Order of the Eight Virtues :: Ultima Online Pacific Guild

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News - BNN - 528 : Inu, Chapter 2
Inu, Chapter 2
BNN : World News :
Current Event : Inu, Chapter 2
Draconi May 27 2006 12:31AM

The Sheriff of Britain’s quill scratched at the page as the ink ran dry mid-sentence. Annoyed, he dipped it back into the inkwell and stood up to stretch a bit, walking over to the window set in the thick stone walls. It was overcast this morning; only a dim halo around Felucca made it obvious the moons were still in the sky. Yet, the city outside stirred - businesses were making their morning preparations and lights were flickering into existence all along the street.

A soft rippling sound came from behind him, but he didn’t bother to turn around - enjoying the draft of cool morning air.

"Good morning, sir."

"Good morning, Henry," replied the Sheriff, recognizing the guard’s voice, "How was your trip?"

"’Twas as expected, sir."

The Sheriff clasped his hands behind his back and leaned forward, peering intently down the street.

"And how are our guests? I trust they remained unmolested throughout the evening?"

"Indeed, sir. We stayed at a distance throughout the night but watched carefully."

"And they are now...?"

"The younger ones are still camping, the woman has disappeared. Our tracker lost her on the northern road."

The Sheriff sighed. It was times like this, he reflected, that he wished he could arch an eyebrow on demand. Instead, he turned a bit and regarded Henry out of the corner of one eye, doing his best to only seem benignly curious.

"Oh?"

Henry’s abrupt discomfort was obvious.

"Aye, sir," Henry began, "She left their camp late in the evening and began heading north. We lost her beyond the old lookout post."

The Sheriff had turned around completely now and started walking back to his desk. He enjoyed the occasional stab at theatricality, and gave it a try. Sitting, he retrieved the quill from the inkwell, and resumed the sentence he’d left off at.

"Henry?" He said some time later, closing the final paragraph with a sharp stroke.

"Sir?"

"Give me a moment. I’d like you to take this up to the castle."

"Yes sir."

The Sheriff folded the letter and sealed it with some red wax. He bent forward to hand it over, but held on to it when Henry grasped the other end.

The Sheriff looked up at Henry’s passive face.

"You’re not a very curious man, are you Henry?"

"’Tis not my job, sir."

"I suppose not," he said, letting go, "Well then, have it delivered to the Commander’s office."

"Understood, sir," Henry said, and disappeared.

The Sheriff sat back and smiled to himself.

 

 

"Ken! Wake up!"

Ken rolled over and curled farther into his blanket.

"Ken! Wake! Up!"

A pair of hands hit his side and he tumbled away from his sleeping mat into the wet grass. His eyes flew open and he found himself lying facedown on the ground, still foggy despite Maya’s obvious efforts. He managed to get on all fours and look to the side at Maya, who was kneeling beside the bedroll she’d just pushed him out of.

"Wha?"

"She’s gone!" Maya scrambled forward and grabbed an arm, pulling him up.

"Inu?" He asked, their surroundings starting to hit home.

"Yes! She’s just, gone! We woke up and her bedroll and everything was gone!"

"We? Oh..." He’d already remembered it the second he asked, and looked behind her at Harmony, who was skirting the edge of camp looking closely at the ground.

"Don’t tell me - she just took off while we were asleep?"

Maya nodded quickly: "And I have no idea which way she went! Harmony’s looking around but it’s all grassy here. I couldn’t find any footprints."

He surveyed the area. Just a little ways south of camp the ocean was breaking against the cliffs, to the north Harmony was walking along the edge of the forest, engaged in the search as well.

"Hold on," he was trying to gather his thoughts, and began walking past the campfire towards the sound of lapping waves.

She turned to follow. "Wait, where are you -"

He walked up along the side of the tallest cliff and looked down and around the coastline.

"Looks like she didn’t slip off the edge in the middle of the night, or something," he said, relieved.

"Don’t say things like that!"

He looked back at her, annoyed, "What do you mean ‘Don’t say things like that?’ She’s old. And she’s crazy! It could’ve happened -- might’ve gotten up at night and just put her foot right off the..." The words trailed off as Maya’s face went rigid, and he backpedaled as best he could.

"Look, I mean, sorry, it’s...early and I -"

Next to him Harmony suddenly asked, "Find something?"

Not having been there a moment before, Harmony’s sudden appearance sent him reeling back a bit, just enough to misjudge a step on the craggy rocks, but she was quick to catch his arm and steady him against her.

"Careful now!" she admonished him playfully, while Maya swallowed a scream.

"Er, thanks," Ken said lamely.

"You’ve got to stop doing that!" Maya scolded.

"Ye both seemed most excited about something, so I teleported over to hear what ye’d found," Harmony apologized as she walked away from the edge towards Maya. She was still smiling, and Maya couldn’t help but break into a grin as well.

"At least you scared Ken. That’ll teach him."

"Hey."

It took them another half hour before they finally found something. Harmony had gone deeper into the forest and come across the road cutting through and into East Britain. Just on the southern edge of the trail there were sandaled footprints leading straight into the road, moisture still gathered in the soft impression. Once the footprints merged into the well traveled path though, it was impossible to tell in which direction they’d been headed. They’d returned to their makeshift camp to eat breakfast and mull over their situation.

In the end, they decided to head back into Britain and seek out some information. Harmony was sure that the guards wouldn’t bother them since Inu wasn’t actually with them, and Maya was anxious to try the rumormongers. If anything, they could at least find out what Inu had been up to before they’d run into her.

 

Later that morning they found themselves across the way from the bank, standing in front of the Cat’s Lair. The entrance to the tavern was well away from the bank itself, but the noise from down the street was still very distracting.

"Okay everyone, look sharp!" Maya said, "We’ll go in, we’ll find a table, and we’ll look like we know what we’re doing."

Ken shrugged, "Alright."

Harmony looked a bit perplexed: "But, I do not believe thou needest..."

Maya cut her off with a dismissive wave of her hand.

"Don’t worry, I’m used to this sort of thing. Zento has a place just like this!"

With that, Maya gathered herself up, grabbed the door handle, and with a strong pull opened it wide and strode inside, the other two in tow. It would’ve been a very impressive entrance for the trio, if anyone had actually been around to see it. Instead, Maya found herself facing a row of empty tables.

"May I help thee?" someone asked politely to the side. She looked over to see an older blonde man behind the bar, polishing a mug and looking quite amused at her brash entrance. Ken and Harmony were stepping around her, Harmony heading straight towards the bar.

"Elston!" Harmony cried happily, running up to the bar and leaning over for a hug.

"Harmony, ‘tis good to see thee, good to see thee. And who are these fine visitors?"

She sat down on a stool and rotated around, one arm on the counter, and motioned with the other.

"These are my new friends and traveling companions: Maya and Ken," she responded.

Ken walked over and sat next to Harmony, shaking Elston’s hand over the counter.

"Nice to meet you, sir."

"Aye, a friend of Harmony’s is a friend indeed."

"Um, nice to meet you too, Elston," Maya offered, having made her way over as well.

"Ah, always a pleasure, always a pleasure."

Harmony smiled and turned back towards the bar: "Could we have three mugs of mead, please?" She winked, "The good stuff."

Elston’s face broke into a wide grin.

"I knew ye’d ask the moment I saw ye. Just a moment now," he had them wait while he walked over to the far wall and began filling three mugs.

Maya leaned in past Ken and got Harmony’s attention: "Hey, why didn’t you tell me you knew the owner?"

Harmony winked and replied, "It seemed more fun this way!"

Ken let out a short laugh, "She did try to warn you, you know."

"Sure! At the last second!" She was about to say something else but the barkeep was already returning.

"There we are!" Elston said, setting down three pewter mugs filled with a golden liquid, "I see ye’ve already found out how infectious she is, eh?"

"Elston!" Harmony griped.

While they bantered for a bit Maya considered her drink. It smelled sweetly of honey, but she’d never seen a drink like it before. She tentatively took a sip and was pleasantly surprised to find it also tasted of strawberries. Elston must have noticed because he was quick to turn the conversation over to her.

"Ah, first time for Abbey Mead is it lass?"

Harmony pressed teasingly, "First time for mead at all, is it?"

Ken, in the meanwhile, had finished half his mug and had a pleased look on his face.

"It’d be nice if we had this in Zento, wouldn’t it?" he said out loud.

"Oh? Ye canna find mead in Zento?" Elston queried. He hadn’t even blinked when Ken had mentioned their hometown, which struck Maya as odd.

Ken explained, "Well, we’ve got it, now, but it’s not like this!" He took another gulp.

"’Tis good to hear ye like it lad, good to hear. Abbey Mead is rather rare though, Harmony is one of the few around who canst afford it."

Maya and Ken turned towards Harmony in unison.

"Exactly how much is this?" Maya asked Elston, eyes wide on the redheaded mage.

Elston was already replacing Harmony’s empty mug with a fresh drink and started to answer when Harmony quickly interrupted, "Oh, ‘tis not that much at all, right Elston?"

He chuckled and replied, "Aye, ‘tis not much at all for thee!"

She gave him a poisonous look, which, for Harmony, was more comical than anything, making Maya laugh unexpectedly. Her laugh turned into a short bout of giggles, and she was surprised at how warm and comfortable their surroundings had become. Ken had his arms crossed on the bar and was resting his head, watching them idly.

"*hic*", Maya hiccupped.

"Oh dear," Harmony laughed, scooting her seat closer to Maya to support her.

"Wha... *hic*," Maya hiccupped again.

"Thinking about it..." Ken said slowly, "It’s a bit early in the morning to be drinking, isn’t it?"

Maya had a scathing reply on the tip of her tongue, but another hiccup broke it off.

 

They spent the rest of the day walking throughout Britain buying supplies and making arrangements for their stay in the city. Harmony had produced some sort of strange potion at the tavern which had immediately sobered them up, but Maya still couldn’t believe how strong the mead had been. She made it a point to remember two things: Abbey Mead had a real kick to it, and keep an eye out for anything made by someone called Grizelda. It was a horrid potion, no matter how well it worked.

Maya had reserved a room at the Sweet Dreams inn, while the other two had gone to visit a mages’ shop on the north side of town. They’d agreed they’d meet back at their room that evening, and then head back out to the tavern, which by then would be full of patrons.

The night was uneventful. They sat at a table in the corner, and asked Elston to point out anyone he thought might be able to help them out. Unfortunately no one had anything useful to tell them besides the occasional gossip. Once in a while someone would mention the crazy old woman who’d been seen near the bank recently. Apparently she hadn’t been seen again, and they resolved to sleep on the problem and come up with a fresh plan in the morning.

The morning led them to no better conclusion, and, having no other leads, they ended up spending the next few days repeating their pattern of talking with people in the city and visiting taverns at night. Maya was a bit frustrated, but there was no way they could visit every city the world over, no matter how easy the moongates made it. Britain was the capitol of the kingdom, and sooner or later they’d find someone who’d bring news they could act on.

They were walking back to the inn one morning when a town crier suddenly got their attention.

"Attention!" he cried.

They paused with a few other people to listen to his speech.

Apparently, a group of adventurers had stumbled upon a cavern in which they’d faced down a horde of ratmen and other monsters. Maya didn’t think it was special at all until the town crier explained that the group had come across the entrance to the cavern almost immediately after speaking with Inu the Crone.

"And Lorgash, having been defeated, was found to be hiding up a certain lost book!" he continued. "Today, the Royal Press is proud to present the people of Britannia a tome of knowledge from one of our greatest mages: Nystul!"

Harmony had been listening attentively up to that point, but then her head shot up and eyes locked on the crier. He bowed to some scattered, polite applause, and then held up a small leather bound book.

"Ye may ask, but what was this book they found, and what meaning doth it have for we simple folk?"

It was obvious he had their full attention, and he kept going.

"’Tis called ‘The Shattering’, my friends, and journals the very innermost thoughts of Britannia’s own Court Mage: Nystul. Ye may say, ‘I am but a baker, or a merchant, what canst I learn from such a tome?’"

Harmony addressed him in a firm tone, breaking his concentration, "Dost it speak of Mondain, then?"

Maya and Ken were surprised to hear her talk directly to the man, but apparently the crowd was even more surprised. There were gasps all around, and they wondered what she had said that had evoked such a response.

The crier faced her, holding the book up in his hand, and spoke again, voice suddenly edged, "Aye. It speaketh of Mondain. Verily, it speaketh of the Gem and more."

For a moment they thought the crowd was upset, but a smile broke across one man’s face.

"Well, the Royal Press, eh? Certainly know how to get a man’s interest!" he said loudly, swaggering forward.

A woman called out, "How much is it then? ‘Twill be wanted at home for bedtime stories, for sure!" She was laughing gaily.

The crier looked nonplussed and raised his hands up, book held high.

"My esteemed countrymen, the Royal Press asks not even one gold piece! ‘Tis free!"

"Where!?" "Where is this now?" "How do I get one?" Their amusement had given way to interest.

"Simply visit the local bank and ask the teller for a copy. Thou needest only have a bank box to be eligible!" he said, bowing.

A few people broke off immediately towards the bank, but one fellow muttered over his shoulder as he passed by them going the other way, "Bah, ‘tis ‘free’ for ye, hafta ‘ave an account and whatnot."

The town crier placed the leather book into his bag and waved at the dwindling crowd, "On behalf of the Royal Press, in conjunction with the Royal Mint, we wish to thank thee for thy time today!" With that, he moved on down the road and they were left standing at the intersection.

"Let’s go!" Harmony said excitedly, grabbing each of their hands and starting to walk quickly. "Did she just say ‘Let’s’," Maya thought. Ken had been quiet throughout the spectacle but wanted to know what was going on.

"Wait, where are we going?"

"Back to the bank, of course!" Harmony said.

He pulled his hand free and matched her pace.

"So what, we’re going to grab a free book?" he asked with disbelief.

Harmony nodded, "Yes!"

"But we don’t have time!"

Maya spoke up, striding alongside, "Don’t have time? Ken, we’ve been sitting in town for days now! This is a godsend!"

Harmony nodded again and kept going. They were rounding the bend past the jeweler’s shop, and they merged into the local traffic of merchants and businessman milling around the bank.

"Besides!" Maya panted, keeping up with Harmony, "Besides, he said they found this after talking to Inu, remember?"

He kept looking straight ahead.

"Right."

She hadn’t expected such a lackluster response from him, and was suddenly uncomfortable. Harmony had already walked into the bank, however, so she decided not to say anything until they got back to their room.

 

She never had a chance to talk to Ken privately though. The night was spent poring over the book with Harmony and getting a short history lesson about some ancient war she hadn’t heard about before. Apparently most of the world had nearly been conquered by one man, and somehow someone else managed to stop him. It reminded her a little of a story her father had told her once though, and it stuck in the back of her mind.

After they were done, Ken went out on his own to the Cat’s Lair, saying he wanted to see if anyone had heard anything recently. Maya laid on the bed thinking about it, trying to remember details from the little fantasy her father had told her, and was soon asleep.

 

Ken grew more sullen as another fruitless day went by, and Maya was no less displeased. Harmony remained cheerfully oblivious to the souring feelings in their little group, but made a point the next day of going out for reagents on her own. This left Ken and Maya to prepare for their information gathering on there own.

"What’s your problem?"

Ken had just tossed her a small pouch of gold they were planning to spend. Maya caught it, but he had thrown it a little harder than she’d expected.

"My problem?" he started.

"Yes! Your problem!" she snapped, "You’ve been like this for days!"

He stepped forward, not raising his voice, "Days, huh? Makes sense, right?"

"What?" She was uncertain.

"This!" he said pointedly, waving a hand around the room, "Why are we doing this?"

She stalked up to him, "To find Inu! Remember? You said you’d come and help!"

He looked down at her.

"What for, Maya?"

She looked up at him, surprised, a little angry.

"What do you mean?!" She hadn’t meant to be that loud, but he wasn’t fazed.

"We already found her, she’s fine." He waited for her to say something, but her eyes had clouded over.

"It’s not your fault Maya, she didn’t want to stay with us."

She turned her back to him and crossed her arms.

"I know that!" she whispered angrily.

"Then why are you?" he tried to ask, but she whirled around and grabbed his shoulders.

"Then why are you still here!?" she shouted up at him.

They stared at each other like that, a weeks worth of pent up emotions finally pouring out, but Ken couldn’t answer. Maya let go of his shoulders, taking a step back. Her anger was being overcome by something else, and she didn’t notice the slight sound of rushing air beside her.

"I’m sorry..." he tried.

"Art thou alright Maya?" Harmony asked, leaning between them for a better look at her.

Maya screamed and Ken tripped over backwards.

"Wow! Ye both have the worst luck with my recall spots!" she laughed.

That night found them all at the Cat’s Lair, but this time with a purpose. Harmony had returned so suddenly because Elston had asked them to be at the tavern that evening. Apparently he’d made contact with a mercenary group who had news about Inu, and were especially interested in sharing the information.

No one had come over to talk to them yet, so Harmony was teaching Maya how to play "High/Low" with a cup of dice at their usual corner table as they listened in on the conversations nearby.

"So wait, if I roll seven, and I chose ‘High,’ I lose?"

"Right," replied Harmony, handing her the dice, "So what is it now? High or Low or Seven?"

"Mmm, Low!"

Maya dropped the dice in the cup and shook it up.

The dice went flying across the table. The first ended up rebounding off a mug and coming to a halt near the end, but the second flipped right off the table and across the floor, coming to a stop right on the tip of someone’s boot.

A tall man wearing leather armor was standing between the bar and the table, and had just begun walking towards the neighboring table, mugs in hand, where his friends were sitting. Harmony cried out, "Stop!"

Half the eyes in the tavern were immediately on the redheaded girl as she ran up to the man, dropped down near his feet, and gently nudged the dice off his boot tip so that it didn’t change its position.

"Two!" she looked over at Ken.

Flustered, Ken looked down and replied, a little too loudly now that it had quieted down some, "Three!"

Harmony scooped up the dice and ran over to Maya, grabbing her hand, "You win!" Ken watched the man while Maya and Harmony celebrated. The fellow turned his head back towards the bar and nodded in Elston’s direction. Elston nodded back. Suddenly he was heading their way.

"Excuse me," he said simply, setting down the mugs. "I hear ye seek a word or two concerning a certain old woman?"

 

One small pouch of gold later, they’d learned why they hadn’t heard anything about Inu lately. Maya had managed to thank the mercenaries politely, but the moment they were outside she began storming back to the inn.

"Maya! Wait up!" Ken called, walking quickly to catch up.

"Ye couldst not have known!" Harmony rejoined.

Maya kept moving on, but said loudly, "Home! She’s been back home in the desert this whole time!"

"Hey, it’s not like that!" Ken said, coming up alongside her with Harmony.

She slowed down a bit, gaining back some composure.

"Okay, not the whole time, but most of it!"

"But we knowest she is in Luna now, at the least," Harmony said, trying to make her feel better.

Maya kept her eyes straight forward as she said, "Yes, and first thing tomorrow, that’s where we’ll be."

 

---

 

"It’s huge," Maya said, staring up the height of the massive sandstone walls. They’d appeared in a small courtyard-like area between the city walls and a large central building. Much like Britain there were people everywhere, but most were streaming up and into the building.

As they walked along the hallway Maya asked about the edifice.

"No one truly knows much," Harmony admitted, "When the moongates began linking to Malas, we found Luna as you see it now."

Ken sidled up from behind.

"You mean this building was already here?"

Harmony nodded, "This, the walls, a few abandoned structures, Umbra..."

Now they were in the center of the building and it was getting harder to talk.

Ken and Maya followed along as Harmony led them around to the side of the main concourse and in a circle around the through the building.

Maya was about to yell to Harmony that she didn’t see Inu anywhere, when suddenly the crowd grew quiet. She realized that a voice had been shouting at the crowd from the heart of the building, but it was male. Now the crowd seemed to have calmed down a bit to hear what he had to say.

"My good friends!" the man was addressed the crowd warmly, "Thank you! I have an announcement!"

Before anyone could say anything he had continued.

"Per inquiries concerning one Inu the Crone, of whom many of you have come to know of late, I, Bernard de’Lur, am forming an expedition to ascertain the veracity of this woman’s so-called prophecies." He took a breath and continued in an excited manner, the crowd actually letting him, with only a wave of murmurs starting to sweep through them.

"As many of ye may know, this strange woman has been spouting strange things none could understand! However!" and with this he turned towards a young man standing next to him.

"However! Vincent here claimeth to have understood her message! Vincent! If you please."

Vincent took a step forward and ran a hand through his unkempt hair. For a moment he looked like he wouldn’t make eye-contact with the crowd, but then he straightened up and kept his eyes level with them.

"Now, firstly, I wish it not said that I believeth any of this!"

Bernard nodded firmly, and one or two people in the crowd cheered out in support.

"That understood, before she disappeared, she spoke quite distinctly the following words: Death Dealing Fanciers."

"Fancy what now?" called out a man in front.

"Now now sir, ‘tis just that what we wondered!" Vincent explained.

"Go on then!" someone else urged.

"Well, we all know the woman seemeth addled - something is just not right with her - so I set her words to page and began pondering them, trying to make some sense of it."

Bernard slapped him on the back, "And sense he did indeed make of it!"

Vincent chuckled a bit to hide an involuntary wince.

"Aye, or at least we thinketh so. Now, looking at the words on the page I was reminded of that article that was circulating in the news recently about word puzzles. Some of ye may remember that this Inu woman was also involved in that as well?"

There were some scattered affirmations amidst the crowd and Vincent smiled and continued.

"By that line of thinking, I was led to rearrange certain letters within the message, until I was left with something most startling!"

The man who had earlier spoken up did so again, "Well now! What is it?"

Vincent locked gazes with him, took a breath for effect, and replied at last, "Fear the dancing ladies!"

Vincent’s face had lit up in excitement, but the crowd had gone pitifully silent, and with a sinking feeling he knew what was coming next.

"The fan dancer dojo!" blurted Maya. She had said it without thinking, caught up in Vincent’s explanation, even as some of the crowd had started to laugh at what seemed to be a rather foolish "revelation."

Bernard couldn’t have been more pleased: "Yes! Exactly, my dear girl!" He abruptly dove through the crowd and caught her arm, pulling her to the front and spinning her about.

"Now see, at least one of ye hath understood as well! So there may be something to this after all!"

Ken and Harmony pushed through the crowd to get to Maya, and Bernard immediately mistook their advance.

"Aha! Two more noble adventurers! ‘Tis five of us now, who else will join our party?"

Ken started to object but Maya shook her head. Harmony seemed completely at ease with what was happening, and was idly rummaging through her knapsack as they stood to Bernard’s side.

Sure enough, Bernard’s enthusiasm and charisma netted their group another dozen people interested in exploring the dojo. The crowd had resumed its normal pace and he had led them all upstairs where they were sitting on some marble benches introducing themselves.

Bernard was just in the middle of a explaining their plan of attack, when Maya finally spoke up.

"Excuse me sir, do you know anything about where Inu the Crone went to?"

He didn’t seem to mind being interrupted, and turned directly to her.

"Why young lady, I fear I do not. ‘Tis why we wish to follow her last words!"

Vincent cut in from the side, "This Inu person, we knowest not where to seek her, so we wish to follow the trail laid before us, as it were."

She thanked them and Bernard resumed explaining his plan while she conferred with Ken and Harmony. Lacking other leads, they all agreed it’d be best to follow along and at least see what was going on. No sooner had they all come to this conclusion than Bernard called over, "Well then, shall we go?"

---

The gate opened onto the edge of a grove of trees, and the group began spilling out onto the sandy courtyard in front of the dojo. Maya hadn’t ever seen it before, but it was everything her parents’ nighttime horror stories had said it would be.

"Maya, move!" Ken yelled as he grabbed her arm and jerked her into the center of their party. They were already surrounded by at least a dozen fan dancers and more were slipping out from the dojo’s entrance. At the edge of her vision leather-clad warriors were flitting in and out of sight; no doubt closing the circle around them.

She glanced back at the others and found their calmness disconcerting. Even Harmony was flipping serenely through her spellbook, as though this was something she did every day.

"It could be, for all I know," she thought grimly. Ken worked his way to her side and pulled his blades out, squaring them defensively.

"If anything happens, we can just jump back through the gate," he said.

"Yeah..." she was pulling out her wakizashi when Harmony suddenly piped up, "Oh, ‘tis no reason to worry, a few of these fellows are tamers! And at least half of us are mages, after all." She was smiling as her finger landed on whatever spell she’d been deciding on.

"This shall do!" she said, and, true to form, began digging around in her knapsack for reagents.

Maya and Ken shared a nod and let her be. The fan dancers and ninja were still circling around them, establishing a firm pincer position between the forest and the dojo. A soft noise began to fill the air as several mages began their incantations. Harmony was still calm but seemed deeply focused as she began chanting as well.

"In..."

Maya tipped her sword forward, keeping an eye on the sand in front of her, trying to detect anything hidden that might try to approach their position.

"Jux..."

Ken was focused on two fan dancers who, while still weaving around near the forest’s edge, seemed to be targeting their part of the group.

"Hur..."

Harmony had her eyes closed now, a soft glow was moving up her arms away from the spellbook.

"Ylem!"

The glow enveloping Harmony gathered itself suddenly and rushed forward ahead of them beyond the courtyard. The light coalesced with a flash and was replaced by a strange metal object. Sunlight streamed off its edges and it slowly began to whirl, gradually picking up speed.

"What is that?" Maya asked Harmony, who was flipping pages through her spellbook again.

"Blade Spirits," she said simply, not looking up.

Maya stared at the strange contraption. It was spinning faster now, and began emitting an unnatural clicking sound as sharp metal blades began unfolding from the center.

She couldn’t believe it, like a soulless blademaster it moved of its own accord towards a group of fan dancers who were sizing it up. Blades clashed and before she knew it the magical machine had torn a path through at least three of them. She wrenched her eyes back to Harmony, who appeared to have just found another spell.

"Well done, fifth circle!" another mage yelled over at Harmony, "Let us give you a hand!"

With that, the field suddenly filled with a half dozen masses of purple energy, which, just like the Blade Spirits, began whirling faster as they bore down on their targets. Unseen magical energy lashed out at their prey.

Harmony paused, blinking, and looked up, "Oh! Energy Vortexes!"

Maya was quick to ask, "Which means?"

"’Tis over for now, I think," she said, absently placing her spellbook back in her pack.

 

It was true. In a matter of minutes a successive wave of Energy Vortexes and summoned pets had decimated the landscape. Maya and Ken were incredulous, never having seen such a raw display of power before. A couple of mages were drinking potions or casting simple beneficial spells on each other. The tamers still had their pets waiting with them, and Maya could barely keep from shivering every time a giant wyrm locked eyes with her.

Bernard was standing on the steps leading into the dojo and beckoned everyone to listen.

"’Twould be good if each and every one of us kept careful watch for anything out of the ordinary," he advised, "Something is here that the fan dancers wish to hide, and we shall find it!"

A cheer passed through the group, but Maya and Ken were quiet. In the back of their minds they both couldn’t help but think about how unprepared they’d been to see just how powerful this single handful of Britannians had been. She’d heard legends about how a group of samurai or ninja, training for a lifetime in the far reaches of the isles, could do things like this, but she’d never expected to see it from anyone else.

Bernard ducked through the entrance and soon they were all deep within the catacombs of the dojo. Harmony was gamely chatting with Maya as they worked their way deeper through the mazelike corridors, and while one minute would be casting a spell, the next would be spent explaining to Maya what it was and how it worked.

Hours passed as they moved along through the twisting corridors; she couldn’t help but be impressed how their ragtag expedition was managing to deal so effectively with what her people considered a constant threat. She almost wished they could just destroy the entire place and be done with it, but she had the feeling that the party members were more like hunters than heroes, and it wouldn’t even cross their minds.

At one point they’d been ambushed by summoned daemons. No one had seemed particularly concerned at first, but when they’d done quite a bit of damage to one, it suddenly attacked one of the tamer’s mares.

The monster had torn it apart and feasted on it right in front of them, even while the other daemons were kept at bay by a myriad of spells. To their horror, the daemon roared and stood up, towering above them with renewed strength. They couldn’t see a scratch on it.

The moment had ended dramatically as a mage ran forward desperately, casting what Harmony later told her was Mass Dispel. The daemon’s hideous face contorted as he and his fellows dissolved in a burst of magic.

They’d been lucky then, and Maya was almost relieved to see a change come over the group as they trespassed deeper into the dungeon. Bernard had lost his smile, and they were letting the tamers’ animals blaze a path ahead of them. Harmony pulled out a few Greater Heal scrolls and stashed them in on her belt, so she could get to them quickly. Ken and Maya both kept their weapons out and at the ready, but except for the occasional straggling monster they dealt with, simply followed along behind the rest.

"Shall we take a breather then?" Bernard suggested some time later, after they’d run into a dead end and managed to clear the room of its normal inhabitants. A dragon was guarding the narrow hallway leading into the room for them, and the group took stock of their options.

An argument had developed between Bernard, Vincent, and a few discontented adventurers who were questioning their relative lack of success. Maya couldn’t imagine what they were complaining about - she’d seen the gold and gems they’d been collecting from their foes.

Then she saw the tamer who had lost her mare to the daemon onslaught earlier, and better understood the group’s frustration. She wanted to walk up and say something, but then Ken shouted to her.

"Maya! Come look at this!" He was pointing at a giant horned skull sitting on the floor in the corner. Bernard had heard him as well, and, glad to have a distraction, hurriedly walked over saying, "Ah! ‘Tis a daemon skull! How rare!"

Everyone had turned to follow Bernard’s line of sight just in time to see Ken walk around the other side of the gigantic skull, and suddenly disappear.

"Ken!" Maya shouted.

Bernard broke into a run and looked over the side of the skull as the rest of them pressed around him, Maya and Harmony elbowing their way through the group. Where Ken had just been standing there was now a large hole - he had found a trap door the hard way.

"Young man!" Bernard called down the hole. They heard a groan in response, and without thinking Maya jumped down after him.

 

A few minutes later most of the group had assembled down the passageway Ken had found. The tamer from before had stayed upstairs with the dragon’s owner, to guard their back, and they’d just seen to Ken’s well being.

"Could someone?" Vincent began, peering down the tunnel in the dim light. Maya heard a few of the mages say In Lor almost in unison, and suddenly the way was lit in front of her. She spent a moment curiously trying to find the light source, but everyone started moving down the tunnel and she moved to keep alongside Harmony. There was a low rumbling sound off in the distance.

They found themselves in a twisting set of tight passages that occasionally fed into small rooms. Each room looked like it had been used by someone or other, but they hadn’t seen any sign of the dungeon’s inhabitants for quite a while.

Coming around a corner, they found themselves in a somewhat larger room, with a tall ceiling and widely spaced walls. What held their attention though was the large daemon crouched in the corner. Harmony had instinctually reached for her spellbook, Ken was silently withdrawing his blades. A few mages were already whispering incantations when the daemon’s eyes shot open, the rumbling noise cut off as it opened its maw.

 

"Get away!" it cried.