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The explosion shook the fortress and hurled Dasha to the floor. The Jukan warriors around her toppled in a clatter of armor and spears. She regained her bearings and glanced about the room. The stone walls had cracked. The floor shifted. The fortress verged on collapse.

Master Adranath’s ritual had begun. The demise of the Juka and Meer was at hand, unless Dasha and Kabur acted quickly.

She rose to her knees and barked, “Exodus! Do something to give us time, sorcerer!” From her fingertips leapt a spell that illuminated the shadowy alcove, but the Juka’s mysterious lord was not there. He had left behind a curious altar or pedestal, studded with flickering gemstones and inset with silver, geometric patterns. She muttered, “Where is your revered master, Kabur, in the face of danger?”

The warlord growled, “The Juka do not hide behind wizards. We fight with our own hands!” Then he charged through a doorway. Dasha followed him. They emerged atop the high wall at the front of the massive fortress. From this vantage they saw the Jukan city spread around them, devastated by the earthquakes of the morning’s battle. Chaotic melee poured blood through the streets.

As Dasha strained to maintain her composure her keen eyes darted across the landscape, searching. Adranath, no! Her hunters vision found the elder far below working his hands deftly at the northern point of a circle of other eternals. A hellish glow began to shine forth from the ring of mages and Dasha knew at any moment the fortress would be hit by another blast of vengeful power. Her senses suddenly dulled as if she had been submerged in icy water. The valley before her seemed to freeze and the silence of a still night engulfed the chaos. Adranath far below looked as if he were captured in a blurry painting. A small plume of fire in the infant stages of a chaotic inferno hung from his fingertips like an orniment. Only Kabur and the structure on which he stood appeared clearly in her sight. Her body moved as if covered in lead and simply moving her head from side to side took extra concentration. Streams of dull violet light started to slowly trace along the surface of the floor below her like tears in parchment. They increased in number tracing over every surface faster and faster covering the entire fortress in the violet glow. The streams gathered below Dasha and Kabur covering the both of them until nothing could be seen but the strange energy. The Meer woman lost conciousness, her vision bathed in blinding light.

* * *

At the peak of the circle of elders, Adranath ceased his enchanting and froze in horror. As the wave of violent fire disspelled and faded he could see the Juka fortress fade completely from sight. No rubble remained, no ash, no trace of life. The fortress was simply gone.

Exodus and the Juka had escaped. Adranath fell to his knees, tears streaming down his wrinkled face.

Amidst the smoke and fire, the battle between the few remaining Juka warriors and Meer stopped for a moment as a deafening cry of agony echoed across the valley.

* * *

Ancestors, do not forsake us! We do not deserve this end!

By the Great Mother, you have killed us all!

... fire...

... smoke so thick...

Is this how the Juka face eternity?

Is this how the Meer face eternity?

The Juka carved their place in history.

Wisdom accepts the inevitability of change.

* * *

Through utter blackness a crease of light sliced through Dashas vision, stirring her mind. Her limbs felt weak as if she had run for days and her head pounded. A strange wind blew around her, smells her sharp senses had never before known were strong in the air. She managed to pull her eyes open slowly, whincing at the sunlight from above. As her vision focused she could see that she was still in the same fortress, yet something was different about this place.

As Dasha turned slowly she could see a figure standing near her in a dark cloak, floating slightly above the ground. Before she could react a huge clawed limb came forth from underneath the folds of the figures cloak and opened unleashing a hellish blast of fire. She was sent flying backwards over the edge of the fortress wall and fell.

Kabur began to groan and come to a standing position. The grizzled warrior already reaching for his weapon when he came to a kneeling position. "You will not find me so easy to defeat..." he strained to remain upright for a moment. "Rest, Kabur. You have been saved." A voice droned in his head.

"Lord Exodus?" Kabur stood shakily and looked around at the valley below him. It was as if the entire fortress had been moved to another world. Nothing but the structure itself looked familiar.

"Where... where is this place?" He asked turning to examine the cloaked figure again.

"You stand in the fortress you have always known, Kabur. This is Ilshenar." The voice of Exodus buzzed in Kabur's mind.

"This is not the land I remember... I saw fire... death... Only Dasha and I remained. I saw these things like a dream... but not a dream." Kabur could only stare out at the new landscape before him.

"You saw a fate undone, Kabur. You felt time unwinding around you. Your fate begins anew, here, in my service again."

"You... you brought the Juka back from death?" Kabur sheathed his weapon.

"I have undone your death. I spent many centuries gathering the magical power to bring you forth from the past, Kabur. With the assistance of Lord Blackthorn I was able to gain the last amount of strength I needed to spare you from the insanity of the Meer. You now look down upon a new Ilshenar. One with new enemies for the Juka to challenge. I will guide you as I always have."

"Lord Blackthorn?" Kabur stared at the stranger. The cloaked figure pulled back his hood revealing a face part flesh and part armor. An eye like a glowing jewel glimmered slightly, highlighting the groutesque features marred by metal. His face held no expression.

"You will begin by exploring the land surrounding the fortress." Blackthorn ordered. "Gather your weapons and kill anything that you encounter."

Kabur stood still, curious who this being was that suddenly gave him commands. The voice of his master echoed again in his head. "Obey him, Kabur."

Slowly he pulled his stare away from Blackthorn's and walked into the depths of the tower. He could feel the strange one's eyes on him as he left. He did not look back to see the sneer on Blackthorns face. One by one he gathered his men and began distributing weapons and organizing parties to examine the fortress and the lands around it. He stood thinking over a table of weapons. From the top of the tower he had seen life in the distance. What he thought might be humans seemed to be lurking near the marsh areas and in the other direction he was sure he has spotted a gargoyle. He lifted two bows he often used for hunting such game and a hefty supply of arrows.

He walked out of the doors of the fortress with a group of his warriors. They stood for a moment gazing over the landscape, trying to take in this new world. Kabur turned to them and barked "Forward! Weapons at the ready!"

As he strode at the head of the party of warriors he stared ahead ready to strike. One thought was on his mind.

Dasha survived.



From the Britannia News Network - The Journal of Ultima Online, January 10th, 2002.