The Path Not Taken...

by Kenneth Whitten

Deep beneath the surface of Britannia, in the heart of the Fellowship's Black Gate dungeon, a fierce battle was raging. The Avatar and his companions were fighting Batlin and his lackeys for the fate of Britannia. The battle was going well; already three of Batlin's allies had fallen. Elizabeth, Abraham, and the Gargoyle Forskis lie dead.

That number soon rises to four as Spark's dagger finds Hook's heart. Batlin sees this, and then turns to address the Avatar. "This battle is not done, Avatar," he states. "Dost thou imagine thyself an immortal? The Guardian is far more. Return to your precious Earth and rest. Sleep, that he may visit your dreams with countless visions of death in the belly of the Great Sea Serpent. As for me, I shall begone! Thou shalt never find me! Farewell, Avatar!" With these words, Batlin disappears in a flash of light.

The battle is over. The Companions tend to their injuries, while the Avatar steps up to the dais of the Black Gate. For him, the battle is not quite done yet. He reaches into the pouch at his belt, and pulls out three small, black objects. They are the miniature representations of the Guardian's three generators. The Avatar places each prism into the corresponding slot on the three pedestals surrounding the Gate. As each is placed, the force barrier surrounding the Gate dims, until at last it vanishes.

Suddenly, the Avatar hears a familiar booming voice in his head. The Guardian was once again talking to the Avatar. "So, Avatar! The moment of truth has come! You can destroy the Black Gate, but you will never return to your beloved Earth. Or you can come through now and go home! It is your choice!"

A flicker of indecision crosses the Avatar's face; after a few seconds, he sighs in regret, and steps through the Gate.

The Companions' faces are frozen in astonishment. Iolo says, "I cannot believe that he just did that."

The end of his sentence is drowned out by a deep, roaring laugh that echoes off of the cavern walls. The Companions turn to face the Gate and see the demonic visage of the Guardian. His face is contorted in his continued laughter. The group is too stunned to react. He pauses to say, "Well, well, well. It appears as though your savior would rather be safe in his home than try to stop me from entering yours. What do you think of your 'Avatar' now?" He laughs again, but only briefly. He then reaches a great hand through the gate.

The moment his hand emerges, the Companions' shock is instantly broken. Shamino shouts, "Who has Rudyom's Wand?"

"Here!" Dupre shouts, pulling a thin wand from his belt. He aims it at the Gate.

Even as Shamino shouts, "Then use it!" in a near-panic, a bolt of force is shot from the tip of the wand, sailing straight for the Black Gate. Unfortunately, the bolt strikes not the slab of blackrock, but a large red forearm instead. Equally unfortunate is that the blackrock transmuter, being designed to affect only blackrock, did not in any way harm the Guardian, who once again shot a taunt at the Companions.

"It is too late, dear friends. I am already coming through the gate. You cannot stop me now." He then proceeds to reach his other arm through.

Dupre fires the wand again, this time aiming lower, where the Guardian was not blocking the way. This time, his aim is true, and with the sound of a large explosion, the Gate shatters. But not completely. Outlining the Guardian is a shimmering band of fluid blackrock. The Guardian spoke the truth. The Gate will not finish collapsing until he completes transit.

The Companions' faces turn pale as they realize that there will be no last-minute victory. They also realize that there is no way they can take on the Guardian once he enters. Their only option is to run.

*Our only option is to run,* thinks Dupre. *Run, and warn Lord British that the Guardian has entered the land.* The rest of the Companions come to the same conclusion even as Dupre shouts, "We must retreat!" and runs down the hall, the rest hot on his heels.

They make it a fair distance down the halls when they suddenly hear the most bestial roar they have ever heard in their lives. They all freeze in place as they come to a horrific realization: the Guardian has entered Britannia. They then resume their flight at a much more frantic pace. Behind them, though, they hear the Guardian's booming footsteps increase in volume with each step. They realize that he will soon catch up with them. If he does, no one will be able to warn Britannia.

Suddenly, Jaana gets an idea. "Shamino, pull out the spare spellbook!" She then rummages through her beltpouch.

Shamino complies, pulling out the spellbook taken from the mage earlier in this very cave. He doesn't fully know -why- he is doing so, but figures Jaana has an idea by the excited urgency in her voice.

Jaana finds what she is looking for: a small, white stone. She throws it to Shamino, and as he deftly catches it with his free hand, she says, "Quick! He'll catch up any second!"

Suddenly realizing Jaana's plan, Shamino opens the book to the Spells of the Fourth Circle. It has been quite a long time since Shamino actually used his magical abilities, but he did still have them. As the rest of the group huddles close, he grips the stone and shouts, "Kal Ort Por!" The group vanishes seconds before the Guardian rounds the corner into the corridor they were just in. Having heard Shamino's shout, he realizes that they have narrowly escaped him. His eyes narrow to slits, and he growls, "You shall not escape my wrath so easily, my friends." With no more reason to stay in the cave, he leaves by smashing directly through the rock. Soon, he will reach the surface. Soon, this land will be his. Soon.... 

While the Guardian is smashing through solid rock, the Companions appear in the courtyard of Castle Britannia. Lord British himself is relaxing by the fountain when he suddenly sees seven forms appear from thin air. After his initial shock, he realizes that it is just the Avatar's party. *Odd,* he thinks, *they only use the Recall Stone if there is an emergency.* Out loud, he says, "What's wrong?"

Shamino steps forward, and says without preamble, "My Liege, the Guardian has entered Britannia." Lord British's face goes ashen. Even through his shock, however, he notices something wrong.

"Where is the Avatar?" he inquires of the Companions.

The party hesitates, but Dupre finally answers. "Milord, the Avatar has... used the Black Gate to return home."

"What?!" exclaims Lord British. "The Avatar would never abandon us! I simply refuse to accept it."

"Nonetheless, it is true," responded Dupre. "The Avatar is gone, and the Guardian is here. We must evacuate the castle; he is sure to come here first."

Still recovering from the double shock, Lord British nods. "Yes, we must get the people to safety. Dupre, Shamino, come with me. The rest of you, warn everyone in the castle and in Britain. Have them evacuate to the Serpent's Spine." As soon as Lord British turned to leave, they all snapped to their tasks.

Lord British led Shamino and Dupre to Nystul's chambers, where he had the mage magically contact Geoffrey, Miranda, and Inwisloklem. "Tell them to meet here, Nystul," he added.

"Here, sire? In my chambers?" Nystul was a bit confused, as Council meetings were usually held in the Main Hall.

"Yes. The Guardian is in Britannia, and will no doubt come here first. The people are evacuating to the Serpent's Spine cavern as we speak. However, -we- must convene an emergency Council meeting. They are to meet here so you can take us to the Shelter."

Nystul understood. The Shelter was a room detached from reality, resting in the Ethereal Void. As such, they would be safe from the Guardian. Relatively safe, anyway. Nystul shuddered. The Guardian, in Britannia. What a horrifying thought. He quickly set it aside, and contacted the rest of the council, as ordered. As he awaited their arrival, he searched for the focus that would take them to the Shelter. *Ah, here it is,* he thought as he pulled out a small crystal etched with the symbol of the Codex.

Soon, Geoffrey rushed in, followed shortly by Miranda and Inwisloklem. Nystul motioned them near, and then chanted, "Kal Ort Por," while gripping the focus in one hand.

The seven people materialized in a simply furnished room with plain stone walls. Lord British motioned to the conference table at one side, which was placed there in case of an emergency dire enough to evacuate the castle. *I had hoped never to have to use this room,* Lord British thought as he sat down at the head of the table.

Lord British began with no preamble. "We are meeting here and now because a situation of unparalleled crisis has befallen the land: the Guardian has entered Britannia.

Nystul, Shamino, and Dupre, having already known this, merely grew more grim upon their Lord's announcing it. Geoffrey gasped aloud at the news. Miranda and Inwisloklem, however, looked confused. Miranda even went so far as to ask, "Sire, who is this 'Guardian'?"

Lord British was caught off guard by the question, but quickly realized that he should have expected it. When the Avatar reported everything the Time Lord and the Wisps told him about the Guardian, the only people Lord British entrusted this news to were Nystul and Geoffrey. If he told too many people, it would have started a panic.

"The Guardian," he explained, "is a powerful, interdimensional being whom the Avatar learned of from the Time Lord." At the mention of the Time Lord, Miranda's eyes widened, and Inwisloklem let out a murmur of surprise. Lord British continued, "He is a being who thrives on domination and conquest, and has of late set his sights on our fair land. He is the reason that the Avatar has been summoned to Britannia this time." At this, the lord's face darkened, as he relayed the dismaying news to the Councillors. "However, it seems that the Avatar has chosen to use the Black Gate to return home, rather than destroy it and keep the Guardian out." All at the table, except the two Companions, gasped in astonishment, and the table fell silent for several seconds.

"To wonder what we can do," asked Inwisloklem, finally breaking the silence, "now that the Avatar is not here?"

"That, friend Inwisloklem, is why we are here," replied Lord British. 

Elsewhere, in a small room on Earth, the Avatar -- no, Andreas -- had changed back into his Earth garb and was just now finishing his first meal since getting home. *That was a clever solution, Andreas,* he thought to himself. *Give Dupre the wand, and you can go home and still save Britannia. Very clever.*

After congratulating himself on his cleverness, the Avatar set to unpacking his backpack, sorting through the things that came back with him from Britannia. A few minutes later, he stops short upon seeing a soft blue glow. A distinctly -magical- glow. But magic does not work on Earth, and very few enchanted items remain functional when on Earth. In fact, to Andreas's knowledge, the only one that did was the Orb of the Moons. Therefore, this magical glow instantly piqued his curiosity. He reached inside the pack, and pulled out the object.

"Nicodemus's hourglass?" Andreas mused upon recognizing the item.

Back in Britannia, in a cavern beneath Buccaneer's Cove, a robed man was rummaging through a chest. He seemed mightily angered.

*Blast!* thought Batlin. *We were -so- close... now where is that scroll? The Master informed me that, should the Avatar thwart his arrival, he would reveal his backup plan on a scroll with his mark on it.* Finally, Batlin sees it: a scroll, plain except for a blood-red wax seal imprinted with the Guardian's visage. He is about to reach for it when he hears a booming voice behind him...

"Batlin!" the Guardian spoke, his voice emanating from a crystal ball, causing it to pulse with a red light.

Batlin whirls around. Seeing the light coming from the crystal, he addresses it. "Master?"

"Yes, Batlin, I have arrived in Britannia. Our great savior, rather than destroy my means of entry, chose instead to step through it and return to Earth." The Guardian sounded amused. "He gets to be safe and sound while his surrogate home becomes my playground. And he can do nothing to stop me." The Guardian chuckles briefly, then continues. "Seeing as thy associates Abraham and Elizabeth have met an untimely death, it seems that thou shalt be my sole lieutenant in this world. Thou shalt carry out my will in this land. To this end, I shall grant thee powers equal to thy station."

A red aura surrounds Batlin briefly. Batlin can feel his power increase. He recalls the Guardian mentioning that he grants special powers to his most loyal followers. He remembers that on one of the Guardian's oldest possessions, such followers held sway over the very elements themselves. *To wield such power!* he thinks to himself. Aloud, he says, "Many thanks, Master. May I prove myself worthy of such honor."

"See that thou givest me no reason to regret my decision," was the Guardian's reply. He then said, "Thy first task is to find and eliminate each of the Avatar's Companions. Thy new powers should prove more than enough for the job."

As thou dost wish, great Master," Batlin said as the crystal dimmed. He then set to work. After all, when the Master gives you a job, you'd best do it right away.

While Batlin was preparing for his mission in his hideout, a situation was developing in a large cavern in the Serpent's Spine... 

"Look, thou mayest be a Britannian legend, but I am the mayor of these people!" shouted a very irate Mayor Patterson.

"Be that as it may," retorted Iolo vehemently, "but thou art also a Fellowship member, and the Fellowship was proven to be a scheme of the Guardian."

"A fact which I was unaware of until less than an hour ago! Is that what thou'rt worried about? Thou thinkest I am a pawn of this.... This 'Guardian' you speak of? That I will betray us to him? Well, worry no longer!" He rips off his Fellowship medallion and throws it to the ground. The blue crystal shatters upon hitting the cavern floor. "There. I am, publicly and officially, renouncing my status as a member of the Fellowship. Are you satisfied?" Patterson glares at Iolo, awaiting his response.

Iolo narrows his eyes. "I do not trust thy words." He sighs, then continues, "But, someone must be in charge. As Mayor, thou art the most capable administrator here." Iolo says that last with a look that implies the words leave a bad taste in his mouth, Almost as an afterthought, he adds, "But we will be keeping a close eye on thee."

"I would expect no less from one so concerned about the welfare of these people," Patterson replies with patently false sincerity. He then proceeds to walk amongst his citizens, assuring them that everything is now fine. 

On the Isle of the Avatar, things are far from fine. Upon bursting from a mountainside, the Guardian contacted Batlin, granting him some powers and making him his right-hand-man in Britannia. *I must be careful with that one,* the Guardian muses. *He has strong ambitions. I may have to remind him who is in charge every now and then.*

After contacting Batlin, the Guardian grew to fifty feet tall. He then looked around. Seeing a small base of some sort on the other side of the inlet he stood at the shore of, he decided to flex his power here. He raised his right arm until it was extended towards the base. Beams of fire lanced out, setting the wooden fort ablaze. The pirates who lived there scurried to the docks, trying to escape by ship. Two more beams, and both ships docked there were ignited. The Guardian laughed heartily as the pirates perished. The sound was akin to thunder in the ears of the pirates in question. *Now, to topple their sandcastle and make their pitiful lord grovel before me.* He proceeded to wade into the sea, in the direction of Castle Britannia. 

Back on Earth, the Avatar Andreas had just discovered that the magical hourglass given him by Nicodemus was still lit with magical energy on his magic-dead Earth. He soon found out why, as a familiar voice sounded in his head.

"Avatar!" exclaimed the Time Lord. "What didst thou think thou wert doing in the chamber of the Black Gate? Is thy return to home more important than the safety of an entire realm?"

Andreas was taken aback, but managed to reply, "What? I gave Rudyom's Wand to Dupre. He was to destroy the Gate."

"Well, he didn't! He was too late in doing so, and barely managed to escape with the Companions before the Guardian made it through!!"

"The Guardian's in Britannia?" Andreas's face went chalk-white and his voice was barely able to push through his throat. "How did this happen? Dupre was supposed to...," His voice trailed off momentarily, then he asked urgently, "Can you get me back?"

"Art thou sure thou wantest to go back? Thou wilt not be able to return home this time." The Time Lord's tone made it clear that he thought Andreas should never have left.

"Yes," Andreas nearly screamed. "I would rather spend the rest of my life there than stay here when they need me!" And the words were true. As homesick as he may get for his true home, the safety of his adopted home was still of paramount importance in his mind.

"Very well," the Time Lord finally said. The urgency of Andreas's plea seemed to mollify his initial anger at the Avatar's earlier actions. "However, we both know that no spellcraft can reach into thy world. Not even mine." The Time Lord paused, as though deciding something. "But I do have an idea on how to get thee back. Thou dost still have the Black Sword, I presume?"

Andreas's head jerks up as he realizes the Time Lord's plan. "But will it work? The enchantments on it are non-functional here."

"Only the enchantment binding the sword to thee. Arcadion is still there, and can exert his will even on thy magic-poor world. And, under the circumstances, he is thy only way back."

"Thank you!" Andreas quickly replied. As he was about to cease communication, the Time Lord held the link for a bit longer.

"Let's not be so hasty, Avatar. Two more things before I leave thee to thy preparations. First, those who know of what thou didst do not know why thou didst do it. They see thou as having abandoned them. Second, upon arriving in Britannia, contact me again." After saying this, the Time Lord let the communication end.

Andreas quickly repacked the things he brought from Britannia. He then picked up the Black Sword, home of the daemon Arcadion, and raised it before him.

"Arcadion, hear my summons!" the Avatar called loudly.

The blue gem imbedded into the hilt of the Shade Blade began to glow, and a rather nightmarish voice with a facade of civility spoke from it. "Hello, Avatar. Or should I address thee as Andreas? Thou must be glad to be back home."

"I don't have time for this," Andreas snapped impatiently. "I need you to return me to Britannia.

Arcadion lets out a hearty chuckle. "Yes. Why stay at home when you can visit a land that is on its way to utterly total oppression? Where the local overlord has a personal grudge against you."

"Quiet!" Andreas snapped, not willing to tolerate the daemon's remarks. "Return me to Britannia."

"Very well... master." The daemon falls silent, then works his will to take the Avatar to Britannia. 

"But we have to do -something-!" Geoffrey said, pounding the table for emphasis.

"Yes, but an armed assault against a being who can imprison the Time Lord himself?" returned Nystul. "'Tis madness!"

"This monster is destroying our homes while we sit here and argue. What wouldst -thou- have us do?"

The argument had gone on like this for some time now. Someone would suggest an idea, and someone else would shoot it down. Finally, Lord British said, "Quiet, please." He did not shout, nor did he need to. Everyone at the table fell silent and turned toward their liege.

"Clearly, we are looking in the wrong direction for answers," he said. "We have suggested and dismissed nearly half a dozen ideas. Is there -anything- else you can think of?"

At first, there was just murmuring as the people at the table tried to think. After a moment, however, Miranda spoke up. "I have an idea," she said.

"Yes, Councillor Miranda?" Lord British prompted.

"Well, it seems to me that this Guardian cannot be -defeated-. Even the Avatar's mission didn't involve that." She paused to emphasize her next words, then continued. "The Avatar was to keep him out. So, why can't we just banish him, and then keep him out?"

Lord British turned to Nystul, and asked, "Can we do that?"

Nystul pondered for nearly half a minute before responding. "Maybe... Conventional means of banishment won't work, but if I can come up with a way to modify them...." Nystul let his voice trail off as he got up and went to a desk in the far corner of the Shelter.

"At last, a plan!" said Dupre, relieved that the meeting was over. "Now, while he works on his spell, I shall work on a bottle of ale." He then gets up and walks over to a wine cabinet he saw halfway through the meeting.

Now that the meeting was over, all that was left for most of the people gathered was waiting. No one likes waiting, so the others also found things to do to pass the time. 

Somewhere in the middle of the Deep forest, the mage Nicodemus was facing a most frustrating dilemma.

Scant hours ago, he was shocked awake by a very powerful and malevolent disturbance in the ether. He quickly learned via magic that a powerful entity had entered Britannia, a strange red giant. Seeking further information, he contacted the Wisps. After giving them the information from a very old tome penned by the sorcerer Mondain himself, Nicodemus learned all about the Guardian. He also learned that the Guardian could not truly be defeated, only expelled from Britannia. But even the Wisps could not say how this could be done. Therein lies Nicodemus's dilemma: how could he come up with a solution if the Wisps couldn't?

His concentration was interrupted by a voice coming from his crystal ball. "Nicodemus?" It was Nystul's voice.

Nicodemus went over to the crystal and said, "Yes, Nystul? What's wrong?" Nicodemus suspected that he already knew the answer.

"I need your advice on banishing a very powerful extradimensional being called --"

"The Guardian. Yes, I am working on the same problem. With no success, I might add."

"I see. Perhaps if we pool our efforts, we may do better than on our own?"

"Agreed. I'll be there soon, but I need to take care of something first."

"Very well, but please hurry." As Nystul said those words, the crystal ball began to dim.

*Before I join him, there's someone I need to talk to,* Nicodemus thought as Nystul's image faded. He then prepared an elaborate ritual spell, and cleared his mind, focusing on the ageless visage of the Time Lord. 

Just outside the cavern holding the citizens of Britain, Batlin materialized in a burst of light. He had determined that most of the Companions were in here. As he was about to enter, he heard a thunderous noise behind him. He turned around, and the sight that greeted him rooted him to the spot in both awe and horror.

The Guardian was trashing Britain. Batlin had never before actually -seen- his master, but there was no doubt in his mind that the being he now saw was the Guardian. Batlin watched mutely as the Guardian walked straight up to the castle and kicked its front wall in. He then proceeded to smash the high central tower with his giant fist. After reducing the castle to rubble, he stood on the debris, turned to face the town, and let fly all manner of destructive magics. Less than five minutes after arriving in Britain, the Guardian had reduced it to a smoking ruin.

But things did not end there. The Guardian stepped back off of the castle ruins, and intoned a rather complex spell. When he finished, he outstretched both hands toward the ruins, and from the ground rose a tower made entirely of blackrock. From the front face of the tower, a relief image of the face of the Guardian took shape. The Guardian then reduced his size to ten feet tall, and proceeded to enter his castle.

The spectacle over, Batlin returned to his mission. He boldly entered the cavern, and it was not long before someone cried out, "Batlin!" Batlin turned toward the source, and saw a green-clad archer ready an arrow into his bow, and take a breath to call an alarm. *That's the ranger who was travelling with the Avatar,* Batlin thought. He then made a dismissive gesture in the man's direction, immobilizing him with a spell.

When Batlin entered the main cavern, all eyes instantly turned to him. Expressions of shock, disbelief, and hatred soon settled into the people's faces. *How ironic,* thought Batlin, *that these people who hate me so shall be the means by which I destroy the Companions.* Batlin uttered a single word, and his spell took effect. Everyone still wearing a Fellowship medallion became momentarily stunned. A glazed look came to their eyes. Then, as one, they turned to attack the Companions. The other citizens became stunned themselves as they watched their friends turn on the heroes.

Batlin watched on in satisfaction as the enthralled people did his bidding. He noted, however, that a few Fellowship members were not affected. *They've taken off their medallions,* noted Batlin. *So be it. There are still more than enough people to do the job.*

Soon, however, Batlin noticed something that did give him pause. People were starting to rip the medallions off of the attackers. Apparently, they have figured out Batlin's tactic. *I guess I'll have to be a little more... direct,* Batlin thought as he raised his hands, preparing to unleash spells at the Companions.

As he was about to loose the spell, he felt a biting pain in his leg. The spell was released, but went wide. It hit the far wall, dislodging some rocks. Fortunately, the only injuries from that were minor scrapes and bruises. Meanwhile, Batlin looked down to see a young boy pulling a dagger from his leg. Batlin recognized him as the one who killed Hook back in the chamber of the Black Gate. Hastily, Batlin teleported back to his hideout.

*Fool!* he thought to himself as he escaped. *You should have known better than to expect that these powers would make you invincible! Next time, use a blasted protection spell!*

Unfortunately, when Batlin left, his spell on the people did not. However, it was a simple matter for the citizens to wrest the medallions off of the remaining few people wearing them. In the span of a few minutes, everyone had been released from thrall. 

On the barren Isle of Fire, a burst of light heralded the arrival of the Avatar. The place looked much the same as it had when he left after banishing the Dark Core of Exodus.

Remembering that he was to contact the Time Lord, the Avatar pulled the hourglass from his pack and called out with his mind.

A moment later, the Time Lord's visage formed in the back of Andreas's mind. "Good work, Avatar. Before thou dost continue, however, there are some things thou must be informed of. The Guardian has made some changes during thy brief absence. Most notably, he has leveled the entire city of Britain and erected a blackrock citadel at the former site of the castle."

"All those people..." The Avatar thought aloud, thinking that they were caught in the destruction.

"The people are fine," the Time Lord assured him. "Lord British had them evacuate to a hidden cave in the Serpent's Spine. Lord British himself, and a few others, have taken refuge in the Void, in some sort of hidden room; they seem to be holding some sort of council, deciding what to do.

"Back on the subject of the Guardian, though. It appears that he is making all further changes from within his tower. He must have some sort of device, like the generators, to amplify his magic; even he cannot make such vast alterations at such large distances. Unfortunately, I am for some reason unable to scry within the structure, so I know no specifics on the matter.

"There is something else, Avatar. The Guardian has made Batlin his right-hand-man."

"Batlin?" the Avatar asked. "Why does he still need him?"

"The Guardian customarily appoints his highest-ranking lackeys as 'overseers' of his worlds. When he moves on, they rule in his name. Batlin has been made such a person. The Guardian has granted him extraordinary magical abilities, as well. When the Guardian learns of thine return, he will very likely send Batlin after thee."

The Avatar sighed. Things were not looking good. "Anything else?"

"Yes. One more thing. If thou art to defeat Batlin and the Guardian, thou wilt need help of thine own." Suddenly, a soft glow enveloped the Avatar. After a moment, it dissipated, and the Time Lord said, "There. I have boosted thy powers, just as the Guardian has for Batlin. Also, take this." An orb, identical to the Orb of the Moons in all respects except that it was silver and not black appeared in front of the Avatar. When he took it, the Time Lord resumed speaking. "If, when thou dost finally reach the Guardian, thou art in dire need of mine assistance, throw this to the ground and shout the words 'vastimlem rel-por'. I will come to thy aid as soon as I am able. However, use this -only- when facing the Guardian, and -only- if all else fails."

"I understand," the Avatar said as he ended the contact and put the hourglass back into his pack. He then put the silver orb into his beltpouch, and withdrew the yellow stone and his spellbook, and chanted, "Kal Ort Por," vanishing in a burst of light. 

The Guardian sat on a large throne made from a solid piece of blackrock. The chamber he was in was over thirty feet tall, and was twice that in both length and width. It was, in fact, the entire interior of the Guardian's Tower. Aside from the throne, there were very few things in the expansive room.

Currently, the Guardian was focusing his attention on one of those few things: a map, twenty feet square, showing Britannia exactly as it currently looked.

*Let's see,* the Guardian thought. *Where shall I begin? Hmm.... Yes. Perfect.* And, by the power of his will alone, he caused the map to change. The isle of Terfin began to experience earthquakes as the Guardian woke up the trio of volcanoes on that island. The map, however, was only reflecting the changes the Guardian was bringing to the real Terfin. The Sorceror's Peaks, which had lain dormant since the Fourth Age, were beginning to awaken.

The volcanoes were formed when the evil sorceror Mondain was defeated by the Hero now known as the Avatar. For centuries, they erupted on a semiregular basis, warning travellers to avoid the site of Mondain's grave. When the Avatar had taken Mondain's skull from the area in the Fourth Age, the volcanoes became quiet. For two and a half centuries they slumbered, until roused by the Guardian's magics. But his reasons were more than the simple pleasure the destruction would bring. *When those volcanoes fully awaken,* the Guardian thought, *I shall use the ancient magics of the place to forge a permanent gateway through which my minions will gain access to this world. Then, my control will be absolute!*

Unfortunately for the Guardian, volcanoes are slow in waking. It would take some time before the Guardian could make his gate.

Suddenly, something on the map caught the Guardian's eye. A flash of magical power on the Isle of Fire. The Guardian's eyes narrowed, focusing on the area so that he could make out minute details. Someone had appeared in front of the Castle of Fire. When the Guardian saw who it was, his eyes narrowed further, this time in anger. *The Avatar has returned, curse him! I must contact Batlin at once!* 

Nicodemus appeared in the Ethereal Shelter looking quite distraught.

"That bad?" Nystul asked when he saw the look on Nicodemus's face.

"Almost... I have learned some very disturbing things." Nicodemus sighed audibly as he took the seat at the foot of the table. With a flick of his wrist, a decanter of wine rose from its shelf. As it sailed toward Nicodemus, he said simply, "We are in big trouble." He then fell silent, collecting his thoughts.

Geoffrey, whose patience had slowly been wearing thin ever since the council began, finally burst out, "What? What have you found?"

Nicodemus threw an exasperated look in Geoffrey's direction, and said, "I was about to tell you." A short pause, then, "According to the Wisps, we cannot destroy the Guardian, merely banish him. Unfortunately, even they do not know how to accomplish this."

"Indeed?" remarked Lord British. "It is unlike them to lack knowledge. Anything else?"

"Yes. According to the Time Lord, it is beyond the capabilities of any of our mages to perform this banishment. It seems the magics involved are on a level of power beyond our reach. However, he also informed me that he is working on the solution -- he and the Avatar are working together to confront the Guardian."

At the mention of the Avatar, a murmur ran across the table. Eventually, Shamino spoke up. "The Avatar? I saw him step through the Black Gate with mine own eyes. He cannot be in Britannia."

"He left? I did not know... Well, he is here now, it seems. The Time Lord said he has boosted the Avatar's power to enable him to banish the Guardian."

Lord British then spoke up, "Well, it is better late than never, I suppose. If anyone can beat the Guardian, surely the Avatar is that one. Is that all, Nicodemus?"

"No," Nicodemus replied. "Not quite. Have you been watching Britannia the past few hours?"

It was Nystul who answered. "Well... no. We've been a bit busy in our discussion."

"Ah. Well, then, perhaps I should update you on a couple of major... renovations the Guardian has made. First, an hour or so after you evacuated Britain, the Guardian smashed it to bits."

"I expected as much," Lord British said. "That's why I had it evacuated."

"Yes, well, it seems that he has made his home directly atop what used to be your castle. However, it is his other act which concerns me more. He is awakening the Sorceror's Peaks."

Of the people gathered there, only Lord British and his Court Mage understood the full import of those words. Shamino, Dupre, and Geoffrey understood only the reference, as they were there when the Avatar retrieved Mondain's skull from the depths. The two councillors, however, had been born over two hundred years after the event, and so did not even know -what- the Sorceror's Peaks were. Their quizzical glances said as much, so Nicodemus elaborated.

"The Sorceror's Peaks are the trio of volcanoes marking the site of Mondain's death; the same three volcanoes from which the Avatar retrieved the Skull of Mondain in the Fourth Age. They have been dormant since then, and are now part of the mountain range on --"

"Terfin." The interruption came from Inwisloklem, who knew about the Fourth Age reference, being a scholar of the Avatar Legend. "To be located on Terfin." He turned his head to face Nicodemus. "To inquire if my people have escaped in time?"

Nicodemus gave a small smile as he said, "It will take several hours before the volcanoes become fully active. All that has happened so far are some minor tremors. I have contacted King Draxinusom already, informing him that it will get much worse and that he should evacuate Terfin. By now, they are probably already gone; if not, then they will be soon."

Inwisloklem's face visibly relaxed. "To give you thanks for alerting my people. To ask, however, what the Guardian has to gain by destroying Terfin?"

"When those volcanoes become active, they will be a source of unimaginable sorcerous energy. I know not what purpose the Guardian will put this power to, but I rather doubt that it will be anything good."

Lord British came to a decision. "Now is the time to act. We must put the volcanoes back to sleep before the Guardian can cast his spell. Nystul, Nicodemus, how can we do this?"

The two mages thought, then Nystul replied, "We will need three -extremely- powerful mages there. The best we have: Nicodemus, Penumbra, and Horance. However, we will certainly be detected."

"What if we set up one or more distractions, to hold his attention?" asked Lord British.

Nicodemus shook his head, and said, "It won't work. As soon as he senses us tampering with his spell, he will immediately focus on stopping us. What we need is a way to evade his detection. I have a blackrock amulet specifically constructed to avoid such scrying, and I believe that Horance's time as a lich has granted him the permanent ability to do so. But I do not recall Penumbra having anything to avoid scrying.

"Until we can make sure we are all concealed, the plan cannot be carried out without him noticing us before we can do a thing. Once we overcome that, then we will be able to stop him."

"Hmm," Lord British said. He looked as though he was weighing a decision in his mind. Soon, he nodded to himself, and said to Nicodemus, "Penumbra can use your amulet, and I will lend you mine." With that, he removed his Silver Serpent Amulet from his neck and handed it to Nicodemus. "That amulet will not only prevent scrying, it will allow you to mentally contact me, should the need arise." He then looked around the table, and asked, "Anything else?"

The mages shook their heads. "Not until we have the spell ready," Nystul said. The mages then went to the far side of the room, while the others assembled went back to finding ways to kill time. 

Back on Britannia, somewhat east of what used to be Britain, a young woman stood at the altar of the Shrine of Compassion. A short time ago, she learned that the Avatar had abandoned Britannia to a great red daemon who had, just over an hour ago, reduced the city of Britain to a smoking ruin.

Upon learning this, Nastassia ran from Cove in tears, heading straight for the Shrine. When she reached the altar, she stopped to catch her breath. She then stood straight up, pulled a worn dagger from her belt, and leaned her head back. She was poised to plunge the dagger into her chest, in tragic reenactment of her mother's suicide, when a firm hand clasped on her wrist and a familiar voice said, "Please don't. It would sadden me greatly to lose you." The dagger fell from a hand which had suddenly gone limp, and Nastassia whirled around.

"Andreas!" she exclaimed. She found that fresh tears had wet her face. "They said thou didst abandon us! That thou went home while a great daemon came to our land. Why did they say such things, Andreas?"

The Avatar gave a heavy sigh. "Nastassia, they say it because.... Because it is partly true. I did step through the Black Gate."

Nastassia looked at the Avatar in uncomprehending shock. "Why? Why wouldst thou abandon Britannia? Why wouldst thou abandon me?" Her voice nearly broke as she said that last.

"I would never abandon Britannia," the Avatar said firmly. "I had given to Dupre the wand that would destroy the gate. It seems he wasn't fast enough, and was forced to flee to warn Britannia. I didn't know this until the Time Lord summoned me back." He looked to the west, to Britain, and continued, "And now I must correct my mistake, lest I fail my duty as the Avatar."

"And what about... me? Why didst thou leave me?"

The Avatar turned back to Nastassia and said in a voice filled with emotion, "Oh, Nastassia. I would have loved to stay with you. But Earth is my home. I have lived there nearly all my life. I couldn't imagine leaving it forever. But it doesn't matter now. Britannia needs me more than ever, and I could not live peacefully at home knowing what would happen here."

"Britannia. Earth. What about me? Do you still care about me?" Nastassia was on the verge of tears once more as she awaited his answer.

"Oh, you know I still care, Nastassia. And I swear by the Virtues I am sworn to uphold that, when I defeat the Guardian, I shall never leave you." The two embraced for a long moment, then the Avatar reluctantly let go and started on the path leading to Britain. Nastassia did not look away until well after he was obscured by the woods through which the road led. 

Once again, Batlin was ready to assault the cavern in which the Companions took shelter. *Cowering from the Guardian's might is more like it,* he thought. He was just about to return to the cave entrance when his lord suddenly called him.

"Batlin! Thy task has changed. I have learned that the Avatar himself has returned to Britannia. He will no doubt attempt to confront me directly. However, I will soon be performing a powerful spell and cannot let myself be distracted. Therefore, I command thee to do the deed for me."

"With great pleasure, Master." Batlin was overcome with conflicting thoughts of concern and vengeance. Concern because the Avatar would never try a direct attack unless he thought he had a chance. And vengeance because the Avatar had brought his Fellowship low, and, more importantly, had killed the only two people Batlin had ever thought of as equals, even as friends. He needed no prompting from his lord to gain revenge for that.

Batlin resumed his final preparations, this time suited for his new task. Very soon thereafter, a burst of light marked his departure. 

"It is no use," Csil said in resignation. "His condition defies all my spells and curatives."

Tseramed's paralyzed body was found shortly after Batlin's failed attack. For the past hour and a half, Csil, the healer, and Kessler, the apothecary, studied the malady and made several attempts to remove it. However, the archer still stood rigidly immobile.

"Why?" asked Iolo, who had known the archer longer than the others. The two had been friends in Yew long before joining the Avatar on his latest journey. "Why can't we heal him?"

"The spell is too powerful," replied Jaana, who had also tried to cure Tseramed's paralysis. "Somehow, Batlin has amplified the spell to a degree beyond anything I've ever heard of. Possibly too powerful to counteract."

"Impossible!" exclaimed Kessler, standing to face the group. "No man can create a spell so powerful that another can not dispell it! If there is power enough for one, there can be power enough for the other."

Sentri, who had merely observed until now, spoke up. "But what if Batlin had help? What if his master lent him the power? The Guardian has proven able to cast very powerful spells here, even while still outside our world. And he is no longer outside our world. He is here, in Britannia, and very close by." He then fell silent.

"We can't just give up," stated Iolo. "Even the Guardian's magic can be thwarted! Did we not defeat the magics of his generators?"

"We did, indeed," replied Jaana, "but stopping his generators is far different than stopping him. We need strong magic of our own to do that. And that is something we do not have. All we can do is wait, and trust that our liege is taking care of that problem, as we cannot." 

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the cavern, Mayor Patterson was trying to get some rest. But his sleep was troubled.

"Mayor Patterson!" bellowed a thunderous voice. Patterson recognized it instantly as his 'Inner Voice', now proven to be the Guardian.

"Thou hast some nerve," replied Patterson, "to keep up this charade after being exposed as thou truly art."

The Guardian's mental voice turned icy as he replied, "No, dear mayor, the charade is over. I am here talking to thee because thou wilt do me a favor."

"Hah! As if I'd ever aid thee in thy plots. Especially after being played for the Fellowship fool. Never again; I am no man's lackey!"

The Guardian then sent images into Patterson's dreams: images of wealth and power, hoping to play on his ambitions. When he spoke again, his voice was more persuasive. "Come now, Patterson. When I move on to the next world, someone will have to keep an eye on this one. Think of it! All Britannia at thy command, and Batlin's powers at thy disposal."

Patterson remained unswayed, for he knew the Guardian was making hollow promises. After all, if he already has Batlin as his chief henchman, the Guardian has no need of Patterson, and would simply throw him away when he was done.

His refusal mightily frustrated the Guardian. *He is proving to have more resolve than I expected. I will have to use another approach to convince him.* He then cast a spell which caused Patterson's recollection of the dream to be locked away when he awoke, and pulled his consciousness back to his fortress. 

In the Ethereal Shelter, activity has greatly picked up at the far end of the room, where the mages Nystul, Nicodemus, Horance, and Penumbra researched their spell. The others were killing time at the conference table, until Nystul crossed over to their side, at which point they dropped everything.

"Is it ready?" asked Lord British.

"Not quite," replied the mage, "but almost. They should be ready to go within the hour. However, we have determined that simply stopping the spell will not be enough. We will need to prevent the Guardian from re-casting it. And we have come up with an idea on how to do this." He turned to Dupre, then asked, "Dost thou still have Rudyom's Wand?"

Dupre answered, "Yes," and proceeded to get it from his pack. Knowing the wand's sole purpose, he asked, "Is the Guardian casting spells through a blackrock generator again?"

"We think so. It seems that he is casting all his spells from where the Castle used to be, and not even the Guardian can wake the Sorcerer's Peaks from so far a distance. At least, not without an amplifying artifact. And Nicodemus tells me that the residence the Guardian has created upon the castle's ruins is large fortress... made of a solid block of blackrock."

All around the table, faces were grinning. "So what thou art saying," said Lord British, "is that we just go in there, walk up to the Guardian's fortress, and blast it back into the ether from which he created it."

Nystul grinned at that, "Indeed, milord. But the Guardian doubtless knows we still have the Wand, since he saw Dupre wield it in the cavern of the Gate. He would therefore make sure to protect his fortress with spells to avoid its obliteration. However, my colleague Horance thought of this, and gave me a few spells to cast on the wand, augmenting its destructive force." He held up a few scrolls in one hand.

"Horance?" asked Geoffrey. "I thought Rudyom was our resident expert on blackrock."

Shamino smiled at Geoffrey, "Ah, but remember who was living in a blackrock tower lately? Horance probably knows every way to shield it, and therefore how to defeat such spells."

Dupre handed Nystul the wand, and the mage returned to the other side of the room. 

As the Avatar walked through the streets of Britain, he was appalled at the level of damage that the Guardian had wrought. At the same time, he felt that he was partially to blame, for if he had not stepped through the gate, none of this would have happened. *Enough of that,* he mentally chided himself. *Focus on what needs to be done, and save the self-blame for later.*

Finally, he reached the Guardian's castle. He took a look at it, and said, "What I wouldn't give to have Rudyom's Wand right now."

"Not that it would do thee any good, Avatar." With that, Batlin stepped from behind what used to be his own Fellowship Hall. The Avatar spun around, quickly chanting a protection spell.

And just in time. A blast of fire hit the Avatar square in the chest. Luckily, the shieldspell was up in time to prevent it from hurting him. However, it was not fast enough to prevent the blast's force from throwing the Avatar a good ten feet.

Calling upon his own new powers, the Avatar willed his own spell into being. A glowing mist, crackling with lightnings, moved from his outstreched hand to engulf Batlin. The energy mist merely dissipated, however, upon reaching its target. Apparently, Batlin has his own shieldspells prepared in advance. The battle was beginning to look very complicated.

"Come now, Avatar," said Batlin. "Must we go through this unpleasantness? Surrender now and die quickly. Unless thou wantest to be dragged before the Guardian and put to his... tender mercies. If so, then by all means, fight on."

The Avatar replied, "You should know better, Batlin. I would never surrender to you, or to your fiendish master." He then exerted his will again, this time entrapping Batlin within a large block of magical energy. Batlin was immobilized, but only for a second. He then appeared to be struggling against the energy field. In a blinding flash, the field shattered.

The flash momentarily blinded the Avatar, whose vision cleared in time to see a bolt of blackness approach him. Even as he realized it was the manifestation of a death spell, he was already diving to one side. The bolt grazed his left arm and, while his protection stopped the bolt from withering the limb into lifelessness, the Avatar still felt a deep chill at its contact. Had the bolt hit him dead-on, he realized, the chill would have effectively paralyzed him.

This made the Avatar realize that, while it did prevent the brunt of a spell's effects, the shields could not block the entirety of the power used in the higher-circle spells. So, the Avatar used Batlin's trick against him, and set forth his own death spell. This one, however, took the form of a black mist and unerringly sought its target, despite his attempts to evade it.

The death vortex engulfed Batlin, and chilled him to the bone. His body stiffened as the force of death magic pervaded him. He fell back, onto a pile of rubble, and lay there wide-eyed and motionless, except for a constant shivering.

The Avatar strode forward, toward Batlin, and as he did so he drew the Black Sword. Made of tempered blackrock, the blade possesses power enough to pierce magical shields. But as the Avatar neared Batlin, he noticed the shivering subside. Knowing he had to act fast, the Avatar leaped the remaining distance with his sword raised high overhead. As he descended, he brought the mighty Shade Blade down. But Batlin had now recovered enough to roll out of the way, and did so.

But Batlin was not fast enough, for the sword bit deeply into his right arm, slicing nearly to the bone. Since Batlin was still in mid-roll, his momentum carried him away. Except for the part of his arm that the sword had cut into. With a sharp tear, a good-sized chunk of flesh had been removed from Batlin's arm.

The fight was as good as over. Batlin lay gasping in pain, frantically trying to heal himself. However, the pain was too great for him to concentrate on any magics.

The Avatar then moved in to finish Batlin off. But as he closed in, Batlin reached into a pocket in his robe with his good arm. In one smooth motion, he pulled out and threw a finely crafted dagger made of blackrock at the Avatar. The blade sailed through the air and planted itself firmly into the Avatar's thigh. Due to its nature, the blackrock pierced the shieldspell quite easily, and shattered it as well.

Despite his wound, the Avatar continued toward Batlin, albeit with a distinct limp in his wounded leg. *Blast,* thought Batlin. *If the Avatar had not wounded my arm so bad, I'd have aimed well enough to kill.* Batlin knew he was going to die, and, while resigning himself to his fate, he thought of one more card he could play. *I shall not go down without the satisfaction that he is coming with me.*

The Avatar closed to a single pace from Batlin, and raised his sword. Suddenly, Batlin drew his lips into a tight smile, although it appeared as a pained grimace. As the Black Sword descended, he said, "sang-flam."

The blade pierced Batlin's chest, going through his heart and left lung. Batlin was dead. And then his spell took effect.

The pool of blood flowing from his wound suddenly burst into flame. The Avatar quickly stepped back, avoiding the flames, but in the process failed to notice that the blood on his blade had ignited as well. Despite the Black Sword's resistance to both heat and magic, the flames climbed up the blade. The Avatar quickly saw this, and tried to throw the sword to the ground before the flames reached his hands.

He did so, but forgot about the binding magic on it. The sword flew back into his grasp, flames and all. The Avatar shouted, "Vas An Flam Ort!" and the fires died down. However, his hands were rather singed, as the fire had reached them before being dispelled.

He quickly sheathed his sword, as it was very painful to hold in his burned hands, and merely throwing it down again would, of course, be futile. He then prepared to cast a spell of healing, but before he could gather the magical energies, another spell engulfed him, and he disappeared in a shimmering of red lights. 

As the Avatar began his fight with Batlin, the Guardian decided to speed up his plans to eliminate the Companions. He bent his will toward the cavern where the citizens of Britain hid, and summoned one of them to his fortress.

Mayor Patterson appeared in the center of the great room, looking quite disoriented. Upon seeing the huge figure seated in the great blackrock throne, his knees instantly buckled, and he began to tremble in fear. The Guardian gave a very demonic smile, to heighten the mayor's fear.

"What happened to all of thy newfound resolve, dear Mayor?" he said with great amusement. "Perhaps it has fled upon seeing the actual face attached to thy Inner Voice?" The Guardian chuckled.

Patterson finally found the voice to speak, and so he did. "What is the meaning of this, fiend?" he shouted with more bluster than he felt. Suddenly recalling the suppressed dream conversation from before, he asked, "Still trying to get me to betray my people?"

"I called thee here," the Guardian began, speaking slowly and very calmly, "to tell thee that thou -wilt- eliminate the Avatar's companions. And if thou dost choose not to, then I will use my magics to bring down the entire mountain in which thy cave lies, killing all within."

"If thou couldst do that, then why hast thou not already?" Patterson blurted out. "Why dost thou need me?"

"Fool! Britain holds a sizeable amount of people. If I crush its populace, I'd lose quite a lot of slaves. A smaller city I would smash in a heartbeat to cow the others into submission. But not such a large one as Britain.

Patterson looked confused. "Why dost thou need slaves? Thou'rt just going to move on anyway."

The Guardian did not answer right away. He was not about to reveal that he needed people to excavate the vast amounts of blackrock deep within the land. His entire purpose for conquering Britannia was to gather the large amounts of blackrock to use in further conquests. It was, to use the human expression, a 'gold mine'.

Instead of revealing this, the Guardian merely said, "Do not trifle thyself with such matters. I have my reasons. Now, thou wilt do as I say, or I will smash them anyway and get my slaves elsewhere."

Picking up on the fact that the Guardian did seem to need the Britain citizens, Patterson tried a direct refusal, having gained the confidence to do so from the Guardian's obvious evasion of his question. "No," He said simply. He soon realized that that was the wrong answer.

The Guardian fixed a literally smoldering gaze upon the mayor, rooting him to the spot. By the Guardian's will, Patterson mechanically extended his right arm. The Guardian then tore a small chunk of blackrock off of the arm of his throne. He clenched that hand into a fist, and when he reopened it, the chunk of rock had become a finely crafted dagger, perfect save for an indentation in the hilt. This he filled with a magical jewel as red as his own leathery skin. He then placed the dagger in Mayor Patterson's waiting hand.

Instantly, the whites of Patterson's eyes acquired the same red hue as the gem in the dagger. That gem made him an unquestioning pawn of the Guardian. "Kill the Avatar's Companions," was all the Guardian said. He then sent Patterson back to the cave. But not merely to the same spot; he shifted the teleportation so that the mayor appeared at the exact moment he disappeared in the first place.

Now, if anyone had been looking directly at Patterson's eyes, they would have seen them go from white to red. If they had been looking at his right hand, they would have seen a black dagger instantly appear in it. But at the time in question, no one was looking at either of those, so Patterson arrived unnoticed. And Iolo was not more than fifteen feet away, back turned as he talked to a Britain townsman.

Within his fortress, the Guardian turned his attention back to the fight between Batlin and the Avatar. Batlin lay dying, and the Guardian saw his bloodflames spell take effect. The Guardian smiled in approval. When the flames were dispelled, he readied a spell to bring the somewhat-the-less-for-wear Avatar into the room. Moments later, that spell was cast. 

As the Guardian sent Patterson to do his job, Nystul was giving Dupre his.

"The wand is ready now. Nicodemus tells me that they are almost ready to cast their spell, so here's the plan. While the Guardian will be unable to detect the mages, he will certainly feel someone tampering with his spell. So, after they leave, I will send you to Britain. Count twenty heartbeats, then fire the wand. If our guess is correct, the Guardian will have just sensed their tampering and will try to stop them. You destroying his fortress will prevent him from doing so, and distract him from what they are doing." He then handed the wand over to Dupre.

Shortly after, Nicodemus signaled to Nystul that they were ready. Nystul nodded in acknowledgement, and they left. He then turned back to Dupre and said, "Rel Por," focussing on sending Dupre to Britain, just north of the castle. Dupre promptly vanished, leaving only a fading flash of light behind. 

Iolo was speaking with Coop, his apprentice, in an attempt to keep his mind off of the myriad problems he was helpless to fix. Behind him approached Patterson, looking for all the world as if he was merely going to talk to the bard. Only Spark, who was quite bored and therefore hovering around idly, noticed otherwise. Being of shorter stature than most, he quite easily saw the dagger that Patterson was now bringing to bear, and quickly shouted a warning and rushed forward, drawing his own dagger.

Iolo whirled around, a move which saved his life as Patterson's dagger passed through where his back would have been. Patterson overbalanced, giving Iolo a good opportunity to kick him in the side, then jump back far enough to draw his fire sword.

Upon drawing the sword, all nearby backed off. Over by one wall, however, someone was pushing -toward- the battle. Sentri, who had been watching over Tseramed, saw the blaze from the sword and heard the commotion, so he rushed forward, drawing his great two-handed sword from its sheath on his back.

By now, Spark had reached Patterson, who had just regained his balance. Spark thrust his dagger at Patterson's leg, as he had done earlier to Batlin, but the mayor saw it coming and parried easily, then kicked the boy to the ground. Spark's dagger clattered away into the crowd while Spark himself suffered enough pain from the kick and the subsequent fall that he decided not to rush forward unarmed.

Half a dozen bystanders who saw what happened to Spark began to rush forward angrily, only to stop in stunned astonishment as Patterson, while parrying a swordthrust from Iolo, cleaved the sword of flame in two. The severed half fell to the ground, lifeless metal once more. As there was not enough blade left to fight with, Iolo threw the rest of the sword down, its flames vanishing as well upon leaving his hands. Having no other weapon save his crossbow, which was useless in such a crowded fight, and a hand dagger, he drew the dagger and backed up, looking for an opening.

That was when Sentri finally reached the fight. He rushed Patterson and, by sheer luck, the mayor evaded the swordsman's initial strike, and brought his dagger up in a quick counterattack. The blade brushed across Sentri's left arm, sending waves of pain through it and forcing the fighter to use his sword one-handed. While Sentri was indeed strong enough to do so, the sword was simply not balanced right to be used in this manner.

Therefore, it was all Sentri could do just to fend off the mayor's attacks. Attacks which shortened his large blade in a very short time. But as Patterson moved in for the kill, he suddenly stiffened as though someone had plunged a blade through his spine. Which just so happened to be the case, as Iolo withdrew his dagger from Patterson's soon-to-be lifeless corpse. As the mayor lost consciousness, the blackrock dagger vanished in a burst of flame.

As Patterson's lifeblood drained onto the floor and the two Companions caught their breath, three figures entered the scene. Spark, having somewhat recovered from his fall, arrived limping in, favoring the leg that was kicked. Jaana arrived, to tend to the Companions' wounds, and she was accompanied by Tseramed, who was whole and hale. The others gave a start, but Jaana explained that, during the battle, the ranger suddenly recovered from his paralysis. Unbeknownst to any of them, that was the point at which Batlin breathed his last outside the Guardian's fortress.

Shortly thereafter, Jaana finished her ministrations, having healed all injuries save for the one on Sentri's arm. "All I can do is close the wound. I know not what enchantments were on that dagger, but thy arm is permanently paralyzed. If the dagger had not vanished, I might have been able to discern its spells, but such is not the case." Sentri didn't look happy at the news, but eventually decided that it was -much- better than the dagger piercing his heart.

As the companions and others started to restore order after the fight, another fight was just beginning in the Guardian's Fortress. 

The Avatar reappeared within a large room with walls of blackrock. The Guardian's fortress. The Guardian spoke. "You should not have come back, Avatar. This land is mine now. As we speak, I have an army of daemons poised to enter the land, securing it as mine forevermore. There is nothing you can do. Except die, and painfully. It ends here, Avatar!" He then cast a deathbolt in the Avatar's direction.

While the Guardian spoke, the Avatar listened with only half an ear, as he cast the healing spell he was about to before being plucked here. However, the etheric energies were drawn off into the blackrock structure itself. He quickly tried once more before resigning himself to the fact that magic was useless in here. He therefore drew his sword, forcing himself to bear the stinging pain where his burned hands grasped the hilt, and faced the Guardian.

Just in time to see him finish his speech and cast his spell. The Avatar quickly dove to one side, barely avoiding the black forcebolt. 

Meanwhile, on the isle of Terfin, three mages appeared. The sight that greeted them was horrific. Eruptions were already beginning, and a very intense light could be seen shimmering between the three peaks.

This prompted the mages to get their spell cast as soon as possible. Casting "Sanct Flam," they protected themselves from the lava spewing forth in all directions; casting "Vas Hur Por," they each flew above one of the volcanoes. Here in the midst of the eruptions, they still felt the intense heat even though they suffered no burns from the molten rock bombarding them. They then cast "Vas Ort" to amplify their magical energies, and "Int Grav" to join their power. This last spell enabled them to cast the upcoming ritual spell as one, instead of three separate mages. 

North of the Guardian's fortress, Sir Dupre took aim at the large blackrock structure with Rudyom's Wand and fired. A tear of force shot forth, striking the great fortress head-on. Glowing purple cracks spread across the entire surface of the building.

Dupre, guessing what would come next, whirled around and -ran-. Sure enough, the rapidly fragmenting fortress blew apart, sending shards of blackrock outward in all directions. Dupre dove forward, avoiding the force of the blast, but was stung by over a dozen shards of blackrock before finding cover behind some trees which had fallen from the force of the magics used in leveling the city several hours ago. He reached back and pulled out the offending pieces. He then saw one of the most impressive battles in his long career as a warrior. And then he rushed in to help. 

Back on Terfin, the mages were now beginning the spell proper. As one, they intoned, "In vas juxark kir!" Invisible bands of magical force now linked the three peaks, forming an unseen triangle of protection, containing the Guardian's own spell within.

Half the land away, the Guardian felt the containing force of the spell, but was unable to do anything, for his fortress/generator had been destroyed seconds before and the Avatar was currently occupying his attention anyway.

Therefore, the mages continued their spell. "An-vas-por-ailem!" The ground ceased its shaking as the three volcanoes quit belching forth magma. The volcanoes were now stopped, but the gate was still there.

And it was now fully powered, for a red, leathery-skinned creature leaped through. Child of flame. Daemon. It scrambled across the mountains toward the closest of the mages, Horance.

The three, caught up in the spell, were oblivious to this. They proceeded to cast the final words of the spell, and close the gate. "Mont-flam kli an-ort vorteks!" A thunderclap sounded as the gate imploded in a flash of light. The daemon army had been stopped.

However, a second daemon had made it through, and half of the third as the gate snapped shut.

While the first daemon attacked Horance, the second launched itself at Nicodemus. The third, of course, fell like the lifeless half of a corpse that it was.

As the spell ended, the mages regained their awareness and saw their peril. This was too late, however, for the mage Horance. The daemon had already reached him and raked a set of flaming claws across his neck. The daemonic flames caught, despite the spell of fire protection, and Horance's now-headless body went up in flames as it plummeted to the rocks below.

Nicodemus, fortunately, had more warning, and quickly cast, "In Hur Grav Ylem!" A cloud of magical force flew at the creature, unerringly striking it and tearing it apart from within.

The remaining daemon was already heading toward Penumbra, who calmly intoned, "In Jux Por Ylem." A whirlwind of blades enveloped the rushing beast, slicing it to ribbons.

The danger past, Nicodemus used the Silver Serpent Amulet to contact Lord British, reporting upon their success, and informing him of the death of Horance. 

While the mages were starting their spell, the Avatar was frantically dodging quickly tossed spells and trying to find an opening for an attack.

As the spells flew from his hands, the Guardian said, "You cannot win, Avatar. You cannot avoid my spells forever. There is no escape!" He then gave a hearty, echoing chuckle at the Avatar's pitiful attempts to evade him.

Suddenly, purple cracks lined the walls and ceiling. The Guardian's eyes widened in surprise, just before his fortress flew apart into a thousand pieces. Seizing upon his foe's momentary surprise, the Avatar sliced the Shade Blade across the Guardian's side. However, the Guardian merely whirled around in anger, displaying no pain at the injury, and summoned forth a large amount of ether, which he channeled into a great blast of flame.

The Avatar could not move away in time. Fortunately, it lasted only a split-second before the Guardian's concentration broke as he sensed the containment spell. He let out a great howl of frustration at the realization, but quickly bent his attention back to the fight. And what he saw gave him pause.

While the Guardian was distracted, a badly burned but still alive Avatar fumbled in his beltpouch and pulled out the Silver Orb he received when he returned to Britannia. He threw it to the ground and quickly shouted, "Vastimlem rel-por!" Suddenly, a gate of silver arose where the Orb landed. And this is the sight that greeted the Guardian when he turned back to the Avatar.

The Guardian quickly willed a spell before the Time Lord himself stepped into the fray. A daemon appeared, and rushed to attack the Avatar at the Guardian's mental command. Then the Guardian had his hands full. But so too did the Avatar.

The Avatar knew he was at a serious disadvantage, so he tried for a quick dispatch. "Arcadion, hear my summons!" he shouted, gripping the Daemon Sword as best as possible with his burns.

To his horror, the daemon before him responded, "Well met, Avatar. I fear I shan't be doing thy bidding any longer." And then he advanced, claws of flame poised to strike.

Suddenly, a sword bit into Arcadion's right forearm. Whirling to face his attacker, the daemon came face-to-face with Sir Dupre, wielding a curved blade tinged with a magical glow. Dupre swung again, but his strike was blocked by Arcadion's leathery arm. The two fought each other, both scoring occasional hits but neither gaining an advantage.

Behind the daemon, the Avatar used the now-lifeless Black Sword to prop himself up. When he found his balance, he swung the sword forward in a herculean effort, the black blade cleaving the daemon in two. The effort exhausted the last of his strength, however, and he promptly collapsed back onto the ground.

While the Avatar and Dupre were facing Arcadion, the Guardian was being confronted by the Time Lord.

"Thou art not welcome in this world, fiend. Nor, I suspect, in any other. Thy reign of terror ends here, now and forevermore." His eyes crackled with lightnings, and silver forcebolts shot from his hands.

The Guardian knew he was no match for the Time Lord. Imprisoning him in a surprise attack is one thing, but in a direct confrontation, the odds were nil. Therefore, the Guardian hastily gated himself away. However, a few bolts did hit him, scoring deep into his flesh. One forcebolt struck the gate, its magic disrupting the spell.

When the Guardian emerged from the gate, he found himself entrapped in a snare of twisted ether, the result of the spell being interfered with. Due to the sheer force of the two spells, an interdimensional gate and a very powerful forcebolt, the twisted hole in the ether held the Guardian quite securely. And, being trapped in a hole devoid of ether, the Guardian was cut off from all magics. He was, quite simply put, stuck there indefinitely.

After dispatching the Guardian, the Time Lord turned to the Avatar and Dupre, and enveloped them in a blue glow. When it faded, all trace of injury on either one was gone. Then he spoke. "Thou hast done well, Avatar, and have redeemed thyself in mine eyes. The Guardian is entrapped in the Void, and even I do not know if escape is possible from such a trap, by the Guardian or by anyone.

As reward for thy service to Britannia, thou wilt retain the powers I have lent thee and use them to keep this land safe." The Time Lord briefly chuckled, and continued, "Although that is not so much a reward as it is the responsibility of the Avatar. Never forget that again."

He then turned to Dupre. "Thy aid is much appreciated, Sir Dupre of Britannia. For this thou hast my thanks." For the merest of instants, Dupre was limned with a silvery aura. Then it faded. Dupre nodded solemnly in response. Then the Time Lord vanished, leaving only an outline of silver light behind. Then that faded as well, leaving the Avatar and Dupre alone in the ruins of Britain.

All of a sudden, two flashes of light appeared nearby, taking the forms of Lord British and Nystul. Fixing his gaze upon the Avatar, Lord British said, "While I am grateful that you just saved all of Britannia once again, I would dearly love to know one thing. Exactly what, by all the Virtues, possessed you to leave in the first place?!?"

The Avatar shifted nervously in place as he tried to formulate an answer for his liege.



First, of course, the obligatory acknowledgement/disclaimer to Origin, for being the creators of the Ultima series that is responsible for this story being here. Also, I would like to say that certain scenes, notably the Earth scene, the Nastassia scene, and the last paragraph, are not intentional copies from Monomolecular's "Core of Darkness" (the first two), or the Ultima VI ending scene (the third). I myself have seen the similarities, and all I can say is that I tried not to copy, but there are certain things that, when portrayed, are going to be similar. And in the case of the last paragraph, I have only niticed its similarity AFTER typing it up. Again, it is all unintentional. I would also like to make an acknowledgement to the Origin Web Archive's Gargish Dictionary for the words used in my spells. All save two: the word 'sang', blood, and 'vastimlem, Time Lord, are of my own design, as they were not on the Gargish Dictionary. I hope you liked the story, and feel free to email me using the link on the Dragon Press page. But please go easy on me: this is my first fanfic! 
HTML conversion by Erraticus for Dragon Press