Ultima 0: Origins
(Note: This fanfiction is also available here at Wayfarer Dragon's webpage)
by Wayfarer Dragon [a.k.a. Treesong, f.k.a. Justin "The Avatar" O'Neill]
Chapter I: "Zog"
A lone figure in a flowing black cloak stood on the peak of a snow-capped mountain. His cool silver eyes peered down into the valley, drinking in every detail of the landscape below.
"This is how it ends."
An enormous stone castle loomed at the center of the valley. It outer walls stretched for miles in each direction, and the turrets of its inner sanctum rose almost as high as the peaks of the surrounding mountains. Thousands of cob and brick buildings were safeguarded within its walls, and tens of thousand of people scurried among them, many screaming in terror and clutching small children or cherished possessions to their breast.
An ethereal voice whispered from just behind the man’s shoulder.
"Even thy magic, Zog, is not enough to stop this."
Zog turned toward the familiar voice. He found himself face to face with the translucent presence of an old woman.
She was dressed in silver robes, and her indigo eyes brimmed with tears as she looked at Zog’s weathered features. She reached out with her hand to touch his cheek, but it passed through his face as though it were made of fog.
He nodded knowingly.
"I should have known that thy shade would join me one last time."
He returned his eyes to the landscape below. A hundred thousand soldiers clad in full plate armor were advancing on the castle. Some of them were human, but most were clearly the products of the dark arts – a mix of animated corpses, conjured demons, and inhuman brutes that had been hired or enslaved in the service of a single battle.
The shade drifted closer to Zog, whispering in his ear as the battering rams kissed the cold stone below.
"They have already fallen. Must we really watch so many die before the casting?"
"They may yet come to a place of peace. The Council is still in session, and –"
The shade circled around to face Zog, almost blocking his view of the scene below.
"The Council? If anyone still listened to the Council, there would be no battle."
Zog nodded slowly. His bloodshot eyes watched as a giant blue explosion rocked the outer wall, shaking the ground with such force that even the mountain underfoot trembled.
"Dost thou see? We have given unto them the gift of magic, and they use it as little more than a cudgel."
"Remember, old friend – we gave them more than mere magic. ‘Tis a pity that the magic was all that they took of our teachings."
Zog reached into his cloak and pulled out a large leather-bound book. Its surface was graced with a unique geometric symbol that glowed with a soft inner light. At the center of this symbol, there were three circles of equal size. A triangle was formed by the three lines that ran tangent to only one of the circles. Another shape, not quite a triangle, was formed by the three lines that ran tangent to two of the circles. A smaller circle was at the very center, tangent to all three circles. A larger circle enclosed the entire symbol, tangent to none of the circles. As he followed the lines with his eyes, he could feel the glow of their light rising within his own heart.
"After the casting, as my final act, I shall send this book to a safe place."
He returned his attention to the valley below. Hundreds of balls of bluish-red flame streaked down from the highest turrets, bombarding the countless soldiers and beasts as they poured through three breaks in the outer walls. Many of them screamed and howled in pain as limbs, heads, or entire bodies exploded under the wrath of unseen casters and a punishing hail of stones and arrows. But one by one, the cob houses were set ablaze with blue and crimson fires, while the bricks were smashed to bits by the superhuman strength of the aggressors.
He shook his head and turned to the shade at his side.
"Were it not for the Gate, I would leave them be. Though they all be party to this day of betrayal, there are those among them who crave the dawn of a new age. Verily, I would let the greater brute prevail, and hope that one day, the gentle souls among them would use our magic to craft a lasting peace. And yet –"
The army below was greatly reduced in number, and chaos reigned inside the confines of the outer wall. But beneath Zog’s watchful eyes, the invaders were regrouping on the south side of the inner sanctum. A turret exploded in crimson-black flame, and another collapsed under its own weight as it was battered from below.
The moment was at hand.
"And yet, there is still the Gate, Zog. Thou must not forget the Gate. Only the spell that the Wisps have given thee shall stop them from opening it."
He stared at the scene unfolding below, his eyes growing dry for lack of blinking.
"Should I fail in this casting, they shall pour through the Gate, much as they have poured through these castle walls. Not one, but a thousand worlds shall fall under their shimmering swords and crackling magic."
He looked down at his hands and shook his head.
"Yet how can these same hands, whose magic has healed so many wounds, deign to destroy an entire world?"
Zog felt the cool brush of a ghostly hand against his cheek.
"Would that the beasts below had not taken me from thee so soon, my beloved. Were I still of the flesh, thou wouldst not be alone on this mountaintop."
He looked into her eyes, then looked away with a sigh.
"Perhaps ‘tis better this way. I have strength enough to cast this world to the wind, but know not if I couldst watch thee fall by mine own hand."
For a moment, they looked into each others eyes in silence. Then, they turned together to face the scene below. Another explosion rocked the very ground underfoot, and a portion of the inner wall collapsed amidst the jubilant cries of the armed masses.
"I will leave thee to thy final work, old friend. May thy hands be as steady as thy heart."
Zog nodded, his eyes fixed on the crumbling castle.
"And I shall join thee presently."
With that said, the shade backed away from the edge of the peak and faded from sight. Zog stood up straight and pulled a second book from the folds of his cloak. He opened to the final page and began the casting.
A circle of rainbow flames arose from the ground around him, swirling and rising with his every motion. He released the book, allowing it to drift unaided in midair before him as he continued reading the arcane text. From the folds of his cloak, he pulled two sachets of magical reagants. His hands clasped the sachets firmly as they traced complex geometric shapes through thin air.
As the casting gained momentum, his motions quickened, his hands and arms leaving growing trails of magical light. Suddenly, he could see every face below radiating a similar rainbow light. In his mind’s eye, he could see every face in every castle and village, every beast in the mountains and the plains, every tree and bush and flower and weed, every worm and insect and ferment of the soil.
His eyes rolled back in his head, and his feet lifted off of the ground. His arms fell to his sides, and his whole body trembled as the life force of an entire world thundered through his flesh. For an instant, he almost lost himself in the power of the casting. Finally, he threw back his head and screamed the words of power that would end it all.
"VAS KAL AN MANI IN CORP HUR TYM!"
The spell was cast. The rainbow colors that Zog had seen all around him soured into a putrid black. The very core of the world shook, and all eyes on the battlefield looked up to the peak of the mountain. Soldier and civilian alike turned away in terror, but there was no time to run, and no place to hide. A wave of black flame exploded out from Zog in all directions, sweeping across mountain and plain, enveloping the countless rotting auras of the living and the animated dead.
As soon as the wave had left him, Zog fell to his knees and watched the black death roll across the face of the world, devouring every last bit life. Every leaf was torn from its tree; every blade of grass was ripped from its soil; every herbacious plant was reduced to ashes; and all creatures shattered like a million clay statues. The wave passed, and in a few moments, a great silence fell across the face of the world.
He rose to his feet, turning slowly to examine the results of his spell. All that he had ever known was dead to him now. All except…
Zog cast aside the charred remains of his spellbook and reached into his cloak, revealing the large leather-bound book with its unique symbol. He held it aloft, letting it rise out of his palms as he shouted in a trembling voice.
"May our Quest be not in vain! May another world be born amidst these black ashes! May the Codex of Ultimate Wisdom be preserved, that one day its insights may be taken to heart by a people more wise than our own!"
The Codex of Ultimate Wisdom floated above his head, its inner luminescence growing with each passing moment. Zog turned away, blinded by its brilliant light. With a final flash, the Codex vanished into the ether.
Zog collapsed, falling onto his hands and knees, feeling his flesh chilled and scalded by the steaming mix of snow and ash on the ground beneath him. His eyes roamed slowly over the barren landscape, searching in vain for any spark of life that may have survived the casting. In his flesh and bones, he could still feel the echoes of an entire world teeming with life -- but this echo of a memory was all that remained. He closed his eyes, drew his last breath, then exhaled slowly, collapsing into the sterile soil beneath his lifeless body.
And for a thousand years, the world of Sosaria fell silent.