The Shadow Within

By FlameBlight Dragon aka Jasmyne Poste


"Are you ready?" asked Nigel, personal mage to Lord Kaelan.

"As ready as I'll ever be," she sighed.

"Very well. Ready the moongate," spoke Nigel to the magi assembled for this task. On his signal, the gathered magi sent beams of energy toward a small black orb encircled by white sand in the center of the room. The orb shimmered faintly, then began to pulse with a reddish-white light. A very thin sliver of red light opened up from the orb.

"Stabilize it Aeryn!" shouted Nigel, the orb already drawing upon his full power.

Aeryn nodded quickly and drew upon the rune magic of her people. She was the only one alive on Carthalon that could now perform the rune magic necessary for this powerful gate spell. And she was the only one who could save her land from total oblivion.

The air glowed faintly with the formation of the rune structure. Aeryn spoke the name of the rune and watched in satisfaction as it flared a fiery red. She directed the sigla and it flew toward the orb like a shooting star. The sliver of light grew until it became door-sized.

"Go now! Before it closes!"

Stepping forward quickly, Aeryn took a deep breath and looked at the gate. She could discern nothing beyond the swirling redness. Our only hope, she thought to herself. She glanced quickly back at the assembled group. One, Lord Kaelan, gave her a small nod of encouragement. The rest assembled looked at her expectantly. Aeryn raised one hand in farewell and stepped through the moongate toward the last hope of her world: Britannia.

The gate dissolved into nothingness, the magi no longer able to support it. A thin trail of mist was the only thing left as testimony to its existence.

Kaelan watched in concern as Nigel slumped tiredly into a chair brought by one of the servants.

"It is up to her now. We have done all we can," Nigel murmured in a wearied tone.

The lord was about to reply when he noticed the heavy oaken door open silently. A middle-aged man with a greying beard approached Lord Kaelan. "They approach, milord."

One glance out a window confirmed the report. Outside, the once blue skies had turned a blood hue. The daemons and shadowwraiths filled the air with their piercing keens.

"You know what we must do," Kaelan replied. He drew an ancient sword from the sheath at his side, its hilt etched with age, yet its blade as strong and sharp as the day it was forged. His ancestors had wielded this sword to defend Kalan'Tirith long ago. He would do the same now. The silvery-blue metal gleamed sullenly in the reddish haze.

"Aye," replied Oren. His tanned and leathery face stretched slowly into a grin. "Just like old times, eh Kael?"

"That it is, Oren," Kaelan smiled slightly in return. However, neither man's smile held any humor. They both knew what lay ahead. The old comrades prepared to take their place on the battlements. The siege had begun. 

Aragorn awoke, sheened in perspiration. It was not because of the nightmares that had plagued him since the Black Gate quest, although they had been coming more frequently. This was a completely different feeling.

He sat up and tried to clear his mind. Aragorn had the impression that this was important and he should be able to recognize it, but the sensation was already fading, like smoke in a breeze.

He looked out of his window to see Trammel and Felucca, Britannia's twin moons, still high in the sky. But Aragorn knew he'd never get back to sleep now. He stood slowly, still trying to recall the sensation that had awoken him. His contemplation was ruined abruptly by the loud rumble that emanated from his stomach.

Dressing quickly in the still-dark room, he finally slipped on the soft white tunic that bore, like everything else he owned, the symbol of the Ankh. The symbol of the Avatar.

He went downstairs to the kitchen, nodding at the guards who, accustomed to seeing the Avatar skulking about at all hours of the night, nodded back and continued their rounds.

The kitchen was locked. It wouldn't be open for a few hours yet, when the servants began preparing breakfast.

Aragorn decided a little exercise before breakfast was a good idea. He went to the training room. He chose a two handed sword, and began to practice. Aragorn pictured the dummy as the Guardian, and that was all that was needed to fuel him for a long hard training session. By the time the servants called him for breakfast, both the dream and the strange feeling were all but forgotten.

Chapter 1

"Avatar, can I speak with thee?"

"Yes, of course, Milord," replied Aragorn. His pace lessened as he fell beside the Lord of Britannia.

"I was just wondering, but didst thou sense anything strange in the last few days?"

"What dost thou mean?" asked Aragorn.

"The other night I thought I sensed a red moongate. I know 'tis impossible, but-" started Lord British.

"That's what it was!" exclaimed Aragorn, recalling the odd feeling that had woken him. He knew now why he should have remembered it!

"So I am not the only one," observed Lord British. The Guardian had first attempted to manipulate the moongates by the use of a generator. His plan had failed thanks to the Avatar's destruction of the generator. Unfortunately, it was engineered so that damage to the generator disabled the moongates, also causing the Avatar to be trapped here in Britannia. But if the Guardian had found a way to reopen the moongates, control them . . .

Aragorn stopped in his tracks.

"Yes, I can see that thou dost understand the possible dangers of this." The monarch paused and studied the Avatar's shocked expression. "I do not believe that the Guardian's entrance would go unnoticed," continued Lord British, a wry smile on his weathered face. "But he could have sent someone through." The monarch arched an eyebrow. "If it is the Guardian who opened the moongate."

"Where didst thou sense this?" asked Aragorn.

"I believe it to be south of Trinsic."

"Where the blue moongate used to be?"

The ruler nodded. "Yes, I think that is a good place to start."

The Avatar started to leave, then he paused and turned to face Lord British.

"Dost thou think. . .the Guardian. . ?"

"Perhaps," said Lord British seriously.

Aragorn nodded and started to move off when Lord British grabbed his arm.

"Good luck, Avatar." He started to go, but stopped and added, "May the Virtues guide thee."

"You as well, my Lord."

They both left with a sense of foreboding. 

"So this is Britannia."

Aeryn shook her head slightly to clear it. Nigel had told her a few things to expect when gate traveling, but the feeling of complete disorientation was one Aryn knew she'd never be able to get used to.

Feeling slightly better after the brief rest, Aeryn studied her surroundings. She was in a lightly forested glade. Surrounding her were huge monoliths arranged in a circle.

How strange, she thought, glancing curiously at the large stones. The rest of her surroundings reminded Aeryn of Carthalon. In the distance, she could see a few lights beaming out into the clear night.

Perhaps watch fires, Aeryn thought to herself. It could be a town. She looked at the sky, hoping to determine her bearings. She knew there would be no familiar stars, and a glance quickly confirmed her beliefs. Well, she would just have to adapt. That was one thing she'd learned in Talisth'Kar. Adapt quickly.

Her first goal was to find someone who knew about something that could help her. Briton, Nigel's scrawny apprentice, had told her that she should seek out the ruler of this land. When asked why, Briton didn't know. He may have very vivid clairvoyant dreams, but visions only went so far.

A rustling sound brought Aeryn to full alertness. She concealed herself behind one of the monoliths, moving as silently as her people had learned to do.

"I told thee not to go that way! But nooooo," complained an approaching figure, supporting his comrade on his shoulder. "Thou knowest everything, dost thou not?"

His wounded friend grumbled as he limped along. "Enough. So I was wrong. Thou dost not have to rub my face in it."

Aeryn was mildly surprised that she could understand Britannian. She pulled herself back into the shadows as the light from the travelers' torch illuminated the clearing. She didn't fear anything from these fools, but she wasn't about to reveal herself just yet.

"Thou shouldst be glad that I was there to save thine hide from those trolls. But dost thou have any word of thanks? Nay! Not even a grumble of gratitude! Ah, well, at least the Trinsic healer will be able to do something about that leg of thine."

Aeryn remained motionless. So the town up ahead was Trinsic, was it? Well, it was good a place as any to start her quest.

"But isn't the gate closed at night?" the wounded man questioned.

"Carl's on night watch. He'll let us in."

The wounded man chuckled. "So he DID become a guard, did he? Hah! I would never have guessed he'd actually go through with it."

"Neither would I. But it does come in handy," the first man laughed.

Yes, it does, Aeryn agreed silently. These idiots were proving useful. She could have easily entered Trinsic through magical means, but Aeryn was wary about using her rune magic. Never reveal a strength or a weakness, a Kyr saying went.

Aeryn detached herself from the shadows. She cleared her throat and addressed the travelers. "Greetings," she said simply.

They jumped visibly. Neither had heard her approach. The uninjured man craned his neck around. "Beg thy pardon, miss. Thou didst startle us."

"I should be the one to apologize," Aeryn replied, testing her words carefully, although they came without difficulty. "I should have given thee a little warning. After all, who knows what may be lurking in these woods." She gave them a slight smile.

"Aye," the uninjured man grinned. He glanced at his friend, giving him a meaningful look. "Trolls, perhaps?"

His friend snorted in reply.

"I can't help noticing that thy friend is injured," Aeryn pointed. "Wouldst thou mind if I looked at it? I do have a little experience at healing."

The injured man nodded slightly.

"Of course he wouldst not mind," grinned the first man. "An attractive woman appears out of nowhere asking to heal him-" His comment was cut off abruptly as his friend jabbed him with an elbow.

Aeryn lifted the bandage and studied the wound. A large gash ran up the man's lower leg. This was hardly a serious case compared to others she had seen. It had been adequately cleaned and bandaged, but Aeryn scoffed inwardly at the lack of skill as she reached for some healing herbs in her belt pouch. She crushed them and applied the powder to the wound. The man's face relaxed immediately as the gash closed slightly and the pain eased.

Aeryn reapplied the bandage. With her rune magic, ahe could have easily healed the cut completely, but this was enough to gain their trust. After all, she still wanted them to lead her to Trinsic.

"Ah, milady, thou art a miracle!" The man exclaimed.

"I did nothing, really," Aeryn said humbly.

"Thou art too modest, miss," the first man grinned. "Dost thou realize that this is the first time he has stopped complaining? Thou art a boon to us all!" He held out a hand. "By the way, my name's Aram. And my friend here is-"

"Greg, milady." He beamed at her gratefully. "And I can't tell thee how thankful-"

"I was glad to help," Aeryn smiled, trying to look sincere.

"Well, thou knowest our names, miss," started Aram. "But I'm afraid we doth not know thine."

"Aryn," she said, shaking his extended hand. It was close enough. It was a simple matter of pronouncing her name in Britannian.

"Very well, Aryn, if thou dost not mind mine asking, where art thou headed?" asked Aram.

Aryn smiled inwardly. "I was planning to head to Trinsic, but unfortunately the gates were closed-"

"We can help thee there, milady," Greg said cheerfully. He glanced at Aram. "I'm sure Carl wouldn't mind letting one more in."

Aram smiled warmly at Aryn. "'Tis settled then."

"Thank thee." Aryn plastered a smile on her face. She supposed she could deal with these idiots for now. Not that she had much of a choice. She helped support the limping Greg, who looked up at her gratefully.

If I didn't have a mission, you'd be dead, she seethed silently, outwardly smiling back at the wounded fellow. She would just have to tolerate these imbeciles for the sake of her mission.

Aryn idly fingered the white stone hanging from a heavy leather cord around her neck. It was magically enchanted to take her back to Carthalon if . . .no, when she found a way to defeat Na-Drax.

The three travelers started toward the distant lights, the two moons above lighting their way.

An indistinct figure watched their progress from the shadows. A moment later, it followed them down the trail. 

Lord British watched from a balcony as the Avatar and his companions left the castle, pursuing the cause of the disturbance.

He shook his head softly, reminiscing about the adventures he himself had gone on, hundreds of Britannian years ago. He banished the memories.

"Now is no time for trips down memory lane," he muttered softly to himself. His thoughts turned once again to the strange feeling he had experienced. He was now positive it was a moongate. But what did it portend? 

A few days in the quiet town of Trinsic gave Aryn all the information she needed to know.

Posing as a traveling ranger, Aryn learned much about Britannia just by listening to the townsfolk. Although she generally scoffed at those who sat around gossiping, Aryn had to admit they served her purposes.

Aryn waded through town gossip, idle rumors, and some incredibly far-fetched tall tales. Most dealt with a guardian/daemon and some supposedly invincible virtuous warrior. Aryn was vaguely amused by all the storytelling these peasants did, but that wasn't what she came here for. Once through the fanciful garbage, the information the townsfolk carried was often quite useful.

Aryn would visit this Lord British the peasants talked about. But for the meantime, she sat, watched, and waited. She would get her answers soon enough.

Chapter 2

By the time Aragorn and the companions arrived in Trinsic, the word had already spread that the Avatar was coming. Excited citizens had already gathered around to catch a glimpse of the legendary hero. Even though he had already been in Britannia for over a year, the Avatar's latest achievement of freeing Lord British's castle from the blackrock dome had inspired another wave of popularity.

"Perhaps we should stop by the pub," suggested Dupre. "I'm sure if there art things to be heard, we shall hear them there."

The Avatar glared good-naturedly at Dupre.

"I think thou canst handle it alone," Aragorn said, barely suppressing a smile.

Dupre grinned. "Art thou sure, Aragorn? I know Appolonia wouldn't mind thy company..."

A hunted look appeared on the Avatar's face, sending the party into spasms of laughter.

Iolo snorted. "Fair she may be, but she is as demure as a rockslide."

Dupre shrugged. "And what of it? I see nothing wrong with that."

Shamino nodded in agreement.

Iolo rolled his eyes.

Aragorn cleared his throat loudly. "We do have other business to attend to."

Dupre shrugged. "Well, if thou dost need me, I shall be at the pub." The knight strode off.

Iolo turned to Aragorn. "Perhaps others may have heard something," suggested the bard, returning them to the business at hand.

"I doubt it," sighed Aragorn, "If the Guardian's followers are about, they would probably want to stay unrecognizable. 'Tis more likely, we won't hear anything unless they are already making their move." Lord British and Aragorn had agreed that it would be best to keep the possible moongate a secret until they found some substantial evidence. The story was that there were rumors circulating that some Fellowship members had been sighted. Aragorn hoped the ruse would serve a dual purpose; keep any hidden Fellowship members wary of trying anything, and lull whoever it was that was out there into a false sense of security.

"Thou shouldst not worry thyself too much," said Iolo, noticing a dark look on Aragorn's face. "We will hear something sooner or later."

"Now what?" asked Shamino.

Aragorn raised his eyebrows at Shamino's question. "I suppose we could join Dupre at the pub?"

"Certainly!" said Iolo and Shamino in unison.

I just hope we do hear something. Preferably sooner, rather than later, thought Aragorn. And I hope it doesn't involve more deaths.

They made their way through the pressing crowd.

"Ow! Watch where thou art going!" someone said, ramming into Aragorn.

"Uh, quite sorry," Aragorn said hurriedly.

He suddenly felt a strange sensation... a premonition of sorts. The Avatar spun around quickly.

Whoever it was had disappeared into the waves of excited Trinsic citizens.

Why do I get the feeling we're one step behind? pondered Aragorn. 

So that's the Avatar, thought Aryn, eyeing the figure that stood about a head taller than the milling crowd. She pushed her way nonchalantly through the press of bodies, making her way to the city gates. I shall have to avoid him.

Aryn wasn't worried about a confrontation between them. She trusted in her ability in weapons as well as magic. But she was certainly not about to let down her guard. Aryn had brushed past him on his way into the city and he had immediately glanced around and, had he known it, looked directly at her. Could he detect rune magic? Aryn scoffed at the idea.

But still, it never hurt to be careful.

Outside the city, the weather was mild, with a slight breeze. Almost pleasant.

Aryn glanced around quickly to get her location. She had been exploring her surroundings since her arrival a few days ago, and had quickly adapted to her new environment.

The sun would be up for a few more hours, giving her plenty of time to reach Britain before nightfall. 

Aragorn was quickly growing impatient. The feeling that something was wrong kept nagging at him. Perhaps we should return to Britain tonight, he thought.

The Honorable Hound was packed tonight. After all, the Avatar was in town. The tap kept flowing, and Aragorn could already hear his praises on the lips of drunken fans. The one good thing about the crowd, though, was the fact that it kept Appolonia busy.

Aragorn glanced at Dupre, contentedly drinking his ale and regaling the crowd with one exciting and daring Avatar exploit after another- with the proper embellishments, of course. The knight also had to elaborate on his own role in the situation.

" 'Avatar!' I said quickly, drawing my trusty sword. 'Behind thee!'" Dupre drew forth a joint of mutton with deadly skill and demonstrated his swordplay. "The Avatar spun around, and lo! There were the five liche-lords, their flesh a-moldering upon their crusty bones, and hate gleaming in their beady eyes!"

A barmaid gasped.

Dupre grinned at the response then continued his tale.

"'Prepare for thy doom!' they hissed at us, with brittle voices icy with the chillness of death. One by one, they raised their crumbling arms and summoned up twenty skeletons. That is," Dupre added, taking a swig from the tankard before him. "Twenty skeletons EACH!"

Iolo watched with a mild amusement at the knight's amateurish storytelling performance.

" 'Is that all?' sayeth the Avatar. 'My companions and I have fought worse odds than this!' Then he didst turn to us and say, 'Let us see what these vile undead are made of! And decorate the cavern with it!' And such were the flames of courage burning within our hearts, that we rushed forward, heedless of the danger, committed to ridding fair Britannia of the evil that the liche-lords hath called into being."

Aragorn grinned in spite of himself. It was always amusing to hear Dupre's interpretation of scenarios.

" 'May this humble blade end the cursed undeath that doth plague this once-proud warrior," said I, as I drove my sword down upon the fleshless bones."

Shamino spoke up. "Thou didst say no such thing, Dupre. Thou saidest 'Damned bones!', and 'To the Abyss with thee-"

Dupre glared at the ranger. "Hush, Shamino! When thou dost tell the story, then THOU canst say what THOU wishest. Now where was I?"

"Thou didst 'end the cursed undeath of the once-proud warrior'," Iolo suggested helpfully.

"Ah yes! Iolo over there," Dupre pointed at the grinning bard. "Let loose such a fury of bolts that there were another twenty piles of bones lying shattered upon the cold stone floor in no time."

The knight took another swig of ale. "Even that lout over there, Shamino, did his fair share." Dupre paused briefly. "Of course, a hammer cannot compare to the speed and grace of a sword."

"Watch it, Sir Knight, or I'll just have to show thee how much better a hammer is compared to thy puny blade." Shamino held up the Juggernaut hammer suggestively.

"Silence, lout! I'm not finished!" Dupre shot another angry glare at the ranger.

"I beg thy pardon, O Great Teller of Stories," Shamino grinned.

"Fine. Just don't interrupt again," Dupre replied haughtily. He took another swig, completely draining his tankard, and continued his story. "Anyway, the bones were quickly dispatched, leaving only the deadly wrath of the liche-lords."

Aragorn moved over and sat next to Iolo. "So how many did he say there were this time?" he whispered.

"Liche-lords? Five," Iolo replied in a quiet tone.

The Avatar grinned.

" 'Since you have destroyed our skeletal warriors', the first liche spat in fury. 'We must deal with you ourselves!' A strange ripple of power surrounded the undead warriors. By the Virtues, 'twas an eerie, unnerving feeling, enough to made the hair on the back of my neck stand straight up and my blood run cold!" Dupre shuddered dramatically.

"Here, Sir Knight!" the tavernkeeper called. "Have another ale."

"I was hoping thou wouldst say that!" Dupre took the flagon gratefully.

Aragorn rolled his eyes at the knight's ale-soliciting skills.

"As I was saying, the liche-lords faced us, calling upon their strange and unnatural powers. The Avatar faced them steadfastly, a dangerous gleam in his eye. 'Stand back,' he ordered us. And just as the Avatar stepped forward, a wall of flame burst up from the cavern floor, surrounding the Avatar and shielding him from our view!"

"I'm sure it did," one patron grinned.

"Uh, actually this part is true," Aragorn muttered. Walking back to Britain had never seemed as difficult as it did that day. That little incident had torched his favorite pair of boots.

And there were a lot of sharp rocks on the way into town.

"...the liche-king set forth blast after blast of magical energy, only to have it deflected by the Black Sword.

'Back, vile creature!' the Avatar shouted, summoning magic of his own. At his command, a deadly circle of spinning blades shot toward the liche-king.

'NO!' the undead horror shrieked as the swordstrike ripped through his decaying flesh. When the last liche was completely and irrevocably dead, the Avatar turned to us and said-"

"Dupre, canst thou wrap this up? We've got to get back to Britain."

Dupre blinked. "No, thou didst not say that."

Aragorn sighed in exasperation. "Fine. Finish thy story. What DID I say?"

Dupre grinned up at the Avatar. "Thou didst ask if anyone had any spare boots."

Shamino and Iolo chuckled.

"He's telling the truth there, Avatar," Shamino grinned.

"A fine story ye be tellin', Sir Knight," the tavernkeeper said, clapping enthusiastically. "Thou'rt welcome in me establishment at any time. And as always, thy presence is most welcome, M'lord Avatar."

Dupre rose and bowed with flourish, to the thunderous applause of the people, and finished the last of his ale, (to the silent but equally satisfied applause of the barmaids).

"Thou shouldst have been a bard, Dupre," laughed Shamino. Iolo snorted. 

As the sun started to sink over the Britannian horizon, Aryn was about to enter the Fens of the Dead, a small swamp south of Paws. She decided to rest here, because she doubted she would get a chance to in the noxious swamp. Aryn sat down on a large rock, drank a little from her water skin, and sampled some of the dried meat she 'acquired' from one of the merchants. Horrible, she commented to herself. It's a wonder that merchant didn't starve to death. No one in his or her right mind would buy this stuff, and it is certainly not edible. She threw the leathery strip on the ground. It was a good thing she hunted earlier.

A snap of a twig brought Aryn to full alertness.

A disreputable looking figure emerged from the nearby forest. He eyed her menacingly then smiled, revealing several missing teeth.

Eight more figures emerged from the surrounding woods. Each held some kind of weapon. One of them, missing one eye, leered at her, and leaned on what looked like a well-used club.

" Hey darlin'," leered One-Eye, "It's not safe to be out here alone. Whut art ye doing in this dangerous place?"

The rest of the band chuckled with crude amusement. She looked at them in disgust and stood, her staff at her side. There was obviously going to be conflict.

"I think she doth need a man to protect her in these parts," snickered a lanky rogue, whose nose appeared to have been broken many times. "Ye lookin' for a man, girly?"

Aryn drew herself up and forced herself to smile in the most charming manner she could handle. She eyed the band. "Hm. Looks like the search is still on." She sneered insolently.

One-Eye chuckled appreciatively. "Good, a feisty one. Haven't had one with good spirit in a long time." He edged closer.

"Well, it's going to be an even longer wait," said Aryn dangerously. She then sneered back at One-Eye. "Thou art just going to have to enjoy solitary pleasures again tonight." She still held her staff at her side, but she knew she could strike quickly when the need came.

The crowd snickered and laughed derisively at One Eye. He glared back at all of them and eyed Aryn angrily. But he controlled himself and smiled at her.

"Don't worry darlin, we won't hurt you," snickered a rogue, inching closer.

Aryn blocked his progress with her staff.

"Why, I think she thinks we're," One-Eye gasped dramatically, "Bad, bad men!" He clapped his hands to his face and gasped mockingly. "But dost thou not recognize traveling monks when you see them!" The others snickered at his jest.

"Yeah. And if thou dost come any closer, choir boy," she retorted in the most irritating voice she could, "Thou art going to be singing an octave higher." Aryn raised her staff to fighting position and sneered back at them.

One-Eye tried to sidle closer.

That's it. I've had about enough of these morons, thought Aryn, barely holding back her anger. She prepared for the attack.

One-Eye lunged at her. Aryn bashed in his good eye with the butt of her staff and brought the other end up between his legs. One-Eye crumpled in pain, clutching at his injuries. The bandits, surprised at the fury of her attack, encircled her and charged.

"I made a promise," started Aryn, as she kicked one rogue's feet out from under him.

"Not to lose my temper. . ." She drove the butt of her staff hard into another's neck, crushing his windpipe and snapping his neck.

"...and kill anyone in anger. . ." Aryn whirled quickly, knocking the sword from a bandit's hand into the air. It landed, point-down, on another bandit, killing him instantly.

"But I can only take. . ." Aryn threw one of her daggers at the oncoming bandit she had previously knocked down.

" much!" She glanced around at the five bodies lying on the ground. She heard scuffling from the forest, where the remaining bandits, except for One-Eye, were retreating. She retrieved her dagger from a brigand's corpse and wiped it surreptitiously on the body's shirt. Aryn then stood over One-Eye, who moaned pitifully.

"Well, I hope thou hast learned something from this," she started in a mock-lecturing tone.

"Damn thee!" spat the brigand, blinking the blood out of his one eye.

"Now, is that any way to talk to a lady?" gasped Aryn in offended dignity.

"I'll kill thee-"

"Not in this lifetime," Aryn stated dryly as she slit his throat. She wiped her dagger on the brigand's tattered shirt. Aryn searched the packs of the dead brigands, but didn't find anything of value except a few gold pieces. What a complete waste of time, she commented to herself.

Aryn looked at the sky. Well, she would still be able to get to Castle Britannia, but this little incident would delay her plans. All she needed now was a big sign saying, "Here I Am, Britannia!"

Aryn doubted she would have time to properly... discuss things with the distinguished Lord British before the Avatar arrived at the castle, but she was sure that if she hurried, she might be able to get the information she needed... 

"What happened here?!?" Shamino's gaze took in the whole scene. Bodies were strewn haphazardly about the clearing.

Aragorn eyed the carnage. If this wasn't a message, he didn't know what was. This obviously did not bode well.

These are brigands, he thought, gazing at one particularly beat up brigand. His throat was cut. Like one would a hunt's kill. Aragorn felt little pity for them. It seemed that justice had been served here.

The brigands looked like they had been thrashed like a farmer's wife beats a rug. But what disturbed him the most about the scene was that all the blood was gone.

This was not shaping up to be a good night.

Chapter 3

"All's clear," stated Geoffrey.

The Avatar had brought Geoffrey up to date on the events outside the castle. He had then made his own rounds of the castle.

Geoffrey knew there was more to this than Aragorn revealed. But Geoffrey knew that there was probably a very good reason why he wasn't told. If the Avatar decided it was to be kept a secret from the Captain of the Guard, Geoffrey wasn't sure he even wanted to know. He had traveled with Aragorn on quests before and respected the man's judgment.

Geoffrey had increased the guards. An extra precaution, he thought, since the guards had already been increased ever since the Blackrock dome incident. The assigned soldiers hadn't reported seen anyone lurking around the castle, inside or out.

Well, no one besides the regulars.

When the Avatar and party had ridden up to the gates, Geoffrey knew something was up. His suspicions were confirmed when the Avatar strode purposefully toward him in the manner Geoffrey knew meant trouble.

"Thou art sure?" Aragorn eyed the Captain of the Guard skeptically, "No one?"

"Aye," sighed Geoffrey, for the third time. He knew Aragorn didn't doubt his word. It just made Geoffrey a little uneasy to see the Avatar unnerved. Well, more like slightly nervous. To Geoffrey's knowledge, he had never seen the Avatar unnerved, even when facing the Triad of Evil. In fact, the only thing that even visibly disturbed Aragorn was when the Guardian was mentioned. Of course, if anyone ever said anything complimenting his courage, Aragorn would have been the first to deny it.

He definitely had the irritatingly virtuous down, thought Geoffrey, shaking his head slightly.

"Everything is fine, my friend," said Geoffrey, laying both hands on Aragorn's shoulders and herding the Avatar off. "I can handle this. Thou must get some rest. Thou canst not solve the world's problems if thou canst not stay awake."

Aragorn appeared as though he would protest. Geoffrey cut him off.

"Please, Avatar," said an exasperated Geoffrey. "Let me do my job. I cannot have my men dropping what they are doing and saluting every time thou dost pass by." He did his best to glare at the Avatar.

Aragorn was again about to protest, but stopped whatever it was he was going to say. He smiled tiredly at Geoffrey.

"Very well, mother hen," he laughed slightly, making an effort to show a little humor.

The effort was pitifully obvious to Geoffrey.

"After one more pass, I'll settle down for the night." He walked off, a slight tiredness showing in his shoulders and gait.

Geoffrey didn't mention to the Avatar that it was almost morning. He sighed. Aragorn always seemed to be too concerned over taking care of someone or something these days. He was spreading himself too thin. Geoffrey knew it had all started with the Guardian.

He felt a chill down his spine. Geoffrey had sometimes heard the Avatar wake up screaming in the night, shouting something about the Guardian. He couldn't -and didn't want to- imagine what the nightmares were about. Now this. Whatever the problem was, Geoffrey was sure it was a big one to have disturbed the Avatar like that.

And that was what bothered Geoffrey the most. He would lay money on it that this problem had to deal with the Guardian.

Geoffrey watched the Avatar's form recede. No, thought Geoffrey to himself, he didn't envy the Avatar at all. 

As the second armored figure walked off, Aryn breathed a sigh of relief. She had recognized the Avatar, and she was glad to see that the oaf didn't sense rune magic and had left quickly. Aryn was positive that the Captain of the Guard couldn't detect her. He didn't have an inkling of magic within him.

Aryn moved silently down the corridor, thanking any higher power that may be watching that her invisibility spell was working, regardless of the fact that she found it a bit unnerving brushing past people and not even having them know she was there.

She had just finished exploring the plush interior of the upper level of Castle British. She now knew where Lord British's chambers would be. All she had to do was wait and evade the guards. She would have been getting answers right now if it weren't for all these guards blundering around. And that fool Avatar. Aryn's amber eyes narrowed at the thought.

Aryn heard a noise behind her. She quickly flattened herself against the wall and silently made sure her runes were still cloaking her in invisibility. She glanced back.

Nothing but shadows and the noise of flickering torches. Not a guard anywhere in sight.

She berated herself for her skittishness. Here she needed to get answers that could possibly save her world, and she was jumping at shadows and torches. She turned and hurried quietly toward the rooms at the end of the hallway.

A shadowy form detached itself from the darkness and watched her with glowing red eyes. A moment later, it followed her down the corridor. 

Lord British's eyes snapped open. Someone, or something, was here.

He sat up slightly as a feeling of evil pervaded the room. It was a good thing he was a light sleeper. He rolled closer to the edge of the bed, groaning softly as if he were still asleep. He knew he would have to throw whoever it was out there off guard. His hearing and sight, as well as other more magical senses, were at full alertness. Lord British smiled grimly in the darkness. He would show whoever it was that he was not going to be defeated that easily.

Almost there. He reached for the sword he had taken to keeping beside the bed. It never hurt to be prepared. Especially at times like these.

A slight rustle. Whoever it was, was moving. So am I, thought British.

"In Lor!"

Lord British rolled off the bed, sword drawn. Light flooded the room.

The ruler was startled to see that the figure was standing only a few feet away from him, on the opposite side of the bed. It seemed the figure was as startled as he was. The stranger stared at him in astonishment. Her hand was still outstretched over the spot the ruler had just been and her mouth was hanging open with unfeigned surprise.

It would all have been rather comical, had it not been for the direness of the


British still felt the impending darkness accompanying her. His brows furrowed in anger. It still pained him to realize the extent of the Guardian's corruption.

"Thou wilt find the Guardian's work most unrewarding. Britannia will not be conquered that easily," said Lord British, settling into fighting stance and raising his sword. "Nor will I."

"Wha . . .? What!?! Guardian . . .?" She raised her staff in defense, a bewildered look on her face. Lord British wondered briefly if he'd made a mistake.

Suddenly the air seemed to crystallize with frost. Darkness coalesced in front of the combatants, morphing into a shadowy form with red eyes.

The door burst open, the figure of the Avatar framed in the doorway. He had felt the evil and a single glance at the room made the Avatar draw his Blackrock sword. He didn't notice the dark form. The Avatar took a step toward the intruder, sword drawn.

The shadowy form hissed fiercely at the Black Sword. It then launched itself at the Avatar.

"Grav Por!" Lord British let loose a bolt of lightning. The lightning illuminated the room briefly as it shot across the short distance and struck the creature directly in the back.

The beast shrieked a piercing cry of pain and anger that reverberated throughout the castle. It then shrugged off the charge and turned toward its new foe, its eyes blazing a fiery red. The creature's shadowy, but deadly looking, talons extended, the creature surged toward Lord British.

The woman launched herself over the bed and into Lord British, just as the creature's talons raked the air over the spot Lord British was just standing in. The creature's inertia sent it hurtling into the nightstand, driving its claws into and through the wood, shredding it like paper. Its razor-sharp talons embedded themselves into the stone floor.

The intruder shouted a word and flaring red runes appeared and arced toward the creature. The shadow thing howled in pain as it leapt away to retreat. A dark vortex opened up at its command. The creature flew toward it.

"It must not reach the portal!" she shouted as she ran forward. She traced another rune structure in the air and once again the air crackled with the power of the sigla. Meanwhile, an intricate rune structure formed in Lord British's hand. Both let their spells loose toward their target.

The rune and the energy orb flashed toward the creature, both striking it simultaneously. The creature's ascent halted in midair, stunned with the force of the double blow. But it still survived. It clawed frantically at the air, making its way toward the portal and escape.

The Avatar launched himself forward and brought his blade down on the wounded creature. It let out one last shriek and then both the creature and the portal disintegrated in a burst of orange flame.

"Sire!" Guards had finally appeared at the door, Geoffrey leading the way.

"The situation is already under control," stated Lord British calmly.

Geoffrey glanced around the room in astonishment, trying to make sense of the scene: his monarch, still in bedclothes, holding a sword, the Avatar, Black Sword in hand, the shattered night stand, claw marks in the floor, charred remains all over the floor, and a stranger, wielding a fighting stave.

"I suppose I should have expected it," muttered Geoffrey. He knew an explanation would be not be coming anytime tonight. He moved to leave, motioning the astonished guards behind him.

Lord British turned to the young lady standing before him.

"I think thou hadst better have an explanation for this," he stated, raising an eyebrow, and gesturing to the damaged room.

Chapter 4

"Explanation, huh?" Aryn murmured absently and scratched her head. Of course they would want an explanation. It wasn't exactly an unreasonable demand, considering the fact that Aryn had just appeared in their castle, threatened the reigning monarch, and apparently lead a strange shadow-creature into their midst.

Coming up with an explanation, however, was going to be a bit of a challenge.

"Where should I start?" Aryn muttered, mostly to herself.

"Perhaps with thy name?" the Avatar suggested, raising an eyebrow. He watched her with a combination of suspicion and wariness.

Aryn kept her face carefully composed and impassive. She ignored the Avatar and instead fixed her eyes on the Lord of Britannia, who returned her gaze coolly.

"My name is Aryn," she stated simply. Aryn noted with vague interest that the ruler didn't blanch or shift under her gaze. She wasn't the least surprised. She sensed a strange aura of power about him...

"What is thy business here?" questioned the Avatar, interrupting Aryn's thoughts.

Aryn narrowed her eyes in irritation. This Avatar person was starting to get on her nerves.

Aryn turned to the Avatar. "My mission here is none of thy concern," she spat. "I was told to speak to the lord of this realm. Not thee-"

"If thou dost wish mine aid, thou wilt answer the Avatar's question," the monarch said sternly.

Aryn was again taken aback by the power emanating from the man. She decided that it would be wiser to comply.

At least for now.

"My story..." Aryn paused briefly. "Is a long one."

"Start from the beginning, Dra'kra'sath."

Aryn stared at the ruler in astonishment, her thoughts racing. Dra'kra'sath? Dragonkin? Aryn had never before heard the title, yet it was in her own language. The language of the Making.

"Who are you?" Aryn asked incredulously.

"Thou answerest my questions," started the king, switching back to Britannian. A slight smile creased his weathered face. "Then I shall help thee find the answers thou dost seek."

Aryn blinked in astonishment. This was hardly what she had expected.

"My name is Aryn," Aryn repeated, this time in a civil tone. She eyed the monarch with a mix of suspicion, wariness, and wonder.

"I am Lord British," he replied and gestured toward the Avatar. "And this is Aragorn, the Avatar." His smile increased. "But I sense thou didst know that." He raised an eyebrow.

Aryn nodded in agreement, still thrown off guard.

Lord British's face became serious once again. "Tell me, what was that creature? I take it thou didst not expect it to be here."

Aryn sighed deeply. "It was a geb'heth. A shadowwraith," she clarified for the Avatar, who nodded in thanks.

"I have never seen any on Britannia before," started the Avatar.

"They are from my world," Aryn cut in tersely. For a brief moment, her eyes became hard and cold. Then her shoulders sagged slightly, and she sighed deeply. "That is one reason why I need thy help. Dost thou wish to hear my story?"

Both Lord British and Aragorn nodded slightly.

Aryn took a deep breath and began her tale.

Author's note: I had not originally planned for Aryn's story to be told here. Her full story was already written before I began The Shadow Within, so at first I didn't feel the need to tell it here. Well, since Aryn's background has nothing to do with Ultima, it'll never be posted at the Dragon Press and no one besides me will know it. Since I don't have a web page, the full story of Aryn's past will just have to wait until I do get a site. Oh well, I've decided to include Ch. 5 as a much-condensed version of her story. But if anyone is interested, and wouldn't mind lending a bit of web space, let me know and I might consider sending Aryn's tale. Of course, I'll probably wait until The Shadow Within is finished.

Chapter 5

Aryn's Story

Another note: The midi file 'Bootup' from U6 goes really well with this. (Or 'Creation' from UO.) These midis can be found at the ONLY place for Ultima midis, Televar's Mysterious Sosaria.Aryn

I come from Carthalon.

No, that's not exactly true.

I come from Talisth'Kar. There. That is the truth.

What is Talisth'Kar, you ask? In the Drak-Kyr language, it means 'Place of Darkness'. The first Kyr to set eyes on Talisth'Kar saw the shadows that thrived there. It was in that place that they first knew the chill blackness that thrived only in nightmares. A place of living darkness filled by a hatred of all living things, a void inhabited by creatures that thirsted for living blood as well as living souls.

My people have struggled through that darkness for centuries. And finally escaped. I am one of the first Kyr to step beyond the place we have named the Labyrinth.

And I am the only one who has survived beyond it.

But my life story is unimportant.

I am here as an emissary from Carthalon. The Kyr had protected Carthalon long ago, before the Banishment. Now, something again threatens Carthalon.

I am the only Kyr left to take up the ancient geas, the ancient oath.

The first sign of trouble was the strange weather. The rains had ceased to fall for months, blighting the crops and causing widespread famine. Most attributed it to freak occurrence, coincidence. Some prayed to useless gods and long dead spirits for the blight to end.

Needless to say, it didn't work.

Eventually, a strange red haze settled in our sky. Neither scholars nor magi could explain the event. Those whose prayers had still not been answered decided that the end of the world was at hand.

Many started to believe them.

The next trouble was the sudden weakening of magic. Magi who had once before been able to control storms, summon demons, and avert plagues now had trouble levitating a small spoon. It had taken an entire conclave of wizards to summon enough power to send me here.

Strangely enough, I, as well as the other Kyr who had survived the Labyrinth, felt no weakening in our own power. We did what we could to help, and for a while, it seemed as if we could indeed stop this Blight in its tracks.

Then came the third trouble.

A Kyr died suddenly. It wasn't a very unusual occurrence. She had been the eldest among us, and not even we have the power to deny death.

Then another of my people died. He had been the most powerful among us- a true warrior, and a survivor.

Disease has never been a problem among our people, and Kyr who have survived to escape Talisth'Kar are NOT prone to carelessness. The death of our leader was not an accident.

He was murdered and his power taken from him.

Then another Kyr perished, followed by another, and yet another. All appeared to have had their power taken from them.

I was sent to search for the killers. I will not go into details here, but I did discover the identity of my foe.

He calls himself Na-Drax. Dragonsbane. He is Tsarith, one of those responsible for the Banishment of my people. He's obviously still a little upset that the Kyr defeated the Tsarith even though the banishment spell was already cast.

Anyway, Na-Drax was the one responsible for killing off the Kyr warriors one by one and absorbing their powers. And distorting their essences.

The geb'heth was sent by him. Shadowwraiths are common in the Labyrinth, a result of Tsarith magic. A shadowwraith is the essence of the person, somehow transformed and resurrected into a strange parody of life. They have no memory of what they once were and they can never be restored to the essence of the person they had been.

It is a fate much worse than death.

Only Kyr magic has had any effect on them. They are the elite of Na-Drax's forces.

I had never seen one destroyed by a sword before, until now. Perhaps a unique ability of that blade? I wonder... But I drift off the subject.

I realized what was happening to the Kyr. But by this time, it was too late to do anything. The surviving Kyr were too few in number to oppose the now powerful Na-Drax, and those who were escaping Talisth'Kar were being picked off as soon as they won their freedom -further adding to Na-Drax's power.

Eventually, I was the only one left. I was not as powerful as my kindred, and that had spared my life.

While searching among the ancient tomes and artifacts for a solution, we discovered that Carthalon, once named New Sosaria, had been created by an ancient race of beings, whose name has unfortunately been lost to time. But Carthalon was not created alone. There was a sister world, still magically tied to Carthalon. This world was Sosaria. Today, you know it as Britannia.

Na-Drax has already taken most of my world. When I left, only a few places remained free of his control. Our decisions were limited. We had to send someone to Britannia.

An entire conclave of wizards was necessary to provide the base of power for a teleport spell. And since any other kind of magic was unreliable, Kyr magic was needed to stabilize the teleport spell.

And I am the last of the Kyr.

The realms of Carthalon and Britannia are in the closest position they have been and will be for a very long time. This is the only thing that has enabled me to come to your world.

I must return to Carthalon before the two worlds drift apart, and before Na-Drax's victory is complete. Yet, I cannot return without finding a means to stop Na-Drax's power.

Time is of the essence.

I have come here to ask for your aid.

Chapter 6

There was a moment of silence after Aryn finished her story.

Lord British sat back in his chair and stroked his beard, a thoughtful expression on his face. The same look was mirrored on the Avatar's face.

"Thou canst be assured of our support," Lord British said finally.

Aragorn nodded. "If there is any assistance we may give thee, milady-"

"Just Aryn," she cut in abruptly. "I don't care much for titles. And I do not need thine help... milord," Aryn said coldly. "I just need answers."

Aragorn's face darkened, but he remained silent.

"You would jeopardize your world for foolish pride?" Lord British said suddenly, effortlessly speaking the Kyr tongue.

"I jeopardize nothing! And I will allow nothing to stand in my way," Aryn hissed, also replying in Kyr. Her eyes narrowed dangerously at the Lord of Britannia. "I sense the magic within you! You and I both know the ancient language. You must have the answers I seek!"

Aragorn eyed Aryn warily. He couldn't understand her words, but her manner was obviously threatening. He laid a hand on the Black Sword.

Lord British remained unfazed. He continued calmly. "If I had any information that would help you in your quest, I would tell you. Unfortunately, I do not possess that knowledge."

"Why should I believe that?!" Aryn spat, her voice rising in anger. "For all I know, YOU could be Tsarith!" She raised her staff menacingly.

Lord British made no move to defend himself. He calmly eyed the enraged Kyr.

His silence merely angered Aryn further. "Perhaps that is the reason I was sent to you!" Her eyes narrowed alarmingly and her voice turned an icy calm. "You will tell me what you know."

"Believe what you wish, lady. But it would be wise for you to reconsider your actions."

Aryn lunged forward, bringing her staff down in a swift arc toward the monarch.

Aragorn was instantly alert and swung the Black Sword forward in a fluid motion.

Aryn's staff landed harmlessly on the flat of the blade.

Aryn snarled at the Avatar's interference. She whirled her staff around, sweeping Aragorn's feet out from under him. The Avatar landed heavily on the floor.

Aryn drove the thick end of the staff down, intending to bring it down on the Avatar's neck.

Aragorn quickly rolled to one side, evading Aryn's strike.

"Enough!" Lord British said firmly. He glared balefully at Aryn beneath his thick brows.

Aryn eyed him fiercely and started toward him.

"Don't say I didn't warn thee," the ruler muttered. With a gesture, an arc of blue sigla spiraled across the room.

An almost comical look of astonishment appeared on Aryn's face before the sigla struck home and sent her flying across the room. She sailed through the air for a few moments, then crashed into a wooden table, splintering it with the force of impact.

Aryn started to rise slowly, a vicious gleam in her eyes. Then a dazed look came into her eyes and she pitched forward, unconscious.

Meanwhile, Lord British turned to the Avatar, who was still eyeing both the comatose Aryn and his liege in astonishment.

"Art thou injured, Avatar?" the monarch asked in a casual manner.

Aragorn stared dumbfoundedly at Lord British. "No, I'm fine." He picked himself up, a dark look on his face.

"It seems we have quite a situation on our hands, Avatar," sighed the monarch.

"I fully agree," Aragorn answered in complete honesty. He glanced over at the unconscious Kyr. "Is she all right?"

"Of course she is," the monarch replied dryly. "Unless the Kyr have truly lost the vast majority of their power over the years..." He allowed the sentence to drift off. "I would say that she is trying to trick us. Either way, I believe I have made my point." Lord British then turned toward the seemingly incapacitated Aryn. "Thou art fooling no one, young lady."

Aryn sat up slowly, sending a scathing glance toward the Lord of Britannia. If looks could kill, Lord British's flesh would have been seared from his bones, leaving nothing but an ash-covered heap.

Lord British ignored the question and looked at Aryn, a strange expression on his face. "If this is how far the Kyr have fallen, then you truly have my sympathy." He had spoken in Kyr.

Aryn's angry glare faded slowly, replaced by an expression of deep suspicion.

Aryn again studied the monarch. She silently berated herself for her misjudgment. Although her rune magic had shielded her from any damage, her skin still tingled with the force of the sigla. Aryn decided to be extremely wary around this 'Lord British'. She was not about to anger this...ruler again. Not until she could determine how he came by such power...

"Who are you?" She asked again. It was useless to even pretend to be polite, but Lord British and Aryn both knew there would not be another confrontation anytime soon.

Lord British again ignored the question. His voice maintained his calm, polite tone. "If thou wishest, milady, thou mayest consider thyself a guest here in the castle. There are plenty of spare rooms." He raised one eyebrow. "Or if thou canst not control thy temper, there are also spare cells."

"Art thou serious in keeping her here, milord?!?" Aragorn gave his liege a look of incredulity. He looked as if he doubted his lord's sanity.

Aryn's face darkened. This time, her glare was fixed on the Avatar.

Aragorn drew his sword and moved between her and Lord British.

The lord sighed and tried to keep in check his rising anger.

"In Bet Zu," uttered Lord British, just as Aryn drew in a breath to say something that was obviously not pleasant. A small blue haze surrounded her and she couldn't help but inhale some of it.

"Listen here, you . .I. . .wha. . ." Aryn tried to wave away the sleep mist that had surrounded her. A few seconds later, she slowly slumped forward, and landed on the floor, soundly asleep.

Aragorn looked at her sleeping form and turned to Lord British.

"Is keeping her here wise? How canst thou trust her!?!" spat Aragorn angrily. "She attacked. . ."

"I am not na‹ve, Avatar," said Lord British, eyeing the sleeping Aryn sadly. "And I know desperate people oft say and do things they may later regret." The monarch arched a brow at the Avatar. "And tired people often lack in judgment." Lord British waved a finger at the Avatar, who spluttered indignantly.

"I think thou canst handle her now," said Lord British tiredly. "Put her in one of the spare rooms."

"But. . .but. . ." started Aragorn.

"The spell will insure she won't wake 'til morning," sighed British exasperatedly. "In any case, I am sure thou'lt hear her if she awakens and decides to slaughter us all in our beds." He raised a brow at the Avatar. "Or do I have to use a spell on thee?"

Aragorn snapped his mouth shut. He disagreed with his lord's decision, but decided against saying anything. Aragorn decided then and there that he would have to be extremely wary around this 'Aryn' person. If that was even her real name.

He bowed stiffly, then picked up Aryn's sleeping form and left the room.

Lord British glanced heavenward. He turned to close the door. Suddenly a thought occurred to him. He called to a passing guard.

"Yes, milord?"

"Please make sure I will not disturbed again tonight," said Lord British, still listening to the Avatar's irate mutterings as he walked down the hall.

"Yes, milord." The guard saluted smartly, then continued on his rounds.

LB returned to his chambers, closing the door soundly behind him.

He sat back into his chair. Thoughts raced through his mind. The Kyr? Returning? He stroked his beard thoughtfully.

Lord British was fully aware of what Aragorn thought about Aryn. Remembering the almost offended look on the Avatar's face brought an amused smile to the monarch's bearded face.

But regardless of Aryn's...less than courteous behavior, Lord British could not displace the strong faith he had in the Kyr and their abilities. Even the vagueness of distant memories could not erase the awe the ancient Kyr had inspired.

Aryn, on the other hand, only inspired irritation.

He sighed deeply. If she were truly the last...British could only imagine the devastating power Na-Drax must have to overwhelm the Kyr.

He sat absorbed in thought, unaware of the pale light faintly illuminating the horizon. 

Elsewhere, another figure was consumed in thought.

The dark figure mused silently. Something, a brief flash of power, had drawn his attention. It had been eons since he had sensed a power akin to it.

Ah, but it was not just one flash of power that had alerted him. It had been two. One, the dark figure pondered, had belonged to that fool British. But that was unimportant. If everything went according to plan, British would be dealt with...

But there was the other power. It was not particularly strong, yet it was somehow familiar...

This is a most interesting turn of events...The dark one murmured.

This may just work to his advantage. 

And I'd like to take this time to thank everybody I can remember to thank:)

Thanks go out to:

Erratic Dragon (aka Erraticus), for continually putting up with my random editing sprees.

The creators of Ultima, without whose genius, I wouldn't be writing this.

Dalmar, for her insight and encouragement, Telavar, for his midis, Houston, for bestowing upon me a meager portion of his Netscape knowledge:), and Fortran (aka Benevolent, Altruistic Dragon:) for making sure dragons throughout the world are able to get Ultima games at more than reasonable prices:).

Everyone who read my little story and responded (hint, hint:).

A BIG thank-you goes out to ShadowofLight, for her continual support, nagging, editing, enlightening conversation, and inspiration. (Aww, isn't this touching:)

Other writers of the Dragon Press. It was their stories that inspired me to start this little project.

The makers of Post-It(tm) notes.

The Guardian, for his continual nagging (without which I'd probably get a lot more sleep than I have been).

The creators of those funky ink-gel pens, Spam, and paperclips:)

Copyright laws still apply. Questions, comments, and/or suggestions can be sent to: And if you ask nicely, I am willing to answer questions about what's going to happen next. Now, aren't you glad you read the thank-you portion of this story?:) 

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