Dasha tried to rise but her trembling limbs pierced her with pain. The shadow of the figure cast down over her as it approached slowly. She scrambled on the ground to get herself upright again although she wasn't sure if she had a chance of even keeping her balance. She quickly attempted to cast another healing spell on herself.
Her head spun and her vision blurred from the effort but through the confusion she could see a faint light spread out from her hand and wash over her body. The effect was nearly unnoticeable but a small pulse of strength worked its way through her legs and arms. Pushing away from the ground she managed to spring up to a shaky standing position just as the figure grew close and stopped only an arms length away.
"I won't let you... you almost destroyed..." she said between short breaths, her knees buckling. As she fell forward two gray hands caught her shoulders. "No... I won't allow..." Her vision was filled with dancing points of light and she could feel the last of her strength vanishing like fog in the morning sunlight. The last thing she saw was the face of Adranath, tears streaming down his face.
"The wait has ended,” he said, holding Dasha close like a child. His tears flowed faster and he began to sob. "You have returned to us... at long last, you have finally returned to us!"
* * *
A twinkling of firelight made orange flowers bloom behind Dasha's closed eyes. She squinted and rubbed her temples and slowly cracked her eyes open. On the other side of the small campfire she could see Adranath sitting across from her, staring at her with a gentle smile. She sat upright quickly and tensed.
"What have you done? Where am I?!" She demanded. She was finished showing the eternal respect after the chaos she had witnessed transpire at his command. The image of his spells smashing through the landscape of Ilshenar during the battle would haunt her dreams for a lifetime.
"I worried for you, young one. It took days for your strength to return." Adranath said as if not hearing her. "We will be complete again. We must be on our way soon, the wait has been so long." He smiled and stared at her.
Dasha sat silent for a moment, trying to make sense of his words. She wasn't sure if the eternal was insane or trying to manipulate her. "Tell me what you have done, Adranath! To what consequence has your madness condemned us? Where are we?" She tried to find some sign of understanding in his eyes but they seemed vacant, as if he were in a dream.
"The mountains, Dasha. Do you not recognize the mountains? Have they changed so much after all this time?" He stood and looked around the majestic landscape. "All this time..."
"I have never seen this place before." She spoke slowly, unsure of her own words. This place did look familiar. "This land... it reminds me of home. But this is some mockery of our world. A poor imitation!" She stood and walked to stand in front of him. Her hand held his shoulder tightly and his gaze met hers. "Tell me what has happened here! Where is our homeland? How did you bring the Juka..."
"The Juka!" His eyes widened and he grasped her hand. "The time has come, Dasha. I have been watching for so long and the time has come again. Our chance to restore the balance begins anew!"
"The balance?" Her heart softened slightly at his words. "Only days ago your thirst for vengence consumed you, now you again find hope for the balance?"
"Days?" His face wrinkled in confusion. "I have had... centuries... you do not know! My child... you do not know... gone for countless centuries. The destruction averted... sit, child. Sit." He took her hand and led her back to the fire. "You must be told."
She slowly lowered to the ground and relaxed. The eternal’s behavior concerned her deeply. "What must I be told?"
"You have been lost, Dasha. You were taken from time. You and the entire Juka fortress, all taken in an instant. Pulled from history! It was Exodus!"
"But I saw you from the fortress... you were casting your spells and then everything was lost in light." Her memory strained to recall the event fully from the madness that had transpired around her.
Exodus! Do something to give us time, sorcerer!
The insanity of Adranath's explanation suddenly began to make a cold sense to her. This was home. The mountains had dulled over time and the landscape had shifted. New, strange plant life flourished where fire and explosions of magic had been days before. But... it was more than days, wasn't it?
"How long?" Dasha crossed her arms and felt a chill in her body. Her world was now gone, the magics once controlled by her people had faded and changed. No wonder her spells felt weak. Her home was now hopelessly lost in history. "How long have I truly been away?"
"Thousands of years... so very... very long...” He stared into space as if reliving every moment of the wait. "For so long I have been watching... and now the time has come."
"You have... you could not have been waiting for this long! How?!"
"You forget the very nature of an eternal, child?" Adranath smiled gently. "I became the watcher. The responsibility was mine. I... I had to atone for... what I had done...” His smile faded into dread. "Such madness... was I really so foolish, Dasha?"
"Please... Adranath...” She held him gently by the shoulders and spoke in soft tones, "where are the Meer? Surely our race did not allow oblivion to take us? What happened after I... after I was gone?"
"The dreams came." A tear rolled from his eye. "Such destruction I caused... everything was gone. The Juka, the fortress, the Meer... we dreamt of our end, yet... we were spared from it. In the dreams I... I killed everyone. Everyone dead because of my sickening vengenace!" He calmed himself, remembering the carnage had been reduced to a displaced memory. "That was when we knew. We knew what Exodus had done. The Juka, stolen away in time to keep the balance tilted! You... stolen away."
She could not bring herself to raise her voice to the old one again; his pain at witnessing the slaughter of two races in his dreams for thousands of years was enough punishment. It seemed he had been spared from his own crime by Exodus' plot. "But the Meer... what became of our people, Adranath? Are we the last of our race?"
"The time has come!" He stood quickly and smiled once more. "Come, come child! You have returned to us and now the time of the awakening is at hand!"
He took her hand and helped her rise and immediately began walking away at a brisk pace. With nothing else to guide her actions in this strange place, she followed him, unsure of what awaited her. They walked in silence for nearly an hour until they reached the base of the mountains, a small clearing in the grass not far away from the Juka fortress she had barely escaped days earlier.
Adranath moved his hands in complicated arcs and small motes of light fell from him like dust. He clapped his hands together and the lights fell to the ground and swirled together forming one bright point. The light spread along the ground and formed the shape of a square stone platform before it faded. A platform of polished wood with what seemed to be blink runes was fitted into the top of the neatly carved rock.
"Come." Adranath offered Dasha his hand, which she suspiciously took. Together they stepped onto the wooden platform and vanished. When they reappeared Dasha could see that they were in some sort of crypt. Tombs in rows stretched on from one end of the massive chamber to the other with small dots of torchlight burning throughout. It was obvious Meer had built this place, but she had never seen it before.
"What is this place? These are not death tombs, Adranath."
"No, child. It was the only way we could follow. The sleep of eternity holds the Meer here." He walked through the chamber to a tomb whose lid had not been sealed. "But someone had to stay. Someone had to watch for the Juka." He turned to her. "The duty was mine. After what I had done... what I had once done and was undone... I had to atone."
"You have been watching and waiting... for thousands of years?!" She understood the madness that now seemed to plague the old eternal. After centuries and centuries of seclusion in this land he had lost a bit of his composure. Eternals would exist forever but in solitude even an immortal mind had to suffer over such a great expanse of time.
"The Meer gave up their home so that we could wait for the time when the struggle for balance could begin anew. The fortress has returned. The Juka have returned. You, my child, you have returned." He turned in a full circle, taking in the hundreds of tombs that had waited for him for endless centuries. His task was now complete. "Now rise, my people! Rise and continue the fight!"
He slammed his staff down onto the floor and held his hand aloft. A bright blue light shot forth from his fingertips and enveloped the entire room in its glow. Dasha shielded her eyes slightly and looked back and forth as the light bathed every surface and faded. At first it was imperceptible but bit-by-bit the sounds of movement could be heard. Beside her, a tomb cracked open and the lid drifted aside. Another eternal rose from the sarcophagus and turned to meet her gaze.
"Dasha! Upon awakening I could have hoped to see nothing so wonderful as the sight of you returned to your people!" Dasha could only stare in amazement. The entire race had slept for centuries here so that they may once again devote themselves to the balance. All was not lost.
"Watcher, you have done well." The eternal said to Adranath. "Your devotion has saved us all and we are in your debt."
Adranath turned to Dasha, the look of a frightened child on his face. "I... am I forgiven, Dasha? After all I have done, all that I would have done... all of this that has occurred... I can be the only one to blame. Had I not been such a hasty fool in that time, we would not have had to bring ourselves to this new world. After all this time... have I been redeemed?"
She smiled and took his hand gently. "You once told me that wisdom accepts the inevitability of change."
One by one, the tombs opened and an entire race awoke from their sleep.
From the Britannia News Network - The Journal of Ultima Online, January 25th, 2002.