The Dark Realm
by Laura Campbell, aka Shadow of Light Dragon
The celebration was in full swing. Bright buntings decorated the castle and fresh arrangements of flowers could be seen in every vase. Tapestries and decorative arms had been cleaned and the very stones of the fortress seemed to glow in the occasion.
The Great Hall was filled with guests, chiefly the nobility, but that didn't extend to some of my companions.
"How goes it?" Katrina asked me.
"Oh, fine," I replied, taking a sip of wine. "So far the most common joke has been, 'Greetings, Avatar! Thanks again for saving our pathetic lives!'"
The shepherdess laughed. "In so many words?"
I grinned and confessed, "No, I guess not."
She slapped my shoulder. "Just remember, my friend, they mean every word of thanks." She smiled. "And so do I."
I thanked her and moved on, greeting guests and chatting with friends. Finally, the circuit took me back to the main table. A woman who was fawning over Lord British had taken my seat, so I stood nearby and noticed, belatedly to be sure, that he wore his magical Crown.
"Now where did I leave that?" I asked him. "I forgot all about it!"
The king grimaced. "Geoffrey found it on the shore of the Isle of the Avatar."
I groaned. "Sorry about that."
He laughed. "Never mind! All's well that ends well."
Dupre stood and held up his tankard. "My lords and ladies, please! A toast!"
The crowd quieted save for those who made a hasty dash for the drinks table.
"A toast!" the knight repeated. "To Elora, Avatar of Britannia and quite literally our saviour."
"AVATAR!" the throng roared enthusiastically, downing their drinks. I raised my own glass with a grin and drank to my own health.
Refilling, I called out for quiet. "I thank you all. Separated from my own world, I can't imagine a better home than Britannia. But, there are those I particularly wish to honor, for it was not without help that I defeated the Guardian. The noble Sir Dupre, Iolo the bard, Squire Spark..." I called their names as I saw their faces and each stood in turn, beaming. At last, I stopped and asked Dupre, "Where's Shamino?"
"Messengers were sent but none could find him. He hasn't been seen since Lord British dispatched him to the Deep Forest with the emps."
He said this as I was taking a drink to wet my dry throat and I went into a fit of choking laughter. When he gave me a strange look, I lifted my glass again and said, "And to absent friends!"
As the toast was drunk, Dupre added, "He'd probably with Amber," which sent me into another spluttering round of laughter.
Evening wore on into night and the Hall gradually emptied as rumours circulated about fireworks to be provided by Lord British himself. One by one, they took the king's leave and hurried into the city to find good vantage spots from which to enjoy the show.
"I guess it's time," Lord British said at last. "I'll go to my tower and start some magic." He winked.
Laughing, I said, "I'll be watching!"
"I certainly hope so! Thou art the guest of honor!" So saying, he left the Hall with Dupre and Iolo flanking him.
I sighed and drained my glass.
"Ah, Elora, what ails thee?"
I greeted Julia. "I was just thinking that if I have any more alcohol, I'll be suffering a massive hangover tomorrow." I smiled. "Seriously, I was thinking that life can't get much better than this." Waving a hand around, I said, "I'm surrounded by friends and people I love, people who love me..." Julia smiled at that. "Next to Earth, Britannia is my home."
She gripped my arm briefly, then said, "Quickly, if thou dost miss Lord British's skyshow, he'll never forgive thee!"
"I'll watch from the battlements."
"Save me a spot, I'll be along soon."
I strode through the central garden and took the stairs near my chamber to stand on the west wall of the Castle. Only a few people were up here as the fireworks would be directly above the castle and not many were willing to endure the neck-strains that would be caused by watching from the walls. I noticed Mayor Patterson of Britain, Nelson of Moonglow...my lips pursed thoughtfully when I saw Feridwyn of Paws.
Shaking my head, I looked up at a night sky ablaze with stars. Constellations caught my eyes and I absently marked my favorites. Ring of Compassion, Tome of Honesty, Sword of Valor, Goblet of Honor, Flame of Sacrifice, Scales of Justice, Staff of Humility...as I reached the Ankh of Spirituality, it was surrounded by golden spots of light so that it truly looked like a complete Ankh.
The fireworks had begun.
"What have I missed?" asked a breathless Julia.
I pointed, then the skyshow got underway.
I stood alone, the early morning air crisp and cold as stars faded and the sky grew lighter. Castle, city, land...Britannia in peace.
"I almost caught thee in Trinsic," Geoffrey said from behind me. He leaned on the rampant. "If not for thy magic."
I smiled slightly. "Refresh my memory."
The commander snorted with amusement. "I know thou dost enjoy having thy conquests retold, Elora. Get Iolo to recite it to thee." He looked me over. "Where's that great, bloody sword of thine?"
I pointed down at the silent town. "He's there somewhere. I left him at an Inn."
"Is that wise?"
"No one can take him and short of magic travel, I can't go anywhere without him. He'll be fine. Besides, he hates parties."
Geoffrey regarded me thoughtfully. "Thou seemest more at peace than when we last spoke a year ago."
I gave him a smile. "That's because I am at peace, old friend. Last night you could fine me pointing out planets I thought could be Earth. Last year, I doubted it still existed." A satisfied sigh escaped my lips. "Much has changed since then. Me, most of all."
"For the better?"
"Yes. For the better." I looked at the fading stars again. "Night gives way to golden Dawn," I murmured softly. "In the light we are reborn. While shadows may enshroud the land, within Infinity we'll stand."
Quietly, Geoffrey moved away. "I will see thee later," he said softly.
I smiled again and glanced up at a fluttering serpent banner. "I'm not going anywhere."
I waited, not tired, only wishing to watch the sunrise. I supposed it was a silly thing to stay up all night only to watch something that would pass in a few minutes.
"Then call me a sentimental fool," I murmured with a faint smile.
I now stood on the eastern side of the Castle. The sky was growing imperceptibly lighter and I had a small headache, but ignored the discomfort. Shifting, I let my chin sink to my arms and fixed my eyes on the horizon above the distant mountains, anticipating that first break of sunlight which burns in one's memory for days.
A few small clouds scudded above me and I hoped no more would be forthcoming, though I smelt a storm brewing. There were just enough to catch the pink and orange highlights of dawn without spoiling it.
For some reason, I had the feeling I wasn't alone. I spared a second to look around, then returned my gaze to the east with a shrug.
"Or are you sharing the vista with me, Guardian?" I whispered. "Watch as Britannia witnesses another morning!"
Right on cue, the sun rose, a single piercing, golden shaft of light. It bathed the land in brilliance where moments ago, it had been drenched in darkness.
Smiling serenely, I regarded the rainbow-hued sky lanced with rays of sunshine. Standing tall, I braced both hands on the firm stone of Castle Britannia, took a deep breath of contentment, then settled in to watch the golden-edged clouds gather.