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STORY

The night screamed in a frenzy of dark Magick. Rain pummeled
the ancient stones of the Grey Lord's castle like the blows of
banshees' fists. The waters of Lake Viborg, swirling in the moat,
rose and smashed together in giant waves.

Thundebolts crackled against the gates, illuminating the grim
faces of the Grey Lord's four Champions as they strode over the
lowered drawbridge. Water from the moat splashed over their boots.
It was a fearsome night for man, beast, or even High Lord, but
nothing on earth could stop the four from answering their liege
lord's summons.

Another flash of lightining, another, and another. A tree beside
the keep burst into flame. Thunder rumbled like hungry dragons as the
Champions stopped at the arched entry door carved with Magickal symbols.
One of the Champions knocked, armoured fist ringing against the stone.

The door flew open, revealing Theron, Arch Master of All the Arts.

"By the balance, I'm glad you've come," he said,



clasping each of his visitors. He seemed a different person, a man
now, and not the boy that they had last seen thirteen moons before.
"And just in time, for I fear there's been a change for the worse."

The four followed him into the castle. Theron's assured movements
were those of a full Arch Master. A cloak of brilliants had replaced
the coarse-woven tunic and those of his apprenticeship to the Grey
Lord. His forehead was clasped by a diadem of emeralds.

Fulcrum, the Grey Lord's raven, fluttered from the shadows above
and landed on Theron's shoulder. He cawed softly into Theron's ear.

"Aye," Theron replied, and held his torch high as he opened a
second door.

The Champions gasped in unison at the sight revealed by the flames.
The Grey Lord sat slumped in his huge chair, his face mottled and
bruised. Blood caked the corners of his mouth. His face was wizened,
and his head, once covered with a mane thick and silvery grey, was
bald, save for a few strands of papery, white hair.

"Harmony in all you do," he rasped, intoning the blessing. He
raised his hand in benediction.

A crash of thunder rocked the room. Theron frowned; his master
saw and shook his head. "I remain in command, Master Theron.
Thus far."

The Grey Lord turned his attention to his Champions, who knelt
on one knee to show their fealty.

"My brave friends," the Grey Lord said, "you don't know how it
saddens me to call you here. After your journey into my old dungeon
thirteen moons ago, I had hoped to leave you in peace, to your
adventures. You vanquished my enemy and restored Theron to his
corporeal state." he dipped his head in Theron's direction.

"Since his initiation into the High Secrets, Theron has
provided all the aid I needed in my quest to protect and nurture our
fair world. I had never thought to trouble you further, but I must."
His face changed, hardened. "He calls out for blood, not only mine
and Theron's, but yours, because you are my heroes. He thinks it is
such sport, the evil game he plays. But we're not defeated yet."

The wizard's eyes narrowed and began to glow. As he widened them,
they burned bright blue. The power of his gaze ripped through those
who stood there, causing one or two to step backward. The others
stood resolute.

Then his lids flickered. He took a deep breath that caught in his
chest and quavered like a death rattle. Theron leaned forward,
waving his hands over the struggling wizard, and whispered, "Master,
thou art health embodied. I decree a balance in all your humors."

With difficulty, the Grey Lord lifted his chin. "He comes, Theron.
Soon. I feel him. Ah, if only I possessed the means to end it!"

Theron passed more Magick over his master's body. The Grey Lord's
breathing steadied. Then he straightened and spread his arms.

"I must speak quickly. I don't know how long I can combat him.
Listen to me, and carefully. Lord Chaos lives." He raised his
voice over the disbelieving murmurs of the Champions. "Aye, and
Lord Order, too. Within me, and yet, without me."

He held out his fist, steadier now. Fulcrum cawed and alighted upon
it. "I have seen Lord Chaos in vision dreams. Nightmares, more like.
At first, he was unaware that I was with him, that I was him, for as
you know, he and Lord Order are the separate halves of my being.
Apart, each brings destruction. Together, under my guidance, they are
one at peace."

"Chaos forsaw his defeat at your hands," Theron told the Champions
as he poured them multed
wine from a flagon beside the Grey Lord's chair. "Preparing for this,
he built himself a secret dungeon before you succeeded in fusing
himself. He also created a Forge of Fulya - surely you know of that
seething, black flame, and of the poison it creates?"

"And also destroys," the Grey Lord cut in. "Chaos mined Corbum in
the Forge. Four large chunks, enough to accomplish what he wished.
I've dreamed of a Death Square, surrounded by seas of pits, and in
that square, he has hidden the chunks."

"It is that ore which shakes this castle," Theron added, as he
offered a goblet of wine to the Grey Lord. The wizard waved it away.
"As you know, Corbum ore draws Mana from the world."

The Grey Lord nodded. "Aye, and he's using it to part himself
from me permanently. Once he's accomplished that, he intends to rule -
or misrule - this world and all others. I don't need to tell you
what that would be like."

No one spoke.

"No power can defeat him once the Corbum ore has done its work.
But I'm not certain he knows he must destroy the ore afterward. If
he doesn't, he will have no universe to rule."

The chamber boomed as with cannon fire. Fulcrum screamed. The
floor shuddered beneath their feet. Wine sloshed over the rims of the
goblets.

"It comes stronger," the Grey Lord murmured as the noise lessened.
He touched the corner of his mouth, where fresh blood trickled like
crimson teardrops. "You must destroy that ore. For shortly after it
draws sufficient Mana to free Chaos and Order, it will shatter the
universe like a fragile looking glass."

He gazed at Theron. "Show them the map. Make haste. They must
be off."

Theron performed Magickal gestures
at the glass case once had held the wondrous Firestaff.

"Would that I hadn't destroyed the Firestaff," the Grey Lord said
regretfully. "I thought it was too powerful to keep, so that means
of defeating him is no longer available to you."

The glass case opened and a parchment scroll floated toward Theron.
He caught it and opened it.

"My master has made some notes. It seems Chaos his the Death Square.
It is a pillar of stone, with the Ore of Corbum planted one piece to a
side. And each of these sides is the ending point for a long and
vicious maze, making four mazes in all."

The Grey Lord indicated the symbols on the scroll. "I've discovered
that each of the mazes is based on one of the four Ways, Warrior,
Ninja, Wizard, and Priest. Together, they form Harmony, as you know.
I believe he seeks to mock our reverence for balance by designing
his dungeon in such an ordered manner."

"The coin," Theron said in a low voice, and he and the Grey Lord
traded dark, uneasy looks.

"Aye, the coin. Note it well, Champions." The Grey Lord made
gestures toward the glass case. A gold coin rose from the bottom
of the case and spun toward him.

"I awoke this morning with this in my hand. I know whose coin
it is. Do you see also?"

He balled his fists, then threw them open in the direction of the
farthest wall. Blue light smashed against the stone, sparking in
the shadow. All drew back, even the Grey Lord, as they gazed upon
the face of Lord Chaos. His horned head; his mad; sightless eyes;
the rictus-smile none there had ever forgotten, not even in the most
serene moments of the dawn.

"'Danger Thus Reveals Its Face,'" the Grey Lord said.

"That is written on the reverse side of the coin."

He set his jaw. "This is a warning, to me and all who stand by me.
If ever you see this face, chisled in stone or carved into wood, take
great heed."

The floor shook again, more violently. Fulcrum cawed and shot into
the air, flying in circles. The walls vibrated.

"Ah, no," the Grey Lord said softly. "No." The room spun like a
boulder rolling down a hill. Tables and goblets whirled in a vortex,
catching Fulcrum in the center. The glass case shattered. Shards
sliced like arrows through the air.

"He comes!" the Grey Lord cried, grabbing his face.,

"Hold master!" Theron threw his arms around his master. "Fight it!"

The torch went out.

"No!" the Grey Lord cried. "No, I abjure thee! I forbid thee!"

"Forbid?" thundered a voice. "Forbid?"

The wizard screamed, and what all saw next caused their hearts to
stop:

The Grey Lord's face was gone. In its place, glowing with evil,
red light, the face of Lord Chaos opened its crazed eyes and laughed.

"Away, boy." He turned his horned head in Theron's direction and
hurtled him across the room. Fulcrum cawed and dove toward his hand.
Lord Chaos caught the bird by his neck and shook it hard. Fulcrum
squawked and struggled, but he was helpless.

"What sport! Ah, yes, I was wise, wise to foresee my own
destruction!." His voice rose to a wall. Laughter filled the room,
the laughter of madness, of misrule, or frenzy. "The four Ways.
I have used his knowledge of me against him!"

He threw back his head. Light streamed from his
mouth and eyes. Fulcrum struggled in his grasp.

"And you, Champions. You who follow the false doctrine of Harmony.
How sweet it has been, devising a mockery of your sacred Balance.
I almost hoped you would defeat me last time, so I could show you
just how much like me you really are. When I come into my kingdom,
I shall not forget the imbalance of my subjects."

The room spun faster and faster; the wind howled and the air jittered
with Magick. Crying out, the Champions were thrown upon the floor.

"Yes, grovel! See how the worlds shall orbit, after I am ruler!
No laws. No laws!

"I am the Master. Yes, I am He who shall destroy all order. I
hate you for escaping my mirrors, for daring to think you could
obliterate me."

He smiled, and it was a fearsome thing. "But I shall not take you
now. It would prove too easy. Provide me with some sport. Take up
this challenge: meet me in the secret dungeon, and prepare to die!"

Stones crashed to the floor. Jagged blocks pushed upward like ice
bergs. Energy crackled yellow and orange and white, like the Ore of
Corbum.

"You cannot even touch me!" he exulted. "I am invincible!"
Fulcrum screeched desperately as Lord Chaos raised him above his
head and clasped him with both hands. The Mad One opened his mouth
and plunged the raven toward it.

"So shall you all die! So shall you -"

The chamber flooded with blue light. It emanated from Theron, who
lay sprawled upon the floor with a Wand of Magick in his hand, and
he shouted Magick words none of the Champions had ever heard before.

"No!" Chaos shrieked.

And then the lights, and the rumbling, and the spinning
ceased. The chamber blackened. There was silence.

"Oh, by the balance," the Grey Lord gasped. Theron's torch relit.
He held it over the Grey Lord, who was himself again, though his
features were swollen and his forehead was bruised. Blood streamed
from his nose. Theron stopped it with a short incantation.

Fulcrum fell into the Grey Lord's lap and huddled under his arm.
Absently, the wizard stroked him.

"There, there, Fulcrum. It's all right." He murmured Magick words.
"So, he has shown himself at last. You see what we face. The Corbum
ore is building in power."

"He's achieving separation," Theron said. "And the Mana is being
ripped from our world like lions feeding on dead prey."

He turned to the Champions. "Days, perhaps hours, stand between us
and the final catastrophe. You must go now."

"Nay, friend Theron," the Grey Lord remonstrated. "They must be
asked. They must go willingly."

He rose from his chair. "I cannot send Theron with you this time,
my brave ones. He's the only weapon I have to battle Chaos here on our
plane. You must go alone, the four of you, and you must face death
yet again.

"And so I ask you, Champions: knowing this, do you dare to enter
Lord Chaos's secret dungeon? Will you help me save the universe,
one more time?"

 

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