"Slay me! Slay me with the Serpent Sword and send my soul back into the void!" As they heard this plea, the Avatar raised the Ophidian Sword and slashed violently across the moving statue.
Shocked by what they were witnessing, Shamino, Iolo, Wilfred, and Petra the automaton stood there in awe.
The spirit of the Great Earth Serpent, freed from its mortal constraint, burst free in a rush of energy knocking the Companions to the ground. Dazed from the backlash, they missed seeing lightning appear from the Wall of Lights, striking the Avatar.
Quietly, the Wall of Lights closed.
"By the Virtues, what happened?"
"Iolo, I wish I knew" Shamino sighed. Looking around the shattered interior of the Grand Shrine of Balance, he saw no sign of the Avatar or the jawbone that had led them there. A slightly malicious thought hit him. "How's Wilfred?" he asked, grinning.
"He'll be fine, the big baby. You would think he had been killed by the amount of moaning he's making." Iolo snapped. Like Shamino, he had little sympathy for the "great" knight of Monitor. He then sobered. "You realize that Petra was destroyed in that backlash. She carried the spare jawbone we retrieved from Batlin's body in Spinebreaker, but..." he trailed off.
"There are no Teeth within it, yes I know." Shamino frowned. The only way he knew to travel the length of Serpent Isle was by means of the ancient Serpent Gates. "Did we find the Avatar's belongings? Perhaps they remained here." A foolish hope, but the only one he had.
"Nay, our friend seems to be lost, along with all his possessions." Iolo glanced around the Shrine's interior. "Shamino!"
"Look, the three blackrock serpents remain."
"Remember the Serpent Eyes? Perhaps they remain as well." Iolo began digging in the rubble of the statue. "Shamino, Dupre spoke to us as he joined the Chaos Serpent. He may be able to help us now. Help me look for them."
"Wilfred!!" Shamino shouted. "Get over here and start looking for those Serpent Eyes! We may have found our way out!!"
"But I'm injured!" whined Wilfred.
Shamino flicked his glare over Wilfred, noting the minor scratches and bruises. "You will be injured if you don't start looking!"
"All right, all right. No need to get testy" Wilfred muttered.
Thinking of escape, Shamino pawed through the debris scattered around the spot the altar had stood. We must find it, he thought fiercely. There has to be a way!
"I found it! Look!" All spun to stare as Iolo lifted up a glowing red gem. The Eye of Chaos.
Shamino took the Eye from Iolo. "Let's see if a little of the Avatar's luck remains with us." Gazing into its depths, he thought of his friend, Dupre. "Dupre! Your friends need you! Help us, noble knight!"
Suddenly, a light shot forth from the Eye, striking the ground in front of the Companions. A great red serpent rose, its eyes flashing. "Yes, Shamino. The Serpent of Chaos has heard your plea for help. We owe the Stranger from Another Land. We shall repay our debt to him, through you. What do you need from us?"
Shamino glanced at Iolo and Wilfred. "We require a means to leave this isle and to return to Britannia. Can you help us?"
"Sadly, our influence does not stretch to other lands. We can transport you to anywhere in Serpent Isle you wish to go. You must find the path to Britannia yourselves."
Shamino nodded. "Very well, take us to Monk Isle. We shall start our search from there."
"As you wish. Walk in Chaos and Balance, Lord Shamino." The serpent nodded to the corner where a shimmering red moongate had appeared. "Our debt is paid, we return to the Void." With that statement, the Chaos Serpent disappeared.
Brushing away doubts, Shamino turned to his friends. "Wilfred, carry Petra's body. Perhaps the monks can revive her, or if not Torrissio of Moonshade probably can. Iolo, gather up all her belongings." He looked at the blackrock serpents again. "I think I'll carry these with us. Oh, did we find the Eye of Order?"
"Yes, but do we really want to bring it? The Order Serpent tried to kill us already. What will stop it from trying again?" Iolo asked?
"Hopefully, the Balance will contain Order. Who knows, we may need it." Seeing that they were ready, Shamino lead them through the gate.
As they arrived on Monk Isle, Xenka herself was standing there waiting for them. "One of your companions has fallen, Lord Shamino. May I?" she asked.
"Of course, Xenka." Shamino gestured at Wilfred to lay Petra's body down.
"In Mani Corp" she intoned. In a sparkle of ether, Petra stood restored. "I know you have many questions about what has happened. The Avatar was drawn through the Wall of Lights into the Void. From there he has left our visions, shielded from sight by a malignant presence. The whispers in the ether have named it "Guardian." I know of him from the Forest Master, but had hoped he had been stopped. You have a unique path ahead of you, Shamino. There are two possibilities I see for you. First, that you return to Britannia with your friends Iolo and Gwenno."
"Yes, that is what we want." Iolo cried.
"Or, you stay to reclaim your kingdom, the Lands of Danger and Despair. The choice is yours. Iolo, you and Gwenno must return to Britannia to warn Lord British of the coming danger. Wilfred, you are a knight without family or cause. I grieve with you for the deaths of your loved ones, but you must be strong. You also will travel to Britannia, home of your ancestors, and serve Lord British."
"Serve Beast British! Never!!!" Wilfred screamed. "My mother and brother are dead because of that foul ruler and his pawn Batlin."
Iolo laid a restraining hand on his shoulder. "No, Wilfred. Batlin served the Guardian, both here in Serpent Isle and in Britannia. Due to the Avatar and Lord British, he was stopped. Your ancestors have twisted the truth around to hide the real reasons for traveling to this land. Come with Gwenno and I. Help us save Britannia, as you helped us save Serpent Isle."
Slowly, the rage died from Wilfred's eyes, being replaced by tears. "And who saved my family from the attack of the Wantonness Bane? Who helped them to live?"
"Help avenge them. Batlin freed the Banes, and he has paid for that deed. But he was a puppet to the Guardian. That is who needs a reckoning. Avenge their deaths." Iolo whispered. He stared hard into Wilfred's eyes, seeing a man who has lost everything. "I know what it feels like to lose those you love. Help us, and help yourself." Slowly, Wilfred nodded.
Xenka turned back to Petra. "You are the one who must stay on the Isle. Return to Moonshade, and help them rebuild."
Petra stared coolly into Xenka's eyes. "And Rocco, his death meant nothing then." She turned to Shamino. "And you, have you nothing to say for your actions?"
Shamino lowered his head. "In truth, I remember the deeds the Anarchy Bane committed, and am ashamed. But I was not in control of my body or actions. Rocco was a fine and decent man who will be missed. But every man has to die, and to have died with the love of another instead of life without love, is the greatest gift you could have given him."
Petra nodded. "Then I will go, and reclaim the city. Walk in Virtue, Shamino."
"Walk in Virtue, Petra."
Later that night, sitting around the dining table, Iolo and Gwenno noticed Shamino's indecision. "Husband, I fear our friend is distressed over his choice he must make. Should we try to help him?"
"Nay, that road must be walked by Shamino alone." Iolo remarked.
Regrets were entirely too easy to add up, Shamino decided. The deaths of Beatrix and her father, the King of the White Dragon. The murders of the Moonshade townspeople. He recalled the hatred and anger in Beatrix's ghost welcoming him back to his castle. Her accusations that his devotion to Lord British had left them all to die. The knowledge that goblins raided her coffin and had stolen her body. He sighed. If only the Avatar was still here. He glanced over at Iolo and Gwenno to see them turn away quickly from watching him. He knew Iolo had the same feelings of guilt over the deaths in the city of Fawn, but Gwenno had been under a Bane's control. If anyone could help ease that suffering, she could. He was suddenly startled from his thoughts. Wilfred stood at his table, the lines of suffering evident on his face.
"May I join you?"
"Of course, Wilfred. Please sit. You look distraught, friend."
Wilfred laughed, a short ugly bark. "Distressed. Yes, I am very distressed. I came to ask you about Britannia, and Lord British who I will be serving. I find it very hard to be enthusiastic about meeting the man who was responsible for the Crossing."
"Yes, when my ancestors fled Sosaria to travel here to Serpent Isle."
"Wilfred, your ancestors disagreed with Lord British's Virtues he was establishing. Ironically enough, the three Principles of Britannia are the same principles that Monitor, Fawn and Moonshade held. You are a follower of British already, as you walk in Courage everyday. Our lord is a good and just man. In fact, I was the first to meet him as he came from his home world of Earth. I was also a king in Sosaria, and I know that the troubles of the land were not caused by him."
"What are the Virtues that British established?"
"Honesty, Honor, Humility, Sacrifice, Spirituality, Compassion, Valor, and Justice. The people of Britannia strive to embody these as the Avatar does. Sadly, in late years the people have turned away from them, which helped Batlin form the Fellowship to further the Guardian's plans. We must all return to the Virtues if we are to save the land."
"If what you say is true, friend Shamino. I pledge upon my sword to follow the Virtues of Lord British." Wilfred said impulsively. "And what of your choice? Will you stay on the Isle, or return to Britannia?"
Shamino sighed inwardly. "Aye, I have made my choice a long time ago. I chose before to follow Lord British, and my love Beatrix paid for my actions. There is nothing to hold me here. My castle is in ruins. My love and her father are long dead. I will return to Britannia."
Off in a corner, Xenka smiled to herself.
In the timeless expanse of the Ethereal Void, the Order Serpent coiled restlessly. "Why do we help those that have bound us to Balance?"
"Balance must be maintained or all worlds shall be destroyed." responded the Great Earth Serpent. "The Stranger and his Companions accomplished a great deed. We should be grateful to them."
"Yes, my brother. Both Chaos and Order are one now in Balance. Put aside our past aggressions." hissed the Chaos Serpent.
"You may not influence other worlds, but I still have followers of Order scattered across the cosmos. They shall exact my revenge on these Companions. Mark my words." Order growled.
The next morning, Shamino, Iolo, Gwenno, and Wilfred stood waiting for Xenka to arrive.
"What could be taking so long?" Iolo wondered aloud.
"Be patient, Iolo. I'm sure she has a good reason for being late." Shamino frowned. He was as impatient as Iolo, but he was determined not to show it.
"Peace be to you, followers of Virtue. You shall have another companion on your travels. You must see Cantra to her mother in Monitor. There seek out Harnna's crystal. It will show you what to do next." Xenka stated. Cantra stood calmly, all traces of her madness gone.
"We shall do as you say, Xenka. But how are we to travel to Monitor? The Gates are closed to us."
"The monks have a small ship that will hold all of you. Now that the Imbalance is healed and the storms have stopped, sea travel is safe. Walk in Virtue."
"Thank you." Shamino glanced at Cantra. "We shall need to get you properly equipped. But in the meantime..." He reached into his backpack and produced a wooden sword. "I believe this belongs to you."
"Thank you, milord." Cantra replied. "I promise to be an asset on your travels."
Shamino grunted. "I'm sure you will be. Come, let's be off." He led them over to the ship that was docked on the shore. "Iolo, you still have the map and sextant, right?"
"Yes I do, but remember Scots told us it is not as accurate as it seems." Iolo frowned. He had been responsible for Scots' death. "Where are we heading, Shamino?"
"Set a course for my castle. We shall equip ourselves with weapons and armour, then travel on to Monitor."
"Wilfred, do you know how to sail?" Shamino asked quietly.
"A bit, milord. Captain Hawk showed me the basics during our travels together."
"Good, take the conn. I'm going below to check our supplies. Cantra, stay here and assist Wilfred." He turned and went below decks.
"Wilfred? Is there anyone left in Monitor?" Cantra asked.
"Your mother is the sole survivor. The goblins attacked the city and killed the rest." He sighed regretfully. "Even my friend Templar could not withstand their swords." He brightened. "However, I know your mother will be very happy to see you. It was she that sent the Avatar to find you."
"Did you know the Avatar well? I only met him when he first came to our city, and asked about the Knight's Test. I guess I'll never be a knight now." she sobbed.
"No, Cantra. I never really knew him well. That was mostly my own fault. I came across as a braggart, and was rude to him. As for the Test, Shmed turned out to be a traitor who tried to kill the Avatar. Don't worry, you'll become a knight in your own right one day. I hope you'll be a better one than I was."
"What happened to Pomdirgun? Did anyone recover the Helm of Monitor?"
"Well, it turned out that Simon was a goblin in disguise. As he died, he told the Avatar about the location of the goblin camp. The Avatar killed Pomdirgun, and took the Helm from his body. He also found out that Lord Marsten and Spektor were traitors. They had been supplying the goblins with military information for years."
"Did he kill them too?"
"No, they were arrested by Lord Caladin. When the goblins overran the town, they were killed by their former allies."
"Good." Cantra declared fiercely. Together they stood and watched the sea.
"This is your castle, Shamino?" Wilfred asked skeptically. "You're sure we'll find what we need here?"
"Aye, Wilfred. There is a well stocked armoury inside. Take Iolo and Cantra, gather up all you can carry."
"Where will you be?"
"Gwenno and I have a small task to attend to. We will join you soon."
"Very well, milord."
Shamino and Gwenno stepped through the shattered door leading to his chapel. "This is where her body was, before the goblins raided. It was my fault she died here alone, victim of a broken heart."
Gwenno said nothing, just nodded.
Shamino grimaced. Best I get this over with, he thought. Kneeling down before the coffin, he noticed the plaque set below it. Here lies Beatrix of the broken heart. Tears began to flow as he called out. "Beatrix, my love. Your husband, Shamino, has returned to ask for your forgiveness." The silence was oppressive. Surely she can hear me, he thought, She appeared here before. "Beatrix!" he called out.
"Yes, milord Shamino?"
He spun about. There stood her ghost, but gone from her eyes was the hatred that had burned so brightly. "Beatrix." he choked out. "Please forgive me for what I have done."
"I do forgive you, milord. The Earth Serpent has whispered from the Void the reasons for your leaving, and I realize now that if you had stayed, all would have been destroyed by the Imbalance." Her face hardened. "But you must let go of the guilt that is eating away at you. Britannia is not safe yet. The Guardian has taken your friend."
He sobered. "The Avatar?"
"Yes. He hates all of you as well for destroying his plans for this world. He has taken your friend to a world under his control."
"Where, Beatrix? What world?"
"I do not know, my husband. But it is connected to the Master of the Great Northern Forest. Seek him out for the answers. Be at peace, Lord Shamino." her voice called out to him as her form faded away.
"Be at peace, Beatrix. Be at peace." he whispered.
The Forest Master looked better, Shamino mused. Perhaps Beryl's presence had something to do with it.
"Pagan." Morghim said.
"What?" everyone asked at once.
"The world of Pagan. It is from there I fled with Windrunner from the Destroyer of Worlds, who you call the Guardian. It is there that your friend probably is. If so, your friend will have a difficult time returning."
"You have the magic of traveling between worlds. Could you send us back to Britannia?"
"Nay, my friend. The act of saving myself and Windrunner nearly killed me, and was what caused me to become so scarred."
Shamino nodded. "May we stay here for the night? We are traveling on to Monitor tomorrow."
"Of course, Shamino." the Forest Master said. "Beryl and I are honored to help you and your friends."
"Forest Master, could you give us the spell that brought you here? Perhaps we could find enough mages to cast it successfully." Iolo asked.
"Sadly enough, the spell is not of a magic practiced here. It is a tool of Tempestry, and it comes from within. I am sorry."
"Come let us be to bed." Shamino interrupted. As they went to sleep, he thought of his friend, the Avatar, and hoped his trial in Pagan would end soon.
He awoke on the shores of a strange land. He remembered not how he arrived there, except for a man dressed in the simple clothes of a fisherman. Shamino, Iolo, he thought weakly. Glancing at his clothing, he felt as if something was terribly wrong. A staff, armour and crown, he thought. He vaguely remembered a great red hand crushing him within the Void. Something about three great serpents, one red, one blue, the last gold. He fell back into unconsciousness.
Iolo stared at the blackened floor. "I had forgotten how much damage was done here."
Shamino nodded. "Yes, the goblins surely exacted their revenge on the people of Monitor." They walked past the ruined front of the Slashing Sword. Fires still raged in List Field. Wilfred's face had hardened into a mask of neutrality. Cantra continued to walk in a shocked state, disbelieving the amount of destruction. He sighed. They couldn't leave Harnna and Cantra here to fend for themselves. As they approached Hanna's house, she stepped out to greet them.
"Mother!" Cantra cried as she rushed forward to see her mother.
"Cantra! My daughter!" Hanna sobbed. They clung to each other for several minutes. Then Hanna sobered. "Shamino, Iolo and Wilfred, thank you all for returning my daughter to me. Is the Balance restored?"
"Yes, milady. The Avatar restored the Balance and saved our world." Wilfred responded. "Xenka told us to find your crystal to help us in our quest."
"Quest?" Hanna frowned. "Now that Serpent Isle is safe, what quest are you undertaking?"
Shamino stepped forward. "We seek a way to return to Britannia. The monks felt your crystal ball would show us our path."
"Come inside then. You are most welcome to it."
Once inside, Shamino rested his hands on the ball, gazing deep into its depths. Images unbidden began to fill his mind. He saw himself speaking to King Zhelkas in Furnace, entering a ruined house marked with the three serpents, and kneeling over someone. He shook his head.
"Shamino, are you all right?" Iolo asked worriedly.
"Aye, Iolo. We must travel to Moonshade, and from there underground to Furnace. Harnna, this city is not safe for you and your daughter. Will you accompany us to Moonshade? There at least are others to be with." Shamino asked quietly.
"No, milord. Cantra and I will remain here to try to restore Monitor to its former glory."
"Be well, Harnna." Shamino replied. As they neared the door to leave, Cantra stopped them. "Take this, Shamino." she said as she held out a gleaming sword with a dragon etched upon its hilt. The Dragonslayer Sword.
"Thank you, Cantra." He stepped out of the house. Once outside he pulled Iolo near him. "I saw an image of a ruined house marked with the three serpents. Do you remember such a place in our travels?" he asked.
"No, but perhaps Zhelkas may know. Perhaps one of the Ophidian structures we missed."
"Humph." Shamino snorted. "To Moonshade then."
As they neared the shore of Moonshade, they were startled to see Petra, Andrio, and little Freli waiting for them.
"What are you doing here?" Iolo asked.
"Torrissio, the MageLord, has sent you these three magic scrolls. The scrolls of Chill, Unlock Magic, and Restoration. He hopes these will further your quest to return home." Petra stated.
Shamino laughed. "And how did he know we would need those spells?"
"We saw you traveling underground in Fedabiblio's crystal." Freli piped. "Andrio and I are here to offer our help to you."
Shamino exchanged a look with Iolo. "We thank you and Andrio for your generous offer, but Moonshade needs you more to begin the repairing of the damage." He shot a grin at Petra. "In fact, Petra probably could use your help repairing the Blue Boar Inn, right Petra?" he asked.
Petra nodded. "Yes, two strong lads would be a great help."
Andrio groaned. "We wanted to go on an adventure."
Iolo laughed. "Later, lads. When you're older."
Grumbling, the two boys allowed Petra to herd them back into town. A short time later, Shamino, Iolo, and Wilfred stood before the door leading underground. "Everybody be careful. Remember the Rat-Men do not like unwanted guests." Shamino warned. "And this time we don't have Mosh's harp, so watch yourselves." As they walked along the twisting tunnels, Iolo stopped in midstep. Shamino had to lean back to avoid skewering his friend on the point of his sword. "Hey! Give a little warning next time." Shamino growled.
"Shh!" Iolo warned. "Do you hear that?"
Listening carefully, they heard voices and music from ahead. Rat-Men, thought Shamino. "Can we sneak around them?" he whispered urgently.
"I don't think so, but if we keep to the edges of their city, we may pass unnoticed."
"Okay, lets go." Quietly they walked, pressing against the walls, hiding behind houses. Suddenly, a Rat-Man rounded a corner. Shamino froze. As he fumbled for his sword, the Rat-Man rushed at him, drawing forth a pointed dirk.
"Shamino, look out!" Iolo screamed.
Then a flurry of arrows shot past Shamino' cheek, and four shafts embedded themselves in the creature's chest. It fell back without a sound. Shamino spun around to see Wilfred standing there, bow in hand. "My thanks, Wilfred. You saved my life."
"You're welcome, but keep your sword handy. We're not out of this yet. Look!" Wilfred pointed. A group of Rat-Men stood staring angrily at the group, fingering their weapons.
Damn, thought Shamino. "Iolo and Gwenno, you take the left flank, Wilfred and I will cover the right." With a terse nod as agreement, the four leapt into the fray. Swords and spears flashed. Iolo was especially lethal with his crossbow, but more reinforcements kept joining.
"Shamino, I think we're in trouble." Iolo panted. "There's too many of them."
"Keep fighting." Shamino shouted. His arms had begun to ache from swinging his sword. Surely there was a way out of here, he thought frantically. All of a sudden, two Rat-Men went down with daggers buried deep in their chests. He glanced behind him. An army of Gargoyles stood there, weapons at the ready.
"To be offering our help!" called out one of them.
"Accepted!" Shamino shouted. With that, the army broke ranks and surged into the fight. It was over in a matter of minutes, the surviving Rat-Men running or their lives deep into the tunnels. "Thanks for your timely intervention." he said to the gargoyle that had spoken.
"To be welcome. To invite you to Furnace to see our king." the gargoyle replied.
"We are honored to come. By what name are you called?" he asked.
"To be called Agra-Lem. To mean 'warrior.' To be escorting you to Furnace."
"Lead on." Shamino and the others fell in with the Gargoyle army. After a short march, they stood before the gates of Furnace, where King Zhelkas stood waiting for them.
"To be greeting you!!" Zhelkas called out. "To be welcoming you back. To be helping you how?"
"We are searching for a way to travel to Britannia, can you help us?" Shamino asked.
"To not be knowing, but to show you the library, where a book may hold the answer. To assign Agra-Lem to help." He looked at Agra-lem, who nodded. "To be grateful to the Hero and his friends."
"Thank you, Zhelkas." Iolo said.
"This is hopeless!" Wilfred yelled. "We have been through a hundred tomes, and still no reference to a portal to Britannia."
Shamino eased his neck back into its proper position. I should be more respectful of scholars, he thought, if nothing else, they must have great neck muscles. He too was disappointed in the lack of information they were finding. Most books dealt with the Ophidians culture, or with the Imbalance War that had devastated the land. He looked over to Iolo, who had fallen asleep across the table. He has the right idea, he thought. He stood and stretched. The ruined house is the key, he figured, but were is it? "Wilfred, any reference to a house marked with three serpents?"
Wilfred grimaced. "No, these all deal with the War, and how Order crushed Chaos." He reached over to Iolo, shaking him awake. "Iolo, did you find anything about the house?"
"What? Oh, no all these tomes dealt with the residents of the different Temples. Perhaps it's not here."
"No, even if it isn't here, the vision pointed us to Furnace. There must be a clue to it somewhere here." Shamino stated. He looked at Agra-Lem. "Is this all the books in the city?"
"To be uncertain. To go ask King Zhelkas." Agra-Lem spun around and left.
Shamino looked along the shelves. "Furnace was obviously built by the Ophidians, we can tell that by all the serpent motifs. It should have the clue here, we just need to find it."
Gwenno groaned. "I'm a scholar, but this is an almost impossible task. We should go back to the Monk Isle library, it would probably have a reference there. Miggim might know about that house also."
"That may be a good..." he broke off as Agra-Lem ran into the room bearing a large black tome marked with a single gold serpent. "Did you find something?" he asked.
"To be the tome you seek." Agra-Lem puffed breathlessly. "To be a reference of the Great Hierophants of Balance. To show you something." Agra-Lem flipped open the book and thumbed through pages, stopping at a beautiful picture. "To be the house you seek."
"Shamino, look!" Gwenno cried.
The picture was of a great house marked with the three serpents of Balance. The caption read, 'Home to the Great Hierophants of Balance, Isle of the Cat.' Shamino stared at the book. "Where is Cat Isle?" he wondered.
"I've read about it on Monk Isle." Gwenno said. "It is off the coast of the mainland, past the Sleeping Bull Inn."
"But why didn't we encounter it in our travels around Serpent Isle?" Iolo asked. "The Avatar became the Great Hierophant. We even spoke to the last Hierophant's ghost on the Isle of Crypts."
"Apparently, the house was the home to the Hierophants, but was not involved in their religion. It wasn't a temple or anything." Gwenno explained.
"Then we will travel there." Shamino said. He turned to Agra-Lem. "Thank you, friend, for bringing us this book."
"To be welcome, friend Shamino. To be glad to help the Hero's friends."
Shamino pondered a minute. "Would you like to join us and travel to Cat's Isle?"
Agra-Lem brightened. "To be happy to go. To be wanting to visit Britannia."
Shamino laughed. "Good, so are we."
After a fond farewell to King Zhelkas and his gargolyes, the Companions set sail for the Isle of Cats. The voyage was uneventful, and after a two day voyage, they docked on the shores. Iolo was the first off the ship, Gwenno right behind him. "Shamino!" Iolo called up. "You have to see this."
Shamino walked down the gangplank, and paused at the base, staring at the twenty foot tall statues of cats lining the beach. "Big kittycats." he chuckled. Then he sobered as he spotted the outline of the ruined house set in the jungle. "There it is, people. The home of the Great Hierophants." He found he was trembling as he approached the building. It was larger than he thought, ten stories towering up into the sky. He paused at the threshold.
"Big sucker, isn't it?" Wilfred muttered. "Why so many floors, I wonder?"
"I'm sure we'll find out. Come on." Shamino stepped inside and realized the first floor was a shrine dedicated to the Virtue of Tolerance. He blinked. "Gwenno, I thought you said this wasn't a temple."
"It's not, but the Virtues of Balance were based on a combination of the Virtues of Order and Chaos." she said.
Fighting back a shudder of revulsion at the idea of Tolerance, from which the Anarchy Bane had sprung, he continued through the building. The five floors were dedicated to the other Virtues, Enthusiasm, Emotion, Ethicality, Discipline, and Logic. He paused on the seventh floor, not recognizing the Virtue it was meant to display.
"Harmony." Gwenno whispered. "The combination of Tolerance and Ethicality. The next should be Dedication, followed by Rationality. These are the Principles of Balance."
"This is a Temple then. The Temple of Order, Chaos, and Balance." Iolo remarked. "I wonder what the last floor is?"
"Let's find out. Come on!" Shamino began to run through the shrine, up the stairs until he came to the last floor. It was nothing more than a house, bedroom, kitchen, library, and living room. "This must be the living quarters for the Hierophants. How can this help us?"
Gwenno pointed to the library. "I'm going to check in there for any clues that may help."
Iolo pointed to the kitchen. "I'm going to check in there for food." He ducked as Gwenno threw a mock punch at him. "Hey, I'm hungry!"
Wilfred looked around. "I think we should search the place to see if there is anything here that may help us."
Shamino nodded. "Okay, I'll check out the bedroom. Maybe there is something here." As he entered, he noticed the Balance emblems covering everything from the bedspread to the engraved chairs, the backs being the three intertwined serpents. Rifling through the closet, he found robes of state and assorted clothing, but nothing useful. The desk held nothing but blank parchment and inkwells. He sank down on the bed and sighed. The vision led us here, he thought, so where's the clues? He looked up at the headboard, also covered in engraved serpents, and noticed that one of the serpents was missing. He rolled off the bed, and knelt by the board. The center serpent, depicting the Great Earth Serpent, was a slot set into the wood.
"Iolo!!! Gwenno!!! Wilfred!!! Get in here, quick!!!" he shouted.
Iolo ran into the room, Wilfred and Gwenno at his heels. "What? What's the matter?"
"You still have the blackrock serpents, right?"
"Quick, give me the blackrock balance serpent."
Taking it with trembling hands, he set the rock serpent into the slot. A distant musical chime sounded, and a recessed alcove set in the wall sprang open. Inside lay a silver medallion with a serpent engraved upon its face.
"Look!" he whispered hoarsely. "It is identical to Lord British's medallion."
"Take it, Shamino!" Iolo cried.
Shamino reached into the cabinet, and drew the medallion forth. It began to glow faintly in his hand, then a flash of light burst from its surface. Instinctively, they shielded their eyes from the glare. When they lowered their hands, they saw a shimmering moongate standing in the center of the room, its surface rippling in shades of red, blue, and gold.
Laughing in joy, Shamino turned to his friends. "Come, to Britannia." He turned back and stepped through the moongate. His friends followed, and the gate sank back into the ground.
Within the Void, the Order Serpent twisted and writhed. "The time is approaching. If I cannot harm the Stranger, then I will kill his Companions."
"No!" cried the Chaos Serpent. "You will not harm them. To do so may jeopardize the Balance. You could destroy all the worlds with your insanity."
"Chaos is right." the Great Earth Serpent said. "Continue on this path, and every world may pay for your folly."
"You cannot stop me! I did not ask to be chained to Chaos in this foul prison called Balance! I tried to stop them, but you interfered! Chaos was broken into twisted Banes, and you were nothing more than a shadow of your former glory! I reigned supreme in the Void! I shall have my revenge upon those that stopped me!" the Order Serpent screamed.
"You cannot withstand Chaos and I combined. Give up this foolish act, lest we be forced to harm you." the Earth Serpent warned.
"You cannot harm me!" Order gloated. "To do so invites Imbalance to recover the land. You must have Order and Chaos to have Balance."
The Great Earth Serpent exchanged a helpless glance with the Chaos Serpent. Order was right, to harm him was to allow the Imbalance to destroy the land. They could do nothing except wait.
Shamino and his companions arrived in the dead of night in the middle of a vast forest.
"Shamino, look we are back in Britannia!" Iolo crowed, pointing at the sky where Britannia's two moons, Trammel and Felucca, were hanging.
"Let's see where we are in the world." Shamino said. "In Wis." he intoned, and suffered a vision of flying atop the world looking down upon their position. "We're in the middle of the Deep Forest of Yew, about a day's journey to Empath Abbey. Let's make camp for the night, and we'll travel at the light of dawn. Wilfred, you take first watch, Agra-Lem will relieve you." As he sank down on his bedroll, he could not describe the feeling of joy at being home.
The next morning they broke camp and began the trip toward the Abbey. About halfway there, Iolo spoke up. "Shamino, let's stop at my house for a quick bite and rest, then we'll continue to the Abbey. Besides, we'll need supplies."
Shamino mulled it over. "You're right. We'll stop at your hut to restock, then on to the Abbey. We need to get to Britain as soon as possible, though. Lord British must be warned about the Guardian."
As they approached Iolo's hut, they noticed something was wrong. The hut was completely destroyed, its roof sagging inward, pieces of its walls burnt and scorched.
"What happened here?" Iolo asked bewildered.
"The Imbalance storms must have caused this. Remember how we found the Britannian Mint, ruined in the field? One must have hit your hut." Shamino remarked.
"To be continuing on our journey then. To hurry to Britain." Agra-Lem said emphatically.
Shamino nodded. "Come, let's see if anything else was destroyed."
Grimly, they continued on their way. As they approached the road to the Abbey, they saw the great Knight's Game chessboard behind Nichodemus' house, its pieces cracked and in piles of rubble. Gwenno stood shocked at the destruction. "Nichodemus placed great spells on those. It would take a massive force to even damage them, let alone destroy any."
Shamino nodded grimly. "We must hurry, if this is any indication of the damage in the land."
As they ran toward the great Abbey of the Brotherhood of the Rose, they saw that even that great building was pitted and scarred. As they approached, Aimi, one of the monks, came out of the building. Spotting them, she began to run toward them.
"Aimi." Shamino puffed. "What has happened here?"
"Shamino, where is the Avatar? His presence is needed more than ever in the land." she asked.
"Our friend has been abducted by the Guardian, sent to another world. We must get to Castle British, have you a ship that can take us there?" Shamino asked urgently.
"Nay, but Nichodemus may be able to help you. Wait here." she said before turning and running at top speed toward the Abbey.
Shamino looked at his friends. "This does not bode well for Britannia."
Iolo stared back. "Aye."
Just then a flash of ether appeared before them. When it cleared, Nichodemus stood in its place. "Shamino. What has happened to the Avatar?" he asked quietly.
"Our friend has been taken to the world of Pagan, a place under the control of the Guardian. We must get to Lord British to warn him. Can you help us?" Shamino asked.
"Aye, take this Virtue Stone. I cast Mark upon it once while I was at Castle British. Using Recall should take you there. Go in Virtue, Shamino."
"Go in Virtue, Nichodemus." Shamino took the purple stone, and holding in his hand cast the Recall spell. "Kal Ort Por."
Deep within the Serpent Spine mountains, in the Shrine of Order, the Hierophant of Order knelt, his followers behind him. The image of the Order Serpent rose up before him.
"How may we serve you, oh great Serpent of Order?" the Hierophant asked.
"In the city of Britain, there are a man, Lord British, that rules this land. Find him and destroy him in my name. Order will reign supreme." the Order Serpent hissed.
"For Order!" the followers of Order screamed in a frenzy. "Death to Lord British!"
The Hierophant stood, resplendent in his gleaming blue armour. Bowing to the Serpent of Order, he gathered his troops and led them from the shrine.
The Order Serpent smiled, then vanished.
The party appeared before the ruined gate of Castle British. They could see where fires had raged in the entryway, where lightning had struck the stones.
"Come!" Shamino urged. They ran through the courtyard into the throne room. There sitting on the throne was Lord British. Shamino gasped. British looked ill, his robes hung limply on his frame. "Milord?" he asked.
Lord British looked up in shock. "Shamino? Iolo? Gwenno?" he asked shakily. As he stood, they could see the lines in his face smooth out and vanish. "You have returned! But where is the Avatar?" he asked.
"Milord British, the Avatar is a prisoner on the world of Pagan, trapped there by the Guardian." Iolo stated.
"And what of Batlin? Did you catch that fiend?" British asked.
"Aye, milord. That blackguard is dead, and the Imbalance that threatened us all is healed. We have found the missing lands of Danger and Despair, now called Serpent Isle. We have restored the Great Earth Serpent, once trapped by Exodus, to its former glory." Shamino said proudly. "But there is still danger to Britannia."
"That's right, follower of Chaos!!" someone screamed.
Shamino and his companions spun around. There in the doorway of the throne room stood the army of Order, led by the Great Hierophant of Order.
"Surrender the pretender Lord British to us for execution, and the rest may live. Oppose us and die!" the Hierophant spat.
Shamino drew his sword. "If you want his life, be prepared to lose your own."
The Hierophant's lips pulled back in a sneer. "I know about you, Lord Shamino. How you entrapped the Order Serpent into foul Balance. All your lives are forfeit." His voice reached a fever pitch. "Servants of Order, attack!!!"
"Look to yourselves!" Shamino shouted as the first soldiers were upon them. Lunge, parry, thrust. He killed two instantly by sword, as a third attacked he shouted "Vas Flam." A blast of fire shot forth from his hands and struck the man. Iolo was shooting soldiers left and right, every crossbow bolt deadly. Gwenno was swinging her staff, the cracking of bones audible as she struck home. Agra-Lem was swinging a two-handed sword with horrifying results, slaughtering men with every blow. Lord British had drawn his longsword and was defending himself with admirable skill.
Wilfred watched the fighting with an almost detached air. It wasn't that he was frightened, but rather he was listening to a quiet whisper in his mind.
Across the room, the Hierophant's head snapped up in horror. He too heard a whispering, but it was the Order Serpent in his mind warning him of a terrible danger to Order. "Servants of Order! Kill the one known as Wilfred! He is threatening the great Order Serpent!!!" he screamed in rage.
Shamino spun around to see Wilfred drop his bow, and pull out a glowing blue gem.
Wilfred raised the Eye of Order high above his head. "SERVANTS OF ORDER!!!" his voice boomed across the room. "I COMMAND YOU TO STOP IN THE NAME OF THE ORDER SERPENT!!!" Wilfred's eyes began to glow the same hue as the Eye.
The soldiers faltered as they watched the image of Wilfred and the Order Serpent begin to merge.
"Kill him!!!" the Hierophant raged uncontrollably. "Kill them all!!!"
They glanced between themselves, uncertain what to do, the battle forgotten.
Shamino, Iolo, Gwenno, and Lord British could only watch in awe, shocked at what they were witnessing.
Wilfred had begun to glow a bright blue, as the shifting between his body and the Order Serpent intensified. This is what he was destined for, he thought, this was the greatness he had longed for. He could feel the Banes of the Order Serpent fighting him, trying to push his spirit out. "Damn you!" he shouted. "If Dupre could join, so can I!"
The Order Serpent screamed in agony as the Chaos Serpent and the Great Earth Serpent began to crush it. It knew it could not withstand the pain for long. "Kill the mortal before we join!!! Do not let him do this to me!!!" it screamed at the Hierophant.
The Hierophant looked from his troops to the twisting form of the Order Serpent. His eyes glittering with madness, he drew his sword. "In the name of Order!!!" he screamed as he rushed toward Wilfred's body. He made three steps before a blossom of crossbow bolts tore into his chest. He sank down to his knees. "I must kill him for Order!" he raged. He stumbled to his feet, and began staggering toward Wilfred.
Shamino threw a quick look at Iolo, who was frantically trying to reload his crossbow. Spinning around he began to run across the room. The stunned Order soldiers, seeing a threat to the Hierophant, surged toward him. He began to hack his way through the living wall of flesh that separated him from his goal. "Wilfred!!" he cried hoarsely. "Look out!!!"
Wilfred was caught in the struggle for mastery of the Order Serpent. Its mind continued to fight him, even as its body continued to be slowly crushed by the other Serpents. He was dimly aware of the battle raging around him, but could spare it no thought. I will conquer you, he thought fiercely, you cannot resist us all.
The Order Serpent struggled against its bonds, searching frantically for escape. This cannot happen, it thought, Order is supreme. "Hurry!" it screamed at its Hierophant, who continued his slow advance toward Wilfred.
Shamino was sobbing now, as he continued to try to beat a path through the ranks of Order. "Wilfred!! You must defend yourself!!" he screamed. He slashed at soldiers at random, no skill involved, just a frantic hacking. Iolo had reloaded his 'bow, and was angling for a shot at the Hierophant, but the soldiers were blocking. Gwenno managed to get next to Lord British, and together they were defending the end of the room.
As the struggle for supremacy of the mind of Order raged within Wilfred, the Hierophant neared. His blood fell in great splotches on the floor, the pain was intolerable, and yet he continued. For Order, he thought, and for me. He approached the would-be pretender to Order, and raised his sword high. "Die in the name of Order!!!" he yelled. As his sword came down, Wilfred spun around.
"I AM ORDER!!!" Wilfred shouted. A great blue light shot forth from the Eye of Order, and caught the Hierophant in its grasp. He could feel its burning as it began to destroy his body. His hair began to burn. His skin crisped. His eyes exploded in their sockets. The fat in his body sizzled. When he was little more than a mummy, his bones caught fire. He fell, and as his body hit the ground it burst into ash, and was scattered across the floor.
Everyone in the room froze, horror evident upon their faces. Shamino looked at his friend. "Wilfred?" he asked hesitantly.
"Yes, and no. He who was Wilfred is now with Order." Wilfred's lips spoke. "Servants of Order, lay down your weapons. Lord British is a good man, and shall not come to harm. Return to your homes. Balance is restored."
The soldiers, naked fear evident on their faces, dropped their swords. The ring of steel on stone was deafening. One by one, they glanced from the spot the Hierophant had fallen to the glowing form of the Order Serpent. As a whole, they formed ranks, and marched from the throne room.
Wilfred looked at Shamino. "Thank you for helping me to be free. Walk in Order and Balance, Lord Shamino." With those words spoken, Wilfred fell to the ground, a lifeless husk.
Shamino knelt over his friend and wept. He sensed Iolo and Gwenno kneeling beside him. This was the final vision, he thought bitterly, the death of a friend.
"He died a hero." Iolo said quietly. "Just as Dupre did."
Together, they knelt there and mourned their loss.
In the weeks that passed, the repairing of Castle British, and of the entire land was well underway. Iolo and Gwenno had returned to their home in Yew to begin reconstructing their house, with a promise that 'this time it'll be cleaner.' Agra-Lem had decided to travel to Terfin, to meet with King Draxinusom and help begin the healing of the hatred between humans and gargoyles. It was a bright and sunny day, two weeks from the day, that found Lord British and Shamino strolling through the courtyard of Castle British.
"He seemed to be a fine man, Shamino." Lord British remarked.
"That he was, milord. He had been a braggart and a fool, until I told him of your Virtues. He swore to me to follow them until his death, and he did." Shamino said quietly.
Lord British looked at his friend critically. "You cannot blame yourself for his death. He was an honorable man, and sacrificed his life to save us all. He showed valor in saving your life, honesty in dealing with others, compassion in helping young Cantra, justice in avenging his family, humility in serving you, and spirituality in his joining. He acted in a manner suiting the Avatar himself. You should be proud of his actions. I am."
They paused before a monument, newly erected in the courtyard. It was a statue of a man holding aloft a sword. Its plaque stated a simple epitaph:
|Here lies Sir Wilfred|
|An Avatar was he|