by Sherry the mouse
'Twas on a chill night, when the moon shone pasty-faced above the horizon, balanced on the towers of Lord British's castle, that the events I am about to relate took place, some years ago now. I witnessed them all from my tiny mousehole.
Milords British and Blackthron are accustomed to a game of chess 'pon an evening, over which they argue the issues that affect the course of the realm. Lord Blackthorn was on his way to Lord British's chambers, and Lord British stood by a window casement, just having finished setting the pieces upon the board.
Suddenly the shutters blew open, and Lord British fell to the ground, one hand shileding his eyes. A chill wind entered the room, and it seemd a gash was torn in the very air. Through the gas I could see stars and swirling clouds of stellar dust, and a coldness sucked all the warmth from the air. A terrible wind tossed books and blankets across the room, and furniture toppled.
From within this gash issued a great voice, unlike any I have ever heard. And these are the words it spoke (for I memorized them most carefully):
"Greetings, Lord British. I am the Time Lord, a being from beyond your dimension, as thou art from a world other than Sosaria. I am here to bring thee warning. Dost thou recall how long ago mysterious Stranger came to Sosaria and saved the world from the evil wizard Mondain? He shattered the Gem of Immortality, within which dwelled a perfect likeness of this world."
Lord British slowly stood and faced the hole in the air. "I remember," he said. "Oft have I wished that stranger would return."
"He hath returned," spoke the voice. "But not to here. When the Gem was shattered, a thousand shards were scattered across the dimensions, and in each shard there is a perfect likeness of this world. And thou dost live upon one such shard, for thou art not of the true world-thou art merely a reflection."
Lord British looked shaken by this, and I did not know what to think! Was I merely a shadow of the real me, which lives still somewhere else across uncounted universes?
"My task is to heal this shattered world, Lord British," said the voice. "And I seek to enlist thee in my cause. Be warned that in this case, healing carries with it a terrible price."
Concern warred with curiosity on my liege's face, but ever one to shoulder a burden, he straightened and faced the gash in the air bravely. "Name thy price."
"A shard of a universe is a powerful thing, and universe shattered is always in danger from the powers of darkness. Already three shards were turned to evil, and sent to plague the original universe in the form of Shadowlords. Many times have I brought the Stranger back to Britannia, to preserve it from its own folly or from outside dangers. Yet as long as the world remaineth in pieces, it remaineth vulnerable. We must bring the shards into harmony, so that they resonate in such a manner that matches the original universe. Then the two universes shall merge, and be again as one.
"But if we are only shadows..." Lord British said wonderingly.
The light from the stars within the hole seemed to dim. "Indeed, the reflections shall become one with the orginal. Thou wouldst cease to be as thou art, and become part of the larger you. Thou shalt not die; however, uncounted generations have passed and borne children since that day, and they have no counterparts. They would perish utterly." Lord British sagged in shock, realizing the terrible price that would be paid to heal the universe. "All of my people," he breathed.
"Tis for the greateer good."
Lord British bowed his head.
'Twas then I saw the movement by the door, half-hid by the heavy red curtains. Lord Blackthron stood there, concealed from the rest of the room, his face white. How long had he been listening? I cannot say, yet I suspect that he had heard all that the mysterious voice had to say.
"How then, shall I aid thee?" Lord British said, weariness in his voice.
"Aid the nobility that resideth in human heart. Protect the Virtues that so recently came to thee in thought late at night. They are the Virtues of life, as your counterpart understands them to be. For when thy populace doth live and breathe these Virtues shall it match the true Britannia, and thy shard shall rejoin with it."
The gash in the air began to close, and with it warmth stole back into the room.
"I was going to discuss my idea with Blackthorn tonight," Lord British breathed. "Have I no thoughts that are my own? Is my life but a reflection of another me?"
"Nay," said the voice, smaller through the diminished opening. "Say, rather, that you are parallel, for there is no guarantee that thou shalt accomplish what I have set thee to. I speak tonight to a thousand of thee, and ask the same of all. Perhaps not all shall seek to aid me." And with that, the gash closed, and the voice was gone, leaving a room that appeared tossed by a mighty storm.
"Destroy the world to save the universe," Lord British said bitterly. "I do not wonder that some may balk."
"Lord Blackthorn collected himself, and strode into the room, a decent mimicry of surprise on his face. "My liege! What has happened here?" he exclaimed, feigning dismay well. But not well enough to fool his old friend, whose eyes narrowed at seeing him there.
"How much didst thou hear?" Demanded Lord British.
"Why, nothing," managed Blackthorn, his head ducked away from his friend, as he bent to retrieve the fallen chess pieces. "I merely came for our game of chess."
Together, they righted the table, and set the pieces upon the black and white squares. "Such simplicity to the game, Blackthorn," mused Lord British, idly brushing one finger against the board. "Black and white, each to its own color, as if life were so simple. What think you?"
Blackthorn sat heavily on a hassock beside the chess table. "I think that matters are never so simple, my liege. And that I would regret it deeply if someone, such as a friend, saw it thus."
Lord British's eyes met his. "Yet sometimes one must sacrifice a pawn to save a king."
Lord Blackthorn met his gaze squarely. "Even pawns have lives and loves at home, my lord." Then he reached out for a pawn, and firmly moved it forward to squares. "Shall we play a game?" he asked.
The chess game that night was a draw, and they played grimly.
And the next day, Lord British gathered the nobles to proclaim the idea of a new system of Virtues, and declared that shrines should be built across the land.
Lord Blackthorn opposed it bitterly, and many thought him strange for doing so, for ever had he been a noble and upright man, and ever had he and Lord British been in accord. Declaring that he should start his own shrine, he departed the castle that day to live in a tower in a lake on the north side of the city.
They are still the best of friends, yet a sadness hangs between them, as if they were forced into making choices that appealed not to them. And at night, when I creep softly from one corner of my liege's bedchamber to another, I sometimes see him take a pawn from his night table, and hold it in his hand, and quietly weep.
But I am but a mouse, and none hear me. This tale goes unknown, save for my writing these enormous letters with mine ink-stained tiny paws for thee to read, for I fear indeed for our world and for our people in these perilous times.