Blackthorn passed his gaze over the many maps lying in dusty piles on his planning table. The faint glow of a few candles cast flickering shadows around the room and on Kabur, the burly Juka warrior that kneeled before him. Blackthorn knew that the Juka only kneeled because he was in the presence of his master, Exodus, but allowed himself a short pause to enjoy seeing Kabur showing reverence.
"We shall begin with the city of Yew. Through chaos, we shall rule this land," Blackthorn said. "The time has come for Britannia to feel the full wrath of its rightful ruler."
Kabur raised his head and met Blackthorn's glare. He made very little effort to hide his disdain for one that was still, in his eyes, human. To Kabur, humans had been nothing but primitive pests, animals who roamed the wilderness fighting over scraps of food. Now in this new era the land was almost ruled entirely by humans. Humans with cities. Humans with magic. But worst of all, a human that gave him orders.
"I shall inform the warriors of ours... Lord." Kabur almost growled as he spoke. "The blood of humans will spill for you, Lord Exodus!" Kabur stood sharply and turned. He would kill humans today, but not the one he truly wanted to kill. As he walked from the room, the doors slid quietly shut behind him and sealed with a dull thud.
"I am sending my personal dragoons on this attack as well." Blackthorn spoke aloud, "They have trained well and are eager to become members of the Trusted. Now that they have their mounts, I believe they are ready to do battle."
The droning voice of Exodus filled the chamber like thousands of insects, "I trust the information I provided was useful?"
"Indeed," Blackthorn said as he drifted across the room to a collection of large glass jars. Each contained a creature, different than the one beside it, suspended in a thick liquid. "The final result of my work should prove to be impressive. I never suspected that manipulating the creation of life could be so simple."
Blackthorn lifted one of the jars and examined the dead specimen inside. It resembled a wyrm of some sort, but with an awkward and misshapen fifth leg protruding from its lower neck. The creature’s spine was horribly bent and gnarled.
"After a few attempts, of course."
"You have done well in assembling your personal forces, Lord Blackthorn. I believe the Juka even find them... interesting… as sparring opponents." Exodus paused as the buzzing echo of his voice faded from the chamber. "The Juka have fully recovered from their journey through time and your dragoons shall spread fear with their resolve to prove their worthiness to join the Trusted. The land will be at our mercy."
* * *
"The people need a symbol to rally behind. They have all but abandoned the King's virtues, and it is tearing the land apart." Clainin turned and stared out the castle window over the landscape of Britain. "I fear no one is capable of filling the role our king left behind."
"He and Nystul are gone," Dupre responded. "And I don't believe they would have left unless they knew that the land and the people would be safe in our hands. We may never have another king, but the people are resilient; I have faith in them. I have faith in you as well, Clainin. I know we will find a solution." The paladin smiled warmly at the mage.
"I'm worrying too much, I know." Clainin removed his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "So much has changed in so short a time. I thought I had my hands full trying to study everything the Gargoyles had to offer and then the Meer and... Tuka?"
"Juka," corrected Dupre.
"Juka, yes... they and the Meer both show up at the same time... The Meer! I apologize, Dupre, I interrupted you." Clainin sighed and straightened himself. "Ilshenar. Things went well?"
Dupre looked as if he was struggling for the right words. "The Meer are... very private. Very proud. Unlike the Juka, they don't mean us any harm, although I don't believe they will be throwing us any festivals. I only spoke with a Meer woman named Dasha, but she seemed to be one of the higher ranking Meer... if they have ranks."
"Did they accept our invitation?" Clainin asked.
"I... I think so. I told her that on behalf of the kingdom I was inviting her to the castle so that we may become allies. She seemed... amused, although I can't imagine what it was that I said. I had the impression that Dasha would come alone. She said most of her people were saving their strength to do battle against the Juka."
"So they are related!" Clainin said. "The two races revealing themselves at the same time... is this some kind of war?"
"I fear it may be." Dupre sighed. "One that has already lasted for centuries without end from what Dasha said." He leaned heavily on Clainin's table. "And Britannia could become the battlefield."
From the Britannia News Network - The Journal of Ultima Online, April 11th, 2002.