Madman's Rage

by BlueClaw

Chapter I
Through the Eyes of a Madman

The slightly rotund, cowled bard watched as his host poured him another glass of alcohol, something people here called Jack Daniel’s. Scratching his stubble with pudgy fingers, he lay down his lute at his feet and took in his surroundings. The extravagant lounge of his host, who happened to be a wealthy entrepreneur of sorts from what he had discovered so far - the man was terribly taciturn when he chose to be - was lavishly decorated, with stylish furniture that would have cost thousands in gold per piece. Of course, in the realm he was currently in, they didn’t deal in gold. They dealt in strange, paper-like currency called the dollar.

Tentatively taking the glass, the bard took a sip and barely kept himself from recoiling from the potent taste. Back home, a place far away from here - that much was for certain - he preferred ale or wine made at a certain abbey. Ceasing his reminiscing, he eyed his host through beady, red-veined eyes.

The man that sat before him in his grand chair was tall and burly, as if he had once had a career as a warrior. The bard thought he looked vaguely familiar. Square-faced, dark-haired and black-eyed, the man looked like one not to be trifled with even in his expensive ivory-hued suit. A stark contrast to the bard’s own ragged robes. He looked quite the pauper. They called his kind buskers here, not bards.

They called the entrepreneur Mourner, although the bard suspected it to be a pseudonym of sorts. Either way, Mourner’s affluence was undeniable - it was said that he had made his way to grand wealth through the selling of diamonds, although none knew where he mined them from. Only he himself knew.

The fireplace was lit and crackled, ornate and elaborate in its design, like everything else in this mansion.

“So, you can tell me a good story, I hear?” Mourner said gruffly. He scratched his trim mustache impatiently.

On the wall behind his chair, there was a mounted heater shield with an entwined serpent engraved on its smooth metal surface. Now the bard most definitely recognized that. Perhaps Mourner really was who the bard suspected.

“Aye, I most definitely can.” the bard replied. “I tale of great sadness and tragedy it is, wrought with cruelty and savagery, and worst of all, betrayal and treachery of the worst kind! Decadence and corruption it is rife with-”

“Get on with it.” Mourner cut him off brusquely.

The bard nodded. It was difficult to be meek. He himself had once been a man of considerable power and influence, but was now reduced to nearly a pauper in this accursed land.

“Aye, it starts with the adventures of a certain hero in a certain mythical land called Britannia.” the bard began.

Mourner’s eyes flashed with interest and what seemed, at least for a moment, recognition.

“Magic had once been a most dominant supernatural force in this realm, but of late it had been growing increasingly difficult to manipulate, oft times turning on its users and causing the wielders to go mad.” the bard said. His tone shifted easily to that best suited to storytelling. And this story would be a long one. “Our hero, whom we shall know as the Avatar, was faced with a most dire predicament on his hands…” And so the bard plunged into the grim and loathsome tale, one that still gave even one such as him nightmares to this very day…

Dear Diary,

We have just arrived at New Magincia on the quest to obtain Alagner’s notebook for the wisps of Spiritwood. The investigation of the Fellowship and trailing of Elizabeth and Abraham has been temporarily postponed after visiting the Moonglow Branch. The Time Lord’s need, or so Margereta and the wisps tell me, is very great. I must hasten. I fear I am succumbing to the same ailments as the mages. The headaches g row worse with the passing days. I am beginning to lose my temper far more easily. Three days before I snapped at Spark for merely voicing his mind and openly cursed his father’s name for wasting my time with this ‘futile hunt’. I did not even have the courage to apologize; I still don’t. When securing lodgings at the local inn, the innkeeper refused to have dealings with him until I paid off Dupre’s accumulative tab. I became enraged enough to attempt assaulting the innkeeper, but my companions held me back. The innkeeper was so fearful he gave us rooms regardless of my violence; Ilo paid Dupre’s tab, but only after repeatedly pressing the gold upon him. He could still be hiding behind his counter for all I know. I worry now. Am I succumbing to the mage madness that has afflicted this realm? I sincerely hope not.

Tomas, the Avatar


“What?!” Tomas snapped, eyes sweeping to the door of the small room.

Jaana stood there, taken aback by his hostile reply. Concerned eyes regarded the Avatar, who sat on his bed finishing his most recent diary entry. The quill pen crumpled into trash as the Avatar’s hand clenched into a fist that shook with rage. But rage for what?

Tomas’s head throbbed. Snapping shut his diary, he stuffed it into his backpack and inhaled a deep, frustrated breath. “My apologies, Jaana. That was out of line.”

Jaana shook her head. “No matter, Avatar. We are about to leave for Alagner. Dost thou wish for me to try my healing again?”

Tomas shook his head, and regretted doing it when the sledgehammer of pain struck his skull, quickly turning into a dagger and stabbing into his brain. He barely bit back a howl. No amount of Jaana’ healing powers could drive away his headaches. They were as persistent as ravenous daemons and growing more painful by the day. “No, but thank thee. I’ll be out and about in a moment.” he replied.

Jaana nodded slowly and gave Tomas one last look that was tinged with sympathy, then she left, closing the door behind her with a soft click.

Tomas rose and donned his plate and mail armour, strapping on his pack. Lastly, he drew the Black Sword from the floor; it had been impaled in the wooden boards heedless of the repair costs. The innkeeper could foot the bill for the impedance he had served, Tomas thought bitterly, anger rising. It took an effort to stamp it down.

Tomas held the Shade Blade before his eyes; it had been constructed of blackrock, its unwieldy heaviness counterbalanced by the glowing blue gem fused into the hilt of the weapon. It was in this jewel that a powerful demon lay trapped, one who’s abilities made the Shade Blade a very formidable weapon indeed.

“Arcadion.” Tomas called.

The gem came to life, and a crystalline voice answered. “Yes, Master?” Arcadion replied, dangerously close to exasperation.

“What knowest thou of this mage madness?” Tomas demanded.

“As much as thee, Master.” Arcacdion answered, too meekly for belief.

“You lie!” Tomas growled, anger spilling over the brim. He barely reined it in this time, hands trembling as they tightened on the hilt.

There was a marked pause before the demon answered. “You suffer from the headaches as well, Master? Perhaps you should take some aspirin, as I believe you Earthlings call it.” There was a metallic chuckle.

Tomas started in shook. How did the creature know? The sword irked him greatly. There were times when he wanted to hurl the thing into the ocean, but no matter where he dumped it, it would return to his possession on its own accord. It was irrevocably bound to him - unless, of course, he decided to free the creature, not an option in the least with its degree of potency.

“How dost thou know?” Tomas demanded.

Arcadion chortled again. “I am with you at all times, Master. It isn’t so difficult to notice the subtle - and not so subtle - changes in your character.” There was another pause. “You are going mad. Simple as that. Such is the fate of prolonged exposure to heavy magic use and damaged ethereal waves.”

“No! I am not mad!” Tomas shouted vehemently.

Poor Avatar. Poor, poor Avatar. Insidious laughter, vaguely familiar and reverberating within his mind.

“Who asked thee?” Tomas snapped.

Arcadion’s reply was quizzical, almost perplexed. “Was that directed at me?”

“No! That damned voice that has been plaguing me since I came here!” Tomas hissed, looking around suspiciously. What frightened him more was that he had never been so shaken by the mysterious voice before.

“Ah.” The tone of Arcadion’s voice was more than enough to state his conclusion of the Avatar’s sanity. “Hearing voices too? I suggest you commit yourself as soon as possible.” The sardonic humour was irritatingly palpable.

“Get thee gone!” Tomas snarled at the sword. “I’ll deal with thee later!”

“Until next time, dear Master.” Arcadion replied. The gem dimmed to signal his departure into the depths of the jewel.

Strapping the sword to his back, Tomas stormed out into the commons room. The fool innkeeper was no where to be seen. Better for his health with the mood the Avatar was in.

The Companions were waiting for him. Iolo stood watching him with concern, crossbow in hand. Spark stood behind him, blue eyes widened with apprehension. The whelp still hadn’t forgotten his outburst. Shamino and Tseramed stuck to each other, bows ready; as rangers, they had become fast friends with their discussions of wood lore. They eyed him warily, as if he had the plague. Sentri was fingering the hilt of his two-handed sword anxiously, as if expecting the sudden rampage of a rabid wolf. Jaana patted his shoulder reassuringly. It seemed all of them were uncomfortably aware of the Avatar’s mental state and were preparing for the worst.

“Tomas! Good morrow!” Dupre’s boisterous voice startled Tomas, his head nearly bursting from the pain.

Tomas whirled to meet him, right eye twitching on its own accord. While Dupre was all cheery smiles, there was a tightness around his eyes. He too was worried about the Avatar. At least he didn’t have the trademark tankard in his hand. Dupre playfully punched the Avatar on the shoulder.

“Don’t touch me.” Tomas growled menacingly, enunciating every word.

Dupre frowned but took a step back. Experience paid. Tomas had previously threatened to burn off the knight’s neatly trimmed mustache with a fireball if he did not watch his step, and there had been not a tinge of banter in the threat. People took the Avatar very seriously now ever since he had cast Dance on Iolo after the wretchedly annoying bard had dared to ask whether it was ‘virtuous’ to steal one of daft Mariah’s potions back at the Lycaeum. As if the crazy woman would have had use for it in her questionable state of mind.

Dupre tried to say something, palms up, but Tomas cut him off irritably. “What art thou looking at, fools? Let us get this damned notebook and satiate the damned curiosity of those damned wisps!” Tomas’s voice rose with each word.

The others had no choice but to follow as the Avatar stomped out of the inn, exchanging anxious glances. As they trailed him down the dilapidated dirt road of New Magincia, they whispered among themselves, thinking their leader could not hear.

“He is very ill.” Iolo said to Shamino in a hushed tone. “The headaches grow worse. He has become ill-tempered and irrational.”

“Aye, like the time he made thee dance.” Dupre said. Iolo’s withering glare put to rest the bubbling laughter that would have burst from the knight.

Jaana frowned at Dupre as one might a recalcitrant child. “Dupre, this situation is dire. The Avatar’s mental condition is deteriorating!”

“Canst thou not do anything?” Shamino asked.

Jaana shook her head grimly. “No. We must find the cause of this madness.”

“Shouldst thou not be affected as well?” Iolo asked.

“It would appear that my small ability to manipulate the ether does not render me so susceptible to the mage madness. My magic isn’t as effective as it used to be, however.” Jaana said.

Tomas had half a mind to turn around and put the conspiring connivers in their place. His head was throbbing badly, though, and the bright sun and chirping birds only worsened it. The road twisted north and the Avatar followed it doggedly, scowling all the way so as the normally shy inhabitants of the backwater town averted their eyes and kept a safe distance away.

When they reached Alagner’s abode, a large multi-roomed house of stone, Tomas entered without the proper courtesy of knocking. They entered a spacious lab, where a rotund brown-robed sage worked over a cauldron, pouring various potions into the boiling concoction while occasionally gliding over to the nearby table to take down notes.

Tomas approached him, the Companions close behind and looking on nervously. The man’s eyes narrowed as he surveyed the intruders.

“What dost thou want?” he demanded stoically, unfazed by so many armed men within his home.

“I ask the questions!” Tomas cut him off brusquely. “Name?”

The sage smiled condescendingly. “I am Alagner. And thou?”

“The Avatar.” Tomas replied with thinly veiled contempt. The dam that held back the swirling maelstrom of fury and madness was weakening with each hammering blow of the headache, in exact phase with his pulse. A muscle in his cheek twitched spontaneously.

Alagner’s eyes widened. “The Avatar! I have read of thy achievements! Thou art truly worthy of my time.” he said, suddenly reverent and respectful.

“And rightfully so.” Tomas answered arrogantly. “I need thy notebook. It is imperative that I get it!”

Alagner’s pudgy visage took on a calculating look. “’Tis in my study. I suppose I could let thee borrow it if thou dost promise to return it.”

“Yes. Yes. Of course! Of course!” Tomas said impatiently, eager to get to the point.

“Thou must do something for me first before I give thee the key.” Alagner said slyly.

A low growl escaped Tomas’s throat. “What is that?” he rasped menacingly.

“Dost thou know the answers to the questions of Life and Death?”

“Yes.” Tomas lied.

Alagner’s face was one of genuine surprise. “Well, what is it?”

“Blackbird.” Tomas growled, picking out the name from his increasingly confusing muddle of memories. It had had a purpose once, although he could not remember. The pain increased.

Alagner looked at him incredulously. “Thou dost lie!”

“Fool!” The dam burst, and the torrent of hatred and madness rushed forth like the rolling waves of destruction, sweeping away all vestiges of sanity and self-control.

In two bounds, Tomas had crossed the distance between himself and Alagner, grabbing the sage by the back of the neck and plunging his head into the cauldron of iridescent liquid. The man struggled, hands flailing and splashing the concoction, but he was no match for Tomas’s strength.

“If thou wishest to know the answers to the questions of Life and Death, I will show it to thee in person!” Tomas snarled.

“Avatar?!” Iolo cried.

Dupre and Shamino pulled Tomas back, letting Alagner fall by the side of the cauldron, gasping for breath.

“Control thyself!” Dupre exclaimed.

Tomas struggled tenaciously in their grip. “Let go of me!”

A backhand blow sent Dupre staggering back, while an elbow to the stomach doubled Shamino over. Tomas drew the Black Sword and pointed it at one dishevelled Alagner.

“Thou art no Avatar!” the sage gasped, eyes wide with fear.

“I am death.” Tomas said with all the icy calmness that preceded the storm.

A stream of fire launched from the tip of the blade and engulfed Alagner, exploding and leaving the sage and his cauldron smouldering piles of ruin. Acradion’s metallic laugh resonated in the air, complimented by what Tomas though was a sickeningly familiar echoing laughter in his head, although he couldn’t be certain.

In the silence that followed, there was the rasp of a blade being drawn and a bowstring being pulled taut. Slowly, Tomas turned around to face the shcoked and condemning looks of his companions. Sentri had his sword drawn, while Tseramed’s nocked arrow had a bead on him. Iolo’s crossbow was aimed at his chest. Jaana’s hawk was perched on her arm, ready to swoop for the eyes. The others were recovering.

Tomas eyed each of them, a sheen of nervous sweat forming on his face. He began to pant, short of breath from his implacable fury.

“Avatar, put the sword down.” Iolo said stoically, nervously betrayed only by a slight waver in his tone.

Tomas looked at the Black Swrod in his trembling hands as if surprised to see it there. Then a twisted smile reshaped his lips, sinister and undeniably malevolent.

“I have just worked it out! How to deal wit the Fellowship!” he said, breathing laboured, shaken by insane excitement. “We know that we can’t trust them! They lead people like sheep! They insinuate themselves in our society and eat away like cancer! We don’t know who is a member or sympathizer! There is only one way to be sure!” The Avatar’s eyes widened, lit by the light of questionable sanity. “We travel from town to town, killing everyone - everything - as we pass, purging those who are members and those who are not, just to be certain no Fellowship scum escape our wrath! In the end, once we obtain Armageddon, we cast it and destroy all! Brilliant, no?”

The companions stared at him as if he had gone mad. There was no doubt that he had.

“What thou dost propose is fullscale genocide! Thou art truly insane!” Iolo exclaimed, face stricken with horror at the creature his long time friend had become.

“Thout wilt not leave this place alive if thou dost not surrender.” Tseramed said, bow drawn, arrow nocked, and ready to fire.

“We will start the cleansing with New Magincia first!” Tomas ranted on, ignoring him in his insane stupor.

“I will not slay innocent Britannians. They have done no wrong!” Tseramed said.

“But you have, TRAITOR!!!” the Avatar snarled, abandoning Britannian speech entirely. He thrust his sword towards Tseramed. “All of you! Arcadion, FIRE!!!”

“At last you are thinking clearly, Master.” the blade crooned, then complied with alacrity.

All hell broke loose. As Arcadion spewed forth swirling, searing flames, the companions scattered and fled, jumping through windows as the lab exploded around them. Tomas laughed maniacally as tables and alchemy flasks erupted from the intense, oblivious to the sweat pouring down his face and soaking his body as Arcadion encouraged him to wreak destruction on all around him.

The heat grew intense enough for one as rage-driven as the Avatar to notice, and he fled the burning building. An arrow hit the ground only a few paces from his foot, followed by a crossbow bolt. Tomas hit the grass and launched balls of flame in the direction of the origin of the projectiles, regaining his feet and bolting around the inferno engulfed home. Some distances ahead was another building, a shipwright’s establishment near the docks.

Tomas rammed down the door with force of his shoulder, stumbling into the room. A man in blue garments rose from the desk to meet him, indignant at the violent intrusion into his domain.

“Who art thou?” he demanded.

The shade Blade removing the shipwright’s head silenced him forever more. Panting, Tomas took in his surroundings. A small home with only two rooms, designed for the ship building business as indicated by the sextants and unsigned deeds lying on the desk and adjacent tables.

“Can’t let them take me.” he maundered in between pants. “Traitor scum, all of them. Fellwoship sympathizers! I will destroy them! Then I will kill everyone for their treachery! All will die!”

“Master,” Arcadion spoke quietly, sounding unusually helpful. “There is one way to achieve your ambitions.”

Tomas’s head flicked up with interest, eyes staring at the glowing ether gem. “How?” he demanded, voice hoarse with insanity.

“I could provide you with the magical power you need. However, you must do something for me.”

“What?! Tell me, demon!”

Arcadion was not ruffled in the slightest by the Avatar’s impatience. “I need the life energies of worthy opponents to provide the power. Might I suggest you use me to slay your companions; each of them has rich life energies. A great feed indeed!”

Tomas’s eyes widened at the half-realized possibilities. A chilling smile warped his lips. “Yes. By killing them, I destroy the sympathizing traitors and make use of their life energies! I shall be victorious!”

“Exactly, Master.” Arcadion replied. His facial expression would have been beaming.

Something smashed through the window, shattering on the floor. A blue powdery smoke pervaded the air, diffusing and heading towards the Avatar with agonizing slowness.

“Sleeping powder.” Arcadion stated matter-of-factly. “They seek to take you alive.”

Tomas leaped through another window, rolling across the grass. He regained his feet and sprinted forward, only to be faced with Sentri. Their swords clashed, Tomas furiously swinging and hacking to slip by his opponent’s defences. Sentri was killed however, two-handed sword parrying every blow, riposting to cut a gash in the Avatar’s arm. Snarling with animalistic rage, Tomas lunged forward, swatting aside Sentri’s blade and headbutting him.

Sentri stumbled back dazed, and the next thing he saw was the ground explode before him, hurling him onto his back. His flesh burned.

“Careful, Master.” Arcadion admonished as Tomas approached the fallen warrior. “Don’t roast them too much. I still need tender, live flesh to feed upon.”

“You’ll get it.” Tomas snapped.

With a single powerful thrust, he drove the Black Sword into Sentri’s chest, relishing his gasp of pain as Arcadion drew his life energies. When Tomas jerked the blade out, Sentri was dead.

“Delicious.” Arcadion said gleefully, crimson staining the blade. “Please, sir, can I have some more?”

A bolt burrowed into the back of Tomas’s shoulder. Howling in pain, he whirled around to meet his adversaries. Iolo was reloading his crossbow. Shamino was preparing to fire his bow. Roaring, Tomas knocked them off their feet with a telekinetic blast, turning to meet Durpe’s flank attack.

“Sanct Lor!” Tomas invoked, fading from the world of the seen and fleeing in the terror of his madness.

As he ran, the bolt in his shoulder grated against the bone, causing Tomas to grit his teeth in pain. In the world of the unseen, he surveyed only in shades of gray and black, though he could clearly hear the shouts of his companions.

“Avatar!” he could hear Jaana cry.

“Murderous villain!” Tseramed yelled, probably upon stumbling across Sentri’s mangled corpse.

The fighter would not be able to be resurrected, granted Death by the Black Sword as he was. They would all suffer the same fate. All of them. He stumbled in the shadowy realm of the invisible, the pain in his shoulder growing worse with each step. The cries fading behind him, Tomas staggered down the incline of a low hill, taking in the grassy plains before him. Sheep grazed and bleated. A woman tended them, somehow very familiar. Katrina.

“Wis Quas!”

Tomas returned to the world of the seen, Katrina starting as he stumbled towards her.

“Katrina! Thou must help me!” Tomas gasped, nearly tripping on a rock. The pain in his head and shoulder seemed to coalesce into a force unbearable. “They’re after me!”

“Avatar!” Katrina exclaimed in surprise, gripping her shepherd’s crook apprehensively. “I heard explosions in the distance! What happened?”

“Katrina!” Iolo yelled. “Get away from him!”

Tomas looked over his shoulder, and it spasmed in response. Biting back a cry, he saw Iolo rushing down the hill, followed by the companions. Katrina studied the Avatar more circumspectly, taking an uncertain back. Tomas bared his teeth and swung the Black Sword at her, but the nimble shepherd leaped back and ran.

From Tomas’s open palm spat forth a purple bolt, striking Katrina in the back and freezing her in mid-stride. Paralyzed as she was, Tomas casually approached her, driving the sword into her back. Katrina couldn’t even scream as she was so cruelly and painfully bereft of life, jaws and vocal chords frozen in unyielding paralysis. She fell in a bloody heap.

Arcadion’s metallic rasp indicated his amusement at the result.

Well done, my friend. You really are an Avatar!

Ripping out the bolt from his shoulder with a clipped gasp, Tomas cast ‘Vas Mani’, the wound subsequently closing and disappearing along with the gash on his arm as if they had never been. The Companions were getting closer. Pointing his finger, fireballs suffused his hand and hurled themselves at the enemy, blowing apart any hapless sheep in their path. The ground exploded in gouts of flame, companions flying this way and that, rolling down the inclined slope in tangled heaps.

Tomas made sure he did not kill them, just disorient them; he needed their life energies for his own diabolical purposes. Suddenly, Spark went darting to the side, fleeing the scene. Smiling to himself, Tomas gave chase. The boy would be easy prey.

Spark was fast, but Tomas endured and was tenacious in his pursuit. The chase dragged on for several minutes, Spark looking over his shoulder and eyes widening with fear as he saw the Avatar inexorably bearing down upon him.

“Ort Grav!”

At Tomas’s command, lightning burst from his fingers, lancing ahead with frightening speed and blowing the ground behind Spark’s heels. The boy hit the grass, tumbling and losing his precious sling. He came to his feet again, crouched low with dagger drawn, prepared to make one last stand even though his lower lip trembled with fear.

The Avatar circled him like a hungry vulture, only this vulture would not wait for its prey to die.

“Avatar!” Spark cried. “This is not thou! Stop!”

Thomas feigned understanding. He even smiled reassuringly. “Give me the dagger, boy, and I shan’t hurt thee. I give oath that I won’t!”

Spark regarded him skeptically, then slowly handed over the dagger. Tomas gently took it, tossing it aside, his face a mask of serenity.

“Excellent.” he said smoothly, then his face suddenly twisted into a countenance of undeniable malevolence. “Now die, fool!”

Spark gasped and crawled back frantically. “But, thou said-”

Tomas smiled mirthlessly. “I said I wouldn’t hurt thee, but I didn’t say for how long. Never trust a loony Avatar, whelp!”

A quick and a thrust, and Spark breathed no more.

Tomas turned slowly, the boy-child’s blood still dripping from his sword. Tseramed and Shamino cautiously approached him, strings taut and arrows nocked. Iolo had a bead on him from a safe distance, while Jaana and Dupre closed in on his flanks. The look in Tseramed’s eye was unforgiving.

“Thou art a vile fiend!” he said, voice seething with anger and shattered faith.

Tomas sneered at him.

“Stay where thou art, Avatar.” Dupre cautioned, voice as immutable in its condemnation as stone. “Thou wilt not be harmed if thou dost surrender.”

“Kill him!” Tseramed shouted, voice wavering from the shock of the ordeal.

“No!” Iolo protested. “He has been bewitched! We must help him!”

“Master,” Arcadion crooned quietly. “You are overwhelmed. Perhaps we should postpone this confrontation until the odds are more in our favour?”

Tomas nodded. “Until next time, knaves!” With that, he disappeared, leaving behind his bewildered and grief-stricken companions.

Dear Diary,

The plan goes well! Already Sentri and Spark have fallen to the Black Sword! The others will soon follow! Now they most likely flee back to Britain to warn that crowned buffoon Lord British Little good it will do them. There are so many things that must be done but so little time to do it all in. I must find and kill the other companions, Julia and Gorn first, while they are still unsuspecting. Perhaps Draxisnusom as well. I owe him that much for the False Prophet debacle. Arcadion informs me that mages make good death fodder also. Soon, I will have enough power to cast Armageddon and rid the world of the Fellowship once and for all! Of course, I must obtain Armageddon first. Rudyom of Cove should have it. Then there is the small matter of my current abode…the Fire Isle fortress is somewhat dilapidated, not worthy of such a great and just leader of benevolence as myself, and every ruler needs a good treasury. Perhaps the Britannian Mint is in mind for a visit. I will have to borrow some gold permanently. Then there is the restructuring of those awful Virtues to consider. I have already thought up several replacements.
Compassion -> Hatred
Spirituality -> ??? Unspirituality perhaps? That even a word? Ah, the mysteries of life!
Honour -> Duplicity
Valour -> Cowardice
Justice -> Vengeance
Sacrifice -> Avarice
Humility -> Arrogance
There is also some pestilent voice in my head muttering about Obedience, Conformity, Sobriety, Diligence, Vigilance, Silence, Efficiency, and Punctuality. Perhaps they will be included in my revamp of the Virtues? Sixteen Virtues instead of eight! Ah, the possibilities! I am also feeling a tad hungry; I feel like eating one of those tigerlions - or was that liontiger? - that farmer Mack mentioned. If it was as delicious as he claims, I most assuredly want one. If he doesn’t know, I’ll eat him! One would think I am a loony!

Tomas, the Grand Master of All That Exists,
Puissant Sovereign and Warrior Extraordinare,
as well as an Avatar on the side

Arcadion watched, shoved in the floor stones of Erethian’s old quarters as he was, morbidly fascinated as the Avatar hastily scrawled the journal entry into his diary. The Avatar seemed to enjoy shoving him into things of late, not that Arcadion had any compalints, it was just that stone didn’t taste all that good. Besides, he could not deny that the Avatar had become an enthralling study. The great transition from a paragon of virtuousness to this blabbering, psychopathic and overly homcidal - make that genocidal - maniac was certainly, for lack of a better word, unexpected. Suprising even.

Arcadion loved it. He had never fed so well on the tortured souls of the living in all his existence since being trapped so many millennia ago. He was loath to admit it, even to himself, but he was beginning to enjoy this servitude. The mage madness was turning out ot be a boon. Absently, Arcadion wondered why Erethian hadn’t been affected. No matter. That old doddering fool was dead now, killed by one of his own spells gone awry. In fact, the very tankard the Avatar was drinking from was made from Erethian’s skull.

Arcadion could not help but chuckle to himself. The Avatar had suddenly become very, very interesting and amusing to boot. He was the personification of decadence and corruption. The detriment was only growing worse.

Then there were the mood swings, two main moods Arcadion had identified. One, which the Avatar was in right now, usually involved him laughing over some twisted machination to himself, or blabbering about ultimate victory and how the Fellowship would perish, along with the whole world, for that matter. Then there was the killing rage, where he would shout and curse, smashing things and killing anything in the nearby vicinity. In between, he would talk to himself, replying to a ‘voice’ inside his head, as he called it. Sometimes he would argue with it, othe times he would chortle and agree wholeheartedly with its ‘suggestions’.

Despite these isseus of dubious sanity and homicidal mood swings, the Avatar had become quite amenable, to Arcadion’s overwhelming advantage. Now, he could control his own destiny as was his right, with the Avatar as his bearer. Together, they could carve out an empire, not just out of the mudball that was Britannia - it could go to Armageddon’s wrath, for all he cared - but of the wider universe itself! Many other planes of existence were available to Arcadion’s knowledge, a great number of which were ripe for conquest. Perhaps Pagan would be next on the list once the Avatar tested his training wheels of destruction on Britannia - a thought suddenly occurred to Arcadion. Could this so-called voice the Avatar had been hearing be the Guardian? He had heard of the Guardian’s methods before, even likved on a world under his reign for a time. This sounded very much like the titan’s methodology for conquer.

Arcadion chortled again. The wily old muppet. He never failed to impress. In fact, he made it quite good for daemons and other such dark beings - servitude to the Guardian was very rewarding. But Arcadion had tired of helping arrogant sorcereres who had all the ken of amoral toddlers, leaving toconquer other realms for his own amusement, among them this Britannia. Ah, those were the good old days, abandoing those fool sorcers and not having to be bothered by bucket-headed apprentices in carnival costumes. Speaking of which, the attire the Avatar was wearing somehow looked very familiar…dismissing the vague sense of déjà vu, Arcadion ceased reminiscing. If he could have shrugged, he would have.

It was time to focus on the task at hand.

“What are you laughing at?” the Avatar demanded suspiciously.

Another problem with Tomas’s newfound insanity was that he took everything as a personal slight. The man was paranoid. At least he had dropped the annoying ‘thees’ and ‘thous’, the typical Britannian linguistic style.

“I merely enjoy seeing Erethian at last being put to good use.” Arcadion replied carefully.

The Avatar’s temper was as fickle as quicksilver. His fury was barely kept in check by a single delicate thread pulled taut; apply too much pressure in one placea and the thread would snap, bringing down all hell.

Tomas looked fondly at his skull tnakard, smiling slyly. “Yes it was a brilliant sue for him, wasn’t it?”

Arcadion gave an imperceptible sigh. With every master he had been force to serve over the centuries, none had ever had the courtesy not to be full of themselves. The flaws of humanity were legion.

The Avatar’s countenance darkened. “Bah!’ He hurled the tankard across the room, shattering it. “We must resume feeding you for Armageddon!”

Tomas rose from the wooden chair, yanking the Black Sword, Arcadion’s newest home - more like prison - and through use of the Virtue Stones, teleported off the Fire Isle.

Lord British’s face became grave at the grim news of the Avatar’s rampage.

“Gone mad, you say?” British said, looking down at the Companions from his throne. That Sentri and Spark were no longer present did not bode well.

Iolo nodded vehemently. “Slew Sentri and Spark in anger, he did!”

“’Tis the mage madness, milord.” Shamino said gravely. “With the Black Sword, he is nigh unstoppable.”

“I cannot believe this.” Lord British said, covering his forehead with his hand. “The Avatar? Turning against his own Companions? Slaying innocent Britannians he is charged to protect? What can be done?”

“Milord, we must some how find the source of the madness.” Jaana said. “Perhaps in Moonglow we may find an answer.”

“Penumbra.” Iolo said. “’Tis said she put herself to sleep and prophesized that the Avatar would wake her. Yet when we were in Moonglow he did not. He seemed…impatient, anxious. Quite simply, he forgot, and was angered whenever we attempted to remind him.”

Jaana nodded. “He suffered from headaches for quite some time before he snapped.”

“What is he going to do?” British asked worriedly.

“Of that, who can say?” Iolo answered gravely. “He ranted on about destroying the world. Killing everybody to be certain of the Fellowship’s demise. Then he turned on us most brutally.”

British shook his head sadly. “That settles it, then. Either we cure his insanity or we kill him. I doubt we can do the latter, not without great cost.” The old sovereign’s eyes hardened. “Iolo, you now lead the Companions. I charge you with seeking out the source of the mage madness. Start with Penumbra first. The insanity might not have plagued her asleep.” British rose and form a chest concealed behind the throne drew a metallic spherical device with many coloured buttons upon it. He handed it to Iolo. “A teleport device, the brainchild of Nystul before he became daft. It is a fickle thing; sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s all I have to aid your journey. It can take you to every settlement and dungeon in Britannia. Hasten, friends. As for myself, I have been too complacent in my castle walls to see the corruption of the realm around me, now truly indicative by the Avatar’s fall from Virtue, and my subjects must suffer for it. For my foolishness!” British shook his head and sighed raggedly. “I will try to buy thee as much time as possible by luring the Avatar here.”

The Companions gasped in unison.

“No! Thou canst not!” Iolo protested.

“He’ll kill thee!” Dupre exclaimed. “The Black Swrod is a death none can evade when set upon by it!”

British chuckled half-heartedly. “It is time for me to make a stand for my people, old friends. Besides, Geoffery will protect me. He is the finest bodyguard there is. And Nystul, too. My defenders.”

Geoffery stepped out from behind a stone column, taking his place by his liege’s side, donned in full armour with honed double-edged sword sheathed at his hip. He looked as immutable as blackrock in his determination to protect his ruler.

“Aye, as much as it grieves me to hear of the Avatar’s treachery, he won’t get by me. Not without a bloody fight.” Geoffery said self-assuredly, gripping the hilt of his sword for emphasis.

Nystul performed a cartwheel across the throneroom, laughing maniacally, while Chuckles laughed and clapped.

“Why, he makes a bet- no, more fun jest- guy than me!” Chuckles exclaimed cheerfully, oblivious to the severity of the situation. Then again, he could be surrounded by a dozen ravenous daemons and still find reason for mirth. “Canst thou play The Game?”

“And a fine last stand this will be.” Tseramed mumbled, eyeing dubiously the entourage that assembled beside Lord British, a grizzled a veteran, an idiotic jester who wouldn’t notice if his hand was cut off, and a daft mage who was now doing the moonwalk in front of his liege.

It was a disheartened band of Companions that departed for Moonglow that fateful day.

Jakher pulled back his bowstring till it was taut, the arrow nocked, and with his sharp eye aimed down the shaft for the centre of the bull’s eye target. He let loose, the clothyard shaft whistling through the air for a second before hitting the red mark dead centre.

Smiling at his victory, Jakher began to stroll up to the target to yank out the arrow when suddenly the door to the training centre exploded, the force and the whoosh of hot air knocking him off his feet. The explosion still ringing in his ears, Jakher squinted as his eyes stung from acrid smoke, a tall silhouette stepping through the ruined doorway.

When the smoke cleared, Jakher gasped. The violent intruder was the fool who claimed to be the Avatar!

Tomas stared down grimly at him. Jakher cried out as glowing red tendrils of energy - tendrils that burned - wrapped around his arms tightly and picked him up several feet above the ground.

“I’m looking for Julia! Where is she?!” Tomas demanded.

Jakher grimaced as the tendrils sizzled his flesh, permeating the air with the sickly sweet stench of burning meat.

“Thou dost refer to one of the most famed and courageous citizens of Minoc! I would never reveal her whereabouts to the likes of a hoodlum such as thyself!” Jakher rasped through clenched teeth, the tendrils burning more intensely.

The tendrils disappeared and Jakher fell hard on his rump. Burns striped across his upper arms, back and chest like angry lash marks, having cut through the clothes and leather. The Avatar’s smile was not benign.

“I think you will.” Tomas growled, raising the point of the Black Sword.

A fireball left a steaming crater in the carpet less than half a pace to the right of Jakher. He dared not move, all thoughts of defiance vanquished in entirety.

“She is at the Fellowsihp Hall, the building at Sacrifice Road across the street from the Artist’s Guild at Minoc town centre.” Jakher blurted frantically.

“Thank you for your compliance. I shall reward you by letting you live.” Tomas then added almost inaudibly, “For but a few more seconds.” Invoking words of power, Tomas uttered ‘Tym Vas Flam’, then hastily left the training centre, leaving behind a very perplexed and nonplussed Jakher.

Several moments later, the entire building exploded, leaving naught but debris and the scattered, charred bones of yet another victim of the mad Avatar’s wrath.

Julia thrust out the candelabra before Elynor’s nose, pointing vehemently at its design.

“Explain this, Elynor!” Julia demanded, dropping the object at the woman’s feet.

Elynor sniffed arrogantly. “Thou dost dare to confront the Fellowship with such outlandish allegations? You dare to implicate us in those - those gypsies' murders?!” She could not quite blot out her contempt for the second last word, and Julia drove home the attack.

The former Companion of the Avatar had felt obligated to do something about the gruesome Minoc murders ever since the Avatar passed through town, and only after days of wrangling with the town guard had she managed to obtain this vital piece of evidence found at the murder site - the candelebra with the Fellowship design constructed about it. The Minoc Guard and Mayor Burnside had reluctantly agreed to let her continue the investigation on the basis that she was a Companion of the Avatar and had helped save the realm many times before.

“Oh, do think up a better excuse!” Julia retorted acidly. “Everybody knows how if thou art not with the Fellowship then thou art against it! The gypsies are no exception!”

Elynor’s eyes flashed with indignation. Her face went crimson, her hands gripping the Fellowship staff so tightly her knuckles whitened. “Thou dost accuse us of murder? Owen, a fine man and one of our most valued members, was found murdered at his own shipwright establishment, and the Avatar was seen leaving the scene rather hastily! Zorn can verify that! Rather suspicious, dost not thou think?”

Julia rolled her eyes. “Didst thou not hear what Burnside announced at the town meeting? Owen killed himself! Slain by his own hand! So distraught was he over the cancellation of his statue!”

Elynor snorted. “Oh, how convenient! Everything is wrapped up in a neat little package!” Her eyes narrowed. “I know foul play when I see it! The Avatar and his band of cohorts were behind it! Don’t deny it! Thou art one of his friends too, I hear. I am going to nail thee to the wall for this!”

There were shouts from without, and both women turned their heads to the door. Clashes of metal. Pained screams. A warrioress came crashing through the door, knocking it down. It was Karenna. She lay there on the fallen door, staring up blankly at the ceiling. Julia hastily crouched by her side. She still breathed, but barely.

“Who would have thought?” Karenna mumbled weakly, as if dazed. Blood was on her forehead. Crimson soaked her green garments. “Me…beaten by a travelling fool who claims to be the Avatar…” Her mouth did not close after that last word, remaining open as her eyes glazed over with death.

Outside in the night, it was a scene from hell. A man in a flowing red cape twirled and slashed with a mighty black sword, cutting down guardsmen who seemed helpless to stop his savage carnage. Flames burst around the street spontaneously, setting alight houses and burning men, women, and children.

Julia gasped as she recognized the killer. The Avatar. She could not believe her eyes.

Decapitating one last guard while ignoring his piteous cries for mercy, the Avatar turned to her, marching ominously towards the building. His face was as grave as death.

Julia rose from beside Karenna’s cooling body, drawing the tinker’s hammer from the loop at her belt. She stepped back cautiously as the Avatar crossed the threshold, black sword in both hands. His face split into a truly wicked smile.

“Ah, Julia,” Tomas said, voice hoarse. “Looking as cute as always” He looked her up and down lecherously. “A shame you are more useful to me dead than alive. Fear not, I shall make this slow and painful.”

Elynor watched in wide-eyed horror as the Avatar impaled Julia upon his already bloody sword, and recoiled as if struck as Julia howled in agonized pain, her murderer laughing maniacally as he twisted the blade wantonly in her guts. Elynor wanted to scream, to cry out in terror, but was too petrified to do so.

When Julia finally stopped screaming, Tomas carelessly yanked free the blade and let her body fall, turning to stare at Elynor through the eyes of a madman.

“That was a most enjoyable feed, Master.” a crystalline voice said, seeming to emanate from the blood-wet sword.

Perhaps Elynor herself was going mad. She was picked up into the air by unseen hands and floated over the promenade, coming to rest in front of the podium, where she was promptly bound by invisible bonds. Still staring at her, the Avatar began to speak, voice booming.

“Kal - Vas - Xen!”

It was then that Elynor screamed.

Some time later, Burnside arrived with a fresh platoon of guards, each armed to the teeth with rapiers, epees, broadswords and crossbows. The mass murderer was purported to be extremely efficient at his job. Burnside could see the results as he approached the Fellowship Branch, the blood draining from his face. All strewn about carelessly like ragged dolls. Some were burned. Others were hacked. The Artist’s Guild burned fiercely, along with several adjacent homes.

Yet in all this destruction, the Fellowship Branch was relatively untouched. With the exception of the door, which had been broken down.

Summoning up the courage and resolving to be a brave leader before his fellow citizens, who were already thoroughly aghast and de-moralized at the sight of these callous atrocities, he carefully stepped over the body of a woman, who appeared to Karenna. Burnside surveyed the scene before him. His hand came to his mouth as he moaned piteously. Julia lay on the floor, blood pooling around her.

Burnside’s eyes travelled slowly down the promenade, fearful to behold any other horrors. A trail of green, stinking slime sullied the red carpet. A number of trails. They all led to one point - the podium. A woman lay there. When she lifted her head, Burnside shrieked.

It was Elynor, covered in slimes, half of her face already dissolving away from the swamp creatures’ digestive juices.

“Help…me…” she moaned, although it did not sound like her voice at all, more like that of some ragged, pathetic being.

And up and out came Burnside’s dinner.

As the sun rose to the east, emerging from behind the imposing Serpent Spine Mountains, the city of Britain was bathed in its brilliance and warmth. The opulent buildings stood tall and majestic, testament to the affluence of the citizens, and with the dawn people slowly began to leave their homes to tend to their livelihoods. Bureaucrats attended their offices, servants rose to serve their masters’ needs, and farmers plowed their fields and reaped the year’s harvest with honed scythes.

It was in one of the paved streets of Britain that ripples and sparkles of light began to exude from thin air, both coalescing and spreading out until a lone red-caped figure stood at their centre. The Avatar had arrived.

A beggar with only one leg who hobbled about on crutches gasped at the man’s sudden appearance, but then smiled as he recognized him as a former customer who had come looking for humour in the form of his grand and original jokes. Snaz grinned as if the Avatar were his best friend in the whole world. Tomas, on the other hand, wasn’t smiling.

The Avatar’s eyes blazed when he spotted Snaz and remembered how he had pilfered coins from him in exchange for pathetic anecdotes. Then a malevolent smile twisted his lips as he formed a great machination for revenge in his head.

“Greetings, friend Tomas!” Snaz said boisterously, regarding him slyly. “How can I entertain thee today?”

The Avatar sneered malignantly. “Dance.”

Snaz frowned, then his face broke into a smile, albeit an uncertain one. “Thou dost make jest of my sorry, crippled state? Alas, I cannot dance. I will, however, tell thee another joke. Another gold joke, perhaps?” He winked suggestively.

Tomas scowled. “You will dance. Por Xen!”

To Snaz’s great chagrin and surprise, he began to do a jig with his one leg and pair of crutches, shouting protests as his moves grew faster and more chaotic. The Avatar laughed scornfully as Snaz twirled around on his crutches, dancing to unheard music, hopping about on his single ragged leg.

“Caroccio would certainly enjoy this.” Tomas said contemptuously.

“Stop! I beg thee!” Snaz cried, his lone leg weakening from exertion.

Tomas smiled condescendingly. “As you wish.”

The Dance enchantment ceased so suddenly that Snaz was taken by surprise and fell to the paving stones, one of his crutches snapping beneath him. Snaz howled in pain.

“Thou wilt pay for this, knave!” Snaz spat furiously as he thrashed his other crutch at the Avatar.

Tomas merely smiled sardonically as the pathetic weapon bounced off his magic leggings. “Enjoy death, beggar-man. In Nox Grav!”

A poison cloud of sickly steaming green rose to engulf poor Snaz, the beggar coughing as he inadvertently inhaled the miasma. He began to convulse on the street, the deadly poison quickly working its way through his body. Tomas nonchalantly walked off in the direction of the Mint.

Casting Invisibility upon himself to elude the seemingly increased patrols on the city streets, Tomas approached the massive Britannian Mint. A lone guard in the blue tabard of the Elite Britannian Guard patrolled the threshold of the entrance, a crossbow in hand. Invisible as he was, Tomas easily dispatched him with a single swipe of the Shade Blade, the man going down in a flurry of blood without a cry.

Entering the Mint, Tomas Revealed himself. The woman at the administration desk, Cynthia, gave a start at his sudden appearance.

“Oh, Tomas, ‘tis thee. Thou didst startle me.” She smiled weakly. “I thought magic was dead.” Her serious, business-like composure returned to her. “How may I help thee?”

“Silence!” Tomas snapped, pointing the Black Sword at her throat. “This is a hold-up! I want twelve gold bars and two thousand crowns now!”

Cynthia’s stony countenance shattered like glass as she stared down the length of the sword fearfully, tears brimming around the corners of her eyes. She began to shake. “Please, don’t kill me! I beg of thee! I am a devout follower of the Virtues! I have a husband! I’ve never wronged anyone in my life! Please don’t hurt me!” she cried piteously.

The Avatar’s face softened. “Do not worry. I won’t kill you.” he said gently. “Just give me what I want.”

Arcadion sighed.

Cynthia nodded frantically. “Yes, please don’t hurt me! I’ll do whatever you want! Breol! Janner!”

The guards came from the adjacent room, freezing in the doorway at the sight of their administrator being held at swordpoint. They drew their blades, quick and light epees.

“Drop your weapons!” Tomas barked.

Cynthia nodded, shaking nervously. “Do it! Bring him two thousand crowns and twelve gold bars.” She was beginning to sob, the Black Sword touching her throat.

The guards reluctantly dropped their swords but hurried to fill a sack with the demanded currency. Handing over the gold-laden sack which Tomas snatched greedily, they hurried back in their adjacent rooms at the bandit’s command. He cast Magic Lock on the steel door, sealing them in.

From without the building, there was a roar of fire and a subsequent high-pitched scream, then the Avatar came running out with the sack and Shade Blade in hands, looking over his shoulder and shouting, “Thank you!”

Arcadion snorted as his master fled the scene of the crime. “Really, Master, you should think of something more original. You’ve pulled that trick on two people already!”

“I know!” Tomas panted, feeling down an alley. “But I just love the look on their faces when they realize they have been deceived and are about to die most horribly!”

“I know the feeling, Master.”

Tomas came to a halt beside a dishevelled stack of crates, breathing heavily. The alley was narrow and shadowy, the ground strewn with rubbish. The shouts of guards sounded some distance behind. Tomas took a step forward and a rotten apple squished beneath his boot. There was a sudden cry, and a ginger cat leaped from the shadow, claws out from its surprise.

A low cut and the feisty feline was reduced to two bloody pieces.

“I hate cats!” Tomas said.

“Actually, I thought that was Iolo who hated cats.” Arcadion said.

Tomas smirked. “He’d gladly live with a thousand in order to escape my wrath if he knew what I intended for him.” He inhaled a deep breath.

The guards were at the entrance of the alley.

“There he is! Get him!” one shouted gruffly.

“Return!” Tomas commanded and disappeared in a sparkle of light, a crossbow bolt passing through the space he had occupied only a moment before.

Tomas watched the gold bars and coins fall to the stone floor loudly, eyes twinkling with greed. His mouth almost watered. The torches in their sconces cast flickering light upon the treasure, causing it to scintillate almost leisurely. The resplendence of all that gold was breathtaking for the Avatar.

He surveyed his new treachery with pride, smiling broadly. The room had once held the statues that represented each of the three Principles of Love, Courage, and Truth. The statues had been shattered by the Avatar’s own hand in his desire to make more room for the gold.

Rubbing his hands with glee, he began to rant, “I’m rich! I’m rich! Really, really rich! This is a treasury fit for a king!”

Arcadion lay on the floor, watching silently.

Tomas’s eyes widened, and his face darkened. “Lord British’s life is forfeit! I should be the ruler of this realm!”

“Remember, Master, that you intend to destroy this realm.” Arcadion said. “Lord British will make a fine feed, however. But I would find drinking his life energies more enjoyable if he were laden with agony and grief at the slow destruction of his beloved Britannia. Perhaps you should strike out at a few more of his precious subjects? Lay waste to a town or two? Smash a Shrine?”

“Yes…” Tomas said slowly, but began to grow excited. “Yes! Sow pain and agony! Massacre the innocent!” He shook his head vehemently. “No…not innocent. Fellowship scum! All of them!”

Target Terfin, my friend, that voice echoed in his head again. Sow discord among the gargoyles and humans. Butcher them with Efficiency.

Tomas grinned lopsidedly. “Yes…Terfin will be first. The first to grieve Lord British! To Terfin!”

The Avatar grabbed the Black Sword and teleported out.

In the swirl of scintillating light and transparent ripples of energy, Tomas felt himself shift in that split-second from the Fire Isle to another place entirely. He found himself standing on sand that crunched beneath his feet. The air was hot and sucked the moisture from his skin, but he was oblivious to it. All his attention was on the gargoyle tavern ahead.

Tomas marched towards it with dire purpose.

Go inside. Tell them you are the Avatar. The voice trailed off chuckling mischievously.

“All will know my might.” Tomas whispered hoarsely to himself. “All!” Kicking open the door, he barged in, shouting, “Look who’s back…and feeling prime!”

Two brawny wingless gargoyles looked up from empty tankards, yellow eyes flashing furiously as they regarded the human in the doorway. Recognition registered on their stone-chiselled faces, followed by an intense hatred.

“To be Avatar!” one gargoyle shouted.

The other gargoyle’s tankard shattered in his clawed hand. “To be the cause of our suffering!” he snarled.

“To kill! To kill!” the first one yelled.

Both gargoyles rose form their seats, effortlessly shoving aside their tables. Their bulging muscles rippled beneath their red leathery skin as they charged.

The Avatar laughed as he cut down the first one as easily as he would a thin sheet of parchment, confronting the second. The gargoyle was too enraged to acknowledge the death of its own comrade or comprehend the peril it was in, swinging meaty fist left, right and centre. Tomas deftly dodged each blow, kneeing the creature in the crotch. The gargoyle howled and paused for a moment, face contorted with pain, but then lunged again.

A billow of green smog suddenly materialized and engulfed him, and the gargoyle fell to the ground, thrashing as he suffered a slow and horrible death. Tomas turned to glare at the winged gargoyle innkeeper that stared back petrified across the commons.

“In Jux Por Ylem!” Tomas intoned.

A spinning pinwheel of eight swords honed beyond mundane capability appeared and glided into the gargoyle, hewing it to pieces. Tomas relished its cries of agony.

Cador scowled and he gripped the handle of his pickaxe tautly, the wingless gargoyle For-Lem staring back at him worriedly. Cador didn’t trust the vile creature in the least. The beast would probably slay him the instant his back was turned, especially since he now knew the foul monster had been filling his precious daughter’s mind with gargoyle filth. He was enraged beyond the fury of the fires of the lower hells. He would make For-Lem pay dearly.

“Thou dost dare come within even ten paces of my daughter?!” Cador demanded, spraying spittle.

For-Lem rose his hands, palms forward. “To not understand! To not hurt her! To teach her gargoyle mythology! To be asked by her!” he said frantically.

Cador’s eyes widened in fury. “Thou scum! Give me back my daughter!”

Mara eyed the gargoyle askance, callused hands working around her pickaxe handle as if in apprehension.

“Catherine!” Cador shouted, looking over the towering gargoyle’s shoulder at his small home.

For a moment, Catherine’s darling little face appeared in the window, then disappeared just as quickly.

“Catherine! I’m here to save thee! What has this monster done to thee?!” Cador yelled. His blazing eyes regarded For-Lem hatefully. He raised his pickaxe into the air. “I’ll fix thee! Vile scum!”

A loud explosion knocked them all off their feet, the shockwaves reverberating through the ground. Cador looked; a short distance to the north, what had been the gargoyle tavern had gone up in a massive fireball that rose into the air. Even from this distance, the heat could be felt.

The rumbling ceased, only to be followed by another explosion that ruptured a second gargoyle building. Near the oasis, a crowd of pepole from the human side of Vesper gathered to investigate the source of the disturbance. They began cheering when they saw the gargoyle buildings in flames.

Cador squinted. A figure was rushing from the burning ruin of the tavern, heading towards him, Mara, and For-Lem. The figure - a man, from the looks of it - peered over his shoulder and spotted the cheering crowd. Pointing to the clear blue sky, there was a peal of thunder and an ominously dark, massive nimbus formed above the oasis. Lightning lanced down from those impenetrable clouds, striking the people at the oasis. There was a unanimous gasp as the lightning bolts rent the ground and exploded, followed by screams as people were burned or caught in the fiery outbursts.

Then the gargoyles began to coalesce in the streets, emerging from their homes in the dozens, both wingless and winged. Seeing the crowd of humans at the oasis, they instantly perceived them as the cause of the explosions and charged towards them en masse. Anarchy broke loose, punctuated by bloodshed as man and gargoyle slew each other, the lightning striking indiscriminate.

Cador spotted the door to For-Lem’s house open slowly, and Catherine begin to creep out surreptitiously. For-Lem was regaining his feet. Cador would let no gargoyle harm her. He suddenly became aware of Mara’s shouts, and saw her pointing frantically behind him. He whirled around to see the man again, charging like an angry bull towards him.

Cador’s heart nearly froze in recognition. It was Tomas, the man who had asked him about Elizabeth and Abraham. What in the Virtues was he doing brandishing that black sword? Whose side was the maniac on?

Mara hurled her pickaxe at him, but he froze and pointed at the weapon. It hung suspended in mid-air, then came back doubly fast, stabbing her between the eyes. Tomas’s gaze fell on Catherine, who stood stiff with fear on the other side of the threshold. Cador felt a chill run down his spine when he saw that gaze for it was the gaze of a madman.

“Fellowship spawn!” Tomas rasped at her, pointing his sword.

For-Lem jumped between him and Catherine, taking the fire blast full in the chest and hitting the sand dead, corpse smouldering.

“For-Lem!” Catherine cried.

Tomas laughed and hurled a sickly purple death bolt at her, striking her dead.

“Catherine! NO!!!” Cador shrieked, dropping his pickaxe and rushing over to his girl’s fallen body. Sobbing, he cradled her head in his arms. Her eyes stared up at him blankly, her final expression one of profound sadness. “Oh, what have I done? Triad help me! What have I done?”

“Kal Vas Xen!” Tomas intoned, pointing towards the brutal free-for-all at the oasis.

A great dragon rose over the mountains to the north, flapping mighty wings as it bore down on the town of Vesper. Its scales were a resplendent bronze in the harsh sun, the mighty beast possessing a wingspan of more than four wagons put end to end, and it exuded an almost majestic, regal bearing, but one undoubtedly belied by a tyrannical demeanour as it eyed the warring throng below contemptuously. Languidly opening its sharp-toothed maw, it dived low and rained fire on the people and homes below, complementing the lightning in its indiscriminate attack.

More creatures converged on the town; giant spiders and scorpions, snakes and centipedes. The screams of men, women, and gargoyles reached a new crescendo. Man and gargoyle slew each other, while not two paces away a victim would be cruelly gutted by the rampaging beasts of the desert. The dragon spewed fire and the magic storm rained naught but thunder.

Cador was oblivious to all of this. He cradled his daughter’s head in his arms, caressing her now cold cheek. He felt the coldness of a blade on his shoulder, looking up to see Tomas staring down at him. The man’s face was twisted with mad, malevolent glee.

“Vesper will be purged for its crimes. But you…” Tomas rasped, voice hoarse. “You will be left alive to suffer for your heresy. You will be left alive so that Britannia may warned - to join the Fellowship is to DIE!”

As the Avatar turned his back and marched away, an inherently sardonic and crystalline voice spoke, “And now, Master, you have learned that you can grant a man far worse fates than death.”

Cador stared after him, a man bereft of all emotions but one overwhelming grief, unaware of Vesper’s destruction all around him.

The sands were soaked sanguine that day, made crimson with the blood of the innocent and not so innocent. The oasis turned from blue to red, and the fires roared ravenously to the cacophony of screams.

Chapter II
Race Against Insanity Incarnate

The house the Companions entered looked as if it hadn’t been cleaned in centuries. Truth to tell, it hadn’t. Dust layered thick on the floor, as well as on tables and chairs. Empty vials and ancient potions were strewn here and there, along with all sorts of rubbish. An odd reagent or two also lay about, mostly spidersilk which had been formed thickly over the past two hundred or so years. On a stone bed surrounded by four pedestals lay a still form, face down as she slept. It was Penumbra, an almost legendary mage from the time of the War of the False Prophet.

As Iolo remembered, that young mage had possessed arcane abilities of clairvoyance and prophecy. She still looked young, the result of her self-imposed magical slumber designed to keep her alive all these long years. The other Companions, those that remained, warily approached the pedestals, keeping an eye out for any danger. The teleport sphere that Lord British had given them worked well enough to bring them to Moonglow despite the sovereign’s reservations about its reliability, but there was no telling when or were the Avatar could appear. In his maddened state of mind, there was no telling what he could do.

“She still lives.” Jaana said, feeling the sleeping woman’s pulse under the jawbone.

“Amazing…” Tseramed said in a reverent tone, zealously studying Penumbra. “You say she has been like this for two hundred years?”

Shamino nodded. “Long enough. Now is the time to wake her, when we need her most.”

“Let us hurry.” Dupre said, anxiously looking over his shoulder at the open doorway.

They had spent slightly less than an hour trying to figure out the sign puzzle that had given them entry into the home. Time was running out. Who knew where the Avatar could strike next?

Jaana drew an orange potion from her pack as Dupre and Shamino gently turned Penumbra onto her back. Her breathing did not change in the slightest, maintaining its steady, complacent rate. Opening her mouth, the former-druid-turned-healer poured the magical liquid down the mage’s throat, taking care not to let her choke. Several seconds passed before Penumbra’s eyelids began to flutter, the woman inhaling a deep breath and opening eyes that had not beheld the world for two centuries. She appeared slightly confused at the faces that surrounded her, but a small smile came to her face as her memories returned to her.

Sitting up, she spoke, “Avatar, at last thou hast awakened me, as I have foreseen.” She frowned as she saw that the person in question was not present. “No, this is not right. Where is the Avatar?”

Jaana spoke gently. “Penumbra, something terrible has happened to him and we need your-”

She paused as Penumbra suddenly gripped her head and grimaced in pain. “Owww!” she moaned in anguish. “My head! The ethereal waves are damaged! Quickly, thou must find a substance that is impenetrable and place them on the four pedestals! Dost thou know of such a substance?” She bit back a ragged cry and nearly doubled over.

The Companions exchanged worried glances.

“Blackrock.” Iolo said suddenly, recalling the hastily scrawled notes regarding the mysterious substance from Rudyom’s journal.

Shamino’s eyes widened in recognition. “Aye! Thou art right, old friend. The black substance in Rudyom’s lab!”

“Obtain it! Quickly-ahhh!” Penumbra moaned as the pain in her head intensified.

Iolo turned to Shamino. “Shamino and Jaana, thou must go to Cove and get the blackrock pieces!” He handed them the teleport sphere, adding, “Be careful.”

Shamino nodded and joined hands with Jaana, fingering the small love heart button that represented Cove on the device. Both were enveloped in resplendent white light that diminished to a pinpoint and then disappeared entirely.

The next thing Shamino saw was the well at Cove’s town centre, sheltered by a small veranda. A number of people walked about town centre, mostly star-crossed lovers, who became startled at the ranger and healer’s sudden appearance. Some raised hands to greet Jaana, whom they recognized, but the Companions did not have time for salutations.

Shamino and Jaana headed for Rudyom’s demesne at a brisk walk, heading for the door with the two lit candlesticks on either side. They entered unannounced to find Rudyom relieving himself in the middle of his cauldron.

The old mage’s brow furrowed when he saw them. “Who art thou?” he demanded. “Oh, I remember.”

“Rudyom, we urgently need thine blackrock pieces. At least four!” Shamion said hastily. “May we take them?”

“Blackrock! Don’t mention that foul substance to me! Thou canst take the wretched rocks!” Rudyom said, bobbing down so that the rim of the cauldron reached his nose. An unsavoury display of flatulence followed for a full five seconds, the repulsive odour giving added incentive for Shamino and Jaana to head to the next room.

On the long table lay several pieces of blackrock, along with Rudyom’s purple wand that could supposedly cause blackrock to explode. Shamino quickly grabbed four chunks and stuffed them into his pack, Jaana anxiously watching both doorways into the room.

The floor trembled as an explosion resounded in the adjacent lab, both Companions staggering to maintain their footing as a cloud of dust billowed into the room. Rudyom’s ragged cry followed, complemented by a sickening wet slicing and hacking sound, and then the Avatar stepped in. He smiled broadly at seeing the two companions and lifted the point of his Black Sword, menacingly stalking towards them.

“Well, well, well. I come to ‘purchase’ Armageddon and look who I find! Very convenient.” he said, a maniacal gleam in his icy blue eyes.

“Jaana! Take my hand!” Shamino cried, thrusting out his hand, but a wall of fire rose between them, the searing heat driving him back.

“Go!” he heard Jaana shout over the roaring falmes.

There was a heart-wrenching scream, and Shamino barely bit back a frustrated shout of his own. Tears brimming his eyes, he drew the sphere and teleported out.

The fire wall died as Jaana’s blood dripped down the length of Tomas’s blade. Her sanguinity had sprayed across the windows and his own garments, but he didn’t mind. Arcadion certainly didn’t.

“Four down. Four to go.” Arcadion said.

Tomas ripped open the chest on the long table and drew out the spell scroll of Armageddon.

“Actually,” Tomas said as he anxiously placed it in his pack, “we must also seek out Gorn and Segallion.”

“Bah,” Arcadion grunted. “Iolo, Shamion, Dupre, and Tseramed should suffice. But they will take some time to find. Hence, I suggest you destroy Nicodemus, Draxinusom, and Lord British first.”

Tomas’s eyes lit up with anticipation. “Geoffery will also be there! One of my former companions. He never leaves Lord British’s eyes!” He scowled. “The indolent wretch hasn’t joined my glorious entourage for a while now. He will pay dearly for that.”

The Avatar’s eyes suddenly fell on the purple wand lying idly on the table.

“The wand…” Tomas rasped, recalling the entry in Rudyom’s journal that spoke of how Rudyom’s wand could destroy blackrock. Much fun could be gained from planting pieces of blackrock in densely populated areas and exploding them. He giggled at his idea, but before he could snatch up the wand, a dozen Covite guards barged into the room to surround him, led by Lord Heather. Rayburt was also present, Regal his faithful dog incessantly at his side. The canine growled at the scene of slaughter.

Tomas smiled as Heather’s face whitened at the sight of his beloved Jaana lying sprawled grotesquely on the floor, her chest cut open. The Avatar holding a bloody sword and garments soiled with crimson left little doubt as to the identity of the murderer.

“My love!” Heather cried out in a piteous sob. His eyes were red with hate when he glared at the Avatar. “Murderer! Liar! Thou didst say thou wouldst take her! Thou didst slay her!”

Tomas’s eyes shifted to one side slowly, then he shrugged. “Actually, that was Jaana who said that. I made no promises.”

“Kill him!” Heather shouted, charging forward with his men.

Tomas sighed as they came forward. No challenge here. Raising his blade, he said to Arcadion, “Feel like some more warm blood?”

The Shade Blade’s reply was languid. “Appetizers are better than nothing, I suppose.”

And so the screams began anew.

Iolo started when Shamino reappeared. Feare took hold of his heart when he saw that Jaana was missing. Fear and a dark foreboding.

“Shamino! Thou didst succeed? But where is Jaana?” he said.

The pallid, bleak look on Shamino’s voice said it all. Silently, he took out the blackrock pieces and headed over to the pedestals, Penumbra moaning in the background.

“That vile, fiendish bastard!” Tseramed growled as he realized the loss of another comrade, shaking with rage.

Shamino was swift in his reticence as he placed the blackrock on the four pedestals. The effects were almost instantaneous. Penumbra, face only a second ago twisted in pain, resumed a smooth and relieved countenance, her fingers dropping from her temples. She stopped moaning.

“Thank thee. ‘Tis working.” she said. Her visage grew worried when she did not see the Avatar. “Strange. My prophecies are usually very accurate. He should have been the one to awaken me, not thee. What hast happened to him?”

The Companions quickly explained to her the madness that had befallen the Avatar and his plans to cast Armageddon to destroy Britannia in order to vanquish the Fellowship, whom he now deemed everyone was a member of. Penumbra’s face grew darker with each word.

“This is grim news indeed.” she said ominously. “Unbelievable that the damaged ethereal waves could render him insane so quickly. The only way to solve this problem is to find and incapacitate the source of the ethereal waves.” She closed her eyes, beckoning the mystic visions in her mind’s eye to come to her. “I see a tetrahedron in a dungeon…somewhere on an island to the northeast. Try Dungeon Deceit. You will need the ethereal ring to bypass its defences.” Her black eyes snapped open. “Find the ethereal ring and bring it to me so that I may enchant it. I believe King Draxinusom was the last to have it in his possession.”

“Many thanks!” Iolo said. Now there was hope at least. “We shalt find it quickly!”

“Thou must hurry. I sense that as the Avatar kills more Companions and mages, he grows more powerful. He may come after me next.” Penumbra said gravely.

“Fear not.” Iolo said, although he did not feel a quarter as confident as he sounded.

The Companions formed a ring and teleported out.

They re-materialized in the throne room of King Draxinusom on the island of Terfin. The old gargoyle, who had been reading a tome in gargish runes, gave a start as they appeared, then rose to meet them. An amiable smile was on his face.

“To greet you.” he said deeply, unfolding his wings to stretch them. He frowned. “To ask where is Avatar?”

“’Tis a long story which we do not have time to regale you with.” Dupre said.

Regale?!” Tseramed exclaimed in near outrage, but Shamino hushed him.

“Lord Draxinusom, we are in dire need of your assistance.” said Iolo.

“To be always ready to help old friends.” Draxinusom answered, although the worried frown still creased the bony ridge that was his brow.

“We need the ethereal ring.”

“To have sold it to the Sultan of Spektran when gargoyle race moved here. To have been one of my favourite possessions. To be sad at its loss.” Draxinusom shrugged.

Iolo gave a relieved sigh. “Thank thee. Thou hast helped us more than thou canst know. One more thing. Beware the Avatar. If he comes here, flee for thy life. He has gone mad.”

Draxinusom’s eyes widened in shock. “To not believe such a thing could happen to one as benevolent as the Avatar, but to heed advice anyway.

“Trust me. It may save thee.”

Saying their farewells, the Companions allowed the teleport sphere to whisk them off the island in the blink of an eye.

Draxinusom sadly watched them depart before turning back to his throne. It was then that he heard the clashes of steel and cries outside, faint at first but growing louder. A gargoyle howled and explosions roared, then the door ripped apart in a shower of sparks and flaming debris. A pair of wingless gargoyles catapulted through, crashing upon the rolled out tapestry in a heap. The Avatar leaped in.

“Hello, Draxie!” he cried out, brandishing a black sword. “I just happened to be in the neighbourhood, so I thought I’d drop in for some milk and cookies!”

Draxinusom was thrown back by a burst of flame that erupted beneath his feet, landing hard on his back and breaking several wing bones. The Avatar loomed over him.

“To not understand! To be friends!” Draxinusom cried, holding out his splayed hand in a gesture of ‘stop’.

The Avatar’s grin was grotesquely lopsided. He spoke mockingly, “To say, ‘Bye bye’!”

A quick descending slash and the once proud gargoyle ruler was removed of his head.

“Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!” the Avatar began to chant, skipping around Draxinusom’s body and purging the throne room from the Black Sword. “Burn, gargoyle scum, BURN!!!”

Shamion ducked as the stone harpy swung razor sharp claws at his head, rolling away to avoid the creature’s stomping taloned foot that landed in his previous position. Arrows and bolts bounced off the creature, its hide invulnerable to such mundane projectile attack, rendering Tseramend and Iolo little more than distractions for its ire.

Dupre swung his broadsword at the harpy’s head, chipping off a good portion of its left temple, but was too slow to elude the blow to the chest that sent him sliding across the floor all the way to the opposite wall of the chamber.

Shamion jumped its rear, feverishly hacking away at its fluttering stone wings with his blade, dodging and hopping from side to side to evade the wildly raking claws and talons of the monster.

Iolo reloaded his crossbow, took aim, and fired, the bolt lodging in a crack at the base of the harpy’s neck. It threw back its head and gave an inhuman cry, at which point Tseramed scored an arrow in the beast’s open mouth.

Ripping both projectiles out with little effort, the stone harpy rose into the air and circled above the struggling Companions, landing between them and the vault that held the much needed ethereal ring. At the entrance to the chamber, the eccentric Sultan of Spektran clapped his hands and laughed maniacally.

“Bravo! Bravo!” he cried, applauding his creation. “Thou dost see now that my vault is truly impregnable. Lord British was a fool not to accept my offer of stone harpies to guard his mint! Too unstable indeed!”

Iolo very much wanted to put a crossbow bolt in that annoyance’s head, but it was wiser to save his ammunition for more pressing matters…like the damned harpy! He reloaded, hands working mechanically over the device he know as well as his himself, and fired again, this time taking the creature in the lifeless glassy eye. It stumbled, screeching madly as its arms flailed, and Shamino struck, a mighty descending sword blow hewing one arm off. Another swing beheaded it, the body falling and shattering on the paving stones. A key landed at the ranger’s feet.

“Damn thee!” Maringo cursed the Companions, aghast at the defeat of his pet. “Thou wilt pay dearly for this outrage!”

The Sultan lunged forward, but slipped on one of his own banana peels and tripped on the threshold, breaking his neck on the smooth level floor.

Iolo did not mourn the fool’s passing. His duplicity had nearly gotten them killed, after all.

Tseramed was helping Dupre to his feet. The knight appeared dazed, and there was dent in the centre of his chest plate, but he had taken worse injuries. Shamino was already using the key to unlock the steel door to the vault. Inside, the walls were arrayed with a series of shelves upon which rested a myriad of rings. Gold and silver rings, magical rings, wedding rings - the vast collection of an eccentric entrepreneur. But the ring with the glowing blue gem upon the altar was what they were interested in. The ethereal ring.

Snatching it, Shamino turned to the party. “Let’s go. Penumbra awaits.”

Tomas nonchalantly strolled away form the smouldering remains of Empath Abbey and the courthouse, passing by the giant knight’s bridge set he had decimated so wantonly. In the distance, the home of Nicodemus also billowed reddish smoke; the doddering blabber-skyte of a mage had already been dealt with, his life energies now a constituent of Arcadion’s ever-increasing stockpile of arcane power.

The trail the Avatar followed was littered with bodies; those of guards, monks of the Brotherhood of the Rose who had vainly tried to flee form his implacable wrath, the benign woman healer who had once kindly offered him her services at half price after giving her flowers…

It seemed so long ago when he had done such a benevolent deed. But what he was doing was right, wasn’t it? Of course it was! He was purging the world of Fellowship scum. It had pervaded too far, insidiously infected Britannian society. The only way to ensure its destruction was to kill everyone, everything…His actions weren’t unjust. Surely not!

Then why was he still vaguely tortured by the healer’s screams and pleads for mercy? She had been so kind to him once…she had been kind to all. Reyna…that had been the woman’s name. So nice, she had been. No! He would not be fooled. Those that followed the Fellowship were masters at the art of guile. Chortling to himself, he continued to stride, but the doubts inexorably returned.

Slaughter of innocents. Mass murder. All at his hands, at his Black Sword and his lightning and his fire. No, that wasn’t right. He was no mass murderer. What he had done was necessary for the good of the realm, no matter how callous. Then why had he laughed as he slew his victims? Why had he relished every agonized scream as he hacked through flesh and sprayed blood as generously as a charity? Could it be that he was mad, like everyone said? Was he a cruel, bloodthirsty murderer? Why, his deeds were little better than that of the man with the hook! Worse, perhaps.

Hook? Where had that come from? Of late, his memories were all a haze, popping up and fading into oblivion at random. The incessant dull ache in his head irritated him as always, his rage perpetually on the knife’s razor edge of ignition. He was certain he had had another purpose before all of this senseless killing. Senseless? He was a murderer. No! Not possible!

Anything’s possible. The booming, inherently smug voice again. But if anything’s possible, wouldn’t that make impossibility possible as well? The voice trailed off into snickering that faded into the nether regions of his mind.

“Avatar! This is not thou!” Spark’s voice. It seemed so long ago.

“Avatar!” Jaana’s voice.

“Murderous villain!” the hateful shout of Tseramed.

Spark’s death rattle. Sentri’s piteous moan. Julia’s scream. For-Lem’s scream. Cador’s scream. Screams. Screams! Everywhere! In his head, shrieking in their pain and anguish.

Tomas paused, knees wobbling. The realization of his cruel deeds was creeping up slowly, seeping through the deranged filth of his unyielding madness.

Then came the faces. The faces of countless victims in the moments before, during, and after death. Alagner, Sentri, Katrina, Spark, Julia, Jaana, Rudyom, Draxinusom, Catherine, even Rayburt’s dog…so many, all of which made a tapestry of portraits in his mind. Portraits taken of faces in pain. Faces, each and every one, that looked at him with horror, shock, fear, and condemnation.

The realization was coming closer, forcing him to his knees. Hot tears stung his eyes.

“No…I’m a murderer! A murderer!” Tomas moaned, tears trailing down his cheeks.

Before realization could perpetuate itself, the pain in his head redoubled viciously, hitting him like a mallet. The booming voice returned.

No, no, no! Think again!

“You are no murderer, Master!” Arcadion crooned in his hands, as if shocked that such a statement could come from his bearer’s mouth. “You are merely a man who has a monumental, thankless task that he must do. You are the Avatar, after all. You are a patriot! A saviour of Britannia. You know what is best for its people. Trust me, you are saving the land from a most vile scourge. The Fellowship!”

Where once Tomas trembled with grief, he now trembled with rage. He rose to his feet, grimacing balefully. “Fellowship…” he rasped malignantly.

“Yes, Master.” said Arcadion. “Really, you should take pride in your work. What you are doing now is every bit as contributive to society as the work of, err…a carpenter or blacksmith! Yes! Take pride in your work, as they do.”

“Blacksmith, pride…” Tomas murmured, almost like a zombie. “Must kill!” he snarled.

His rage returned, fuelled by madness, driving away all traces of doubt and possible redemption.

A bellowing roar rocked the air, and Tomas turned. He smiled at what he saw. The resplendent bronze dragon, his dragon, still dived and rained fire upon the remains of Empath Abbey. It had sworn allegiance to him…well, to be pedantic, its allegiance had been more forced out of it as was the nature of the Summon spell. It did its job well enough nonetheless.

Turning his back on the destruction, Tomas resumed his brisk stride. He had places to go, people to go.

Penumbra’s open palm closed on the ethereal ring. Closing her eyes, her hand became suffused by a luminous white nimbus, accompanied by her low chanting voice. In a few seconds it was over, and the mage returned the ring to Iolo. It now glowed with a faint pulsating light.

“We owe thee many thanks, Penumbra-” Iolo began, but was cut off by a most monstrous roar from without.

A great shadow swooped over the house with a rush of air, the deep flapping of wings fading as the giant creature headed south towards the Lycaeum. Another roar was followed by a whoosh of fire. Thunderous explosions shook the ground. A pitcher on the table fell and smashed to pieces on the floor.

“If I am not mistaken…” said Dupre, looking above at the ceiling rather apprehensively. “…that was a dragon.”

Penumbra’s eyes widened. “Someone is casting a Summon spell of considerable magnitude!” she exclaimed, a hint of nervousness in her voice providing a disturbing contrast to her usually impassive disposition. “Even with the blackrock fragments nearly completely nullifying the ethereal waves around me, I can still feel the casting. It must be very powerful indeed!”

The Companions exchanged fearful glances, all except for Tseramed, who wore a look of grim determination. The Avatar had come.

“Penumbra, thou must come with us! For your own safety.” Iolo said.

“No. I sense that this is the doing of the Avatar.” Penumbra answered solemnly, belying the turmoil of trepidation swirling in her belly. “Thine task is more imperative than my own life. I will buy thee time!”

From outside, a terrible chorus of screams could be heard, along with the great cracking and shattering of stone. Wolves howled perilously close, and metal clashed and unusual creatures jittered battle cries. The Lycaeum was under siege.

The window burst inward as small, child-like creatures leaped in, covered in green mottled skin and wearing perpetually insolent grins on their grotesque faces.

“Gremlins!” Shamino cried, and the entire room burst into a flurry of frenetic combat, sword slashing and projectiles flying.

A fair number of the toddler-sized forest hooligans were already darting through the melee, striking out with clubs, knives or even bare fists. They were easily slain - their numbers was the main problem.

Shamino and Dupre danced about with blades parrying and thrusting, hewing through vile gremlin hide and skull.

Iolo nailed one to the wall with a crossbow bolt, struggling frantically to reload another, barely dodging the low cut aimed for his knee by a gremlin wildly flailing a main gauche. Shamino appeared and impaled the creature with a single thrust, and still Iolo had not successfully reloaded his weapon. His old hands were trembling.

“Damn! Now I really wish I’d taken up Coop’s offer for a discount on that triple crossbow!” Iolo cursed through clenched teeth. “Virtues damn this thing!”

“See what thou dost get for being too parsimonious with thy stock to lend even lend to old comrades?” Dupre said, effortlessly cutting through the air a pattern with his sword and killing any hapless gremlin who happened to get in the way.

“Parsimonious?” Shamino said, skewering a gremlin and leaning to one side to avoid a hurled piece of pottery. “Since when hast thou ever cared about increasing thine vocabulary, Dupre?”

Dupre shrugged and kicked an antagonist to the head, breaking its supple neck. “If I am to ever finish Brommer’s Guide to the Finest Drinking Establishments of Britannia, I will need all the good vocab I can get my hands on.”

“I doubt that thou shalt even live long enough to finish it.” Shamino answered, slightly breathless as he slew the last gremlin.

“Ho ho ho!” came a bellowing cry, and suddenly the steel door of Penumbra’s home ripped off its hinges and crashed to the floor. The Avatar stomped in, clearing the Black Sword from the scabbard on his back in a ponderously slow fashion to display its lethal magnificence. “Santa Claws is here to rend you all limb from limb for being very bad children!”

Dupre looked sidelong at Shamino and twirled his finger to the side of his head. “Methinks I would have preferred the lump of coal.”

“Take cover!” Iolo cried as Tomas lifted his sword point.

Even as the Companions hit the floor, Penumbra stepped out form her protective enclosure of blackrock fragments and invoked, “Por Xen!” Then she was struck by the full force of the damaged ethereal waves, falling to her knees and gripping her head in pain.

To the Avatar’s supreme indignation, he began to dance against his will, his rapidly moving feet increasing in tempo despite his outraged protests. “You will pay for this, withc! I will drink your blood even as you live!” He tripped over his own feet, hitting the floor with his face, but not before Arcadion spurted flame in Penumbra’s direction.

Penumbra, in tremendous pain as she was, could not evade the blast as it exploded naught but three paces from where she knelt, the force of the outburst hurling her into one of the pedestals. She lay face down on the ground, still.

“Vile wench!” the Avatar snarled, rising and beginning to stroll over to her.

Shamino jumped in his path, and a furious duel of swords ensued. The Avatar’s maddening rage gave him advantage, and a fist blow to the side of Shamino’s head sent him to the floor. Tomas prepared to finish him, but an invisible fist hit his face, the Avatar shaking his head in annoyance.

Iolo saw Penumbra struggling to rise to her feet, desperately invoking another spell. “Penumbra! Thou dost live!” he exclaimed.

“But not for long!” Tomas snarled, ignoring a dazed Shamino and lunging for the weakened mage.

“Tseramed!” Iolo cried.

Tseramed had his bowstring pulled taut and arrow nocked, hate in his eyes. “Thou-” he began thunderously.

The Avatar was ignorant, roaring obscenities as he charged towards Penumbra. Dupre intercepted him, clashing blades desperately, twisting and pivoting on feet to lunge and parry, feint and swing.


Tomas’s blade hacked downward, Dupre catching it with his own only inches overhead. It was a struggle of strength then, to see who could hold off who’s blade for longest.


Tomas delivered a callous knee to Dupre’s stomach, the knight doubling over and falling to the ground. He stepped indifferently over the man, his ire still focused on hapless Penumbra, who had only managed to get herself on her knees.

“Kill!” With that last word of vengeful thunder, Tseramed let loose.

The arrow plunged into the Avatar’s back and he gasped in a mix of pain and surprise.

“Now that was not the sort of acupuncture I was looking for.” Tomas groaned.

The arrow left his back on its own accord, the wound sealing itself.

The Companions gathered in the corner and held hands, hastened by Penumbra’s newest incantation, ‘Tym Vas Flam’. They teleported out just as the Avatar realized the nature of the spell.

Roaring hatefully, he barely brought up the energy shield in time to protect himself from the furnace Penumbra’s home became a half-second later, incinerating everything but him. He stormed out of the burning building in to the open, leaving it behind and dropping the shield once the flames could no longer pose him threat.

He surveyed the carnage of Moonglow before him. Wolves ran rampant, pulling down frantic citizens and tearing them apart. A gremlin fled screaming in the direction of the woods.

“Get back here, you yellow dog!” he shouted after the creature, pointing the Black Sword and blasting it to ash.

The bronze dragon decimated the Lycaeum a short distance to the south.

The Avatar shook his fist at a sky that was quickly being tainted by acrid black smoke. “Damn those pestilent Companions for robbing me of MY rightful VICTIM! Penumbra was MINE! I will feast on your livers for this! DO YOU HEAR ME?! YOU WILL PAY!”

Lord British’s heart sank ever deeper and the seed of festering foreboding and diffidence grew within the maelstrom of butterflies inside his stomach, each word of the report feasted upon by his tired eyes. Geoffrey stood by his throne, his face a mask of solemnity.

“Virtues, no…” British’s voice was strained as he read the town names off the latest scroll delivered by fast rider. “Minoc hit. Julia slain, along with twenty-one other citizens. Britannian Mint hit, Cynthia and a nameless beggar killed. Vesper…” British nearly choked in horror at what followed. “Dissolved into civil war. Gargoyles fighting Britannians. Dragons and other desert monsters slaughtered the town. Cove attacked. Lord Heather and the town guard utterly destroyed. Jaana’s body found.”

British’s hands trembled. He looked up from the scroll at Miranda, who wore a pensive frown on her face, the five-foot staff held in both hands.

“How much power does he have?” British demanded.

There was no need to elaborate on exactly who ‘he’ was.

Miranda shook her head. “I know not. The Avatar is unstoppable, it seems. He sows destruction seemingly for the sake of sowing destruction. I doubt our own army or Royal Militia could do much to stop him.”

“What is he trying to gain? Ravaging town after town. Murdering his own friends! Throwing all Virtues to the wind! Tromping on them like dirt!” British’s throat was parched from just contemplating the dire tidings. “Unimaginable.”

Wislem shifted his mighty gargoyle frame in what might have been interpreted as a nervous wince. “To be greatly disturbed by war between gargoyles and humans.” he said, deep rumbling voice hinting at his innermost fears. “To believe it will set back assimilation efforts many years. To wonder why Avatar does this?”

“As do we all.” Miranda said. “Already members of the Britannian Purity League are protesting at the main gate of the castle.”

British swore a particularly lurid oath he had heard from Dupre under his breath, cupping his forehead and sighing in frustration. He gave Miranda a bleary-eyed stare. “How in Truth did they find out about Vesper?”

“Rumour has spread like wildfire, even from a place as distant as Vesper. Survivors, the few there are, tell tales.” Miranda replied. She displayed little expression but for that perpetual frown of hers. “Some came with the refugee wagons. Others sailed here on the nearest ship they could find.”

“To say they call for gargoyle blood. To be saddened by this.” Wislem said.

British rose and stepped down from his dais. Geoffrey stayed close to his side

“Regardless of these…racists, we must focus on more important matters.” Miranda continued. “The Avatar is more rabid than a feral troll. He strikes out at random. I believe he will attack thee next. Thou shouldst prepare defences.”

“Aye.” British agreed. “Close the gates and seal the castle. I will do what I can with my fickle magical ability to set wards. Prep the gatehouse barbican cannons and triple the castle guard. I want all servants moved to the west wing. That includes the children. And also, see what thou canst do about the populace. Tell them…no, command them to remain indoors.”

Miranda bowed. “As thou dost wish. Our garrison is stretched to breaking point already, but they will work to the best of their ability I am sure.”

A guard stopped at the entrance to the throne room. “My liege, Batlin of Britain is here to see thee.”

British shook his head. “As good and kind a man as he is, I have naught the time to see him. Send him away and make certain to tell him to seek safe shelter.”

“Yes, milord.” The guard bowed and left.

Batlin left the castle in a huff, although he made sure there were no outward signs of his disgruntlement. Crossing the drawbridge, he briskly approached the assembled crowd of protesters, members of the Britannian Purity League each and every one.

How dare that blonde-bearded oaf who called himself a king think he could survive this crisis without the council of the Fellowship? All those years British had sat on his laurels being complacent and he had to stand up and take the reins now? All the better the fool was going to be killed anyway, but with this latest unexpected turn in events, all Batlin’s plans were thrown into turmoil.

The one-time druid narrowed his eyes as he passed through the crowd. A good many of them were Fellowship members, as indicated by the blue medallions they wore, brandishing sings that said things like, ‘Keep Britannia clean - send the gargoyles back!’, ‘Gargoyles are scum!’, ‘Make war, not love!’, ‘A pox on all gargoyle lovers!’, and other such drivel.

Batlin vaguely recognized one of the protesters - ‘twas Feridywn, the Fellowship leader who ran the shelter in the cesspit that was Paws. Now he really did scowl. What in the Triad was that fool doing idiotically flaunting his membership of the Fellowship and the Purity League? The sod was directly contradicting the teachings of the Fellowship - the gargoyles were beneficial members too. Where was the Unity in his actions? But then again, the Fellowship was all about contradictions and deceit - it just wasn’t a good thing to voice such a cruel truth so openly. At least not yet, not before the one true lord of Britannia came to take his rightful place at the head of his people.

Feridywn’s eyes widened at the sight of Batline, who was renowned in the Fellowship, but the druid ignored him, quickly passing him by and heading down the road to Fellowship Hall.

Things were not going to plan. The Avatar going mad and attacking Fellowship members and innocent Britannians alike, as some of the rumours purported, had not been anticipated. Batlin did not know how to account for that. The virtuous fool was supposed to stroll around Britannia solving people’s petty problems instead of slaughtering them in wanton madness!

What had gone wrong?! Batlin had not foreseen this at all. Had his Master? Was this all part of some machination that He had made without the First Circle’s approval? Batlin wondered.

What worried him especially was that He had not spoken to him in days. Had the First Circle displeased him in some way? The Special Project currently being undertaken on the Isle of the Avatar was proceeding far ahead of schedule.

No! Who was he to question the Master’s whims? If He wished to inform him, he would in due time. All Batlin should worry about was the Special Project. Elizabeth and Abraham, along with Forskis and Hook, should have reached Buccaneer’s Den by now. There they would be stocking the last pieces of blackrock required for the Black Gate’s completion.

As for himself, all Batlin could really do was reside at the Fellowship hall and prepare for the worst. The Avatar would more likely than not be paying Britain another more destructive visit soon. If he decided to slay the head of the Fellowship, well…needless to say, the tetrahedron generator did not adversely affect Batlin’s own potent magics of destruction. Should the ‘Mad Avatar’ drop in, he would receive a very warm reception indeed.

The Master had made entirely certain of that at the very least.

The Companions found themselves in a small valley walled by towering mountains, a veritable miniature paradise with a fountain at its centre. Among the trees and bushes grazed deer and other forest animals. Some distance ahead lay the entrance to Dungeon Deceit.

“Here were are.” said Iolo. “At last.” He returned the teleport sphere to his pack.

“Shall we enter?” Dupre asked.

“What of the myriad of magical traps I have heard that reside in the belly of Deceit?” Tseramed said, eyeing the dungeon entrance askance.

“Ah, yes. The magically locked doors.” Iolo replied, turning to Shamino.

Shamion’s gaze was focused on Deceit. “I have several magic scrolls with me, including Unlock Magic.” he replied gravely. “With the ether the way it is, however, I am not sure if they will work at all.”

Dupre shrugged. “Only one way to find out. Let us go.”

The ground trembled. The Companions turned in unison to see a massive figure, at least twelve to fourteen feet tall, stomp towards them. Vaguely humanoid, it was a bare-chested brutish looking monster, arms muscular and as thick as tree trunks. A single eye regarded them curiously.

“Cyclops…” Tseramed gasped in absolute surprise.

“Oh, no…” Dupre groaned.

Crickets sang incessantly outside, altering the serenades according to Britannia’s two moons, Trammel and Felucca. In the foyer of the Royal Museum, Patterson met Candice, caressing her cheek affectionately and kissing her on the lips. The Avatar had spoiled their last romantic meeting, but Patterson was not about to be swayed from enjoying his loved one. As for his promise to discontinue the affair for Judith’s sake, well…what Judith didn’t know couldn’t hurt her.

“Is this not dangerous, my love?” Candice asked, apprehensively looking towards the double-door entrance of the museum.

“No need to worry thyself, dearest.” Patterson said, although he was not half as confident as he sounded. “Nobody shall ever think to find lovers in a museum of all places.”

Both of them chuckled half-heartedly at his forced joke.

“What about Judith?” Candice asked, her eyes betraying her buried apprehension.

“Since when hast thou ever worried about her?” Patterson replied. He cupped her face in his hands. “Don’t think about her. Let us think about each other.”

The doors suddenly jerked inward, but the latch held them. Both lovers looked to the entrance, a sinking feeling pervading their bellies. Candice stepped away from Patterson rather briskly. Her eyes glistened with tears.

“Who could have known we were here?” she demanded, becoming frantic.

“I know not!” Patterson said, voice dangerously close to a whine. He began to wipe his hands on his blue overcoat nervously.

The doors jerked twice more before the latch broke, swinging open rather forcefully. To Patterson’s absolute horror, it was the Avatar who stood on the threshold, stygian sword in hand. The man entered and squinted at Patterson and Candice, his face darkening.

Patterson stuttered to make some excuse, but the Avatar’s sardonically icy voice smoothly cut him off like a knife, “Didn’t I already tell you to discontinue these little trysts of yours?” He wagged his finger at them. “Tsk, tsk. Adultery is a sin.” The Avatar’s face suddenly transformed into an epitome of pure maddened fury. “DIE SINNERS!!!”

He pointed and effortlessly took Candice’s life away with a single death bolt. Her body crumpled to the floor like a mistreated sack of potatoes. Patterson whitened with fear and backed into the corner of the room near the Britannian Codex lens, sweat beading his brow. The Avatar stalked him with agonizing slowness, lifting his blade up to his face almost casually.

“Please, milord Avatar! Spare me! I have a wife!” Patterson begged desperately. “TAKE HER! TAKE HER!”

“Oh, I shall!” the Avatar assured hoarsely, smirking cruelly.

The subsequent fire blast reduced poor Patterson to a charred, smouldering corpse.

“Most honest citizen in Britain indeed.” The Avatar spat on the mayor’s remains contemptuously, the saliva turning to steam on contact.

He turned to the pedestals to either side of the exhibition hall, upon which rested the Virtue Runes. Roaring his insane hatred, he smashed each and every one of them, the Black Sword cutting through rune and pedestal alike and shattering them to pieces. He then proceeded throughout the rest of the museum, rampaging form room to room and smashing exhibits like the vortex cube and the lenses and the bones of Zog. As for the lone statue of Lord British with his arms outstretched in regal pose, the Avatar cast fire and lightning, blowing it to dust along with a fair-sized hole in the wall behind it.

After partially satiating his unstable temper, he returned to the west wing of the museum where the great gargoyle horn was on display. Here was why he had come to the museum in the first place; it was all a part of his latest diabolical scheme to make the realm’s subjects pay.

“Arcadion, power me to wind the horn. I want it to be heard for leagues!” the Avatar commanded.

“A wind enchantment?” Arcadion appeared confused for a moment. “If you wish it.”

The Avatar felt his lungs suffuse with arcane power - the power of magical wind, so sweet and potent. He put the horn to his lips and blew with all his might.

The ancient gargoyle instrument’s bellow rocked the city with its sheer intensity, shattering windows and reaching out far beyond the boundaries across the Serpent Spine. The Avatar rose from the floor, shaking his head groggily. The sound blast had stunned even him. Picking up Arcadion, he smiled smugly.

“What was the point of that, Master?” Arcadion queried curiously. “You see yourself in a career with the Royal Orchestra?”

“Not really.” replied the Avatar, still smiling.

Shrieks were issuing forth from the streets outside, horrified screams and cries of pain. Sharp hisses accompanied them.

“The silver serpents are about to make a reappearance.” The Avatar smirked as he turned to leave the museum, shouting, “Kessler, you’ve got all the venom you need now! FOOL!”

He left the desecrated museum with an evil cackle.

Feridwyn came to his feet, ears still ringing. Others of his band were doing the same, but no longer shouted at the closed gate and raised drawbridge of the castle. The eerie silence that followed the unbelievably loud horn blast bade them no to make another sound. All that was left were the crickets. Then came cries, shrieks of terror and pain. People flooded the streets, fleeing from something. Men and women burst out of their homes, screaming in wanton fear as the unseen foe attacked.

A throng of people ran towards the group of Britannian Purity League members, some falling and heedlessly being trampled to death. Suddenly the throng splintered as a massive elongated form smashed through the middle of it, long glistening fangs impaling people and snatching them into its gaping ravenous.

Ferdiwyn goggled at the sight. It was a legendary silver serpent! Had they not died out one hundred years ago? He should not believe his eyes.

The creature was gigantic, reaching nearly twenty feet in length and easily more than three men placed side by side in width. More came, smashing the sides of buildings with their great bulk and slithering around corners and through, streets with frightening speed, biting and consuming people in single snaps as they went.

“Look!” one of the League members cried, pointing to the clear night sky.

Silhouettes could be seen in the resplendent face of Trammel, winged figures that grew larger with the passing moments. Their daemon-like features became more recognizable as they came closer, until their red skin and snarling visages instantly named them as gargoyles.

“Damn them! Damn the gargoyles! Murderers of our kinsmen in Vesper! Send them back!” one League member cried, shaking his sign to them. Similar cries for vengeance followed. The Purity League horde began to shout their hate to a climaxing crescendo.

Dozens of gargoyles landed before them, wielding spears and their strange weapons called boomerangs. They snarled hateful things in their own deep-throated tongues, faces contorted with anger.

Vel’kaladesh British! Kas’suun ‘ver British! Rashkevesk sarisvar!” they snarled hoarsely, and with that they launched themselves into both Purity League members and fleeing Britannians alike, slaughtering them mercilessly.

Rukiv ‘keslahr mek Draxinusom! B’saur vel’kaladesh!” the monsters roared, repeating the words in an ominous, thunderous chant as they slew their victims. “B’saur krsi’lakar!

Feridwyn looked on in horror, his sign falling to the paving stones with a clatter, the gargoyles viciously decimating the Purity League members, who were little more than never-do-wells from the Fellowship shelter in Paws. Not two paces in front of him a boomerang split Merrick’s head open like a melon. Morfin ran screaming, only to take a spear in the back.

More gargoyles dived in, a fair number flying to attack the castle battlements. Britannian soldiers appeared in the streets to combat the invaders, fighting feverishly with halberds and swords. Blood was spilt in abundance.

Feridwyn looked behind him to see the silver serpents inexorably approaching, leaving dozens of crushed and poisoned bodies in their wake. He was trapped between the anvil and the hammer, as the old saying went. Soldiers were vainly trying to combat the monstrous creatures too.

Now the gargoyles were being attacked by serpents who had come from the east side of town, the giants killing both Britannians and gargoyles indiscriminately. The melee dissolved into a chaotic free-for-all, everybody slaying everybody else in the mass confusion and hysteria.

As for Feridwyn, he turned tail and ran for the moat as hard as he could. A boomerang clipped his shoulder and he yelped in pain, but kept sprinting to the limits of his endurance. He dived into the placid surface of the moat, resurfacing with a gasp of air.

Water suddenly seemed to explode and shower as a massive green tentacle rose form the murky depths, towering above the floating, diminutive man. Feridwyn could only scream as the tentacle snatched him and dragged him below the surface to an unknown, certainly horrible death. He would never see the sun again.

“The gargoyles are attacking us?” British exclaimed incredulously.

They were assembled in the throne room, himself, Miranda, Wislem, Inwiskloklem, Geoffrey, Nystul, Chuckles, and at least a dozen elite of the Royal Guard. The doors to the room were sealed, but still they could hear the terrifying sounds of battle. Men screamed, gargoyles roared, and cannons thundered. People, civilians, shrieked outside the walls and the rasps of horrid beasts pursued them.

British had been successful in setting wards and field barriers at the entrances to the castle, but he had not expected an attack form the gargoyles of all people.

“What in the Flames of the Principles is going on?!” the weary sovereign demanded.

Outside, the gargoyles had set a booming chant.

Inwiskloklem’s eyes widened as he heard them. If this face could have gone pale, it would have right then.

Vel’kaladesh British! Kas’suun ‘ver British! Rashkevesk sarisvar! Rukiv ‘keslahr mek Draxinusom! B’saur vel’kaladesh! B’saur krsi’lakar!” boomed the chant.

Inwiskloklem began to interpret. “Betrayer British. We call for the blood of British. Foul treachery has been done. To avenge Lord Draxinusom. Death to betrayers. Death to the False Prophet.”

Wislem gasped in horror.

“They believe you killed Lord Draxinusom.” said Inwiskloklem gravely.

“Draxinusom dead? Virtues forfend!” British exclaimed in shock. “Who could have done such a thing?”

The look on Miranda’s face answered that question.

“I’d think this is a diversion, milord.” she said, although even she could not entirely conceal her shock at the tragic news of Draxinusom’s murder. “The Avatar will come very soon.”

Burning hatred registered on Wislem’s face. Bleakness was on Inwiskloklem’s visage.

“To make Avatar pay!” he snarled, gripping his spear shaft taut.

“No!” British told him sharply. “It is not his fault! I want him captured alive. I only want to kill him if left with no other option!”

Wislem gave acquiescence with a slight nod of the head, but hatred still burned there, palpable in its intensity.

“Geoffrey, be prepared for a blatant frontal att-” British paused as he detected the faint resonance of a very familiar spell being woven. His heart nearly froze. “No!”

A shimmering scintillation of bright white light particles coalesced into the shape of a man, and the Avatar appeared in the centre of the chamber. Everyone tensed and prepared for carnage. The prickling apprehension was almost tangible.

“Taken unawares by my own Help spell! I’m a fool!” British cursed.

So much for the defences.

Tomas grinned smugly. “I second that notion!” He prepped the Black Sword for bloodshed.

British was hasty when he erected the ring of force fields that corralled the Avatar in. As capricious in terms of reliability as the arcane arts had become, he was relieved to find they were working for him when he most needed them. The Avatar appeared amused at the trap he had walked into, while Nystul, near British'’ side, watched the force fields most curiously, as enraptured as a child.

“Oooo…” the mage said, suitably impressed. “That’s pretty snazzy, isn’t it?”

“You think you can hold me in this cage forever? Richard, think again!” the Avatar said scornfully, scanning the chamber and appraising his opposition with blatant contempt. “I’m going to enjoy your death screams, fool!”

“As will I.” the Black Sword rasped.

Geoffrey drew his sword. At his signal, the guards surrounded the Avatar and pointed their halberds at him. British frowned, sweat beading his brow as he observed the nearly imperceptible pulsation of the flows of ether that maintained the force fields. The flows were pulsating erratically, weakening as the unreliable ether began to detriment its integrity. In the background, he could hear Nystul murmuring snatches of a poem in an ominously foreboding voice.

‘Upon one night of blood and fear
The Avatar came with hatred to sear'

The Avatar smashed his black sword against the force fields to little effect. He spat at them, spewing imprecations in Lord British’s direction and at the guards that watched him nervously.

‘Vying to kill this beneficent lord,
He put many a patriot to the Black Sword,
Weaving fire and monstrous power,
Of the kind that makes brave men cower,
He waded in through blood and gore,
Slaying dozens and still wanting more.’

“Avatar, listen to me! Thou art very sick! This isn’t thy doing! We believe it is the cause of the mage madness!” British said.

‘The Avatar and the Lord fought a duel,
Waging battle with methods oh very cruel,
The Lord was seasoned and vastly skilled,
But to the brim was the Avatar’s madness filled,
And hence the grand Lord ended callously killed.’

Tomas’s grin grew wider with each word, but whether it was at Nystul’s nearly inaudible poem or his own words British could not tell. “You know, you’re partially right, Richard. It’s not just me who’s doing this! Meet my pal Arcadion!” He aimed the sword point at British’s head and the fields suddenly dropped.

British crafted an energy shield that deflected the blast, and the guards lunged. It was as if they hit an invisible wall and were flung back into the walls with enough force to break bones. The situation dissolved into an absolute furball. Nystul, while daft, struck out with fire bolts and lightning from his fingertips, while Geoffrey and the gargoyles charged. Tomas Blinked and re-materialized behind Nystul, who turned around to meet the black blade.

“Oh, deary me…” he droned as the sword took his life and drank his blood.

Tomas Blinked again, evading a destructive purple bar of light launched by British, and reappeared beside Miranda, who was urgently trying to seek shelter behind a stone column. She screamed as the blade cut into her flesh, falling after a brutal thrust through the chest.

Those few guards who had not been knocked unconscious rose to their feet and rushed the Avatar, but his lethal swiftness with the Black Sword easily sliced them to pieces, their overextended halberds doing little to help them.

“Avatar!” Geoffrey roared, and suddenly the old veteran was clashing swords with Tomas.

The blades were swift and fluid in their movements, each seeking to cut and maim, ringing loudly with each blow as they struck. Geoffrey was skilled, but his style was archaic and outdated, and so Tomas took full advantage of this, applying the deadly swift swordsmanship skills he had learned from masters such as Rayburt, Sentri, and De Snel. How ironic that he had killed them all with their own skills. Now that was a case of the student surpassing the teacher if ever Tomas saw one.

Geoffrey took a mighty swing, but Tomas parried and with the other hand grabbed the veteran by the face and shoved him into a nearby column, turning to face other adversaries.

“Vultures will pick thy bones!” he roared and caught a spear thrown by Wislem, reversing the point and charging forward to impale the gargoyle through the belly so the point lodged in the wall behind him. “You’d do Inamo’s death proud.” Tomas said smugly, patting the dying gargoyle on the cheek.

He ducked as claws raked through the space his head had previously occupied, kicking backwards to take Inwiskloklem in the knee. The gargoyle moaned in pain but grabbed Tomas anyway and hurled him across the floor. The Avatar was quick to come to his feet again, focusing his malicious spellcraft on the enemy. Vicious telekinetic blow rained on Inwiskloklem, beating him to his knees until Tomas hurled an Explosion bolt at him and blew him to pieces.

“Tomas!” British cried sharply, and the Avatar turned.

The sovereign pointed a musket at him. His face was aghast at the horrors Tomas had willfully committed, but underneath that lay an indomitable vindictive intention.

“What? You too afraid to face me without the gun?” Tomas sneered.

“Like thyself, Avatar, I believe I should take every advantage I can get.” British said coldly. “I do not want to hurt thee.”

Tomas smirked. “Don’t worry. You won’t.” He pointed over his shoulder. “Look! It’s Nosfentor!”

British ignored the pathetic attempt at diversion and pointed the weapon at Tomas’s knees. “Thou dost refuse to surrender. I’m sorry, old friend, but I have no choice but to immobilize you. This will be painful.”

“Not as much as this!” Tomas exclaimed, and at a mere whim a wolf appeared behind British and dragged him to the floor.

From the corner of his eye he saw Geoffrey rush him. He ducked to evade the slash to his head, punching the bodyguard in the groin and then proceeding to trip him. The Avatar rose and lifted the Black Sword overhead, Geoffrey writhing in pain on the floor.

“Grovel for my amusement!” he commanded.

“Avatar?! Why art thou doing this?!” Geoffrey cried out in agony.

“Ah, the mysteries of life.” A single swing sent the veteran’s head bouncing across the room to rest in the corner, mouth gaping in frozen horror.

Tomas felt an impact to his head and whirled around to see a coloured juggling ball hit him dead centre between the eyes. Chuckles stood across the chamber, throwing juggling balls at him. They did little to deter the Avatar’s tenacious advance.

“Take this, vill - fool!” Chuckles cursed, somehow managing to remain comical even in the face of death. He was pushed back to the wall, the Avatar slowly striding towards him with icy calmness. The thin string that was his fickle temper was about to snap with devastating results. Chuckles’ eyes darted from side to side worriedly. “Canst thou play the game?”

Tomas tilted his head to the side thoughtfully for a moment. “No.” The blow ended the jester’s reign of bad jokes quickly and irrevocably. People should have rejoiced about that at the very least.

An agonized howl split the air as British dispatched the wolf with a musket ball to the head, rising to face the Avatar. His face was indicative of his murderous rage. “Murderous bastard! Vile fiend!” he growled, opening fire.

The small lead balls merely bounced off the Avatar’s spontaneous protective energy shield, but the furious British kept firing until he ran out of ammunition.

“Damn!” British cursed as he threw the musket down.

“Ya spewin’?” Tomas sneered as he slowly crossed the distance between them, dropping the shield with a confidence borne of arrogance.

“Thou wilt be.” British retorted, throwing back his purple robe to reveal the filled scabbard by his thigh. He drew a sparkling glass sword.

The sight of this weapon gave pause to even one as insanely bloodthirsty as Tomas. The glass sword could easily take his life with a single blow, regardless of his power and protective enchantments.

“Thou hast left me no option but to kill thee.” grated British. “Thou art murderous scum. I was wrong to even consider sparing thee.” His voice trembled with rage. “Thou didst murder thine own friends! Sentri, Spark, Jaana - countless innocents! Thou dost not deserve to live!”

“Hey, Richard, buddy, mate!” Tomas said, taking a step back warily. “No need to get all riled up! You can’t blame me! You said it yourself! It’s the mage madness’s fault! I need help!”

“Thou wilt not fool me like thou hast fooled countless others, Tomas.” British said gravely. “Thou art the vilest swine I have ever met! I hereby strip you of the title of Avatar. Prepare to face my blade, fool!”

“Ha! Your prime was back in the First Age of Darkness, old timer!” Tomas laughed scornfully.

In response, Lord British began to twirl his blade like a buzzsaw, displaying his formidable skill in swordsmanship. The glass blade spun and slashed as if to provide retort to Tomas’s contemptuous remark, achieving nearly impossible speeds, so fast that the eye could not follow.

Tomas was unfazed. He merely snorted, pointed the Black Sword, and fired.

This time, the ether betrayed Lord British. His shield did not come up in time, the blast knocking the sovereign off his feet. His glass sword went skittering across the floor.

British groaned and struggled to rise, clothes smouldering, but Tomas kicked him while he was down.

“Now for your forcible abdication!” the Avatar said gleefully. “Arcadion, Death!”

Arcadion’s reply was one of sheer exuberance and anticipation. “Yes! Long have I sought the end of Lord British, my traitorous Master. This blade is thy doom, Lord British!”

As the blade severed the hapless sovereign’s neck, there was a peal of ominous thunder and lightning lanced through the tower above to strike him. The headless body crumpled to the floor, blood pouring from the severed neck and spreading across the evenly placed stones.

That is precisely the thing to do, Avatar!

“At last! The fool who rules the land of worthless Virtues is dead!” Arcadion said, shivering with excitement. He then added sheepishly, “No offence, Avatar.”

“None taken.” Tomas replied, smiling smugly at his day’s work. “The current Virtues are somewhat meaningless anyway. Much good they did old Richard over here.”

Avatar! The booming voice sounded unusually urgent. Your companions are coming closer to finding the ultimate weapon that can defeat you! You must make haste! Go to Dungeon Deceit and crush them once and for all!

“Deceit?” Tomas cursed loudly. He had no Marked Virtue stones for that place. Then again, there was always the bronze dragon. He put two fingers in his mouth and gave a sharp, long whistle. “Hi-yo, Bronzie!”

Several seconds passed before a loud flapping of wings could be heard above, drowning out the sounds of combat. The tower suddenly disintegrated into a shower of debris and chunks of stone and wood, but the Avatar was protected by his spontaneous energy shield. Over the rim of the broken tower top the bronze dragon peered, grinning wickedly. Its scaly lips were smeared with blood. It had been feasting. Lowering its head to the floor via its long neck, Tomas climbed up the scales and onto its back. The dragon lifted off from the broken tower edge, becoming aloft with two beats of its mighty wings, soaring into the night sky. Potent magics gave an unnatural wind to aid its flight, and it glided towards its destination at speeds no normal dragon could reach.

Below, Britain was in flames. Gargoyles and Britannians fought, and the silver serpents gorged themselves on helpless victims.

The Companions ran down the hall, Shamino’s torch lighting the way, swift as if racing against time itself.

“Dost thou suppose that Wonderboy fellow was telling the truth about the generator’s location?” Dupre asked, huffing from exertion.

“Iskander was his name!” Iolo said reprovingly. “And, yes, I do believe him! What other choice do we have in these perilous times?”

The strike was so sudden that neither Iolo, Dupre, or Shamino saw it coming. A sudden and cruel hammering to the very heart of being, as if the essence of Despair itself had wormed - no, smashed - into their souls and began devouring them. Something terrible had happened.

Only Tseramed was unaffected, the ranger stopping as the other three doubled over, gasping.

“What is it?” Tseramed asked anxiously.

Iolo gripped his heart, gasping in anguish and struggling to blink back hot tears. “No…” he moaned raggedly. “It cannot be…”

“Lord British…dead…” Shamino gasped.

“I could feel his death!” Dupre exclaimed, gripping his chest and gasping loudly.

“We all could!” Iolo said, nearly sobbing.

A frightening, tortured scream carried down the stygian hall, reverberating off the stone walls.

“Iskander…” Shamino said, lifting his head to peer back down into the blackness.

“Come on! We must go!” Tseramed said, dragging Iolo to his feet.

The others followed, bolting down the hall. A pair of headlesses suddenly leaped form the darkness ahead, but Iolo’s crossbow and Dupre’s honed blade quickly felled them. Now they were at magically locked steel double doors.

Shamino quickly drew out the scroll of Unlock Magic, invoking the arcane words of power. “Ex Por!”

The green glow surrounding both door handles faded. Dupre kicked open the doors. Beyond was a large chamber with a massive tetrahedron in the centre, positioned as if it had risen out of the ground. A blue glow was in the centre of its face. At the threshold to the chamber, the entire dungeon suddenly lit up as if the sun itself had entered. A spell of Daylight had been cast, and by none of the Companions.

“Who goes?” Shamino asked.

“I’ll go!” Dupre said. “Give me the ring!”

Iolo handed him the enchanted ethereal ring, which the knight promptly shoved his finger through. An indistinct figure was coming down the hall.

“Teleport out! I’ll deal with the generator!” Dupre shouted.

He charged into the chamber, running as if the Slasher of Veils himself was after him, and the blue glow spat lightning bolts at him. The first struck his chest plate and his body was wracked with pain as the tendrils of energy crawled across his torso, put still he pressed on. Ten paces. Seven. Four. Another bolt struck him dead centre in the chest, but his armour took the brunt of the assault. At two paces, he leapt and disappeared into the blue glow.

The Companions watched him go, then turned to face the Avatar, who inexorably came closer, chuckling as he did.

Iolo drew out the teleport device.

“Get us out of here!” Shamino exclaimed.

“Where?” Iolo demanded.

“Anywhere but here!”

Iolo’s thumb punched the weighing scales button, the destination for Yew. Nothing happened. He pressed it again. They still remained.

“Damn! It no longer works!” Iolo cried, hurling the device onto the floor in frustration.

The spherical device bounced and rolled to the Avatar’s feet, who stepped upon it and twisted on his heel, crushing it.

“Well, well, well!” Tomas said cheerfully. “It can’t be! Look at this! The Scum Brigade! What vile Fellowship machinations are you carrying out today?” He frowned. “Where’s the drunken sot?”

“We must flee!” Shamino exclaimed.

Tomas laughed. “So, Shamion, the fox was right about you being yellow after all! Tsk-tsk.”

“I have fled long enough!” Tseramed yelled, prepping his bow. “I would rather die fighting!”

“He is right.” Shamino said with all the solemnity of death itself. “We are all that remains to defend Britannia.”

“For Britannia.” Iolo said gravely.

“FOR BRITANNIA!!!” the Companions roared in unison.

They gave a valiant charge, one such that surprised even the mad Avatar, but his response was deadly nonetheless. Tseramed was the first to meet a blade through the stomach, his contorted face meeting Tomas’s only inches apart.

“Join Lady M, fool!” Tomas sneered and jerked the sword out, letting the ranger fall.

Shamino was next. He yelled and swung his blade at Tomas, but at the Avatar’s mere whim the sword jerked out of his hand and crumpled into rubbish. Shamino’s face met with a fist that floored him with a great ‘oof’, and the next thing he knew he was staring up at Tomas with blood trailing down the side of his lip.

“Thou wilt not get away with this, villain!” Shamino spat, glaring at the Avatar with the purest defiance.

“On the contrary, I already have.” Tomas said, smiling with feigned congeniality. “At least you won’t have to worry about Amber. I’ll take real good care of her.” He pointed to his blade for emphasis.

Shamino went red with rage. “Vile scoundrel!”

He tried to rise, but Tomas split him in two from head to belly. Now only Iolo was left.

The Avatar scanned the vicinity for his quarry.

“Iolo!” he called. “Come out, come out wherever you are! I know you’re in here! Can Iolo come out and play?”

A bolt shot towards his back but shattered against an invisible shield. The Avatar turned slowly, unhurried and almost complacent in his movements. Iolo stood against the wall, desperately reloading his crossbow.

“You should have stayed in your sleazy taverns reciting cheap ballads, old codger.” Tomas said as he stalked towards the bard. “Oh, and by the way, your crossbows suck.”

A single cruel slash and Iolo was slain.

Hurry, my friend! Hurry!

“Master, I now have enough power for Armageddon.” Arcadion reported.

“Excellent!” Tomas said excitedly. “Today will be a day long remembered! We have seen the end of British and we will soon see the end of the Fellowship!” He shoved the blade into the floor. “Channel all your power to me!”

The Avatar raised his hands overhead, anticipating the massive influx of energy.

“As you command, Master.” replied the daemon in the Black Sword.

And so global annihilation began.

Dupre could not explain it. One moment, he had been in the real, tangible world, and in the next he was here, on a triangular platform in an infinite void of multi-coloured scintillating stars. It was the ethereal void, a realm beyond Britannia where magic was rife and could be considered almost mundane.

Ahead was his objective. A small tetrahedron in a cuboid container of glass. Dupre did not know how he knew it was his objective, only that it was.

He took a step towards it and there was a startling roar. A massive creature, twelve feet tall with a hide of red mottled skin and a face to frighten Mondain himself - more maw than visage - the towering monster stomped towards him with such a swiftness that belied its size.

Dupre gulped and readied his sword. This was not going to be a pleasurable experience.

Tomas felt the sweetest exhilaration as Arcadion’s vast magical energy stockpile flowed into him like a river, suffusing every part of his body and granting him absolute power. The ability to do anything. Tomas and the Black Sword were surrounded by a luminous blue glow that hummed and crackled with power.

Tomas inhaled a deep breath and began casting. “Vas!”

Dupre ducked and rolled, barely avoiding being squashed by the ethereal monster’s foot. He lashed out with his sword, scoring only a small nick across what he assumed was the creature’s ankle. Blade alone would not work against this foe; its hide was too thick.

The monster lunged with a hideous roar.


Dupre leaped back, bounding across the platform in an attempt to lure the beast away from the prism.


The blow knocked the wind out of him and sent his sword flying. He rolled away as the creature swiped at him.


Rising, he took out a flaming oil and hastily lit it, watching as the monster charged towards him.


Dupre hurled the flaming oil at the lunging creature, covering his face as it exploded and engulfed the monster in fire. It fell back howling like all the banshees of the realm combined.


The blast threw Dupre back. Struggling to his feet, he saw the sword lying not a pace beyond his reach. He snatched the hilt.


In two strides, Dupre towered over the small glass enclosure of the tetrahedron prism. Bringing his heavy sword upon it, he shattered it into a thousand pieces. The very Void seemed to tremble.

The madness fled so suddenly that Tomas was left standing there confused and with the final word of invocation on the tip of his tongue, yet it slipped by his lips anyway.


The whole world shook as if its heart and core had gone berserk, ripples of arcane, finely visible energy spreading out and rapidly travelling to envelop all that existed. The Avatar stumbled this way and that for what seemed an eternity, a high-pitched keening sound ripping through the air in tandem with the loud rumble. Then it stopped. The earth became calm again. All was eerily quiet.

The generator before him had crumbled in upon itself. Suddenly, Dupre appeared, a small blackrock tetrahedron at his feet. They stared at each other blankly for a moment, then they both felt it. That absence of…life. It was as if the essence of life no longer existed.

The memories hit Tomas with full force. While in his madness everything had been a muddle haze, he could now remember all his brutal deeds. He could recall the willful, wanton genocide he had committed against the Britannian people based on a single ridiculously erroneous allegation. He saw in his mind the deaths of his dearest friends at his very hands, and how he had cast the most dangerous spell of all - Armageddon. All of these memories hit him in a single moment, and so torturous were they that Tomas was bereft of all emotion for that short time.

Dupre, on the other hand, was an epitome of boiling rage. He realized what had come to pass, that he had failed to stop the worst doom from befalling his beloved homeland. He glared at the Avatar hatefully.

“Avatar?! What hast thou done?! WHAT - HAST - THOU - DONE?!” he screamed.

He attacked and the Avatar turned tail and fled back down into the labyrinth that was Dungeon Deceit, Dupre’s enraged cries echoing down the hall after him.

“Damn thee, Avatar! DAMN THEE!!!”

To escape those gut-wrenching cries, Tomas fled into the safety of teleportation.

Britain was dead. The surrounding landscape was dead. Everything was dead. People not killed by each other lay sprawled in the streets, as if untouched, victims of Armageddon’s wrath. So did the gargoyles and the silver serpents. Absolutely nothing lived. The landscape was brown and bleak. The air itself seemed to be bereft of life. The grasses of the plains were yellowed, the trees withered and gnarled as if they had been dead for years. Above, the winter storm of Armageddon was in full swing, venting its rage on the dead land. Rain fell, but the Avatar was ignorant.

He stood at Britanny Bay, surveying the dead waters. How could this have happened? How?!

The laughter came again in his head. Well done! Well done indeed, friend! You may have stripped me of a fine, bountiful world ripe for conquest, but I must say that was the best entertainment I have had in a long time. Why, that was even more stupendous than my conquest of Pagan, or even the decimation of Praecor Loth’s once grand empire!

“Who are you?!” Tomas shouted at the sky.

I am your companion, your provider…and your master! But, no longer. I think it is time to leave you to enjoy the fruits of your labour. You’ve earned it, after all. Perhaps your puny Earth shall be my next target! The voice faded away with a trail of mocking laughter.

“No! Don’t leave me here alone! Not without somebody to HATE!” Tomas cried.

The clouds thundered in reply, but the voice did not come back.

“You could always hate yourself, Master.” Arcadion said.

Tomas nearly jumped. He thought he had left the accursed sword in Deceit. Perhaps Erethian had been right after all about him regretting emancipating the daemon from the mirror. Why was it strapped to his back again?

“Damn you, daemon! Shut up!” Tomas pulled out the sword and spun, hurling it with all his might into the bay. “Go back to your hell, vilespawn!”

To his great surprise, the Black Sword re-materialized in his hands.

“What?!” he exclaimed.

“Master, you keep forgetting that I am bonded to you. We are inseparable.” The daemon said the last word with a certain degree of distaste.

Tomas fell to his knees, sobbing. “Kill me, Arcadion. Kill me…”

“As much as I would enjoy drinking your blood, I cannot terminate my own master.” replied the sword. “May I suggest that if you are desperate enough to desire taking your own life, why don’t you find a nice high peak in the Serpent Spine and-”

“I’m too afraid to even do that.” Tomas sobbed.

“Oh, well.” Arcadion said dismally. There was an uncomfortable pause before Arcadion spoke again, “Britain sure is a quiet place these days. I have an idea!” The sword seemed to vibrate with excitement. “I know this liche on Ambrosia who makes a real good conversationalist - when he’s not trying to kill you - so why don’t we…”

Tomas wasn’t listening. Instead, he rose and wandered the eerie streets, seeing not a soul. He did this for a while, with no purpose or objective. Then he came to the Fellowship Hall, and there he found Batlin - alive!

The man had a vacant look in his eyes as he gazed out the window at the winter storm. He turned to the Avatar, pudgy visage devoid of all but…astonishment, underlined by a tinge of despair.

He spoke, and his voice was as bleak as his face, “Many years ago, Avatar, I went to Skara Brae, the ghost city. The way the world is now reminds me of that dead place. In Skara Brae, I had a spiritual experience so profound that I have never spoken of to another soul. I would like to share that experience with thee now, Avatar.”

Tomas listened. Thunder crackled outside and the wind was picking up force, banging the double doors shut as rain began to pelt the lifeless city.

“There at Skara Brae I saw a man who was called the Tortured One. I asked this dead man, pray tell, what is the answer to the question of Life and Death? He gave me no reply, and I asked him again. I beseeched him to impart some small parcel of wisdom upon me. What is the answer to the question of Life and Death?! He said nothing, but in his eyes…In his eyes I could see, Avatar, that he could not answer me for there was no answer to give. No answers to the question of Life and Death! It was then that I understood. No meanings! No virtues! No values!!!…I commend thee, Avatar, for reaching that same liberating illumination.”

The land trembled as thunder struck and ripped a distant plot of earth asunder, the graying sky menacing angry in its malignant glory. Across the plains and mountains bare of life, beyond seas and oceans forever dead, all that lay on that which was Britannia, the entire world, was engulfed in a perpetual winter storm of death and doom.

None found mirth that day, none but the cackling creature of death atop the Dark Tower on an island across the Misty Channel - once the town of Spirituality - and the malevolent yellow eyes in the sky.


There was a grand lord who was very just and fair
Whom an Avatar served but soon did not give a care
Upon one night of blood and fear
The Avatar came with hatred to sear.

Vying to kill this beneficent lord,
He put many a patriot to the Black Sword,
Weaving fire and monstrous power,
Of the kind that makes brave men cower,
He waded in through blood and gore,
Slaying dozens and still wanting more.

The Avatar and the Lord fought a duel,
Waging battle with methods oh very cruel,
The Lord was seasoned and vastly skilled,
But to the brim was the Avatar’s madness filled,
And hence the grand Lord ended callously killed.

The Avatar did not stop there,
For he was death incarnate very unfair,
Seeking out his strongest foes,
He made them so to feed the crows,
Many a great power did he gain,
It did not help that he was insane

To Deceit’s depths he followed his former friends,
Devising means to put them to a permanent end,
A final stand did they valiantly make,
Yet it did not do well for their health’s sake

Only one survived to cure the madness,
But too late was he to stop the sadness,
For the world was fallen,
Gone to Armageddon’s wrath.

The Avatar so stricken with grief
Shocked by his deeds beyond belief
He fled across the dead realm so far,
For Dupre chased him with vengeance none could bar.

The victors that day were quite really none,
All except for the gruesome Dark One,
A fellow name Horance, a liche very mean
Upon making the world dead was he very keen,
And so fuelled was he by that realized dream,
He rose the dead with a horrid scream,
From the graves did the undead burst,
To rule a barren world was their greatest thirst,
And so they did for all time forth with death’s face,
While the Avatar ran and Dupre gave chase.

The bard strummed his lute slowly and sadly, the riff poignant and lamenting. Even Mourner, that man renowned for an indifference and impassivity comparable to that of a rock, seemed shaken by the gruesome, tragic tale. He appeared pensive, and as the bard put away his lute, he turned to stare into the fire.

“A saddening tale indeed, Mister…? Excuse me, I didn’t quite get your name.” Mourner said.

The bard smiled, although inwardly he felt no warmth towards this businessman. “Bailey, good sir. Of Britain.”

Mourner nodded. “That story, it reminds me of some place, something I’ve not felt since…” His eyes drifted towards a jewelry box that rested upon the lintel of the ornately designed fireplace.

The bard’s eyes followed. In there, was that the object that he was looking for? The object that would help him get off this world and reunite him with his true, rightful destiny? After all these years, he still could not understand why He had abandoned him, left him to die in that dead place. No, this was all a test. Years had passed, but time flowed differently along the different planes of existence, as myriad as they were. All he needed was that device and he would be gone from this land of strange towering buildings and alien technology, to find Him again and his glory and that beloved Voice…

The bard’s fingers itched for the jewel box. He focused his mana - here at least magic still worked to some extent - and his hand suffused with the purple glow of a prepared death bolt. Mourner rose nonchalantly and inhaled a deep breath, seemingly unaware of his imminent death.

The bard was now thoroughly convinced of the entrepreneur’s true identity. Baring his teeth in a cruel smile, he stood and faced him.

“So, Mr Mourner, do we discuss payment?” the bard asked coldly.

Mourner smiled condescendingly. “Yes, of course. Do you prefer cash, credit, or some form of miniscule bullion?”

“Your blood will be sufficient, Segallion!” the bard snarled and thrust his hand forward, and Mourner dropped and the bolt passed overhead, dissipating against the shield with the engraved serpent, leaving a morbid black mark in its centre.

A meaty fist slammed into the bard’s face, knocking him back, and then he found himself being picked up, throwing him into the wall adjacent to the fireplace.

“You’ll pay for that, you backstabbing bastard.” Mourner said. Then a mean glint came to his eyes. “You know who I am.” Mourner, or more accurately, Segallion, drew from within his coat a black pistol with elongated silencer barrel. “You know my origins. I can’t let you live for that. You might know where my diamond mine is, too.”

The bard struggled to rise. “Thou art wise not to Trust Thy Brother, former cohort of the Avatar.” he said, blood leaking down his lip as he lapsed back into his native speech. “It looks like you’ve strayed far from the path of benevolent, altruistic hero.”

Segallion gave a roar of a laugh. “Yeah, right. Altruistic, that’s a good one. Haven’t you read the histories, fella? I was always the brusque type, quick to kill and reluctant to ask questions. Britannia was becoming a little too lame for me after the gargoyle business and all.” Segallion paused to think for a moment. “You know, it actually feels good to talk to a fellow countryman again after all these years. Saddening though at Britannia’s death.” He shrugged. “Ah, well, what can you do?” He smiled grimly, pointing the gun at the bard’s head. “No, I think I’ll do this the old fashioned way.” He put away the gun and moved over the lintel, above which hung a great broadsword. “Prepare for the shedding of thine blood, fool!”

The bard smiled as he slowly rose. “Ah, at last, speaking Britannian to Britannian. You underestimate me, Segallion.”

His left hand suffused with a fireball this time, while the right suffused with a death bolt.

“While we are on the matter of introductions, just what is thy real name?” Segallion asked, cautiously approaching the bard.

“Batlin, good sir. Of Britain.” the bard replied. His face twisted into a hateful grimace. “Guardian take you, fool!”

He hurled the destructive bolts as Segallion ducked and rolled, narrowly evading the blasts and rising just as quickly to swing his blade at Batlin. The bard’s invisible shield came up to deflect the blow, and with a punch to the face, he floored the warrior and anxiously jumped over him, grabbing the box. Opening it, he frantically grabbed the object inside, a moonstone, surface not smooth but scarred and misshapen, as if mutilated by some strange force.

Batlin activated the moonstone, and several paces away from him a moongate opened, not just any moongate, but a black hole in the very fabric of existence.

“No! You fool! That’s moonstone is mine!” Segallion cried as he struggled to his feet, but Batlin merely laughed and ran into the blackness, the warrior’s shouts chasing him all the way.

There was nothing for a moment, then vertigo, and then…a sudden assault on his senses. A myriad of colours, smells, feelings, and sounds assailed him. He found himself in a clearing of a thick and dense jungle, the echoes of parrot squawks and strange beastly growls reverberating all around him.

Where was he? Batlin still held the scarred moonstone in his hand.

There was a sharp roar, and Batlin turned to see a monstrous creature crash out of the brush, a lizard of some sorts, a towering creature on two legs with brown hide and great jaws lined with dozens of sharp teeth. A bipedal dragon was the only word he could come up with to describe it.

“Oh, dear…” Batlin said bleakly as the creature stomped towards him, snarling hungrily.

For a short moment, the bard’s scream won over all other sounds of the jungle, then they returned, and the life of the Valley of Eodon resumed its routine cycle of life and death, uncaring of the demise of just another living being.

Back to The Dragon Press