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The dull glow of a power crystal reflected off of various glass instruments, sending scattered light across Nystul's dark lab. The faint purple illumination seemed to deepen the lines of worry on the old mage’s face as he sat motionless, the moonlight gently bathing him from the laboratory window. Long ago he had sent his assistant to gather a meeting. Since then the sun had long set and the candles lay in puddles of wax. All the while he had hardly moved from his place at the table in the laboratory, staring at the crystal.

This world needs men of power, he thought, and yet I cannot change my path. A glint of the purple light shone in his eyes for a moment and he squinted slightly. The King must have known that this would come to pass in Britannia someday. Evil such as this never dies… it only changes in appearance. It was foolish of me to think it would not crawl upon the land again. I should have made him stay longer. He left because he had to, I know, but the land aches from his absence. I only hope the people can drive back this evil without him.

A tapping on his shoulder made Nystul look up, startled, into the eyes of his apprentice, Clainin. The apprentice looked worried for having disturbed his mentor. Nystul quickly returned to staring at the crystal.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to... interrupt. Is everything well here?" Clainin spoke slowly, seeing the deep frown on the face of his old teacher and friend. "I know you usually do not like the laboratory this dark. Shall I light a candle?"

"No. No, Clainin that won't be necessary. I must be getting old... I didn't notice you approaching." The elderly man slowly lifted himself into a standing position, still staring at the crystal on the table before him. "I trust everyone has gathered?"

"Yes, Nystul. They await you in the throne room. I apologize for the delay in getting everyone here... I almost had to use a flamestrike to make Krett leave his workshop. He's been constructing golems night and day ever since the crystals were—"

"Clainin, have I taught you well?" Nystul turned suddenly from the crystal to look at the younger man before him.

"Pardon?" Clainin looked concerned. He had never seen such worry in the face of his mentor.

"Have I trained you well? Have I given you enough knowledge of magery that you feel as one with it? That you could explore the mysteries of the ether on your own? That you could use all the powers of magic available to you to defend this realm?"

"I... I think I have a number of years before I could compare to your strength in the arts." Clainin paused, trying to study his teacher. "I don't believe I could have recieved a better education from anyone but you. I like to think that when you're away from the castle I can keep things in order in the laboratory. Well, there was that one incident with the slimes and the enchantment spell, but I think the carpet I found covered the stains from the acid..."

"You've been a good and dedicated student, Clainin." Nystul put a hand on the mage’s shoulder. "You shall make a great wizard someday."

Clainin looked slightly uncomfortable. "I... I appreciate the confidence you have in me... but what is this about?"

Nystul smiled sadly. "Another time." He guided Clainin to the doorway. "Right now, Britannia needs our clarity of thought."

* * *

The throne room of the castle was quiet, save for the sound of Krett's tools clinking as he worked over a clockwork assembly spread out in parts over the floor. Shamino lounged in a chair, casually tossing a dagger in the air and catching it deftly. To the side of the throne stood Dupre, his large warrior stature imposing in the light of the candles illuminating the chamber. He seemed to stand protectively next to the royal seat, as if his King still sat there.

Clainin walked in and greeted the men quietly. They acknowledged him with nods and waited as Nystul spoke to a pair of guards at the entrance to the room. They stepped outside the chamber and shut the doors behind Nystul. He stepped up to the gathering and glanced around to catch everyone's attention. "Gentlemen, I appreciate your haste in coming to the castle."

Shamino sat up straight, catching his dagger and returning it to his belt without a sound. "We came as soon as Clainin gave us word. He says you have discovered something?"

Nystul nodded. "I have indeed. And I wish I had better news to tell all of you."

"You look grim, old friend." Dupre said from beside the throne. "Tell us what it is you have found; together we shall face it."

The elderly mage sighed and looked around at the men before him. "I have made a careful study of the crystal that Krett and Shamino found and have been spending the past few days discovering some of its secrets, along with other pieces of evidence found in Ilshenar. What I am about to tell you... is grim news indeed but it must be heard so that you can understand how serious the threat before us is."

He paced the floor slowly as he spoke, his shadow flickering over the others in the candlelight. "As many of you know, magic is very... personal to the mage using it. The way the magical ether is used by a spell caster is almost as individual as a voice or a face. This crystal," he said as he removed the artifact from his robe, "was created with magic, and has the creator’s... energy, if you will, emanating from it."

"So... ah, you know who it is that ah... made the crystal? You know who is, ah... behind the golems?" Krett asked excitedly.

"Unfortunately, the identity of our attacker remains a mystery. We are still not sure what 'Exodus' means, if it even has a meaning. But that is not the news I spoke of. Whoever has been orchestrating these attacks on Britannia has a familiar magical energy that I have seen in only one other before in my lifetime." Nystul stopped and turned to the men, looking at each of them to make sure he had their full attention. "The other I speak of is Minax."

Shamino, Dupre and Krett exchanged looks of shock.

"Minax has not the resources to create these golems. And they don't seem to be working for her in the faction wars in Felucca." Dupre said, disbelief clouding his voice.

Shamino stood quickly. "Then... Mondain...?"

"No, not Mondain." Nystul replied quickly. "He is long dead. No, this magical energy is very similar to theirs, but different somehow. Nevertheless, I fear the threat we face is just as serious."

"May I, ah... may I ask a question?" Krett asked. His voice was almost quivering with nervousness. "I'm hearing the names, ah... Mondain and Minax... why am I here? I'm just a tinker. A good one, I ah... I may be but the idea of facing evil such as that..."

"I need your knowledge, Krett." Nystul said. "Our enemy has this entire time been hidden in seclusion. The crystals bearing the magical signature have led me to discover some interesting details on how that seclusion is being maintained. Krett, you have an understanding of how these crystals interact with the golems, and how the golems use the power of the crystals. We need that knowledge."

"For what, exactly?" Shamino asked.

"Krett and I are going to build a magical device that will allow us to find our attacker. From the knowledge gathered in Ilshenar, I suspect the large pyramid structure is some sort of gateway to our enemies’ lair. It has been blocked by spells since it was discovered - spells that are using a great deal of ethereal energy." Nystul held up the crystal. The glow shadowed his face with soft light. "Thanks to this, we know where that energy is coming from."

"I've been confused about that." Clainin said. "The magical energy being used to keep the barrier that strong would have to come from... well… all over the world."

"That is exactly where it has been coming from, Clainin." Despite the gravity of their situation, Nystul smiled at his pupil. “And in fact, whoever is drawing the magic into Ilshenar is taking more than they would need to block the pyramid. I fear it is being used for some other vile purpose.”

"How can that be? We have sent search parties all over Britannia, and they have found nothing that could channel so much magic." Clainin said, starting to pace across the room. "Whatever was gathering the energy would have to..." he stopped and his face lit up. "It would have to be hidden with magic!"

"Exactly." Nystul patted his apprentice on the shoulder. "I have used a number of spells to find what gathers this energy. All I know right now is that the magic is being pulled from many different locations, both in Trammel and Felucca. Krett, the device you will help me build is going to reveal the source of our enemy's power. Once we find and destroy these... whatever they may be, I believe the pyramid will open. We may even find what is enslaving the gargoyles."

“We could learn so much from them…” Krett stared into space as if in a dream. He noticed the rest of the party looking at him in slight amusement and snapped back to reality. "But first we, ah... we need to build this... device you spoke of?" Krett asked.

"Yes, that is the first step." Nystul sighed. "And it will not be easy. We will need a great deal of materials - more than just we could hope to gather. Clainin, send word to every citizen of Britannia. We shall require much help gathering resources. We will build this device in the courtyard of the castle. They will need to bring supplies there."

"Once you finish this device of ours, I will begin scouting throughout Trammel," Shamino said. "When our enemy's magic gatherers are revealed, we should find and destroy them as quickly as possible. Dupre, can your men search Felucca?"

"Aye," the heavy paladin replied. "Although I hope the other factions will not make this more difficult. I fear when we find these magic gatherers in Felucca, we may find Followers of Minax, or even Shadowlord solders waiting to stop us from destroying them. If they stand in our way too strongly we may never win."

"Under the circumstances, I may be able to gain the support of the Council of Mages," Clainin said. "I still have some influential friends among the leaders."

Nystul walked to the middle of the room and looked to each of the men. "Then it seems we all have our tasks. My friends... I do not need to tell you how deadly this new threat could be to all of Sosaria. The entire world is counting on everyone in Britannia to eradicate this evil. Let us begin work; we have much to do.”

The party began rising and exchanging small goodbyes as they went on their separate tasks. Nystul watched all of them in silence and turned to leave. I know these men, and I can stop whatever this “Exodus” is. I only hope that once I leave to join our King, they can continue the fight without me.



From the Britannia News Network - The Journal of Ultima Online, November 1st, 2001.