Within the Meer crypt a small shimmer of light appeared over the carved wooden tiles of the teleporter entrance. Dasha blinked once as the light twinkled out of sight and, with a catlike grace, walked slowly through the great dark chamber towards Adranath. A slight smile played across her face as she approached him.
“Ah, you have returned to us, child. I take it your meeting with the humans was interesting?” Adranath said without looking up, his hands busy casting a healing spell over a warrior.
“Interesting… yes.” She waited for the ancient mage to finish his spell. The warrior’s broken leg snapped back into place and the glow around Adranath’s hands faded. He looked up at her and smiled.
“You seem amused. I do still remember how to cast a healing spell after all this time.” He smiled warmly at her. The Meer warrior walked away to join others in meditation.
“Oh, I was still thinking about my meeting with the humans, Master.” She took a seat near the Eternal. “I sat and spoke with humans, in a human castle. It was not altogether an unpleasant experience, but certainly nothing I thought I would ever do!”
“Yes, it is fascinating, isn’t it? In my time as the Watcher I saw nothing but the more savage humans here in Ilshenar, until recently. When these more civilized humans came into the world my first suspicion was that they had been enchanted with sorcery.” He chuckled. “So you saw this city of… Britain, was it?”
“Yes, quite impressive. They seem very… established. One of them—quite a warrior—named Dupre, has asked us to form an alliance against the Juka.” She smirked. “I expect they have become too proud to directly beg for help.”
“And would it be so wrong for us to assist, Dasha?” Adranath asked quietly. “If it were not for my haste those ages ago, attempting to wipe the Juka away in one chaotic moment, Exodus may not have been able to bring them here. They wouldn’t be threatening the humans now.”
“You have to stop blaming yourself, Adranath. What once was our fate is now nothing but a vision, a nightmare we were spared from. You have sacrificed enough during your time as the Watcher. I warned them of the Juka forces moving toward Minoc…”
“The humans need our help. We did not risk placing our entire race into the great sleep to sit by and watch the Juka exterminate the innocent. Our fight is with the Juka; why do they not fight us? We are clearly weakened as a whole by our slumber and our ignorance of the inhabitants of this time. Why would the Juka not attack us when this weakness is clear?” He stood and paced. “We are not a threat to Exodus, Dasha, not now. The humans are. He would not waste time attempting to destroy them it were not so.”
“What do you suggest we do?” Dasha looked confused.
“I suggest we spare the humans as much trouble with the Juka as we can. Say what you will, but if not for my actions the Juka would not threaten them. I must assist.” Adranath paused. A determined look fell over his face like a mask of stone. “I mean to cast the Decay upon the Juka.”
“You’re willing to cast so dangerous a spell to help the humans?” Dasha stood and placed a hand on the Watcher’s shoulder. “The Juka are spread out over many cities; it would be unwise to attempt to channel so much magic to strike them all. You could damage the very balance of nature!”
“We wouldn’t dare attempt such an act! Never again shall any Meer attempt a spell so large, never!” Adranath clenched his eyes shut for a moment as if reliving the nightmare of seeing his race die at the power of his enraged magic. A moment later he calmed himself and continued, “The Juka began these assaults in the human city of Yew, we shall begin ours there as well. Then we can continue casting on the other cities one by one.”
“But why cast the Decay? Surely there must be a better option.” Dasha’s eyes focused deeply into Adranath’s. The old mage shook his head slowly.
“The warriors need more time before they can make an attack. This is the one spell we can use to counter the Juka without harming the humans. I know the Decay is horribly destructive. I have watched more Juka writhe in agony under its effects more times than I care to imagine. If we do nothing the humans continue to suffer.” Adranath turned and walked away slowly, then stopped and looked sadly at Dasha. “The Juka joined Exodus, Dasha. They have forsaken their honor and declared war upon us.” He continued walking away to find the other mages.
“And in war, horrible things must be done.”
* * *
Outside, Dasha sat at a distance watching the circle of Eternals and mages as their hands moved in perfect unison in a complex pattern. In the center of the circle, Adranath held his arms aloft, his face empty and his eyes closed. In his mind, he began to see the city of Yew. Quick flashes of imagery became full visions of the Juka, claiming lives and being slain alike. The chaos of people running in every direction was difficult to see past, but slowly he focused his view and could envision the entire scope of the battle.
The magic users around Adranath began to chant and raise their voices in a dark harmony that sent a shiver up Dasha’s spine and continued to blanket the area in a slight tremor. Light slowly began to trail from their fingertips and form an intricate pattern like a lace made of flame around the entire circle which seemed to vibrate with the sound around it. The ring of light shrank inward and bathed Adranath in its glow until he seemed to be nothing but a bright speck in the center of the chanting circle. All at once the mages’ voices grew even louder, and with one final discordant note held for what seemed like ages, the light within Adranath fired outward into the sky in a great wave. His eyes suddenly shot open and his face stretched in a moment of terror. Dasha stood and darted as fast as she could to the ancient mage.
Within his mind, Adranath could see the spell shimmering over Yew for a moment, falling to the ground in a shimmer of tiny motes of light. Suddenly, his vision went dark and his mind erupted into pain.
By the time Dasha had broken through the ring of mages and reached Adranath, the spell had been completed and he was already starting to crumple to the ground, exhausted. She caught his shoulders and helped lower him to the ground. His eyes still seemed to stare out at nothing in fear.
“Watcher!” one of the other Eternals spoke as the mages recomposed themselves after the great spell. “The spell felt… different… than it did in the past.” The others nodded and seemed to agree.
“Adranath! Master, what happened?” Dasha shook the old Meer by the shoulder slightly. “Are you hurt?”
“The Decay…” he mumbled. “Nature… magic… it is… bent… skewed since we last… last attempted the… the Decay…” He steadied himself for a moment and looked up into Dasha’s eyes.
“I fear something has gone terribly wrong.”
From the Britannia News Network - The Journal of Ultima Online, April 18th, 2002.