at Lumina as they come. In too short a time, they effectively block Lumina from flying back up.

Although he is protected by the flameproof spell, the elementals still manage to inflict a fair amount of damage by direct attacks. A pity Lumina's own attacks aren't as effective. Faced with two beings of pure fire, neither his Lucent Beam or Electric Sphere breaths would be terribly effective. Nor can he rake his claws through them and expect any progress. And none of his spell-runes are suited for such a battle.

Then Lumina sees something in the corner of the lava pit. A finely crafted sword. If it can survive within lava, it is obviously magical, and may just be what is needed. Lumina reaches a claw in and grabs the sword, then morphs into Kenneth so he can better wield it. In a few minutes, he dispatches both elementals. As he decides whether or not to keep the blade, he suddenly recalls something he read.

**...His defeat will require five artefacts of power.... One lies within the Fire....**

And his own words shortly thereafter.

**In the Flames.... or in the Flame, perhaps.... referring to the Flame of Eternity as 'the Fire'.... what can exist in there?**

Kenneth smiles as he realizes that this answers that question. This sword must be that artefact. He examines it, and is reminded of a sketch in a book on legendary weapons he owns back in Trinsic. The Sword of Justice, Caliburn. Truly, this may well be useful in the battles ahead.

Kenneth morphs back into Lumina, clutching the sword as best as possible on one claw, and flies back out, landing with the rest of the group. He explains what happened down there, and the importance of the sword. He then speculates as to the next destination. Shall the group travel to relight the Flames, to ask for Lord British's regalia, or to seek the mysterious fifth artefact (which the Codex said was on another world).

"My vote is in for relighting the Flames and reimprisoning the Shadowlords."

"That would be a good move, agrees Destrius. "Locating the otherworldly artefact would be a task requiring great magic, and the current situation with the ether does not bode well for such enchantments. Perhaps the removal of the Shadowlords would help shed light on the problems."

"I'm afraid I have to disagree Sir Kenneth." Paulon states. "Dracos is endangered by the Shard of Cowardice, but if we imprison the Shadowlords, then start looking for the other artefacts, then there won't be anything that can stop our real opponent from releasing them again as soon as our are backs are turned. We'd need to do the whole job all over again as soon as we got back with that Ring. I'm afraid we need to find that first, before we dare do anything else."

Paulon looks around, noting a new face, and missing another. "Do you mind introducing Dracos, Myrmidon and myself to the lady? And what's happened to Helgraf?"

<< The Ethereal Void >>

The torus of silvery light has travelled far from its point of origin. Twice, it has sat motionless, as the Ether outside of it was drawn off by the Stranger healing himself. Once the Stranger returns to a place where the Ring does not function (presumably Stonegate, but not neccesarily), the Torus rolls forward an indeterminate distance.

Near the entrance to the Chamber of Virtue, the lava has quieted down, and again, all that disturbs the quiet is the occasional spell duel between two or more of the everpresent Imps. Then again, a high, silvery tone, ringing like a small bell, pure and perfect.

In the Void, a silvery tendril extends from the torus, stretching out, then seeming to pool at a random point. The silver seems to flow from the torus down the stream and forms a bubble.

Outside the Chamber, a pinhole gate in the ether opens, and a silvery light pours out, engulfing the prone form of Helgraf, enveloping him fully, and drawing him up into the air, and stretching out impossibly thin through the pinhole gate. The gate snaps shut behind.

<<The Isle of the Avatar>>

Destrius feels strange movements in the ether which he did not detect.

"Now this is strange indeed. Another being has entered the ether?"

The mage's brow furrows, and he wonders what all these events will finally lead to.

"Ah." Kenneth replies to Paulon. "This is Altara, a mage from a place known as Killorn Keep, who came to Britannia last year through the Guardian's interdimensional gem, fleeing people who sought to kill her. She was hit by the teleport lightning some three months back and sent into the Abyss, where she was stuck since. She also helped us on navigating some parts of the Abyss, and in return asked for rescue from there.

"Greetings." Paulon says to the mage."

"As for Helgraf, I regret to say that he fell in a fight with the Stranger outside the Chamber of Virtue. I further regret to say that we could not find his body in the lava, and once the Flameproof wore off, his body would have been cremated on the spot."

Paulon shudders. "Hopefully he was truly dead first. That's not a way I'd like to go. Let's pray that we don't find we need him. His magic seemed quite effective against that power crazed mage."

"And as for our course of action, your plan has merit. My apologies, Destrius, but I believe Paulon's is the best course we have. Who is to say that the Stranger will not free the Shadowlords again while we gather the needed artefacts? And I seem to recall both you and Paulon musing over the fact that this object is in another world. Do you have any ideas where that is? I know a few elseworlds myself, but without knowing what we seek, I do not know which world we must visit."

"I think the Codex was referring to the Ring of Shal, which allows spells to be cast without reagents. Destrius mentioned it as the planned counterpart of the ring of Haeth worn by the Stranger. I know a bit about it and it's history," Paulon replies.

"The ring was created by a mage called Shal, I think just before the time corresponding in that world to Third Age of Darkness here in Britannia. He bargained with his deity, an entity called the Chaos Serpent for the knowledge and power to create it, but his forfeit was his sanity. Shal became a dangerous sadistic monster called the Fiend, a menace to anyone unlucky enough to encounter him. Fortunately for his world, Shal had realised the nature of what he would become and made sure his ring was hidden somewhere that he couldn't find it. The Fiend made his lair in the area where Shal had concealed the ring, and filled the area with traps, while he searched for it. Anyone who could survive the traps fell to the Fiend so the Ring was lost to history for a while."

Paulon swallows to clear his throat. "That was the state of affairs when a religious war broke out between Shal's people following the Chaos Serpent, and their brethren who followed it's counterpart the Order Serpent. A keep was built in the area by the Order forces and a valuable treasure was concealed beneath it. The magical orbs needed to get into the treasure chamber were lost in the surrounding area, including one in the Fiend's Domain, as the Order forces called that area of passages.

Eventually a person called the Champion of Balance turned up from out of the blue and retrieved the orbs, and planted the Silver Seed which was the seed of the Tree of Balance. The Champion also retrieved the Ring of Shal and killed the Fiend in the process. The Champion then vanished as mysteriously as he appeared, leaving the two factions to their war, and taking the Ring with him."

Pausing, Paulon takes a deep breath, then shrugs. "The next bit is where things get a bit complicated. I suspect it was only a few months ago that a mysterious Stranger appeared on the lands once called the Lands of Danger and Despair, and now called the Serpent Isle. The Stranger was given an amulet by a group intending to aid him, which took both himself and his friends back in time, to plant the Silver Seed. The Stranger returned with the Ring, and soon succeeded in restoring the third of the trio of Serpents that are the powers of the Serpent Isle, the Great Earth Serpent of Balance. The Stranger was lost in the Ethereal Void at the conclusion of the ritual, snared by a greater power. I don't know whether he had the Ring on his person at the time, but if I'm right and this is the artefact we need, it's probably in one of three places."

"The first is simply floating in the Void, where the Stranger was taken from. The second is in the possession of the Stranger's comrades, if he was not wearing it while performing the ritual to restore the Balance Serpent. And the third is in the possession of the entity who kidnapped the Stranger. If the last it's not likely to be possible for us to retrieve it."

"Wherever the Ring is, the trail starts on the Serpent Isle. Which leaves us the question of how to get there quickly."

<< Ethereal Void >>

The torus draws up its package wrapped in silvery tentacles, drawing it into itself. Then once more, it begins to move through the Ether - into the deeper layers, leaving that portion of the Void which most closely borders the lands of Britannia. Briefly it touches on the worlds in closest symmetry with Britannia each with a thin tentacle of the silvery matter it is composed of - this tentacle reaching out and piercing the dimensional bubble, then withdrawing, having apparently not found whatever it sought.

And the torus rolls deeper into the Void . . .

<<The Isle of the Avatar>>

"Hmm...." Kenneth muses over Paulon's words. "This would explain a few things, actually. As the Britannians here may recall, three months ago, Lord British sent the Avatar to the Serpent Isle in pursuit of Batlin. Shortly thereafter, the magic storms began, and after nearly a month, they stopped. These events coincide closely with Paulon's account of someone restoring Balance to the Serpent Isle. And we know how good the Avatar is at saving worlds." Kenneth smiles, then continues.

"This still leaves us with the same three options. Well, four. It is in the Void; it is with whoever took the Avatar elsewhere, or maybe with the Avatar in that elsewhere; it is with his Companions; *or* it was left on the Isle.

"I know a bit about the Serpent Isle, although I've not actually been there, nor do I know an actual way to reach it. However, Lord British must know how to reach it, since it was he who sent the Avatar to go there. And since we'll be needing his regalia anyway, it makes sense that we stop at the Castle of Lord British, then go to the Serpent Isle to get the ring.

"Anyone have a better plan?"

"Nothing better, but rather an addition to yours. We need to get one of the Virtue Stones and mark it for Serpent's Hold before we leave."

Paulon looks at the scorched exterior of the Barataria. "It is the site of the only Flame we can't get to rapidly via a Gate spell or the Orb of the Moons that Myrmidon is carrying, and that last attack may have been aimed as much at destroying the Barataria to get rid of our rapid transport as at killing us. Anyway, I think a variation of the Recall spell should be able to bring us back in a pinch, so we may have a fast escape route."

With a grin Paulon adds. "While we're in Britain, we should return the Lenses and the Horn. I don't think it would be appreciated if we left historic artefacts scattered all over Britannia."

Kenneth then turns to Paulon and says, "Actually, It would probably be best to not worry about the Virtue Stones. Even if we got them, we'd have to head to Serpent's Hold normally to Mark the stone. Besides, a few of my runestones have some useful teleports, and my magical strength is enough to bring us to the Isle of Deeds if I'm far enough south on the mainland. For now, however, we should be able to reach Britain by Orb. Myrmidon?"

Myrmidon faces north and drops the Orb. The group walks through the red moongate that forms, and Myrmidon retrieves the Orb as he follows them.

The group finds themelves just East of Britain. Altara speaks, "My thanks for thy rescue from the depths of the Abyss, but now I must return to Moonglow. She steps towards the moongate shmmering in the center of the stone circle, but a word from Myrmidon stops her.

"This will make thy trip easier," he says, throwing down the Orb of the Moons to the northwest. Altara smiles and says "Thank you," before stepping into the red gate to return to her new home.

Crossing the river, the remaining adventurers enter the city proper and head to the museum. They sneak in and put the Lenses and Horn back on their displays. Before leaving, Kenneth grabs a pair of Virtue Stones and says to Paulon, "Just in case we find a use for them. We just might pass near the Hold en route to one of our other destinations." Fortunately, it was midday and the curator was eating lunch, so the group managed all this unnoticed.

Elsewhere in Britain wanders St George's Dragon, trying to figure out what the hell is going on! He walks around in the guise of a human tinker, with a large axe swinging from his belt, along with several tools. Having attempted to pump the town people for information and learning nothing he heads towards the castle hoping to find something there.

He walks down the cobblestone streets eyes fixed to the ground mumbling to himself "Name, job , health, bye.... zog is their anyone in this town that responds more than three words.".

The party headed up the broad street leading to the Castle itself. As they entered, they were 'welcomed' by the Court Jester, Chuckles, ready to foist whatever new game he had devised on unsuspecting visitors. The group succeeded at getting past him without incident.

SG's D wanders across the drawbridge, still muttering. As he enters, Chuckles jumps in front of him. SG's D says "NAME.. JOB... BYE!" and rushes forward knocking the jester to one side.

The adventurers entered the throne room, where Lord British was holding court. While the remainder of the party waits, Dracotheran leaves to seek out Sir Geoffrey, escorting the Gargoyle prisoners that they may be turned over to him until they can be sent to Yew for trial.

When the King finished speaking with a townsman who also sought his aid, the other members of the group stepped forward.

Lord British greeted them warmly. "Greetings, strangers. For what reason hast thou sought my aid?"

Kenneth begins, "No doubt you are aware of the return of the Shadowlords. You may also be aware of a stranger who wears the magical Ring of Haeth. Myself and my comrades are attempting to stop this. According to the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom, there are certain items we will require. We believe that three of them are the same regalia used by the Avatar in the Fifth Age. We also believe that another is a ring to be found on the Serpent Isle. We humbly request the loan of your Crown, Sceptre, and Amulet, as well as directions to the Serpent Pillars. We will, of course, return the regalia once we have used them in stopping the Stranger and the Shadowlords."

The group awaits their liege's answer.

SG's D enters and stands at the back of the court, settling in just in time to hear the Sovereign say "A very interesting story, but how can I be sure I should trust you?"


<< The Ethereal Void - far from "local Britannia" >>

The silvery torus has come far since the Dragons and their allies went to pay visit to Lord British. Twice it has stopped on its journey, and extended tendrils of itself to pierce the dimensional barrier, as if looking for something, but both times it withdrew and began moving again. After much relative time has passed, the torus stops a third time, again extending silvery pseudopodia of itself outward.

<< Monk Isle, Serpent Isle >>

The great bells of the Isle toll the change in duties, but with them, a single high note, pure and perfect. Karnax, leaving the fields, hears the sound, and looks to the belltower, where a silvery pool has appeared in the evening sky. A silver cord, about the thickness of a man's arm, extends from the pool, stretching out until it touches the bell platform, where it begins to pool.

<< The Void >>

The silvery torus begins to thin out and twist sideways, drawing up all but one pseudopod. The substance of the torus seems to shrink and pour down the length of the remaining tentacle, until finally the last of it pours out of the Void, the gateway closing behind it.

<< Monk Isle >>

Finally, the last of the silvery mass enters the sky above the Isle, and the gateway into the Void snaps closed. The last of the silvery matter collects on the bell platform, and begins to form a roughly humanoid outline.

Draxta, coming from the place of prophecies, stumbles down the path in her haste, meeting Karnax. There are hushed whispers between the two.

Meanwhile, on the platform, a bolt of blue lightning - not seen since the restoration of Balance - strikes the silvery mass, causing it to peel back from the whole, revealing a figure in black robes, hands folded across his chest, a shattered silver amulet worn about his neck, a silver sabre in a tooled leather scabbard on his waist.

<< Castle Britannia >>

Lord British frowns, and thinks for a moment.

"Hmm. I indeed know of the incidents thou speakest of, as do quite a few others. But, seeking thou forgiveness if I am wrong, thou may well be an enemy instead of an ally, seeking to destroy the very artefacts that would save Britannia.

"Methinks that thou shouldst prove thineselves before I bestow mine royal jewelry to thee-"

Destrius interrupts the lord.

"Time is short. Something is polluting the ether, as you should know. If we do not find a remedy for the situation, who knows what destruction might occur."

Lord British nods.

"Yes, mage, I know that we have little time to spare. All the more that I should be careful. Mine task for thee is a simple one, and I promise that shouldst thou be the true heroes of Britannia when the Avatar seemest to have disappeared, I shall do all I can to aid thee.

"What I would likest thou to do is this: meditate at the Shrine of Spirituality for one day. If thou canst do so, then thou art no minion of Vice. I shall know of thine success by the goodness thou wilt radiate upon thine return."

Kenneth speaks up, "Milord, under normal circumstances, I would accept such a test, but I am truly sorry to say that this mission cannot wait that day. Instead, I ask you to judge by these proofs." Kenneth then draws the sword Caliburn - slowly - and holds it balanced across his hands.

"I presume you recognize this blade, milord. It is the Sword Caliburn, and can only be wielded by a Just soul." He resheathes the sword, and pulls from his pouch the three Keys of Principle. "And these are the Keys of Principle, holding a spark of the Flame of Eternity in each. You know what part the Flame has in this, of course." Of course; Lord British was there when the Flames were lit, over three and a half centuries ago.

Lord British sighs and slowly nods. "Yes, I do recognize all that you have shown, and further know that you have braved the Stygian Abyss itself to be holding them. I shall lend you my regalia, on one condition. You are to swear an oath on the Sword of Justice stating the nature of your intentions. Oaths sworn on that sword are binding, you should know, so it will be all the surety I need."

Kenneth solemnly knely on one knee, drew the sword, and once again balanced it on his palms. "I, Lumina Dragon, swear that the enchanted regalia shall be used solely for the purpose of containing the Shadowlords and defeating the Stranger who wears the Ring of Haeth, and to return them to my lord upon completion of this quest." As he rose, he felt the magic binding him in a geas to his oath.

Lord British then hands the regalia over to Kenneth, who starts to put them on, then remembers something that the Codex said. *The Mage must wield these against the Stranger.* Kenneth is a paladin, not a mage. And the most adept and knowledgeable mage in the group is....

"Destrius," Kenneth calls. "If I recall correctly, you are supposed to be using these. He hands the regalia to Destrius, who then dons them. Kenneth continues, "The crown should be especially useful, given that the Stranger can call spells at will with his Ring. We shall no doubt find use for the others, since the Codex said they would be needed."

Kenneth then turns back to Lord British and says, "Thank you for your generous aid. We have one more need, however, and that is, as I mentioned, finding a way to the Serpent Isle to find the Ring the Codex mentioned. Can you tell us how to reach the Serpent Pillars?"

Nodding, Lord British pulls out a map showing the location of the pillars, at the headwaters of a river deep in the Serpent's Spine. "The only way to reach the pillars is by boat; I recommend a small skiff at the dock. I'm afraid I cannot supply it myself, as I do not know if it will be returnable, and I have already lost the Golden Ankh sending the Avatar across. It is said that the Pillars only rise when they are needed, but certainly this quest qualifies for that. Unfortunately, I do not know how you will get back to Britannia. Fare well, and return soon." With that, Lord British dismisses the group and proceeds to the next supplicant.

Outside, the group prepares its travel plans. Kenneth remarks, "Well, does anyone happen to have a boat we can use, or will we have to visit Clint the shipwright?"

"Boat? We need no boat." Dracos says. The group turn to look at him.

Once again he is glowing blue, and tendrils of magic arc away from his body, melding in with the vague green of the ether, which only the mages can see. "My powers grow stronger with every minute. Soon even the greatest spells will be mutterings of a child. Already I can see chants that will destroy moongates, songs that will cause the waves to swell and flood the highest mountain peaks. And..."

The blue chaos fades slightly. "I am sorry. The battle within me goes ever on. My powers are getting stronger, but I cannot guarantee my sanity."

Dracos clicks his fingers, and the party finds themselves floating above the icy waters, the two Serpent Pillars rising from the waters.

Meanwhile in the court of Lord British Saint George's Dragon has watched in astonishment as the events unfold before him, unfortunately in all the rush their is no time for him to offer his services to the group, and they disappear without him.

The Pillars rise from the water, accompanied by crackling and low-pitched buzzing noise. The air itself seems rent, and the seas beyond do not match the seas of Britannia. A bitterly cold breeze blows across the deck of the ship, emanating from the place beyond the pillars.

Kenneth shouts above the din, "We must cross while the pillars still stand!

Keeping a tight grip on their possessions, they stride forward. As Destrius crosses the barrier, there is a blinding flash . . .

<< an unknown amount of time later >>

Destrius awakens on a foriegn beach. The water laps up against the shore off to his right, and there are mountains nearby to his left. Kenneth and Dracos lie on the ground, still unconscious apparently.

A flash of light appears as Myrmidon and Concussed fallow the group, followed next by Paulon.

Kenneth stirs, and slowly comes around, rubbing his temples for a moment.

"What happened?"

Destrius considers the matter. "I believe the regalia's magic may have interacted with the magic of the Serpent Gateway violently. However, the artefacts seem unaffected."

Kenneth mulls this over and says, "I'd guess the Pillars still work, as well, since the rest of us made it across as well."

Dracos finally stirs, and when he wakes, he blinks several times and looks quite disoriented.

"I am, for the moment, in greater control of myself - it would seem crossing the serpent gate has weakened the influence of the Shard/Shadowlord parts of myself - or perhaps merely made it more difficult for those parts of me to hold sway. We should be on our way and do what we must here in this time."

"Perhaps," Kenneth says. "Perhaps it is just because of the magical blast that just occured. Who knows? But just to be on the safe side... Vas Sanct Mani An Um! There. That should stave off the shadow... influence...." Kenneth trails off as he realizes something. "There was no side effect to that spell; whatever is infesting the ether that surrounds Britannia hasn't made it this far through the Void. We can safely cast spells here and save our runestones for when we return."

At this point, a figure in brown robes, with a hood of slightly lighter shade, is seen approaching the group from further down the shoreline.

Kenneth eyes the figure, not knowing what to make of things. He did not seem of malign intent, yet he appears to have known we were coming. It seems too much of a coincidence, otherwise; given what he knows of the Isle, the nearest city is a place of warriors, and this man appears to be a mage or druid... or maybe a monk. Kenneth recalls a seclusive sect of monks on the Isle, but remembers little of what he knows of them.

As the figure approaches, Kenneth steps forward and says, "Greetings, traveler." The group awaits a response.

The figure in brown bobs slightly as it comes to a half, then pulls back the hood of its outfit, revealing a dark-skinned balding monk.

"Welcome to Serpent Isle, strangers - though you may know these lands as the Lands of Danger and Despair, or perhaps New Sosaria." The monk waits a moment, perhaps gauging their reaction to his words.

"In high likelyhood your passage here would have remained unnoticed, save that it created a flux in the ether - and after the last etheric disturbance, our order has been meditating day and night to watch for more, lest they herald the return of the Imbalance so recently laid to rest."

"But, I am getting ahead of myself. I am Brother Karnax of Monk Isle. Who might you be?"

Destrius walks forward and bows deeply.

"Greetings. Mine name is Destrius."

The mage waits for the rest of the party to complete their introductions, and then looks back at Karnax.

"We have come here from the land of Britannia to obtain a certain artefact known as the Ring of Shal. I have heard that it was made here a very long time ago.

"I know you to be a monk of... Xenka, is it not? And a powerful one at that. Has Xenka prophecised of our arrival? I assure you we mean no harm. In fact, we are here to save our own homeland from great troubles, because the Avatar who so recently rescued this world from destruction has not returned to us."

Awaiting Karnax's response, Destrius meanwhile inspects the Lord British's regalia, seeking any flaws in the intricate magics moven into them, as well as concealing them underneath his dark red robes to avoid unneccesary attention in this foreign land.

"Sadly, I do not know the whereabouts of the Ring. I know that the Hero acquired it from Shal himself, having travelled back through the centuries via an artefact from their times. However, I do not know its current whereabouts. You might consider asking his companions, who are at our abbey on Monk Isle." Karnax then intones a complex ritual spell, and the group finds itself teleported to Monk Isle, in front of a large cathedral.

At Karnax's approach, two novice monks draw open the massive wooden doors, and Karnax leads the group inside.

As the group enters the cathedral, they look around, taking in the sights. The cathedral is impressive in its plainness - making up in size anything it might have lost in the lack of ornamentation. A figure in black robes streaked in silver steps from behind a pillar and slowly approaches the group.

At this point, Karnax turns, with a slight smile on his face, saying, "And here is another who came to us recently, though under . . differing circumstances"

The figure pulls back the hood of its robes, revealing the somewhat haggard, but otherwise healthy, face of Helgraf, sans hair and with a single silver stripe that runs down his face like some sort of division point.

Kenneth steps forward. "Helgraf? Is that you? How did you survive? And how did you get here, for that matter?"

"I was wondering who was mucking around when I felt the ether here bobble." the mysterious mage replies, avoiding the paladin's questions. "Glad to see the Shadowlords haven't managed to penetrate to this reality yet. Their works have echoed in the dimensions most parallel to our beloved Britannia - I'd feared they had managed to breach this reality as well."

Myrmidon says, "Heh. Not yet, fortunately. Too much void distance, I'd think.The ether distruption was. as near as Destrius can tell, from dimensionally shifting Lord British's regalia."

Helgraf continues, "You seek the Ring of Shal. When first I heard the Codex's words, I thought they might refer to Rabindranth's Dream Crystal - but I hear that object lies beyond us at this time. One other point. Two of us could wear the Ring now." Helgraf inclines his head toward Destrius, "himself, or, should desperate need strike, I. I mention it merely because such a mission as ours may result in certain . . attrition . . before its completion."

Kenneth responds, "Although I know little of the Dream Crystal, I was fairly certain it wasn't that. All the way back in Skara Brae, Destrius mentioned that the Ring of Haeth had a companion Ring. Although I knew little of the Ring of Shal at the time, the words of the Codex had me fairly certain we'd need the companion Ring."

"Please," concludes Helgraf, "No questions as to how or why I came here. There will be time for such later. Suffice to say there is something I need to retrieve from here myself before I can return to Britannia with you."

"Well, glad to have you back, Helgraf." Kenneth turns to Karnax and asks, "By the way, you mentioned the Companions are here. Can we see them?"

Karnax nods and leads them to the back of the Abbey. In the refectory, they find Shamino, Iolo, and Gwenno sitting at the table, eating a meal. When the group enters, the Companions look up to greet them.

Kenneth bows and says, "Hello, Companions of the Avatar. We seek an artefact the Avatar picked up, known as the Ring of Shal, to deal with the reemergence of the Shadowlords. In return, we can bring you back with us to Britannia, if you so desire."

"Well met, travellers ! What a surprise to meet our landsmen in this distant world! But pray tell.what matters brings you hence?" Shamino is the first to recover from the initial shock, and rises to greet the party.

After mutual intoductions and greetings, the party and the Companions sit around the table. The Companions tell of the events that had occured on Serpent Isle, and Kenneth relates the return of the Shadowlords to them.

"A strange tale, indeed. I would almost have not believed it, save for these indisputable tokens of your honesty." Shamino gestures to the table, where the regalia of Lord British, and the sword Caliburn lie.

"Truly it is a dark time for Britannia, if the Shadowlords have returned.Would that we were back home to defend against them!" Gwenno says.

Iolo shakes his head. "I fear you may not find a way to return if you came through the Serpent Pillars. We have been stranded here for weeks, and have had no luck finding another way home."

Dracos intervenes. "I can get us back, as long as you are willing to go to Stonegate first, because that is the easiest way for me to return us to Britannia. I could take us elsewhere, but I do not trust my re-entry to Britannia to be easy..."

Shrugging, Iolo continues. "Anyway, how can we aid you?"

"We are seeking the Ring of Shal, which the Codex revealed will be needed in the struggle against the Shadowlords." Destrius replies.

"The Ring of Shal? You mean the magical ring we came across in the Fiend's Domain during the quest for the Silver Seed? I seem to recall ..." Shamino glances across at Iolo.

Nodding his head, the old bard replies. "Aye, the Avatar wore it during our final battle on Sunset Isle. The ring was an artefact of great power, allowing spells to be cast without the need of reagents. The Avatar was spirited away by unknown forces at the end of our journey." He sighs. "It's anyone's guess where the Ring is now ..."

"But if the Ring is lost ..." Gwenno, who has been listening intently to Kenneth's account.

"Then Britannia is doomed ..."

For a few long moments, everyone is at a loss for words.Then, a hesitant voice breaks the silence.

"No. There is another way, though it is fraught with much peril ..."

The owner of the voice is Concussed. He is staring intently at the floor, with a very disconcerted look on his face.

"I agree with Concussed. It is possible, but it will need careful work and planning, and much sacrifice, because it is quite possible many of us will die attempting this. It is quite simple, really. I will take us back in time to this 'Fiend's Domain', to a period before the Avatar took the ring. Then, once we have used it, we will need to return it to its rightful place. The problem is how to make sure the timelines stay the same, because not even my powers are that strong. But I can take us back."

Shamino stands and walks over to the tattooed mage.

"How can this mage, never before heard of by us, do these fantastical things?"

"I am a Shadowlord." The Companions of the Avatar reach for their weapons, and Shamino fixes an accusing gaze upon Kenneth. Dracos waves one hand, and the companions fall to the ground, their weapons scattered on the floor. "Do not attack me." Dracos' eyes are glowing fierce blue.

"It only makes the battle within me worse. I am more than a Shadowlord; I am still Britannian, and I spent several days within the ether itself. It has made me incredibly strong, probably the strongest mage to have ever walked Sosarian soil, although I think it is temporary."

Shamino sits up. "This is disturbing news. I had no idea you had an enemy within your ranks. Despite his cunning words, I do no longer believe you all to be on the side of our leige, Lord British. You will get no help from us." The companions stand. "We will find our own way home, and pray that the thing in your midst is dead, because should we ever met it again, we shall strive to kill it."

"Very well," Dracos says. "I need know only one thing more." An arc of blue light streaks from the mage's eyes, and brushes over the companions. "Ah, so that is where we must go. Fare thee well. Oh, and Shamino, I do hope that old bolt wound is playing up again..."

As Dracos momentarily loses control of the Shadowlord in him, Concussed jerks back, as if he has been hit by an invisible force. Recovering, he shakes his head, gesturing to his concerned companions that he is okay and places his right hand over his chest. Closing his eyes, he begins the words of a runic chant of binding ... before he can complete it however, his eyes snap open and stare, unfocussed, into the distance.

Unnoticed, the tiny red jewel set in his amulet, and covered by his hand, pulses violently for a few moments.

Kenneth sighs heavily. "Dracos, you should really have told them the facts of your condition in a better manner." Turning back to Shamino, he explains, "We found one of the Shards at Nicodemus's hut, planted there by a Shadowlord. Nic has since recovered from the influence of the Shadowlord, and Dracos has decided to contain the Shard using his own body. I have twice thus far cast a spell to stave off the shadow influence within him, and will likely have to again if it strengthens again.

As for our intent, I have sworn on the Sword of Justice to Lord British himself of what we intend to do. If the Shadowlord within Dracos, Nosfentor, we believe, overcomes Dracos's will completely, the rest of us will deal with the threat accordingly." That last was directed both at the companions and Dracos himself.

"The Shadowlord's will has nearly done won out, but my spells and Dracos's sheer willpower have managed to supress it thus far."

Suddeny, Concussed speaks, as in a trance. "Ring.... entered Void with Avatar... powerful disruption.... many of his possessions were scattered.... the Void... other worlds..... the Ring has fallen to.... it is in the Void, in an area I've not seen before.... strange landscapes.... stranger creatures..... I think... I think I can.. almost...."

Suddenly, wisps of ether spread from Concussed to form a moongate. Yet the moongate is strangely varicolored, shifting through the spectrum. Suddenly, Concussed manages to stabilize it. It is a blue moongate, but subtly different from a normal blue moongate.

"That," Concussed says once he regains his strength, "should lead us to the part of the Void where we will find the Ring."

Kenneth turns back to the Companions once again, and says, "Well, if you're coming, now's the time." and jumps through. The others follow saving only Helgraf, and after exchanging cautious glances, the Companions follow, as well.

Helgraf steps forward and places a hand on Iolo's shoulder, holding him back a moment.

He hands him a crossbow bolt with a single rune carved into the shaft.

"Trust your judgement. When the time comes, fire this bolt at the evil one. I will hold the gate open as long as I can, go now."

Iolo quietly places the bolt in his boltcase, and with a slight nod of thanks, steps through the portal.

Helgraf takes out some silver tokens, and quietly begins investing them with magick spells.

The group finds itself on a uneven plain of a strange blue material, surrounded by the Void on all sides. They see a few creatures, mostly colored in blue to match the area. *Truly a strange place, only possible in the Void,* Kenneth muses, as he surveys the eerie surroundings.

The blue gate dissipates, as the last of the Companions pass through, flying apart as beams of multicolored light. "I have a bad feeling about this ..." , Iolo mutters to himself.

<< Back in Britannia >>

Luckily St. George's Dragon's acute awareness of magic (and a sneaked peak at the map Lord British showed the party) allow him to trace the movements of the party. Sensing it best to remain in human form, he hires a skiff and heads for the Serpent Spires. As he approaches the headwaters of the river the river, the water becomes rough and choppy, finally he sights the spires sticking out above the landscape. Something is wrong strange wisps of energy and lightning crackle between them, suddenly a violent wind picks up. SG'sD holds hard to the rudder trying to keep the skiff on course.

Miraculously he manages to hold on until the wind dies down and is now approaching the spires. As he passes through the spires a strange feeling of disorentation overcomes him and he is plunged into blackness....

Saint George's Dragon regains conciousness, water lapping against him. He stares up to see a dark skinned balding monk standing above him.

"Hello, stranger I had feared you were lost to us, I am Brother Karnax of Monk Isle. Perhaps, you arrived with the other travelers?"

"Uhh, hello, Brother, I am Saint George's Dragon-it's a long story. Would these travelers have included a Paladin named Kenneth, and a mage named Destrius. Yes, I believe that is them, could you take me to them?"

 << In the Void >>

As the gate closes and Iolo steps into the strange blue land, Destrius looks about, feeling the surroundings with his magics, trying to comprehend what they were in.

"Interesting indeed. I had wanted to visit the Void for quite some time, but never did bother to work its locations.

Kenneth comments, "I've been to a few Britannia-local Void locations. Shrineof Spirituality, for one. But this.... I'm not sure what this is local to, if anything."

"The reality we are in right now is quite strange, but similar to something I had encountered in another world some ages back," Destrius continues. "It is something like a crossroad of dimensions, being made up of so many realities that it emanates great power, but still manages to exist as nothing at all.

"Concussed is right. The Ring of Shal is somewhere here. I can feel its presence very strongly in this world of absence. But there seem to be other things as well, forces that are not tho-"

Destrius ends in mid-sentence and grabs his staff, pointing at something in the distance. The group looks towards the direction, and see something out of place in this section of the Void. It is black.

<< Meanwhile back at the Abbey... >>

"Hmm, I am afraid they have left, they were speaking with some others who had arrived from a distanct land." The monk explains as he shows SG'sD to the quite refrectory.

Helgraf turns to them and says "They have gone to seek the Ring of Shal in the void, I have no doubt they will return soon."

"Hmm, the Ring of Shal, I seem to recall that Shal was a local spell caster perhaps their are something in this abbey that might give us a some new information about it, I might as well have a look around rather than twiddling my thumbs. I assume this abbey has a library?"

<< The Blue Void >>

Kenneth blinks at the patch of blackness, and notes something odd. "I don't feel any ether coming from it -- it is, put bluntly, devoid of Void. The Ethereal Void itself is suffused with ether throughout its entire volume. Whatever this is, it is very anomalous. What's more, whatever is within it could be anything. It could simply be an empty vacuum, or have something within it, likely whatever is causing it. Dest, is the Ring in there? Can you tell?"

As Destrius formulates his answer, Kenneth ponders the possibilities which could have caused this. The Ring's nature itself? The Stranger, anticipating them? (If so, why not take the Ring outright?) Or maybe something else... something from the Void, perhaps, inadvertently hindering the quest?

"I do not think so," replies the Mad Mage. Your analysis is correct, but if a ring with power similar to the Ring of Shal was within, the ethereal resonance would cancel out any stable constructs that cause the empty effect."

Kenneth palms the hilt of Caliburn, ready to face any threat.

Murmuring a small spell of protection over the party, Destrius focusses all of his attention on whatever it is that is approaching.

Dracos closes his eyes. "I don't think we're in danger. I think whatever is approaching is merely curious as to what we are doing here. Remember, we are in an area that isn't part of our real space." Dracos waves one hand, and his body becomes a wraith-like blue shape. "I am going to investigate." His form races ahead towards the dark shape.

Kenneth starts to say, "I'm not sure that's safe..." But is cut off by the quickly returnung Dracos.

The group waits a few moments, before the tattooed mage reappears beside them.

"Actually, I think we should worry. I think we should worry a lot. It isn't an being we're about to meet, it's an energy form, and it's never met corporeal matter before. It's only curious, but it's curiousity could kill us. I recommend we run, but not in the directions we're allowed to." Dracos closes his eyes. "This void can be reconfigured by thought alone, if you want it to be." The mage slowly turns ninety degrees. "Come on, try it. Turn the plane, and then run like crazy."

Kenneth, having been in the Void before, thinks to himself *run, nothing,* and psychokinetically rotates into the same plane as the others and moving forward at a rather brisk clip for someone not moving a muscle.

"Concussed, Destrius, can you locate the Ring better?" he asks. They nod, and concentrate on the Ring's etheric radiations.

Concussed calls out, "This way," and turns in the direction of the Ring. The others follow suit, running or 'floating' behind him. He adds, "Can't tell how far yet, but it's in this direction."

The group makes good progress, and the energy entity soon loses interest, leaving them with the more corporeal creatures in this area of the Void. *Well, most of them are,* Kenneth thinks as they pass by a Wisp.

Soon, everyone, not just the two concentrating on it, feel the emanations from the Ring. Being in the Void makes etheric waves mentally tangible when in proximity, so the group knew it was closing in on the Ring.

They soon arrive at the right location, and see the Ring, held in a luminescent blue globe attached by wisps of energy to a Wisp. Suddenly, its mentally projected voice resonates in the minds of the group.

"Xorinia recognizes the entities 'Destrius' of 'Tideron', 'Lumina' and 'Dracos' of 'Britannia', and 'Nosfentor' the 'Shadowlord'. Xorinia greets the remaining entities as well, and enquires as to 'your' 'need'."

Kenneth says to the Wisp, "I think you know what we need. That Ring is the counterpart to the Ring our adversary wears, and we require it to combat him."

Predictably, the Wisp responds, "The 'Ring of Xiesh' is a very potent artefact. The Undrian Council can learn much from its examination. 'We' cannot give the 'Ring' to 'you'."

Destrius calls, "But you would sell it for enough information, correct? Name your price." He only hoped that it would not be too high.

His fears were unfounded, more or less. "'We' shall 'loan' 'you' the 'Ring of Xiesh' on the provision that 'you' return 'it' along with the 'Ring of Haeth'. 'We' will come to 'collect' upon the completion of 'your' 'mission'."

"A heavy price, indeed," answers Destrius, "but I do suppose we have little choice. I agree to your terms." He sighs at the loss of such incredible artefacts.

The blue energy globe dissipates, leaving the Ring hovering in place, due to the lack of gravity in the Void when there are no structures about.

Destrius takes the Ring and slips it on one finger. He then signals that it is time to go, by creating a portal. "Due to the etheric interference in Britannia, I cannot pick an exact target location, but we should end up near the moongate circle east of Britain. He then motions for the group to enter, which they do, himself last.

The group reappears in the middle of a farmer's field. To the east, they make out the circle of stones which marks the location of the moonstone.

They step outside the farm, and then Kenneth says, "I believe we should open a gate to let Helgraf come through. He likely has finished his business on the Isle by now." Kenneth goes to the stone circle, and then calls to Destrius. "I'll need some help with this. It's a rather nonstandard spell, and I haven't committed it to a runestone. Do you think you can cast a spell that will keep the interference at bay for a short time?"

Destrius nods, and says, "Only a short time, with the amount of interference. I can't guarantee how long, but even five minutes would be really optimistic." He then makes the necessary casting, calling on the power of one of his Protection runes so that his casting doesn't get affected, and altering the protection to the ether.

Kenneth then proceeds to cast a rather unusual Gating spell, using the moonstone in the stone circle as a focus. "In vas rel-por... sek-de-ter-mur... ter-reg de jux esh an-sper.... zen nom-de Helgraf." A blue moongate rises from the circle of stones, and is held there by the spell.

<< Monk Isle, the Abbey Library >>

Saint George's Dragon pours over ancient Ophidian texts, with the help of the Lens of Translation. Suddenly, he raises a hand in the air.

"Ah, ha. An envelope addressed to Shal with some calculations written on the back... hmmm, the ring of Shal has an etheric wavelength exactly half that of the ring of Haeth. Of course, it would explain why no one has ever been known to use both rings at once, any attempt to cast a spell using both, would result in destructive interference, no net affect would appear. I had better make a note of this."

He returns to his studies, picking up another book, entitled "Lord of the Rings".

On the Serpent Isle, a blue moongate rises inside the Abbey on Monk Isle, mere feet from Helgraf. Saint George's Dragon hears the humming of the gate, and comes out of the library to see it.

Helgraf gestures to the Moongate. "Take it, St. George's. I cannot predict how long it will remain open, and my business will require me to do one more thing here before I may go. I would ask you to accompany me, but the nature of my task precludes company. I will need you to tell them on the other side that I will not be coming through."

St. George's Dragon weighs the matter carefully, not thrilled with the matter, then quietly steps through the portal.

<< Farmer's field west of the circle of stones >>

St. George's Dragon emerges through the portal. Destrius, Lumina and Dracos wait a few moments for Helgraf to step though.

"Helgraf sent a message with me - he will not be joining usdirectly - apparently his business is not yet concluded in those lands - and he advises you close the gate before it attracts any unwelcome attention."

Destrius nods.

"Helgraf is a strange one indeed, but very shrewd of mind. What he is conducting will help us greatly, if my predictions say sooth.

Saint Geoerge's Dragon adds "Well, I am afraid that my research did not turn up much about the Ring of Shal, but I assume you have procured it. So, what did I miss?"

Destrius gives a quick recap.

SG's D reflects for a moment "Hmm, I am not sure it is wise to give the Wisps to such powerful artefacts given their mercenary behaviour, yet we did agree and it would certainly not be honourable or wise to go back on the agreement, but perhaps we can insure before we 'return' them that they can not be misused."

Kenneth says to St. George's, "I'm not sure how we can do that, though. And besides, the Wisps are already extremely powerful. And they can't actually wear the Rings, can they?" Kenneth chuckles, then continues. "We really have to simply give them to the Wisps, as the Wisps are very magically powerful. The Ring of Haeth might not do much to help us, even."

"But now," continues Destrius, "We have a most important task to carry out. Although we have gathered all the items we were looking for, we still need to seek out a person to finalise this."

Destrius pauses, and slowly removes all of the artefacts he is wearing. He places them into a small bag, and keeps it within the folds of his robe. Then, he turns his attention to Dracos.

"Shadowlord. You are the most powerful mage amongst us that wields Britannian magic. A form of it, at least. Rightfully, you should be using the items to fight the Stranger. However, the darkness in your heart threatens the life of Dracos should you hold these items of power. So, we require another mage.

"I understand, Destrius. Worry not, I need only one more thing, and I shall be free of this curse." The tattooed mage laughs, and Destrius is acutely aware that the mage did not mention what he would be free of: the Shadowlord, or the human soul that resided within.

The fact is not lost on the others. Kenneth begins to ponder if they should simply recontain the Shadowlords now. In any event, it would indeed be best to get them before facing the Stranger, but it should probably wait until everything else is resolved first.

Destrius contines, "Kenneth has appointed me as that mage, but unfortunately due to the workings of magic, only one who uses the magic that these items were forged with can be of any use.

"There is one in this world who possess a great capacity for magic, magic far stronger than those the other mages such as Penumbra or Nystul use. But Britannian nonetheless. However, this magic does not exist within him yet, and cannot stay there for long. But long enough to save the world. He is the one we must seek, and impart the power.

At this SG'sD pipes up "Do, we have to imparting people with bizarre mystical powers just to use them to save the world never struck me as particularly mean, besides it has been done to death."

Destrius gives SG'sD a look that a Gazer would envy.

The Dragon swallows, and whispers "Nevermind."

Destrius continues, ignoring the interuption.

"He was part of our group, but was knocked unconscious during the battle with the gargoyles. We left him stranded on Skara Brae, and I know not where he is now. All I know is his name."

Destrius looks at the group and nods slowly.

"Yes. Seoman."

"So shall, we gate to Skara Brae or take a more scenic route?" asks St George's Dragon.

"I can locate this creature for you, but I cannot go with you." says the entity that had been Dracos. "I have a task elsewhere, and it's completion is needed for my continued existence. One of my 'brother', and I say it very loosely, Shadowlords, is causing trouble in Moonglow. He threatens my home, and but doing that, he hopes that Nosfentor will break free of my restraints."

The tattooed mage closes his eyes, and his body once again turns ethereal blue. "I am opening a moongate to Seoman's location. You'd best hurry. I sense something is close to inuring him." Nearby a blue portal begins to form. "I should also mention this: Helgraf seeks to kill me. I can see fear, and his fear is strong. My presence scares him greatly. But the death he has in mind would only make Nosfentor stronger, and destroy Dracos. So should you come across us, and we are fighting, be aware that I am fighting for survival." The moongate takes fill form.

"Go, now."

Kenneth remarks to St. George's Dragon,. "Guess that answers your question. And a piece of advice: it would be a good idea to remain in human form for the time being. It really helps to go incognito when the Shadowlords and the Stranger are hunting us." With that, he leads the way into the gate.

Upon arriving in Skara Brae, the group sees a band of mercenaries emerging from a boat. They have a very intense look of hatred in their eyes, giving the group a fair idea of who sent them. Upon seeing the group, they hesitate, not expecting additional opponents, but their compulsion quickly asserts itself and they charge forward.

Kenneth casts an Energy Mist into their midst, but is once again wracked by the oddity in the ether. The spell issues forth, and then begins to act strange. Very strange. It extends into a large thin mass, fading to a silvery color, and it hollows out in the middle, becoming somewhat toroidal in shape. Suddenly, all magic in the area is deadened, regardless of origin.

Kenneth draws Caliburn from its sheath, but soon finds that he cannot use it agains the mercenaries, as they are not innately unjust, but compelled. However, his blade does cleave that compulsion from them. Unfortunately, the shadowlord had designed the compulsion well, for upon ending contact with the sword, the haze of Hatred falls over them once again. Kenneth sighs heavily, and sheathes Caliburn to draw his usual two-handed broadsword from his back. He then joins the others, who are already fully engaged in combat. In relatively short order, the mercenaries are hewn down.

But before the group can rest, something else rises up from the ship the mercenaries came from. Things were not going to be easy here.

<< Serpent Isle, Monk Isle >>

Once St. George's Dragon steps through the Moongate, Helgraf steps through the gateway into the Ethereal Void, and closes the gate to Monk Isle behind him. He walks along the blue landscape, until he comes across the Companions, apparently left behind when the rest of the group began shifting the matter of the Void to locate the Ring. Quietly he approaches Iolo.

"I thought I had given you that bolt to strike down the Shadowlord before he could escape."

Iolo replies, "Your instructions were not very clear, stranger. However, as you are still here, and the others have left us, I feel perhaps you can be trusted."

Helgraf nods his head slightly before replying, "In this place you are closer to your beloved Britannia than you have been in some time - I will see you safely returned, but I need to locate a few other objects while I am here."

Shamino, still wary and somewhat suspicious, asks, "What objects?'

"The Shade Blade, primarily, though any of the Avatar's other equipment gained during his quest to restore the Silver Seed would also be of use. I need to bargain with the Wisps, but that can be done quickly."

Shamino's eyes narrow slightly at the mention of the Shade Blade, "I like that weapon not at all, e'en though the Avatar didst wield it - for what purpose could you wish it?"

Helgraf replies, "The Shade Blade, being made of a blackrock alloy, is immune to all magic save that specifically designed to affect blackrock - and even some of those are thwarted, as proven by the failure of Rudyom's Wand to affect it during the Affair of the Black Gate. Against those whom we fight to restore Britannia, it would prove a most pussiant choice of arms."

Although he does not actually smile, Shamino seems satisfied by Helgraf's answer.

The group of them head deeper into the Blue Realm, carefully skirting the nothing / thing which wanders its plane, until they find the section where the Wisps have congregated.

"Xorinia recognizes the entities Shamino Du Salle, Iolo Fitzowen and Gwenno of 'Britannia'. The fourth in black robes is unknown to us."

Helgraf withdraws a scroll from his robes, and presents it. "My name is immaterial. I bring information for trade."

"Xorinia expresses interest - what is the nature of this information"

"It is a firsthand transcription of a passage of the Codex of Infinite Wisdom."

"Xorinia will accept this information. What can Xorinia offer in return?"

"I wish to know the precise location of the artefact known as the Shade Blade."

"Xorinia finds the trade acceptable," it says and a blue glow engulfs the scroll, consuming it. "The Shade Blade was taken into the heart of the realm. It lies in the Shrine humans call Spirituality. But it lies not unguarded..."

Helgraf removes a book, extending it, "This is Xenon's "Treatise on Blood Sorcery".

The Wisp dims for a moment, then glows brightly. "Xorinia finds the offering acceptable."

"The Shade Blade is guarded by the Destroyer Palos - and if Palos is destroyed, it will set off a time trap, freezing the slayer for many "years" of "Britannian" time. Xorinia thanks you and looks forward to exchanging information with you once more" The Wisp slowly bobs away.

Helgraf smiles even as Gwenno begins to speak, "How can we retrieve the Blade if we cannot slay the daemon without setting off the trap?"

Helgraf turns slightly, "The answer is contained within the question. The Shade Blade has the capability to trap souls. We use the Blade to worst the Destroyer, trapping its soul in the Blade. As it was never destroyed, the trap will not be set off."

Quietly, the group sets off to find a way to the Shrine of Spirituality...

<< In Skara Brae >>

The shadows seem to darken as a massive grey and red figure rises on dark wings from the ship. Several smaller foes, green in hue, follow the Destroyer towards the land bound party.

Upon the deck from which they had come a twisted portal glowed, the blue radiance of a moongate overwhelmed by a sickly green nimbus. Further daemons issue forth, summoned by a black figure remaining upon the deck, directing the assault of his minions.

The daemons fall upon the party, their natural attacks unhampered by the negation of magic caused by the strange creature from the Void.Sir Kenneth changes weapons, striking the foes once more with Caliburn, and St George's Dragon too smites the foes with his axe. Concussed fires upon the airborne attackers with his bow, his accurate shots forcing them to land and close with the party to avoid his arrows.

The portal aboard the ship suddenly ripples and shuts, cutting off the influx of monsters, as the twisted ether finally takes its toll on the magics of the Shadowlord offshore. In fury, the Hateful figure raises it's arms to the sky, then points at the corpses of the mercenaries.

Lightning strikes down from the sky, some bolts striking a few of the bodies, those farthest from the silver torus. Balls of fire consume them, then expand, boiling furiously away, revealing twisted bony shapes far more massive than the original corpses - skeletal dragons.

By far the majority of the bolts strike into the Void creature, vanishing into nothingness. The entity responds immediately, moving towards the ship, almost faster than the eye can follow. As it moves, the area within the torus is swept clean, as if whatever was on the ground simply never was. Within it's path, and unable to react in time, Paulon and the Despoiler facing him are swept away, gone as the entity passes over where they stood.

The torus floats over the water, absorbing several bolts of blackness conjured by the Shadowlord. The entity of Hatred vanishes, unwilling to face such an unknown, and the ship and all aboard it are also absorbed, leaving a brightly glowing silver ring hovering in the air above where the vessel had been anchored.

With the entity away from the immediate area, Destrius is able to make judicious use of magic to assist the warriors in destroying their daemonic opponents.

Kenneth blinks several times, then says, "What happened? The Void creature just.... absorbed them? And wasn't that Hatred? I thought Dracos said one of the other Shadowlords was in Moonglow.... unless Falsehood has recovered. This does not bode well..."

Myrmidon speaks up. "That reminds me. Shouldn't we get to reimprisoning the Shadowlords now?"

Destrius answers, "Not yet. Hatred is out of our reach. Until wer can trap all three, we must wait. Otherwise, the Stranger will free the others. But we must trap them before we can finish him, else we would confront all four at Stonegate itself. If we can trap the Shadowlords, we can then face the Stranger alone, and he will be too occupied with us to free them. The question becomes, what are we to do between now and then?

"I believe," he continues, "that we should try to tap the latent powers in this bard at the moment. Stay toigether, as I am about to cast a teleportation back to Nicodemus's hut. Besides, now that he is feeling better, we should consult him on a few things. Like how to face the ether being, or where to find the remaining shards."

Destrius intones the spell, and the party finds itself back at Nicodemus's Hut, nearly repaired from the earlier conflict. Nicodemus greets Destrius and the group at the door, and they begin discussions on the Shards, the ether being, and Seoman.

<< A Domain Unknown >>

Within a realm of glowing silver, Paulon awakens. There is no gravity, or point of reference, even his own body seems to be gone. Nearby there is an impression of fire and fury, and a little farther away a focused node of Hatred, lacking in anything but that pulsing aura of darkness. But by far the greatest impression, coming from all around, is of cold, and hunger, as if the very medium in which Paulon resides is slowly freezing and starving.

<< Ethereal Void - Near the Shrine >>

Helgraf and the Companions have at last forged a way to the Shrine of Spirtuality and managed to climb nearly to its apex, when a series of magical bolts emerges seemingly from nowhere and fires out in random directions. A few imps, floating in this ether, are struck by the stray magics, turn black and die almost instantly. One bolt shrieks straight toward the Shrine, but shatters mere inches from it, broken by some invisible shield about it.

Unfortunately, this draws the attentions of Palos, the Shrine's (and more importantly, the Shade Blade's) guardian. A furious battle begins, the Companions and Helgraf trying their best to *not* kill the Destroyer and yet avoid being killed themselves or knocked from the path to the Shrine.

Finally, Shamino manages to draw the creature out with a well placed irritating arrow to the nether regions. As the creature lumbers forward, Helgraf darts past, taking a claw to the ribs as punishment, and grabs the Shade Blade. Mumbling prayers to whatever powers might be listening, he drives the blade through the spine of the Destroyer.

A eruption of darkness.

A howl that rattles the bones and seems to go on forever, then slowly starts to diminish in volume.

The Shade Blade begins to thrum. Black flames rim its edges.

Iolo regards the Blade nervously. "It has never done that before, stranger."

Helgraf nods to indicate he heard Iolo, but seems caught up in some sort of mental struggle. After several long minutes, his face drenched in sweat, there is a sound like the tolling of a single bell, and whatever was causing the contention seems to snap, because Helgraf's entire frame seems to suddenly relax and sag, nearly causing him to drop the Blade.

Shamino inquires, a concerned expression on his face, "Are thee a'right, stranger?"

Helgraf nods wearily. "The soul in the blade . . was not easily brought into submission. I will need to discharge it eventually."

Gwenno speaks up hesitantly, "Wouldst that naught set off the time trap the Wisps warned us of?"

Helgraf nods, replying, "Aye, but I intend to be long gone from the Void by then - an' you with me if ye would return to Britannia once more. I need to marshall my strength. If you three could form a circle about the shrine pedestal, I will instruct you on how to open the gate which will return us all to Britannia.

A short time (and much mental and physical effort) later, a blue moongate, containing small white stars opens within the vicinity of the Shrine. Helgraf directs the Companions through, then follows himself, Shade Blade held in hand.

<< Britannia - near Minoc >>

A blue moongate, rippling with small explosions of white light, opens in the circle of stones, and from it emerge Iolo, Gwenno, Shamino and ... finally, Helgraf. Helgraf touches the portal with the tip of the Shade Blade and it collapses in on itself.

Helgraf turns to the companions, and speaks, "Welcome back to Britannia Companions. Find yourselves safe places to weather the storm. The Shadowlords will no doubt seek ye out if they find you have returned." He then removes three small silver amulets and hands one to each of them. "These amulets should help you avoid the notice of the Shadowlords if you practice no magic and do not seek them out. Now I must find my compatriots so we can continue the quest."

The splitting of the group is quiet. Farewells are exchanged, then the three head off together into the wilderness south of Minoc.

Once they are a significant distance away, Helgraf traces a doorway in the air, and releases the energy of the Moongate stolen earlier, stepping through, and emerging in the circle of stones near Yew.

The moongate shatters behind him, the energy stolen to power it exhausted by his use of it. Quietly, he makes his way to Nicodemus' hut, knowing the group will need return to it at some point, if they have not already done so.

<< Meanwhile, in the village of Moonglow >>

The tired form of Dracos, tattooed mage and seer, appears on the outskirts of Moonglow. His body is wracked by frequent pains, and the mental anguish he is suffering has grown worse. Soon, though, the pain should get better, but the sacrifice for such a fate shall be great.

It takes some minutes before Dracos can stand steadily, and so he leans against a tree, making sure that what he is about to do is right and proper. The voice in his head, the voice of Cowardice, urges him not to take this course, but this only strengthens Dracos' resolve. He stands straight, and then says:

"Faulinei, come to me."

The Shadowlord of Falsehood appears before Dracos.

"Astaroth, come to me," Dracos says.

The Shadowlord of Hatred appears before Dracos.

Dracos closes his eyes, and tries to block out the feelings these entities are emanating.

"You understand what I am?" Dracos asks when he opens his eyes.

The Shadowlords nod.

"You understand that if you want to truly prove your purpose, to truly prove that you do not seek wholesale destruction, simply the polarity that makes good and evil meaningful, that you will have to do as I ask."

They once again nod.

"Good." Dracos opens his arms wide, and hums. Before him appear two shards, which float gently on the cool breeze. "Now we must reconvene at the appointed place." Dracos' body turns ethereal blue, and like Astaroth and Faulinei, he fades away.

<< In Skara Brae >>

#The cold presses in. Where once a warm flow of energies sustained life, now a paltry few waves of energy flow past, too limited for sustenance.#

#The cold solid matter has too little life for long term sustenance, and the viable energy sparks that gave temporary relief are gone.#

#Nearby a node of energy glows. It is strange, akin to the warmth of life, but not the same. It is enveloped, but a strange thought from within stops it being absorbed. "Danger!"#

#The thought continues. "Node energy-linked to other nodes. Flow interruption consequences unpredictable."#

Further nagging thoughts come from that same source within, and from another, but the need for sustenance absorbs the entity's whole attention.

#Concentration on the information. Examination of the node and linkages. Network exists - eight nodes, energy flow strongest from seven nodes to one final point, but flow is clear between all.#

#Extension of sensory fragment through linkage web. Sources of life located proximate to two alternate nodes. Transit via web occurs.#

<< The Shrine of Mondain >>

The Shadowlords reappear before the Gargoyle's statue of the Wizard Mondain. Dracos waves an arm, and the shards cluster before the stone figure.

"We are here," Dracos says.

"Yes." The voice is old, and its sounds tired. "What do you wish?"

"Mondain, we seek to redress the old wounds. We seek to prove purpose. We seek to stop the tyranny of power that the Stranger has." Dracos looks up into the statue's eyes. "Will you help?"

"Are you willing to give me your all?" Mondain asks.


"So be it." The two floating shards fuse together, and with a tearing sound, the third shard, lodged within Dracos' body, rips out of his torso and joins the half completed gem. As the crystalline structure melds, Dracos' body falls to the ground, the chest shuddering. The Gem of Immortality hovers above the dying mage, and strikes it with magical power. As it does so, the statue of Mondain blurs, and a ghostly figure steps out from the stone, and enters Dracos' body. The shuddering breathing calms, and the Shadowlords cease to be.

It is several hours before the man lying before the statue of Mondain wakes. He stands, and looks at the statue carefully.

"If that is meant to be me, I have no idea where they got the idea from. It doesn't look anything like me." The man no longer looks like Dracos. He is older, much older, and his thin white beard makes his face look angular and almost unnatural. The man picks up the Gem of Immortality at his feet. "Now I must seek out Destrius and the others. I hope they will give me time to explain myself, before seeking to attack me. If not for my sake, for the sake of the mage whose life I am temporally living, this Dracos." Mondain looks at his new body. "I can only hope that the Avatar has told people of his talks with me within the Shrine. Otherwise, why would they believe anything I shall need to tell them?"

<< Nicodemus' Hut, Yew >>

Nicodemus welcomes the group back, apologizing for his prior actions while under Cowardice's influence. Destrius explains the current problems to the mage, who takes a moment to mull them over.

"This ether creature you speak of is very odd in nature; neither magic nor physical attack are likely to affect it. You need some sort of artefact, as they possess magics greater than the norm. But not any artefact. I will have to think more on this. And on a way to use such an artefact against the creature.

"As for thine other problems, I can be of more aid. During my time under the Shadowlord's power, I learned the locations of the other Shards. They may hyave been moved since, to keep my knowledge from aiding you, but I see no harm in trying. Falsehood's Shard was kept in Moonglow, close to the Lycaeum itself. Odd that it was kept close to its place of imprisonment, but maybe that was the point. As for Hatred, that Shard was taken to Vesper, possibly because that was where Sin'Vraal went after leaving that Shadowlord's service. Whatever the reasons, those are the locations. If they kept the Shards there."

Destrius nods, "And we know how likely that is, yes. What of Seoman. What can you tell us about awakening his magic?"

Nicodemus begins to speak, when a black-robed mage carrying a broadsword made of blackrock hurries in. "I thought I'd find you back here," Helgraf wryly says. "We have problems, and I don't know which you already know of. There's Destrius's 'Ether Creature' roaming the land; I saw it over Cove. It's wreaking more havoc on the ether now than before, and deadening magic in its proximity. Also, the Black Moon is acting odd, and starting to blink out of reality. Last, and possibly the most important, the Shadowlords are congregating. Do not ask how I can be certain. I've placed a spell on Dracos which was to react to the other Shadowlords. Ken, you'd do well to check that fancy orrery of yours about now, so we know where." Kenneth does so, while Helgraf continues. "Also, I've acquired the Shade Blade used by the Avatar, and have trapped within it a daemon called Palos. This should-" Helgraf blanches, and gasps, "Something has happened to Dracos. I can no longer feel the traces of my spell."

Kenneth grimly answers, looking up from the orrery. "Something grim indeed. The three comets were off together near no other planets, and then they suddenly shot straight to the Black Moon - colliding with it! The comets are gone, and I know not what the shattered Moon portends."

After a tense moment of silence, Kenneth stirs and asks Helgraf, "What was it about the Shade Blade, though? You were saying something before the interruption."

<< Stonegate >>

The Stranger paced the perimeter of the Vortex Room, where the Vortex Cube remained within its blackrock apparatus. "What have they done? It's bad enough those mages are trying to stop me, but now the Shadowlords themselves turn on me! What else can go wrong...."

As if on cue, a thunderstorm begins outside. Not particularly threatening, but it didn't help the Stranger's mood any.

<< Nicodemus' Hut, Yew >>

Helgraf clears his throat before proceeding. "The Shade Blade was being held in the Shrine of Spirituality - guarded by the very daemon now trapped in the blade - guarded also by a insidious time trap which would detain any who destroyed the Destroyer. However, Palos is powerful, and I must soon eject his soul from the Blade. This will kill him, but as the trap was set in the Void, it should not be able to reach us.

"Coming directly to the problems at hand : Ken, did you just say the comets

converged on the Black Moon?"

Ken nods silently.

"Smashed it, too. It is no longer large enough to register well on the orrery; the pieces are too small, astronomically speaking. Nothing bigger than Castle Britannia, certainly."

"Damnit, why couldn't Iolo have followed orders . . "

The others stare at him blankly for a moment.

"Okay - I was going to use the Shade Blade to capture one or more of the Shadowlords and contain them, but it appears that plan is out the window.

<< Britain Moongate >>

*Energy sources closer. Transit feasible.*

The ring of silver disengages from the Moongate and flashes east, towards the towne of Cove and the workshop of the Mage Rudyom.

In Nicodemus' home, Helgraf continues, "Now we have this ethereal creature roaming about, making a mess of suburban Cove. I may be able to absorb that creature into the Shade Blade, but I cannot speak for what effects this will have on the Ether.

"The Black Moon has been broken - which by conventional wisdom is impossible without specific manashaping - whatever method of magic you use. "

Kenneth interrupts Helgraf, "Not exactly. The comets of the Shadowlords would be both massive enough and contain enough etheric energy to cause such a breaking. But please, continue." He falls silent again, and Helgraf obliges.

"The coments that indicate the shadowlords have vanished, and we've lost track of Dracos. All this points to a few likely conjectures. Either A) The Stranger betrayed the shadowlords, or B) Dracos did something which caused the shadowlords to converge on him . . . and then something . . ."

Helgraf closes his eyes and falls silent for nearly an hour.

His eyes snap open in horror. "Dracos has covered his tracks well. I have gone back and watched my spell on him moment by moment. He met with the other two shadowlords - then all three of them shifted location - to the remains of the Temple of Control."

Kenneth's eyes widen as the implications set in. "That's where the psyche of Mondain was kept during the Time of the False Prophet."

Helgraf nods once as if confirming Kenneth's unspoken thought. Kenneth continues, "Mondain - who created the Gem of Immortality by turning the original gem's powers against itself. The same Gem whose shards unleashed the Shadowlords . . .

Helgraf nods again, "You see our mortal danger. Even if Mondain opposes the Stranger, we cannot be certain his goals will truly have changed - especially with the temptation of his reforged Gem of Immortality goading him on."

Destrius considers the matter. "But they would need a host." He sighs as the conclusion comes to him. "Dracos. Even now he serves as the vessel, thus making our work even more difficult, for we needs must see him alive."

Kenneth pipes up, "Perhaps, Destrius, just perhaps, Mondain's motives have changed. Perhaps Dracos's psyche yet holds at bay full domination by Mondain. Or perhaps Mondain simply wants the Stranger gone to facilitate his own plans. Too many uncertainties. But if Mondain does have control of Dracos's body, one thing is all but certain: no matter what his motives, he will likely want to stay alive. This, in and of itself, puts Dracos in danger."

Helgraf quietly steps forward into the center of the small group, and removes a pouch from his belt, tossing it to the ground, where it lands with a clink.

"The Companions have returned to Britannia. Now I needs must find them again and retrieve something I left with them. I will deal with the Ethereal entity, one way or another, then I will return here - unless you can tell me for certain where I will be able to find you.

<< Cove >>

From the west it comes, a shining silvery shape, glowing in the twilight. It slices through walls, leaving hollow gaps behind, as it continues on it's single minded journey towards the magic that will sustain it for a time. The wall of Rudyom's laboratory vanishes as the ether entity brushes against it, then passes through the now empty space.

#Life sources available. Absorbing.#

The silver light emitted by the torus becomes brighter momentarily, as the magical power of Rudyom's equipment and supplies is absorbed into the entity. The immediate need for energy satisfies, the creature pauses to examine the situation. Unnoticed, guards fire upon it with arrows, which vanish harmlessly on contact. Rudyom's spells are negated as the ether waves in the vicinity are absorbed. Finally they fall back, helpless to affect the entity in any way.

"What are you?"

#The thought again comes from that part which warned against nodal destruction. Response: memory summary - Cold hard time, energy absorbed only in infrequent bursts, narrow curved shape. Strange thought: "Magebane!" Memory continues - transport, energy surrounds, absorbed, no limit. Force acts on shape, harmony, change to match.#


#Patterns of thought unusual. Define.#

The silent watchers are startled as the toroidal shape ripples in shock.

*Responses, two:*

^Fire. Fury. Anger. Hatred.^

"Paulon. Creature of matter, not ether/magic. Absorbed by you, but retaining self awareness. Requesting restoration to prior shape."

#Nature of other thought-pattern?#

"Daemon, local classification Despoiler, inhabitant of unknown alternate continuum. Hostile. Absorbed like Paulon. Further details unknown."

#Memory of matter/energy pattern 'Paulon' located. Life insufficient to restore pattern. Request impossible.#

<< Yew, Nicodemus' Hut >>

Nicodemus calls out, "Wait! The Shade Blade, for all its powers, cannot be more unsuitable for containing the ether creature. The sword is made of Blackrock, and the effect that may have when reacting to the creature is unpredictable, but very likely will result in the annihilation of one, the other, or both, and maybe the wielder into the bargain.

"I've been thinking on this, and the form of the being itself inspired a solution. It was born as a byproduct of the creation of the Ring of Haeth affecting... something... in the Void. That, and its own ring-like shape, have me thinking we can contain it within the Ring of Xiesh, the Ring of Shal. I've taken the liberty of studying this ring, and it appears capable of holding tremendous amounts of ether. Additionally, the infusion of the ether creature into the Ring may be able to help us against the Ring of Haeth."

Destrius starts nodding, and says, "Indeed. That sounds perfect. Two problems solved at once!" To Helgraf, he says, "We will be here for awhile, in an attempt to unlock Seoman's powers. When we do, or find ourselves unable to, we will track down the ether creature and use the Ring to absorb it. And, if by chance you come across Mondain, I'd really advise against direct confrontation. Even if his motives haven't changed, he's more than a mage for any of us here. Magics were far more potent in his day, not even counting the dark arts he practiced. Even Nicky or I would be hard pressed to so much as hold even, much less defeat him alone."

As Helgraf prepares to leave, Kenneth thinks of something. He pulls out one of the two Virtue Stones he took during their last trip to the Museum. He casts "Kal Por Ylem" on the green stone, and tosses it to Helgraf.

"Just in case you need to get here quickly; we might as well make this place our base of operations," he says, darting a questioning glance at Nicodemus, who nods assent. Kenneth then pulls out the other stone, and casts Mark once more, imbuing the purple stone with the location of the Hut. "This one's for us, so WE can move fast." He drops the stone back into his beltpouch, and decides to look at a few of Nicodemus's tomes while Destrius and Nic try to awaken Seoman's latent powers.

While attempts are made to unlock Seoman's magic, Saint George's Dragon leaves for Minoc saying he will return soon.

The two mages first teach Seoman the basis of etheral magic, and then go on to some elementary cantrips. The bard catches on quite fast, and can soon cast spells like glimmer and weather.

Using even a little magic is extremely taxing for a beginner mage, however, and so Destrius calls it a day, letting Seoman get some rest.

The rest of the day passes without much ado, and the group retires to rest at dusk.









The shrill calls of Yew sparrows awaken Destrius. Immediately, he senses something wrong, and looks towards the empty spot next to Kenneth. He sighs.

"As I had feared. Our Mage has run."

The rest of the group get up quickly at this news. Destrius picks up a small note left on the table and reads it, then passing it around.

I am sorry to say this, but I'm definitely not cut out to be a mage.

Your lessons were useful, but boring to me. Don't waste your time. Seoman is a bard and a gambler. He'll not learn the ways of you wizened folk.

- Seoman



"We cannot teach magic to one who does not want to learn. It looks like I have no choice but to be the one to confront the Stranger. Nicky is still too affected by the Shadowlord incident to do the job.

"I shall need a few days to practice my Britannian magic. I have not used it all since we first started on this journey. When I am ready, we shall move on to meet the Stranger, and another being too, perhaps. And an old one at that.

"I feel a closing of matters, a meeting of curves to form a final dot in the web of time. There will be a resolution, and we must all be prepared for it. I wish us luck."

<< Meanwhile - elsewhere in Britannia >>

A small wooden house stands in the hills near Minoc. Inside, Iolo, Shamino and Gwenno are seated near a table. A small fire burns in the fireplace, and a stew cooks in a pot on a metal grille above the fire.

A quiet knock comes at the door of the hut.

Iolo picks up his crossbow, and removes a quarrel from a nearby bolt case for loading as Shamino walks over to the door. With one hand on the hilt of his sword, he throws the door open.

Standing outside, a figure in black hooded robes, leaning on a gnarled wooden halfstaff.

"I thought I told you to scatter. There is much danger in Britannia these days."

Gwenno replied, somewhat embarressed, "We found that we really work better as a team these days. We're none of us getting any younger, Stranger."

The figure nods once, acknowledging her point. "Iolo, I need that crossbow bolt I gave you back in the Void. That fool Dracos thought I was going to kill him, but the bolt was crafted to incapacitate only the part of him which was the Shadowlord - the part that flowed from the Shard - originally from the Gem of Immortality of the Dark Lord Mondain."

"If you see a silvery torus shaped object approaching, flee as fast as your feet and spells can carry you - it cannot be destroyed by conventional weapons, and spells are cancelled as they hit the magic-null it is at least partially comprised of."

As Iolo hands the hooded figure the black-shafted crossbow bolt with the runes carved into the shaft, the stranger continues, "Find as many of the Companions as you can - that includes people like Sentri, Tseramed, Toshi Captain Johne, Maxwell, Leodon and Leonna, Seggallion, and anyone else who may still be alive today. We are going to need them to help with the rebuilding - and to counter any . . . side-effects of what the Dragons are going to do to stop the Mage with the Ring of Heath."

Wrapping the bolt into a black silk cloth, he places it inside his robes, then turns for the door.

"Will you not at least stay for a meal with us, stranger," called out Iolo.

"Any other day, and I would be most pleased to, but there is much to be done, and my own timetable grows short," he replied, heading out into the night once more.

The vision in the Gem fades.

"It seems that division in the ranks of the heroes is rife. Seoman flees, Helgraf is becoming more and more dubious, and one of the adventurers has recreated Sosaria's great foe." Mondain laughs. "Nothing is what it seems. Here I am, wise due to the Gargoyles worship, and it would seem, nominally on the side of good, if anyone will believe me, and yet I, the strongest mage here, and possibly anywhere, am afraid to meet with the companions of Kenneth." Mondain pockets the Gem. "And I'm talking to myself again. If it weren't for the gravity of the situation, I would think myself plot exposition in a bard's tale."

The mage stands. He has been sitting in an etheric chamber in the heart of the ether, created by himself to contain the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom while he read and meditated. The words have not been good, and Mondain is worried that he will be a greater danger to the world than, well, the two problematic entities that threaten it. "Strangers in paradise," Mondain mutters. "Strangers in this weak paradise." He lifts his arms, and before him appears a shimmering green moongate, and beyond it, he can see figures that part of his mind recognises; Dracos' rapidly fading memory remembers these human forms. He steps forward into the light, and behind him the chamber crumbles, allowing the Codex to float amongst the stars once more.

<< The Camp of the Companions of Kenneth - Early Morning >>

Saint George's Dragon has returned from his trip late the previous night, carrying a new pouch.

It is Destrius who notices the green moongate, and it is Destrius who recognises the figure stepping out of it.

"Greetings, Companions of the fallen Dracos. My name is Mondain; I am sure I am known to you all, and I am sure my past has left enough anger in the heart and souls of all Sosarians for you to strike me down without a second thought. Which is why I am lucky enough to be able to withstand the magicks of this world, magicks which have weakened considerably since I walked the earth." Mondain crosses his arms. "I am here to offer my services, and to prove my good intentions, I am willing to offer to your capable mage my Gem. Should I stand against you once the battle is done, he shall be able to shatter it, and I shall once again belong to the Gargoyles, and your friend, Dracos, will return to mortal existence, without any of my powers or attributes. The Gem can only be used by me; I am afraid that the absolute power it represents corrupted my mind many centuries ago, and would have no trouble corrupted any of yours." Mondain reaches into his robe and holds out the Gem of Immortality. "Will you take my offer of service?"

While the speech Mondain gave was long, it took mere seconds for it to be given.

"You notice the time? Yes, twas not a good trick to play, but I was worried you would not give me time to speak." Mondain closes the green moongate with a click of his fingers. "Shall we speak properly?"

Saint George's Dragon wakes at the sound coming out a tent and yawns loudly. "Hmm, who's this guy. Oh wait the large gem you must be a jeweler!"

Someone whacks him on the back of the head and explains the situation.

"Oh, well luckly when I heard about the gem being reassembled I prepared something for just such an emergency." He reaches into his recently aquired pouch and pulls forth a tuning fork. "Luckily my research back on Serpent Isle had uncovered the unique etheric vibrational energy of the gem, and I made this tuning fork. All that is required is this forks and the magic words IN ORT YLEM" The Tuning fork begins to glow slightly " and all that is required is to hit this fork against something and the sympathetic vibrations set up in the gem will destroy it. The gem I mean not the fork that would just be stupid. I think that should stop anyone " looks meaningful at Mondain" from using it. AN ORT" The fork ceases to glow.

"A bit paranoid aren't you?" Mondain comments.

"What would you do if our places were reversed?" asks the Dragon.

Kenneth's arm is tensed with his hand on the hilt of Caliburn, yet he does not draw the blade. He regards the sorceror with suspicion, and says, "Canst thou prove that thine intentions are the same as our own? And what reason is there for us to accept the veracity of anything you have said at all? That I am talking with you at all indicates I will listen to such an explanation, but it would have to be a good one for me to continue to stay my hand."

At the bemused look on Mondain's face, Kenneth responds, "Thine sorceries may outweigh the work of any mage living today, yet the two mages behind me," he indicates Nicodemus and Destrius, "are likely the two best in Britannia. Myrmidon, as well, has some skill in magery, and Concussed and I would be a great factor in the battle were we to dragonmorph. Even a sorceror of your caliber cannot shrug those odds off so easily. I therefore suggest you give us fair reason not to have to test those odds."

Mondain laughs. "For a creature of Lord British's Virtues, you are rather proud, are you not. I may not be able to shrug off the odds you offer me, but I would not be sorely taxed by it. But this is not meant to be a competition of odds. I have offered my services to you to aid this world against its two foes. Once this is dealt with, I truly expect you to dispatch me with haste, and return Dracos back to his full state. I am a danger whether I turn on you or not, because my very magick is so different, and so much stronger than current Sosarian practice that I could disrupt the fabric of reality itself in time."

As he awaits Mondain's response, Kenneth whispers to the group, "Keep at the ready, even if he proves his intentions. Else we'd fare badly if he changes his mind. Also, Nic, Dest, have you figured out a way to use the Ring to contain the Ether entity, preferably without harming Paulon?" An idea strikes him, and he addresses Mondain once again. "Perhaps, as a gesture of your good intentions, you could help extricate one of our comerades from the Ethereal Entity roaming Britannia?"

"Proud I may seem, all I have said is true. Two archmages and two Dragons,against asorceror of your caliber; it could go either way, very easily. And as for your other statements, it is very likely true, but I cannot believe that, even if you do side with us, you would willingly meet your demise after all this. No one wishes to die, and you've proven that point well some four centuries gone and more."

"Umm, what am I chopped liver?" whines Saint George's Dragon.

"Let us not argue over our powers;" the ancient Mage declares. "I believe one thing, you believe another. I believed once that I could not be stopped, but the Stranger saw to that. I believed myself doomed to the role of mentor; Dracos put pay to that notion. I have been wrong. It is the great lesson I have learnt. It has also taught me that others can be wrong to, can they not, Kenneth?"

Kenneth acknowledges this with a nod. "In any event, such a struggle would likely kill us all, ripping apart a fair amount of the local landscape and even worse on the ether. So, for the sake of our truce, let's put aside this unproductive line of conversation, shall we?"

"The boon you ask seems easy enough. I could destroy the entity, or entrap it if you so desire, but for now I will retrieve the entity known as Paulon." Mondain clicks his fingers, and Paulon appears beside Kenneth. "Twas easy enough to deal with. To be truthful, I could, with only a creased brow, summon the entire court of Lord British here, and provide them with food. The Gem is very strong, and Dracos' body, which I have reformed, has absorbed much etheric energy."

After welcoming Paulon back, Kenneth once again addresses Mondain."Be not so sure. As powerful as thine sorceries are, they still are etheric in nature, and the ether being absorbs such energies. Do you truly wish to feed it that much power? As Nicodemus said before you arrived, we need magics on the level of an artefact, and specially crafted magics at that. We have judged the Ring of Shal to be suitable for containing the entity, especially as having the entity trapped in it will increase its power to a level at which it can overcome the Ring of Haeth. What we lack is a way to trap the ether being in the ring in the first place. Perhaps you know a way? Keeping in mind its immunity to magic, of course."

<< To the Southeast >>

Helgraf, having retrieved the mystery bolt and advised the companions, finds his path takes him next to Britain - specifically to Castle British.

Passing the guards quietly, he crosses into the small garden with the fountain in the middle, then through it into the pillared hallway leading to the throne. As he reaches the dais, he kneels before Lord British, then rights himself.

Majesty, I hate to trouble you with more bad news in these dark times, but a presence from the ancient days has returned . .

Lord British interrupts him smoothly, calmly. "Yes, I know - I sensed the return of Mondain even as the blight of the Shadowlords dispersed. Yet, your allies have my Talismans, and without them, my power is limited primarily to protecting the Castle and its inhabitants. The other powerful artefacts were taken by the Avatar to his sojourn on Serpent Isle, though I see you have managed to retrieve the Shade Blade."

As if in responce to hearing its name spoken, the Blade quivers a moment, and Helgraf shudders. "Forgive me, Lord - the Shade Blade is currently the prison of a Destroyer Daemon - a creature much alike to the Balrons of old - and sometimes it strives for release, not realizing, or perhaps no longer caring, that it will lead to its own destruction."

"Then perhaps you should release the creature at once, stranger."

"I have considered that more than a few times - yet we have been put against many powerful and divers foes on this mission - I am hoping to hold the daemon-essence within long enough to make use of the force which will project when I release it - make use of it against an enemy, of course. If you will excuse me?"

Lord British waves his hand in dismissal, and Helgraf departs the Castle - and begins the trip back to Nicodemus' hut overland. Just beforehand, he nicks himself with a small silver knife and uses the blood pooled to place a spell to conceal his presence from magical detections - in a manner similar to the one he used to infiltrate Stonegate and delay the Stranger's next use of the Ring of Heath.

"You will not find me so easily this time, Mondain. There is no etheric signature to this spell, and my spellcraft is as old as yours, if differently enabled."

Quietly he heads through the pass between the Serpent Spine mountains and the mountains around what used to be Dungeon Shame, heading north toward the Great Forest...

<< The Forest of Yew >>

Mondain starts to respond to Kenneth's query, but is cut off as an interruption is heard from the back of the group.

Saint George's Dragon jumps in, saying "Well, it seems pretty clear that the creature is feeding on etheric energy perhaps we should bait a trap for it. We must by now have more than enough tasty treats for an etheric entity. I suggest we figure out the correct process to entrap the creature before it decides to snack on any of us. Forthwith." A small bead of sweat and a look of fear crosses SG'sD face "As someone who is only held together by the etheric equivalent of duct tape I must say all this talk of an ether absorbing torus gives me the heebjeebes."

Nodding agreement with St. George's, Kenneth motions for Mondain to resume his response.

"Such a being that absorbs etheric energy must then feast upon it, for to store so much of it will destroy any being that has not the use of other powers..." Mondain tosses the Gem into the air and catches it.

"Surely then, it will need feeding, and I am sure that I can provide it with a feast..." Mondain sits on the ground, and magicks a pipe intoexistence. "To trap it though..." The mage lights the pipe with a snap of his fingers, and begins to puff on it. "From what I have learnt of this world, blackrock seems the most useful snare. With the correct magicks, I could liquidise blackrock long enough to dip the ring into the substance, while the entity was inside, and then let it harden. The ring would then be, for our purposes, safe, until such time that we 'unlocked' it. Then all it would require was a small 'working'. Unfortunately, I suspect that if this entity is as strong as you make it out to be, the only person to be able to control the ring, and destroy it after use would by myself, and I do not think you would trust me with that role, nor, might I add, would I want it."

Kenneth rebuts the suggestion. "As strong as it is, the Ring of Shal is an artefact well capable of its containment. No great skill is needed to keep it contained. Using it, of course, requires skill, but we do have mages of such skill," Kenneth nods in the direction of the two archmages again. "As for using blackrock... It doesn't seem wise with this entity's nature. Nicodemus?"

Nicodemus tells Mondain, "The etheric energies and their unique... configurations within the entity are not well suited to interact with blackrock. My best guess is that the blackrock would be quite adversely affected if it interacted with these energies, but the nature of those effects are anyone's guess. Furthermore, blackrock is not innately magical. It has innate magical properties, but no magic per se. What we need is a good, strong enchantment to lure the creature. Preferably entailing a large amount of ether with no lasting harm on the physical or etheric fabric of the land. We then need a way to get the entity in the Ring once we have lured it, by far the harder task. Luring it requires no more than a high circle spell cast in proximity to the entity. Trapping it needs something both more powerful and specially crafted. Hast thou something in mind?"

The group mulls the problem over, waiting for someone to get an idea.

"It seems that along with the devolution of magick in this world, new forces conspire against it," Mondain comments. "This blackrock is fascinating; when I return to my eternal state, I shall mull over it's possible uses, but as long as I have a body, I might as well make myself useful. To trap though... I think I have an idea.

"When I killed my father, I trapped his powers in the precursor to the Gem I have today. It was a great working, and I was sorely taxed by its use, but I trapped not just his magicks, but part of his soul as well. I was a mere apprentice then; this magick should be no hard task to me now. The preparation is not difficult; the ring will need to be imbued with a magick of the old time; a spell I created myself. The caster will need to hold the ring; I suggest Destrius hold it while I work the magic through him; this saves us from the suspicion that I will steal the ring and leave you all. Then all you need do is cast your spell to attract the creature, and then engage it in melee. One touch of the ring will steal its life-force, and the entity will be trapped." Mondain stands and walks over to Destrius and Kenneth. "What says though to this; be quick about - the longer we talk, the harder Dracos' return will be. Action is called for."

The door to Nicodemus' hut opens, and Helgraf staggers in, using the tip of the Shade Blade as a prop to his walking. Every motion reveals an incredible strain on his features, but he manages a rictus grin as he speaks.

"You need a lure for yon ethereal beastie? I got a lure that will call that thing like a sailor to the sirens." He swings the Shade Blade around semi-erratically before continuing, "Well, hurry up and put the Ring on - Palos has been making my life . . difficult . . and I would be rid of him as soon as I may."

To Destrius, Kenneth says, "I guess it's time you put the Ring on; it looks like now's the best time to snare the ether being." He turns to Mondain, and says, "Cast your spell on the Ring, and make sure it has no adverse effects on Destrius; I heard you mention having to cast the spell through him. Harm him, and we lose our best chance at stopping the Stranger."

Mondain takes a step back from Helgraf, and his eyes seem to roll over him, as if gauging an unknown quantity and determining its relative worth.

Kenneth sighs in exasperation at the continued enmity between the two. *If we can just hold everything together long enough to finish this...* he thinks.

Mondain turns to face Kenneth. "I can hear your thoughts, and I do not think you realise the gravity of this situation, or this being's presence." Mondain turns back to balefully watch Helgraf. Kenneth is vaguely aware that time had stopped when Mondain spoke to him.

Speaking as if unaware of the byplay between paladin and wizard, Helgraf says, "Whomever is going to contain Torus Magebane had better put the ring on, because I'm not going to hold on to this any longer."

Helgraf staggers back to the door, points the Shade Blade roughly in the direction of Cove, then speaks a single syllable.


The Shade Blade hums briefly, then a column of black fire shoots out into the sky, arcing eastsoutheastward.

Kenneth and the others stagger back from the backwash of magical energies. Destrius then steps forward, holding out the hand wearing the Ring in the direction from which the ethereal entity will arrive. Mondain begins the casting of his enchantment.

"Devos nocturne pavelda gorno. Entre metre hivelda logono. In Shug Niggurath beldame klodo. Tu ma." The spell cast, the ring glows.

Wrapped within the fundamental magics that permeate the world, Destrius examines the etheral manifestation of the Art, keen to understand what Mondain possesses.

Powerful magic, from one true of soul.

And yet so simple! Harmonies close to the first wave, sweeping through the corpuscles like wind.

But.... dissonance? A jarred chord, breaking itself apart from the melody.

Destrius murmurs.

"Never have I seen one use a secondary medium to achieve such power. The flaw could well be due to the ether and not due to his inperfection."

Meanwhile, in the vicinity of Cove, the silvery torus-shape of the nilether entity hangs over the remains of Rudyom's lab, drawing the last lingering traces of mana from the magical items within. Suddenly it stops, and rolls off to the westnorthwest at a startlingly fast pace, not even slowing enough to drain the radiant magical ambience around Castle British . . .

In the Deep Forest, the group sees the torus rushing towards them at an unnerving speed. Attracted by the current enchantment upon the Ring of Shal, the entity moves towards Destrius. As its outer surface begins to touch the Ring, Mondain utters the last of the spell, and the torus appears to be sucked in almost instantaneously. The Ring emits a faint, silvery glow from the energies of the torus. Destrius looks at the empowered Ring of Xiesh, and examines its new etheric properties; the look on his face implies that he likes what he sees.

Kenneth asks him, "Can you tell how the entity has empowered it? Any immediate ideas on its uses in the upcoming confrontation?"

Destrius nods slowly, and begins to speak, waiting for Mondain to interrupt.

Mondain smiles. Kenneth still does not trust him. He can see exactly what the ring is capable of. In his day enchantments like these were ten a penny; mere child's play to a novice mage. How much the world has changed. How much he had changed. Mondain takes the Gem from his robe and stops time. As the companions slow to stone-like statues, Mondain approaches the ring in Destrius' hand. A quick wave of the fingers, a small enchantment here and there, and the ring is suitably empowered.

Mondain clicks his fingers, and time once again begins to move. Destrius looks up in surprise at Mondain standing before him. He was unaware the old man could move so fast.

As the ruptures caused by Mondain's time travel spell subside, lettting the dimensions reform into their proper shapes, Destrius frowns slightly, mentally chiding the mage for causing such damage to reality.

He does not know if Mondain does realize this, though, and is not going to tell him at this time. The show must go on.

"You want an answer Kenneth? Sure.

"It appears that by confining the etheral entity inside this ring, we have created an extremely strange artefact that can actually distort the etheral flux and cause serious disruption to magic using ether as its medium of propogation."

Nicodemus nods in agreement, while Destrius hopes that the highly-technical explanation did not totally fly over Kenneth's head.

The paladin smiles and motions for Destrius to continue.

"One of the major reasons for this is that the etheral entity absorbs magic, much like the Magebane that the Avatar brought to Serpent Isle. In fact, it is quite likely that that is exactly what it is.

"Because it was in the ethereal void, it absorbed all of its surroundings to the extent that it reached saturation point and began to implode on itself, its core expunging ether, while its sides continuing to draw ether towards the centre where the ether is supposed to be absorbed.

"The result is a cyclonic effect, which causes the entity to have its torus shape. However, at certain points, the ether is still being aborbed, which causes those parts to grow in size. The being is also semi-sentient.

"By trapping it in the Ring of Shal, which was designed for the purpose of containing etheral manifestations in the first place: reagents, in other words, we now have a ring which attracts the ether towards it, sucks the ether into itself, and then, with suitable enchantments such as the ones cast by Mondain, allows this excess ether to be used at will by the bearer of the ring.

"I should be able to channel the quata held by the ether into mine own fundamental magic, and use it as I would normally. And some of it can be used to power the artefacts of Lord British.

"And, if you'd like a comparism between this ring and the Ring of Haeth, well, I believe that it should be able to hold the ether-controlling powers of that Ring back, as its field distortion is great enough to cause pocket flux near an attractor such as the Ring of Haeth."

<< Stonegate >>

The Stranger mutters some vile oaths as an etheric backlash hits him through the Ring of Haeth. After he has sufficiently recovered, he ascertains that no no actual damage has been incurred upon the Ring or its powers; the backlash was merely the severing of the Ring's link to something else. The Stranger casts a few spells, not merely to test the contnued functionality of the Ring, but to learn more precisely what happened. He sees the formation of the torus as a byproduct of him summoning the vast amounts of magic to create the Ring of Haeth, and is then shown an image of the adventurers entrapping it in the Ring of Xiesh.

"Blast! How did they manage to create that Ring? Or from where did they acquire it? With the power from that creature, it's strong enough to thwart much of my own ring's sorceries. If I can only learn what exactly it does before they can use it against me...." He turns to the Vortex Cube, still ensconced in its apparatus. Channeling the Ring's energy into it, he opens a scrying portal to view them. However, a mage in their group he hadn't seen before abruptly lifts his head. After saying a few words, informing the others of the scrying attempt, he waves his hand and speaks some arcane syllables over three centuries old, and the portal snaps violently shut, causing the Stranger to stagger back.

After a moment, the Stranger staggers again, this time in recognition of the old magic forms and the face of the mage. *Mondain!* he thinks, *siding with them?* "Why would the most reviled villain of the history of this world side with them?"

A moment later, he realizes the obvious. Villain he may be, Mondain would not like the plans the Stranger has. Assuming, of course, that he knows those plans. Which is possible, given he had to have formed from the three Shadowlords.

"So that's what they were up to. A truly vile betrayal, no doubt engineered by the one possessing that tattooed mage." He mulls over the implications of this new threat, and that posed by the Ring of Xiesh. And grateful that he hadn't felt the need to divulge any more than necessary to his 'trusted' servants. "But what they already know will cause me enough trouble as it is..."

And so, slipping between thinking aloud and silently, the Stranger begins to lay his new plans....

<< Moonglow >>

Mondain's appearance in the middle of town is unnoticed, since he is invisible, and he did not feel the need to use a moongate. The Companions of Kenneth are too interested in the Ring to notice Mondain's brief disappearance. Moonglow is special to Mondain. It is the city of magick, and for good reason. The remains of Mondain's cellar lie deep beneath Moonglow's earth. Mondain closes his eyes, and his body begins to descend towards the sealed spaces.

His cellar is dank, and half-filled with water. The parchments of his books are rotted away, and dust covers what little furniture still stands above the waterline. All this matters not. Mondain focuses his mind, and immediately an object floats to the water's surface. It is a gem, of roughly the same size and shape of the Gem of Immortality. It is the Gem's proto-type. Who ever heard of a mage, no matter how mad, not testing a new power? The first Gem was flawed, and relegated to a simple curio during the making of the second Gem, but this does not mean it would not be useful in the coming battle against the evil in the land of Brittania. Mondain casts a few cleaning spells, and as he leaves, the cellar begins to return to its pristine, water-tight state.

<< Amongst the Companions of Kenneth >>

Mondain's re-arrival is unnoticed. The arrival of a hoard of Gazers isn't.

"Hmm. Perhaps I should try out the powers this ring possesses."

Destrius murmurs a short spell to release the magic from the ether, and then chants the Art.

A slew of fireballs shoot forth from his fingertips, hitting the ground in front of the gazers and transforming into a blazing wall of fire. Soon, the gazers are no more.

"Whew. That was powerful. But the ring will need to be replenished with more ether if I continue casting suchly."

Helgraf walks over to the charred remains of the gazers, and picks through them, seemingly searching for something. He clenches a fist tightly closed around something in the ash, and with a quick twist of the wrist, seems to deposit it into a pocket - a tiny bit of grey something, should anyone be paying attention.

"So we have the Ring of Shal. And the Kings Regalia and Caliburn. Fine - not to trivialize the work required to obtain them, but now we are back to our original quandry. Do we deal with the stranger, now that the Shadowlords are . . . contained, however distasteful the methods used to do so, or do we rekindle the spirits and hearts of Britannia," he inquires, an . . odd . . tone to his voice.

Not waiting for an answer, he looks directly at Mondain, as he begins to speak again.

"I distrust you. This is obvious. However, I intent to make quite clear why I distrust you. The soul of Mondain was encased in the Shrine of Control, yet you have not shown control, but have instead erratically came and gone, exercised your will on the time stream, and allowed the words of others to get under your skin. You are a danger as great as the Stranger, and I do not see that your presence was required - the magic you performed on the Ring of Shal, or Xiesh, if you prefer, was ancient and powerful, aye, but not so secret that you needed to halt time to create them. Oh, yes, I am quite aware of your little vanities with temporality. And don't speak to me of Pride - you, I am sure, have already deduced that although I am working for the common weal here, I do not follow the virtues, nor the triad values. There are many paths up the mountain."

"You know, Helgraf, if I find out exactly what you have planned, I might even begin to like your upfrontedness. Unfortunately I doubt I will be alive long enough to appreciate it." Mondain smiles. "I suppose I should admit that my behaviour has been erratic, and I am not showing much control, apparently. Just remember, I am fighting my very own corporeal nature; as an entity it is easy to forget the desires of the flesh."

Kenneth gets a puzzled expression at that remark, and asks, "How can you be lacking in control, anyway, given that you have been chosen to embody it?"

"However,"continues Helgraf, "As my old mentor would surely say, this isn't getting us anywhere - so if we could decide on a course of action?"

"Indeed. To Stonegate."

"Indeed." agrees Kenneth. "If we were to relight the Flames, we'd be going back and forth, relighting them again and again as the Stranger keeps putting them out. Not what I call a good time. Besides, the Stranger poses quite a threat to magic, with that Ring of his, and likely is even more dangerous, depending on his plans. So, shall we get going?"

Destrius nods, and is about to use his Ring to open a gate, when the party becomes rather disoriented by the effects of sudden, unexpected teleportation.

All eyes turn to Mondain, and Destrius and Helgraf wear scowls, each for their own reasons.

Destrius glares at Mondain and says, "If you keep wielding such powerful translocation spells, you will end up severely warping the ether on a local level, or has that not crossed your mind?" Sighing in exasperation, he dons the artefacts and preapres to enter the fortress.

The others do likewise, and as Kenneth unsheathes Caliburn, he says, "Shall we proceed?" indicating the entrance.

A sibilant voice replies, "No, you shall not!" Before anyone can look around for its owner, a group of Despoilers surrounds the group, with two of the formidable Destroyers coming from the entrance of Stonegate to join them.

Helgraf yawns, then picks up the Shade Blade and begins to attack one of the Destroyers head on, with seeming little, if any, concern for his defense. As he does so, the Despoilers begin to spit acid at various members of the group, scoring minor hits on everyone except Mondain by virtue of surprise. Quickly, the others raise spells of shielding, and Kenneth bathes one of the Despoilers in a gout of sorcerous flame. Finally, Helgraf, bleeding freely from several wounds, manages to land an impaling strike on the one Destroyer as the other hurls destructive magics at Mondain and Destrius. He manages to spit out the syllables : AN EX - and the Destroyer gives out a long howl which seems to drain away to nothing as it is sucked into the Shade Blade.

Helgraf seems to waver, listing back and forth, seeming about to fall over ...

...and the battle goes on...

Kenneth cleaves into the arm of another despoiler as he sees Helgraf entrap one of the Destroyers. "Helgraf! Release it into the other Destroyer. It'll be weakened by the confinement, and will likely kill the other." He finishges off the Despoiler as he speaks, and aids Myrmidon, who was just beset by a trio of the foul daemons.

Helgraf swings the Shade Blade to the other Destroyer and utters, "EX!" A burst of energy shoots from the blade, through the Destroyer, and coalesces into the first Destoyer some distance away. Before the creature can stand, Mondain impales it with several powerful needles of force. The monster is finished off by Helgraf, using the Black Sword as a blade was intended and decapitating the daemon.

Myrmidon and Kenneth had managed to kill one of the Despoilers at the cost of several scoring wounds. Destrius manages to cast a Restoration their way, and then aids them against the other two Despoilers.

The remaining Despoilers were taken care of as well in the meantime, as the group sees Concussed and St. George's in Dragon shape, standing over several rent bodies.

The two morph back when they see that all the daemons have been taken, and Kenneth casts "Vas In Mani" himself, restoring the party of all wounds. He then consumes part of a vial of Mandrake Essence, and passes it to the other mages, save for Destrius, who was using the Ring's power, and Mondain, who had his Gem. With their physical and magical energies thus restored, Kenneth leads the group into Stonegate.

Shifting back to his human form, Concussed unslings his runed bow and joins up with the rest of the party. Strange, he thinks, *You would think that the Stranger's stronghold would be more heavily guarded.* A slight frown crosses his face, and he mutters "Why do I get the feeling something is very wrong?" Shrugging, he clears his mind of this irrational thought and enters the gates of the fortress.

Helgraf quietly takes a flanking position, working his way through the corridors he had explored once before. Silently, he gestures the others forward through an intersection once he is sure it is unguarded.

He leans over to whisper in Kenneth's ear, "Strange that there are no others to welcome us - surely our battle with the daemons did not go unnoticed."

He then scouts ahead again, using his memory of his previous trip into Stonegate to guide his way. Quickly, he slips around a corner as an unusual sentry - similiar to a gazer, but with bony shards instead of eyes on its tentacles, glides through the corridor, a wand of some sort wound up in one of its tentacles.

Concussed's eyes widen in surprise as the arrow he fires towards the creature deflects off its bony carapace, not even scratching it. He whispers a word of power, and the runes on his bow begin to glow a ruby red. He draws another arrow from his quiver ...

Silently, Helgraf removes his ritual dagger and makes a small cut on the back of his hand. Letting the blood pool, he shapes a magic with no Britannian components, and sends a crimson web to snare the gazer. Before it can make any noise or give warning, the web engulfs it - and it vanishes, replaced by an illusionary duplicate. The wand falls silently to the floor. Helgraf steps back, and waves the group forward, points to the wand without speaking.

Replacing the unused arrow, and powering down his bow, Concussed passes the illusionary clone created by Helgraf's otherworldly magic. He detects a strange magic emanating from the wand, and is about to pick it up to examine it, whensomething tells him to let it alone. He moves on into the shadows.

Then Helgraf again slips ahead of the group, and begins to work his way through the passages toward the chamber wherein the Vortex Cube is kept.

He removes a scroll with his sigil set in the wax, and sets it on the floor where he knows one of the others will find it.

Helgraf then turns right and dodges through several passages, and is gone.

"Helgraf?" Concussed's call echoes through the chamber, as he enters the room that had once contained the Vortex Cube, seeking the missing dark robed mage. The pedestal now stands empty, and in its place is a scroll that appears to have been left there recently.

Aware that this might be one of the stranger's traps, he scryes the room and the scroll for traps before approaching. He picks up the note just as the rest of the party arrives. "What? Hey, guys, listen to this!" Concussed exclaims.

I don't expect you to accept or even condone my actions in this matter gentlemen, however, there are things that needed doing here besides dealing with the Stranger - and no matter how you may feel about him, I cannot trust them to be done safely as long as either the Shadowlords or Mondain are with us. Where you find this scroll, turn right, go down two passages, turn left, go down three passages - on your right will be the door to the Stranger's chambers - where he can be found when not experimenting with the Vortex Cube. I will not be there for the final confrontation, as my duties call me elsewhere. Know, however, that you will be able to retrieve the Shade Blade - should you wish to place it somewhere more protected - from the Cave of Innocent's Proof - I'm sure at least one of you will figure it out. It has been an honor to work with you.

~ Helgraf

"That Helgraf is a strange one. I wonder what his motives really are? It seems that he forsees that we will have need of the Blackrock Sword in the near future ... but why?" Concussed wonders aloud, having finished reading the note.

"He leads his own life," Destrius replies.

Kenneth mutters aloud, just barely audible by the others. "What does he think he's doing? If he kills Mondain, he will very likely kill Dracos as well. And what is it that he deems so important that he departs so suddenly? His magics were remarkably effective on the Stranger earlier; why ditch us now. And the Sword.... Helgraf, what do you intend?" In a normal tone, he asks Concussed, "Where did he say the sword was? The name sounded odd."

"The Cave of Innocent's Proof? What would that -"

Concussed's musing is interrupted by a intensifying humming noise that appears to be coming from deeper within the fortress.

In front of the group, a large, black vortex opens, and several stone golems step out. Kenneth leads the attack, hacking with Caliburn at the lead golem. When the humming stops and the vortex closes, there are eight of the constructs total, counting the one Kenneth is engaging.

Destrius moves forward and unleashes a deadly arc of lightning which spears through one of the golems, breaking it into two.

As he turns his attention to the golem Kenneth is decapitating, he notices that the creature he had just destroyed was slowly piecing itself back together. At the same time, he feels a strange emotion creep up the back of his spine...


Realization dawns upon the mage, who quickly shouts to the others:

"These are Vice golems; we can only destroy them with Virtue! Kenneth, find Wrong and dispose of it with Caliburn. For the rest, I have no idea. The crown doesn't seem to work on them. Anyone has a suggestion?"

Paulon dodges the attack of one of the golems, and ducks clear of the melee. He pulls an orange object from out of his pocket, and there is a clicking noise as he moves his thumb down it and a section of metal projects from the end. Looking at the fight, he drops his umbrella, grits his teeth, and slashes his left wrist with the metal blade. As blood runs down into his hand, Paulon dashes back into the combat, and slams his left hand into the orange tinted golem facing Kenneth. The blood bites into it like acid, and the stony figure begins to crack around the point of impact. "Try the tinders! They represent the virtues!" Paulon yells, before flicking more blood over the golem Covetous.

Saint George's Dragon faces off against the golem of deceit. His axe bounces ineffectually off its hard metallic skin and he is forced to dodge the deadly fists of lead. Suddenly, a look of inspiration hits his face.

"Hey golem you know I hate to say this but I really have to be honest, your craftmanship is kind of substandard." SG'sD taunts as he dodges and weaves away from the monster's fists." I mean look at your preportions, your head is just too big, and one arm is longer than another. Also, the overall composition lacks any energy or vitality.".

At this point the golem pauses for a moment heat seems to rise from him and then like some giant steam locomotive he charges toward SG'sD. Saint George's Dragon stares with a look of grim resolve at the oncoming behomneth, switching his axe from hand to hand, then at the last possible moment he jumps aside and the Deceit golem plows into the chamber wall imbedding himself their. The creature struggles but is unable to escape.

"Some people just can't handle the truth." SG'sD remarks.

Meanwhile, Paulon has significantly weakened the covetous golem with his blood donations. However, the golem manages to strike a glancing blow against Paulon's head dazing him for a moment. The golem raises his fist to release devasting blow onto his opponent, the whole scene seems to unfold in slow motion. Saint Geoge's Dragon suddenly sees his comrade in danger and rushes towards the two combatants. The fist begins to come down. Paulon looks up in time to see the fist begin to descend, and yet is still to concussed to remove himself from danger. Saint George's Dragon runs between the two, and turns to the golem seeing the fist only millemeters away from his face. The eyes of the golem seem to bulge at this act of sacrifice and then suddenly the golem disintegrates.

SG'sD lets out an enormous sigh of relief. "I k-knew that would happen." He says his voice made rather unconvincing by the combination of relief and fear evident in it.

"I am afraid I am not trained in the powers of virtuous fighting; my methods are devious and cunning. But I suspect we might need a breather, so..." Mondain pulls out the Gem, and holds in firmly in one hand.

Closing his eyes, the rooms seems to shift slightly, and seven new golems appear opposing the attackers.

"These duplicates are the emotional opposite of the attackers. 'Twas a spell I used in my heyday to ward of potential enemies in spellcraft. An anti-mage duplicate can keep a fire fight going for days by casting defensive spells; if the spell holds. I suggest we move on; the spell is limited in its temporal duration dependent on number, and eight is probably pushing it."

The group moves off around the golems, who seem to be battling each other. Two of the vice golems have already fallen, due to their weakened nature.

Meanwhile, deep in the labyrinthine passages of Stonegate, Helgraf sits crosslegged on the floor - Shade Blade across his lap, the Vortex Cube on the floor in front of him. Slowly, he focuses his thoughts, and then slices open his left palm, letting a few drops of the blood fall into the cube, and focuses his thoughts. A greyish mist rises from the cube and surrounds the Shade Blade.

The group makes their way through the corridors of Stonegate, and soon find a large chamber on the second floor, sparseley furnished. The thronelike seat at the far end appears empty, but Destrius calls out, "Reveal yourself, Stranger!"

In a shimmering of light, the Stranger becomes visible and stands from the throne. "You've been quite problematic of late, you know. You have the five artefacts, you took the Shadowlords from me, and that blasted offworlder mage of yours took my Vortex Cube on top of all else he did to me. I suppose this is the place where we now have a final fight for the fate of the realm, hm?"

The Stranger laughs, and continues, "Not likely. I've put too much work into my plans. Take this instead." He waves his Ringed hand, and flames appear around the party, bringing in half a dozen Destroyer Daemons, all noticeably larger than the norm. He then disappears in a flash, appearing beside Paulon, whom he grabs and teleports out with.

Before the others can react to the kidnapping, the daemons are upon them.

In a cavern not too far away, the Stranger rematerializes, Paulon at his side. Paulon falls immediately unconscious as the Stranger casts a spell upon him and then relieves him of the virtue tinders he carried. Securing them away, he teleports Paulon - still unconscious - back to Stonegate's audience chamber. He then places the tinders alongside other arcane reagents in his sanctum. *Yes,* he thinks, *these will come in handy for a spell I will need to cast once all this is over.*

The mists about the Shade Blade thicken, and it is drawn into the cube - quite in defiance of the laws of mass and volume.

Back in the audience chamber, it is all the group can do to keep the daemons at bay. As one rakes toward the sleeping Paulon, Kenneth intervenes with Caliburn. He then attempts a banishing, but to no effect. He further notes that magic in general is having little effect on the beasts. He can only hope the mages can hold their own in direct combat.

Noticing the same as Lumina, Destrius decides not to carry out any magical examination into the properties of the Destroyers, but instead uses his staff to fend them off, and at times even hurt them.

Suddenly, he feels a strong aura of magic fill the air.

At this point, a small silver bell can be heard, and the Shade Blade appears in the audience chamber, apparently wielded by some invisible hand. It stabs into one Destroyer, and absorbs it, then turns to "face" another, and the soul of the first Destroyer is blasted out at the second, consuming it. A disembodied voice is heard.

"Seek the Stranger in the Caverns!"

The Sword then begins to assail another Destroyer, but this one does not let it score a deep thrust, which appears to be neccesary for capture . . .

During the time that the first Destroyer was absorbed, Destrius delved into its corpuscular matter and found the source of its immunity to magic.

Armed with this information, he proceeds to construct the magical equivalent of a needle, and uses it to enlarge the tiny little crevice in the daemons' shield till it is large enough to send a blast of magic into it.

"They can be affected by magic now! Use some powerful spells and perhaps they will be hurt!"

Destrius then murmurs in a language unknown, and spreads out his fingers, palms facing up. Slowly, two wells of light a colour indescribable form above his palms, and coalesce into a single sphere, which soon warps into a flat disc.

The mage grabs the disc, and flings it towards the centre of the room, where it dissolves into white smoke, spreading out towards the daemons and enveloping them.

The smoke is absorbed by the beasts, whose faces contort as the magic takes effect. They appear to be hurt, but not much.

"Mondain! Use those great powers of yours to put them to sleep or something; we don't have the time to battle!"

In the caverns nearby the Stranger, safe for the time being in his refuge, watches the combat unfold in a scrying crystal. He curses when the disembodied voice warns the companions, and grabs a few specific items.

Deep in the passages of Stonegate, Helgraf snaps out of his meditations, and picks up the Vortex Cube. There were things he had to do - the Shade Blade would take itself to the Cavern of Innocent's Proof when the Destroyers were dispatched, so that would take care of itself.

Helgraf quietly reviewed . . he needed to :

A) Get the Vortex Cube out of Stonegate undetected.

B) Manipulate events to release the torus from the Ring of Shal so he could return to his home dimension without being tracked.

C) Keep Mondain on his toes so he would not be able to guess his motives.

D) Get in contact with Xorinia - again, without being observed doing so.

The third and fourth objectives would, by far, be the easiest. Mondain was already slightly paranoid about him and his actions. The Xorinites could be reached with laughable ease using the Vortex Cube - this had been, in part, his reason for acquiring it. By far, the hardest task was going to be releasing Magebane Torus from the Ring of Shal.

Quietly he considers his course of action as the battle rages on above...

In the audience chamber, Mondain closes his eyes, and once again time freezes to a stand-still. While time has effectively stopped for everyone, Mondain's movements and words seem curiously present.

"My time is at an end here, my would have been friends if things had been different. I have exhausted the Gem's power; the Shadowlords whose essences will reappear shortly will be weak, and you will not see them out and about for some time. You should be able to destroy the shards well before they waken." Mondain places the Gem on the ground before himself. "My other, proto-Gem I leave behind. Please give it to Dracos when he awakens. I am going to, as I disperse, cast his body to far off Moonglow; I do not think that to leave a comatose mage in this place would be a wise idea, seeing the hideous fight you are about to enter into.

"You are wondering why I am leaving now, while the battle is not yet begun. Tis easy to explain. Magick in Sosaria died when my Gem was shattered; it took a long time for it to return. I plan to do the same, on a slightly smaller scale. I shall destroy the Gem, and magick will cease to exist in any form whatsoever for the next three weeks. Artefacts will, of course, keep their power, but the sources of magical energy you hold so precious, whether they be life-force, ether, or power of will, will be gone." Mondain walks over to Destrius. "I have placed a considerable arsenal in the Ring; use it wisely, or the Stranger might win.

"Well, I have dallied here too long. Mortal form pleases me not; the Gargoyles keep me in a state fit for ponderance." Mondain raises his foot, and slams it down upon the Gem. It shatters into three parts, and the magick ceases to be. In the maelstrom that follows, all that is left of Mondain's presence is a small Gem, and the three shards of the Shadowlords. Curiously enough, all that is left of the Destroyers are sets of smoking boots...

As the gem shatters Saint George's Dragon buckles over writhing in pain. Suddenly his body fades to transparency all his material possesions falling to the floor as his body becomes a vague and transparent form.

"Hmm, it seems the shattering of the gem has rendered me incorporeal. I should be all right though once the ether returns to normal strength. Could someone be a dear and pick up my stuff for me?" The voice of SG'sD echoes in the mind of the onlookers.

As the timefreeze wears off with the destruction of the Gem, Kenneth blinks and looks around. The Shade Blade disappears in a grey mist akin to that which brought it, and a large portal of that same mist appears in its place. No one steps through immediately, until Myrmidon says, "Helgraf sent the Sword here and told us where to find the Stranger; maybe this leads there?"

The apparition of SG'sD floats on ahead telepathically sending "I had better scout ahead in my current state I can not do much but I can observe with relative safety.".

Destrius attempts to scry through the portal, but to no avail. It appears Mondain was right; all magic save that of artefacts is rendered dead for the time being. Using the Ring, however, he ascertains that the portal leads to what appears to be a mage's laboratory. Having no better plan, he steps through. The others soon follow.

The Stranger senses the disturbance even as the portal appears, and the heroes step through into his sanctuary. With magically enhanced speed, he whirls around and sends a very intense Flame Wind in their direction. Destrius, being at the lead, absorbs the brunt of it, which the Crown of course negates.

The flame passes harmlessly through the incorporeal form of SG'sD. He rushes towards the stranger flying through him and causing him to cry out in suprise. SG'sD then flies away attempting to draw the Stranger's attention away. However, the Stranger has realized that the insubstantial dragon poises no threat and does not allow himself to be destracted further.

Turning his attention back to Destrius, the Stranger sees a whizzing flash of blue speed towards him, and quickly forms a magical shield to stop its progress.

Destrius curses as his ethereal staff is absorbed, knowing that a large amount of magical energy was expended in its creation. He knows not how much there is left, and feels a bit uncomfortable being unable to feel the fundamentals of magic in the surroundings. Nevertheless, he clears his mind and prepares for a full-scale battle of the Art.

Watching the Stranger closely, he lets a little bit of the energies from the ring trickle into his hand, ready to release it once the dark-robed mage in front of him makes a move.

Meanwhile, the others all prepare their respective weapons, but do not move forward to join in the battle, knowing that any little movement would disturb the concentrations of the mages.

Suddenly, Destrius speaks.

"I may not survive this battle. Give me your name. You know mine."

The Stranger smiles darkly.

"Amsereth. A strange name, is it not? But not as strange as the dark tale that lies within me.

"Enough talk for now. We shall continue."

At the moment those words form out of Amsereth's mouth, Destrius immediately creates a large door-shaped panel in front of himself, transparent and glowing slightly green.

It extinguishes the huge ball of flames that was hurled towards it. The crown atop Destrius' head glows brightly for a moment, and then returns to its original tint.

Without a single flinch, Destrius proceeds to unleash bolts of fire directed at the area around the feet of Amsereth. They form tall coloumns of fire, but fail to hurt the Stranger, who is protected by yet another spell released from the Ring of Haeth.

Many more spells are exchanged, with no side losing out at all. Soon, Destrius feels the ring upon his finger waning in energy, and the being contained within it gasping for more ether to consume.

But there is no more ether in the vicinity, except for...

Destrius smiles slightly as the idea explodes through his mind, and quickly creates a large force shield protecting both himself and his companions.

"All of you attack him now, and try to draw blood. I will do my best to circumvent his spells from hurting you. Do it quick!"

With that, he releases his hold on the shield, which collapses, exposing the party to Amsereth.

Hearing Destrius' cry, Concussed prepares to attack the one who calls himself Amsereth. Reaching for his amulet, he finds that the jewel set in its center has cracked. Concussed curses, realizing that the energies released by the shattering of Mondain's gem must have resonated through the ether, severing the links to ancient Sosaria that the amulet offered.

Calling upon the aid of the Time Lord, the ranger draws upon the waning powers of his amulet, focusing the magic of bygone age into a single arrow.



It glows briefly with a faint light...

Engrossed with his magical duel with Destrius, the Stranger barely has time to react as a black fletched arrow streaking towards him. Slowing down, the arrow hangs a foot in the air away from his head.

"Ha! What a joke to think puny weapons such as these can harm me!" Distracted, he turns his attention to repelling another attack. "So, this what you call honorable combat?" He sneers at Sir Kenneth. "So many against but one? I ...

"You speak of honorable comat, Amsereth? You attacked from hiding, sent innumerable hordes at us, and even went so far as to leave one of us unconscious in our previous battle. Who are you to speak of what is honorable?"

"What!" Without warning,the suspended arrow explodes, scattering shrapnel into the stranger's face. Gasping in pain, the stranger claws at his bloodied countenace with his right hand. "My eye! You will pay for this!" the stranger shrieks. A dark nimbus gathers in his left hand, solidifies into a ring of blades, and launches itself at Concussed's direction...

...only to stop short and dance in mid air as the blades strike the heavy axe of St George's Dragon, thrown underarm by Paulon between the dragon and the mage.

Paulon drops the incorporeal Dragon's property and dodges away, grinning at the frustration on Amsereth's bleeding face. As he moves he swings his backpack of his shoulders, and retrieves a clear bottle with arcane markings, containing a black fizzing liquid. Shaking the bottle vigorously, he then loosens the top, and as the liquid foams out over his fingers, throws it at the evil one.

The spells surrounding Amsereth stop the bottle mid-flight, but the loosened top, retaining the kinetic energy of the bottle and propelled by the foaming mass behind it, falls free, allowing the 'harmless' liquid to spray over the hostile mage. For an instant nothing seems to happen, then Amsereth screams in agony, as the liquid bites into the open wounds on his face. The bottle drops as the mage's concentration on his spells wavers, the runes on it's side now visible in the light of magical fires as 'Coca Cola'.

Recalling Destrius's earlier words, that his magics needed drawn blood to activate, Kenneth moves in close to Amsereth. Hefting the Sword of the Just, he advances ever closer, using the artefact to deflect the magical attacks of his opponent as best as possible. Finally, he gets within striking range, and prepares for a side-armed slash to Amsereth's midsection.

He is then thrown back by a very close-range forcebolt, which his sword could not block, as it was off to the side in mid-swing. He lands heavily against the cavern wall, and notices the deep gash the magic bolt gouged into him. He then staggers upright and a short distance forward. While Amsereth is distracted in brushing aside the attacks of Myrmidon and Paulon, who had gotten close themselves, Kenneth tries a desperate move.

Hefting the sword Caliburn in a awkward position, Kenneth waits for an opening. Soon, Paulon and Myrmidon are knocked back by an expanding fire ring, which also prevents any others from getting close as he returns to his attacks on Destrius. Very fortunately for Kenneth, Amsereth's blinded eye is the only one which could have seen him at this angle. Taking a step forward, he throws the Sword at Amsereth, not managing to strike anything vital due to the unwieldy nature of sword-throwing, but still managing to land right through Amsereth's chest. Kenneth winces at the gut wound, but knows that it will provide whatever blood is needed for Destrius's spell, even if the eye wound hadn't done the trick.

As Destrius uses the ring's powers to counter some of the spells that were launched at his companions, he feels the creature entrapped within it writhing in pain, biting desperately into Destrius' finger in search of some magic to sustain itself.

Knowing that it is about time to cast the final spell, Destrius takes a step back and focuses his thoughts onto a single mantra, repeating it over and over in his mind.

Finally, he speaks out the words and draws energy from the ring to ensorcel them.

"Enth Mitranas Erko Fum Grhkis Myphi!"

The blood of the Stranger Amsereth glows for an instant, and the mage looks at Destrius in surprise.

"You have given me your ether! Fool! Now you shall die!"

Destrius speaks to him not, his breathing laboured by the forced transfer of power from himself to Amsereth. Struggling to keep himself steady, he removes the Ring of Shal from his finger, and throws it...

And it flies...

Through the room...

Landing in the gash in the Stranger's chest.

The ethereal being, starved of the ether which makes it sentient, feels the tingling presence of magical energy embedded within the blood it is soaked in.

It flexes, and breaks free of the now-weak bonds that keep it within the ring, and gleefully absorbs its meal, from the wound...

From the veins...

From the arteries...

From the heart.

Amsereth shudders as his blood is drained away, and then collapses upon the floor, a pale lifeless corpse.

The Ring upon his finger glints as the torus-shaped entity caresses it, and then slowly turns black.

The ethereal being also fades away into nothingess.


Then the sound of blood dripping down onto the floor; the blood of Amsereth, now liberated from the Magebane, which had merged with the Ring of Haeth to form a new artefact of powers unknown.

Dark red fluid forms a garish puddle next to the white flesh.

"Um. He's dead. Shouldn't we all be jumping about in glee and dancing in a circle?"

Destrius looks around shocked at the sound of a voice from what appears to be thin air, then remembers St. Georges' Dragon.

Saint George's Dragon suddenly realizes he has become even more corporal, it seems that some of what remains of his essence is diffusing into the magicless surroundings. He begins to consider a trip to the ethereal plane for some recuperation.

The mage grins wearily, and slumps down on the floor to rest.

"I need to sleep, and here's as good a place as any other. But before we leave, remember to get the tinders. We still have the Shadowlords about."

With that, Destrius falls into slumber, a peaceful slumber he had not experienced for quite some time.

The Companions of Kenneth, aware that that they have a little time before the Shadowlords need to be dealt with, tend to their wounds and rest. Soon the entire Company is asleep within the fortress of Stonegate, and with them, the world of Britannia sleeps restfully for the first time in several weeks.

With the exception of Saint George's Dragon who does not sleep, least ways not when he is incorporal since it leads to waking up in the molten core of the planet which is never a good way to start the day.

Meanwhile, the Torus pours into the room where Helgraf sits with the Vortex Cube, seeking its way back to the Void and the near limitless ether to feed on therein when it stops.

Though it has no eyes, it seems to regard Helgraf for a long moment. Then, slowly, almost gently, it extends a tendril out which wraps about his waist and draws him up into it.

It then dives into the Vortex Cube, vanishing as it does so - the Cube, however, also vanishes.

Deep in the Ether, the silvery Torus slowly rolls into the depths of the Void, tendrils extended, sampling the infinite worlds it touches until it can again find the one whence Helgraf came . . .

While it searches, inside the Torus, Helgraf sits at a desk, writing a letter. The vortex cube and the odd black stone striped with silver lie on the desk, seperate once more. When he finishes writing it, he sticks it inside the Vortex Cube, and it appears next to Destrius' sleeping form.

The dark figure has been following Mondain's path for some time, and the translocation spell that took him to Stonegate along with his mortal friends allowed the figure to finally hone in on the remnants of Mondain's psyche. The spells he had cast have now faded, and the lack of ether has made him rely on skills he has not practised in decades. His consort of lichs have fallen back into the grave, and he feels very vulnerable, and very tired. So it is with great pleasure that he finds the Companions sleeping so soundly, and so deeply that they do not hear his footfall in the hall. The form of the Stranger lies upon the ground, white as ice, surrounded by the ochre that can only be known as blood.

The dark figure leans over and caresses the dead face.

Saint George's Dragon tries to raise an alarm but finds that his psychic shouts to week and his companions to deeply asleep. So, instead he watches the figure and meditates on the wisdom of more drastic action.

The new ring lies close by, but the dark figure ignores its presence. In his world, such artefacts are needless, and he will not be staying long in this reality.

The proto-Gem also lies close at hand, and temptation does strike into his heart, for the Gem's gentle purple colour is enticing, and would look amongst his other art treasures. But as he looks upon it, a pale face seems to stare back at him from the facets, and its stare admonishes him. The figure nearly laughs, and turns back to his contemplation of the corpse.

Seeing that the figure is only interested in the corpse and not the artefacts relaxes SG'sD significantly and he thinks *Well, I guess everyone has to get their fun somehow, personally, I tend to think the line should be drawn at desecrating dead bodies, not much I can do now though I guess.*

The mage that was Amsereth was significantly powerful in the history of this world, and the museum back home will be willing to pay a good price to display the corpse. Mondain's body would have been better, but the dark figure doubted he would find it here. Anyway, Mondain's transmogrification into a lich would be troublesome; his mind is too strong for the usual controls, while Amsereth could be easily enticed to follow his new master.

The dark figure pulls a ring off his finger, and twists its centre band. The band glows gently as it expends the last of its magical charge.

"Open the gateway; I am returning."

A brief flicker of blue, and a sphere of colour descends around the figure and the corpse of Amsereth. In seconds the sphere is gone, and so are the two bodies.

As the gateway opens a flow of Ether rushes through from the other side momentarily increasing the local level of ether. SG'sD finds he is now once again semi-transparent. "Hmph, pesky interdimensional necrophyliacs whats wrong with the corpses in their own dimension." he mutters to himself as he goes to wake his companions and tell them what has transpired. Then a thought strikes him "You know I could swear we are forgetting something very important about those two rings.".

At this point a dim pulsating blueish light fills the room and then Saint George's Dragon exclaims telepathically, "OF COURSE, those glow in the dark guys will be wanting the rings back."

He turns and says "Oh, uh Hi..." rather apologetically to the wisp that has just appeared in the room. He turns to the sleeping forms and says "Uh, guys the repomen are here."

Meanwhile, the other companions begin to stir. One says "Turn off the bloody light.". Another mumbles "Just five more minutes.".

The wisp coldly states its intent "Xorinia has 'come' to 'collect' the 'Ring of Xiesh' and 'Ring of Heath' as stipulated in the 'agreement' with the entity 'Destrius' of 'Tideron'."

Waking quickly due to reflexes built up during the tension of the quest, Kenneth rises to greet the Wisp. The others wake up as well, in varying degrees of speed.

Destrius goes over to get the Rings from the body of Amsereth only to find two rings and no body.

From the side, St. George's says, "Remind me to explain later about the mystery bodysnatcher who sneaked in in the dead of night." Destrius raises a quizzical eyebrow, but soon goes back to get the Rigns and bring them to the Wisp.

A blue glow envelops the Rings and encases them in a shimmering energy field. The Wisp soon states, "The 'Ring of Haeth' has been nullified and the "Ring of Xiesh' reverted to 'its' inferior state. Explain."

Destrius quickly explains the use of the Rings in ending the battle with Amsereth.

After a moment, the bobbing light replies, "This 'payment' is insufficient to what was agreed. 'We' have decided that further 'payment' is necessary. 'We shall seek 'you' again when the 'value' of the 'payment' is chosen. Until that time, 'you' may consider 'yourself' in 'debt' to 'us'. 'Farewell', 'Destrius' of 'Tideron'. 'Farewell', all of 'you'." With that, the wisp fades away, taking the Rings with it.

A heavy silence hangs over the group as they wonder what debt the Wisps would seek.

"Cheats." Paulon mutters. "They may have a point where Shal's ring is concerned since it got changed by the battle, but we never made any agreements about the condition of the other one." He sighs. "Let's get our stuff and get moving. This isn't the most pleasant of places." He rummages through the shelves and finds the Virtue tinders, among other useful things, which he distributes amongst the group. St. George's relates the events he witnessed which led to the abduction of Amsereth's body, explaining its absence. Destrius acquires a grim look at the news, although when asked, he could not quite pinpoint why the news disturbed him.

Destrius picks up the letter from Helgraf, glances through it, then reads it aloud for the remainder of the party:

To the esteemed : Destrius, Kenneth, St. Georges, Dracos, Paulon, and anyone I may have forgotton.

I hope you can forgive my absence at the final battle, but I needed to finish some business in order that I might return to my own home world and ... restore ... myself. Dying takes a lot out of me - and the strain of wielding the Shade Blade, for however noble a cause also depleted my ... resources.

If I had enough energy left to aid in the fight against the Stranger and perform the ritual to call forth Magebane Torus, I would have - but with Mondain's probable return to Control, the magic-deadening field would leave me with no options. I would have been stranded here too long and by the time the ether flowed again, I would be too weak to return to my home.

The method by which I left Britannia will, by neccesity, take the Vortex Cube with me - I only hope you will view me as a suitable protector of it until such time, if any, as we meet again.

I feel you will prove more than able to the task of restoring the Eternal Flames, now that the Stranger is out of the way. With Mondain returned to the Shrine of Control, I need not worry about his presence in the planes of the afterlife, so that worked out well. I really was not looking forward to trying to reave his soul from Dracos' body - but I will not deny that I would have tried, should it have proven neccesary - you may find that distasteful, but there were definite reasons for it. Destrius could tell you more on that score - he knows more than a little about temporal mechanics and rifts.

Though I wanted to contact the Wisps before I left, circumstances did not allow for it. I will see if I can reach them in the Void, though they tend to avoid contact with Magebane Torus.

You will find that this scroll contains additional information for some of you - which others will not be able to read. If you choose to share this information, I cannot stop you, but consider why I made it so before doing so.

In the event that we do not meet again, I extend to you all my fondest wishes.

I remain,


Of all of us, Destrius, I felt the most kinship with you, if only because we both were most alien in this group. If you should have need of me, know I can be reached via the Wisps - remind them, if need be, that they still owe me a service.

Virtue's heart. To you I entrust the secret of the location of the Shade Blade. I told the group it would be in the Cave of Innocents' Proof. Consider this : What creature can prove the purity of a man or woman? Where lairs the only creature of that kind in Britannia, will thou find the Shade Blade. The answer lies in the horn of the dilemna.

You were used as a vessel by forces of dubious origin. I hold no grudges with thee - indeed, I hope your body recovers speedily from the strains it was placed under. Perhaps the next time we meet, twill be under less . . . trying circumstances.

I have the least to say to you - not because of any dislike, but because of all those here, you are the one I interacted with the least. You have a quick mind - and improvise well.

St. George's,
You joined the quest somewhat belatedly, but you were a trooper, if somewhat confused, and always gave it your best effort. I noted your . . etheric instability. Should you wish to try and allieviate that condition, then consider trading with the Wisps for the texts written by one Eridantus of Corilla . . . his works on the matter are unparalleled. I wish you the best of luck.

Destrius reads the private portion of the missive, then hands the letter to the others that they may read the hidden messages.

Myrmidon notices a tunnel in the wall, and points it out to the others. After all have finished their packing, the group follow Myrmidon through the tunnel.

When they emerge, they find themselves back in Stonegate's audience chamber, behind the throne that Amsereth used. As they cross the room to the exit, Concussed notices something odd on the floor, in the midst of the area the battle with the daemons took place. He reaches down, and picks up off the floor three slivers of a jet-black crystal. Realizing what they are, he puts them in a beltpouch, which he then magically wards.

The group then proceed out of the castle with no further incident, and find themselves back in Britannia, in the Bog of Desolation. They slowly make their way out, carefully avoiding the more noxious parts of the swamp, and follow the Britain-Minoc road back to Britain.

As they enter the capital city, they draw quite a crowd, as the people do not often see travelers who look like death warmed over. They proceed straight to the castle, and before the guards can stop them, Destius holds out the Amulet of Lord British. The guards let them in, and they head to the throne room with only one hindrance. After some glares from the entire group, however, Chuckles backs off. The party enters the throne room and is greeted warmly by Lord British.

After exchanging pleasantries, Destrius hands back the King's Regalia, and relates the tale of their quest.

At one point Lord British interrupts, and asks Paulon. "How much dost thou know of the kidnapping of the Avatar? 'Tis hard to conceive that thou knowth so much of matters upon the Serpent Isle and yet not speak of who doth imprison him, and where that prison lies."

"Your Majesty," Paulon replies. "I think you know who imprisoned the Avatar, in a world named Pagan. But I don't know enough beyond the surface events to say any more than that. The whole business depends on what your foe's real motivations are, and I just don't know that. Fragmentary glimpses of what may be are likely to cause you more grief if I relate them and guess wrong about what they mean than if we all just wait for things to happen. The future isn't set in stone." Paulon shuts his mouth and steps backwards, looking away from the frustrated look on the King's face.

"All that is left now," Destrius finishes, "is to seal the Shards once more in the Flames of Virtue. We should recieve no trouble, as the re-shattering of the Gem will render the Shadowlords inert for about a week."

Lord British absorbs the news of their deeds, and nods in response to that last task. "I presume there is no objection to me performing the ceremony to relight the Flames?"

The mage responds, "Of course not, Lord. Indeed, you would be most suitable, having participated in the original lighting of the Flames."

"Very well," responds Lord British. "We shall leave shortly. However, if I were you, I'd be wary of the Wisps, and whoever the black-robed man was. Doubtless both parties will come back to remind you of the events of yesterday."

Destrius nods, as do several others in the group. A runner enters the room informing everyone that transportation to the Keeps has been arranged and is ready.

Over the course of the next three days, the group travels to the Keeps to light each Flame; one per day, as the ritual must culminate as the sun reaches its peak, to ignite the Spark of the Flame of Eternity, which lights the tinders.

The ceremony itself is impressive. Each of the Tinders is laid down in the great brazier, starting with that of the cardinal Virtue and ending with that of Spirituality, with words describing each of the Virtues for which they stand. As the incantation continues, they begin to glow with a soft blue light, which brightens as the Spark is added. The clouds moving across the sky above seem to draw back towards the horizon leaving the dome of the sky above clear as the ritual builds to it's climax, and the light of the noon sun shines down on the brazier. The final touch of that light sends flames leaping twenty feet upwards as the incandescently blue Flame ignites once more, then subsides to it's normal levels.

After relighting the Flame of Courage, Kenneth muses, "What shall we do with these, now?"

In his hand he holds the now-empty Keys of the Principles.

Lord British responds, "I will take them to a place where they shall be reached again when it becomes necessary. They will be separate from Britannia until that time, called forth as they always are when needed." He takes the Keys from Kenneth and whispers an incantation over the,m, causing them to vanish in a small flash of light.

The Relightings occur without incident, and the group then returns to Castle Britannia for a feast in their honor.

At the feast in the Castle, Sir Kenneth sees Paulon shifting awkwardly in his seat. "What is the matter?" he asks. "We would not be here if Lord British did not think we had not earned this honor." Paulon grimaces as he looks back at the paladin. "That's part of it, but mostly it's these clothes." Paulon looks down at the Britannian finery he has been given to wear instead of the battered garb he had worn through the quest. "They itch." The traveller from Earth looks a trifle hurt when Kenneth laughs at his predicament.

Eventually, the three weeks without magic ended and the heroes said their farewells as Lord British used the Orb of the Moons to send each to their home world, save for Destrius, who said he had a few more items of business to attend to, and that he had his own means to reach Tideron.

Once again clad in the now repaired clothing he had worn on his appearance in Britannia, Paulon waits for the red moongate to rise in front of him. Lord British looks hard at Paulon for an instant before he steps into the gate. Paulon pauses, meets his gaze and speaks. "The Avatar will get away from his immediate situation without help. And remember that knowing only a part of the truth can give you as false an impression as knowing none of it. That's the most I dare say. My thanks for your hospitality."

With that he steps into the glowing wall in front of him, and is gone from Britannia.

"If you don't mind, milord," Kenneth asks Lord British, "could you send meto Avatar Isle instead of Trinsic? There is something I feel I must do there.

His right hand rests on the hilt of the sheathed Caliburn.

Lord British asks him, "Are you sure it will be necessary? The blade would do better to be kept at the Castle, kept safe to be given to the next hero who will need it."

Kenneth looks at his liege, and replies, "I just have a feeling that it should be with the rest of the Talismans, and that if it is needed again, it will be found."

Lord British nods solemnly, and opens a red gate to the Isle of the Avatar, in front of the Shrine of the Codex. Kenneth steps through....

.... and morphs into Lumina, clutching the sword in one claw. He flies to the peak of the Abyss, and drops Caliburn into the maw of the volcano, where it falls into the Flame of Eternity in the Chamber of Virtue, once again with the other Talismans of Virtue.

Turning around to fly back to the mainland, Lumina sees something odd next to the Shrine of the Codex, obsucred by the Shrine itself when he first arrived. Swooping down, he lends beside the wreckage of the Barataria. Intoning the words, "In Vas Por," Lumina's formidable Draconic strength instantly doubles. He lifts a short distance off the ground, then picks up the craft, and heads to the mainland, making a short stop to visit Concussed Dragon before heading back to Trinsic.

At Concussed's, Lumina lands, placing the Barataria just outside the door. When Concussed comes to see what made the noise, he sees first Lumina, then the Barataria. Lumina smiles at the other Dragon, then lifts off once more, heading for his home in Trinsic.

It is dark where the Moongate deposits Paulon atop a low stoney outcrop. A wave splashes spray over him as he turns and looks at the familiar sparkling lights across the harbour.

Looking back along the beach Paulon glares at the waves. "High tide. I guess I get to wade home. Oh well." He jumps to an incline and walks down it into the tides.

The view from the proto-Gem fades, and Dracos props himself up from his bed. His body feels old and tired, and well used, and the disturbing thing is that it has been well used by someone else. Two somethings he reminds himself; *Mondain was the second parasite to use my body.* The proto-Gem lies in his hands. Despite much probing, the Gem seems useless. It is not an etheric power-source, something which, if it were, would have greatly aided the healing of his pain wracked body in the magickless times, and from time to time the Gem seemed to allow him to see current events, but never clearly. It was only that he recognised Destrius that that vision had any meaning.

The tattooed mage pulls himself out of bed, and wanders over to the window, idly fondling the Gem. His hand relaxes as a spasm of pain hits him, and the magical jewel starts to fall towards the earth of Moonglow beneath him. Dracos closes his eyes, waiting for the sound of fracturing that will come after the Gem hits the cobblestones of the road. It does not. Dracos warily opens one eye, and then the other. Where the Gem should have landed, there is only a deep hole.

In the hut of Nicodemus the Mage, Destrius sets to work on a problem which had troubled him since the defeat of the Stranger. Of the group, one member had remained unaccounted for for quite some time now; the mage Helgraf. After many unsuccessful attempts to locate the mage, Destrius concludes that Helgraf must have found some way to return to his world independent of the others. Sighing, Destrius opens a portal to Tideron, muttering one final comment before leaving Britannia.

"What was that mage up to, anyway?"

As space-time bends onto itself and expells Destrius from this world and into a different one, the mage contemplates further on another few issues that disturbed him.

First, Mondain's Gem. What power did it hold to actually entrap the fundamentals of magic into their various bodies, unable to interact properly with each other? It was against all the laws of magic he knew. Perhaps one of the seers back home might have a possible explanation. He'd have to bear with a month reading through their equations, though.

And then there was Amsereth. That name...

So familiar....

Wait... could it be... from there?

Slowly, images form in Destrius' mind, and he begins to form a partial answer to this question.

"Bah. I'll worry about that when I get back. It's been a long time..."

The dimensions reform and Destrius sees a familiar world.

Soon, he will be home.


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