Lions and tigers and bears -- we wish

When I heard that the Ranger's gem was red for the first time in months, I felt a pit in my stomach. The invasion of the city of Britain had been quelled, and Britannians had started to get good nights' sleep for the first time in years.

Still, when summoned, the Royal Guard does what it must, and we all gathered in the Ranger's Hut outside of Skara Brae for the first time in weeks. It was good to see faces of fellow Britannians that we hadn't seen for a while.

As we waited for more information, many of us gathered to speak of strange out-of-body experiences we'd been having, all seemingly related, about some elven city named Heartwood that we all suspect shall be revealed to us in time.

Warren, the town crier stationed in the Hut, finally informed us that we were to make our way to the community center within Skara Brae. Our numbers were impressive, considering the time we had all been away from the call of duty.

Waiting to greet us at the community center was James Greymason, perhaps Britannia's greatest ranger. It was with fond memories that I recalled my first adventure with the Royal Guard, also led my Greymason, all that time ago.

And the memories kept coming, for Greymason informed us that we had been summoned to aid in his task of populating the Royal Zoo, which is what I first did with the Royal Guard, back when we found the white stag and white hinds that still reside in the zoo.

"Tonight I have called upon your aid to help me again in this endeavour," Greymason was saying as I snapped out of my reverie. I thought I heard a strange accent in the way he said "endeavor" - perhaps he had been spending some time in northern lands.

"This time our hunt shall take us to a mysterious land, one that has some unique and interesting creatures within it," the ranger continued. As the white stag hunt had taken us to the terrifying lands of Ilshenar -- my first time there I might add -- I couldn't see how much more mysterious things could get.

"Some here may know the place as Tokuno." This brought an audible sigh of relief to my lips. I, like may Britannians, was very familiar with Tokuno, or at least, certain parts, for one of the magistrates there had bidden all interested parties to retrieve lost artifacts being held by the land's monsters.

"We will be going there to hunt for some wolves," Greymason went on. The wolves that we seek though are quite different than those that are within Britannia." I knew immediately of what he spoke, for these very wolves - tsuki wolves - had a good number of those Tokuno artifacts in their possession, and I had relieved many of them from their burden.

"Of taming them, I am not entirely sure," the ranger was saying. "I wish to try and capture two of them for the Royal Zoo." When someone mentioned slaying these wolves, Greymason pointed out that "a dead animal within the Zoo is not good for business."

"The ones we seek are somewhat different than most," he added. "They have silver fur." This was new to me, for while I had encountered hundreds of these tsuki wolves myself, I had never seen one colored that way. Apparently they were as rare as I suspected, for the Zoo wanted them for that very reason.

"We shall be heading towards the island of Isamu-Jima. The last known sighting of these creatures was near what the locals call Mount Sho. Let us make haste to that location and see if we can find these silver tsuki wolves, and attempt to capture them."

The trek north from the moongate of Isamu-Jima, towards the active volcano at Mount Sho, was interrupted halfway by the presence of some dangerous creatures on the road, including some paragon tsuki wolves and a yamandon; one never-before seen as far as I know, and the other a bit far from its usual hunting grounds.

The Royal Guard were equal to the task, however, and though a few fell during the melee, no permanent losses were suffered. The paragon tsuki wolves are quite fast, however, and in my haste to safety, I was unable to get some good images of them.

The last time I went along for a zoo collection, we spent a good amount of time seeking the animal, a good amount of time chasing the animal, and a good amount of time coaxing it to follow.

I was quite pleased, therefore, when one of our quarry wandered directly onto the road in front of us! It seemed a bit scared and a bit curious about our group, but unlike its brethren, it didn't immediately attack. Perhaps this breed was more docile than the others? The height, claws and three sets of teeth didn't exactly make it cuddly, but the hunting party carefully encircled the beast as it sniffed the air, eying us all warily.

It kept licking its lips, on all three heads, but whether from unconscious habit or some desire to dine on us all, we weren't sure. A few of us thought it better to try to feed it <em>from</em> our hands instead of having our hands themselves eaten. Mages in the party were magically creating different foods and offering them up, but either because they were created by magic or not to the creature's palate, it refused most of it.

Nearby, we had dispatched some of the more aggressive breeds of tsuki wolf, so I took the grisly task of cutting slabs of meat from one of the corpses and offering it, with just a bit of fear, to the silver wolf. Whether it couldn't tell where the raw meat came from -- or perhaps because it could? -- it gobbled the chunk down.

Others in the party had discovered the same thing, and seemed to be successfully swaying the creature to follow. Soon we had the creature heading toward the road in the direction of the moongate.

Just north of this, however, another group had found another silver tsuki wolf. This one seemed a little more temperamental, and while it, too, would take food from our hands, it didn't seem that inclined to follow. Leaving the stubborn one for a moment, I caught up with the march along the road, and was glad to see that this wolf, at least, was still cooperating.

The first group lured the wolf to the moongate, and after a bit of coaxing, got it through to the moongate at Moonglow, northwest of the Royal Zoo.

Once in Britannia, though, the wolf stopped moving. It cast about, perhaps trying to make sense of its new surroundings, but also seemed to be searching for something specific. As there was nothing happening, I decided to return to the difficult wolf.

Things were going worse for the other group, for the other silver wolf was heading in the wrong direction! It kept heading north along the road, whining and whimpering. Had we scared it? Was it sick? Did it miss its companion?

This wolf, upon closer inspection, seemed wounded, which might account for it's whining, but while many were adept at bringing harm to tsuki wolves, no one seemed to know how to heal one.

Further north along the road the party encountered another new creature, something that had never been seen before. Or, perhaps, it <em>had</em> been seen before, but no one had lived to tell the tale. The yamandon, one of the fiercest creatures in all the lands, was bad enough -- I readily admit that I run when I see one, if not backed by a small army.

But this was no ordinary yamandon. It was golden in color, very similar to a paragon creature. But was it a paragon? It was hard to say. The silver tsuki wolf, however, seemed unafraid of the yamandon, even as many of the Royal Guard scrambled to combat the beast.

While never a major combatant, I do have my bardic skills to contribute to battle, and after a half-dozen failed attempts, I was able to bring the golden yamandon into discord. The fact that I could succeed at this reinforced that this was, perhaps, just a special breed of yamandon and not a paragon version, for I doubt I would have a sliver of a chance to affect a paragon!

Bolstered by my successful discordance, I joined the mages in summoning energy vortices to attack the yamandon. I was rewarded with a mystical llama coming to our aid.

This was, of course, a mistake, as many of us were reminded, for the yamandon has the ability to strike you with nasty poison, even from a distance, when you attack it. Many of us were striken by this poison, and only some of us were fortunate enough to survive.

Deciding to take the role of healer instead of fighter, I tried my best to keep the braver warriors and mages alive as they brought the golden yamandon down. No sooner had we finished off the formidable beast, we were confronted by yet another!

Resigning ourselves to battle yet again, we start after this second serpent, but - it seemed different. It wasn't aggressive. It seemed to be searching for something, and seemed a bit distressed.

Oh oh. Many of us deduced that it was probably looking for the one we had just slain. It's mate, perhaps? It wasn't really my area of expertise to tell the sex of these creatures, so I couldn't say for sure. Just lift up their tail?

James Greymason appeared as the Royal Guard surrounded the second yamandon, a few poking and prodding it, having their first chance to touch one without apparent danger to life and limb.

The stubborn silver tsuki wolf was also amongst the crowd, though it was unclear what the relationship, if any, was between wolf and yamandon.

Greymason attempted to communicate to the creature as it stood with what could be interpreted as a sad look on its face. After some cooing and coaxing with food, the creature seemed ready to follow. But what of the silver tsuki wolf?

It seemed that someone had thought to bring the first one back from Moonglow, to re-unite the two wolves. That seemed to do the trick, for we were soon on our way with three creatures in tow.

With everyone on the road back to the moongate, things started to go smoothly. The two wolves almost seemed to frolic, seemingly pleased that they were reunited. The yamandon, its features unreadable, continued to follow, though it was unclear why. Could Greymason have that much sway over such a creature?

At the entrance to the zoo, it took a little extra work to get the three specimens up the stairs. The yamandon, thankfully, was caged first, and the ranger explained to the towering beast that this was its new home. Even with a cage separating me from the yamandon I was a bit scared, but James Greymason seemed to show no fear.

Next were the two silver tsuki wolves, and they, too, were placed into a caged-off area of the zoo. Unfortunately, it was the same area in which the white stag and white hinds lived. This led to a bit of scampering and chasing until Greymason was able to separate them.

It seems that everything was planned ahead, however, for as soon as the ranger had separated predator from prey, a wall suddenly appeared, splitting the area into two separate pens.

With the three new creatures contained in the zoo, the ranger closed up the evening with thanks for those gathered. He lamented about the fact that the yamandon's mate was killed, and suggested that we might try to remedy that in the future. But does he mean to raise the deceased one, or "simply" find a new mate?

Neither sounds especially safe.

-- Crwth