This is the currently running plot thread on the newsgroup, having been set in motion by Lumina Dragon on the 6th of December 2000. It is a sequel to A New Age of Darkness, which was also initiated by Lumina Dragon, and Strangers, initiated by Destrius Dragon. Current participants are (in no particular order) Lumina (of course), Helgraf, Dracos, Chiaroscuro, Great Siberian, Paulon, Goldenflame, Destrius, St George's, Boa, Ibn al-Hazardous, Tailrace, Abyssal, Bubbac II, Mythril and Hai-Etlik.
Hard to believe that we've been at this for just over three years isn't it?

The most recent update to the tale occurred on the 25th of January 2002.

As with the prior threads I have archived, this isn't a plain layout of each post in order. They've been hacked, slashed and torn to pieces, then stuck back together in an attempt to make a single story out of a number of separate posts happening at the same time. I hope you enjoy it.

House Rules, as laid out by Lumina:
This is a serious plot thread, no expansive silliness. Also, you don't have to have been in a previous plot thread to join in; we accept all comers, so long as they abide by the above rule.

Time frame:
5 months after ANAOD The Avatar has been gone eight months and will not return for another five, so we don't need to worry about him interfering. The Guardian won't be arriving for a while either, since we don't want him in the thread either. Enjoy.

Let the Tale Begin!


A New Age of Darkness II

a plot thread from RGCUD

< SomeWhere: The Undrian Council >

*The time has arrived.*

*Indeed. The recent events have set this path in motion.*

*It is coming to fruition.*

*It is time to call in our ‘debt’.*


The gathered manifestations, known to corporeal beings as “Wisps”, turned their gaze toward the land of destiny. The Land of Britannia.

< ElseWhere: The Spacetime Nexus >

“Another prophecy involving Britannia?” the Time Lord mused. “What could possibly draw the entire Council of Undria into collective action on a single world?” He peered into the mists of the nexus, and a scene appeared…

< Britannia, the Deep Forest >

In a mountain fortress, long abandoned, several Wisps appeared. Taking a moment to orient themselves in the physical realm, they then began to confer.

*We must seek them out.*

*Not all remain. Corporeal life is transitory.*

*Then we must gather others to take their place. The future is clear on that.*

*Yes, they must assemble, and quickly.*

*The castle, ‘Stonegate’?*

*Yes. The artifacts are still there.*

*Then our course is clear.*

< Britannia, South of Trinsic >

A paladin was making his way homeward from the Shrine of Honor when a floating blue light appeared before him.

*Greetings, ‘Lumina’.*

Sighing, the human said, “At least call me ‘Kenneth’ while I am in human form. Everyone else does, Xorinian.”

*Then, ‘Kenneth’, you should know that I am not of Xorinia. I am of Toranir.*

Kenneth of Trinsic’s surprise was evident. “I thought all Wisps were Xorinia?”

*Xorinia are those of us which interact in this ‘world’, among others. Many collectives combine to form the Undrian Council. But I will not charge you for this information, as more pressing matters dictate expedience.*

Briefly bemused that a Wisp, regardless of name, would charge for knowledge that it itself volunteered, the mention of “more pressing matters” snapped the paladin’s attention back to alertness. “What matters would those be? Something to do with the events of five months ago?” He was, of course, referring to the time when the Shadowlords walked Britannia once again, and Amsereth plotted… something.

*Yes. That incident, and others you would not be aware of, have set into motion a new… your word would be ‘prophecy’, but to us it is something clearer. Events will happen in ‘Britannia’ which shall shape the ‘destinies’ of many worlds. We cannot say more, lest our own words affect the outcome.*

Toranir’s words were making Kenneth increasingly wary. “So what you’re saying is, I will be moved around according to some prophecy of yours, is that it?”

The Wisp, of course, displayed no change in its own tone as it said, *You, and the others who took part in the previous incidents. They are being gathered by the Undrian Council even now. This is an important matter, whose ‘resolution’ is still not decided. What you must do now is travel to the castle of ‘Stonegate’, where you shall meet the others we are gathering. There, Xorinia shall explain what you need to know.*

Stonegate. A two hundred year old ruin until five months ago, when Amsereth raised it anew in a blackrock form. “Very well, Wisp. I shall go.”

As if that outcome were inevitable, Toranir replied, *Yes.* Moments later, the Wisp faded away.

< Outside the North Gate of Trinsic. >

As Kenneth headed up the long road which would ultimately lead him to Stonegate, he saw a fellow paladin slightly ahead of him on the road.

“Goldenflame, fancy meeting you here.”

The other knight turned and waved. “Hail, Kenneth. You won’t believe it, but I had the strangest encounter just now…” He trailed off at the look on Kenneth’s face. “You too?”

“Aye. Shall we travel to Stonegate together, then?”

“Who not?” After a moment, Goldenflame mused, “I wonder what awaits us there.”

“Who knows,” Kenneth answered, “besides the Wisps, of course. In the meantime, why not tell me how you got involved in all of this?”

“Ah, yes. If you thought your journey was strange, you wouldn’t believe the events I took part in.” And so, Goldenflame regaled Kenneth with the tale of his sojourn on Tideron/Balfas, as the two made their way to Stonegate.

< Britannia, Stonegate >

Resting on a plinth in the upper floor of Stonegate Castle were two rings.

*Have they been altered for their new purpose?*


*Now we need only await their arrival.*

<Cave of Innocent's Proof, Britannia - localized dimensional pocket>

In the cerulean depths, all was one and the same. But there was a difference. Felucca and Trammel outside were high in the night sky, Felucca waxing toward full, Trammel waning away from it. It was time to attempt contact again.

The figure rose from the chair in the study, crossed to the door and threw it open. As always, just beyond stood a more solid wall of the wispy cerulean which invaded everything here. With practiced concentration the figure stepped into and through the barrier, seeming to leave a copy of himself behind as he does so.

Outside the sword, though invisible to an eye not specifically attuned to its presence, a mind slips through the confines of the cave, no cares for the beauty of even this dim part of the realm, moving through the rock walls, emerging under the night sky. Illumination comes from the two moons, but also by the standing gateway, and it is to here that the mind drifts.

A shaping, though barely noticed in the ebb and flow of the ether. It flies through the moongate, drawing on the power of the gateway to provide the propulsion it needs to reach its destination.


In Yew, the sorcerer, having been expecting the call this time, replies.

\Helgraf. Why do you seek me?\

/It is time. Already the Undrian Council is gathering them. Seek them out Nicodemus. They will need me - and soon. Not all is as the Wisps will paint it to appear./

\But where?\

/Where else? Stonegate Reborn. Where all of this started, so very very long ago. And it must be soon - every moment from now on shapes what will be./

It is clear from Nicodemus' 'voice' that he is unwilling.

\Is there no other way, then?\

/You know I would not lie to you about a matter this important Nicodemus. If I could trust anyone else to the matter with less contamination, I would do so./

< On a river that flows on another world... >

"Fishing, my friend, has grown very boring. Is there nothing else you think we could do?" Qu-han said, making a fish levitate out of the water.

"If you did it properly you might have more fun," the Enemy said.

"'Tis boring to use a rod and line. Is there nothing else you could do?" Qu-han asked.

"I could try to take over a world again, I suppose." The Enemy grinned. "Not that I want to go against any prophecies you might have."

"Anyway, you've retired. Why don't you take up teaching? You're a power, you could live quite comfortably at some school of learning in class three, maybe even four, society."

"I have an overwhelming desire to burn idiots alive. I doubt I would do well at teaching." The Enemy cast his line again. "Anyway, my little evil plan is good enough for me. I plan to fish this stream dry and then start on the next one, and the next one, and eventually kill off all the fish of this world. If anyone actually lived here it could destroy their entire economic system."

"But no one does, so your evil only goes noticed by me." Qu-han stood warily. "Incoming wisp. You may want to hide; they're still understandably upset over that art theft of yours."

The Enemy nodded his head and faded away, his line and rod falling to the ground.

"Kol." The wisp flared green as it appeared. "Good day to you."

"Hello, wisp," Qu-han said. "Doing the menial work for the council?"

"Yes." The wisp hovered over the fishing rod. "You are needed back at Stonegate."

"Needed, but not wanted. This will be Dracos' kith then?" Qu-han made the lich appear at his side.

"Yes." The wisp lifted the rod into the air and spun it around before itself. "May I have this?" it asked.

"A fishing rod? Why would you want a fishing rod?" Qu-han asked.

"It has been a long time since we needed to gather food, and even longer since we gathered food like this. It would make an interesting study."

"Yes, I'm sure it would. No. I'm afraid it isn't mine to give away."

"Oh," the wisp said. "When will you leave?"

"Soon. I have a little business to do. You may go, wisp. Your green colour offends me."

The wisp turned a deep shade of purple before fading away. The Enemy walked out from behind a tree.

"You'll be back to Sosaria, then?" he said.

"Yes..." Qu-han rubbed his chin. "Look, I don't like this. I know wisps are pedants when it comes to getting others to do their dirty work, but this is most peculiar. If I was really needed on Sosaria one of my own kind would have told me. Which means someone is fiddling the prophecy books, and I'm out of the loop in regard to who. So I won't be going to Stonegate; I'll leave that to the Britannian munchkin brigade. Instead I shall have a gander around the place and see what is happening..." Qu-han paused. "Could I get you to look after Amsereth for me? He's probably persona non-grata on Sosaria, and a stranger walking around with three stiff-legged friends could be suspicious. I'll take Dracos; Phezzub I will leave with another friend south of Skara Brae in the underground city."

"Lich, eh... Hmm, this could make my fish-killing mission more efficient. Sounds like a good plan to me."

"Yes..." Qu-han took a ring from his right hand. "Look, can you come and visit me at the usual time? I've got a suspicion something is up, and I might need help."

"As you wish." The Enemy took the ring. "You really are worried, aren't you?"

"Yes..." Qu-han nodded at the bank of the stream where a portal had formed. "I'd best be off. See you soonish, my friend."

The Enemy nodded and Qu-han took his leave.

< Sosaria... >

"Well, Dracos, it's just you and me. Mainly you, of course, since I really can't afford to use my own powers here, not knowing the limits of this prophecy and the like. Now for a little discreet scrying on your friends. They shan't mind, and they shan't even know..." Qu-han took a sip of his beer and bade his lich to do the same. The barmaid smiled at them as she strode past. "Think I'm in there, don't you think?" the Kol said to his lich. Dracos' face did not even twitch. "Well, suppose you aren't that much of the ladies' man these days, so you probably can't tell." Qu-han stared into his beer and watched the events at Stonegate unfold.

< Elsewhere >

Near Stonegate, in the woods, a path forms where it had not been before. Leaning on her staff, Saeihra pondered as she felt the forest go about its business, her robes shimmering green in the light, tinged with hints of other colors. Her right hand, as usual, was curled in a fist, threefingered. The gray skin of the hand lightened to pale tan along the arm.

Saeihra listened to the song of the greensward. The forest called her and the path it laid before her she was bound to follow. Where the wisps had met, the forest remembered. What had been spoken, the forest remembered. And the Heartwood bid her follow to the castle of dead stone, and had opened a path through worlds so she could come.

< Britain >

Daria didn't feel well at all, as her entire body shook and twitched beneath the sheets, helpless in the grip of a terrible nightmare that has been plaguing her sleep for weeks. Not that her days were any better since she left the Serpent's Spine mountains in search for a new home that would suit a lone kinless dragon better than the spacious cavern Daria left behind. All the daily worries of the adventurer's life could not quite mask the sickening feeling of restlessness and unease nagging at her mind, as if there was something she ought to have remembered but just couldn't. Now that her body was resting on the not-so-tidy bed of the not-so-respectable Britain inn, that feeling grew in strength, unfurling like a black cloud, filling every corner of her mind, until there was nothing left to do but wake up in the middle of the night with a scream stuck in her throat. But instead of the familiar darkness of the room, Daria's eyes met with a ball of shining blue light floating noiselessly just above the bed.

*Greetings, 'Daria'.* The girl couldn't be sure whether the strange creature has actually uttered the words, or whether it has used the mind-speech. *There is no need to be afraid.*

"I'm not afraid of you, Wisp," Daria said.

*Good. There is no need to waste a valuable time on explanations, then. We can get straight to the matter. Because of your participation in the recent events, your presence is required at the castle of 'Stonegate'."

"What recent events?" Daria said sharply, feeling her heartbeat going faster.

*Once you are at the 'Stonegate',* continued the Wisp with no change of tone, *You shall meet the others who are gathering right now. Some of them will be able to provide you with the answers to questions about your past, while Xorinia shall explain the quest of your future.* With these words, the Wisp faded into nothingness, obviously confident that the fish has swallowed the hook. The calculation was correct: half an hour later, Daria left the inn and started to look for some quiet place to transform into a dragon, ready to take her flight to the Stonegate.

< Another World >

Although midnight could be considered the hour when light is furthest from the sleeping world, there is a precocious period just before the sun sets when the land appears to be made of shadows, and darkness tricks the eye into believing that it is not the sun that is setting, but the night that is rising.

It is during this twilight-to-be that one may spy a lone figure dressed in robes walking slowly through a dark green forest, heading towards a small hut a distance away.

The figure treads with slow, firm footfalls, and in his hand is a long staff nearly his height, and made of well-aged bamboo.

Something about him tells you he must hold magic close to his heart.

Upon reaching a small brook gayfully dancing its way to a larger river not far from him, the mage stops, peers into the running water as if there was something buried in the banks, and suddenly throws his staff into the creek.

He then slowly lifts the staff out of the water, revealing a fish, still struggling faintly, impaled by the rod.

Noting that today's catch is significantly smaller than what he got yesterday, the hooded man continues on his journey home.

The sweet smell of fresh barbecued fish fills the air, mixing with less palatable aromas of spell components. The meal is nearly done, when there is a sudden blink of blue-white brilliance, and a pulsating mote of light bursts into existence. Precariously close to the fish.

"Get away from my dinner, Xorinian."

*Xorinia has no "desire" for "fish". Xorinia would speak to the entity "Destrius".*

"Destrius I am, as you already know. What for do you visit me at this point in time?"

*"Destrius" is to appear at "Stonegate". More information will be supplied at that location.*

"Do you want me there now or can I finish my dinner first? Wisps are supposed to be more precise than this, you realize."

*"You" will be there when the time is right. That is all.*

Destrius frowns slightly, then relaxes.

"Be there I shall then. Now away with you, I wish to eat in peace."

The mage returns to watching over the fish, before noticing that the wisp was still floating somewhere near his shoulder. He stares keenly at the blue light, and it wavers slightly under his gaze.

*Xorinia would request information from "Destrius".*

"Information comes at a price."

*"You" are inquired as the what "you" may want.*

"Well... there is nothing I need at the moment from the Undrian Council. Although I do need something from Sigil but won't be able to get there for another year or so... no, I'll keep the favour for the time being. Ask what you will."

*Recent events in the "Tideron" dimension were initiated by "you", but strangely absent of "your" presence after a period of "time". Explain this.*

The mage's face darkens as he recalls the time he gathered aid in his exploit to Balfas.

"You could say that I was occupied with other happenings while I was in the other half-world. While dealing with Amsereth was of importance, there were other domestic matters I had to settle as well. So I created a simulacrum of myself, left it with the group, while I headed on towards the Darker Lands to seek the last remaining crystal of Sagethus."

Destrius pauses to place his fish on a wooden plate, and begins to consume his meal.

< The Mortuary, City of Sigil >

The Nameless One slashes again at the zombie with the scalpel, finally felling the undead creature. As the animated corpse falls once more into death, it drops a key, which the scarred man picks up. He is walking towards the door when all goes black for an instant. The blackness is dispelled by a blue glow, reflected from a plane of glass.

The man turns away from the monitor to face the Wisp. "Your timing is impeccable. The first chance I get to sit down and really play that game, and you have to show up and switch it off. What do you want?"

*Prophecy requires your presence elsewhere.*

"Where? And why?"

*Stonegate.* The wisp does not clarify further, but simply vanishes, leaving a blue portal shimmering in midair where it had hovered.

The one known in Britannia as Paulon eyes the moongate for an instant, then looks inward to a place he found upon his last visit. Silver haze, the energy of the portal, and through it, dimly sensed, the familiar pattern of energies of the moongates of Britannia. Why? Curiosity gnaws with hungry teeth...

"Damn it. When will I ever learn?" Paulon grabs a jacket, and his pack. His umbrella flies across the room to his hand, and he jumps into the moongate, vanishing from Earth.

< Britannia >

With squeals of terror, a pair of goblins burst out of the undergrowth of the forest in the hills above Trinsic. Lightning flashes about them dangerously close, as they bound down the hillside. Finally, one of them pitches forward and rolls several times before thumping into a tree. He makes no sign of rising.

A couple of horses crash out of the same bushes the goblins had just vacated. The rider of each is a man, both are armoured and carry a massive array of weaponry. One is wielding a crossbow, the other a lightning wand. As they approach the felled goblin, the man with the crossbow notices the bolt protruding from its body and gives a shout of triumph.

"My kill, Tailrace!"

"A lucky shot, Durmast," replies Tailrace as he reins in his horse and looks about for the other gob.

Durmast dismounts, walks over to the goblin, checks it's dead, then slices off its left ear with a dagger. As he puts the trophy in a pouch on his belt, he gloats, "Lucky shot, eh? That's my tenth today? How many have you got, may I ask? Hmm?"

"Ssh. There's still another one out there" Tailrace replies.

They stand still, listening, but hear nothing of the goblin's wailing.

"He must have gone to ground," observes Durmast.

"Then let's find him," says Tailrace. "You take that thicket over there; I'll try down here." Tailrace points at a nearby gully.

"Twenty gold says I get him."


Tailrace dismounts and walks over to the gully, and carefully makes his way down to the bottom. The walls of the gully contain many possible hiding places, so Tailrace proceeds slowly. Before he has gone far, he gets the feeling he's being watched. Then he notices a blue glow

reflecting off a wet rock. He spins around, drawing a second lightning wand... and comes face to "face" with a Wisp.

He lowers the wands, knowing that attempting to kill a Wisp is a recipe for disaster. As he does so, the Wisp's words form in his mind.

*Again, Toranir begins transaction with a local manifestation of the world known as "Britannia. "You" are the entity known as "Tailrace".*

"I am," replies Tailrace, although the Wisp had made a statement rather than ask a question.

*"You" are to travel to the location known as "Stonegate". At that location "you" will receive further information.*

"Stonegate? What for?"

*As "I" have said, "you" will receive further information upon arrival at "Stonegate".*

"Listen, do you think that I'm going to traipse across half the country just because some ball of light tells me to? You'd better come up with some better reasons."

*Toranir recognizes "your" reluctance; but it was expected, and further persuasion has been allowed by the Undrian Council.*

A leather pouch appears at Tailrace's feet. He picks it up, hearing coins clink inside it, and peers inside briefly.

*The probability is high that if "you" proceed to "Stonegate", "you" will acquire further "money",* the Wisp adds.

"That's what I call a better reason," Tailrace says with a smile. "I'll be off immediately

*Toranir has one further item of free information for "you": a "goblin" is rapidly approaching "your" position with intent to cause "you" physical damage. Transaction ends.*

As the Wisp fades away, Tailrace whirls around to see the other goblin within a few steps of him, about to throw a large rock. Just as he raises his wands, a bolt erupts from the goblin's chest, bowling the monster over. Durmast descends into the gully to collect his trophy.

< Inside a Trinsic Barracks >

"Matthias, fetch me my sword."

"Yes, Sir Yonathon."

A young man, around 26 or so, walks deliberately over the the weapon rack hanging on one of the thick wooden walls of the barracks and picks out a wicked looking saber. He brings it methodically to a young knight mounted on horseback, who takes it with a sneer.

"You may take your place, Matthias, until I have further need of you."

"Yes sir."

Matthias turns around, rolling his eyes once Yonathon can no longer see him. He walks over to a bench and sits down, waiting for more orders.

Matthias was the son of a great paladin, but his father had come into ill repute with drinking and whoring after his wife died. The other townsfolk, because of this, have always looked down on Matthias, not allowing him to become a knight as was his father before him. They made him a page to the other knights, in their minds putting him in the category with the lowly peasants. They would send him out to tend to the horses while the other knights were taking sword training or studying their lessons. Matthias, only from sneaking books from the other men and going into Britain when he had the chance, has kept up, if not exceeded, the knights not only in learning, but in training as well. His charismatic personality has made him well liked in other towns, unlike in Trinsic, where he is scoffed upon.

Suddenly, a bright blue light flies in through one of the windows and hovers a few feet from him.

"What the!?", Matthias nearly shouts, and rises to his feet.

*Sit down*, orders the light.

"What are you?", he asks, still standing.

The other knights are by this time looking at him, wondering why he has spoken out of place.

*Sit down*, the light repeats. *They cannot hear or see 'me'.*

Matthias sits down, and the light continues. The knights, after a few odd remarks about madness, return to their practice.

*'I' have come to talk to 'you'. 'I' am what 'your' people call 'Wisps'. 'I' have come with information regarding 'you'. The 'Time Lord'-*

"What does the Time Lord wish with me?", Matthias whispers.

*'He' has instructed 'me' to inform 'you' of 'your' destiny, in part. You need to travel to a location 'your' people refer to as 'Stonegate'. There 'you' will receive further information.*

"Stonegate? Why there?"

*'I' am not at liberty to tell 'you', 'You' must go as soon as possible. Transaction complete.*

The Wisp floats around a bit, the flutters out the window just as quick as it came in.

"Stonegate..." Matthias mutters. "I'll think on it. I can't possibly just leave..."

"Matthias, get over here you lout!" one of the knights calls.

"Yes sir."

Matthias gets up, and goes to do the bidding of the knight.

The next morning, Matthias and his horse, Shadow, leave.

< Worlds Beyond >

In a far away world, in a nondescript flat, a very unshaved man is trying his best to make a baby sleep. He's telling the baby stories of faraway adventures, singing lullabies, telling more stories, singing lullabies that he makes up as he sings them, telling the baby the news out of today's paper, falling asleep bent over the crèche...

...when suddenly a great light startles him; and he is wide a wake. So is the baby, which starts to scream in panic.

*Xorinia! What are you doing here?! I'm trying to put my son to sleep. See what you've done.*

*'Xorinia' greets 'Ibn'. 'Xorinia' has done nothing. The 'baby' is afraid because 'Ibn' jumped. 'Xorinia' is on 'earth' to summon 'Ibn'.*

"And why did Ibn jump? Tell me that! Wait, summon?"

*'Ibn' jumped because 'Ibn' had fallen 'asleep', and was about to fall to the floor. 'Ibn' is summoned to 'Sosaria', to a castle called 'Stonegate'.*

"I can't go to Sosaria. I have to get my baby sleeping!"

*'Sleeping?' Like this?*

The baby promptly gets silent, closes its eyes, and falls asleep.

"What did you do to him? Did you hurt him?" Ibn demands.

*'Xorinia' did not hurt 'Ibn's' offspring.*

A moongate appears, the wisp starts to fade.

"Wait, I can't just leave! My wife'll wonder what happened. And who'll take care of the baby?"

The wisp unfades a bit.

*'Ibn's' 'wife' will not notice the absence of 'Ibn'. Only a very short span of time will flow before the return to 'earth' of 'Ibn'.*

The wisp starts to fade again. Ibn turns on his heel and takes a step away from the moongate, fastly determined not to enter it, and into the second moongate which was right behind him. Before Ibn gets a chance to react, he finds himself just outside Yew, with the distinct feeling that he had heard a giggle just as he left earth.

< Elsewhere >

It had taken far shorter than by rights it should have to travel to Stonegate, vast tracts of land passed over as nonexistent. Saeihra halted at the edge of the forest, calling in a high creaking chirp. The hood of her robe fell down, revealing blank skin where on a normal human eyes would have been. A buzzing was heard around her, and a varied swarm of insects descended on her, crawling onto her auburn hair and deep emerald robes. The robes shifted color as she held her staff horizontal with both the normal left hand and the grey, gnarled, three-fingered right. No sound except the buzzing of insects was heard, but an observer would have seen the colors of the robe quickly shifting into many colors before fading back to green. A golden stream of runes seemed to crawl though the wood of the staff. The staff itself was a dark mahogany, liberally inlaid with other woods, in a twisting, flowing pattern. If one looked closer, it seemed like several discontinuities flowed through the wood, adjusting its outlines minutely as they passed.

Saeihra stepped out of the forest, and her robes began dimming from the emerald green they had been before. By the time she entered Stonegate they were a drab grey, with only the barest hint of green. Glistening black, also, from the insects still swarming over it.

< Britain >

In the corner of a inn near Britain a shape watches the Collector. It is largely featureless, having only two-dimensional mass that tries to exude itself into three dimensional space. Kol-qu-han cannot sense its presence, and it feels something akin to gladness. The others, it notes, can see it, but as various things. The barmaid thinks it is a potted plant, while a drunken bard sees it as a lyre left on a seat. Nystul thinks it is a farmer.

But the Kol cannot see it, cannot sense it and therefore cannot know it.

"Damn wisps," Qu-han muttered. "They're deliberately fudging my spell... well, your spell, Dracos, to be honest... Anyway, they're forcing me to watch the arrivals all over Sosaria and not letting me watch preparations in Stonegate. Now if you had been a class three," he said to Dracos, "I could have bypassed this, but as your only a class two, and heavily resistant to magic, I can only get away with this measly scry..." Qu-han sighed and then drained his beer glass of drink. "Think I'll have another... Hang on, you haven't even touched yours." He swapped glasses with his lich. "Don't want anyone thinking you're a shandy-arse now, do we." He stared into the vision in the drink. "At least I know the wisps can't be sure who's watching them; I do hope they get suitably annoyed by my lack of punctuality."

Qu-han looked up and called for the barmaid, his eyes sweeping over the room, noticing and cataloguing everything. Had he looked through his liches eyes he might have noticed something more.

< The Deep Forest >

In the depths of the Deep Forest, a wandering druid was looking for mushrooms for his stew. It was starting to get dark, and he would have to find those mushrooms quickly, otherwise he wouldn't be able to find his camp and get lost in the forest. Who knows what might be lurking among those trees?

He had been living in the forest for 20 years, almost all of his life, and had hardly met any other people. His parents had been living in the forest, until his mother became pregnant, and they decided to stay in Yew for a while. As soon as he had learned how to walk, they had gone back to the forest, and taught him to hunt and which plants that were edible, before they passed away when he was fourteen. Since then he'd been on his own, always looking for something new and exciting he hadn't seen before. He didn't know how to read, but he didn't care. He found books boring, he had seen lots of them in the Empath Abbey. The wine the monks make is delicious, and he had always stopped by for a bottle or two when he was near the northwestern part of the forest, but had never even found the slightest interest in the books. Besides, why should a woodsman know how to read? Anyway, he hadn't been outside the Deep Forest for a few months by now, and had almost started to feel a bit lonely. He started to think of paying the monks a visit again, and perhaps bring a few bottles of wine along...

Carrying nothing but a simple staff, and dressed in an equally simple, and very humble, brown robe, he walked through the dense forest, climbing across fallen trees and stumbling over roots, and eventually he came to a small clearing. Then, he discovered a small mushroom patch in the other end of the clearing. The moon and stars had started to appear, and it was quite dark. Just as he was about to pick some of the mushrooms, a blue light suddenly appeared. He jumped up and stared amazed, and frightened, at the blue... "thing", that was slowly fading into existence.

*'Wolf'* a completely neutral, and very boring, voice called out in his mind.

He was in shock, never before had he seen something like this. Almost paralyzed, he could only nod.

*'Your' presence is required at the place known as 'Stonegate'* the voice continued. *There, 'you' will receive further information.*

Wolf kept staring at the blue light as it slowly returned to where it came from, picked some mushrooms and headed back to the camp he had set up. He ate his stew, which had been boiling all the time, unrolled his bedroll, and fell asleep. The next morning, he set off for Stonegate. Still, he didn't know what the blue light had been, or why he had been summoned. However, he did know that his presence probably really was required. He sighed, and started walking towards the southeast.

< Minoc >

Saint George's Dragon basks lazily in the light of the twin moons on a rock overlooking Minoc, where he makes his home, allowing his draconic form to shift and swirl as it wills. He is listening to the ether shifting and swirling around him. Suddenly things changed.

A wisp pops in. "'Saint George's Dragon', your presence is required at 'Stonegate'."

"Mmm, and why should I care. I was thinking of hibernating for a few months, been pretty busy lately." SG'sD replies rather grumpily rousing from his revelry.

"'Prophecy' demands your 'presence'. 'Others' wait there."

"Damn, well I better get over there something tells me the others are going to need all the help they can get."

The wisp having completed its 'mission' leaves.

"Shoot, I guess I am going to have to assume human form. I am going to get pretty sore. I don't even believe in Destiny."

At this point his form shifts and shrinks into a rough human form. However, it continues to shift between different human appearances.

"Well this will have to do, no point in pulling something."

He begins the walk to Stonegate.

< The Tower of Stonegate >

Nicodemus had traveled far in a short time; taking the gate back to Yew, he had then begun a series of Blink spells, careful to conserve enough energy for an escape should he come under assault. And now Stonegate loomed before him. He walked in quietly; he knew what would have to be done, and he knew the Wisps would not likely be pleased to see him. Too bad. He'd taken precautions against being relocated against his will, and it should be interesting to find out what would commence.

He entered Stonegate, and joined the others who had already arrived, weathering their glances and greetings with a faint smile but no spoken reply.

<South of Stonegate>

"Quite an adventure, indeed." Kenneth sighs. "So we lost Dracos, and Helgraf's fate is.... undefined." The paladin wasn't sure which was worse: to be an undead liche, or to be... undefined.

"Yes. But don't worry; the other's are hale and whole, and probably mostly gathered by now." Goldenflame points at the blackrock keep of Stonegate, where he sees several figures milling about. "Shall we make some reacquaintences?"

Kenneth nodded, and the two joined the people assembled in front of Stonegate, exchanging greetings and pleasantries, as well as introductions with a few he did not previously know. In the back of his mind, however, he wondered what was in store for the group this time around.

"To take leave of Kenneth." The slim creepy figure seemed to stare at the two paladins, even with just smooth skin where eyes should be. Insects crawled in and out of her grey-green robes. She nodded, curtly at them. "The wisps have arrived soon. Not even in two hours ago."

"Excuse me?" asked Kenneth, in mild perplexity.

The confused tenses of the newcomer continued. "To have completed great endeavor now starting. To have served the Heartwood. Expression: satisfaction. Saeihra regrets end of journey."

There was a frown, and a pause. Then she spoke again as if replying to some unknown voice, "Time is of the essence. Not much left, hah!"

Goldenflame frowned. "What about time?"

However, the strange woman had melted into the growing group of people surrounding Stonegate.

"Ah, finally a look at Stonegate..." The Kol dipped his finger into his drink and the vision changed to an interior view. "You, my little lich, have technically never been to Stonegate, just come from it. You entered as Mondain and exited as Dracos; these things can be important." Qu-han swirled his finger in the beer once more. "Interesting view..."

The shape moved across the room to the Collector's side. A tendril snaked out from its form and gently stroked the Kol's neck before disappearing.

Qu-han jumped from his seat, spilling his drink everywhere. Mentally he made Dracos jump up too so as to not look suspicious and obviously dead to the world. The barmaid walked across the room.

"What be the matter with you?" she asked with slight annoyance.

"You've caused worry amongst the other patrons."

Qu-han shook his head and then rubbed his neck. He stared at the barmaid for a few seconds before speaking.

"Sorry, I must have been about to doze off. Long day..."

"Aye, that it might have been, but if you're likely to be sleeping then you'll be wanting to go home and do it where you're meant to." The barmaid retrieved the glass from the floor.

"Yes, yes..." Qu-han motioned towards Dracos. "We'll be going."

Dracos' eyes turned bright blue for a second and scanned the room.

Qu-han could see nothing suspicious through them. "Thank you for your hospitality.

Kol-qu-han walked for about twenty minutes before stopping at a crossroads. Dracos came to a halt behind him. Qu-han motioned for him to sit before placing his hands over the liche's forehead.

Good evening, the Kol broadcast.

Hello Qu-han.

Something just happened. Something touched me; something was able to touch me without my knowing it, Qu-han broadcast.



This is most perplexing. What was it like? Cold? Hot?

It felt... indifferent. As if it were a touch that was only an approximation of sensation. As if whatever touched me was trying it for the first time... the Collector broadcast.

Oh... Where are you?


I will ask around. See what I can find out.

Thank you. How will you be in touch? Qu-han broadcast.

I will send someone. An emissary. Go carefully. I suspect you have an idea of what it was that touched you. Certainly I have a few hypotheses. Let us hope that it isn't what we think it might be.

Speak not the name...

Aye, speak it not.

Qu-han took his hands from the lich. "To Stonegate," he said to the lich. "We will be, surprisingly, safer with the wisps..."

A moongate rose before the Collector and his charge.

Wolf wasn't used to people. He stopped for a moment at some distance from Stonegate and looked at the people that had gathered there. It wasn't a very large group, but in Wolfs eyes they seemed to be at least ten times as many as they really were. He looked down on the ground for a moment, shook his head and started to walk towards the castle.

As the rather small bronze coloured dragon got close to the keep, it located a good and discrete landing place. No need to draw attention, some people have such misconceptions about dragons! When it had landed, it transformed into human form. Taking a look at his clothes, the man decided that they would seem a bit odd - but not too bad; and since he had not had any food for quite some time (somehow a dragon just can't manage to get away with stealing even just one sheep, without getting the attention of all sorts of knight wannabes; and there really was no time for hunting wild animals) he decided to approach the other people that the wisps had asked/forced to come to Stonegate.

As he came close to the keep, he saw two paladins which somehow seemed to inspire his confidence, so he step forward and introduced himself to them:

"Good day my gentlemen. My name is Ibn al-Hazardous, and I'm a bit of a stranger in these parts. May I inquire about your names?"

"Yes you may;" one of the paladins said, "My name is Kenneth and this here is Goldenflame. That you are a stranger can be told from your garments, have you too been summoned here?"

"Yes I have, or perhaps forced would be a better word. I was tricked to enter a moongate, and I lack the magic abilities to return to the place I came from, and where I have my family. So my only alternative seemed to do as the wisps asked me. By the way, would you have some rations that you would share with me sir? I haven't eaten for quite some time."

Before Kenneth can answer a blue moongate appears at their side. From out of it steps Dracos and a figure dressed in black finements. Kenneth almost steps forward to shake Dracos by the hand until he remembers what Goldenflame had told him. Goldenflame simply watches the Kol and his lich with some interest.

"You must be the Lich Collector," Kenneth says.

"I am Kol-qu-han, yes. You know Dracos." Qu-han looks around, virtually ignoring the people in front of him.

"Yes..." Kenneth stares into the liche's eyes. They are glassy and unmoving. "We were, or at least should have been, friends."

"Ah, the Mondain Event," Qu-han says knowingly. "It is hard to form a close bond when someone you know becomes Sosaria's only true great mage and an evil force to boot." The Kol finally focuses upon the people in front of him. "Goldenflame. A pleasure to see you again." The Kol's words are empty of empathy. "And Ibn al-Hazardous; I do not know you, but I have met your kind before. I spent a tenday of my novitiate with a group of your kind. I wonder why the wisps brought you here..." The Kol smiles. "I suppose all will soon become clear." He faces his lich. "Close the gate; this place is safe for the time being."

The moongate slides into the ground.

Daria's journey to the Stonegate was as uneventful as uneventful can get. During the daytime, she stayed at the various inns scattered along the road; at the dusk she reverted to her swift silver-scaled self, her leathery wings slicing through the cold air of the night. As she got closer to the Stonegate, however, she decided to take a precaution and travel the rest of the way in her human form: you never know when you may stumble on a bunch of fanatical dragon-haters. A few hours later, a tall fair-haired woman dressed in plain dull-grey robes emerged from the nearby woods to join the strange and diverse group of travelers gathered in front of the castle.

For a few moments Daria stood in one place, studying the new and unfamiliar faces. She nodded and smiled courteously to whoever offered their greetings, yet didn't initiate the conversation herself. She maintained this passive stance, until her gaze met with that of a tall paladin, whose name, Goldenflame, she has overheard during his conversation with the mysterious black-clad figure that for some reason gave her the chills. Obeying a sudden impulse, Daria walked towards him with a strong feeling of deja vu.

"Pardon me, good sir," she said with a slight hesitation in her voice, "but is it possible that we have met before? My name is Daria, by the way."

"Daria?" exclaimed Goldenflame. "Daria of the Great Siberian dragons?" As the girl nodded, he continued in disbelief: "But of course we have met! Why, don't you remember our adventures on Tideron and Balfas?"

"I'm afraid not," replied Daria with a rueful sigh. "For some reason or another, whatever memories of that quest I possessed, have been wiped out completely. All I can sense is that there is a void in my mind where memories should be, and I have been driving myself crazy all these weeks trying to recall something I couldn't even grasp." She looks at Goldenflame with a hope in her eyes. "The Wisp has told me that I would find the people who could help me fill that void here at Stonegate. Can you help me, please?"

"All right, I suppose I can", says Goldenflame, "although it feels strange telling the story to the one who had witnessed it all..."

Daria listened with growing disbelief and bewilderment as Goldenflame quickly recounted the tale of the Balfas adventure, adding that he had no idea about what happened to her after she had suddenly disappeared from the place of the final battle. She thanked him heartily, then excused herself, saying that she needed some time to come to terms with this new period in her life she was not aware about. She felt, however, that the impending future will not give her the time to ponder over the past.

In a small clearing some distance away from Stonegate, a crow picks up a small berry from the ground, leaving behind a small mark in the sand. Accompanying this mark are quite a few others, some products of the strong winds that hurtle through the area on some nights, others formed by creatures such as the crow.

Together, the marks on the sand form what you could construe as a kind of symbol or rune, with the crow's final scratch completing the picture.

The rune slowly begins to glow, increasing in intensity till the trees surrounding it appear drenched in blood. The crow gives a terrified screech and flies off, the berry in its mouth falling to the floor.

As the crow speeds off to seek forage not requiring such vivid descriptions, a hand reaches out to pick up the small berry, and places it into a pouch.

Attached to the pouch, and to the hand, is a man dressed in dark blue robes. He looks ahead towards Stonegate and sees the large crowd gathered at the peculiar fortress.

"Hmm. Just in time, I see. Here we go again, then..."

Destrius closes his eyes, murmurs a minor spell of protection, and then heads forth to Destiny.

Wolf barely returned the greetings from the people he met by the castle. He stood some distance away from the others, which had gathered in something that vaguely resembled a circle, looking at the mountains. There had been some time since he last was in this area, and he had missed the view of the huge, majestic mountain range northeast of Britain. He looked down on the ground, noticed a small piece of bloodmoss, which he carefully picked up and placed in a small pouch in his belt. He looked at the mountains one last time.

Oh well, he thought, picked up his staff, and started to walk back towards the growing circle of people outside Stonegate.

Matthias and Shadow ride into the courtyard, a sort of beguiled shyness... a remnant of the way the knights had been treating him. He goes about eating his meal, staying away from the greater part of the mill of people. He doesn't quite know what he is doing here, but he has shown up all the same.

'Perhaps later', he thinks 'I shall get to know some of these folk. But that is for later. For now... I shall wait.'

And wait he does.

In a cavern nearby a mature silver dragon awakens after a millennium of dormancy.

Amthet, upon hearing horses, went to the entrance of his den. From there he saw a group of what appeared to be humans at a fortress that, to Amthet, was recently built.

'Now why would they be there?' the dragon thought to himself, 'Nothing of note has...'

A familiar odor came to him in the breeze, "Other dragons?" he asked aloud, "IMPOSSIBLE!" he roared, "I am the only one left, after a compassionate person declared that at least one dragon should survive."

He wasn't ready to face anyone just yet. 'It will take a while for me to regain any of my abilities,' Amthet thought to himself, 'Right now it would be best to be cautious, and not reveal myself.'

< Earth, a few days ago >

A young woman sits behind a desk, next to her is a clock. It is 4:15 AM. Putting a book away and finally feeling sleepy enough she turns towards her bed, only to find herself staring at a ball of soft blue light. *Greetings Mythril, your presence is required in Britannia.* Recognizing the creature for what it is, she backs away. "This is a dream, it can't be, can it?" *It is*, the wisp simply states. "Ok then, prove to me that you are real!" *If proof of 'Xorinia's' existence is needed, then 'we' are willing to supply it. . At no further cost* the Wisp adds. "Well, you certainly talk like a wisp."

The wisp glows briefly and then it sends a small jolt of lightning to Mythril. "Auch! Why did you do that for?" *Proof was asked, is this sufficient?* "Yes, very. What do you want from me anyway?" *What 'you' would call 'a prophecy' shows that events in Britannia may require your aid* "My help? What could I possibly do to help?" *Unknown, but you have certain skills that may be useful. Tools and clothing will be provided for if you want. Skills will be awakened when in Britannia.* "Oh yeah, and you'll so this out of the goodness of your heart," Mythril responds sarcastically. "I know how Xorinia works, what is it going to cost me?" *Absorption of all information in written and digitized form in this dwelling.* "Everything? Ok, fine, but only if nothing is harmed or altered AND as long as my parents don't see you."

As the wisp moves from bookcase to bookcase, Mythril gathers a few things: A backpack, extra shoes, a few notebooks, some pencils, a pocketknife and her pocketwatch. When the wisp returns, a moongate opens in the middle of the room. "I must be totally crazy!" With those words she steps into the moongate...

...and onto a forest clearing. She looks around and finding the area safe, checks herself and her belongings. A longsword hangs at her side and bow and arrows are strapped to her back. Her clothing has changed to Britannian style, suitable for outdoors and in greens and browns. In her backpack she find a spellbook, a bag of reagents and a map. "Great, looks like I'm a ranger. Let's hope I'm good at it."

She feels a pull towards the northeast, and something inside tells her that that is where Stonegate lies. On the way she learns that she is rather good with the sword, but a bit better with the bow. Creating food and arrows by magic and healing herself work well, but she hasn't had the opportunity to cast higher level spells when she nears Stonegate. Having no idea what will meet her there, she climbs into a tree and walks over the branches to have a better look and listen to the conversation, while not being notices herself . she hopes.

She is just in time to hear the Wisp explain the situation to the group.

< Outside Stonegate >

All the the chosen were gathered and reminiscing about what had happened the last time they were together.. Some were a bit reluctant to join in the conversations, but listened just to gain some information of what is to come...

Sitting on the ground and leaning back against the blackrock wall, Paulon sits and waits, appearing almost as if he has been there for hours. He grins as he recognizes some of the folk who have arrived. It is good to see old friends arrive.

*You have arrived.* Xorinia states.

"Yes, what is this 'pressing matter' you spoke of," Kenneth asked.

*The events surrounding the actions of the mage 'Amsereth' have disrupted the 'fabric of reality' in the local ether. The one known as the 'Time Lord' has been attending to these disruptions, but the results of these 'disruptions' are beginning to manifest in this world. Among these manifestations is an energy vortex - what 'we' believe 'you' call a 'gate' - to a section of the Ethereal Void known to some of 'your' best 'scholars' as the 'Heart of the Void'.*

"The Heart of the Void?" asked Kol-qu-han. "The nexus of the fabric of realities?" *Correct, Kol. The disruptions in the Void are significantly affecting the 'Heart of the Void', which could result in the annihilation of all planes of existence. Due to the nature of the nexus, however, none of the Undrian Council can interact with the disturbance.*

"So, how are WE supposed to be able to do anything?" Paulon asked. "And how, exactly, can these disturbances cause the destruction of all existence?"

*The disturbance in the nexus weakens the barriers that hold all universes apart. If allowed to continue…*

"It would cause all realities to merge," Nicodemus said, aghast, "and eventually cause the result to lose cohesion, and then its very existence."

*Correct again. And the 'chaos' caused by such a merging would cause great amounts of damage.*

"So, uh, how are we mere mortals," St. George's flickers momentarily, "er, and other beings, supposed to handle this kind of a problem. It sounds like a job more suited to the Time Lord, or someone."

*The "Time Lord" cannot repair this disturbance for the same reason we cannot. Our natures allow us to experience the 'Heart of the Void' objectively, as we are transdimensional beings. This prevents us from manipulating events within the nexus, as it is a wholly intangible realm. Physical entities such as yourselves will experience the nexus subjectively, which will allow you to manipulate elements within it.*

Kenneth addressed Xorinia. "I have a question - What do you mean by 'we will experience the nexus subjectively'?"

*The nexus appears to those within as something 'familiar' to that being. Elements within the nexus, such as the 'disturbance' now plaguing it, will manifest as correlative elements in the familiar illusion.*

"Well," Goldenflame spoke up, "Wouldn't that mean we'd all see this nexus as something different?"

*This has been foreseen.* Xorinia and the other Wisps suddenly glow brighter, illuminating a stone plinth beneath Xorinia. *Some of you may recognize the 'artifacts' on the 'plinth'.* Both were rings, differentiated in that one glittered green, and the other blue.

"The Rings of Xiesh and Haeth!" Destrius exclaimed. What have they to do with this?"

*The artifacts before you have been 'altered' to aid you in what must come. Their functions as you knew them have been negated in the 'conflict' between you and the Balfasian mage 'Amsereth'. The 'Ring of Haeth' has been enchanted by the Undrian Council to allow you to share one illusion, something familiar to all of you.*

Kenneth chuckles. "The only setting I know of that everyone here is familiar with is Britannia itself. Are you saying we'll all be in an illusion of Britannia?"

*No. The illusion will be noticeably different from the plane 'Britannia' because it will be influenced by other common elements, as well as occasional incidents of elements that only a few of you may be familiar with. The enchantment on the 'ring' cannot work as intended with large numbers of entities. Also, the illusion will only hold within a certain range of the ring.*

"How close do we have to be?" Destrius asked.

*Unknown. With this many entities, however, we estimate the Ring's 'effective range' to be 'one hundred meters' in your measurement system.*

"And the other Ring? The Ring of Xiesh?"

*The 'Ring of Xiesh' has been enchanted to allow the one who 'wears' it to telepathically contact the Undrian Council with the intent to 'ask for help'. However, do not make use of this often, or we will consider you 'indebted' to us for the knowledge.*

Before anyone could comment on that last remark, one of the Wisps in the room said, *One more thing, travelers. While the Time Lord cannot directly interact with the nexus, he has been known to enter it. He may be able to provide assistance to your quest, even though he cannot act directly.*

The gathering of Wisps then pulsed in a rhythmic pattern, and abruptly a moongate appeared behind the stone plinth. *Prepare for your journey,* Xorinia said, *then return here. The disturbance within cannot wait forever.* That said, all of the other Wisps winked out of existence, leaving only Xorinia and the assorted travelers in the castle Stonegate.

< In a nearby cave >

Amthet, hungry for some food, decides to go hunting carefully for deer.

/The Dragon scent is strong in this area for some reason,/ he thought to himself, /I was the last one that survived, but../ "Could it be that I am not alone here?"

Amthet finds a couple of grazing deer and makes a meal out of them.

< Meanwhile, back at Stonegate >

"Curiousier and curiousier, said the cat. That's a quote from your world, isn't it, Paulon?" The Collector does not wait for a reply. "The Wisps are being their usual obtuse selves... I must get in contact with my people as to the urgency of this prophecy. The Dracos Lich will act as my essence for the short time I shall be away."

"Could somebody tell me what the hell's going on?" asked the man who had identified himself as Tailrace to the more socially-inclined members of the group. "I mean, who is this Amsereth person? I've heard various stories in pubs... just never the same one twice. Is he something to do with the Guardian or what?" A few of the others nod, also not having been along on the previous quests.

Four hundred meters away from the meeting place Kol-qu-han materializes. In one eye he can see the verdant greenery of the small grove, in the other he can see the various companions talking amongst themselves.

/Qu-han, you wanted to speak with me?/


/About the wisps?/

Yes, the wisps. Are they on the level? /No. Sources in the database indicate that they are, once again, serving other means in the disguise of altruism./

So the danger is exaggerated, then?"

/No. The danger is clear, it's just not definite. Anyway, your clean- up job both here and on Balfas was exemplary, in the end. I'd recommend you keep a connection with Sosaria open the entire time; if the phenomena collapses.../

Aye. There's something else...


Dracos, my lich, there are visual artifacts... He's seen something that I haven't noticed recently.

/Oh. Oh.../


/A Class Six?/

I should hope not.

/Someone is about to cross our line of communication. I should go./

Levitating just above the Kol's left shoulder it watched.

A the Kol speaks to his unseen associate, the paladin, Kenneth, spoke up in reply to Tailrace.

"Ah. I can answer that. Some five months ago, I believe, you recall the Black Moon that appeared? It was caused by Amsereth, a mage from another world, who had freed the Shadowlords -- yes, THOSE Shadowlords -- for some unknown reason. Myself, Destrius, Paulon, and a few others, such as Dracos, who wasn't a liche then, and Helgraf, who is absent at the moment... we set about trying to figure out why and to stop Amsereth and the Shadowlords. Along the way, the Shadowlords, with the unwilling aid of Dracos, refused the shards of Mondain's Gem and summoned that old mage's spirit back, further complicating our problems. Yet also helping us, as he did help us to defeat Amsereth. That ends the Britannian half of the story, but there was another side to the tale of Amsereth. I, however, was not a participant in those events and only heard of them recently myself, so I suggest you ask one of them for their tale.

"Oh, and, after the tale is finished, I do have a preparation or two to make before we enter this "Heart of the Void" place. So if you don't mind, I'll head off to do so. Just don't leave without me!" With a grin, Kenneth turned and departed Stonegate, then morphed into a dragon with luminous yellow scales, and prepared to take flight.

Yet before he could take off, he noticed another dragon in the trees nearby, of a silvery hue. *Is it friend or foe?* Lumina wondered, as he noticed the Dragon's gaze turn to him...

As the paladin turned dragon left the old construction, Destrius stepped back from the crowd and walked to the clearing from which he had appeared a while ago.


A trip to the Heart of the Void, it seems. He had brought along some items he thought would be useful, but this journey was slightly different from what he expected. Perhaps he should consider some additions to his inventory?

The mage made a mental projection to the cave storehold within Spiritwood, bringing up a list of magical contraptions he had stashed there. Amulets of minor enchantments, a shelf of flasks filled with numerous potions, ether shards, singing stones...

His mind focused on a particular object, a metallic orb, rusty with age.

"This should do." Fingers move in a teleportation spell and the orb is now in his hands. Destrius peers at it, and puts it up to his ear, as if listening to see if it was producing any sound.

It was not, and the mage nodded in satisfaction while placing the orb somewhere within his robe. It disappeared into one of the pocket dimensions that mages appear to have sewn in between the fabric of their clothing.

Deciding that he has no need for anything else, Destrius returns to the group.

A long dark green shape watched from a group of young pine on the slopes of the valley around Stonegate.

/So that is what this is all about. That moon was certainly a great help to my research, if only it had been less disruptive to my magic I might have learned even more./

Hai-Etlik drew his head back into the foliage to think. He had come when he had sensed that the wisps were up to something, hoping that he could find some way to gain the knowledge he needed for his experiment.

/The wards are holding, the wisps have probably already sensed me, and that being with the pet liche would have no trouble, but the other mages are about as strong as me and would only sense me if they thought to scry the surroundings/

Hai-Etlik stuck his head back out to listen for the second part of the story, whatever it might be and saw Kenneth looking into the trees further down. Following the gaze Hai-Etlik caught a flash of blue and sensed something he hadn't sensed since before the cataclysm.

/...Well, that makes things a bit more interesting./

Amthet notices a strange dragon looking at him. Curiosity gets the better of him, and he advances asking himself *How can there be another dragon when I am the last one to survive?* In 'Dragonspeak' he asked /What matter of sorcery is this?!? A compassionate king ensorcelled me into dormancy to save my life. Yet there are more of my kind?

/How can this be?/

Lumina turned to the newcomer in surprise, and says, "Now there's something you don't hear every day. I don't think Olde Dragish has been spoken in nigh 300 years. And judging from what you said, you go back even farther. Come, join me in flight; I have an errand to run, and talking will help pass the time." As Lumina launches himself airborne, he calls back, "What be thy name, Dragon?"

Joining Lumina in flight, the dragon responds, once more in the ancient dialect. "My name is Amthet. But tell me, how is it that Dragons have survived? I was the last one."

Nodding to himself, Lumina replies, "So, you date back to the first Exile." Seeing the puzzled look, Lumina continues, "Let me explain. It was, oh, about five hundred years ago now... The Ages of Darkness... you wouldn't know about them, would you?... ...Well, they hadn't started yet at this time, but it was a dark age for us Dragons. The humans of Sosaria - which, by the way, is now called Britannia - were fearful of the Dragons of the time, most of which were vicious beasts. They were hunted down to the last, but some of the more peace-minded dragons, led by a golden-scaled youth, made their way into what men now call the Serpent's Spine mountains, and built a system of caverns. We survived in there until our numbers grew too large, at which point Dragons were once again seen on the surface. So obviously, we were quite capable of evading true extinction. We never knew, though, that any others had survived this time. A compassionate king, eh? Sounds like Lord British, who yet lives to this day. No one knows how, but it seems that being from a different world keeps him from aging as most humans do."

"500 years!?!" Amthet was shocked at the news, *I've been dormant that long?*

Lapsing into dragonspeak he asks /What events shouldst I be made aware of?/ But the younger dragon had something else on his mind.

Glancing down, Lumina gestures to a cave entrance at the base of a mountain. "Set down here; I must retrieve something from within."

The Dragons land, and as Lumina is about to enter the dungeon of Destard, he sees a flash of light within. Rushing into the room, he notices a familiar mage within the chamber, standing over a black-hued blade.

*A mage with a sword?!?* Amthet thought to himself.

/When hath mages used swords?/ he asked the curious dragon before him,

/What is the urgency of thy task here?/

< Just after the Wisps initial speech, Just before the opening of the Heart >

Nicodemus had managed to deliver the message he promised to Kenneth; although conceptually studying the Heart of the Void was a fascinating idea, the ever-present Wisps ... and certain other concerns ... made it a lamentable impossibility. He drifted a long distance away before incanting the Gate spell to carry him back to his home in the Deep Forest.

< Destard >

Within the strange pseudorealm of the Crystal Prison of the Shade Blade, Helgraf sits in quiet meditation. Having read all the books available too many times, successfully beaten himself at chess and spending inordinate amounts of time determining the exact parameters of his prison home.

Then the Heart of the Void was opened.

He _felt_ it ... deep in his bones. Even here, in virtual exile, he would not have been able to miss that occurrence. This was a change, and a significant one, so much so that he could feel the prophecy he had come to make sure was fulfilled fade into obscurity even as another, one long unstudied, rose to prominence.

It did not bode ...Well Most worlds and significant localities had scores if not hundreds of prophecia, which tended to bind into common patterns. The Heart of the Void had three separate and distinct prophecies connected to it, and they all were writ heavily in the hand of doom and disaster. And, of course, none of the books which were replicated in this eerie copy of his study were the ones which contained these exacting prophecies.

He would be going in blind, with only his instincts and the natural talents of his training to guide his hands. Presuming, of course, that the blasted destined would get here and retrieve the blade. He cursed, roundly, profusely and feelingly. He cursed the Wisps, the Undrian Council, the Kol, the prior void sorcerers. He cursed Amsereth and Tideron and its gods, and he cursed at himself.

"Who in the forty two hells of judgment opened the way and why?"

He rose to his feet and began to pace, still cursing every imaginable entity which might have had the power to do this thing. "Oh, it's not enough to destroy themselves, no, they have to muddle with things on the _multiversal_ scale! Reindeer Pox take the lot of them. May the boils of the pestilent followers of Trzi'kan/vonine take,"

His vile imprecation died in midsentance as he felt the distinct sensation-echo of the passage of a creature of potence and density. When a second followed, mistaken at first for an afterbirthed echo, he let his hands, which had this whole while been taken to the performance of lewd and insulting gestures to give emphasis to his curses, fall to his sides.

Lumina ... and another whom he recognized, though they had never met. And they were close, since he had been able to sense their passage in what little rippling ether managed to penetrate this cerulean cell.

He sat down and concentrated ... pushing his mind into and through the gelid barrier of his prison, forcing his awareness into the cavern beyond. Finally, he is through, and although he has no body or true need, he takes several deep breaths as if he had just surfaced from falling deep into water. His peculiar sensitivities scream at him now; his mind can feel the Heart of the Void and he has no body to dampen the impact.

Under assault, his mind assumes a forced calm, a thing ingrained so deeply by training as to now be indistinguishable from instinct. He reaches out toward the source - not in the conventional sense, but instinctively, knowing the barrier will be weaker and draws an infinestimially small amount of what exists there, bringing it back and using it to form an illusion. He would not be able to speak, but he could gesture. Hopefully it would be enough. There was neither time nor opportunity to do more; he felt the massive life-mana-presence signatures of the two dragons as they entered the outer part of the cave...

In a flash of light, Nicodemus appeared, startling Helgraf The mage was unaware that two Dragons were approaching the cave, and went over to retrieve the Shade Blade. Just then, Helgraf communicates to him.

/Two dragons are coming. One is Lumina./ "He knows of your predicament?"

/Unlikely. However, he does know that I stored the Shade Blade here after the initial battle against Amsereth./ A pause, then, /Was that the Heart of the Void I sensed... still sense?/

"Aye. The inter-dimensional troubles with Amsereth appear to have weakened the fabric of what is. This is the reason, apparently, for the Wisps' call--" Nicodemus falls silent as he hears the Dragons' footfalls upon the stone of the cave floor. "It appears they are here."

Lumina recognizes the voice as Nicodemus's. "Nicodemus? What are you doing in this place? Or did you also know of the sword?"

"It seems I know more than thee, Lumina. Since you last saw the mage Helgraf, he has gotten himself into quite a predicament."

Quick to pick up Nic's inferred meaning, Lumina asked "He's in the sword? All the more reason to take it, then. We could use his help."

Before Lumina could continue, a telepathic voice interrupted his thoughts. /Aye, indeed. The nexus of all reality is not to be trifled with. Why would the Wisps send mortals there, anyway?/

Nicodemus spoke up, "As I said, Helgraf, the events surrounding Amsereth on this world and others caused an instability in the Heart of the Void, according to the Wisps. As their existence is different from ours, they cannot fix it themselves, and came calling on those who took part in the events responsible. As ...Well as some who did not." "I presume then, that you'll be joining us again?" inquired Lumina.

/Of course. Two questions, however... would you happen to know the disposition of my body in this world, or why there are songs being sung about my earlier adventure here?/

"Unfortunately, Helgraf, I know neither... why do you ask?"

/Nothing... merely a matter which had been preying on my mind since hearing of it. Let's goo then./

Lumina reached forth and drew out the Shade Blade from the cavern floor. As he did so, a new voice interrupted.

"So, you're finally getting that thing out of here? About time. Tell that mage to pick an uninhabited cave next time." With that, the unicorn, Lasher, snorted and went back into whatever room he had come from. Lumina shrugged, then took the Shade Blade outside.

Noticing he was departing alone, he turned to Nicodemus and asked, "Aren't you coming along?"

Nicodemus shook his head. "I only came to find out what the Wisps wanted for Helgraf As for the rest, you have Helgraf himself." That said, Nicodemus chanted a spell to take himself back to his home.

Back outside, Amthet saw Lumina returning with an unusual black sword. "That is all you came here for? What is so important about this sword? And who was that mage?"

"The mage was Nicodemus, who was at Stonegate with us. This sword is enchanted to hold a soul in it, and it seems that soul is Helgraf, a mage who accompanied me on my last quest. Seems he'll be joining us again this time." Leaping airborne, Lumina continued. "Come, I'll tell you all about it on the way back."

As the two fly back to Stonegate, Lumina tells Amthet the events of five months ago, and of the mage Amsereth. He finished by telling Amthet what the Wisps had told him and the others earlier that same day. As afternoon turned to evening, the two landed just outside Stonegate, and rejoined the group there.

While Lumina fills in Amthet, he feels something akin to a mental 'knock', and then the briefly disorienting feeling of someone inside his head.

~My pardons; you have no idea how utterly dull it is inside that prism. Interesting landscape you have in here. Don't worry, I'm not looking for secrets or anything; just testing the expanded limits of my capabilities now that I'm "owned", so to speak.~

By Dragonflight the journey is fairly quick; only a few hours pass. Sensing something of the nervousness of the other dragon, Helgraf opts - for the time being - not to try and communicate with him; at least, not while they are in flight.

Some of the group were startled to see a dragon in their midst. Amthet was suddenly afraid for his life when he saw the change in his companion.

/If it is thy want to destroy me do so for I am ready./ he announced in dragonspeech to the assembled at Stonegate. /But know that I was once protected by a compassionate king nigh 500 years ago./

At least one other, amongst the chosen, understood what Amthet had just said and gasped...

~Lumina, I'm carrying something of an excess of .. magical charge. Entering the Heart like this could be ... mmm ... likely to cause certain side effects. However, if you could point my blade at ... say that clump of boulders over there, there's something I'd like to try which should also take care of the problem~

Lumina points the blade as requested, though seeming .. unsure .. "Do I need to command you t-

His question is cut off as a voice akin to Helgraf's, but deeper and with echo-reverb set at about 30% intones "GravSanct AnLor Por". The blade quivers, then a ball of inky black, crawling with blue lightnings fires from the tip and slams into the mass of boulders with a mighty thunderclap.

"What the hell was that?" someone inquires.

~Ahh, I'd hoped so. It seems the powers we can draw upon are dependent upon both prisoner and wielder. I shall catalogue the nature of our power while you chosen decide how to tackle this latest insanity.~

Helgraf's mental 'voice' falls silent, but Lumina can still feel something vaguely like amused humming.

*A power of this magnitude was around when I was..* Amthet mused, *But why would it resurface around the same time as my awakening?*

"There is much for this old dragon to learn, I guess," he sighs.. To Lumina he asks "How many of our kind *did* survive that holocaust? The numbers you gave me before were a little vague."

Rejoining the others, Lumina morphs back into Kenneth of Trinsic, and sheathes the Black Sword at his back. *Would that I had a scabbard for it*, he thinks, then creates one with a minor spell. *Rather plain, but it'll do.*

Turning to the group he says, "Everyone, meet Amthet, a dragon who has been... hibernating, shall we say? Don't worry; he's with us." Shifting his gaze to those in the group who had not participated in the original quest of five months ago, he continued, "And yes, I, too, am a Dragon, although I find it more convenient to assume human form in the midst of humans." He finishes by asking of Amthet, "I don't suppose you have the ability to dragonmorph?"

Amthet shakes his head, surprised at the sight of a Dragon turning into a human.

"Not surprised. From what I recall of the histories, that talent was either rare or as yet unknown. To answer your question... I do not recall the exact numbers; I haven't been to the Weyrmount caves for any long time in years now.

"So? Anyone else have business to take care of? Oh, and before I forget..." Kenneth jabs a thumb to point at the Sword on his back. "Everyone, meet Helgraf Helgraf, meet everyone."

Recognizing the name, Kol-qu-han's eyes narrow.

As did the eyes of Destrius.

The group, somewhat stunned by a dragon in their midst, pays little attention to anything else going on around it. The Collector smiles. The best kind of deception is the one you do not cause. As people approach Amthet and ask after him the Kol extends his right big toe, elongating it across the floor towards Kenneth. It snakes its way between people, flattening itself where people seem just about to tread upon it. As it closes on Kenneth it becomes as fine as silk, although as strong as a spider's, and rises into the air, touching the enchanted blade upon the paladin's back.

"Hello Helgraf I thought I should say hello before the Sosarian Virtue Brigade venture into the depths of peril. You're looking ...Well, for what you are. You'll be happy to know that my people have been examining our somewhat scant records on your people; further study has been advised, although the coming war with the Class Sixes might put a halt to that... Might put a halt to all of this, in fact. When those who act like gods meet what might ...Well be gods to them the actuality shakes... I could break this, you know. You could easily break the blade open and venture out. I wonder what keeps you there... I could so easily suck you out and give you new form, or trap you permanently within my lich... But those are... unvirtuous thoughts, and, besides, you are the closest thing to an ally I have here, since you are not bound to the ethical system of this world as closely as, say, your wielder."

Helgraf hears the query, absorbs the words, his senses, enhanced by the nature of the blade for once instead of dulled by it, dance lightning quick down the filament connecting; he does not attempt to take control; just for a second looks out from the Kol; but in the manner of his training. The dragons pass as little to him; the wisps moreso, but they are caught in the net of their own weaving. He scans ...

It watched the Kol, watched him stretch his fribona through the lesser- substrate and caress the loka. The pesila in the loka listened; it knew of the pesila, had touched one once and absorbed it entirely. The Kol was not pesla, 'twas puop. The puops knew of it, knew of the other, but had not touched it, never sensed it, only seen where it had been.

It moved over the lich, reaching into its body and grabbed the unbeating heart and gave it a brief moment of life. Dracos screamed.

For a second, Helgraf saw something .. not as a thing, but in a ... occlusion of the air ... almost invisible to even his highly trained senses. He tried to get a lock on it...

Qu-han dropped his connection with Helgraf as he sensed his lich cry out in pain. In his mind he could see the dying embers of life once again subside. There was no soul there, no energy of the life, yet the body had been... animated by something other than magic.

.. and was suddenly cut loose; the reverberation throwing Helgraf back into blade.

It watched the fribona die in the lesser substrate, watched a part of it return to the Kol, the puop. It attached itself to the fribona, making itself look and feel like a part of it, and it moved closer and closer to the Kol until it covered him, permeated him and knew him. Then, once it was done, it faded away, leaving no trace, no memory, no past.

"What in the Hells was that?" someone called out as some others rushed to Dracos' side.

~Kenneth...~ demands Helgraf

~Kenneth! I need to speak to Caulky Hands. Now.~

"I know not." The Kol stroked his chin as he answers the question. "This is not usual, not usual at all. Part of me thinks that one of those damned 'baby-talk' wisps has been up to tricks, but they wouldn't dare touch my lich, even on their world. No, something was here." The Kol cast his essence around the tower, feeling for something unusual. Nothing. An absence of the peculiar, a gentle sense of normality. Nothing had occurred.

Kenneth twisted his head towards the blade.

"The Collector? The Lich Collector?"

~Yes,~ Helgraf emoted.

"As you wish," the paladin said, resignedly. "Collector, I wish to speak with you a moment."

The Kol looked up from his thoughts. "Paladin," he said, chewing the words with a smile. "What has a man of honor like yourself wanting with such a despicable creature like myself?"

"Enough, Collector. Helgraf wants to speak with you?" Kenneth said, straightening his back as spoke.

"So soon?" Qu-han said.

Puzzlement flashed across Kenneth's face.

"Oh, worry not. Give me the blade," the Kol said.

"I'm not sure...", the Paladin began.

~Give him the blade, Kenneth. Trust me. No harm will come to myself or it, I promise you.~ Helgraf's words carried sincerity in them.

Kenneth shook his head and then, carefully, drew the Shade Blade and handed it to the Collector.

Qu-han bowed as he took the blade and then, with one fluid motion, threw the sword high into the air, catching it with his right hand, the blade cutting into his flesh. For a brief instance both the Shade Blade and the Lich Collector were no more.

It looked, to Helgraf, like the tower upon which Dracos had given his life. The sky looked like a painting several leagues distant, a huge canvas painting by some talented, and powerful artist. The air felt... tinged with magic, and the stones beneath his feet vibrated with accumulated power.

He had feet...

"Ah, Helgraf Welcome to the simulacra. I thought I'd recreate the first place we met. I've given you the form you had then; this is all temporary. You're currently sharing my blood, you see, although we're frozen in a single moment of my own pain, so don't think you can pull anything with my life essence..." The Kol emerged from the stairwell set near the edge of the parapet. "Anyway, you wanted to speak to me.

Helgraf began to open his mouth.

"Before you begin, one thing. We are not enemies. You might feel some enmity towards me due to the way I've treated you, your friends and now my keepsake, the once-Mage Dracos. I must admit I've enjoyed this... passion, even worked with it. Aside from the mage Destrius, who technically I have never met, the Sosarians and their Earthling kin are so narrow minded in their... ethics. But you and I, we are not so different. I do not wish for our adversarial tones to complicate matters. I propose a truce. But I am doing all the talking. Speak, Void Sorcerer. I would hear your wisdom."

Once Kol-qu-han finishes speaking, Helgraf begins. "At this point, my personal feelings for how you and yours manipulate matters are immaterial. We are being watched by something - it has hidden itself ...Well; even with my senses sharply attuned and enhanced by the proximity of the Heart, I could see it only as a .. distortion .. of things around it - as soon as I spotted it, whatever afflicted Dracos occurred, and I was abruptly dumped back into the shell. I don't know what it is; and frankly that concerns me far more than anything else, especially if it follows us into the core.

"To answer your earlier query, you may perhaps remember that within a realm, I do my best to follow its rules to minimize any .. interference .. caused by my actions. Additionally, there are certain benefits to this vessel - moreso now that I have a "wielder". A dry chuckle.

"Once we are inside ... if it truly must become necessary I can manifest a form. But I will not create new matter - not in that place, and not here. Contamination is already a problem in this reality, one which I will have to attend to.

"There is more which needs to be said, but the specifics will depend greatly on what we find in the core."

"Interesting..." The voice came from the Kol's mouth but did not belong to the Collector.

"You, you would be?" Helgraf asked.

"A Youl. One of the Kol's former... superiors. Now sadly dead. No body to call my own, no liches to perform my tasks... But enough of my sadness. We Youl tend to live in the minds of our society, hopping from one moment to the next, acting as advisors and willful playmates. Until we get bored and really want to know what happens to graverobbers in the afterlife." The voice laughs. "The Kol does not know we are having this conversation."

"Why are we having this conversation?," the Void Sorcerer. asked.

"Because there are things you need to know. I am tied in the prophecies; with death goes the passing of time and I know a lot of what is to happen. It changes, of course, every action you make alters a tiny bit of the future, and so my information is useless to you now. But I am not here to tell you of what will happen to you, only what will happen to him, and why.

"Qu-han, I am sure, has muttered of class fives and class twos and the like. ...Well, we now know there is something above my own people, the Fives. They would treat us like ants or flies, these 'things', so much more powerful, so much more... alone. The opened nexus point in the tower has let one through. They disobey time, they disobey everything, and they seek to know more... They will seek to know via the Kol. Remember, Helgraf, a Collector is not a Collector when he is dead."

The blade slid from Qu-han's hand, covered in blood, and began to fall to the floor. The Kol turned to his lich and before the blade could strike the ground Dracos had hold of it. The metal was clean.

"Paladin, take back your blade. I would suggest that unless anyone else has business we take leave of this place and venture inwards." The Collector's hand was now unblemished.

Saeihra had started to scuttle towards the Lich even before the precise moment his Collector vanished. One of the swarming insects that had repelled the other adventurers detached itself and fluttered over to Dracos, landing in the instant of time that the Collector was not there. Turning aside, she utterly ignored the dragonforms present, sitting on the ground and staring eyelessly into space in a meditation that was punctuated by bouts of disturbing cackling.

An enormous cockroach crawled out of her robes and onto her bare arm, but seemed to sink into it, struggling somewhat as the woman's flesh swallowed it. The chitinous outline was visible for a few moment writhing beneath the now knitted skin, before disappearing like it had never existed.

Noting the quiet revulsion exhibited by one of the paladins, she snapped "Saeihra" moments before Kenneth stiffly asked her name and business. Showing yellowed teeth that were faintly pointed, she turned her head to a point just behind him and was very attentive, as if she was "seeing" something that wasn't there.

< A few moments ago... >


The name spins through Destrius' mind, like a sentient key desperately finding its fitting lock. He loses sense of the world around him, enshrouded by his own troubled thoughts.

I must know what happened in Balfas. The simulacrum is lost to me; perhaps the Collector may know something about that. How much does he know, though? He is one of the powerful; not one I should trust.

The rest cannot know what I have done.

Helgraf, however... is different, just as I am different. He is also a friend, however short our acquaintance may have been. Perhaps... perhaps he may be of help. He has somehow been trapped within the Shade Blade, however. I shall talk to him when the time is right.

A sharp cry pierces through the mental clouds that surround him, and Destrius is pulled back into the present, just in time to see Dracos (the mage made a mental note to find out what had caused his former companion to be gathered by the Collector) lie limply on the ground and the man beside him probe the area with a look of puzzlement on his face.

Hai-Etlik watched on from his vantage in the trees.

/...Well, the humans seem rather excited now what with Amthet, Lumina's little stunt with the Black Sword, and the bizarre behavior of that Liche. What better time to add another dragon to the mix, they will just accept it as yet another in a string of strange events./

Hai dropped his warding spells and pushed through the trees. In Dragish, he addressed his kin "Greetings, I may not have been summoned by the wisps, but if you will have me, I would be most pleased to join you in saving all that is."

To Amthet, "It is good to see thee again, though thou might have considered traveling to another world rather than going to sleep for half a millennium. There is an interesting world named Earth, thou doth spend just a month or two there and when thou doth return, all the humans who may have wanted to kill thee are now dead of old age."

Kenneth turns to the new Dragon, and asks, "What is your name, and how do you know of what we intend, if you have not been summoned?" Getting no response, and seeing a disdainful look on the Dragon's face, Kenneth repeats his question in Dragish, and adds, "You might consider speaking in the humans' tongue. It would facilitate matters greatly."

Hai-Etlik sighs with resignation and begins speaking in plain Sosarian.

"I am Hai-Etlik, a mage, though most of you seem to have magic enough to sense that. I came when I sensed that to wisps were up to something in the hope I could find some way to get some information I need. Of course when I heard what this was all about, my research is not of much concern when compared to the destruction of all the worlds. I am not the most able of fighters relative to my larger kin, but I have much knowledge and have traveled to many worlds."

The new dragon did look familiar to Amthet, but where and when he may have met him is a mystery...

/Do I know thee?/ Amthet asked the newcomer in dragonspeech, /What is this 'Earth' you speak of?/

Reverting to Dragish, Hai addressed Amthet "We met about 650 Sosarian years ago, though I was but a hatchling of 50 at the time. At about the time that thou didst enter thy slumber, I found an Orb of the Moons and used it to escape and travel the various nearby worlds. Earth was one such place. It is the home world of the King who put thee to sleep and is devoid basic magic, I had to use a transformation spell while on another world and return after I discovered it was populated by humans with technology as potent as many spells. I picked up a number of devices there on my various visits and have even improved a few with enchantment."

"An interesting tale, Hai-Etlik." Lumina said in Dragish Then, in Sosarian, he addressed the assemblage at large. "...Well, if there is no further business to take care of, or introductions to be made, shall we proceed?"

Hearing the name Helgraf Saint George's Dragon makes his way towards, Kenneth. But is interrupted by the flurry of events.

Finally arriving at Kenneth's side he quickly asks "Did I hear you right, is Helgraf in the blade?"

Kenneth nods.

"I knew their was something amiss with the body. Luckily I prepared for just such an emergency." Triumphantly SG'sD reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small dull red stone.

"Helgraf's body lies in the mountains in a magnificent, if I do so say myself, tomb protected by stone, traps and magic. And preserved by magic so that he does not rot. However, I foresaw that it might be necessary to retrieve the body, if for example his essence were found. Rather than weaken the defenses by designing a way in I created this. This stone will gate Helgraf's body to it. The other advantage to this thing is should against all odds the body be removed from its tomb this stone will still summon it forth from anywhere." SG's D expounds on all this with a childlike excitement and satisfaction. Suddenly he shakes his head and takes on an apologetic tone. "But I digress. The easiest way to active the stone is to bring it into contact with Helgraf's essence, in this case just touch it to the shade blade and that should be sufficient. The stone is also enchanted to try and reintegrate the body and essence, but I had not reckoned on enchantments as powerful as those in the blade."

Kenneth takes the stone, considering it and the Shade Blade.

Meanwhile, Saint George's Dragon turns his attentions to Kol and Dracos. "I would hope you would take better care of your charge. It seems that fate has decreed that we should work together. I never really liked fate. But be warned the dead need their rest and I like to see that they get it and besides me their are forces far more potent you might do ...Well to consider."

Throwing caution to the wind, Kenneth brings the reddish stone to connect with the cerulean gem in the Shade Blade. A rush of sound issues from the point of contact, and a body in a hooded cloak is abruptly where there previously was nothing. Helgraf looks around, momentarily disoriented by the sudden change, but quickly regains his bearings. His eyes fix on St. George's. You did this? You were the one who entombed my body?.... No matter. Now that it is once again mine, your caretaking of it is of no concern." He then advances on the ethereal St. George's. "However, you wouldn't happen to know of any tales regarding my deeds on this world, would you?"

As St. George's. tries to formulate an answer, Helgraf notices the Black Sword, which had been in his hands since his body was restored. He moves to give it back to the paladin, but the attempt to do so fails; the sword remains within his grasp. "Hmm. How vexing. The enchantments seem compelled to keep the sword with me, despite the fact that I no longer need it as a host..."

The significance of the Sword's reluctance to part with Helgraf is not lost on Kenneth. He unstraps his scabbard and proffers it to Helgraf "I have the feeling you'll be needing this. Don't mind its plain appearance; magically created material can seldom afford to look good." Kenneth then shrugs. "...Well, unless you have plenty of time to fine-tune it. But I only needed something functional."

When she saw the Dragons leave, Mythril needed a little time to let things sink in. "What in the world did I get myself into!" Sitting back against the tree, she tried to get things ordered in her mind. Just what had happened, she didn't know, but something inside her told her that this was most definitely not a dream. By the time the Dragons returned, she had come realize that trying to rationalize the appearance of a true dragon was futile. She needed to just accept things as they were and go from there. In any case, she *felt* that she needed to go with this group.

She jumped out of the tree, and landed more gracefully and silently than she had expected. Trying her best not to think about that, she walked towards the group. Trying to gather all her courage, she introduces herself to the group.

"Ermm...Hello. Sorry for not showing myself before now, but when I got here I saw so much that I needed a little time to cope with it, most notably the Dragons. I'm known as Mythril, and am not from here but from a world called Earth. A Wisp came and brought me here and included most of my equipment in the travel-arrangements. I have no idea why I am here, but I feel that I should go with you. As for my skills, I can wield a sword and bow ...Well and am able to cast some spells. I don't know if I can cast high level spells, because I haven't tried it yet. But healing myself and creating food and arrows work ...Well Oh, and I'm good at climbing."

As she speaks, she seems to grow more comfortable and gains confidence.

"If anyone wants to know more about me, you'll have to ask. Because I have no idea what kind of information would be useful to you. But I would appreciate some help in checking my equipment, as I have no idea what would be of use in this Heart of the Void thing."

Lumina then led the way into Xorinia's moongate.... into the Heart of the Void.

<< Back at Stonegate in Britannia >>

A flash of black light, and Stonegate no longer stands empty. The newcomer immediately dips into a crouch, and looks around him cautiously. Only once he is satisfied that he is alone does he relax slightly. "Master, they have already gone. Now what?"

There is no response. "Ah yes, you cannot speak with me here without help." The dark figure reaches down to the ground at his feet and picks up an amulet, black, in the shape of a triangle. His hand also finds one other item- a small vial, half-filled with a strange liquid that glows silver. The vial he places in his beltpouch- the amulet he slowly pulls over his neck.

*Find the focus of magical instability, Kry-Terimis.*

"Yes, master." Kry-Terimis moves slowly through the keep, occassionally pausing as though sniffing the air. As he searched, he said, "How did I get here?"

*A shard remained from the great crystal under Castle Britannia. It sufficed. It was, however, destroyed in the effort- you will, therefore, only be able to return home if you succeed.*

Kry-Terimis stiffened, then bit his tongue. "Yes... master," he said, not bothering to hide his anger. He heard laughter echo in the back of his mind.

*Worry not, my ward! Your chances are good. The instability in the Heart of the Void _can_ be turned to my advantage... and when it is, you _will_ be rewarded.*

"Master- I have found it." Kry-Terimis stopped moving and looked around the room. "It was from here that they left. Their spoor is still here. I can trace them from here into the Heart- with your assistance."

*Be wary. You follow a large party of Britannians who, should they learn your nature, would attempt to slay you. Even you could not stand against them. Make your way to the center of the Heart. I do not know what it will appear to be, to you, but you will know it. Then... you know what to do.*

"Yes, master." Kry-Terimis closed his eyes and concentrated, and slowly, a gate began to rise from the ground, reopening what had closed earlier that day, glowing a mix of black and red. Kry-Terimis then took forth the vial from his pouch, and looked at it curiously. He unstoppered it, and took a sniff. Its smell was unidentifiable.

The Voice sounded amused.*You could consider that... blood of this world's Time Lord. Sprinkle it on the Gate. You will arrive in the Heart of the Void _earlier_ than those who entered, though it is impossible to know if it will be hours or mere minutes.*

*The group you follow and precede contains some... particularly chaotic elements. It is possible that they may do some of your work for you. This is acceptable to me.*

"I know what to do, Lord," he said as he emptied the vial on the gate itself. The gate began to glow a slight silver.

*You will not fail me.*

"Yes, Guardian."

Kry-Terimis stepped quickly and confidently through the gate, and with a flash of silver it imploded behind him.

<< Within the Void >>

Once more into the breach...

Amthet follows his new companions into the moongate and suddenly sees around two hundred angry people with various weapons ready to kill him.

/This doth not bode ...Well for me./ Amthet muttered in Dragish, "Have at thee then, murderers!" he exclaimed to the illusionary mob, and flamed them.

Luckily none of his companions were close enough to him to get singed. Unluckily the mob continued to attack him.

Lumina and the others, most knowing about the illusions, tries to help him...

Hai-Etlik followed his two fellow dragons through the gate. The scenery was exactly the same, but the occupants are quite different.

Around two hundred angry humans filled the valley and as he looked more carefully he saw a shimmer around them as the livery of a lord of Moonglow who had tried to wipe out the dragons of Dagger Isle 496 years ago, before Lord British had united all the continent. In addition, a number of them now wore mages' robes.

"I fear my contribution to the shared illusion may have made it worse. Though if we are fortunate, or perhaps unfortunate, the level of threat is determined by whatever it represents rather than the representa..."

Hai let out a roar of pain before finishing as a large human sank a battle axe into his tail. The foul biped did not survive his attack though as a loud crack sounded and he was thrown backwards, dead and covered with electrical burns.

Taking the runes Por, Ylem, and Jux (the runic adaptation of the Shatterstone spell he wrote for a friend) from his rune bag, Hai began to cut a swath through the mob, felling humans with lightning breath, blows from his claws, wings, and tail, and spinning storms of amethyst shards.

Kenneth sighs, morphs into Dragonform, and releases a Lucent Beam at the illusory warriors. He then calls upon various draconic magics to deal with the threat, and hopes that as the others file in, their perceptions would add more beneficial illusions to the scene.

Helgraf steps through the gate. To him, the chamber is empty... he flexes his hands and 'takes hold' of the 'air' around him, and slowly begins to speak in the Gargish Tongue.


A rippling begins in the dark matter around him - and the words begin to echo of their own accord as he continues to speak.





Upon the battlefield of illusionary warriors and mages, there is a great crackling of black lightnings and people begin to disappear...

... only to rematerialize in the blackness which is how Helgraf perceives the Heart.

As the magic takes hold of Mythril, Helgraf notices a slight imbalance in the spell's magic. He compensates quickly for it, so quickly it seems like something is helping him. The spell now takes full hold of Mythril and brings her to the blackness as ...Well

But right now Helgraf has more important things on his mind, and has no time to wonder about what just happened.

The ritual is draining massive amounts of power; without the reservoir which had accumulated in the Shade Blade, it never could have been successful; and assuredly he will not be able to sustain it long.

"The Ring," he hisses, sweat pouring from his limbs as he attempts to keep everyone in _his_ reality...

"Put on the Damned Ring already, I can't hold you here much longer!"

Morphing back into his Paladin form, Kenneth puts on the ring.

"My thanks to thee my fellow dragons, and to you mage, for your assistance in my ordeal." Amthet says in Dragish, "I only hope that I do not become more of a burden to our party than I may be..."

/I should learn the spells that these 'youngsters' know nowadays./ Amthet muses, and continues on his journey with the others.

"Yes, you should," says the Collector as he and his Lich enter.

Amthet looks at the Kol strangely. He had been thinking that comment, and in Dragish Qu-han simply smiles at him and joins the others.

t follows the puop, watching the very nature of the substrate change as it enters the hole...

Even it is bewildered at first; the competing fluctuations of the fibrona blind it for a mere instance, but the instant seems enough to hide the puop; it can see its avatar and it can sense the others, but the puops is gone, hidden.

"Interesting..." The Kol runs his hand through a manifestation. "I've effectively turned off my mind to this place; I am seeing purely through the eyes of the dominant personality of the group... which would be Helgraf, at the moment. Partially because home is not somewhere I'd want you to be seeing, especially since St. George's would probably see you all as liches, and mostly because if I make as few ripples here as possible the more likely am I to find out what is trailing me."

The group stares at Qu-han.

"No need to look askew; I can't help it if being all-powerful comes with awkward social costs like stalkers," the Collector says.

"Collector, Kol, whatever you might call yourself, I suggest you learn some decorum. If we're going to be traveling together..." Paulon says, stepping forward.

"Yes, yes, I know. Virtue and all that claptrap."

"Not claptrap," Kenneth says, interrupting. "It is a powerful force."

"In the right hands, yes. Then again, everything is. Mondain's little trick surprised even me. I was Lok then, though..." Qu-han stops his reverie. "For the purpose of our journey I shall try to be as quiet as possible so as to cause as little concern to you all as possible."

It is hard to grasp the flow of time in the void; suns rise and set over the party as they stand talking. Helgraf's spell, though powerful, pales in comparison to the sheer energy of the place, and so it, while keeping a semblance of shape and form, perverts the natural order so that nothing is ever stable.

"So where to now?" asks St. George's Dragon.

"I suspect that, since we're in Helgraf's 'world', so to speak, wherever we're meant to head will accord with what Helgraf knows," Paulon says. "A sort of hint; what Helgraf recognizes will be some pointer towards whatever lies ahead."

The party turns to face Helgraf

Who turns to Lumina... and lets his spell lapse... the world shimmers... taking on that which is seen by the wearer of the Ring; what is seen by Lumina is shared by them all through the ring he wears.

"It is not ... my place to lead the way. Else the ring would have been placed upon my finger. My role ... ...Well, it will become clear in time."

Blinking, Kenneth notices that the group is now in a mountain valley, suitable for any number of worlds. Looking around, however, he sees a mountain he knows ...Well "That's the Weyrmount. We're in the Serpent's Spine range in Britannia."

Wondering what this locale could be representative of in Void terms, Kenneth suddenly was struck by a thought. *The Weyrmount is in the west part of the Spine. Mountains surround it in every direction. Perhaps the mountains signify that getting where we're going will be difficult?* After all, the group could not fly across, since not all members were dragons or mages. But this line of reasoning left one question unanswered. *If this does mean that it will be hard to get where we need to be, then where do we need to....* Kenneth looked up and around, gauging his directions by the familiar environs. He turned east, away from the Weyrmount. "This way."

The rest looked at him, confused. Of course. Even those who knew where the Weyrmount was located would wonder why he had apparently chosen a direction, seemingly at random. After all, what made east a better direction than any other?

Noting the general confusion, Kenneth elaborated. "The Weyrmount here is near the west end of the Spine. Call it a hunch, but I have a feeling that our destination lies at the east end of the mountains, in a locale we all know ...Well by now.

As looks of comprehension dawned on almost every face, Kenneth nodded. "Yes. It seems that we must journey once more to Castle Stonegate."

And as the group set out on what was sure to be a rocky path - in more ways than one - Kenneth idly wondered what would await them at the castle this time, in this place. And what would it represent?

"Nothing at all like home; we've built up all these areas into residential sprawls and schools. I hear we created a new wilderness on the edge of one of the plates, but I've never been there. Off-world excursions were the order of the day when I was Lok," Qu-han says as he falls into step with Saeihra.

Saeihra blankly looks at the space where the Collector is.

"This, I believe, is yours," the Kol says as he flicks an insect into the air. It flies back into Saeihra, merging. "I found it on my charge. Don't let it happen again." Kol-qu-han's smile is humorless.

"Yes..." Saeihra says.

"Hmm. I'm not entirely sure what you mean with that affirmation. Acknowledgment, regret, obedience. No matter." Qu-han falls back slightly, watching the group. His lich comes to stand beside him.

"Ah, Dracos. I have a task for you to perform..."

It floated behind the group, watching. Then, without warning, something passed through it. The puop appeared briefly in its view, fading next to the fibrona vessel. It looked again, but there was nothing.

She had no eyes, but she watched him anyway. The void sapped at her...the nothingness was feeding the Other, but its hunger could not be sated, and as it was fed it grew hungrier from the empty food. The little ones she had brought were food of a more conventional sort, to keep her control. But it wasn't enough, and she was at the brink. Her skin grey and leathered, the white hair in disarray, the gait hunched. Peering at the dragons eyelessly, something -old- snarled through her mouth. It did not sense the illusion, only the warm bodies...prey. Several insects fed this hunger to start, but their energy was tapped by Saeihra, sad for their sacrifice but knowing it was the only way. There wasn't much time. She needed -life-. One of the few remaining insects took flight, alighting in Helgraf's robes, so Saeihra could "see" the illusion, and react accordingly. But the illusion was empty for her otherwise.

Meanwhile, St. George's Dragon trudges along with the group, as they have progressed a grimace of discomfort has grown on his face. He walks up to Kenneth and says, "I think your guess was correct. The Ether field here is incredibly strong, for me it is like diving deep into the sea, like an enormous pressure. As on Belfas I fear losing my very substance to the ether. But, I will endure. Getting to the point, I have despite this noticed that their is a definite flow to the ether. A flow away from the direction in which we head. Perhaps, this is simply some random eddy. However I am inclined to think that either it is a direct result of the disturbance we are here to investigate.." He pauses.

"OR?" Kenneth prompts.

"Or that the agents responsible are attempting to impede are progress and this is an early warning sign of their activity. In which case things may be getting very hot, very .... ARGHHH!" Saint George's doubles over in pain and falls on his knees. His form shimmers, shifting at lightning speed, from one form to another.

"I.. think... something... comes...." He says between gritted teeth.

All, in the group look around in surprise, searching for a threat.

Helgraf knows what is happening with the ether, but there is a more important concern at this moment; he moves forward, the Shade Blade sliding into his hand, and stabbing into the rapidly shifting form of St. George's. From the others' perspective, the two of them vanish...

< Localized Dimensional Pocket >

Helgraf and St. George's. are seated in comfy chairs floating in a cerulean sea. The mana here is sedate and seems unaffected by the massive wave action going on in the heart.

"We need to talk, old friend. Your .. condition .. is going to be something of a liability at the current rate. First, however, I would like to thank you for keeping this body safe ... it has a certain sentimental value for me."

Agitated, St. George's. replies, "Our friends are in danger, there's no time for..." trails off as he notices one of the candleflames... and how it isn't flickering, or, in fact, moving at all.

Helgraf raises a hand in a forestalling gesture. "You have a decision to make, and I felt it only fair you be given enough time to consider it. There is a solution, both to your problem and to a small conundrum of my own. You take habitation of my 'body' so ...Well preserved; and I will take residence once more in the Shade Blade. It would eliminate the etheric disturbances you have been experiencing; my form is quite shielded against such .. tampering. The body is in good condition, fully capable of spellcraft or physical combat; if you know the trick of it, you could even technically dragonmorph. The process should prove reversible once we return to Britannia if you don't feel comfortable in a 'borrowed' body."

"Take as much time as you need. I think the exchange rate is about 3600 or thereabouts of our seconds to theirs."

"Your offer is most generous and I must admit that it is most practical alternative for now. Still body hopping has always made me a bit queasy. Very well. Rest assured I will treat your body as if it was YOURS. I was not the best caretaker of my own. It might even be fun..."

Saint George's Dragon girds himself.

Helgraf nods, and places his palm on St. George's Dragon's forehead. There is a brief, low pitched hum, then an abrupt ... shift. St. George's opens his eyes, and finds himself standing amidst his companions, holding the Shade Blade in his right hand. The prism in the hilt sparkles.

< In the Void >

As the others prepare for the unknown, Amthet searches the skies and shouts in the common speech "HERE IT COMES!"

Not knowing anything else, the old dragon breathes flame into the air, narrowly missing its target.

Kenneth sees the enemy. Appearing vaguely draconic, it flew toward the group from the very direction the group was heading. AS it got close, Lumina saw that whatever it was, it was a dragon in shape only. It's actual appearance made it look almost like a rotting corpse, but it did not seem to actually be undead.

Glancing at the ring on his finger, Kenneth cast a minor Dragish cantrip upon it, and then Morphed....

Noting the ring was still there, and properly adjusted to fit, Lumina Dragon looked back to the fray, weaving to avoid a cast spell, he wheeled back to face the enemy. As it had not yet noticed him, he breathed an Electric Sphere at its side.

This didn't make the creature happy, yet did not seem to overly harm it either. It turned, and looked as though it was about to react with whatever passed for a breath weapon in its case. Before it could, Lumina acted fast to draw in his internal energies, preparing for his greater breath attack... if only the others' spells were enough distraction...

As if on cue, a fireball punched through the wing of the beast. Again distracted by an assault, the creature turned back to it's other opponents. As it did so, a beam of radiant energy tore through it, as Lumina poured forth a Lucent Beam. What remained after looked so charred that it shouldn't by rights still be flying, and had also lost much of it's physicality, appearing less substantial than St. George's Dragon usually appears.

As the others continued to fight, Lumina took a moment to restore his energies, that he could support them with spells. *The Lucent Beam was more draining than usual*, he mused, *yet also more potent. Is it the nature of this place, or of the creature, that caused this?* His minor breath attack was not affected so. Shaking his head to refocus on the battle, Lumina cast a fireball, which punched straight through what little was left of the dragonlike beast after the others had continued what his breath weapon began.

A fraction of a second after they vanish, "Helgraf" reappears, holding the Shade Blade in hand. The battle with the strange dragonlike creature comes to a conclusion as St. Georges 'learns' the body he is now occupying.

~St. Georges' ... when things settle, I need to 'speak' with Saeithra. She's the one with the cloud of insects.~

Flying back down to join them, Lumina morphed back into Kenneth, and said, "It looks to have come from the same direction that we are going. The same direction, St. George's said this ether flow was coming from. I obviously can't be sure, but perhaps these are manifestations caused by the disturbance? We had best be on guard, for I doubt this is all we will encounter." As he thought of the battles that were likely to come, a sword appeared in Kenneth's hands.

Kenneth blinked, recognizing the weapon he had unconsciously willed into this illusory world. After all, he had wielded it just five months ago, on the journey which started this entire chain of events. *Odd how one's thoughts can unconsciously affect reality here. Or maybe not so odd, given the subjective nature of this place...* Sheathing Caliburn, Kenneth continued the trek east.

As the strange undead looking creature attacked, Mythril first instinct was to grab her bow. But seeing that her arrows either couldn't reach their target or didn't do much more than annoy it, she dropped it and tried to hit it with spells. Slowly working her way up in the levels, she helped as much as she could, until Lumina's fireball finished the job.

As they walked east again, Mythril noticed she was panting and feeling a little warm. Some who were walking next to her, asked if anything was wrong. "No, I'll be all right. I guess it's just that I'm not used to using magic, let alone so much in a few minutes." Steeling herself, she kept pace with the group, hoping that she would get used to the magic quickly. They were going to need it....

The Kol looks around.

"Helgraf, or should I say, St. George's, I see you're living in the body of a dead man. Nice to see the worm has finally turned and you're now living the life of a hypocrite." The Kol spoke carefully. "Don't even try to strike me with that Shade Blade. It'll shatter before it even gets close to me. Anyway, then Dracos would have to strangle you, and that wouldn't be pleasant at all. He gets muscle cramp, you see." The Kol sighed. "It's so hard when everyone hates you..."

Turning back to the group at large and notcing that someone had caught the orb, the Kol strode forward. "I recommend we press on. It's not a safe place to wait."

The landscape shifted for a second to a gray world of towers and lights, a slightly oily smell in its air, before shifting back to the familiar Sosarian view.

"What was that?", Kenneth asked Paulon, who was waling beside him. "The Collector's home, I am thinking. It looked a little some of the grimier places back home."

Paulon shifted his pack awkwardly. "Is there something on my back, Kenneth?"

"No, not that I am able to see..." the Paladin said. "Weird."

With the various disturbances gone, the group decides to start on their task.

There is the problem, however, as to what the task is.

Kenneth speaks first. "From what I gather, our mission here is to locate the physical manifestation of the trouble going on in the Void and eliminate it. Since I am the one wearing the ring, what we should be looking for should be something of an evil nature. Whether that means we look for a single character to defeat, or just remove all evil creatures we find in this area, I am unsure."

Most of the group nods in agreement, but St. George's gives a slight frown and interjects.

"Since we were asked to heal this place, are you sure we should be going around killing things? That may cause even more damage, for all we know."

"Well... maybe if we try to convert them to the Virtues instead?"

"Or maybe-"

"I think a better ide-"

"Hey, what about-"

Everybody begins to give their own suggestions as to what would be the proper way to go about their task. It soon breaks into confusion and a wall of noise.

Destrius stands aside silently, deciding not to participate in an argument that had really no correct answer, and instead amuses himself with looking around the Heart of the Void, noting the myriad fractures in the landscape; bits and pieces of each person's mind, seeping through the otherwise familiar projection of Kenneth's homeland.

Vast dark forests loom in a distance, only to flow apart to form a barren desert wasteland. Amid the lifeless sand, small waves begin to appear, and suddenly the pocket of Britannia becomes an island in the middle of misty ocean... a pool of water surrounded by tall tall buildings of glass and metal.

The mage smiles at the ridiculous yet strangely beautiful collage that was being built by the collective memories of those around him. He looks back at them, seeing if they have come to any conclusion, and notices the Lich Collector, also standing alone.

Hmm... now would be a good time to approach him. Or perhaps I should talk to Helgraf first, but t'would not be convenient, him being in the blade.

The Kol then.

"You wish to speak to me, Destrius?" The Kol says, coming to stand by him.

Destrius raises an eyebrow.

"Sorry; I was not purposely reading your mind; the energies here are amplifying my already strong powers. Your mind, being that of a mage, is a pool of calm here, and so your thoughts sometimes ring out like bells. I'm sure you could be doing the same." The Collector sits on a stool that has risen out of the ground beneath him.

"You do seem affected by this void, Collector," said Destrius.

"If magick was resonance then I would normally be vibrating at a higher frequency than your ilk; here the background resonance is enormous and I find myself falling in sync with it, becoming part of it. St. George's has the protection of being in another's body. I though, have only my lich to shield me from the worst of it." Qu-han lifted another seat from the ground and indicated to Destrius to sit.

Destrius peers at the stool, and tries to shape it mentally, seeing how powerful the mind could be in a place like this. After a moment of shimmering, the seat grows a backrest and turns into a crude chair.

Destrius sits down.

"And the background 'resonance' has a taint, doesn't it? There is something here that adversely affects the environment, something discolouring the magic and its link to the material... Surely you see where I am going with this, Kol."

"Yes... But no. There are two points of influx; whatever the baby- talk Wisps have sent you here to do and... the other. Something that I cannot see or sense, something that seems to be visible, in part, to the others, even my Dracos. I have my suspicions as to what it is... Pray to whatever gods you believe in that I am wrong."

Sitting upon the back of the one of the tagata things, it watched and waited for sign. One strike was all it needed, one reaching out and seizing.

"Hmm." Destrius can feel the Kol's worry, nearly a visible sheen of pale yellow tinting the air around him in this world of mind made matter. It is not likely that he is faking it, that the mage is sure.

"Do you believe in gods, Kol?"

"Gods? In certain worlds they do exist, in others, they do not. I would doubt they'd matter much where we are."

"Indeed they would not. Which is all just as well, perhaps." The mage pauses, and looks beyond the man opposite him, into the turbulence outside of their protective bubble.

"Many of my people would have considered you a god. Some of us, who have travelled beyond the shell and have seen reality in its many forms, call you one of the powerful, beings who are far beyond us in ability, for no other reason than just because.

"Yet... what difference does that make? Between a powerful and a god. Gods are bound by the fundamentals they represent, and you, apparently, are bound by the prophecies.

"And now, the god fears. You fear another god, perhaps? Or you fear _your_ god?"

Kol-qu-han does not answer, pointedly keeping his gaze at a mushroom which had suddenly popped into existence a few feet away. Destrius looks back at him for a moment, and then continues on his monologue.

"I was once told of evil powers, great beings that would collect dead men and bring them under their control. They desecrated the holy agreement between Sarul and En-Foleth to give life to dust and return dust to life.

"And I am sitting next to one of these demons, and am still very much alive."

The mage stops, and waits for Kol-qu-han to glance his way.

"I am one who is beneath you in ability, Kol. My thoughts are plain for your picking, and you know what I am driving at. So, tell me. Why should I be praying when I am already doomed?"

Qu-han stares deeply into Destrius' eyes for a long time before replying.

"Because I do not want to be the one who brings it upon you all."

Destrius watches as the Collector averts his gaze.

"The truth be told, Destrius, I am cut off from my society, my title barely titular, no real link to the prophecies. All I have is my power, something I've abused since that fatal day when I collected Amsereth and changed the lines of prophecy from Sosaria to Balfas and now back again. I have no place in the great scheme of things, little ability to gather it and now, now, I am seemingly hunted by a something. I fear that it is the final reckoning of me, the product of the unravelling of fate that has allowed a Class Six, an entity so far beyond even me that they work with the very energy that makes up the stuff we call existence, to slip into our worlds. I feel like Ged, leading it a merry little chase away from civilisation, unable to face it. Unlike Ged, I doubt I can ever know its true name..." The Kol looks up, his gray face ruddier than usual.

"If you need allies..." Destrius begins.

"That's so kind, it really is. But class twos? Class threes in some rare cases?"

"Allow me to finish, Kol," Destrius says. "If you need allies, you need to make them, not expect them to come to you." Destrius pauses. "So much power, so little wisdom."

Qu-han smiles weakly. "If only you knew. But you are right. Perhaps it isn't the calibre of the player that is important, perhaps it's the connection between... Thank you. You've given me much to think about."

Amthet also stands alone, perplexed at how the youngsters 'fight' so these days.

"*sigh* There have been many times, during this journey, in which I wonder why I was included?" he asked no-one in particular, and started to scan the skies for enemies. After searching the skies for awhile, Amthet notices something peculiar.

"Guys.." he calls to the arguing group, with no effect, "GUYS.." he calls again, still without effect.

Finally, having enough, Amthet "ROARS" .

"WHAT IS IT?!?" the companions ask angrily.

"'Friend or Foe' situation heading in our direction. Be prepared!"

As Amthet shouts, Ibn falls to the ground and remains lying, without aparent reason.

"...hungry..." Ibn moans, and at the same time the people closest to him feel a twitch in their gut (though it subsides quickly).

Walking up to the prone form, Kenneth looks over at Amthet and says, "I don't think this one's a foe." He then focuses on an area near Ibn and intones, "In Mani Ylem!" Due to the strength of the ether in this place, a veritable feast apeared, which Ibn set to eagerly.

Kenneth then addresses the newcomer, saying, "And when you're done eating, perhaps you can introduce yourselves, and how you managed to, er, 'drop in'. Meanwhile, I'll begin a round of introductions on our side. I'm Kenneth, paladin of Trinsic... currently. Usually, however, I'm Lumina Dragon. The people with me are....." Kenneth gave a complete round of introductions, as well as a brief recounting of why they're here, all while Ibn ate.

"I am Amthet." the dragon next to Kenneth said, "I have alot to learn since I awoke from my 500 year hibernation?" he asks the paladin, who nods in reply.

"I'm sorry I dropped in on you like this, but I stumbled into a mishap of sorts. If you recall, I was actually at Stonegate with the rest of you people, being summoned there - or rather tricked - by the wisps.

" I come from a far away world called earth. And when I was tricked here by the wisps, I had no way to return home. My family is waiting for me there, and even though the wisps assured me there would not go much time on earth while I was in Brittannia, I'm eager to return (and I'm not sure the wisps' promise holds - as this does not seem to be Brittannia).

"Anyway, travelling to Stonegate from Yew, without money, and in strange clothes, and not your kind of magic," Ibn nods toward Kenneth, "but rather its opposite - I didn't get much to eat during the journey. Granted, I could have done _something_ about it, but not without drawing unwanted attention.

"When we met very briefly at Stonegate however, I was desperate for food - and since it didn't seem like anyone had rations to spare - I went hunting. I didn't think getting separated from you people would prove so disastrous.

"After I had found a deer, and eaten it whole..."

As Ibn senses that some look at him quite disbelievingly, he starts to morph to his other form, but only so shortly that a rather thin bronzecoloured dragon shimmers in his place, he then morphs back again.

"...I returned, only to see the lot of you disappearing. So I threw myself after you, and got through in the last instant.

"That was when hunger hell started. I know not why, but until I stumbled across you just now - it was a long nighmare of hunger. It was as if someone had turned my own magic against me."

"We also had that problem when we entered, but Kenneth put on the ring that helped us out of that." Amthet replied.

Glancing at the Rig of Haeth, Kenneth looked back at Ibn and said, "Anyway, the illusion created by the Ring appears to be Britannia, somewhere in te Serpent's Spine. Acting on a hunch, we're heading to where Stonegate should be -- assuming it is, in this illusion -- guessing that the disturbance would be there. Enough things have happened at the real Stonegate to make it a good guess, but as yet I have no idea what it is we will find there."

Switching the topic for a moment, Lumina told Ibn, "Unfortunately, I cannot discern the nature of the spell affecting you; perhaps one of the other mages here can help."

Ibn thinks for a while, than says, "If I understand correctly what you said while I was eating (though I must admit that I was concentrating more on the food than on you, I'm sorry), we experience this place utterly subjectively. When I entered this place I was probably too far away from you for your ring to affect me correctly. So, seeing as the small magic I possess deal with hunger and thirst (it comes naturally, as I am a dessert inhabitant originally) - it may have backfired on myself. In addition to that, my recent experience of Britannia has been dominated by hunger to say the least. The only thing that puzzles me is that I am usually a lot better equiped to deal with hunger than this. After all, I was raised in the desert..."

Ibn falls silent for a while, then resumes. "Ahh, thinking makes my head hurt. I'm here now, and the hunger is gone. Though I could think of other desires, should anyone ask, I think the current situation prohibits that kind of leisure. Unless anyone wants to know more about me, we may perhaps proceed?"

Problems. Always problems. Helgraf began to catalogue things that needed dealing with.

1) Saeihra. Or more accurately the funnel vortex which she bore. There would be precious little to sustain it here. And there were some other issues, but they were not yet critical.

2) Ibn. Transit to the Heart seems to have gone less smoothly for him than the others. He may have acquired a contaminant remnant.

3) Qu'Han. Or more precisely, the warning from the other who rode his bones briefly. The Kol had wondered why I chose to remain here. Though I shan't admit it to any of the others, he was correct. I could leave this prison; in this place it would be easy. But I cannot tip my hand too early, and especially not while the matter of our elusive follower remains. Speaking of which...

4) The uninvited. I had hoped - truly hoped - that of the three prophecies that speak of the Heart, that it would not be the one which mentioned the Uninvited. I will likely only have one chance to stop it; I do not fool myself into thinking I can kill it. But if I am lucky enough and clever enough, I may be able to turn it away. Cast it out of this place. If I am not... may the afterlife greet our souls not unkindly. Fortunately, it has not made its move against the Kol yet. I have begun to alter the nature of the enchantments of this blade-prison. I have to work slowly in order to avoid drawing the attentions of anyone. If the uninvited determines my course of action, it will have been useless.

"In the meanwhile, tackle something you can do something about," he murmurs to himself.

~Draw me, St. Georges. Draw me and carry me to Saeihra, and touch me to her.~

SG's Dragon (in Helgraf's body), looks around startled. He draws the sword and mutters; "Pardon, Ibn's hunger and consequently this body's distracted me. I have not been hungry in a long time and my last meal was interupted..." His voice trails off to a whisper filled with regret and melanocholy.

~Saeihra, answer my call. By the Heartwood, I request it.~ broadcasts Helgraf.

SG'sD starts looking for Saeihra.

As he does this, Amthet goes to Hai-Etlik and asks (in Dragish) "Were you the young drake who tried to get my attention before my long slumber?" After a brief pause to reflect on that day, he continues "If so, what interest did you have in me then? And does it still apply now?"

Hai-Etlik turns his head towards Amthet. "It concerns a matter of..."

Hai-Etlik pauses as something brushes up against his tail. "What?" he says slowly, turning his bulk.

Amthet follows his gaze to see the rock face behind the two of them blur and shuffle. They were coming from out of the rocks, shadowy figures that grew solid as they approached the party. Grey, shapeless masses that shuffled their amorphous limbs along the ground.

"Amalgams," Helgraf transmitted to St. George's.

"Huh?" St. George's said as he drew the Shade Blade and held it before him.

"I've met these things before. They're not flesh and blood; only magic or fire will kill these creatures." Helgraf's voice carried a tone St. George's thought might well be dread. "Fire or magic only," St. George's shouted to the group.

The others nodded. Amthet and Hai-Etlik leapt into the air, gaining height with each push of their massive wings. Kenneth morphed before the others, his features twisting into the growing bulk of a dragon's body before springing into the air to join his dragon kin.

"What about the less magically inclined?" Paulon shouted as the humanoid members of the group backed away from the spraying flames of their dragon kith.

"Lookouts," Daria shouted as she turned to see more of the creatures approaching from the party's rear.

"Right," Paulon said, competing with the noise of flame and the strange grunting moans of their burning foes.

Kol-qu-han was silent.

As the flames hit the Amalgams their bodies would begin to shrivel and boil away, but then another dying member would crawl towards it and the two would merge. These newly resurrected foes were too close to the company for any of the dragons to safely strike. St. George leapt forward, striking at them with his blade; Helgraf causing its length to cut through the Amalgams, igniting both halves.

The Liche Collector simply watches.

At the rear of the group, where the mountain pass was too narrow for the dragons to aim properly, spells were crashing up against the residuals of other magicks. The initial flash of each hit, with the foes gaining ground steadily but slowly, blinded the mages and the lookouts where having to direct the spells with shouts that hardly registered against the noise of battle. From out of Saeihra came a cloud of insects that would settle upon one Amalgam, devouring it and returning to her before seeking a new victim. Destrius' orbs shattered the shapeless lumps, sending their particles high into the air where one dragon or another would flame them before swooping down once more to strafe the enemies on the ground.

And all the while the Liche Collector is doing nothing.

Mythril threw a succession of ice blasts at the creatures, waiting then for Goldenflame to hack the solid masses into the tiniest of pieces. Paulon sights another creature shifting out of the rocks near them and the mages strike it in a series of concussive blasts that drive into the very stone, the rocks melting around it. It struggles as it sinks out of view, the mountainside hardening one more.

But there is no movement from the Kol. He simply stands there.

The number of foes begins to visibly fall and the group moves outwards, forcing them back. Tailrace passes by the Collector and then stops.

"Could have used your help here," he says, trying to catch Qu-han's glance.

"I am helping," the Kol says. He looks up and Tailrace sees that the Collector's purple eyes are red and blurry. The veins upon his pallid skin stand out and the his face is shaking, sweat pouring off it. "I'm trying not to think..."

There is a sound of a crack overhead and the Collector's skin turns silver for a brief moment. The Kol does not look up.

"Too late. No fault of your own," he says to Tailrace before finally looking up.

The party follows his gaze. Above them hovers a black sphere lined with a myriad of arms, tentacles and maws. It swoops down before the company, passing through Amthet's breath to pick the Amalgams from the earth and carry them inside itself, ichor dripping from one maw.

"It'll play with sentients before it will feed upon them..." Qu-han says in a distant voice. Kenneth, in striking distance of it, flies towards it. The beast reacts by extending an arm slowly towards the flying dragon.

Kenneth tucks in his wings, dropping several feet before stretching them out to try and glide upwards towards it. But the arm suddenly grows longer and gently touches a single scale along the dragon's back. The next moment Kenneth is on the ground, unconscious with several bones broken. "Don't touch it," Kol-qu-han says, his liche coming to stand at his side. You can't defeat it, you can't cause it pain and I do not want you to die trying."

"A mass assault..." begins St. George's.

"Will bring you nothing but pain. It would be like an ant trying to give a giant a massage." Dracos stands beside the Collector. "I'll deal with this; I'm responsible for it being here."

"It's the thing..." Paulon starts.

"No, this is just a manifestation of my past created by the shifting realities here..." the Kol says. Dracos lifts his tattooed arms and the group is thrown swiftly away from the Kol and his charge by a shockwave that deposits the party several hundred feet away on soft ground. Dracos and the Liche Collector are left standing beneath the monstrous weight of the beast.

As the company climbs to its respective feets they see the liche raise his arms, causing a bright white light to jump from the liches' body to the swooping maws. The light seems flat, as if it were simply a line drawn over a canvas. The beast roars with what the group hopes is pain before absorbing the blast and swooping down towards the Collector and his charge.

Another blast emanates from Dracos, this time a swirling matrix of green light that pushes the beast high into the air. Then, with a swift movement, the Kol swings one arm seemingly meaningless in the air, and Dracos flies across the battlefield to land haphazardly beside Destrius.

"I can't kill it at class three, so I'm going to have to go class five. This is going to hurt... everyone," the liche says in Qu-han's voice.

The group only gets a moment to turn their heads towards the Kol before everything before their eyes cracks and tears itself painfully away. The world becomes one-dimensional and it seems like a hand is ripping the canvas away from the other side. Beyond the manufactured reality of the void is a inky purple cloud that some of the mages recognise as ether in its most pure form. The others feel weightless and then, without any feeling of change, in great and incredible pain. Blood starts to stream from their eyes and everything goes black, and silent. As their eyes close an image forms of a three-pronged glass beast floating just behind Qu-han, a mandible reaching out to caress his shoulder blade.

St. George's is the first to wake. His borrowed body feels sore, but he still doesn't feel entirely at home in it, so the pain is distant and bearable. The blood on his cheeks has dried, and he surmises that they've been out a very long time. The distant battlefield is a visual mess, literally. Tears in the fabric of the view have been closed awkwardly, causing clouds to slide out of mountains and the hills to know be a collection of floating peaks. The ground itself is a jaggle of geometric shapes that angle themselves awkwardly and St. George's cannot concentrate upon them properly.

"What the hell did he do?" St. George's mutters.

"I think he just reformed the very nature of our combined perceived reality around the beast, basically cutting off its only existence; our minds. Even I was out for a few moments," Helgraf transmits. "I think we should go and investigate."

"What about the others?" St. George's says.

"They'll awake in time. Kenneth is going to need a lot of healing."

It takes a fair amount of time to cross over the ground between the unconscious party and the epicentre of the blast. Physics and gravity shift from step to step, sometimes sending St. George's and his charge Helgraf backwards rather than forwards.

In the centre of the blast the Kol can be seen standing. He does not turn towards them as they approach and ignores St. George's cries.

"Oi," St. George's says as he reaches out to grasp the Kol's shoulder. Helgraf tries to transmit 'No', as the man's hand comes to a rest on the black robe.

The Liche Collector crumples to dust before them. "Wha... wha..." St. George's begins. "He's dead," Helgraf transmits simply. "Drained of life. And not by that monster he was fighting."

Paulon awoke next, finding himself lying beneath the slumbering form of Tailrace.

"Tailrace?" Paulon asked. "Tailrace?"

Tailrace shifted slightly, grunting in his deep slumber. Paulon pushed at him until his body slid to one side. "Better," Paulon said, standing. The others were scattered across the ground, everyones' face covered with dried blood. Except for Dracos. Except for the liche that seemed somehow different.

He was breathing. The dead body that had once been the mage Dracos, then mage Mondain, then magically resistant, and finally dead, was breathing. It took Paulon a while to realise that he was shouting at the others to come and look.

Destrius wanders through a palace of tears, rippling walls of blood twisting and convulsing around him while the ethereal floor screams hollow moans with each step he takes.

The labyrinth is huge, and never looks the same. He has only been here twice before, and finding the way out is a cruel experience. This world is a comglomerate of every fear and pain he had to endure through his long, long life, and each trip through will bring these terrors back from the recesses of his mind.

As the mage makes his way forward, he tries to remember what brought him here. There was a fight, with shadowy substances that seemed native to the land they were travelling through. And then... a large creature, no, a large force, filled with energy that he had never felt before. It burned and teared at the reality he saw, and then the Kol attacks it with a light shear (he must try to learn that spell one day), but the creature is not hurt, and the Kol throws Dracos to his side and...

...he wakes up in the prison.

Destrius forces himself through a small hole that looks like an empty eye socket, and hurriedly walks towards a throbbing spike in the centre of the room ahead of him. Whatever it was that the Kol did, it must have been extremely potent to be able to break apart his mind and bring him here.

Pausing for a while to ready himself, the mage then kneels in front of the spike. He mutters something softly, and suddenly leans forward with his mouth open, seemingly trying to swallow the protruding piece of mind-metal. The spike cuts through the back of his mouth and emerges out the other side of his head, but he does not stop till his forehead touches the floor. His cracked skull screams horror at his flustered neurons, and the scene fades away into bloody darkness. Destrius awakens just in time to see Paulon standing close by, and shouting something about Dracos. He closes his eyes momentarily to clear his mind, and finds it in quite satisfactory condition despite the ordeal he went through.

Hmm. It is getter easier. This is not good.

Putting his personal thoughts aside, the mage slowly stands up, and goes to see what the ruckus is all about.

Amthet, after waking up, goes over to the Lich Dracos. "How odd.." he says to no-one in particular, "Never in my lifetime has this happened."

Paulon and the others gathered nodded, then noticed something different about Amthet... His body was 'Morphing Human'!, something that also has never happened before.

"There were Liches then, but not like this." Amthet continues, pointing with a finger at Dracos.

He doesn't even notice the change...

Mythril wakes up with a terrible head-ache, and her entire body feels like it is on fire. After taking a few breaths she feels better. She notices a group of people standing near Dracos, and realizes that most were once his friends. She decides that there are other things to take care of.

Looking over the remains of the battle field, she sees Kenneth a few dozen yards away from her. Checking her reagents, she prepares as many healing spells as she can, while she tries to get to Kenneth. The strange effects make it difficult, but eventually she reaches him.

After a few spells, Kenneth wakes up, but is still in a lot of pain. The spells she can cast are not of the higher levels, but many smaller healing magics have the desired effect as well. "Don't worry, Kenneth. You're going to be alright. Just lie still for now, " Mythril says softly. Something in her voice sooths him. Kenneth is still groggy so he does as she asks.

But then something hits right through all the pain and sleepyness....did she just speak in the Dragon tongue or in Earth's English. He can't remember. In confusion he tries to look at her. Kenneth barely manages to catch a glimps of her eyes, as she keeps on casting her healing spells. But he *knows* that her eyes were silvery-blue for a moment. Then the pain gets to him again, and he looses consciousness again.

Mythril only notices that Kenneth has fainted again. "Can any of the better healers please help me here!" she shouts to the group, hoping that whatever has their attention isn't more bad news.

Helgraf was partially shielded from the Kol's ... action ... by his prison. It had served its purpose. Now, something critical had happened. During the brief time even his senses had been overwhelmed, something very important had happened. He looks up to the others as they arrive, then remembers he is still within the blade.

That would be easy enough to deal with. In this place.

~Place my point in the ground, St. Georges'. And, stand back.~

From the gem in the hiltpiece of the Shade Blade, a cerulean mist begins to weep, coiling down the length of the blade and puddling in a small pool of shimmering blue fog with tiny motes of white. Slowly, it grows into a column which rises to meet the weeping gem, and then further, till it stands half again the length of the Blade entire. Then, ever more slowly it grows thicker still, denser, until it resembles nothing so much as a four-sided crystal of cerulean blue with white stars that flicker deep in its midst. Then the edges soften, forming the outline of a man. For a moment the resemblance to Helgraf's body under the management of St. Georges is uncanny, but then it shifts again, becoming slightly shorter, of thinner aspect and older nature, formless ovoids take on detail and shape; a face emerges, and fingers from hand stumps, wrapt upon the cross-piece of the Shade Blade. When the last details fill out, the strange blue liquid seems to seep 'into' Helgraz's flesh, and he stands before them. Familiar but different. He opens his eyes, and there can be seen whence the blue went; his eyes are reversed; the 'white' is blue, and the iris is white, the pupil is blue also, but a midnight blue very near to black.

He regards the ashes, paying far more attention to them than to the apparent miracle of Dracos. A small bag of black silk (by appearance) and the dust is swept therein, the bag then tied shut and its ward spells activated.

Then he looks to the group.

"This is extraordinarily bad."

She was going to have been about to lose Control. The skirmish had prevented that, as even the false-shadows kept alive by the collective illusion had some substance in belief, and as the other had fed she had gained energy enough to contain it. Then something twisted: the large essence-shadow was strong, but no being she had met yet had the peculiar discipline necessary to keep it constrained from eating its infinite fill. Even the ancient mages had only managed to confine the hunger- the malevolence seeped through, and corrupted the land. She had been powerful once, she vaguely realized, but as she was now any unneeded loss of energy led her closer to the brink. She fed off the little ones, knowing that the Heartwood would understand the need.

To one without eyes, and only loosely enmeshed in the illusion in the first place, the twist of her being there into the ether came as even more of a shock, which the other seized upon, drawing energies off that would have killed her. The pain was a minor concern- she did not have to worry about her eyes bleeding out as she had none. The few little ones left perished there, unable to survive. Through extraordinary pain, she siphoned off some of the incredible energy filling the other's insatiable maw, enough to twist back(she was not quite sure how) into the refreshingly empty void.

Wait...there was one little one left, and she waited for its host to awaken, phasing into the illusion behind the group. There was an uncomfortable stirring of the other, it sensed distant kin. There was no blood on her, as she had no eyes to bleed. Her robe a dull grey, she looked almost fully human, the 'tarnish' that had fallen across her with time cleaned out, the odd features the other pushed through suppressed. Moving over to the still body of Dracos, she hissed in amusement. "Fated of the Living, yes?" she whispered, constructing a fair approximation of a sentance for the first time since she arrived.

"Oh, I agree entirely," Dracos replies to Helgraf. He then screams in agony for several moments. "Sorry; this is incredibly uncomfortable."

"Dracos?" St. George's says, crouching beside the once-Mage. "Dracos?" he repeats. The ex-liche stares at his tattooed arms for a moment.

"Yes... Yes I suppose so." He looks up into St.George's borrowed eyes. "I hate to disappoint you. St. George's, but this isn't Dracos you're talking to. It's his master."

Standing, Qu-han flexes his new arms. They crack ominously.

"Hmm," he says, "I'm pretty sure they're not meant to do that. And the ripping sensation in the middle of my torso was not useful either.." Qu-han looks up and sees that most of the group is staring at him.

"Okay, quite simple. When I killed the Megaran the class six killed me, since I finally became entirely visisble to it. Luckily, for reasons not entirely voluntary, I transferred my soul into my liche, the body you're all staring at open mouthed at; Goldenflame, you are actually drooling. Stop it." Qu-han stretches his back, the vertebrae cracking noisily as he does. "So now I'm living in the body of a dead man, with all the problems associated with it."

Qu-han sighs as the party continues to stare at him and so wanders over to the still unconscious form of Kenneth. Placing his hands upon the dragon he mutters to him "Let's see what I can do..." and focuses his, or more properly, Dracos', magical talents upon the injured party member.

A faint blue sheen spreads over Kenneth and the dragon's breathing becomes less laboured.

"Hmm..." says Qu-han. "Helgraf, a moment of your time." Helgraf is still staring at the ashes. "I said, Helgraf, a moment of your time, please," Qu-han repeats in louder tones.

The Void Sorcerer looks up and then walks calmly over to Qu-han.

"Yes?" Helgraf says, a faint but mocking smile upon his face.

"If you could encapsulate us, please?" Qu-han asks.

"As you wish." The smile will not go away. A globe of red energy settles around the two, muffling all sound from outside.

"How can I help you, Collector?" Helgraf asks.

"I need a favour. A small spell that needs to be cast. It's a small task, and you're quite welcome to say no. Of course you'll be damning all our existences to whatever you can Hell and back if you don't." Qu-han smiles in return.

"Really? And why can't you do this yourself?" Helgraf asks, his voice a little sharper than before.

"I'm now living, and I do mean living, in the tattered remains of a man who died under very painful and damaging circumstances. The fact that Dracos was magically resistent up to class two is also somewhat debilitating. I can manage a few small spells but nothing like my normal power level, which now makes you more powerful than I. So I must come to you on bended knee..." says Qu-han.

"And Hell?" Helgraf asks.

"The class six has taken my essence, rather than my soul. It won't have tasted it or anything like that because it will want to return it back to its home. We can't allow this. Eventually we are going to come to a war with them and we know for a fact we can't ever win, but we can delay and delay and delay. Luckily the class six is, in keeping my essence alive, in the same position I am in. It has to work within the confines of the essence it inhabits. Unfortunately that isn't much of a limitation, compared to mine."

"Won't it have gone already?" Helgraf asks, his countenance serious now.

"No. It'll be heading towards the small anomaly we're going towards. Don't know why, and don't know how I know this. The fact we've been unconscious for a full week here and the world hasn't crumbled around us is suggestive of something."

"And the spell?" says Helgraf.

"A simple liche message. I'm expecting company. I'll give you the code. All you need to do is deposit the charm back in Stonegate. It's a task I know you can do."

In an hours time, it was done.

<< Stonegate once again >>

The figure of the Enemy and Amsereth blinked into existence at the point where the portal to the Heart of the Void had formed over a week ago. The Enemy looked around the familiar fort and turned to stare at the liche Amsereth, the most recent 'owner' of the Shadowloards' former home.

"Hello, old friend," the liche said.

The Enemy stared at the walking corpse and then raised his hands before him to carpet himself in a series of protection spells.

"Don't worry; this is Qu-han. I've got that Void Sorcerer I told you about to encode a message designed for Amsereth's neural pathways. It's causing him to speak.

"The ring I gave you was meant to take you to my most current position; unfortunately, or fortunately, I'm in a localised ether pocket. And I've just been killed, although that doesn't effect an entity like me very much. Anyway, the ring's hopefully taken you to the last known material position of me. Before you follow after; you are plannig to, aren't you? I need you to do two things for me. One, pick up Phezzub from the underground city and two, go to Moonglow and find Dracos' original home. here's a cellar nearby with an artefact I need. You know the one I'm talking about; I don't need Helgraf being too aware of my plans, you see. Then come and get me. I'll explain more about this once you arrive.

"Hello, this is that Void Sorcerer Helgraf. Managed to work out the Collector's like code; he's an absolute prat, isn't he? Oops, I think he's cottoned on to what I'm doing."

Amsereth fell silent.

"Hmm, liche, seems I have a few tasks to do for your master." The Enemy closed his eyes and shifted form into that of Lord British. "Oh well, might as well cause some trouble at the same time. I'm thinking I buy the sexual services of a few prominent woman while I'm in Moonglow. Have I time for murder?"

The figures disappeared again, and the wisp that was hiding in the hight vaulted ceiling disappears too. Its plan is going all too well.

Having managed to heal himself while the other's were preoccupied, Kenneth arrives just in time to overhear the last of what Dracos/Qu-han said before being.... 'encapsulated'. Slipping the completely spent ring of regeneration into a pouch, he appreciates the speed at which it healed him here in the Heart of the Void.

While Helgraf and the Kol busy themselves with the magic, Destrius uses the time to assess the damage done to the rest of the group. When that was done, he walks away to a secluded area, and removes the orb from his pocket. Tapping along its surface lightly, he gives it a thorough inspection, making sure it was not damaged by the previous events. It is not, and he puts it back within his robes.

When he returns to where the rest are sitting rather awkwardly, Helgraf and the Kol appear to have completed their secrecy. Seeing him approach, Helgraf gives a slight smile and walks over, with the Kol trailing slightly behind, apparently not used to the new body he inhabits. Destrius bows at them, and, given the situation, decides to be as direct as possible. "Be honest with me, you two. Just how screwed are we now?"

Helgraf stands at an oblique angle which conceals one of his hands from the view of the Kol, but not Destrius. A very brief shake of three fingers, then he brings his hands together slowly, steepling the fingers.

"I've come to some conclusions about ... our uninvited guest, based partially on what the Kol has told us," a slight nod to the corpse-body Kol, "and partially on what I have gleaned of the nature of this place during my sojourn in the Blade. Most of it is, however, gut instinct."

"The core of the heart is a hinge. A hinge on a door which is not meant to be opened. To one with the power the uninvited has, it will serve admirably as a nexus point to anywhere; and possibly everywhere. I still have not been able to formulate the limits of its abilities, save to state - with a certainty - that they do exist; and that it will spend a considerable portion of those energies to 'pry the hinge' wide enough to pass through. Unfortunately, what lies on the other side of the hinge will then be free to leak into the heart - and from there out into the many worlds. The ring. The other ring... we _may_ be able to use that to reseal the rift if we are unsuccessful in stopping our follower. But ... I must remind you, this is mostly conjecture."

In his mind, an echo of memory. ~A Collector is not a Collector when he is dead....~

And he wonders if it is already too late.

"Well..... if no other problems are forthcoming, might we continue towards our destination? With the hostility this place is showing us, we might want to hurry." Kenneth then set a brisk pace east (as far as east exists in this illusion) once the two powerful mages returned.

Suddenly, the ether rippled, disconcerting the entire group, and when it faded the area looked much more.... muted.... in appearance. Kenenth muttered, "Now what?" And kept a wary eye out as he continued.

Amthet glanced in Kenneth's direction and suddenly fell over. /What in the...?/ he checks himself over.. /Now how did I do this?/ he asks no-one in particular in Dragish.

Then he too notices the change in the scenery.

Standing up he asks the Paladin, "What is it, my friend?"

Noticing the human approaching, yet talking in Olde Dragish, Kenneth responds in the same tongue, "I thought you couldn't morph. What happened?"

"It may have been the result of the last encounter, Kenneth." The morphed dragon replies, "In any case, I am just as baffled as you are."

Switching to the common language of the humans, he raises his voice and announces "I'm not sure, but my ebst guess is that the disturbance in the Void is getting stronger, and starting to affect the illusion created by our minds and the Ring of Haeth. On the off chance I'm right, I suggest we hurry to our destination.

"Helgraf, Destrius, and Kol-qu-han, keep your magical senses out just in case this new disturbance isn't the void itself, but another attack by this enemy you seem to be so preoccupied with." Just in case it was indeed an attack, Kenneth unsheathed the manifestation of Caliburn that had appeared earlier, and quickened his pace eastward.

Amthet follows behind the paladin and asks "Is it possible that I may have gained other abilities as well?"

Out of the corner of his eye, he notices Mythril beckoning to him...

As Amthet approaches Mythril, he can see that she seems a little worried.

"Amthet, am I right in assuming that this 'morphing' is new to you?" she asks.

"Yes, how did you know?"

"The way you walk, like you have trouble keeping you balance. You move your arms more when walking than us humans do."

"You have a keen eye, but what has you worried?"

"You're not the only one going through some changes. Some things are happening to me as well. My magic is growing stronger for one. When I first came here, I could create food and ammo and heal myself, but now I'm casting Icebolts left and right. I come from a very non-magical world, so that is strange. I've never held a bow nor a sword in my hands, and now I can use them with skill. But also... how do I explain this.... Tell me something in your own language, anything you can come up with."

Amthet recites some old poetry in Olde Dragish, and to his amazement she translates it word for word.

"I couldn't understand your language before, but I could follow your conversation with Kenneth perfectly. I don't even have to translate it in my head, I just understand it. When the Wisp came to me and brought me here, it said that skills I had would be awakened once in Britannia. I don't know if it did something to me to give me these skills, if they come from within, or if this world we're walking through is the cause, but it scares me. To be honest it scares me more than that Kol-Qu-Han person." She shivers slightly when mentioning him.

"Could it be that you are also a dragon, but forced to be human at a young age on your world?" Amthet asks her in Dragish, "That may be what the Wisp meant by 'Awakening powers'."

After a few moments of pondering, Mythril replied "But how could that be? There weren't any dragons, like yourself, there were there?"

"Hai-Etlik once told me that he had a Moonstone 500 years ago, my time, and traveled to Earth." Amthet told her, "It could be possible that, were you from that realm, you may be his get..."

"New abilities? Who knows. Anything can happen.. here..." Kenneth trails off as he notices something decidedly strange.

"Distance seems to be distorted here; we're a lot closer to Stonegate than we should be, if this were the real Britannia. The mountains are thinning ahead, meaning we should be coming up on the valley in which Stonegate lies." To prove his point, Kenneth leads the group into the valley.... and when they get there, they see that there is nothing were Stonegate should be.

Absolutely nothing. As if Stonegate castle and the surrounding area were now the home of a black hole.

"Call it a hunch, but I think this might be the disturbance. What, exactly it is, and how we should go about disabling it is quite beyond me, however. Any thoughts?"

Then, while the group ponders what to do, Kenneth notes that the Ring of Haeth is beginning to grow warm on his finger. *Oh no... the magic better hold long enough....* Even as he thinks it, the ring flashes brightly, and the illusion shatters, for a moment. When it reforms, the sphere of emptiness is significantly larger. Lumina motions the entire group back, then checks the ring again, which now appears stable once more.

Helgraf murmurs quietly under his breath. "If this is the hinge, I ought to be able to sense the presence of the other held beyond it. Something is amiss here."

"OK, I'm no ether scholar, but my guess is that if this thing consumes the Heart of the Void, reality is going to have some very large problems with its continued existence." he looks around, and says, "I don't suppose anyone here *is* enough of a ether scholar to know for certain? If not, we'll just assume the worst."

"Well," Qu-han says, walking up to Kenneth, "if the etheric matrix is consumed it will... limit transits between certain parts of reality. The major problem I can see, for you at least, is that no major power is going to bother reconnecting your world to the matrix. So your 'Guardian' could quite easily gain egress to Sosaria and control all transits out. And as for stable existence...

"The Heart of the Void, as you know it, is a stabiliser. It allows certain rules and configurations on worlds of Class Three and lower. Without the stability your world could be swallowed up into chaos quite quickly. Much death..." Qu-han says, his voice fading away.

"Not to mention a general moratorium on mana-based magic weaves..." mutters Helgraf.

As that dark thought hovered over the group, something began to manifest from within the disturbance... something dark, cloaked, and all too familiar. *Come ON, it's bad enough I've got to face this, but for it to manifest like this based on one of the toughest adversaries I can think of? This is just too much.* Even as Kenneth thought this, he dragonmorphed, and Lumina stood ready to face this illusory Shadowlord, wondering how much it could possibly reflect the original.

"This body remembers being one of those," Qu-han says. "I think it knows what it is going to do first..." He runs forwards, towards the Shadowlord.

The cloaked figure raises an arm and a bolt of purple light rushes towards Qu-han, disappating before it impacts upon him. This is a brief moment where the Shadowlord seems puzzled, its head cocked to one side, before it launches another attack. Once again the bolt never strikes home upon Qu-han's body.

The next bolt rushes past the living corpse towards Kenneth. He jumps into the air and the bolt hits the earth, sparking.

"Helgraf," yells Qu-han, "I need you to haste me. I can't do it to myself. If we can..."

Helgraf's mind races ahead of this moment, even as his hands pull wispy matter from the air like some sort of bizarre cotton candy to shape the acceleration spell. It won't be gentle to Qu-han's body, but without the time for proper ritual, he improvises to work around the magical nullity of Once-Dracos's flesh. He tethers the spell to the Qu-han's mental signature so that he can actually benefit from the acceleration process.

"Aye," the Void Sorceror says, casting the spell. "Lead your attacks around the Kol. Dracos' body is sufficiently resistant to the magicks that thing is casting. He's our running shield," Helgraf barks at the group over the growing noise of spellfire.

The others nod in agreement as Qu-han races from bolt to bolt, absorbing the attacks.

Helgraf watches the pattern of the faux Shadowlord's attacks, then quietly seems to sink into the earth. After a short period while the others fight, his form emerges from the earth at the center of the nonity. He places his hands upon it, fully flexed, fingers extended, and concentrates. No motion of spellweaving, just the expression of his will. Sourcery. Terribly dangerous to the untrained, and still even so to those with training. His eyes roll back into his head, motes of black and silver swirl in a dense cloud around him...

As far as the battle outside is concerned, things are not going well. This apaprition of a Shadowlord seems impervious to even a direct strike with the Lucent Beam, and is similarly resistant to the others' spellcraft, taking only minimal damage. Morphing back to Paladin form, Kenneth decides to try a physical attack, after a briefly cast spell of tremendous protection. He charges forward and strikes with the sword Caliburn, and both blade and shadowlord dissolve into mist.

"Well whaddaya know. Fight illusion with illusion, I guess. I don't suppose I can keep manifesting swords to use against whatever comes out?" When nothing happens, Kenenth sighs and says, "Apparently it has to be an unconscious thought that triggers the manifestation. A pity."

Suddenly struck by another thought, Kenenth asks, "Who here is strong in weaving illusions with their magic? It jsut might give us an edge if anything else happens. Meanwhile, we oughtta work at stopping this disturbance while we have time..... and where did Helgraf go, anyway?"

The discussion between Amthet and Mythril continues.

AFter a moments pause, Mythril looked over at Hai-Etlik and thought *Could it be?* Then she looked back at Amthet "There have been times where I thought I _could_ 'breath fire' on those who had angered me, but I had also though that that was impossible..."

"Perhaps Hai-Etlik could be an ancestor, but you said he travelled to Earth 500 britannian years ago? That would be around 50 Earth years, right? That doesn't make it likely; I'm 26 and both my parents are around 60 years old. But there are many legends about Dragons on Earth. If Hai-Etlik can come through, then perhaps other dragons could have come to Earth as well. Perhaps even from other worlds than Britannia. After all, the chinese dragons look very different than the 'so-called' western dragons that are more commonly known."

"The place we are in may be heightening hidden, or long forgotten, talents that we originally thought we'd never have and or learn." the old dragon (now human) told her, *sigh* "We have a;ot of learning to do, you and I, young one." Amthet smiles at Mythril...

...and now he also sees the change in her eyes. They are no longer their normal blue-green, but silver-blue. Mythril grins.

"Now there's a funny twist of fate. A dragon who needs to learn to pass as a human, and a human who needs to learns what it means to be a Dragon. Perhaps we could teach each other?"

Amthet smiles at the possible hatchling and says "Aye, this is a strange twist of fate." after a brief pause, "Perhaps we should ask Hai-Etlik for his assistance? After all he may have had an interest in me before my hibernation."

Mythril nods in agreement and they both walk over to the electric dragon...

"Excuse me, young one," the old dragon/human began, "but you had started to say something to me earlier. What is it that you were trying to tell old Amthet?"

"And can you help us learn about the changes that we are beginning to face?" Mythril also asked, in the Dragon language.

Although the answer may have been forthcoming, a sense of foreboding came over all on this journey....

<< Meanwhile, back at the nonity >>

From the outside, it would seem as if someone had created a massive hemisphere of darkness lit by twinklings of silver. Within, adrift in the black and silver universe dredged from this place by the pure force of his will, Helgraf floats, black orbs in the place of his eyes. Time and dimension. Any gate could be opened with these. Save one. One which Paradox itself had been chained to the purpose of keeping closed. But like any door, it had a jamb. And hinges. Finding the hinge was not the solution, it was the puzzle. It was the beginning. And if the Uninvited found it first, it might well be the ending.

He needed two things. The sword, which he had prepared so carefully. And the woman. She who saw with others eyes, who came here at the behest of another of the ancient relics which have roots in all worlds. The Heartwood.

The sword would, by far, prove the easier task. Indeed, even as Helgraf pondered the matter, a portion of the weave forges itself into a duplicate. A small cerulean gem forms the hilt-jewel. And this new blade sinks into the earth.

<< Upon what was the battlefield >>

The change is slight and extremely subtle. In the space of a breath the Shade Blade is displaced by the blade of Helgraf's sourcery. Within the span of two heartbeats which come quickly from those just in battle, it is done.

<< Nonity >>

He grasps the Shade Blade as the transposition is complete. Now, he must await the other matter before he can continue. He knows she can feel the call. But she must come of her own volition.

"Hopefully before the Uninvited," he murmurs under his breath.

Back outside the disruption, a new threat forms. At first, however, there is only a sense of malice and foreboding permeating the area. Suddenly, a misty apparition takes palce, flashing from one form to another faster than an eyeblink. At first, a Shadowlord, then, the mage Amsereth, then the multidimensional conqueror called the Guardian, then an old archwizard whom many there did not recognize.... it took images from the minds of all present, flashing between myriad forms in a matter of seconds. Finally, it settles upon a single appearance.

"This will do nicely." Said a deep, yet sibilant voice. Its owner was a large dragon which only superficially resembled the draconic members of the group. It looked like a dragon to a passing glance, but its scales were made of mist and shadows, and were as black as jet. Spikes protruded from most of its visible joints, as well as runing in a ridge down its back. And its visage was very off-putting, for even its teeth and the "whites" of its eyes matched the rest of it in color -- black deeper than even the deepest parts of the Ethereal Void. The nothing-color of the disturbance.

It paused a moment, then said, "Yes, very nicely indeed." Then... it... turned to the assembled heroes and said, "But I seem to be lacking something. Ahh yes, it seems I need a name if I'm to interact with you. How temporal. You may call me..... Shade." He remained silent for several seconds, and then stated simply "You are interfering with my work. If you do not remove yourselves from this place immediately, I may be forced to take.... regrettable actions."

As 'Shade' looked meaningfully at each in turn, all who gazed into its black eyes felt its power boring into them. Power the likes of which few of them could even comprehend. The silence of those moments was considerably oppressive.

"Hello." Qu-han said, stepping forward.

Shade looked down upon the animated corpse, a rictus smile coming to the entity's lips.

"The former lich. How, in my ascendance, have you become so independent?" A humanoid arm forms near the dragon's mouth, stroking the wispy beard that had grown there. "It is no matter; once I am done with this I shall reclaim you and journey through the closing gap to learn more of the foe."

It turned its back to them, focussing once again upon its task. The others stood for a few minutes, simply staring at the bulk.

Destrius broke from his contemplation and cast his gaze around the others, looking for the possessed lich. Qu-han was standing just at the edge of Shade's awkward shadow. The mage looked deep in thought.

"Kol..." Destrius began.

"Destrius, hello." Qu-han stepped out from the darkness, a trail of images echoing behind him.

"You're..." Destrius said.

"Aye, I know. Echoes. That's what comes from living in the bowels of something much bigger and more powerful than you." Qu-han waved his right hand, causing a cascade of fire to trail around it. "Even in this magically addled body the effect is strong, but not stong enough for any or all of us, to effect the Class Six in any meaningful way."

"Then Shade," Destrius began. He realised he was simply leading whatever thoughts the Kol was wanting to share.

"Isn't the Class Six, no. Although that wasn't what you were goin to say. And yes, you're right, Shade is the Class Six. But he also, mainly, isn't, since he's mainly me."

Destrius nodded, his thoughts confirmed.

"Hmm, I see Helgraf approaching," the Kol continued. "His kind are curious beasts. I doubt he sees this thing as a dragon. I imagine he sees it more like an eight maw-ed amrophous blob with a three pseudo-pods and a distended stomach. Something like that. It's only us with lesser power bodies that have sensory awe over bloody dragons."

"I think you'd be surprised at my perception of it, then," Destrius said with a smile.

Qu-han looked surprised. "Hidden depthes to our Tideron mage, eh?."

"You must remember that I am a traveller, Kol," Destrius replies. "I have spent a large part of my life in many different places... knowledge comes not from species alone. What it appears to me, though, I won't say for now."

"Caulky-hands, Destrius," Helgraf said, "I see we've finally met our 'uninvited' tourist."

"According to the Kol, yes and no," Destrius said. "And I think I know what he means by that. Whether it knows is another matter, and I'm willing to argue that allowing it to find out would be a complification to already overburden tally of woes."

"Yes... Destrius is right. Helgraf, if you could do us the honour of casting us into a null time space. That should be sufficient to stop me from listening to what I'm about to say."

Helgraf lifted one eyebrow in puzzlement before smiling. "Ah, I see. It makes perfect sense..."

"Yes, but let's discuss this somewhere more private, shall we?" Qu- han said.


The Enemy stood in the middle of the battlefield, watching the fractured landscape shift fraction by fraction back into its own shape. Hints of the Enemy's own thoughts were beginning to make their mark upon the shattered terrain, and the request of the Kol was having its effect as well.

"Amsereth, lead on."

The lich rose from its cross-legged position and turned to focus upon the Enemy.

"Lead on," the Enemy repeated. Asmereth did nothing.

"Take me to your master, lich. Lead on," the Enemy said, voice stern.

The Lich Amsereth sat down, cross-legged. "Greetings, Coroh..." said Amsereth.

"Say not the name. Say not the name." The Enemy leant over the dead mage. "Who speaks with this body?"

"You do not remember your old master. I am shocked. After all I did to nurture and prepare you."

"Guardian," the Enemy said through pursed lips.

"Indeed. I see you have taken on a name just like my own. A little more explicit in tone, I must admit, but a title evocative of my own, still." Amsereth lip's moved in a rictus fashion, tearing muscles. "What do you want of me?" the Enemy said. "I serve you no longer, please do recall."

"A talk. And not with me, with my servant. I am... not able to meet with you again in person, at least not here. But I have an... avatar here who needs help in his tasks. He is proving most unsatisfying in his movements."

"And what payment do you propose to give me for this 'act of kindness'?" the Enemy said.

"Dominion over one of my worlds should suffice for your designs."

"That much. You do require help. Unfortunately I am no longer in that particular game."

"Ah, one of the Kol's has crippled you," the Guardian said through Amsereth.

"No, the Kol has not," said the Enemy.

"Oh, but he has. If not magically then mentally. Why else would you be carrying such a prize in your possession without taking it as your own?"

"I owe the Kol much." The Enemy's hand came to rest upon the bag hanging from his shoulder.

"And that binds you? Nonetheless, I should like it if you were to assist my disciple, Kry-Teremis. Perhaps you have met?"

"No," the Enemy said.

"A small matter easily rectified. He knows of you. And in payment I will solve your greatest problem."

"Yes?" the Enemy said.

"As you well know I have dealings with the Wisps from time to time. I have managed to get them to owe me a number of favours; I could ask them to ignore you. You wouldn't need to hide from them any longer... Will you do it?"

"Gentlemen, we have a problem. We're not dealing with the Class Six, we're dealing with a Class Five. One that we already know. We're dealing with me."

Destrius nodded knowingly while Helgraf smiled.

"It makes sense. What we're seeing is your energy matrix bound inside the Uninvited," he said.

"Yes... But this is more problematic than I originally conceived of it being. The residue of my existence believes itself to be me, effectively. That's why it spoke of me as its lich. It couldn't recognise me as its soul because it isn't truly aware, it acts upon instinct. My energy is just going through the motions. It's hard determinism; no soul to make it act contrary to its physical nature." Qu-han paced as he spoke.

"At least it is fixing the problem, though. The hole at the Heart..." Destrius began.

"Ah, but I think Caulky Hands believes this makes it more problematic," Helgraf began. "His energy is basically acting out what the Uninvited is doing; preparing the hole to allow it back into its own existence, carrying the material of an entity belonging to our kind of existence," Helgraf said, Qu-han watching him carefully. "The nature of our Collector means that his energy is trying to seal the hole in the Void, but it'll do that as the body of the Class Six slips through."

"With my essence. Giving the Class Sixes proof positive that we exist. Bringing about the war that will destroy us all." Qu-han smiled grimly. "This could be the last few days of our existence." He looked out into the darkness. "I need to get word to my brothers so that they can prepare the armies."

"I'm sorry," Destrius said, "but can't this be settled in another way? You seem pretty set upon this doom and gloom vision of your people. Can't we reason with it, with them? Something so powerful must be capable of understanding us."

"We're like ants to them." Qu-han turned back to look at the Tideron Mage. "Ever tried to talk with an ant? It's a common mistake that superior beings in one regard must be superior in others. It's an even more common mistake to think that pacifism is the highest of all virtues. We have no frame of reference with them to create a common dialogue with." He closed his eyes, remembering the first year theory he had been taught. "Some have reasoned that the analogy is more extreme, that we're like cell bodies to a complete organism; we're so small that the Class Sixes usually wouldn't notice our total existence, and that their actions toward us are simply destructive experiments to know our nature. Some think it's even greater; our planes of existence are like cancer cells, small abnormalities in the functioning of these vast things. Yet others say that analogies are pointless; we don't even know if they are sentient. They may just work on instinct. All we truly know is that all prior meetings have ended in apocalypse. And then there is the prophecies..."

"So you're just dismissing communication with it out of hand, then?" Destrius said. "Condemning us to oblivion without any attempt to break your own soliified theories." "Easy, Destrius, easy," Helgraf said. "I'm sure our Collector is just bringing us up to date with the general ideas about our... contact with the Uninvited."

"I wish I was. Destrius is largely right. Not entirely, but largely." Qu-han rose into the air in a sitting position, propping his head upon his hands. "The prophecies tell us that when the Class Sixes come into contact with one of my power it spells the end of all existence below that of the Class Sixes. That we cannot escape. And at this stage, that we cannot stop."

"But Shade spoke to us," Destrius exclaimed, his mind still of diplomacy.

"Aye, that I did. But Shade isn't in contact with the Class Six, it is only translating what the Class Six is doing into terms I, or it, would understand. Then my natural reflexes cut in and there we have the 'fixing the hole' theory Shade is espousing. As the Class Six prepares the hole to pass itself and my form through to its plane Shade is making the... revision of the substrate reducible down to common ether. In effect, once the Class Six shifts its energy matrix through the hole, including me in its form, the change in power will fold the hole into itself and dispese as normal energy. A good theory, too, this fix. Unfortunately it could only be done by the very boosting that 'living' inside a Class Six would grant you. Problem fixed. Until the Class Sixes arrive en mass and wipe everything out."

"If..." Helgraf said.

"We're pretty certain about this. Prophecy has yet to be wrong. It may be fatalistic, deterministic and stupid in such a petty way, but our knowledge of the future has condemned us to certain fates."

"I'm not debating your beliefs, Kol. I'm debating whether the Class Six makes it back with your essence..."

"Ah, the less extreme option. I wasn't going to discuss that with Destrius present. It could be found to be disconcerting, if not immoral to the others."

"I'm not happy with the idea myself..." Helgraf said.

"But if it saves a great part of the spectrum..." Qu-han began.

"If not the majority..." Helgraf frowned.

"Helgraf, Kol-qu-han, please. I am not a child who can be talked over. What is this idea of which you speak?" Destrius said.

"If we can separate the Kol's energy matrix from the Class Six then we can ensure that it returns only with trace residues, not the full gamut of information," Helgraf said, his head bowed. "Only if we do this, we effectively save all the worlds above class two, in the Collector's classification."

"So Sosaria, Tideron, even Balfas, would be destroyed?" Destrius asked, forcing Helgraf to look up towards him.


Krys-Teremis was stuck in the mire of his own fatalistic illusions. The journey into the Void had been free of trouble, and he had arrived on a rocky platform not unlike the entry point to his home city. The miasmic green of the night sky greeted him and he felt strangely at home, remembering his boyhood fears of the beasts that prowled the forests below his peoples' floating cities.

It was with that fatalistic thought that the platform fell to the earth below, burying him in the dense foliage. His fears, echoed and enlarged by the strong etheric forces that ebbed and flowed from one point on the Void's grid to another, were awakened and made material by the small fragment of shame still lurking in his hind-brain. And for over a week, he had been living with the substance of those memories.

He dreamt, when he could, of escape. He dreamt of asking his master for guidance, of wanting help. His mind searched and argued with itself for some small piece of information that might end the nightmare. The pictures of servants past in the Guardian's staging area flowed freely through his mind, the snippets of information mingling with those strange periods when the Guardian's usually restrained self would offer information freely about his past. His Master's Voice rang out, but nothing seemed to be of help.

And then, in the flow of events, his mind, amplified by over a week of fighting the nature of the void itself, felt another presence, one tinged with the feel of the Guardian. And so he called out to it. The Guardian, separated from him by a realm, was created anew from ether and the form of his avatar's fear. Unknowingly, Krys-Teremis' mind honed in upon the other, speaking in the Guardian's voice.

"So, will you do this?" the voice said.

"To be free of the wisps and their incessant bargaining... So much I could do... And in return you simply wish me to aid your new servant in approaching the broach in the etheric matrix?" the Enemy said, feeling the shape of the Kol's prize in his bag.

"Yes... Rescue him from his mental traps and lead him to where I most need him. For that you shall have the boon you desire."

"Very well. Guide me to him. I'm sure the Collector can wait a little longer for his bauble." The Lich Amsereth rose from its seated position and began to walk.

"And you're willing to do this?" Destrius asks, incredulous.

"I am," the Collector says. "More than willing. If we can save just a portion of the spectrum..."

"So this is what it comes down to, the fate of all our existences, upon the decisions of petty mages out to save their skins. What of honor? What of justice? What of Love?"

"What of them? I don't hold to these 'Britannian' virtues. Helgraf's moral stance appears different as well. Those are not absolute values, Destrius. No moral theory is, in the final reckoning. Even their Lord British realises that, what with his virtue tarot. Anyway, can you suggest a better answer?"

"Love is not merely a Britannian virtue, I'd have you know. Perhaps to you my beliefs are childish and unenlightened, but I have mine own reasons to think love as important."

"Anyway, you're sure we can't communicate with the Class Six?" Destrius asked, frowning.

"No. Shade is simply a translation, one way, of what the Class Six is doing. It is communing with Shade, just keeping the essence alive," Qu-han said.

"But it is you. It does what you would do... Fix the hole." Destrius frowned, deep in thought.

"Aye, by instinct." Qu-han tried to smile all the while. There was little else he felt he could do.

"So can't you get yourself to do something else?" Destrius asked.

"Such as? And more importantly, how?" Qu-han asked.

"That I don't know... yet," Destrius said. "We could try to kill the beast..." Helgraf said slowly.

"I tried that, if you will recall," Qu-han replied.

"Yes, you tried. You failed. But I am not you," Helgraf said.

"No, I suppose not. You'd be facing two foes, though; my essence plus the Class Six. Furthermore you'd have to find some way to get the damned thing to manifest; we're standing in the middle of it and none of us noticed it until we were well inside its core."

"Problems, problems, problems. That's all you seem to do; identify problems," Helgraf said.

"Well, Helgraf, I'm no longer in the business of proffering answers. I'm stuck in a class two body that's resistent to most magicks up to class three. My fellow Collectors can't be contacted and we dealing with the end of the world."

"Indeed, indeed..." Helgraf looked towards Destrius. "I think we should talk to the others. We can't afford to leave them out of the loop now, especially since we might well be deciding the fates of their loved ones, their very worlds..."

Helgraf rubs his chin.

"Every person who enters the Heart has a role to play in the prophecies. The Uninvited, yourself, possibly even Dracos. His soul passed to its afterlife, but you brought his body here. Saehiera. Myself. Destrius. Lumina. Mythril. Amthet. But even if you take our large and diverse group, there are still some roles left unfilled. Which means pieces we have not accounted for.

"The Uninvited is hanicapped by having to work within the restrictions of your capabilities. This would be a good time to deliniate those if we are to form an effective plan of action.

He falls silent once more as he considers. Pieces have begun sliding into place, but there are still two that are missing. Or hiding themselves in the hand of another. An idea slowly takes shape, one he is hesitant to suggest. Murmured, under his breath, "...cup pass from me."

As the mages were discussing this problem, Amthet and Mythril were trying to get answers from Hai-Etlik about being a Dragon and being a Human.

"You started to tell me something that has been on your mind since before I was sent into hibernation, young one," Amthet began, "What was it that you were about to tell me?"

As this questtion was being asked by the Dragon (now Human), Amthet, Mythril was beginning to change...

Her eyes, as noticed by Amthet and Lumina, changed from their normal coloring to a silvery color, and her body began to morph into that of a Dragon...

"There are other questions that must be answered soon, Hai-Etlik, by both of us..." the morphed Dragon added, pointing at both himself and the Dragonform of Mythril, so unlike anything he has seen before.

Her eyes are now fully blue-silver, and her scales are of nearly the same color but more silver than blue. The scales are so fine that they seem to blend together; from afar it would be impossible to see any individual scales.

But what really makes her different is the magic around her. Amthet knows that dragons are part of the magical weave, but it seems to gather within her. As if she has a closer link with the magic around her than other dragons. Here in the Heart, the effect is clearly noticable.

Amthet notices that, just like him, Mythril doesn't seem to have noticed that she has changed shape. Despite the very different view she now has.

Amthet also notices that Hai isn't answering their questions..

/My guess is that he has gone away from this place./ the Dragon/Human thought to himself then said to Mythril, "As I live and breathe, dear maiden, Thou hast changed!"

After a brief pause he continues, "As I have changed from Dragon into Human, thou hast changed from Human into Dragon!" Amthet apraises the new form of Mythril and adds, "and a very fine specimen I might add, by way of compliment."

The young Ranger finally looks at her features and gasps, "You were right, I guess, about my heritage, Amthet. But this is beyond my wildest imagination!"

As the two Dragons discuss what it is to be like in the other forms, the main council of the party discussed what to do about Shade...

Helgraf rubs his chin.

"Every person who enters the Heart has a role to play in the prophecies. The Uninvited, yourself, possibly even Dracos. His soul passed to its afterlife, but you brought his body here. Saehiera. Myself. Destrius. Lumina. Mythril. Amthet. But even if you take our large and diverse group, there are still some roles left unfilled. Which means pieces we have not accounted for.

"The Uninvited is hanicapped by having to work within the restrictions of your capabilities. This would be a good time to deliniate those if we are to form an effective plan of action.

He falls silent once more as he considers. Pieces have begun sliding into place, but there are still two that are missing. Or hiding themselves in the hand of another. An idea slowly takes shape, one he is hesitant to suggest. Murmured, under his breath, "...cup pass from me."

When Helgraf, Dracos/Kol-qu-han, and Destrius return to normal space (such as it is within the Heart of the Void), they quickly give a bare-bones description of the situation - that the fusion of the Kol's essence and that of the Class Six resulted in the manifestation of Shade. That Shade was trying to close the disturbance (under the Kol's instinctual influence) and also return to its plane (as a Class Six). The problems that that would pose. The alternate solution, to which many others reacted in horrified shock.

Kenneth then spoke up. "It seems to me that we could do both if we managed to snatch the Kol's spirit out at the very last moment, just as the Class Six was passing through the closing portal." He raises a querying eyebrow at Kol-qu-han and asks, "Could it be done? If we waited until the moment of transfer itself, after all the preparations are complete?"

The Kol frowns and gives Kenneth a fustrated look.

Destrius speaks before he replies. "I doubt that would work, Kenneth... the Class Six is far too powerful for us to just "snatch" away the thing it is so interested in. The 'alternate' solution offered is perhaps the best we could do along that line of thought.

"It is, of course, not a very good way out at all. What I'm interested in know, however, is the way we would go about dissembling the matrices. How dangerous is that going to be? Could we retrieve the Kol's energy matrix first and still be able to stop the Uninvited in some other as-of-yet unknown method?"

Destrius looks at Kol-qu-han and Helgraf expectantly, while reaching into his pockets and feeling for a small, rounded object.

"I'm sure we'll be able to think of something, you see. Heroes of Prophecy always do."

"Victims of Prophecy, more like," Qu-han says.

Saint George's Dragon looks around thoughtfully at his companions, chewing pensively on a leaf.

"It seems to me there are more issues than just the creature itself. The disruption it has created in the heart of the void must surely itself pose a danger to us and most creatures who exist on a limited level. I was never good at void geometry but images of reality shattering like a dried old bone keep popping into my head. If we should stop it from returning can we fix the disruption ourselves? What happens if the thing opens its portal home, what will that do to us and our reality, whatever souvenirs it back. How do we not know that the war and catastrophe that Kol-qu-han's people have forseen is not simply the result of the creature's rather ostentious mode of transit. Also, even if we could destroy it, such a battle given the already strained state of the void seems likely to result in untold destruction as well, unless Helgraf as something very subtle in mind. We call the thing a class six but given our ignorance of it this title seems to me an ast of desperation an illusion of some small kind of control. I do not wish to be pessimistic, but I just want to point out that careful action is required, to call the situation delicate is more than an understatement. If we give in to fear and desperation then there is that much less hope of any kind of success. We must have firm resolve and clarity of vision. We must not lose sight of any of our problems if we are to overcome them. I do not let fear of destruction not even of all that I know hold me so long as I stay true to virtue and do my upmost. I would advise you all to find your strength and hold fast to it." SG'sD goes silent for a moment and chews savgely at his leaf a look of frustration in his eyes.

"It seems you are having trouble eating your virtue, eh dragon." Comments Kol-qu-han.

"You cut me to the quick Kol-qu-han." SG'sD smiles. "I finally realize why you annoy me so much, your arrogance reminds me of myself in my younger days.... But enough of the past, although time still concerns me. Another thought has occurred if we can not stop this thing or its journey, might we slow it down, might we alter the portal so that the transition takes an almost infinite time scale? If prophecy must be fufilled, but with no mention of when, put it off till the last second. Especially in places like the void the passage of time is a most maleable thing. The thing you call a Class Six seems to have little appreciation of time in our sense it might not care how 'long' its journey takes, perhaps if we are cunning enough we could alter his portal in just the right way. Of course this raises a problem with the whole exercise, why should the Class Sixes react in a temporally linear manner, why not destroy our reality at its beginning and have done with it, save us the trouble of being here in the first place, whatever the reason or mechanism, is the paradox that insurmountable? This whole puzzle is layered miles deep, ignorance is indeed a terrible foe." He pauses then adds. "But we have strong allies also Courage and Truth among them." SG'sD turns to pensive staring at a point in front of his face and strains his ears to listen.

Ibn turns to Qu'han.

I've been a very quiet member of this expedition, and I gather there's little about me that you guys know, nor that's worth knowing presently; but still - the wisps sent me along too. I have a question regarding metabolism; specifically the metabolism of a class six. You see, I have only a very simple form of magic - but the beauty with simple is that it is more easily portable. My magic is a simple hunger magic. When I use it, it drains the metabolic engry of my foe. I've no idea were the energy goes though; I'm quite certain it doesn't come to me, but that's all. When I got here (to the heart of the void), the magic backfired on me - so I haven't dared to use it since then. Anyway, my question is; should I dare to try using it on Shade?

"Trojan horse?" Paulon muses.

He looks at the Kol and continues. "You've made quite a point of describing how much like insects we are compared to that class 6 thing, but even insects could kill us. By poison or disease.

"Could we use Ibn's power to get that Shade thing to eat something that will be passed on to Shade's captor? If we are so far beneath its notice, maybe some sort of magical poison or virus would lay it low before it realised what had happened. Shade gives us a relay into this class six that we should be able to exploit."

"Interesting... Very interesting. It would be difficult; my people thrive on etheric substrate. Our stomachs are mainly relics of our more primitive class three existence several million years ago. It would have to be a clever trick to get a Collector to eat, and then... I don't even know if that would affect the Class Six. It might affect Shade... And whatever the food was, it would have to come from a plant that died by natural causes. not one that was harvested. No meat, either. We have a certain ethic about life, although you might not expect it of those who use the dead.

"Helgraf, I've been silent over your question of power deliniation, but that's only because I can't quite fathom an answer. My people are like gods. We can travel time with nary a blink of the eye, my brothers have created worlds and we are only limited, in this plane of existence, by the large weighting towards class three worlds and below, where using our powers tends to shatter the matrices. You saw what happened when I fought the Class Six. That was here in an ether-buffered void pocket. If that had been Sosaria... Say goodbye to half the world. So we use liches to limit ourselves. But Shade doesn't have a lich... Or does he?" Qu-han thinks for a minute, the others waiting for him to continue.

Helgraf chuckles. "Shade doesn't have a lich, Shade _is_ a lich. You said it yourself - Shade is an interface for the Class Six to do what it needs to do without completely disrupting this place. Shade is a lich made of stolen fragments .. of you."

"I have an idea. 'Tis tricky, but it might work. I am, however, reluctant to use it unlesswe have to. But back to Helgraf's question. Even with the sum total of the powers I know I have, via training, I don't know how powerful Shade is. It lives inside the Six; the entity is not just supporting Shade, it is powering Shade. I can only imagine that version of me is far more powerful than I could ever become. So you see, problems keep on compounding..."

Ibn lights up.

"So, is that the answer to my question?" he asks "The ether that Shade consumes comes from the class Six. If Shade keeps needing more, because I empty its batteries continually, would that drain the class Six too?"

"I don't know... I really don't," replies the Kol. "It's hard to tell if they even have something analoguous to anatomy, denoting some kind of energy need. I can't answer that question. Experimentation will be the order of the day."

Helgraf muses. "Yes, but if the entity uses a power Shade's form could not capsulate, then it would cause damage to Shade in the usage."

He rubs his chin thoughtfully. "It feeds on etheric substrate. We could bait a trap with that, perhaps?"

"Perhaps. Ibn seems to be thinking along your lines..."

"Bow mortals, and prepare to know they doom!" a voice echoed across the landscape. Kenneth's hand moved towards his pommel while the rest of the group moved into a defensive position.

"It's alright. It's a friend. My friend, not necessarily yours," Qu- han said as the Enemy, Amsereth and someone else walked towards the group."

"I see he's brought friends with him..." St. George's said, watching the Lich Amsereth.

"Yes... My lich, well, one of them, and someone else. Someone very much alive and very pleased about it, I should think."

"Kol," the Enemy said, "I don't believe you've met Krys-Teremis. He's a servant of the Guardian. Got any food. I'm starving."

"I'm sure someone will have some. I'll check the camp supplies," Qu- han said. Goldenflame looked towards Paulon and then back to the Enemy and Qu- han. "I'm sorry? Servant of who?"

"The Guardian. Big red entity that seeks to invade Sosaria and conquer you all," Qu-han said. He turned to the Enemy. "I'm presuming it's the same self-titled entity as your old master?"

"Oh yes," the Enemy said. "Krys-Teremis is yet another of his avatars."

"But the Guardian..." Kenneth began.

"Yes?" the Enemy asked. "The Guardian..." Kenneth repeated.

"This is that Virtue Brigade?" the Enemy asked.

"Oh yes. Full of piss and vinegar. Oh, you'll be interested to know that the world as we know it might be about to end," Qu-han said.

"Really? Any point buggering off and hiding somewhere?" the Enemy said.

"No, not really. Not unless you can fix it that I get my body back and know a good hotel on Sitantus."

"Hmm, I dok now a bellboy there. And I was wondering about your current form. Very... What's the word I'm looking for... Primitive."

"Well, you make do." Qu-han looked around the quiet group. "I think you've shocked them."

"Me? Why? How? All I've done is say hello and ask for food, food you're not exactly hurrying to get me."

"It's more the 'servant of the Guardian' thing. Both of them, probably. Your friend is being a little quiet."

"Amsereth usually is. He's dead, remember," the Enemy said.

"No, Krys-Teremis," Qu-han said.

"Oh. He's a little brain addled. He arrived here before all of you did and has been fighting his manifest fears ever since. He needs a good holiday."

"Look to Kenneth; he's the one who cured my hungerpains," syas Ibn. "Myself, I can only offer more hunger, but I think you want to pass up that offering."

Ibn turns to Qu-Han and Helgraf.

"Do you think I should start experimenting right away, or should we prepare in some way first?" He frowns.

"I don't see how we could prepare, not knowing what the reaction might be. So perhaps I should start with a weak hunger-attack, and we might be able to try to observe Shade's reactions. Is that alright?"

Leaning forward, Kenneth speaks up. "On the other hand, it could also bring his attention back to us, and given the size and power of this manifestation, I do not think we would particularly welcome the attention of 'Shade'."

After several moments' thought, he continmues, "However, I have no better plan of my own to proffer. Therefore, the risk may be necessary. I just wanted to point out that the risk exists, and that it is probably a very likely risk, as well." Turning to Qu-han, Kenneth asks, "In the event we raise Shade's ire, what is your recommended course of action against an entity with the power of a Class Six and the instincts of.... well, you?"

As Ibn is about to start the experimental attack on Shade, he realises that he doesn't know how much of an attack is needed to make Shade hungry. But since Shade is now quite large, it's probably a good idea to make it a pretty serious attack, by earthly standards that is.

Ibn morphs to dragon form and takes to the air. He surges upward until he's level with Shade's belly, then he opens his jaws wide.

At first the rest of the party see nothing particular; then they start to feel a bit hungry. Looking at Ibn they then realize that they can see energy passing through the air from Shade to Ibn. And from Ibn, it passes on to an undefined place in the void.

Suddenly they realize that the energy passing from Ibn has started to restore the Heart of the Void. It appears Ibn has realized this too, and that he is continuing the experiment a bit. Shade has not yet reacted. Ibn starts to sweat, the strain is beginning to wear him down; yet he won't disconnect from the Shade.

Then the Shade becomes aware of the hunger Ibn is causing it. It absently reaches out towards nowhere in particular and starts to absorb enormous amounts of etheric energy from the void, nearly causing a new rift. At that time Ibn gives up, tired by the strain and falls to the ground with a heavy thud. Panting he says:

"It appears that... magic is good... ...for moving the hole...'s that for... acomplishment?" Then his head collapses to the ground, where he lies panting.

Helgraf claps his hands together and grins. "Actually, that's just about perfect. Depending on how precisely you can target, that is," he continues; then, more quietly, "Now, I just need to liberate something unpleasant from Saehiera and we may yet have hope to pull this off."

Meanwhile, the Enemy sidles up to Qu-han.

"These... natives. Are you sure you want to trust your life to them?" Qu-han turns and faces the Enemy.

"You might want to, if only to escape this when it is all over. I, I would never trust my life to creatures such as this. Look where it's got me so far," Qu-han says, stroking one tattooed arm.

"Ah..." The Enemy looks towards the Guardian's avatar. "And what of him?"

"He is of little import to our plans, although I am sure the Virtue Brigade will happily deal with him when the time is right. Once we've saved the worlds, of course."

"You think they can suceed?" the Enemy said.

"Success will come one way or another."

"I do not like the way you are talking, Kol. You like meolodrama and its trappings."

"Yes, it disturbs me also, but it is the easiest way to save both their worlds and ours. You brought the bauble, I am hoping?" Qu-han stares at the satchel the Enemy is carrying.

"Yes. Although why you, even in this state, would need such a thing?"

"Hmm... Yes. Watch and learn." Qu-han takes the bag from the Enemy's side and pulls out a pulsating gem.

"Behold, Sosarians, the second most powerful artefact of your history," he says, holding the gem high above him.

Saint George's Dragon, who as been staring intently at his watch, looks at Qu-han, rolls his eyes in bemused frustration and reaches into a pocket and palm's something.

Kenneth, who has been watching Ibn, slowly looks skyward. "And that would be?" he asks.

Paulon responds firsts. "I think that's the Gem of Immortality."

"The proto-gem, actually. Dracos found it after the Amsereth event when he uncovered the basement of Mondain's lab. It was, you could say, the trial run." Qu-han brings the gem back to his side.

"An artefact of great power indeed, Collector. One, that by rights, should be snuffed out before it causes the same kind of trouble its companion did," Goldenflame says. "I imagine it is quite powerful."

"Oh, I imagine you all think it is quite powerful. And in the void, in this seat of ether, Mondain's gem surpasses even its brother jewel in power, if not in scope." Qu-han rolls the bauble around in his hand. "I recommend you deal with the new hole that Helgraf seems ready to close. I think I know a way to distract Shade and even remove his class five presence."

Helgraf nods. "Ibn, focus your powers as I tell you to..."

The others group around Ibn, aside from Destrius, who comes closer to Qu-han.

"The gem... Might I see it?" the Tideron mage asks Qu-han.

"I'd rather you didn't touch it," Qu-han says, holding it out in the palm of his hand. "It is rather brittle to the touch, Already I have cut myself upon it and the blood seeps into its pores. Dracos' resistance bearly holds it at bay; my will is holding it down even further. Distraction could be costly."

Destrius examines the gem. "All I see is an old stone, well carved and brightly polished..."

"You are not of their world, Destrius. Where this the Balfian Stone of Harog you might feel the same way towards it as Kenneth and the others do. But that is of no matter. Now I must go talk to myself and see what I can do."

Qu-han walks towards the form of his essence, leaving the Enemy and Destrius behind.

"You know what he is going to do?" Destrius asks.

"Yes." The Enemy watches Qu-han walk away.

"He didn't even say goodbye," Destrius remarks, following the Enemy's gaze. "No. I think it's pride. If it doesn't work out he'll look like a fool, and his pride is everything."

"Indeed. Indeed. Will you help us with our task?" Destrius asks. "No. I like to play both sides off the other, and anyway, I must see it all. His family, his brothers, will want to know of this..."

"As you wish." Destrius bows and hurries to the others just as Qu-han approaches his altered form.

SG'sD has meanwhile returned to staring at his watch but now walks about with careful and dileberate steps but apparently in a completely random direction. He mumbles the word "pivot point" over and over again. He ends of a few feet from the one known as The Enemy and stops.

"You said you wanted food I believe, here have some Garlic." SG'sD hands The Enemy a fist size bulb of Garlic. "I am afraid it is all I have one me at the moment, I did not have much call for food until recently. It's reagent Garlic but it is actually suprisingly good. " SG'sD ends his comments with an embarssed burp heaven with the odor of garlic.

"Hmm, thank you, must admit you are not the most welcoming bunch a travel could hope to come across." The Enemy replies, tearing the dried skin off a clove and taking an experimental nibble.

SG'sD considers for a moment and then says, "People do not need others to tell them what is bad and what is good. Specifically being ritualistically sacrificed or ruled over by a ruthless egomanical tyrant tend to be categorized as bad. Therefore we are somewhat apprehensive about people who associate themselves with somebody who does both. Bad people by nature do bad to those they come into contact with. It bespeaks madness or folly or both to associate with bad people willingly. Since you also associate yourself with Qu-han I tend to suspect you are a fool more than mad. Still that makes you a risk, a dangerous quantity. However, these necessities hardly excuse impoliteness but we are in a rather stressful situation, please forgive us. I am sure we can avoid any unpleasantness as long as you and your ward there" he motions at Krys-Teremis "do not do anything rash. My companions and I do not start trouble but we have a certain naive earnestness to end it."

"You bunch are most amusing I think I see why Qu-han keeps you around." The Enemy replies.

"Mmm, stand back please I think I am going to need to stretch out a bit." SG'sD streches himself and then slowly Helgraf's old body morphs and streches out into its full dragon form. "Hmm, that is better."

SG'sD survey's the field as Qu-han reaches Shade and Ibn, Helgraf and the others prepare there own works. In each of his fore claws is gripped something too small to see.

Ibn, having gathered himself after the rather straining experiment, looks inquiringly at Helgraf.

" Now, I assume I can aim pretty well with this kind of magic. What I can't control is where Shade takes its new energy from. I can't see why it would retrieve from any other place than last time; and from the look of it - it was judged by convenience. What exactly do you have in mind?" he asks.

Helgraf grins; but he does not answer, not directly. Instead he walks over toward where Saehiera has been standing. She is wary, but confident. His hands shoot out, grabbing something about her neck and pulling hard; the chain holding the object begins to strain. At the same time, a black nimbus flows over Helgraf's arms as the dweller within simultaneously feeds upon him and uses the sensation of that feeding to attempt to repel his from his course of action. Slowly the blackness creeps up his arms, then to his shoulders. It slips over his back, caressing the Shade Blade and its cerulean gem... and suddenly, the flow is reversed as the modifications Helgraf had made to the Cerulean Prison are activated. The darkness swirling over his arms and torso is sucked thin, til only a thick cord of pulsing black remains between the object upon the chain and the prison gem. Quickly, Helgraf tears the object loose before it can attempt to link to Saehiera and augment its efforts with her life force. He can feel the cold incalculable hunger of the imprisioned creature, feel it already trying to snake inside him, to put him between itself and what it feels is its destruction. Finally, the relic cracks, and something black flies through the air and is absorbed into the prison.

"Dictate convenience, of course. Someone see to the health of the woman. I've much to do and almost no time left to do it."

Helgraf steps toward the new "hole" and draws the Shade Blade. Already he can feel in his mind the presence of the trapped negative. He removes his dagger from his belt, pricking his left thumb and letting a single drop of his blood strike the blue stone. It is, as he expected, absorbed nearly instantaneously.

As Helgraf begins his magicks Qu-han steps within touching range of Shade.

"Hello, lich," Shade says.

"Hello, Kol-qu-han-merq-shade-lok-olphin-berda. I hope you find your work well," Qu-han says, pulling the gem out from Dracos' tattered robes.

"You speak the full name..." Shade's voice deepens and rumbles. "Why? How? What has animated you to know such things?"

"I speak the full name to grant prophecy a reminder that all things must come to pass as they were written and as were foretold. We, as members of the Kol, guide and guard the darkness so that it will not overcome the worlds before the time of sublimation."

"What is this?" Shade shouts. His form grows perceptively fainter.

"They drain you of power. Not much, I grant you, but enough to finish my task." Qu-han plunges the gem into the form of Shade, crushing the jewel in his hand. "I invoke the final state of our existence. I choose to sublime."

In both Shade's and Dracos' voice: "We sublime."

Shade's form dissolves as the body of Dracos falls to the ground. A spark grows in shade, taking on a three pronged form of black glass. A second form, identical in shape, although different in texture, appears at its side. They touch, and then both disappear.

"What was that?" St. George's asks. "Kol-qu-han has just merged his essence with his soul and sublimed to Class Six using the proto-gem and Shade's amplified powers. The original Class Six will not be getting home with the information it thinks it has. Your worlds are safe." The Enemy begins to fade away. "Look after the Kol's lich, won't you? Qu-han would have wanted it that way. For what lurks with us now is no longer Kol, no longer Qu-han. And watch out for the wisps. They did not tell you everything." With his closing statement, the Enemy fades away.

"Well that was the most confusing piece of exposition I have heard in awhile. So is sublimation like death? What will Qu-han be up to now? What about the Guardian's boy toy? Where is the Class Six now? And what about the hole....." Saint George's Dragon messages his temple. "I guess I'll just have to muddle through like always."

"Come along Amsereth, don't worry once this is over will send you home for a nice burial."

He looks at the lich and a strange eldritch energy shoots from his eyes causing the Lich to glow temporarily. The Lich then moves towards him as SG'sD transforms back into human guise.

Saint George's Dragon walks back toward the rest of the companions and Amsereth follows. "I hope they know what the heck is going on." He mutters under his breath.

A thought strikes him and opens his hand to reveal a tunning fork, surrounded by the faint nimbus of magic. "Well I guess I will not need you for the time being." He says as he puts it back in his pocket and continues on.

Kenneth sighs. "Well, on the up side, we didn't have to fight that thing. However, I am loath to believe our job is even close to over. The portal's closing is as yet unfnished, and I think I'll be wanting a word with those Wisps."

Helgraf sighs, but knows there is nothing he can do to stop this short of direct intervention.

Reaching into his pouch, Kenneth withdraws a glowing green ring, twin to the blue one on his finger. He slips the Ring of Xiesh onto a finger of his other hand, and in response to the call, small motes of lights begin to appear. Fortunately for the Kol's enigmatic acquaintance, they arrive after his teleportation has finished.

Before Kenneth can ask anything, though, the Wisps initiate the conversation themselves, in a unified chorus of thought-speak.*Greetings, pawns of Prophecy. We are Undria.*

Several of the assembled bristled at the title addressed to them, but none spoke up. The almost-closed rift in the Heart of the Void flickered, reclaiming the heroes' attention. Kenneth kept an eye on the collection of Wisps calling themselves Undria, thinking, *Likely the embodiment of the Unrian Council, ruling body of the Wisps.* Aloud, he said, "Helgraf, Destrius, Qu-han, if you have a plan for dealing with the rift, let's hear it. The Wisps here are probably awaiting our completion of their task."

*Correct, Lumina.*

"I thought I told you -- sorry, told Toranir -- to adress me by my human name while in human form."

Undria's colors shifted rapidly. *You are in no position to make demands.*

Then Destrius spoke up. "That's right; we mere mortals have to jump whenever you ask. Don't get so high-and-mighty on me, Wisps. Being a pawn is a role you'll find I'm ill-suited to, if you keep me at it too long."

"Qu-Han is no longer with us. Not in any sense that matters. The uninvited will slip through the hole it has made shortly. As for the Undrian Council... I am curious how you called them here, when they claimed they could not enter the Heart. Perhaps they couldn't. Until you gave them the doorway. The Ring of Xiesh.

"Tell me again, Undria, why it is you cannot fix this problem yourself, now that you are here? I'm dying to know."

*You misremember our words, Sorceror. We can enter the nexus as we wish. We simply cannot interact with it, for we see it objectively, devoid of the illusions you see around you. Even now, all that we percieve here are you, and not your surroundings. We know from your conversations that the disturbacne is near, but for all our power, we cannot work magics on something that does not exist to us.* Undria turns their attention upon Kenenth once more. *You called us with the Ring. We would know why.*

Kenneth looked at the mass of Wisps, and said. "We have been... informed.... that there is more to this that we ought to know. I am curious as to what that may be."

"I beg your pardon, Undria," Amthet began " But Mythril and I were wondering what parts we play in this? For we just gained abilities neither one of has had before." Amthet was a little uneasy around the wisps, for he has never really delt with them before.

Hai noticed the glowing orbs that his companions wer all staring at and finaly began to recover from the almost trancelike concentration he had been in since Qu Han had pulled his world shattering stunt. As his mind returned to reality (or at least what was passing for reality) He exclaimed in Dragish, "Damnit I almost had it!"

Then after a few moments of thought, "Damnit I don't even remember what almost had!" then finaly mumbles to himself "I think it had to do with the Ring of Heath."

Focusing on his surroundings rather than his lost idea, he then noticed that Amthet was missing, and another dragon had seemingly taken his place.

Switching to Sosarian he asked "Anyone care to fill me in on what has been going on while I was, um, thinking? After whatever has brought our 'employers' here is taken care of, of course."

And with that Hai moved up to where the others were gathered around Undria.

Kenneth, who had temporarily pulled away from undria, answered. "'Twould seem that the energies of the Heart of the Void have awakened latent powers within Amthet and Mythril. The former has morphed into a human, the latter a Dragon. Both seem confused as to these new powers, and I fear my business with Undria keeps me from lending aid." Pausing a moment, he hadded, "As I recall, Amthet believes he knows you from before his enforced sleep; perhaps you can led him some aid?"

*There is nothing we have kept from you, Lumina. Believe this or not, it is your own choice. But know that the Void is still scarred and must be healed.*

Destrius looks up.

"Hmm. Could you explain why it needs to be healed again? I seem to have forgotten."

Kry-Terimis unlocked his mind.

When he had first arrived in the Heart, he discovered that he had made a potentially fatal miscalculation. Or had his master? He found that he could not keep out the illusions that his mind created- and he could not find the disturbance he needed to find. He feared failure, and to fail was not permitted. Failure was death.

And so, he had locked away the part of his mind that contained his power and initiative. He partitioned his mind and waited. His master would sense this action and either aid him, or not. There would be a trigger, and he would emerge.

Kenneth slipped the Ring of Xiesh onto his finger, and called the Undrian Council- and Kry-Terimis unlocked his mind. He felt the new stability of his surroundings, afforded him by the Ring of Heath. He examined the minds of those around him, lightly, keeping to the safety of the relatively powerless, such as Goldenflame and Paulon.

They did not notice. The Wisps would ignore him, of that he was certain. Now, how to slip away from the rest of the fools? It would have to be sorcery, but that would be exceedingly dangerous. His senses felt almost numb from the mere presense of some of these beings... for instance, the one that brought him here. His master had miscalculated when he said he'd be a match for any of these beings. So... subtlety. Nothing with an overly large signature.

An obscuring. It would have to be. Anything else would be detected. So Kry-Terimis focused his mind - carefully, oh so carefully! - slowly drawing from his reserves of power. And he released it, with a whispered word, timed with one of the paladin's questions.

He felt it take hold even in this alien land. He was not invisible or undetectable. His sorceries merely encouraged others to take no notice of him. Even then, it only would work while something else occupied their attentions. So he slipped off, and the only beings who noticed his departure did not care.

Helgraf smiles to himself. A puzzle's last piece slid into place.

Perhaps it was the influence of the Ring of Heath, or perhaps just that he was closer to the Heart of things, but this time Kry-Terimis had no difficulty finding the trail he sought. Warily, all senses engaged, he followed it.

It was interesting to know someone else here practiced Sorcery ... as opposed to magic as most creatures wielded it. Helgraf followed the conversation with the Wisps, but his mind burrowed into the essential nature of this realm. By force of will he shaped a purely mental abstract in the form of a scroll which could only be perceived by Kry-Terimis. By force of will he projected it until it intercepted K-T's senses. Then he ceased the Sorcery and returned his will to the same place as his public mind, regarding the unfolding events.

Amthet tries to morph back into his original form while he is waiting for the Undarian Council to answer his question.

His body glows for a little while, but nothing changed after it fades.

/I wish I knew what all I could do, and all that could be of use to the task at hand./ the old dragon/human mutters in dragish, /Maybe a sharing of our three minds would work?/ he suggested to both Hai-Etlik and Mythril, and awaited their responses as well..

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