Making headway

The gathering at the Ranger's Hut was very small -- just three of us -- when Kalis Sevren first arrived. As people started trickling in, answering the call for the Royal Guard, they traded small-talk with the ranger about various things, including the possibility of holding a tournament -- something less dangerous than we're used to attending...

Talk turned to our last summons, where we found and rescued Dupre in the new lands of Tokuno. After joking a bit about the hijinks we had on the open seas, Kalis got down to business, going back to the health of one of Britain's most famous faces.

"As some of you are aware, we found and rescued Dupre on our last trip to the Tokuno Islands. He seemed to be under some type of spell," Kalis began. "But after our defeating the Red Sorcerer, he seemed to have recovered."

"Some here will also remember that he had fleeting images of the past events he had seen. After several days of rest, Dupre has remembered some more of his days under Minax, including what I believe may be the location of Minax's base."

"He could not be very specific on an exact location but he did give enough that we may be able to find it. Dupre spoke of a large building filled with screens, built below a steep mountainside. The area itself was peaceful, quiet and serene, while within two swords were displayed in a place of honor in the center of the building."

"As for outside, Dupre spoke of a flying lizard with feathers being in abundance in the forest. That is all that he gave to me. I shall assume that this building must be within the Tokuno Islands somewhere. I wish to send out parties to go and seek for this building and report back here if they have found it."

"Once it is found, then we shall go forth and launch an attack."

A few of the Guard left immediately, off to search for this building.

"How soon should we return?" I asked, wondering how different search parties might know that the search is over, and that the attack is near.

"Soon, I hope," was Kalis's cryptic reply.

While I'm not an experienced traveller in the isles of Tokuno, I have been to a few places to check out the flor&ash; and faun&ash;, and my guildmate Thanatos and myself were both pretty sure we know where this building was, for we had encountered these feathered lizards, known as hiryu by the locals, in a forest, near a building, near a mountainside.

To the nearest moongate we went, and through to the eastern island of Tokuno, Isamu-Jima. From there we headed north, into the forest, seeking out the lesser form of the hiryu that we had encountered, and avoiding the local warriors, known as ninja.

In no time we found the building we had been thinking of. The area, while peaceful enough, was marred by the presence of ninja, ronin and fan dancers within the structure. The entrance to the building was blocked by a magical force, which only seemed to strengthen the idea that this was a property ruled by Minax the Enchantress. A few other Royal Guard showed up while we checked out the area, and they too felt that this was the right location.

Back at Headquarters, we told Kalis what we had found. It had screens, it had swords, it had mountains, it had feathered lizards. But Kalis felt we had the wrong place, for it certainly couldn't be considered "peaceful and serene" if there were ninja and ronin about!

A few of us returned to the building, despondent, sure that we had the right place. Granted, some of us couldn't say for sure that there weren't more fitting places in the lands of Tokuno, but if there were, perhaps others were already finding them? We debated whether we should explore more of the land, or if we should just wait at the Ranger's Hut for better news.

As we returned, another of the Guard, Solid Snake, was telling Kalis of a building his party had found.

"A solitude home with many beautiful trees nearby, with a pink color to them. On the second floor of the building was two swords on display with a red scabbard. Far south of the home were the feathered lizards."

"Is it next to a sheer mountainside?" Kalis asked.

"Yes sir, west a bit. There's another mountain closer, that is north."

"It seems this building is rather elusive," Kalis mused.

Solid Snake went on to tell of another building his team had found, and it turned out to be the same one we had reported. When asked about the fan dancers and ninja and ronin, Solid Snake had better news than we did.

"A scout just reported that there are none, and that there is an invisible barrier."

"Are all the scouts back?" Kalis asked. "We can go there."

Others confirmed that the building was now clear of danger.

"I am just concerned about our other scouts. We shall check out this building. The barrier alone makes it interesting."

I held my tongue, for had I not mentioned this barrier already?

"Do you have a rune to the location?" Kalis asked of Solid Snake. I had marked one as well, but let Solid Snake run with it. It turned out that he did not have a rune, but a member of our scouting party, Oberon, did, and offered to open up a gate for the others.

As I waited for everyone to arrive through the gate, I told myself that the important thing was that we had found the place in the end.

The Royal Guard streamed into the building, the magical barrier now mysteriously gone. It was almost as if we were being welcomed in...

On the suggestion of Kalis, we spread out to look for clues, but a very large clue presented itself on the upper floor of the building, for Belo Ondariva himself was standing there, calm as can be.

"It appears as if I am trapped..." I heard him chuckle from upstairs. I would have gone up to see the madman in person, but the appearance of one of his Relentless Trackers forced me to fade into the shadows to stay alive. The walls of the building were thin, however, so I was able to make out much of his ranting as the Royal Guard fell to the ambush that was now readily apparent.

Elite Ronin and Elite Ninja appeared as I heard Ondariva laugh mockingly above me. "You shall never escape this house!" the warlord promised.

"*You* shall not escape! Nor your foul pawns," said another voice. From where I was tactically hidden, it sounded like Solid Snake.

"I will watch my pets feast upon your corpses," Belo ranted, paying no attention to the threats of the Guard. At this time, Kalis descended the stairs, perhaps to try and stem the flow of ninja and ronin into the house.

"Die at my feet!" I heard Belo laugh through the sound of battle above. "Look around at the weakness of your nation! Crushed like little bugs."

Indeed, as I surveyed the battle from my vantage point, more and more ghosts of Britannians descended the stairs, seeking Kalis's powerful healing abilities.

"Did you think Dupre knew anything I did not want him to know?" Belo screamed, working himself up into a frenzy of insane laughter. "Did you believe you had some inside information?"


"Serve me or die!" At this point I knew he was insane, for while the warlord sounded like he was giving a choice, it was clear that he had already decided the latter for many.

"Pets, let them not rise," Ondariva continued. "Strike them down. Leave none alive! Let no man nor beast stand against me."

The warlord's commands were being heeded well, for the number of ghosts that appeared from above continued to grow, taxing the skills of our leader. Yet still the enemy came.

I felt helplessness and cowardice as I stayed hidden in the shadows, but knew I was no match for even the weakest of Ondariva's minions, for my only weapon, my music, affected them not in the least. Still I would come out of hiding to cast a quick heal spell onto the newly-resurrected, all the while scared of the evil laughter coming from upstairs.

"You little bugs have fallen into my flytrap." Ondariva certainly loved the sound of his own voice. "Rise up just to fall again."

"Kill them! Well done my ronin."

Words, however true they may be, never stopped the Royal Guard, and so they continued after the warlord over and over.

"Fools! You dare return!" Was that a touch of fear in his voice? Was he starting to worry that we would never stop? "Do you not know that only death awaits you here! I shall enjoy washing my armor in your blood!"

"You send your pawns after us," I heard from another voice. "You cower behind their backs."

"*You* are the cowards!" Belo screamed. "Run like the ants you are, before my boots crush the life from your worthless bodies."

What sounded like a duel was offered to Ondariva, but I couldn't make out who it was -- because of the noise, of course.

"Are you so worthy... I think not," the tyrant chuckled mockingly.

"You shall find my life isn't easy to take," the Guardsman retorted.

"None of you are worthy to do anything but die before me. Prove your worth." More chuckling from above. "You shall not see the end of this day. Death awaits you all before the sun falls..."

Belo's arrogance and bluster got the better of him, however, for he had failed to notice that his minions had been all but wiped out. Indeed, it was safe enough for me to scurry upstairs to catch a glimpse of the madman as he realized his position.

"How!! How can it be that you insects have infested my home!!! We shall meet again!!"

His next words were a bit cryptic, and disturbing.

"Luck lasts only an instant." And with that, the warlord vanished.

The battle was renewed outside the building, for Ondariva had left us another handful of his minions to deal with. Also, the local inhabitants of the forest stopped in to interfere, so there were a few more casualties before the end of the evening.

With Belo Ondariva on the run, however, his minions were without their usual morale, and the area was cleared. It wasn't long before Kalis returned us to the Headquarters to debrief.
"Many fell during the first attack," Kalis was saying when I arrived. "Almost as if it was prepared for us..." Kalis frowned as many in the audience whispered the word on everyone's mind.

"Yes, that is the right word here: ambush." Kalis's face had a worried expression upon it. "But, in the end, we were victorious. A good job shown by everyone present in working as a team."

"But, even with this victory, we failed in capturing Belo. That man has an uncanny ability to evade us. Most likely to warn Minax that we discovered their base of operations."

"An ambush." Kalis seemed to leave us for a moment as he thought about what this meant. "It is almost as if we were set up."

Thoughts and concerns were thrown about the Guard, suggesting that Dupre might not still be himself, that he might still be under the control of Minax, or that at the very least some unwelcome suggestions were left in his mind.

"Well, as it stands, Belo is gone," Kalis stated, considering all of the theories. "But I wonder what else they have done to Dupre. He seemed to truly believe this was their base of operations. Yet it was a trap."

Standing at the back of the crowd, I was able to hear the door to the building open, and turned to see who it was.

The man, noble in dress but warrior in arms, came around to the other side of the table as everyone watched.

"Baron Lenshire?" Kalis said quizzically.

"Kalis. Guard." The baron seemed to be economical with his words. He then informed us that he had a gift for us, and unceremoniously dropped something on the table before him.

A head.

A human head.

The head of Belo Ondariva.

"I trust that this settles my debt with the Guard," Lenshire said directly. "As for how, I shall leave that to the tales spun by bards and story tellers."

"I am certain all present would like to hear it from your point of view," Kalis smiled, trying to soften the terse words of the baron. "Not to mention that weapon ye be holding."

I hadn't noticed it before, for the weapon itself seemed to drink up the light. The shield I had just passed off as a fine example of noble wealth.

"Suffice to say that I have clean up your mess," the baron replied. "He won't be troubling you much anymore."

"What of Minax?" Kalis asked, hiding his disappointment of being only half-answered, if that.

"Perhaps I should leave her head to your skills."

"I do not have a sword, unlike yourself."

This caused a bit of laughter amongst the Guard. "Aye, it would be difficult to remove a head with an arrow," someone called out.

"It would be most messy," Kalis agreed.

"I am sure this ragtag group can assist you in that endeavor," Lenshire said rudely.

"Farewell, Kalis."

Without ceremony, the baron opened a moongate and left. As soon as the gate closed, the Royal Guard were vocal.

"Can we question his loyalty?" "I surely find it strange that he was able to find him and kill him so soon after retreating."

"Aye," Kalis nodded, "I find that strange as well. Not to mention praising the Royal Guard one moment then considering us 'ragtag'."

"He did do a service for us," Kalis conceded as he turned to look at the head on the table. "Belo did not escape him."

More questions, suspicions and accusations flew through the crowd.

"Yes, puzzling indeed. Regardless of how he died, at least we know Belo is dead. Even if by mysterious means. On less pawn for Minax to play with."

"Which means she should enter the dance soon." Kalis allowed himself to grin at the thought.

The rest of the meeting wound down with talk about the invasion of Britain, both in Felucca and Trammel, from the hordes of creatures in Despise. There was talk that perhaps Dupre would lead the Guard to take back Felucca Britain, for it was said that it had almost fallen to the invaders.

As talk of the realm continued, I drowned it out as I dwelled on the appearance of Baron Lenshire. It had been his belongings that we had found in the underground hideout, where we had first found mention of Belo Ondariva. Indeed, the baron would have reason to strike back at the warlord.

But it seemed too easy. To sudden. To perfect. And the baron was very rude, even moreso than you might expect from a noble to commoners.

No, I suspected something wasn't right, as did many others. Perhaps the baron is under Minax's control as well? Perhaps that wasn't even the baron? And is that really the head of Belo Ondariva? Was it "won" genuinely, or was it perhaps a "gift" from Minax herself, to lull us into a sense of safety and victory? Or perhaps she was just fed up with Ondariva's failures against us, and she had ended his life, either directly or through another's hands?

And what does this weapon "Ataxedem" do? How powerful is it?

And where can I get one?

-- Crwth