In a darkened chamber, Lord Blackthorn drifted forwards and backwards, alone and deep in thought. The cloak surrounding his lower torso dragged slightly along the floor with a hiss; the only sound he made while moving about. If he wished, he could easily drift higher above the floor so that his cloak did not touch it, but the sound gave him an odd comfort. He was still unaccustomed to not hearing his own footsteps. It was strange to him that such things could be missed.
In the chamber stood a large stone statue of his former visage that he had once paid an artisan to carve for him. He stared at it as he moved. He had thought of himself as rather handsome then. His status as a nobleman granted him a good deal of comfort. He wasn't uncomfortable in his current form. The new body granted to him by Exodus never pained him, despite the appearance. But occasionally, when one of the controllers looked at his face, he could see the look of slight revulsion. There was a slight curiosity in their stares that wanted to know if there was pain. It was as if their eyes traced along the line between flesh and metal in his face, probing for some visible sign of suffering.
Few others had seen him. He had not yet traveled openly in Britannia since his transformation. No one in the civilized lands would accept him the way he appeared now. So little of him was recognizable as human. The statue of his human self even now looked... unfamiliar. It seemed to represent a different person, one who would not mar his features with the unnatural. It seemed to stare back at him in fear, horrified at the monster before it.
Shooting across the chamber and striking the statue with his human hand, he felt his fist crack in pain along the smooth cold stone. His fingers throbbed in protest and blood slightly darkened his knuckles under broken skin. The statue remained unharmed, as if mocking his remaining frailties. Blackthorn's mind drifted backwards, ignoring the pain and focusing on his last moments in that form.
* * *
He stood inside his fortress, gazing over the landscape of Britain. The King's former castle shone in the daylight from the middle of the great city, calling to him. The castle he should have been standing in.
He had already held conference with the wizard Nystul. The old fool claimed that everything was under control. He rambled on in his endless banter about how the kingdom would survive under his guidance, that there was no need to alert the people. He worried endlessly that the people would panic at the idea of being abandoned by their monarch and that establishing a new one so suddenly would only worsen the matter. The king's lapdog, Dupre, would command the royal faction in Felucca and all other matters were to be handled internally by those under trust of the king.
Blackthorn had argued that the people needed ruling, that a kingdom with no king would decay and eventually die, that it was the duty of the highest nobleman to claim control. He knew that he had the right to rule. Still he was denied. Nystul excused him like some commoner. It burned him to the depths of his soul that the fools would rather see no one rule the kingdom rather than grant him any power in the absence of the king. The man who had countless times endangered his own people, bringing turmoil down upon them again and again.
Before he could react, his entire body became surrounded by light and slowly, his vision faded to blackness. As all thought left him, he knew that someone had taken him against his will with magic. Ages seemed to pass before he again felt thoughts begin to form across his mind. All at once consciousness rushed upon him and he opened his eyes. He stood in a dim room with only a few candles providing enough light to see. Before him stood what appeared to be three humans with darkened skin, wearing long crimson robes. They kneeled before him calmly.
"Who dares insult me with this abduction?! Where am I?!" Blackthorn bellowed.
"Forgive my intrusion of your privacy, Lord Blackthorn." A strange voice like the buzzing of insects seemed to come from everywhere at once. A sound like a thousand quiet clocks hummed throughout the room constantly and seemed to combine with the mysterious voice as it spoke in some bizarre harmony. "I desired an audience with you to discuss matters of great importance. I assure you that you are in no danger. My servants will bring you refreshment if you so desire." Blackthorn noticed a pattern of lights emanating from the darkness along one of the walls. They seemed to brighten as if on fire when the voice would speak.
"I have nothing to discuss with those who hide in the darkness! Show yourself or release me this instant! I could have you killed for this transgression!" Blackthorn turned quickly and looked about the room as he shouted. He could see no one save the three men kneeling before him.
"My true form lays elsewhere, Lord Blackthorn. I am not human as you are. I am called Exodus. I have brought to this place to offer you Britannia."
Blackthorn hesitated. Somehow this being knew of his desire to rule. "How will you offer me that which you do not possess? What are you if you are not human?"
“I was born of the great cataclysm and forged by time itself. I am the union.” A whirring sound rose for a moment and faded. Blackthorn noticed the gem-like lights shone brighter than they had before.
“You speak in riddles.” He took a step forward towards the lights. “Show yourself to me or end your business with me now!”
The lights grew almost blindingly bright and began to flicker fiercely. The whirring sound grew and blended with Exodus’ voice, now louder than ever. “As you wish.” Blackthorn’s mind exploded with imagery. He fell to his knees grasping at his temples. He saw images of Mondain’s castle.
A father… a mother… Time was their kingdom. Power and magic flowed with their very whims. All power came from the Gem. The Gem was precious. I was precious. I was loved. I was to be successor. I was to have the power. The machine… The machine from time’s gate… The machine will grant me power. The demon. His power will be mine. His power is tremendous. The machine will make this happen. Father’s love is the machine. Mother’s love is the demon. I am loved. I will have the power. The Gem… The Gem is threatened! The Gem… so precious… no! No!! All power came from the Gem. The Gem is broken… the world is broken… such destruction…. Such cataclysm. The world is broken. Mother! Mother no! Father is dead. Mother is gone. I am gone.
Time is broken… the whole castle gone… Time must change… time must give way to the destruction… time must flow. I am gone. I am broken. I must give way to the destruction… I must change… I am the machine… I am the demon… I am the union… I am reborn…
I am not home… I must find home… Time is broken… Time is wrong… I must wait… wait… The time will come. Home will come.
The lights on the far side of the room suddenly dimmed and all at once Blackthorn was again himself. He panted, rising from the cold chamber floor where he kneeled. His hands shook as he lowered them from his head. His face was frozen in horrified amazement. “I… I saw… thousands and thousands of years… in moments.”
“I have waited for you, Blackthorn,” the voice droned. “The time has come and I have found home again. You have precious knowledge of this world I have been away from for so long.”
“You wish to conquer Britannia?”
“I wish to see you in your proper place as Britannia’s ruler. I can give you the power to make this happen.”
Blackthorn hesitated. “And what do you have to gain by allowing me to rule? Surely you don’t expect me to believe that you wish to simply hand me the throne as a gift?”
“I seek to fulfill my original purpose.” The lights twinkled dimly and the voice lowered in pitch. “You know this from what I have shown you. I was once meant to inherit the land as its absolute guardian, to watch over all and to know all. To be the world, to maintain the power that controls it. I can give you that power. I can give you that control.”
Blackthorn spoke slowly. “How… what sort of power will you give me?”
Again the lights shone brightly and Blackthorn saw images in his head. “I will grant you a new body. And new troops to command.” He could see his body being changed, as if a thousand skilled tinkers had created new limbs for his form. He could feel himself inside the body and the power that coursed through his veins. It was like nothing else he had ever felt before… such incredible power at his command! His senses expanded further than he had ever imagined possible. He felt invincible. The sensation slowly faded away and he was his human self again. Instantly he experienced a longing to feel that sense of power again. It intoxicated him.
Exodus waited a moment and then spoke more quietly. “Lord Blackthorn, will you accept this power? Do you wish to rule?”
“I… yes… yes, I will accept. I accept!”
“Excellent.” The lights flickered and Blackthorn could feel himself being enveloped in warm energy.
* * *
The statue of his human self still seemed to stare down upon him like a disapproving sentry. He looked again at his hand. The bleeding was slight but still a reminder of weaknesses he once possessed. His other arm with its massive claw rose up and he stared at it. A hideous smile spread across his face. Instantly Blackthorn’s great mechanical appendage swung around and smashed the statue into thousands of pieces. Dust swirled and settled where the statue once stood.
“Others will join me.” He snarled, relishing the feeling of power.
* * *
Dasha struggled to pull herself up one more time as she made her way up the mountain. Days ago she had arrived in this strange place with the Juka fortress. Now she was badly battered. The blast of energy from the cloaked being and the fall off of the fortress wall had nearly killed her. Now her healing magics were failing for some reason, as if magic was different here. She had just barely managed to save her own life with the meager spells and escape before the patrolling Juka could find her.
She decided that she had made her way up the mountain far enough to be safe for a short while. She doubted anyone would spot her, and in the meantime she could rest and hopefully feel well enough to attempt healing magic later. Sitting against a rock, she winced at the pain in her bones. If the spells failed again she wouldn’t be going very far.
She looked out over the land and tried to get her bearings. Things here appeared familiar, yet foreign. She felt too dazed to try and make any sense of it. Behind her a few pebbles fell and she cursed herself for not hearing so obvious an attacker. She spun quickly to find someone standing before her.
From the Britannia News Network - The Journal of Ultima Online, January 17th, 2002.