Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/campfires/item_id/2200868-The-Fantastic-Warriors
Rated: 18+ · Campfire Creative · Fiction · Action/Adventure · #2200868
A group of warriors defend a village from a group of bandits.
2019 Quill Nominee for Fantasy, Action/Adventure, and Crime/Gangster

The war had lasted years. Many lives had been lost in the conflict. Many of the worst losses occurred to those still alive, who had lost everything else but their lives. It was a War of Good and Evil, but despite winning the War, many of the combatants on both sides had lost something of themselves.

Most tried to go back to the lives they once had, and while many were able to do so, some had felt themselves changed. Too changed to go back to the farm, or the store. Some tried to become guards, while others became criminals. Some became mercenaries, who sold their abilities for money, and others became bandits, who used their abilities to steal money.

Lord Dukco had once been a Captain in the Dark Lord's Armed Forces. When the war ended, he found himself unable to settle among regular folk, not even among criminal organizations would let him join. In desperation, he and others like him turned to banditry, taking that which they wanted. Attacking villages that lacked even the most basic of guards and militias, Lord Dukco's men steal money and food, and other goods. Any who resist, are lucky if he takes the lives of a token few. Those who are not lucky, find themselves wiped out, and used as a reason nor to defy his power. Then again, with over four hundred followers under his command, Lord Dukco's force is large enough to terrorize the villages, as well as small enough to slip away from any official forces, which has been the way for ten years.

Now it's the villages who have become desperate, and in this desperation, they have sent a young elvish priestess to seek out those who would help them, escorted by a young human woodsman and a young dwarf miner. But, what kinds of people would be willing to take on a job that is all but certain suicide?


1. Spelling and Grammar is a must.
2. Each main character can have up to 3 additional followers.
3. Introduce your character/s in such a way, others can use them in that style with little to no issues when they have their character interact with yours.
4. Plot is The Magnificent Seven/Seven Samurai in form - I'm sure that most of us have seen at least one of them, or seen a movie/tv show with the same basic plot. As for whether or not the Main Characters die, that all depends.
5. Keep it 18+, and try not to go into GC territory, at least for now.
6. Respond in a Timely manner.
7. Have fun.

Lord Dukco: Former Captain in the Dark Lord's Armed Forces, terrorizes villagers. Has Draconian blood.

Elvish Priestess (Elvira) , Human Woodsman (Tom), Dwarf Miner (Shale) - Villagers in need of aid.

Marcus - human fighter. Has Draconian blood.

Drakus - Draconian priest, blind, specializes in healing.

Briana - undead mage

Robin - centaur thief

Okami - Wolf barbarian

Rikarn - halfling

Shylock - changling.

Sapphire - human woman

Lord Falun - Human noble, son of the Mayor of a Large city.

Reij - Gladiator School Owner. Lion Folk.

Jason - skeleton archer

Frederick - revenent knight/animated suit of armor

Anastasia - Amazonian woman. Gladiator champion.
Marcus watched the three travelers as he drank his ale. An elvish priestess by the looks, as well as a human male, who seemed to be a woodsman, and a dwarf, who seemed to be a miner. They looked like they'd traveled quite the distance. They were talking to the barkeeper, and holding a money pouch.

The barkeeper laughed. "Good luck finding someone foolish enough to take you up on your offer! It would be suicide to take on Lord Dukco with anything less than an army!"

"Don't you know of anyone who would help us?" the priestess asked.

"Not for what you're offering," the barkeeper said. "Still, you have enough to buy a place here, if you want to live."

"Can't do that," the dwarf said. "That's not what it's for."

That was when the pickpocket made their move. Snatching the money pouch, they ran towards the door, as the three reacted in surprise at the theft. However, the thief made one mistake, and looked behind himself, just as Marcus stuck his leg out, tripping the thief. In one move, Marcus stood up, drew his sword, and pointed it at the back of the thief's neck.

"The money or your life," Marcus said.

The thief pushed the money pouch away.

"Get out of here, and don't try stealing again," said Marcus. "The next person might not be so generous."

The thief got up and ran.

Marcus picked up the money pouch, and handed it to the trio.

"Thank you," the woodsman said. "We're trying to hire mercenaries to help protect our village."

"You mentioned something about Lord Dukco," said Marcus. "Tell me more."

"He's been demanding tribute from us for years, along with a number of the other villages," said the Priestess. "We've tried to get official help, but that doesn't work. As for defending ourselves, we've tried that too, but he and those who follow him are just too much for us."

"And when we do fight him, he forces us to line up, picks out ten, and kills them, and that's if our village was lucky," the miner said. "Others have had more killed, their homes destroyed, and worse, and still that Lord Dukco gets away."

"We need help," the woodsman said. "We have gold."

Marcus looked at the pouch. "Let me see."

The priestess opened it. "It's not much, but it's all we've got."

"You'd get cheap help, but that wouldn't even get you what you'd need," said Marcus. "You'd need more to take on Lord Dukco. What you'd need are those who want an adventure, seek a challenge, seek revenge, and other things, some of which aren't exactly pious."

"Can you help us?" the miner asked. "We can get more gold, if need be. We have mines, good crops, but we can't use them unless we pay Lord Dukco his share, which leaves us with very little for what we need."

"I see," said Marcus. "Well, I have a few folks in mind."

Drakus listened for his prey. He smelled for his prey. It wasn't easy, for there was nearly two dozen others nearby.

"Those who are lost in the dark, cower in fear!" he bellowed. "Those whose motives are less than pure, fearful they are."

He heard movement.

"The weight of guilt is a crushing burden!" He leaped, and grabbed his quarry.

His quarry began to yell and scream. "Please! I beg you! Don't hurt me!"

"Time to be dragged into the light!"

At this, bolts were pulled, and windows and doors thrown open, as light flooded the place, revealing worshipers on the floor, under their seats.

However, Drakus did not see this. "As you can see, it's safe to come out of hiding now, for the servants of terror have been dealt with."

"Mind if I take him, Brother Drakus?" asked one dressed in the robes of a monk.

"You may, Brother Trias," said Drakus. He moved, carefully.

"I got him," said Trias.

Drakus let go. He stood up, his draconian body twice the height of a human. He carefully turned, placed his hands on the seats, and carefully walked back to the pulpit of the temple.

"Your staff," another monk said, handing him something the length of a short pike, with a large nob on the end.

"Thank you," said Drakus. He looked at the would-be thieves, three of them. "Have them look at me!"

The three were forced to look at the draconian. On his face was a strip of cloth, covering up where his eyes once were, scars extending past the cloth.

"Even physically blind, I could still defend my flock from the three of you," Drakus said. "You were nothing compared to the dangers I once faced. May you take your time in the dungeon to reflect upon your lesson today."

At this, some guards came in, their armor clanking.

"Took your time," muttered Drakus, loud enough for the rest to hear.

"Had to get some of the others together, Priest," said a guard. "Things have been a little busy today."

"Yes, I know," said Drakus. "Now, if you don't mind, I was in the middle of something important."

"Mind if we stay a moment?" the guard said. "Might be a good way for these three to see what they messed with."

"Very well," said Darkus. He turned toward a column . "You may come out from hiding, child. It's safe now."

A young boy shifted around, and limped towards the draconian, dragging his one leg behind the rest of his body, using a crutch to help him walk.


The boy sat down, relief on his face.

Drakus placed a claw on the boy, and chanted, light filling the area around the two. Once it was gone, the boy gasped in shock, and jumped to his feet, and began to walk without the crutch.

"You should be able to play with the other kids in about a week," said Drakus. "Just take it easy." He looked towards the guard, and prisoners. "I hope that you don't forget it."

A while later, Drakus was having his meal of pork when the door opened. "Nice to smell you, Marcus."

"Nice to see you to, Drakus," said Marcus. "Heard that you foiled a robbery and healed a boy's leg."

Drakus waved a claw. "It wasn't much of an issue. Just a break that was set wrong."

"Probably felt like a miracle to him though," Marcus said, as he sat down.

"Who are the others?" Drakus asked. "You have an elf with some minor magic, a human who smells like a woodcutter, and a dwarf who smells of the earth."

"Lord Dukco is threatening their village," said Macus. "They could use some help."

Drakus frowned. "I see. I guess I could help, in case healing is needed."

"It will be," said Marcus. "You know where Briana is?"

"The cemetery," said Drakus. "Hopefully the Brothers of Lightus are smart enough to avoid troubling her. Then again, they don't like the undead, or anyone who isn't human, or of their sect for that matter."

Macus grinned. "If nothing else, it will be entertaining."

Briana walked among the gravestones, tracing the names as she walked by them, hearing the voices of their occupants. Sometimes she stopped for a moment to listen. Eventually, she came to a blank stone. She would have frowned, if she could have frowned. There was no flowers on it.

Then, she heard a sound, which caused her to turn. She saw a guard, their hand upon the handle of their sword.

"Someone you knew?" the guard asked.

She nodded.

"I wish I knew why they didn't put this person's name on the stone," the guard said. They took out some flowers, and placed them on the stone. The flowers weren't much, just the sort of things that grew wild everywhere, but at least they made the stone less bare.

Briana would have smiled, if she could have smiled. Instead, she placed a skeletal hand upon the guard.

The guard looked at her.

Briana nodded.

The guard looked at the stone, and looked at her. "You?"

Briana nodded.

"Well, may you find peace some day," the guard said.

Briana nodded.

"She'll find it today, by the Light!"

Briana turned.

Some priests stood a distance away.

"Leave her be," the guard said. "She isn't causing trouble."

"She's going right into the grave she belongs in!"

The guard stood in front of her. "Then you'll have to go through me!"

"Very well."

Briana placed a hand on the guard.

The guard looked at her.

Briana motioned with her head.

"You sure?" the guard asked.

Briana nodded.

"Alright." The guard moved.

The priests began chanting, only for Briana to gesture with her hands, sending them flying.

At the same time, Marcus and Drakus showed up.

"Showing off?" Macus asked.

Briana gestured with her hands.

"I see," said Marcus. He looked at the priests. "You're lucky she took it easy on you. Get out."

The priests ran.

"Now we just need Robin and things will start to look good," said Marcus. "I wonder where that horse thief got to."

At this, a female centaur ran up. "Thought that you'd be here," she said. "We need to find a place to hide for a spell or two."

"Who did you rob this time?" Drakus asked.

"The Mayor's son," said Robin. "He was causing all sorts of issues with the merchants."

"Tell me you didn't steal the tax money," said Marcus.

"Never that sort of thing," said Robin. "Took his personal money pouch though, which looked a little too full for my liking."
Okami was an Anthropomorphic Wolf Barbarian from the Far East, she had just been exiled from her pack and was searching for a new pack to join.
"Robin didn't your parents teach you you should not steal" said Rikarn who smiled a wolfish grin. Her grin was accentuated by the fact that her teeth had been replaced by those of a wolf. A large white wolf rested at her tongue lolling.
"Hello!" A Flamboyantly dressed man yelled to the passing crowd. The man's assemble was colored a dark verdant with red highlights,which contrasted with his plain looking face. His most distinguishing piece of clothing was a large round hat with twin feathers located in the middle.

At this moment, the man seemed to be trying to announce something, though the crowd did seem quite apathetic to his calls. "Come one, come all! Please, I don't bite! Stand in front of me and listen to music that one has never heard before!"

The man bit his lower lip as he saw no one take him up on his offer. The verdant dressed male quickly huffed in frustration. Reaching to his side, the man grabbed a hold of a strange device. It's appearance brought to mind a lute in shape, but also a flute, a string instrument, and other musically inclined devices. Sitting down, the man began to pluck a string on the patchwork instrument. Taking a deep breath, the man blew into what appeared to be the thing's neck.

A soft whistle came out, causing a few members of the crowd to stop. The bard began to play louder; the soft whistle soon became a darker tune. The sound soon shifted into a melody of some sort, with added pieces coming in from the strings on the device. The bard plucked the strings while also breathing into his pipe.

More and more crowd members stopped in their tracks to gape.The song picked up pace as the man looked a little more frantic. The great tune built higher and higher, with more people looking at his performance. Finally, the climax came!

The blast of music caused the crowd to stare with open mouths at the man's music, right before a cheer went around. The bard pushed himself from his position and gave a hearty bow. Taking off his hat, the bard raised it to any open palms giving money. Coins of various degrees were quickly gathered into the hat, the man smiling all the way.

"Thank you. Thank you." He spoke aloud. The bard smiled as he received more funds. "My name is Shylock and I'll be here all week!"

"Will you now?" A gruff voice responded. The bard shot up and looked over to see one of the city's fair peacekeepers glaring at the him. Behind the armored gentleman were two more of his kind.

"Shylock is it? Well this poster here," The leading guard reached behind himself to take out a browning parchment. Opening it in front of the crowd, the city-folk could see their musician plainly printed on it." it says your name is Creighton Pyweish; notorious Northern bandit and robber. So, Creighton, is this poster here a fluke and you're instead some street performer?"

Shylock looked around at the now disturbed crowd and slowly approaching guardsmen. Holding both of his hands up, he gave his excuse.

"Will you believe if I told you that face isn't me?" He smiled and quickly grabbed a hold of one of the citizens, pushing her forward into the guards. Running away, he could hear the guardsmen beginning to order themselves to hunt him down.Shylock's mad dash caused him to drop many of his coins,which were quickly grabbed by more destitute folk.

From the guards point of view, they saw the man disappear into an alleyway.Knowing this section of their city like the back of their hands, the trio knew he would encounter a chain-fence. All three smiled at the thought of the trapped fugitive. Chasing after their target like a hound does a fox. The trio ran into the mouth of the alley expecting the man climbing over the fence,but were shocked to see a kindly young woman with her shirt half-open. Her back was against one of the waste-bins found in the decrepit place.

One of the guards came over to the woman, who responded to his questions with a haunted voice. Telling the men how the bard came into the alley and attacked the girl, trying to get her as a hostage. He failed with his task and the woman didn't recall how he got pass the blockade.

The guards helped steady the almost-hostage lady. Conversing for a bit, two of the guards walked outside the alley to try catch-up with the bard. Meanwhile, the third guard began to file everything the woman said to add onto Creighton's crimes. Feeling like he got everything he needed at the moment, the guard tipped his helmet and walked off, leaving the woman alone in the alley.

She glanced around for a bit,waiting for any other surprises. She sighed in relief and began to dig through the waste-bin. Snarling a bit when she grabbed what appeared to be the bard's outfit. Placing the clothes on the ground, the brunette scratched her chin in thought.

"Okay, last time I steal the face of a bandit this close near a city." The woman said." How was I supposed to know he was some hotshot wanted around this place? I gotta go and get a new face and everything; I don't want to find out the face i'm wearing right now is some other 'celebrity' here.I mean she was near this 'Creighton' when he attacked me, but was she a new minion or partner? Who cares;picking a new face!"

The woman slowly began to morph into a dark-skinned man with golden eyes. Shylock wished he had a mirror to fix himself up,but sadly he did not; such is life. The bard scooped up the last of the coins in his hat with despair,his mood darkened from the sight.

"I lost so much money! Darnit!" Shylock screamed. Slumping down, the changeling began to mumble to himself, right until a light-bulb popped over his head. "Wait, didn't I hear some talk about someone needing protection or something along that line? Screw it, I'll take that job; now where was it again?"

Shylock began to walk out of the alley with his dirty clothing tightly pressed against his body.
"You must wash first!" Sapphire, a thirty year old woman called out to Shylock. Her black hair, amber eyes, and pale skin caught his eyes, and he was unsure how to respond.

"It looks like you've been traveling for quite a ways and you can't be protecting someone in that condition. Come, wash up in my cottage." Sapphire motioned for Shylock to follow her. He was entranced and took her lead.
Marcus had gotten room at an Inn for the group. It was a bottom floor room, because centaurs and stairs didn't mix too well.

He was looking at the centaur. "Robin, the money pouch you stole."

"What do you want it for?" Robin said, as she got it out.

"Depending on what's in it, it will go towards the hiring of additional mercenaries," said Marcus.

"I stole it fair and square," said Robin.

"Whose in charge?" Marcus asked, looking at her.

The centaur sighed, and handed it over. "I still say it's mine."

"Only if you want to risk the penalty for theft," said Marcus. "Think you can run with three hooves tied together?"

Robin chuckled nervously.

"What about you?" Drakus asked.

"I know the Mayor's son's reputation," said Marcus. "Fancies himself an expert with the blades. He wants to press the issue about Robin stealing from him, I'll ask him if he wants to put it to a test of combat with me acting as her champion."

Briana motioned with her hands.

"Why would I want to be Robin's champion?" Marcus translated, for the benefit of the others. Marcus chuckled. "Simple - unless Robin had a few of her legs hobbled together, she'd win no matter what in a straight-up fight. One kick to the chest from a centaur, and a human is dead. Seen that in the War."

Drakus nodded. "So, we're hiring mercenaries with monies stolen from the Mayor's son. There's going to be a story about that one."

"They'd better be good," said Marcus. He looked over at the three villagers. "What are your names anyways?"

"I'm Elvira," the elf priestess said. She indicated the woodsman. "This is Tom." She indicated the miner. "This is Shale."

Marcus nodded. "Nice to be introduced."
Okami smelled Humans nearby, she had been taught all her life not to trust Humans they hunted the beast people.

Sill too tired to run any further she crawled under a bush at he side of the road to sleep and she hoped for the best
Finding his way into the cottage, Shylock looked around the place,noting its furnishings.

"Hmm. Nice place, I dig it." He spoke. Looking over at Sapphire, Shylock wondered why the woman offered hospitality.
Sapphire was nervous about Shylock. There was something about him that could have been dangerous, especially given her traumatic past. Every day she tried to work past it because living life in fear was no fun. However, were people right, was she being naive? Did she really learn her lesson?

Sapphire nodded her head to brush those naysayers out of her mind. Sometimes getting out of your shell, is offering a hand to a stranger. "Oh, thank you," she replied.

"Would you like anything to eat or drink?"
Elvira looked at the money that Marcus poured out of the pouch that Robin had stolen. "How many mercenaries will that be able to hire?"

"Depends on if you want quantity or quality," said Marcus, as he put the money away. "At least ten good ones, if we're lucky."

That was when they heard a commotion outside of the inn.

Marcus walked over to the window, and looked out. He watched at least a dozen guards struggling to drag a wolf woman, who resisted at every inch.

Marcus had to chuckle as he heard the wolf woman growl and shout out insults in her language.

"She's got quite the mouth," said Drakus. "Haven't heard Wulven in at least three years."

"You still any good with it?" Marcus asked. "I still remember it."

"Are you talking about that job with those Far East merchants we helped escort?" Robin asked. "This one looks a little rugged to me."

"Not much different from those we like to call barbarians," said Marcus. "Still, just as we have our so-called 'civilized' peoples, as well as our 'savage' peoples, why not others?"

Drakus nodded. "We're not all that different."

"Okay," said Marcus. "I think we found our first recruit."

"Now we just need to buy her," said Drakus.

"Why would you want one of those Beast People?" Elvira asked.

"That one's good enough to give a dozen guards issues," said Robin. "That, and they can be decent fighters. Even Marcus has troubles fighting them."

"If nothing else, they're very good at tracking down their quarry," said Marcus. "Ran into that issue a few times."

Okami was soon in a cell. She was alone. She was grateful for that. Well, not exactly alone, there was others in the cells on other sides of her. The cells seemed to be sorted by species, as well as sex, and it seemed by the degree of the crimes that the others had committed. She remembered being woken up by an armored human. He'd said something in his foreign tongue, and had prodded her with the blunt end of his spear. She hadn't liked that, and had given him a piece of her mind. Problem was, there'd been several more nearby, and they got others as well. Still, she hadn't gotten dragged without a fight. There was that.

That was when she noticed the others walking around. They seemed to be well dressed, when compared to the others. Sometimes they'd stop before a cell, point at someone, have them come forward, and perform certain motions, as if examining them for physical issues.

One, a well-dressed male human, stopped before her cell.

"This one is interesting," they said. "Female?"

"We'd have to do a more thorough examination, but we think that this is indeed a female Wulven," said a guard. "Can't understand a word she says though, and I doubt she can understand us."

"I wonder what she looks like cleaned up," the man said. "She might be a nice addition to my harem."

"Lord Talun, I'd recommend against it," said the guard. "It took a dozen of us just to bring her in. There are other female prisoners who might prove to be easier for you, and not quite as violent. As it is, she seems to be one of their plainer females."

Lord Talun grinned, flashing his teeth. "I've been getting bored of the tractable ones. If she can put up a fight, I might actually enjoy it." He then started walking, looking at the others.

Okami watched him. She hadn't understood a word that was said, but she didn't like it.

That was when the other human appeared. He glared at the back of the first human for a moment, before looking at her. That what when she got a surprise.

^You're a little far from the usual territories your Packs tend to hunt in,^ the human said, his spoken Wulven being understandable, if a bit rough and lacking some of the finer nuances of the language, like ear and nose twitches, as well as scent even.

Still, at least it was something she could communicate in, if she had to.

^What do you want?^ she asked, in the spoken language.

^To buy you your freedom,^ the human said. ^You look to be a capable warrior, and I could use one like you.^

^What for?^ she asked.

^There's a village that needs protecting,^ the human said. ^You look to be someone who could help me do the job. You interested?^

^Why should I?^ she asked.

^Help me, and you get your freedom,^ the human said. ^Otherwise, you might get bought for the Gladiator Games. Luckily, you're only in for assault, so you'd avoid the Death fights, but you'd still have to serve in the Games for five years. Granted, you'd get paid a certain amount for monies after your purchase fee and fines, but I doubt you want to give up your freedom for that long. Or, there's Lord Talun, who has a thing where Exotic females are concerned.^

^I'd kill him,^ said Okami.

^Then you'd be killed afterwards,^ the human said. ^At least with me, you'd get your freedom.^

^What's your name?^ Okami asked.



"Ah, you speak her language," said Lord Talun, as he came up to them. "What's she saying?"

"That she wants food and water, as well as a blanket," said Marcus, as he looked the guard. "The meat can be lightly cooked, if it's seasoned."

The guard ran off.

Lord Talun looked at Marcus. "How do you know the language?"

Marcus smiled, without showing his teeth. "Helps to learn your employer's language, so that you can argue for more pay after a difficult part of the job. Can't say that I can do it properly of course, as it requires the use of a different set of ears and nose."

"Have you ever had sex with one of their females?" Lord Talun asked, as he looked at Okami.

"They tend to have what we'd call rough sex, and utilize their teeth and claws," said Marcus. "A human wouldn't be a good pick for them, in either case."

"I'll keep that in mind," said Lord Talun.

"By the way, you interested in proving yourself to be a warrior?" Marcus asked.

"What are you talking about?" Lord Talun asked.

"There's a village being terrorized by Lord Dukco, and some of the residents are looking for help," said Marcus. "Of course, if you're afraid to face the former Captain of the Dark Lord, I understand."

"I'm afraid of no one," said Lord Talun.

Marcus grinned, exposing his teeth. "See me after the Auction."
Well this was a fine mess! Awoken by Humans, in jail and this one Human wanted her to protect this village...She was taught never to trust any Human however she would rather deal with the Human who wanted her to protect a village rather the one who seemed to be in perpetual lust
"No need" Shylock said. "I'll take a shower, I gotta be somewhere anyways."

And with that, the changeling walked off to wherever the young lady kept her piping system.
"Okay. If you need anything, please don't hesitate in asking!"

Sapphire turned away, to give Shylock his space. She walked into the kitchen; time to prepare dinner for herself.
Later, that evening, the Slave Auction was held. Marcus looked at a lot of them in the display area. Most were minor criminals, usually debtors, who owed money to one wealthy person or another. The deal usually was, whomever purchased them agreed to pay the fine or debt, and in return, the new slave had to serve their master for at least a year. The higher the debt, or fine, the longer the term of service. Once it was over, the person was legally free, and was owed a certain amount of money for their service. If the slave owner tried to abuse them excessively, then they might end up being made a slave themselves.

He looked over at the female prisoners and debtors. Most of them would end up in a brothel of some sort, although it wasn't too bad, as there was certain rules that customers had to follow to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and those who abused the women tended to find themselves tossed out of the place, sometimes quite literally. Others would end up working in the homes of the wealthy.

He looked over at the males. Depending on their skills, some might end up advising or tutoring the sons of wealthier families. Others might have to perform labor in the fields. Still, that usually wasn't too bad, thanks to the rules in place.

Then, he located the Special ones, ones that proved to be too aggressive for regular work, or had skills that weren't the sort that would just let someone be freed without a great deal of change. These were those who would be bought by the Gladiator Schools, and there was at least a dozen of them in the city. It wasn't too bad being a gladiator, as even he had been one during the times he needed money when no one wanted to hire his sword for protection, but there was always someone who'd hire his skills for entertainment. Most of the time, the weapons were enchanted so that at worst, people were knocked out, and suffered little more than a headache. This even went to ranged weaponry and magical spells. For the most part, there was the illusion of death, but no actual death.

After a while, he located Okami. ^Did you eat well?^

^Well enough,^ she said. ^When are you going to free me?^

^I have to buy you first,^ said Marcus. He looked over and saw some of the Gladiator School owners. ^How many been examining you?^

^A few, but I can't understand them, and I doubt that they understand me,^ said Okami.

^True, but they could make you understand gestures, and get you to communicate with those, as you learn Common,^ said Marcus. ^I know your spoken language because I had to work with some of your kind in the past. I know that I'm missing out on the finer parts of certain things, and I know that what I say sounds vulgar as I don't do the ear and nose twitches your kind does, but at least you understand me.^

^Just keep that other one away from me,^ Okami said, as she turned her head. ^Otherwise, I'll remove his maleness if he buys me.^

Marcus chuckled. ^I won't ask the how.^ He turned his head, as saw Lord Falun coming towards them.

"So, what's she saying?" Lord Falun asked.

"That you'd best rethink your plans for her," said Marcus. "Seems she would rather I buy her as opposed to you."

"What makes you think that you could outbid me?" Lord Falun asked.

Marcus grinned. "I have ways of making money that you ignore. As it is, I've recently come into a good amount of money given to me by someone fairly wealthy which they had no need of."

Lord Falun scoffed. "Do you know how wealthy I am?"

"Not as wealthy as you were this morning," said Marcus. "Heard that it was a woman on a horse that robbed you."

Lord Falun glared at him. "It was a centaur, a female centaur."

"Really?" Marcus asked. "Useful to know. I'll keep an eye out then for such female centaurs."
Soon the Auction began
Shylock smiled at that statement. Stretching a little, the changeling headed for the washroom to clean himself off. After this shower he would get out of the cottage and head towards his (maybe future) employer.
A strange feeling came over her, she wanted to get to know Shylock a little more. What would she do? She began to cook the chicken soup and thought about it.
Marcus knew that he had to bide his time. He would have to wait until the Special Prisoners were brought out.

"Did you find her?" Drakus asked.

"She'll be sold when it's time for the Gladiator Sales," said Marcus.

"Do you think we have enough money?" Robin asked.

"Lord Falun is interested in her, and you'd better keep an eye out," said Marcus. "You'd best mingle with other female centaurs, if you know any around here. Might delay him finding you."

Briana motioned with her hands.

"Alright, the plan is this," said Marcus. "See if the rest of you can find those interested in the job, and I don't care about species, previous politics, and that sort of stuff, so long as they are good at what they can do, and it might come in handy for us. Me, I'll have a little chat with the Gladiator School owners over in their Special Section. Most know me, and the rest of us by extension, and might be willing to let Okami go to us without too much of an issue, beyond perhaps putting on a show or two that will bring them enough to make up for missing out on a unique warrior. Of course, if Lord Falun does put up a bidding war, and we need some help from them, we might need to put in for ten shows, after the job is done of course."

"Nothing wrong with having plans for the future," said Drakus. "Good luck."
Okami noticed there were very few other Beast People at this Auction most were of the Domestic Animal variety two Dogs a Male and Female and one Female Cat there were as many kinds of Beast People as there were Animals and their numbers correspond to the normal animal's rarity in nature which caused Humans to speculate Beast People descended from Normal Beasts
Shylock dried himself off using his own power and quietly walked away from the home.
Sapphire sat down at her kitchen table, a little melancholy. There was something special about Shylock.
Marcus walked up to the Gladiator School Owners' section. A hired guard stood by each owner. Some even acknowledge him with a certain amount of respect, especially those who had the hallmark of being veterans of the War.

Marcus soon came up to one Gladiator School Owner in particular, a lion-like figure. "Hello Reij."

Reij looked at him. "Marcus. Good to see you. Do you need some work?"

"Kind of have a job lined up," said Marcus. "Protecting a village from Lord Dukco and his forces."

"How many do you have for the job?" Reij asked.

"Myself, Drakus, Briana, and Robin so far," said Marcus. "Looking at one potential recruit though, that wolf over in the Special section."

Reij nodded. "I was informed about her. Had my representative check her out. He said that you had talked to her."

"Seems she only speaks Wulven, and doesn't even understand Common," said Marcus.

"Took me a while to learn it myself," said Reij. "I think I even speak it better than most native-speakers these days."

"Especially the Nobility," said Marcus.

"I see you have Lord Falun's personal money pouch on you," said Reij. "Kind of surprised that he didn't notice."

"He's focused on female centaurs at the moment," said Marcus. "Still, he'll be seeing it soon enough, when I bid on the wolf. He wants her for other reasons."

Reij scoffed. "Fat lot of good it would do him. I know how my kind can be. I have to be careful when I hire one of your sort for when I have that urge, so that I don't bite or scratch them too much. He'll be lucky if that's all he gets from her."

Marcus grinned. "She's already promised worse."

Reij chuckled. "So, you wish to buy her?"

"That I do," said Marcus.

Reij looked at the other Gladiator School Owners, who were all watching with interest. "How many shows are you willing to do?"

"One exhibition show, if you don't have to help, and we can do that before we leave for the job," said Marcus. "That being said, if we need your help where money is concerned, ten shows, after the job."

"Lord Dukco has over four hundred followers," said Reij. "Think that you can handle them with a small group?"

"Depends," said Marcus. "Got anyone in mind?"

Reij grinned. "Been getting bored. I got a few who could throw in with you. Maybe you could drag Lord Falun along, he's been doing a lot of bragging about how good he is in a fight. Be interesting for him to see a real battle."

"Might end up fighting him once he realizes I have his money," said Marcus. "Might make it part of his punishment."
(Author's Note: My computer my be in the shop in the near future just a heads up)

Okami was getting antsy she wanted out of this situation
"Now where are those employers?" Shylock spoke as he walked around town. He scratched his scalp as he moved throughout the city. Trying to wrack his brain to remember the location.

"I can still remember faces but not hallmarks? Jeez." Shylock joked to himself. He stopped as something caught his eye. Swiveling his head towards an auction house, the faint outline of people could be seen.Transforming his eyes, Shylock could see the silhouettes of chained folk.

"They must be auctioning off slaves right now."

"Ehh. I'll stop by and see if they have any interesting folks there. Heck, maybe I'll transform into one of the merchants and steal some of their gold." The changeling made his way to the house,whistling a tune.
Sapphire wondered what Shylock was up to and hoping that he was okay.
It took some time, but soon enough, the Special Prisoners were brought out, and soon enough, Okami was brought up onto the block, chained up, and still struggling with the guards.

"As you can clearly see, this one is quite spirited," the auctioneer said, looking towards the Gladiator School Owners. "Should put on a good show in the Games. Opening bids?"

"Ten gold pieces," said Marcus.

"That sounds a little low," the Auctioneer said. "Gentlemen? Any bids?"

Marcus looked over at the Gladiator School Owners. They said nothing.

"Ten gold going once, ten gold going twice..."

"Twenty gold," called Lord Falun from his box.

Marcus looked over at him. "I was wondering when you'd throw your money around."

"And I was wondering why you were in that box with those clearly above your means," said Lord Falun.

"Twenty-five gold!" Marcus shouted.

Lord Falun grinned. "Thirty-five!"


"One hundred!"

Marcus took out the money pouch, and watched as Lord Falun's eyes widened in recognition. He grinned. "Two hundred!"

"Thief!" Lord Falun shouted. "That's my money!"

"Doesn't look like it, and it looks like that slave's mine, unless you can up your ante!" Marcus shouted.

"I call for your head!" Lord Falun yelled. "I'll see you on the Auction Block!"

"You just try it!" Marcus shouted. He looked at the Auctioneer. "Seems we have a dispute! How about a show in the Arena, winner buys the slave, and claims the loser as one as well?"

"It is Legal!" said Reij, in a loud and clear voice. "It will be entertaining to say the least!"

The crowd roared in approval.

Lord Falun seethed. "You'll be mine!"

Reij chuckled. "He'll be in for a surprise."

"Still got to be careful though," said Marcus, quietly. "Fate can be funny."

"I know what you mean," said Reij. "Still, at least the weapons will be blunted. We'll make sure of that."

Marcus nodded.
"If only I knew what they were saying." Okami thought
Shylock watched the scene of the battling buyers from afar.He smiled in surprised delight.The changeling had managed to sneak into the place by "borrowing" the face of one of the guests. (As well as stealing said guest's ticket, but technically he was that person.)

Right now he appeared to be a balding middle aged fellow with a thick monocle on his left eye. The monocle was mostly for show, seeing as it was made from his own body.

"Lets see what 'Mister Hotshot' has in store for his trial." Shylock mused. "And lets see how occupied everyone is while I 'acquire' some funds."
Briana walked around a section of town where very few people lived. Well, there were those who lived there, but they weren't alive. They were Undead. There wasn't a whole lot of them. Most tended to leave, especially if the Living were unfriendly, especially if they didn't want trouble.

"Where do you think you're going, Cursed One?"

Briana turned to the voice. She would have sighed, if she could have sighed. Instead, she stared at those who had called her out, the priests from before.

"We don't want your kind here," the leader said. "It's time for you to go back into the ground."

Briana was about to gesture with her hands when one of them screamed in pain, and fell to the street, clenching at their leg. An arrow had pierced through the back of the one priest's leg.

The leader of the priests turned. "Attacking us is a bad idea!" That was when he screamed, and fell to the street, also clenching at an arrow now in his knee.

A skeleton archer came out of the shadows, long bow at the ready, arrow notched and drawn. A Living human would have let go within ten seconds. The skeleton just held it, without tiring.

The two priests still standing looked at the archer. They turned, and looked at Briana, who was ready. They then helped pick up the two injured priests, and started walking as fast as they could.

Briana walked up to the archer, and nodded. The archer also nodded, and relaxed the string on his bow. Then, they started talking.

To the ears of a Mortal, the Dead don't talk, or rather, they don't seem to talk, but in truth, they do talk. The real trick is when communicating to the Living. Using gestures, or writing, tends to help bridge the barrier. But, between other Dead, their words are quite clear.

"Thanks for the Assistance," Briana said. "I didn't want to have to hurt them."

The archer chuckled, and spoke in a male voice. "I would have hated to have had killed them myself."

"What's your name?" Briana asked.

"It was Jason," the archer said. "Most call me other things though."

Briana nodded. "Been through that myself. I am traveling with a group that treats me like a person though."

"I suppose that's good," said Jason. "Keeps one from losing their mind, I guess."

"You're pretty good with that bow," said Briana.

Jason shrugged. "Was an archer in the war. Used it a lot before I joined. I was good with it."

"You're still good with it," said Briana.

Jason shook his head. "Takes no skill these days though. I could hold it for days these days, and not get tired."

"Would you be interested in getting a job?" Briana asked. "If you're up to it, we'll be helping to defend a village from Lord Dukco's forces."

Jason looked at her. "Lord Dukco?" He had a look that spoke volumes, loud ones.

Briana nodded.

Jason nodded. "Count me in. I just need my armor and sword, and I'll be ready in about twenty minutes."
(I don't know what to add)
Shylock taped his foot in anticipation as he saw the crowd grow wider.
Sapphire joined in the crowd to watch Shylock. She was intrigued and wanted to know Shylock more.
Shylock had walked away from his latest theft when a female centaur bumped into him.

"So sorry," she said. "My fault."

"It's alright," said Shylock.

The centaur walked away.

Shylock kept walking. He then checked for his latest acquisition, only to find it not to be there. Turning around, he saw the centaur bend down, as if to pick something up, tap the shoulder of his victim, and offer the item back.

"That thief," he muttered.

"It's not fun to be robbed, is it?" asked a low, but deep, voice.

Shylock turned, and found himself looking at a blind draconian priest.

The draconian sniffed. "You're a changeling. You might fool peoples' eyes, but you won't fool my nose."

"What do you want?" Shylock asked.

"For you to stay out of trouble," said the draconian. "Also, let's hope that you didn't pick the wrong face, especially when the person that face really belongs to shows up."
"Thanks for the warning." Shylock mocked. "If you hadn't come and told me, my poor soul would've been doomed!"

The changeling grumbled as the draconian walked past him. Dangit! Not only did he not know where his next(?) job would be, he had someone watching his movements.

"Ehh. Its not like he'll be watching me all the time." Shylock mused as he walked towards a shadowed alcove to change his appearance yet again.
"We might want to keep an eye on that shapeshifter," Drakus said, quietly.

"Yes," said Robin, as she came up to him. "And he's changed his form already. Trying to pass himself off as a laborer now."

"Doesn't matter too much," said Drakus. "I have their scent. They won't be able to fool me, even up they used perfumes in an attempt to throw me off the trail."

"Maybe we could recruit them for the job," said Robin. "Be useful to have one of their sort for any spying we need to do."

A gap opened up a bit, as Briana showed up, with a skeleton, who had a bow and a sword on them.

"You found someone?" Robin asked.

Briana gestured with her hands.

"An archer?" Robin asked. "They know the job?"

Briana nodded.

Robin looked at the skeleton. "You'd better be good."

The skeleton nodded.

"What's your name?" Robin asked.

The skeleton held out his hand, and with the other, acted as if writing on it.

Robin followed the shapes of the invisible letters. "Jason?"

Jason nodded.

"Good to have you with us," said Robin.

Drakus looked towards Briana. "You sure you can trust him?"

Briana took his hand, and drew on it.

"Saved you. Priests. Arrow to the knee." Drakus chuckled. "Well, if he's that good, and you trust him, I guess he can come."

Briana looked at Jason, and spoke to him in the Language of the Dead. "Drakus is blind."

"The cloth across his eyes is a dead giveaway," said Jason, also in that language. "Still, if you trust this priest, I guess I can deal with it."

"I trust him with what's left of my soul," said Briana.

Jason nodded. "Good enough for me."

Briana looked at Robin, and gestured.

"Marcus just challenged Lord Falun to a Duel in the Arena," said Robin. "Winner gets the Wolven woman, and the other as a slave."

Briana made as if she was laughing. She then nodded.

"I agree," said Robin. "Let's get going to the match. Oh, and watch for a pickpocket who happens to be a shapeshifter. We might recruit them."

Okami found herself on yet another platform, this time, shackled to a post, by her wrists, ankles, and neck. While she couldn't understand the words spoken to her, she was able to figure out what was going from the gestures, and the sight of the two men facing off against one another - either Marcus, who had promised to free her, would get her, or this Lord Falun, who indicated doing other things, would get her. Also, it seemed that the winner would get the loser as well. She hoped that Marcus would win, although she wouldn't mind giving Falun what he deserved.

Marcus looked at his sword, and that of his opponent. For the sake of fairness, both were armed with the same weapon, a one-handed arming sword, which had blunted edges to prevent cuts and reduce injury. They were also equipped with circular shields for protection, especially since, again to prevent either side from having a clear advantage over the other, both were wearing little more than shirt and pants, and sandals.

Marcus had to chuckle as he looked at his opponent - gone were the expensive clothes. He'd get them back, if he won, key word being if. The same was true for Marcus, and his own gear. In these kinds of duels, the winner took everything.

The judge of the duel looked at him, and Falun. "Duel goes until one gives up or losses consciousness. No killing permitted. Begin." He dropped a stick, and watched, as Marcus and Falun charged at each other.
Okami was shackled to a post it was most unpleasant
"Come on, lets see some blood!" Shylock said as the match began. The crowd went wild with their yelling as the two met each other in the middle.

Marcus blocked a swing from his opponent with his sword. The clash ranged throughout the arena causing another uproar. Falun's arm shook a little from the two swords meeting together. It was at this time Marcus decided it was a good opportunity to punch his opponent in the face.His opponent reeled back a little from the force. Falun growled in rage and brought his own fist into contact with Marcus' dome.

The fighter grunted and swung at the man's chest, who quickly dodged to the side. Marcus was planning for this and swiftly moved his foot to make the man trip.He fell and spun like atop for a few moments. Falun soon landed on his back,but moved himself up from the position, not allowing Marcus to pounce on him.The two stared at each in anticipation for the other's attack,both trying to catch their breaths as they did so.

"Come on, knock the other guy into next week!" Shylock proclaimed. "Go human fellow,kick his ass!"

Shylock didn't care who won, he changed his face and placed a bet on both the challengers. Hell, he even placed the bets in the unofficial pools. If either party won or lost, he would still win.
Marcus watched Falun. He had to admit, the other was good. Still, it would be a good idea to stop showing off, or, rather, make things more interesting.

Marcus loosened the straps on his shield, so that he could free his arm, and dropped it. He then kicked it away.

Falun watched him. "What are you doing?"

"Your move," said Marcus. "Keep or drop."

Falun looked around.

The crowd was doing plenty of shouting, some for keeping the shield, and others for dropping it. Either way, they'd get a show.

Falun loosened the straps on his armbands, and dropped his shield. "I'd hate to be seen as taking advantage of your situation."

Marcus grinned. "Good."

"It's foolish to throw away your shield," said Falun.

"I agree," said Marcus. "But, I have my reasons."

That was when Marcus rushed Falun, knocked his sword out of the way, grabbed him by the shirt, brought him close, and kneed him in the crotch.

Falun fell to the ground, groaning in pain. "Cheat."

"No rules agai-"

Marcus was forced to step back, as Falun swung his sword, catching Marcus' shirt, and causing it to rip.

Falun gasped. "So, that's why!" He sprang for Marcus, managing to grab his legs, bringing him to the ground. Marcus tried to hit him with the pummel of his sword, but Falun grabbed his arm to stop the blows, and in the process, ripped more of Marcus's shirt.

Marcus finally kicked Falun off of him, rolled, and stood up. There, visible to all to see, were dragon scales.

Falun grinned. "You got Draconian blood in you. Makes things unfair now."

Marcus bent over, grabbed a shield, and tossed it right next to Falun. "Then make it fair, and put the shield back on."

"Yeah right." Falun shoved the shield away. "I've been wanting to fight one of your sort for a long time!" He leaped at Marcus, and attacked him with everything he had. "I've trained for this sort of encounter for a long time!"

Marcus barely managed to parry the blows. Even blunted swords could still do damage, even if one did have some dragon blood in them.

"It will be a pleasure to make one of your sort my slave!" Falun shouted. "Your sort killed my mother!"

"Who?" Marcus asked.

"The one called Dukco," roared Falun. "He and everyone of your sort will pay!"

Marcus chuckled. "Funny, I've been hired to protect a village from him. Drop the dispute, and come with me. You might get your chance."
If only she could understand these outsiders' language!
"Wait,what are those two talking about?" Shylock said.

He watched as the two fighters abruptly stopped and began to...converse?

The changeling scratched his chin, what was going on? He craned his head, as if that would help get him closer to the conversation. Behind him, a certain gem named girl appeared right behind him.
While the fight was taking place Fredrick walked among the people, looking for his prey. No one gave him a second glance, which was a good thing because of what he was. During the war the Dark Lord made many evil and monstrous beings. But none were more hated and feared then the Revenants. The Dark Lord used his greatest smiths to forge frightening black armor and using dark magic bound the souls of noble knights, many of which had fought against The Dark Lord's armies, to the armors and bind them into his service. Fredrick was one such revenant, his black armor was covered in spikes to ward off anyone foolish enough to strike at him and his face was shaped like a snarling demon to frighten anyone who looked upon him. His armour was also taller than most humans and Fredrick would have stood at the same height as a large orc. Since revenants were a type of undead warrior they were able to speak to the dead but revenants also still had full use of their voice and was able to talk to the living as well.

Lord Dukco had been the captain that had slain Fredrick's mortal self and presented his soul to The Dark Lord. Fredrick was then forced to do many attrocities while he was the dark lord's thrall. After the dark lord fell, the magic keeping Fredrick bound disappeared and he regained his free will. Fredrick hated Lord Dukco with everything he had and had dedicated his unlife to ending him. He was currently hunting a commander of Lord Dukco who frequently visited the fights, looking to recruit more soldiers for Lord Dukco's army. After a moment Fredrick saw the commander walk away from the fights and into an alley. The commander had become bored when the combatants suddenly stopped fighting. Fredrick quickened his pace and walked after the commander but as he did so he walked past a blind draconian priest. The priest sniffed the air and reacted to his presence but Fredrick didn't care. As Fredrick walked into the alley he saw the commander talking to two other men.

"I'm afraid picking were slim this time. I guess we'll have to .... Wow!! you look like you can do some damage. How would you like to make some coin?" said the commander.

"I only do 'damage' to those who deserve it!" said Fredrick. He grabbed one of the men and tossed him into a nearby wall, knocking him out. The other man drew his sword and swung it at him but Jacob grabbed the sword with his left hand and snapped it in two.

"Make yourself scarce!!" said Fredrick. The man gave him one frightened look then ran out of the alley. Fredrick then stepped forward and as the commander swung his sword at him, Fredrick knocked it out of his hand with the large axe he carried with him then grabbed the commander by the chest and lifted him up to his face. "Where is Lord Dukco!?" asked Fredrick.

"I can't tell you! You have no idea what he'd do to me!" said the commander. The commander groaned in pain as Fredrick tightened his grip.

"What makes you think I'll be more gentle!? WHERE IS LORD DUKCO!!" asked Fredrick.

"I can't!!!" replied the commander.

"Then I'll have to convince you otherwise." said Fredrick. He knocked the commander out with a punch to the face then placed the man on his shoulder and prepared to leave the alley with him. As he turned around he saw the same draconian priest standing by the entrance to the alley with a female centaur and a undead skeleton.

"You might have better luck if you asked nicely, brother." said the draconian.

"I have no quarrel with you, priest! Step Aside!!" said Fredrick.

"My sight might be gone but my sense of smell is as good as ever. Everything has a scent, even Briana here. But you have none. This means that you can only be one thing, revenant. I'm surprised, I thought all revenants were destroyed in the war." said the draconian.

"Not all, If you know my kind then you know it isn't wise to stand in our way." said Fredrick. He had no intention of hurting the priest but he knew the stories told of revenants and hoped to scare the priest away by bluffing.

"I have no intention of standing in your way. In fact I might be able to help you find your way. You seek Lord Dukco, do you not?" said the draconian.

"What do you know about that?!" asked Fredrick.

"We are going to fight against him as well. Join us and you'll get your chance. Just leave the human where you found him." said the centaur. Fredrick considered the proposal for a moment before putting the commander down on the ground.

"I went to a lot of trouble to find this human. If your lying then I'll make you regret it!" said Fredrick.

The priest just smiled. "What is your name, revenant?" asked the draconian.

"Fredrick" he replied.

"Nice to meet you Fredrick. I'm Drakus, The centaur is called Robin and this is Briana, as you already know. I'll take you to the leader of our little venture, come." said the draconian.

The four located Jason, who was at a spot where the fight could be watched, without much issue.

"They're talking now," the skeletal archer said. "Seems Lord Dukco's name got brought up."

"Lord Dukco?" Fredrick asked.

Jason looked at him, and then looked at Briana. "We're going to make one odd rag-tag bunch of misfits. At least three undead, a centaur, a blind draconian, and a human with draconian blood. Then there's that wolven your friend is trying to win, and I think that spoiled noble brat might throw in with us. Marcus told him that we're after that one. Then there's that shapeshifter."

"Have you been watching him?" Briana asked.

"Fairly easy to do," said Jason. "Not my first run-in with their sort."

"Why do you hate Dukco?" Briana asked.

"It's hard to help your family when you're dead," said Jason. "No woman wants to be married to a dead man. No child wants to call you father. Dukco took those from me."

"I understand," said Briana.

Fredrick sighed. "I can relate to that."

"Relate to what?" Robin asked.

"They were talking about how hard it was to have a family when you're dead," said Fredrick.

Drakus chuckled. "I'd heard your sort could hear the language of the Dead. Good to know it's true. I hope you're good at Wolven."

"I understand it, at any rate," said Fredrick. He looked out at the Arena. "What's going on?"

"Never seen this before," said Robin. "Seems Falun just planted the point of the sword in the ground. Now Marcus planted his point. What's that about?"

Drakus chuckled. "Seems Falun has decided to end the dispute. He doesn't get the Wolven, or his money, but at least he still has his Freedom.

In the arena, Falun walked up the Marcus, and extended his hand.

Marcus accepted it. "I'm glad you decided to end the dispute."

"Just one thing," said Falun. "I want Dukco's head."

"You'll get your chance," said Marcus. "Now, I believe that this make the Wolven, and the money, mine."

"There'll be other opportunities," said Falun.

"I'm glad you understand."

Marcus walked up to the guards, and nodded.

The guards unshackled Okami, and pointed at Marcus.

^You'd best walk to me,^ said Marcus.

Okami walked over to him. ^I'll need my things.^

^They'll be dropped off where me and the others are staying,^ said Marcus.

Okami looked at Falun. ^What about him?^

^We have an understanding,^ said Marcus. ^Seems his hatred for another is great enough to let you go, in order to have a chance at the person's head. The person killed his mother.^

^Very well,^ said Okami. ^Anything else?^

^Got to get you an Amulet of Common, so that you can understand and seem to speak it when talking to us,^ said Marcus. ^It would make things easier at any rate.^

^Very well,^ said Okami. ^Do you know of anyone who has one?^

^I know a lot of people.^
Finally free...Okami wished more than anything for a long sleep
"Does..does this mean I loose money or what?" Shylock plainly stated. What in the Seven Hells just happened? Turning around, Shylock was shocked to see Sapphire at the arena.

"Why is she here?" Shylock stated.
Fredrick watched as the wolven and the two humans left the arena and walked towards them.

"Who are they?" asked Marcus.

Drakus gestured to Jason. "This is Jason, and the armored one is Fredrick." he explained.

"Wait, weren't you...?" asked Marcus.

"I was. I'm pleased to see you survived." replied Fredrick.

"You two know each other?" asked Drakus.

"During the war Marcus here caused a lot of damage to the dark lord's plans. So he sent a revenant to kill him. I was that revenant, Marcus wasn't the first target I was sent to kill. But he 'Was' the first one to get away from me." explained Fredrick.

"Glad your on our side now. Have you been told about the mission?" asked Marcus. Both of them nodded their heads. "There's gold in it for you if you help."

"I have no interest in gold! I'm doing this for Dukco's head." said Fredrick.

"Then you'd better get in line! I've already claimed it as my own." said Falun.

"That's alright. I'll have no use for it once it's been removed from his shoulders." replied Fredrick.

"Falun. The priest is called Drakus and the skeleton is called Briana and I believe you've already met Robin." said Marcus.

"No hard feelings, I hope." said Robin.

"None, as long as you keep your fingers out of my pockets from now on." said Falun.

"Is this all the recruits you could find? Or do you have anyone else in mind?" asked Marcus.

"Still tracking that slippery shifter. Saw him sometime ago but lost sight of him for now." said Robin.

"How are we supposed to find someone that can change his shape at will?" asked Fredrick.

"Drakus can smell him and I believe Okami might be able to find him for us as well." said Robin.

^We're trying to find someone. Do you think you can track him?^ asked Marcus.

^I'll need something that belongs to him.^ replied Okami.

"Do you have anything from the changeling?" asked Marcus.

"Found this," said Drakus. He held up a piece of cloth that looks like it had been torn from some clothing. "Already smelled it and it definitely came from the changeling."

Okami took the cloth from him and smelled it. ^This will do.^

"Right we'll split up and cover more ground. Fredrick, Briana, Jason! You'll go with Drakus. The rest of us will go with Okami. Remember, he can make himself look like anyone, even one of us so don't trust your eyes. If you have reason to be suspicious then ask something that only the real person would know." said Marcus.

"Why go to all this trouble for one changeling?" asked Falun.

"Changelings make excellent spies because of their abilities. We could definitely use one." said Marcus.

"Good in a fight too. When they take someone's shape they gain some of their abilities, but not their skill or knowledge." said Fredrick.
"So, where do you think they'd be?" Falun asked.

"Betting Station," said Marcus. "I know that folks bet on fights, and I'd wager he used his shape-shifting ability to bet on both of us."

"But there wasn't a winner," said Falun. "I dropped the dispute."

"True, but folks will want their money back, and the Stations are obligated to give some of it back in the event of a tie or a dropped dispute," said Robin. "One gets nine-tenths of their money back. I heard about it from them when I was over there."

"Did you bet on me?" Marcus asked.

Robin chuckled. "I didn't bet against you."

"At least you didn't lose all of it," said Marcus.

Robin pulled out a slip. "They give you a voucher for if you win, or if there's a tie or dropped dispute, so that you can claim your money."

"What about the Unofficial ones?" Marcus asked.

Robin pulled out another slip. "You only get half back in a tie or a dropped dispute, but they still give you a voucher."

Drakus chuckled. "I'd wager that this guy has picked up a few more vouchers, and is good enough to mimic those people."

"Alright," said Marcus. "You try the Official Stations, and we'll try the Unofficial stations. We'll all meet back here, and stick together. Make sure the sniffer is with you at all times."

Drakus chuckled. "Will do." He and those with him left.

Okami looked at Marcus. ^We're tracking this guy down?^

Marcus nodded. ^Could use one of his sort. We'll get an Amulet of Common for you later.^
The scent of th shapeshifter was strange
"I better get out of here." Shylock thought as he moved away from Sapphire. "I'll just take my winnings and get out of here, If I even have any."
Shylock ran as fast as he could among the crowd. Not only did he have Sapphire following him but the draconian priest seems to have gotten together some friends and were now hunting him as well. For what reason he wasn't able to find out yet and I wasn't willing to risk finding out. Even worse was the fact that two of them had a better sense of smell so even his shape changing ability won't be enough. As he ran, he smelled a nearby fish market.

"Excellent! This might throw them off for a while." said Shylock. He changed direction and headed towards the fish market. He knew that the sniffers would have a harder time picking up his scent with so many other strong smells in the air.

Marcus followed Okami as she ran through the streets. After a moment he saw a fish market ahead and he knew from personal experience that it would be difficult to track him through that. When she reached it she suddenly stopped and sniffed the area around her.

^I've lost the scent!^ said Okami.

"Anything on your side, Drakus!" yelled Marcus. Drakus just shook his head then his group moved toward them.

"Drakus! your group take the left side. We'll take the right. Work your way to the far side. Try to find out which route he took out of the market.

Shylock went to stand by a group of people as he saw the wolven walking close by. He knew the smell would camouflage him but if he got too close to the sniffers then they would be able to identify him. Once she was further away he walked to a street that left the market but stopped suddenly when he saw the draconian up ahead. He quickly ducked into an alley and turned into the wolven and ran deeper into the alley hoping to slip away before they found him.

Fredrick on the other hand had entered the alley before the changeling. He thought he saw someone suspicious walk into the alley but it turned out to be nothing. He was just about to return to the market when he felt something run into him from behind. He turned around and saw Okami standing behind him.

^Okami? What are you doing here?^ asked Fredrick in wolven.

"Err, The priest asked me to find you." replied Okami in common which immediately made Fredrick realize that it isn't Okami.

"Follow me! I found someone suspicious in the alley." said Fredrick. They walked deeper into the alley until they reached a dead end.

"Where's this suspicious person?" asked Shylock. Fredrick suddenly twisted around and grabbed him by the chest and lifted him off the ground.

"You are! Since when can you speak common, 'Okami'?" asked Fredrick.

"Would you believe that I have always been able to speak it and that I've only been pretending?" asked Shylock.


"Didn't think you would." replied Shylock. He changed into the centaur he saw with them and kicked Fredrick in the chest which caused him to lose his grip. Once his feet touched the ground again, he ran as fast as he could towards the exit to the alley. He didn't get very far when he suddenly felt something pull his legs together and he fell flat on his face. He twisted around and saw a rope tied around his legs. He tried to get free but Fredrick was too strong.

"This will be better for you if you just cooperated!" said Fredrick.

"You shouldn't corner a changeling like this! We hate violence but each changeling keeps a form of a powerful opponent if we're ever discovered and have to fight!" said Shylock.

"I'll take my chances!" said Fredrick.

"As you wish." said Shylock. He turned into a orc bandit he had 'found' while traveling. He kept the form for just such an occasion. He snapped the rope and got back to his feet.

"Ohh bugger." said Fredrick as the changeling prepared to charge him.

Meanwhile the rest of the group had searched through the market and found nothing. They came back together again in the center to discuss what to do next.

"Anything,?" asked Marcus. The others just shook their heads. "We'll take one last sweep. If we can't find him then we'll have to go without him. Where's Fredrick?"

Before anyone could answer, a nearby wall blew outward as Fredrick flew through it and smashed into a nearby stand. They started to run towards him when they saw a large orc step through the hole in the wall and look at them.

"That them?" Marcus asked.

"Yep," Fredrick said, as he stood up, debris falling from his armor. "Tried to look like Okami, but spoke Common instead of Wolven."

"Useful to know," said Marcus, as he opened up his pouch, got out a jar, and threw it, hitting the orc-like creature.

Almost immediately, the orc doubled over, and began vomiting, and shrinking.

Okami covered her own nose, as the scent came to her. ^I feel sick.^

Marcus passed her a bag. ^Chew on these. You'll feel better.^

Okami opened the bag, and saw that it was filled with leaves. ^Seriously?^

Drakus took some out, put them in his mouth, and chewed. ^These mint leaves help.^

Okami blinked. She then took some out, put them in her mouth, and chewed on them. If nothing else, the scent from them was easier on her nose.

"Awful stench," said Falun. "Reminds me of the few times a skunk tried to raid the garden, and a servant had to take care of it. Where did you get it from?"

"From a Skunken," said Marcus. "Helped one out, and ever since then, I'd been buying bottled spray from her. Comes in handy."

Marcus walked up to the shape-shifter, who was now in their regular form, which looked humanoid, only not exactly human or any other easily recognized humanoid species. "Looks like we got you," he said.

"What do you want with me?" the shape-shifter asked, still feeling ill from the concoction.

"There's a bounty for unlicensed thieves around here," said Marcus. "And I see someone called the guards, who will be interested in who made that hole in the wall. Now, luckily, most people have run away by now, so not many will know that it was simply a shape-shifter in orc form and not a real orc, but the guards will have mages, and sniffers, who are trained to track one by their aura and scent. They catch you, and they'll mode-lock you into a harmless form, or stick an irremovable amulet to you, until such a time they've deemed that you've learned your lesson."

The shape-shifter gulped. "No, not that."

"Then, maybe you'll listen to my proposal," said Marcus. "Got a job protecting a village of farmers from the forces of Lord Dukco. We could use one of your talents, in order to spy on the enemy and such. Agree, and perhaps Lord Falun will be nice enough to tell the guards that you've opted to take on some Community Service in order to make up for your mess, and your thefts. Decline, and you'll be mode-locked for at least a year, plus the amulet for two years afterwards. Your choice."
Okami had never seen a Changeling before
"Wait? Really! I was looking for you." Shylock exclaimed. Where was once fear in his voice was now curiosity at the job.

"How is the pay? What do I get for it? Can I get new hats?" Shylock asked Marcus. Wrapping an arm around Marcus' shoulder. the changeling lead the human back towards the others.

"Hi there friends! My name is Shylock. And we're going to have a beautiful relationship." The changeling said.
Their group met the clients back at the same tavern Marcus first found them. They sat at a large table and discussed the job. Except for Fredrick and Robin who stood behind them. They offered a chair to Fredrick but he refused and explained that 'Revenants and bar stools don't mix well'.

"Is this everyone you could find?" asked the Shale.

"For now. I've got to go see the Gladiator school owner. I owe him a match and he promised me some more people." replied Marcus.

"Why do you owe him?" asked Falun.

"We had a agreement that if they don't bid on Okami then I would fight for them." said Marcus.

"I wondered why they were so silent during the auction." said Falun.

"I'll ask him if he has a spare Amulet of Common for Okami while I'm there. Most Gladiator School owners have them" said Marcus.

"When do we leave?" asked Fredrick.

"Depends on when this match takes place. We'll go see him now. Then we can plan. How far is your village?" asked Marcus.

"It's quite a distance. Horses would help speed the trip back." said the Tom.

"Don't know if we can afford mounts for everyone. But I'll see what I can do." said Marcus.

"Don't worry about me. I have my own mount." said Fredrick.

"Me too." said Falun.

"Good! That should save some money. Let's go see Reij first. We'll worry about the other things afterwards." said Marcus.

They made their way back too the arena. As they approached they saw Reij drilling the newer gladiators. When he saw them he ordered the recruits to take a break, then he approached them.

"I've been expecting you! Heard there was quite a mess at the local fish market." said Reij.

"Just a small misunderstanding." said Fredrick.

"Didn't sound small to me! Pity that orc got away. I would have loved to get him in the arena." said Reij.

"Maybe you'll see him again someday." said Shylock.

"I assume you're here to settle your debt." said Reij.

"I am, but first did you discuss the job with your fighters?" asked Marcus.

"I did. Most were interested until I mentioned Dukco's name. Most have refused but there is one still interested." replied Reij.

"Who is he?" asked Marcus.

"My school's champion. I must warn you. He's a little 'odd' though." said Reij.

"How so?" asked Marcus.

"Most gladiators join for the blood, the money or the fame. But none of these things interest him. He only joined because he wants to fight the best fighters he can find. He's got an obsession about becoming the best warrior. He pretty much just trains, eats and sleeps. He's a good warrior though, he's made such a reputation that no one is crazy enough to challenge him anymore. So he's very bored now." said Reij.

"Is he willing to join us?" asked Drakus.

"Not yet. He says he can only fight for a leader that have proven his skill in battle. So your match will be against him, Marcus. Win or lose I'll consider the debt paid but if you win then you'll get a powerful warrior for your mission. I must warn you! He's no light weight. I doubt even you can defeat him." said Reij.

"We'll see about that! When's the match." asked Marcus.

"I need some time to organize it so how about first thing tomorrow morning?" asked Reij.

"Done! One last thing. Do you have a spare Amulet of Common I can buy from you?" asked Marcus.

"Of course. Gladiator Schools need them for our more 'exotic' fighters. I'll charge you 50 gold for it." said Reij.

Marcus thought about it for a minute. "Tell you what. Since you're so sure that your champion will win then let's make a bet. If I win then you'll give me the Amulet."

"Fine but if he wins then you'll pay me double." replied Reij.

"Deal!" said Marcus.

"I need to start advertising the fight. I'm sure most of the city will turn up to watch. Come see me tomorrow." said Reij.

"So, just what do you think this mysterious champion Reij has in mind for us is?" Robin asked.

"A human woman," said Drakus. "Specifically, an Amazonian."

"You're kidding!" said Falun. "I've seen his Champion, and that isn't some woman."

"Guess you've never seen an Amazonian woman then, unless you mistook them for a very strong, and muscular, as well as large, man," said Marcus. "They stand head and shoulders above most men, can run for a week straight, take on a bear without any weapons, and have no issues carrying six average human men, two strapped on their back, two strapped on their front, and holding one in each arm. As for weapons, they use a bow that not even an orc could pull back, and they'd have no issues putting an arrow through a man in plate armor, and five others behind him, and as for melee weapons, they have no issues duel-wielding weapons of the sort that normally take two hands to use." He then looked at Drakus. "By the way, what tells you that it will be an Amazonian?"

Drakus grinned, and tapped his nose. "I could smell her on Reij. I remember my experience with one. Almost as good as a Draconian female in my opinion. They love to have rough sex. So do Lion folk, not to mention Draconians, and a number of others."

"Makes one wonder what their men are like," said Falun. "They must be exceptionally strong, and large, in that case."

Marcus chuckled. "Not really. They're about as strong as a trained athlete, or soldier, or miner, or woodsman, or anyone else that does physically demanding work, and are about the same size as most men. Doesn't pay to underestimate them of course."

"Tell me about it," groaned Robin. "I still recall that shopkeeper that accused me of robbing him. Took three hours to convince him that I wasn't the one that robbed him, and he held on the whole time, all while I was trying to buck him off."

"Might have been the reason he thought that you did the deed," said Drakus. "Still, an Amazonian would be useful."

Marcus chuckled. "Nothing embarrasses a man more than being bested by a woman who is superior to him."

"Have you ever been beaten by a woman?" Falun asked.

"Depends on if you count losing to one in a board game as being beaten," said Marcus. "Then again, I never have good luck with board games anyways. A real-life match on the other hand, I always keep some sort of trick up my sleeves."
Okami was quiet thinking about that amulet
"We could always use some hallucinogen in her food." Shylock said. "No way for her to figure out who did it."

He stopped as the group glared at him. He held his hands up and the group relented.

"Just ignore my suggestion then." The changeling mumbled
The next morning Marcus stood at the doors that led into the arena. The other were with him to give him encouragement. He had his full battle-gear on as well as his shield. The arena officials had taken his weapons earlier and enchanted them so that they won't kill. They promised to remove the enchantment after the fight. They had spent the remainder of the previous day discussing tricks and strategies that could help. but they couldn't do a lot of planning since they didn't know this champion well.

"Found out anything else about this champion?" asked Marcus.

"Just that the odds are not in your favor. The betting attendant thought I was mad when I placed a bet against the champion." said Robin.

"Thanks for the confidence." said Marcus.

"Well, I didn't bet on you." said Shylock.

"That's good. With your bad luck then Marcus is guarantied to win." said Drakus. The others laughed at the joke. Then Fredrick stepped forward. Remember, size isn't everything. You proved that during the war when you had to fight me.

They saw Reij approaching and stepped aside so that he could reach Marcus.

"Are you ready?" asked Reij.

"Aren't you going to introduce us to your champion?" asked Falun.

Reij just smiled at him. "I don't want to spoil the surprise. You'll get a proper introduction in the arena.

"Any tips you can give me?" asked Marcus.


"Thanks for that!" said Marcus.

"Your welcome! I didn't come here just to deliver 'doom and gloom' though. The odds aren't in your favor. Not sure if you noticed." said Reij.

"I noticed." said Robin.

"Well it's no fun if everyone bets on the champion. When you lose then the school losses a fortune. And the champion is looking for a worthy challenge. So the champion and I have agreed that you may choose two others to join you in the fight." said Reij.

"Choose me. You need strong fighters to match this champion." said Fredrick.

"I can help too!" said Falun.

"You are just a regular human! This champion is inhumanly strong! You need someone that can match that." said Fredrick.

"Didn't you just say that size isn't everything?" said Falun.

"It isn't unimportant either." said Fredrick.

"Make sure you choose well! You won't get a second chance. I'll have the arena announcer notify people of the roster change and give them a chance to change their bet. Then we can start the fight. Good luck!" said Reij. He turned around and walked away. Leaving them to consider what to do next.

Marcus grinned. "Shylock, you're the third fighter."

Shylock's eyes bulged out. "You're joking?"

"Are you sure that's wise?" Fredrick asked. "Lord Dukco is bound to hear that we're after him, and if he finds out that we have a shapeshifter, he'll know that it's possible that we could infiltrate his forces."

Marcus chuckled. "Not if we're smart. Drakus, Robin, Briana, Jason, Falun, keep an eye out for those who act a little too interested, or uninterested in the fight." He then looked at Okami. ^Keep an eye out for those a little too eager, or uninterested, in the fight, and let the rest know you see someone that stands out.^ He pointed at Drakus and Robin. ^They understand and speak Wolven.^

Okami looked at Drakus. ^Found out about that already.^

"What do we do when we find them?" Falun asked.

"Most of Lord Dukco's followers have some sort of bounty on them," said Drakus. "We just add the reward money to what we've got."

"Dumb question, but just what are these villagers paying us?" Falun asked.

"Twenty gold," said Marcus. "Total."

Falun's eyes widened. "Is that seriously all we're getting? You spent ten times that to get Okami."

"Just twenty gold, to go up against four hundred of the evilest people who ever served the Dark Lord?" Shylock asked.

"It's what the villagers have," said Marcus. "There will be more coming, when the job is done."
Shylock waved the man off as he found a stump to sit. What luck! He was going against four hundred freaking men for a measly twenty gold,

Okay, it wasn't just him taking them on, but come on! What was that? He should've stayed with that Sapphire girl now that he thought about it. In any rate, he hoped that the others could hold their own.

"Hey Marcus, can you come over here?" Shylock exclaimed. The human fighter got up from his area and moved over to Shylock.

"What do you need?"

"I just need to set down some ground rules, okay?" Shylock said. "Yes, I'm still in the job, but I need you to know what I can do."

"Fair." Marcus replied. Shylock took a deep breath and began his speech.

"Alright. So I'm a changeling, not a mimic, I can do mostly humanoid folk---the centaur form of mine being the exception. I have a total of eleven forms I can change into at any given time and I can switch those out with new ones. Granted I have to see the new person i'm turning into, but whatever. Also important, I can change into any person within my sight and not lose any of those prior eleven forms. Why? I don't know, I'm not my creator.So if you want me to change into somebody and keep that form up, you best believe they have to be in my field of view" Shylock explained. "You got this? Any other questions?"
"So what's the plan?" asked Marcus.

"I'll take the champion's or the centuar's form. Anyone else is risky. The orc is wanted and the other forms are more for blending in than fighting." replied Shylock.

"What about you, Fredrick?" asked Marcus. Fredrick came closer to them.

"I'm the strongest and Revenents can take a lot of punishment as well. I'll keep her focused on me while you two strike where she's vulnerable." said Fredrick.

Marcus then turned to the rest of their group. "Make sure you stay where Shylock can see you, unless you have no choice. He might need your forms." said Marcus.

^Make sure you stay where Shylock can see you. So that he can take your form if he has too, Okami.^ said Marcus in wolven.

"The undead shouldn't worry. I can't take their forms anyway. I can take Drakus's form but then I'll be sightless and I already have the centuar form so I won't use theirs either. I only need to see Okami and Falun." said Shylock.

They just finished speaking when they saw Reij and a human approaching them.

"Have you chosen?" asked Reij. Marcus showed Fredrick and Shylock to him and he asked them their names and a bit about themselves so that the announcer can introduce them. Then he gestured to the human. "I've decided to take one last precaution. a single well placed blow from a fist or a kick from the champion or from Fredrick can kill a human. so this mage will put a spells on everyone that will protect them from fatal blows. It won't weaken the strike but it will protect you from the worse of it and it will only activate if you hit something vital. So you won't have to worry about a broken neck if she hits you there. This means that you won't have to hold back."

"The champion will be protected as well?" asked Marcus.

"Of course." replied Reij.

The mage cast the spells then gestured to Reij when he was done.

"The rest of you should join the crowd. I've reserved places for you at the front of the arena. We'll begin the fight a minute or two from now." said Reij.

Reij and the others then turned and left the area while Marcus, Fredrick and Shylock waited for the announcer to start the fight. A short while later they heard the announcer call out.

"Ladies and Gentlemen! The fight you've been waiting for is about too begin. First the challengers! Veteran from the war and famous sellsword, MARCUS!! Accompanying him is one of the dreaded revenants from The Dark Lord's army, FREDRICK! and with him one of the devious changelings, SHYLOCK!!" called the announcer.

The doors in front of them opened and they stepped out. When the crowd saw them they began to boo and taunt them. They looked at the crowd and it looked like most of the city had turned up for the fight.

"Guess we're not very popular." said Fredrick.

"And now! The Champion! One of the dangerous Amazonian warriors. Master of all forms of combat and the longest serving champion ever! I give you, Anastasia!!" yelled the announcer. The doors on the far side opened and the moment the crowd saw the champion, they began too cheer.

She was about the same height as Fredrick. She had blonde hair and only wore a breastplate, a chain mail skirt and a pair of boots. In her left hand she carried a shield almost as big as Marcus and in her right, a spear as long as she was. She had two other weapons on her belt. On her left side a wicked whip and on her right side a large sword. Several javelins were also on her back.

The walked toward each other until the stood opposite each other in the center of the arena. When she saw them, she chuckled.

"You're the ones that's going to take on Lord Dukco's army!? I expected you too be taller!" said the champion.

"It's not the size that counts! It's what you do with it." replied Marcus.

"Is that so?! Well then! Show me what you've got, little man!" said the champion. She banged her spear against her shield and took a battle-ready stance as her opponents charged at her.

She slammed Fredrick with her shield, sending the reverent knight flying into the wall of the arena. She then swept her spear at Shylock's legs, tripping him up. As for Marcus....

For the second time in two days, Marcus got kicked in the groin. Only this time, he went flying into the uppermost seats of the arena. Luckily, the people moved, so only the seats got demolished.

Marcus stood, with a groan. "I'll be feeling that in the morning."

"The back pain or the blow to the jewels?" asked a member of the audience.

"Both." Marcus grabbed his weapon and shield, walked back to the arena, and jumped back in.

Anastasia grinned. "You recover quickly, little man."

"I bet you say that to anyone you decide to sleep with," said Marcus. "How's Reij? I hear Lion Folk have barbs."

"He just tickles me," said Anastasia. "He's the one in pain afterwards."

"Useful to know," said Marcus.

By this point, Fredrick and Shylock had recovered. Marcus looked at them.

"Let's avoid getting in close," he said. "Just wear her down. Tricks, traps, ranged weapons, and spells if you have them."
((How can Okami get the amulet?)
Shylock started at the amazon as she rushed forward and delivered a brutal kick to his solar plexus. Thankfully his biological makeup, plus the spells on him,made sure his body didn't snap in two. But of course,even with all this, the pain from the strike caused him to buckle down. This action gave the amazon ample time to deliver a uppercut that launched the changeling upwards. Following her attack, the amazon struck the changeling backwards.

He slammed down into the sand of the arena and watched as Marcus came up beside him. It was at this moment the changeling decided to complain.

"You know, I wish you didn't say I was a changeling, that would've given us a great edge." Shylock said. Marcus huffed out in response and dashed forward.

Anastasia had not really used any of her weapons, barring her spear, when dealing with the others. Now however, she had struck Fredrick with two of her seven javelins and the weapons hung limp from his form.

The amazon seemed more cautious in her steps when dealing with Fredrick, almost contemplating her next moves. He didn't give her time to properly formulate a tactic as he delivered a barrage of attacks. Which was soon aided by Marcus' own flurry of blows.

Shylock watched the three of them fight and was impressed by the amazon's prowess in dealing with two opponents. Shaking his head, he knew that he would have to get into the rumble soon.

"Enie, meenie,miney, moe." Shylock thought. Pointing his finger between all three fighters, he chose his option.

Anastasia breathed in an out as she dealt with the two. The champion felt like the fight was her's in her opening attack, but now a sense of unease tickled her back. Not being helped by her warcry...wait.

"I'm not screaming." Anastasia turned her head around briefly, only to be met with a fist to her face. Staggering a little, Anastasia looked up to see herself,albeit without any of her weaponry on.

"Its like looking into a mirror, right? Well, not exactly, seeing as i'm about to put some blemishes on your face."Shylock snarked.
"I like this body! Let's see what it can do!" said Shylock. He gave the champion two hits in the face but when he tried to hit her again she grabbed his fist and stopped his attack. She then got back on her feet and headbutted him which caused him to stagger backwards. As she advanced towards him Fredrick pulled one of the javelins from his armor.

"Shylock!! Catch!!" yelled Fredrick. He tossed one to him so that he can defend himself with it. Shylock tried to jab her with it but she grabbed it in one hand then kicked him in the chest which sent him flying into a wall. Marcus ran towards her back but she pulled the whip from her belt then struck at him. The whip twisted around his neck and she pulled him towards her. When he was close enough she gave him a backhand slap that knocked him completely over. She then tried to strike Fredrick with the whip but he saw the blow coming and raised his axe. The whip twisted around his axe then Fredrick pulled the whip out of the champion's grip. He then threw the axe at her. She ducked under the axe but the attack was just a distraction. He ran towards her then punched her in the face which caused her to twist around where Shylock was already waiting. He gave her another hit and she twisted back toward Fredrick. He gave her a uppercut then ducked down and Marcus jumped over his back and landed on the champion, forcing her to the ground and knocking her out.

"Incredible!! The champion has been defeated!! I give you the new masters of the arena. MARCUS and his band!!" yelled the announcer. The crowd began to cheer and they walked to the center of the arena to enjoy it. As Shylock enjoyed the crowd's adoration he sudden realized something.

"Damn! I didn't change my bet! Now I've lost my money!" thought Shylock.

After the match they met up the rest of their group outside where they were congratulated.

"Well done! For a minute I thought you were done for!" said Robin.

"LITTLE MAN!!!" yelled the champion. everyone turned when she called out. She walked towards them with Reij. She stopped in front of Marcus and just looked him in the eye. After a moment she held out her hand and he shook it.

"I underestimated you. You are a worthy rival. I would be honored to join you in your mission." said Anastasia.

"Guess that means your leaving." said Reij.

"Yes. Thank you for everything, Reij." replied Anastasia.

"When you succeed in your mission. Then I expect you back in the ring again, Champion." said Reij.

She gestured to Marcus "I might have to remove a certain someone from my spot first." said Anastasia.

"That's a fight I'd like to see." said Reij. "You've more that earned this." He held out a amulet to Marcus who took it from him and handed it to Okami.

^This should help you,^ Marcus said, as he put the amulet on Okami. He switched to Common. "Do you understand me now?"

"Yes," said Okami. Her eyes bulged. "Was that my voice?"

"The Magic for such an Amulet is very clever," said Reij. "It translates not just the word, but the meaning of it in the phrase used. Very useful if certain words, and sounds, hold two, or more meanings, such as meet, in order to gather, or meat, as in food from an animal, or a mate, as in a good buddy, or a mate, as in a sex partner. Useful if you wish to learn a second or third language. Of course, to do that, hold it at arm's distance, so that the translation isn't immediately heard in your head, especially if you're the one saying the words you wish to translate personally without an assistant."

Marcus looked at Reij. "Did you use it yourself?"

Reij nodded. "Very useful when I first started learning Common."
"I am grateful for you all freeing me." Said Okami
"Great for you." Shylock said. "So what's our next mission boss?"
"Now we prepare to move towards the village. We've recruited all we can. The village is quite far so maybe we'll run into more recruits as we go." said Marcus.

"Wish I could join you but I've got a school to run. Best of luck too you all." said Reij.

"Would have liked to have you with us but I understand." said Marcus.

"Will we go on foot or with mounts?" asked Fredrick.

"Depends. Were you able to find some of Lord Dukco's men? We'll need the bounty if we're to get horses." said Marcus.

Drakus shook his head. "We found one or two but the bounties on them weren't high. Won't be able to get mounts for that." said Drakus.

"Then we'll have to go on foot. The villagers made the trip in a week or so. We should be able to do it too." said Marcus.

"Pity about the horses. Horsemen would have been useful." said Fredrick.

"Didn't you and Falun say that you had horses?" asked Drakus.

"We did." said Falun.

"Then bring them. We won't be able to keep up but they might be useful when we fight.

"When do we leave?" asked Shylock.

"Tomorrow morning. Should give us time to get everything and rest." said Marcus.

The next morning they all met up at the city gates. They were surprised when Fredrick arrived on foot despite saying he'd bring a horse.

"Fredrick!! I said bring your mount." said Marcus.

"I heard you. Just give me a minute." replied Fredrick. He whistled and Marcus suddenly felt the air grow very cold. Then Marcus saw a black horse run out of a dark alley and stop next to Fredrick. The horse almost seemed to be made of dark smoke and it had glowing red eyes. A strange mist seemed to come from the bottom of it's feet and Marcus felt extreme fear when he looked at it.

"What is that thing!" said Robin.

"A Nightmare. It's created by dark magic. One was made for each revenant and are bound to that revenant until his death. They cause fear to anyone who looks upon them and are as tireless as their riders. Since they are made of dark magic, they can pass through solid objects like a ghost if they need to and that ability works for the revenant too if he's on his nightmare. I've seen a revenant ride through a castle wall as if it didn't exist" explained Marcus.

"You know much of the revenants." replied Fredrick.

"I know a horse collector that would pay a fortune for that." said Shylock.

Fredrick gave him a dirty look. "She's not for sale!" replied Fredrick.

"All right!" said Shylock.
"You couldn't even separate them anyways," said Marcus. "No one but a revenant can ride a Nightmare anyways."

"How do you know about that?" Fredrick asked.

"You weren't the only revenant sent after me," said Marcus.

"So, this is the group you've gathered?" Elvira asked, as she, Tom, and Shale came out of the inn.

"Only ones willing," said Marcus.

"Ragtag bunch of misfits," said Shale.

At this, Jason began shaking, as if laughing.

Marcus looked at Briana, who began gesturing. He looked at the clients. "Seems he thought the same thing."

"Too bad they don't talk," said Tom. "How do you understand the Undead anyways?"

"Sign language," said Marcus. "Comes in handy when you're trying to ambush someone. Failing that Fredrick can hear them talk."

"Isn't there some sort of Amulet that might also work, like with mine?" Okami asked.

"Necromancers have been working on that one for a long time," said Fredrick. "I have not heard of any that have worked."

"Heard the same thing from various priests I've known," said Drakus. "They don't work too well."

"Too bad no one tried using both Holy and Unholy magics together, without anything other than disastrous results," said Marcus. "I think that might do the trick, if it was done in the right way."

Fredrick did some thinking. "I think I know a Necromancer who might help with that, or just help us in general. Drakus, you are a Priest of the Light, right?"

"Yes, just don't mix us up with the Lightus bunch - most xenophobic and intolerant group I've ever have the displeasure of meeting," said Drakus. "At least with the Light, we understand that not all Undead are Evil. In case you're wondering, yes, I do have Holy magic."

"Well, maybe you and this necromancer I know might be able to make the amulet's needed for Briana and Jason," said Fredrick. "I can vouch for this necromancer - he helped me out after I was freed from serving the Dark Lord. Helped me to understand that, just because Dark Magic is part of me, it doesn't stop me from doing what's right. I've also seen him use it to do what's right."

Marcus nodded. "Then let's go see him."
Okami shuddered at the mention of the undead
"Ugh, Undead." Shylock thought as the group traveled forth. Changelings all around considered the Undead worse than some of the other beings inhabitant the planet. While one could transform into their physical appearance, the biological components could never be imitated. Which, to a Changeling, was taboo and wrong.

Shylock was many things, but a proud Changeling would always be on the top of his list.He didn't mind Fredrick that much because of his subdued appearance, but he did tingle a bit around the revenant. And now they were going to find a person who consorts with them? Ugh.

He looked to the side and noted Okami's apprehension to undead as well.

"Not to keen on meeting this guy, right?" Shylock said next to Okami.

"No I am not. The dead should remain so. And the dead shouldn't be disturbed by the living." replied Okami.

"Most undead don't have a choice in the matter, Okami." said Fredrick.

"What do you mean?" asked Shylock.

"Some undead are forced into that state by a necromancer's dark magic. Others return to avenge a crime committed against them. Only a few are evil. The ones you need to look out for are the liches and the vampires. They're the ones who become undead willingly. There are exceptions though. I've met liches that became so because they have a thirst for knowledge and wanted to see what would happen in the next thousand years, or Vampires that became so fighting against undead and are now using their powers to fight evil." replied Fredrick.

"Weren't you nervous when you first met this necromancer though." asked Shale.

"Of course I was. A necromancer is an undead's greatest weakness and a fate worse than death awaits you if you meet the wrong one. But this one is different." replied Fredrick.

"What can you tell us about him?" asked Tom.

"He studied the dark arts since he was very young but not to gain power. He was fascinated with the dead and it bothered him that undead had to endure their curse for centuries. He wanted to use the knowledge to grant them rest if they desired it. When he heard that the dark lord was enslaving the dead he became appalled and joined the armies of light. He used his power to grant rest to any enslaved undead he encountered." said Fredrick.

"Why didn't he become a priest though? They can banish undead too." asked Elvira.

"They can. But it's like being burned alive. It causes extreme pain to the undead. But some are willing to endure it so that their curse might end. His method is more peaceful. It's like being put to sleep." said Fredrick.

"Are you saying that he's using no undead at all?" asked Shylock.

"All undead who serve him do so willingly. He didn't use is powers to enslave them. After the war he built a small Mansion in the wilderness so that he can study in peace. He was willing to end the curse of any undead that came to him willingly. Eventually as news of him spread others came to him, Undead wanting to live normal lives but weren't willing to leave this world yet, Living people who thought like him and pitied undead and wanted to help them as much they can. In time a small town grew around the mansion. There's about 100 people living their now." said Fredrick.

"An mansion?! I was expecting a dark tower or castle." said Okami.

"Like I said. He's not a ordinary necromancer." said Fredrick.

"Wouldn't that attract the Order of Lightus?" asked Drakus.

"The Order of Lightus are a bunch of cowardly bullies. They talk big but if you show resistance then they quickly flee." said Fredrick.

"You've met them before?" asked Drakus.

"Too many times." replied Fredrick.

"How far is the town?" asked Marcus.

"About an hour's walk from the city." said Fredrick.

Anything else you can tell us about the town?" asked Anastasia.

"Not much. The town is quite small. There's a market that sells some things the locals make and there's a knightly chapter house in the town." said Fredrick.

"Knights?! Living with the undead?" asked Shylock.

"They're not your usual knights either. The entire order is made up of vampires, skeletons and wraiths. But they do the same as any other knightly order. They keep the peace in town and help any in need." said Fredrick.

"How do the vampires go out during the day?" asked Marcus.

"The necromancer made amulets for them that protects them from the sun's effects. They can walk in the day like any other undead because of that." said Fredrick.

"Can we expect trouble from them?" asked Robin.

"If we don't cause trouble, then they'll leave us alone. They don't mind visitors to the town, they must just be well behaved." replied Fredrick.

"Sounds like every other town to me," said Marcus. "Maybe we can get a few recruits from there. Bound to be someone who wants to fight a Captain of the Dark Lord's forces."

"Why is it that you have no issues with the undead?" Elvira asked.

Marcus looked over at Briana. "Back when she was a member of the Living, she was a mage, learning all she could. At the time, I was a guard. We met, had a few spats over who would be better in a fight, at which point, Robin tried to rob us. Drakus, who had working eyes then, was able to stop her with his magic, not to mention physical strength. We got to know each other better over a few drinks, and we struck up a very good acquaintanceship, which evolved into friendship, although between me and Briana, that became something more. She was able to see past my Draconian ancestry, unlike most who, once they see my scales, are either horrified, or see something 'exotic', and she treated me like I was any other man. Then, the war came, and we all joined, in one form or another."

"What happened?" Tom asked.

"Drakus lost his eyes in a fight with a rather evil necromancer, who also slew Briana, and broke one of my legs," said Robin. "He then resurrected her, and commanded her to kill the rest of us, and she was going to with a very powerful spell. That was when Marcus stood right in front of her, unflinching, unconcerned, and unarmed. I'm not sure what happened then, as it was like something came over her, and she turned around and blasted that necromancer away! After that, she fell to her knees, like she was crying, probably was actually. Marcus, he just walked up to her, placed a hand on her shoulder, said her name, and she looked at him, and he helped her up, like she merely had just tripped and needed help regaining her footing. Drakus was able to heal my leg, but he wasn't able to heal his eyes. As for Briana, well, we all had learned sign language for one reason or another, and thus she was able to communicate with us, although Drakus needs me or Marcus to say what Briana is saying or she needs to trace images on his hand."

"Sounds like an interesting story," said Shale. "Guess that explains why you don't mind the other two."

"I trust Briana's judgement," said Marcus. "If she thinks that we can trust someone, I'm willing to take that chance." He looked at Jason. "I hope she's right about you."

Jason nodded. He then signed. "You can trust me."

Marcus looked at Fredrick. "As for revenants, I've killed a few. Difficult to do, but doable."

Fredrick chuckled. "Useful to know."

"It still doesn't feel right to be working with the undead," said Okami.

"I agree," said Shylock.

"You get used to it," said Drakus. "After all, as a Priest of the Order of the Light, it is my job to end suffering, and deal with those who engage in Dark practices. Briana, I sense the Dark magic in her, but it doesn't define who she is. I've talked to my brothers on this, and those of the other orders, and most agree on this - if a member of the undead does no harm, leave them be. Should they do Evil however, do what it takes to stop them. I just wish that more treated them as people."
The reason Okami didn't like the undead ws because of stories told by her pack, in prehistory Beast People saved the world from the undead
Shylock nodded at the Marcus' and Fredrick's explanation,still old habits die hard. He did wonder though what new scenery he could see while in the village. (Which doesn't involve fleecing the populace.)

He fell in line with the more living members of this troupe,doing his best to integrate with them. Marcus and Fredrick were at the front,Brianna and Jason behind them. Following them were those people that Shylock couldn't be half-bothered to remember. And at the very back were Okami, Anastasia, and His Magnificent Self.

Ruminating in the silence wasn't his usual thing, so he decided to take out his instrument.

"Does anyone wanna hear a song?' He questioned. One of the members were about to open their mouths,but Shylock quickly stopped him. "No vocals, unless you wanna provide them. I could only carry a note if it came from a bank."

Some of the troupe nodded and so Shylock began his dirge.

(Something like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wwyznoWJDHI)
Their group kept walking. But after Shylock's song they began talking again.

"What about you, Fredrick? How did you become as you are now?" asked Shale.

"I was once a normal knight. Young and eager to prove myself. Over time I began to realize that there's more important things that personal glory. Then the war broke out I joined the Armies of Light and began to fight the dark lord's forces. I developed a bit of a rivalry with a particular captain of the dark lord." said Fredrick.

"Lord Dukco?" asked Tom.

"Yes, we would constantly go up against each other and I undermined many of his plans and missions and ruined his reputation with the dark lord many times. After a great deal of time we finally met on the field of battle directly. I was a skilled warrior but he had dragon blood in him. After a fierce duel, he wounded me fatally. He had grow to hate me and wanted to punish me for the humiliation I caused him so he had a necromancer capture my soul before I died. Then he gave me to the dark lord for his revenant forces. He enjoyed using me to commit terrible atrocities." said Fredrick.

"Does it hurt if you get hit by weapons?" asked Marcus.

"I feel when someone hits me but I don't feel pain. That's why revenants are so hard to kill. We can't be stunned and we can't be incapacitated. Doesn't mean we're invulnerable though. Every hit weakens the bindings that holds my spirit to the armor. If I get hit enough then the bindings will break and my spirit will pass on. Problem is that the bindings regenerate quickly. If you knock me across a room for example, by the time you reach me again, the bindings would already have begun to recover." replied Fredrick.

After a while they saw the town ahead of them. A large wooden wall surrounded the town. Several lookout towers were placed against the walls on the inside of the city. As they approached the gates they saw two sentries standing outside. One was a skeleton in chain mail armor with a large halberd the other looked like a human in black plate mail armor from a distance but as they got closer they saw he was unusually pale with red eyes. He wielded a large two handed sword. As they approached, they lowered their weapons and blocked their way.

"Hold! What is your purpose here!?" asked the vampire.

"We're here too meet with the necromancer." said Marcus.

"Hope you have a appointment then. He's a busy man. We may be undead but this is a civilized town. We'll tolerate no thieving, debauchery or public disruptions. You will treat the people in this town with respect or we will throw you out. Is that clear!?" replied the vampire.


"Then you may pass. Welcome to Purgatory." said the vampire. The raised their weapons and Marcus and the others walked past them and into the town. Once they were inside they came together to discuss where to go.

"Where is this necromancer's mansion." asked Robin.

"On the far side of town. We can follow this road, it leads to the mansion. We'll have to pass through the market though so if you need to buy something we can do so before we go to the mansion." replied Fredrick.

"Hope this necromancer is friendlier that the guard outside!" said Shylock.

"Don't take offense. They get quite a few trouble makers here. So they must act tough. It keeps people from causing trouble." replied Fredrick.

"Anything else of interest on this route? Apart from the market." asked Falun.

"We'll pass by the Hall of Heroes on this route. Many heroes are forgotten after they become undead. This hall was built so that the deeds of these heroes are never forgotten. The undead heroes that have passed on are buried in the large cemetery behind the hall and their deeds they performed while alive and after they became undead are recorded in the hall." replied Fredrick.

"So it's like a monument to the dead?" asked Jason.

"A monument and a memorial, Jason. It's being maintained by necromancers that perform the same services you would expect priests to do. They provide comfort and encouragement to anyone that enters, living or dead. The necromancer's school is also located there. Next to the mansion we'll find the Order of the Immortals chapter house. " said Fredrick.

"Those are the knights you mentioned before?" asked Anastasia.

"Yes. Those who join the order are expected to give up all worldly possessions and renounce magic. The order provides all they need to survive. They pass the time by perfecting their martial skill. Occasionally a member will leave on a quest before returning to the chapter house to train again. They are few in number but because undead live for so long, they are some of the best fighters you will find." replied Fredrick.

"I wouldn't mind sparring with one of them." said Anastasia.

"Perhaps you already have." replied Fredrick.

Elvira looked at Marcus. "So, what is it you yourself have against Lord Dukco? You joined the moment that you heard his name."

Marcus frowned. "He's my brother."

"What?" Lord Falun asked. "You're that bastard's brother!"

"Half-brother if you want to get technical," said Marcus. "You saw my scales. What color were they?"

"Black, like ebony," said Falun. "There's a lot of stories about the black-scaled dragons, draconians, and those of draconian blood."

"And most of them are based upon the actions of a few who did evil things," said Marcus. "Most are no different from anyone else. Well, let me tell you what color Dukco's scales are - red. I'm sure you've heard stories about those who have that color scale."

"I've heard a lot of them were Heroes," said Falun. "Just how did he get red scales , and you get black ones?"

"Different fathers," said Marcus. "It wasn't much of a secret about what our mother was, being a Courtesan in the Dragon Courts, and all. More than a few Nobles came to her, for one reason or another. Among these were a Noble of the Blackungan Clan, and one of the Rosalan Clan, a Black draconian and a Red draconian, respectively. They were using mother as a go-between, to help settle a matter that had potential to unsettle certain political alliances, the least of which being that the two clans were on opposing sides, but a lesser son of the clan leader of the one had a romantic relationship with a younger daughter of the leader of the other, and they wanted to settle the matter quietly. Long story short, the two lovers were sent to an area that wasn't of political concern for either clan."

"Doesn't explain you and Dukco," said Tom.

Marcus chuckled. "Simple. A lot of Nobles used mother to have sex with. Best way to communicate with factions you're supposedly not on speaking terms with was to visit a Courtesan's place, go into her bedchambers, leave a message, with payment for the Courtesan, and either have sex with the Courtesan or make it look like you were at any rate. A while after you left, your rival would come to pay the Courtesan a visit, pick up the message, drop off payment, and either have sex with her or fake having sex as well. Both of our fathers actually had sex with her. Well, anyways, she got pregnant as a result, and a while later, me and Dukco were born. We actually used to joke about our respective colors, about how I'd end up a criminal, and he'd be a Hero. Funny how things turned out."

"What happened?" Shale asked.

Marcus frowned. "It was shortly after I became a guard. I was patrolling a street when I heard something. I investigated, and that's when I saw him having ripped this woman's heart out, and in the process of eating it. He must have heard me, because he looked at me, and I saw his eyes. It wasn't my brother looking at me - but rather some monster that looked like him. He came for me. Tried to kill me. Luckily, the other guards showed up, and he climbed up a wall, and fled. Whatever that creature is now, my Brother is Dead, as far as I'm concerned. I've just been trying to make it a reality ever since."

"Sorry I asked," said Elvira.

"No matter," said Marcus. "Speaking of fights - Robin, how'd you make out in the bets? Forgot to ask you."

The centaur grinned. "I made plenty. Got enough to buy at least one good mount for you and the other two-leggers, plus three baggage beasts apiece, plus supplies."

Marcus laughed. "Good. We'll need them."

"Why didn't you say that back in the other town?" Shylock asked.

"Didn't want to get robbed," said Robin. "Speaking of which." She took out a decent-sized bag, and tossed it to the shapeshifter. "There's your winnings."

Shylock blinked. "My winnings?"

"I changed your bet when the guy wasn't looking," said Robin. "Never bet against Marcus. Should be plenty in there." She then look out a number of smaller, but still good-sized, bags, and tossed them to the rest. "Call that for anything you wish to get in the moment."

Marcus chuckled as he looked at the bag. "I hope that you didn't rob too many people to get this."

Robin grinned. "I don't rob Honest folk trying to make a coin. Dishonest folk on the other hand, now that's a different story. Got plenty from them."
'Wow these relations are complicated.' Thought Okami Best People lives seem so much simpler by comparison
"Dishonest folk itooie." The changeling spoke. "Should've just shape-shifted into a couple of different people and bet on everyone. That way I would've still gotten the same amount of money."

"Wait, how does a centaur steal from others? I mean I've been a centaur and I think they're more for archery than deftness!" The changeling thought as he watched Robin swagger against Marcus. A couple of thoughts went through his mind as he watched some of the undead in town move about. He looked over to the three undead with the group and quickly decided on focusing on something else.

"Won't hurt to ask some questions to pass the time."

"Hey Fred!" Shylock called.

"Don't call me Fred, Shy." Fredrick responded.

"Ehh. Whatever. How come there aren't Barrow Wrights running about?"

The group as a whole shifted,but a few did nod in thought. It was Okami who asked the question.

"A Barrow what?"

"A Barrow Wright!" Shylock responded. "Its a long-forgotten hero who willed themselves back to existence. One of those top tier undead who you have to call a militia."

"What can they do?" asked Lord Falun with Robin and Anastasia nodding in thought.

"They grow about a foot in height--don't ask me why though-- giving them immense strength!" Shylock puffed his muscles out to emphasize that. "They have all the power of their previous life at the palm of their hands, as well as being able to call upon weaker undead. Hordes have been known to reach over one-thousand members in size. Terrifically these heroes of old still carry their enchanted weapons with them,as well as their armor.Swinging and ripping through lesser metals like tin. They also have the strength of fifty men! They'll strangle the life out of you! "

"Not me" Anastasia replied.

"Are they immune to pain like most undead?" Jason asked.

"Nope. They feel pain, and it makes them ANGRIER!" Shylock exaggerated his movements. "They're also dreamwalkers and can send out horrific nightmares. Some people even go so mad that they even join up with this once-and not future-king. Barrow Wrights can even install a portion of their terrifying power into these vessels.So how come there aren't any with all these heroic tombs?"

Fredrick scratched his helmet a little bit before pointing to one of the tombs. Flowing straight into a tomb was the smoke of an incense, the group waited for the explanation.

"That's called 'Calm Smoke'," Fredrick explained. "It wards away ghost and keeps the ghosts still around in the tomb. We have one for every single tomb in this place. It can keep a Barrow Wright from appearing."

"What about: Draugs, Ghouls, Kolbolds, and Night-Wose?" Shylock said.

The group looked at him. Fredrick only sighed in response.
"Ghouls aren't actually undead but deformed humans. They feed on the dead so we undead think of them as vermin. There are no ghouls in this town. Draugr are only found in the northern territories. Kobolds aren't undead but a sprite. A kind of fairy creature and they don't leave the wilderness as all fairies are terrified of towns. And Night Woes doesn't exist, the stories about them was actually just about a very persistent banshee." replied Fredrick.

"Banshee?" asked Okami.

"The ghost of a witch or fortune teller. In live they were able to sense a person's future. As a ghost they can sense if a person will die shortly. They try to warn the person but because they're undead they can't speak. At best they can just make a terrifying shriek. Most banshees try to warn a person but give up after a while if the person doesn't listen. But this night-woe tried for weeks. She'd shriek in the house late at night, shake him in bed, knock over things, appear before him." said Fredrick.

"Did he get the message?" asked Marcus.

Fredrick chuckled. "No. The man ended up dying from fright. She was quite annoyed about it too. She actually owns a shop here in town. She's a bit of a celebrity in town." answered Fredrick.

They stopped talking when they arrived at the market. They looked around and saw many different races, both living and dead. Walking around and doing business. There were several stalls in the center and the buildings around the market had many different shops.

"What kind of stuff does the town produce for trade?" asked Falun.

"The same as any other town. Many of the undead were skilled craftsmen before they came to town so you'll find blacksmiths, alchemists and woodworkers in town. The necromancers create some trinkets too. Amulets that keeps a undead from rising from the grave or ones that protect an undead from a necromancers magic. Several nobles buy it for relatives before their burial. But the main thing this town is known for is it's stone workers. They make anything from statues to tombstones and their work is exceptional." replied Fredrick.

As they walked through the market they walked past a vampire and Shylock felt he needed to ask another question.

"Fredrick, Something has been troubling me. How are the living treated in town?" asked Shylock.

"Like any other person. As long as they're respectful." replied Fredrick.

"And Vampires drink blood, right?" asked Shylock.

"Yes. Why do you ask?" replied Fredrick.

"I don't see how they can coexist with mortals then. They need to feed but doing so would kill a person." said Shylock.

"They do need to feed but the deed doesn't have to kill the person. There are businesses here that offer gold to anyone who gives some of their blood to them. The amount taken doesn't cause any harm to the person. This blood is then bottled and sold like humans sell wine. Many humans here donate their blood to help the vampire population survive. Some humans also allow vampires to feed from them directly as long as they don't kill them." replied Fredrick.

"Wouldn't that turn them into vampires too?" asked Shylock.

"If that were the case then the world would have been overrun by vampires ages ago. The bite doesn't turn a person into a vampire. I don't know what is needed as the vampires don't share information about the process with anyone." replied Fredrick. "Do you want too look around first or should we go directly to the necromancer's mansion?"

"Let's set up rooms at an inn first," said Marcus. "Or, at least what passes for one around here."

Fredrick nodded. "Got a place in mind." He pointed at a nice-sized place. "Those who run it include both living and undead, and most all know sign language."

"Good," said Marcus. "Briana, Jason, if you feel like talking to the locals, and learning what you can about them, and seeing if there's someone who'd be willing to join us, please do so."

The undead mage and skeletal archer nod, and walk away.

"You sure about that?" Shylock asked. "Do you really want them to split off from the party?"

"Briana can handle herself," said Robin. "As for Jason, he seems capable."

"That reminds me," the shapeshifter said. "How is it that you're even a thief? Centaurs aren't exactly stealthy."

Marcus chuckled. "Guess he's never been ambushed by a centaur."

"I remember that experience," said Drakus.

"What are you talking about?" Shylock asked. "I've seen plenty of centaurs. Just never seen any that were stealthy."

"Doesn't mean we can't be," said Robin

Shylock turned towards Robin, only to find that she wasn't where he heard her. He felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned, and there she was.

"We can be pretty stealthy when we need to be," she said, playing with a rather plain brass ring.

Shylock checked his jewelry; that very ring was missing from his hand. It wasn't very valuable, but it was still something he liked. "Please give it back."

Robin returned it. "Think of it as a lesson."

"Pays to be nice to a centaur," said Marcus. "Be friendly to those you see while in their lands, and you won't find yourself in the bottom of a riverbed, only to find both sides filled with centaurs, some of which have bows, and others with halberds. Either you end up filled with arrows, or hacked to pieces in that situation."

"Almost happened to us because of some dumb noble idiot, we were working for, who knew nothing about them, shot his mouth off at one on the road," said Drakus. "That one told their friends, and we got surrounded by at least fifty of them."

"What happened?" Falun asked.

"As it turns out, one of them was one of my cousins," said Robin. "I was able to explain things. Thing is, the noble didn't understand our language, while Marcus and Drakus can at least understand it. I simply made a deal - that noble found himself being put to work like he was a stablehand. Granted, Marcus and Drakus also had to do some of the work, but when they weren't around that idiot, they could relax, and got treated like honored guests. As for me, me and my cousin got caught up on the family gossip, and I was able to learn the safe routes."
Shylock noted the story and began to mentally jot it down. He never really thought of centaur battle tactics and only ever explored there physical capabilities.

"I'll have to hit up a library. I kinda hate not knowing a species culture." Shylock said. Straightening himself, Shylock saw something that caught his eyes.Above them was a bird of some sort---a bird of prey probably---which seemed to be staring at the group. Shylock quickly dismissed the thought as absurd and followed forth with the others.

"Here we are: The Coffins!" Fredrick Spoke

The large group quickly walked into the inn--although it seemed to be more of a miniature mansion---and walked into the lobby. The inside of the place was just as elaborate as the front,with massive statures and elegant pillars. There was a half-moon desk at the center of the place,manning the station were two people. One was a very flaky looking woman,while the other seemed to be a normal looking man.

"Greetings!" The lady spoke, and as the group approached closer, they could make out she was a zombie. Her flaky appearance due to her dried out skin.

"Hello." Marcus replied. "Do you happen to have any rooms for twelve people?"

The lady blinked for a moment and bent down under the desk. After a few moments, she came back up a list of some sort.

"You've happen to find our establishment on a good day sir! We just so happen to have some of our rooms unoccupied." The zombie lady, whose named seemed to be "Maria" if what was on the little plaque in front of her was true. "Although, have many nights will you be staying?"

"I would say two." It was Fredrick's turn to throw in his two cents.

The man next to Maria--who seemed to be named "Corwin"-- nodded and proceeded to hand Fredrick a list of some sort. The revenant took it and motioned over for Marcus to look. Upon seeing it the fighter's eyes widened and motioned over for Robin. The centaur came over and her eyes grew into saucer-like proportions,she motioned over to Briana. The skeleton mage came over--and if she had eyes--would've widened as well. She motioned over to Lord Falun, who upon seeing the list, just shrugged and pulled out his personal bag of holding.

Taking out a shiny looking gem, he plopped it down on the desk. The two receptionists' eyes did a rehash of the previous scene and Corwin bent down to stare at the gem. He inspected it,and even used a strange mirror to inspect it. Whatever came up seemed to make Corwin happy and he handed over the twelve keys to the room. The group snatched them up and followed Corwin throughout the place.

"I thought you said this place was an Inn? This places seems to be based on one of those fancy 'hotels' out in the Far West." Reji questioned.

"And isn't this place supposed to be a small town as well? I've seen cities that don't have places nearly as big as this!" Rikarn asked, who was currently riding on the back of Robin. (A lot of 'R' people in this group.)

Fredrick was about to speak again, but Corwin beat him to it.

"Turns out that when most of your biological capacities aren't working, one can save up a whole lotta money. You just need to have buy 'this cream' or 'that amulet' to fix you up and then that is it for you. So a few undead came together and built this place for the town.It seems a lot of people love to come through this way and into uncharted territory. And since we're living so close to uncharted territory, we can build as big as we want."

"Wouldn't the town benefited more from some hospices or clean water?" Jason signed out.

"Of course! But the town's living populace is a minority here, so we just mostly have those renovations on there--or you could say my-- side of the place. We use the other expenses to arm the order of knights here and that's about it." Corwin explained. He finally lead the twelve to their rooms.
Elsewhere a bird of prey landed far outside the town's limits and ruffled its feathers for a bit. It shuddered and fell onto its side. A weird smoke rose from its nostrils. The smoke condensed into a strange figure. Its head floated above its body and seemed to be a weird mixture between a canine and human...skulls that is. Its body was completely bare and it floated the ground, its feet appearing to not even be there.

The figure turned eastwards and began to walk. Soon it came upon two others around a fire and walked to the edge of the place.

"They're here." The figure replied. "And there seems to be way more of them than what was on the poster."

A rumbling came from the middle of this campfire.A hulking figure pushed itself up and looked at the speaker.

"This situation doesn't seem to bod well Mordecai." The apparent leader said. "How many of them are there if you'd have to give a guess?"

"About twelve I would say." Mordecai replied. "A pretty heft band of fighters, if I have to say so myself. I could see an Amazon,a finely dressed Noble, a Wolf Barbarian, and who knows what else in that group."

Stopping in the middle of his speech,the speaker spat out a feather. Mordecai then looked back at his leader and began to speak again.

"Combine this with the 'Calm Smoke' around town,and the order, and I don't think our chances of taking even one of them is high."

The hulk-like figure seemed to scratch his chin in thought, while the third member of this coterie watched the pair. Finally, an answer seemed to be found.

"We'll think of something in the morning. Let's us hope we can take them down before the other bounty hunters can find them first."
While the others slept. Briana, Jason and Fredrick wandered around town. Since undead didn't need rest they thought they would spend the time trying to find more recruits for their mission. They entered a local tavern and walked up to the counter. The tavern guest were mostly undead because of how late it was. The bartender was a skeleton and as they sat down she turned to them.

"What can I do for you?" asked the bartender.

"We're looking for people to join us for a mission. Do you know of anyone that might be interested?" asked Jason.

"You should ask among the Immortals. When they finish their apprenticeship they are required to go on a quest and either do something noble or bring back something valuable before they are considered true knights. You're sure to find some that's willing to join you." replied the bartender.

"Thank you for the information." said Fredrick. They turned to leave but as they start to leave, Fredrick sees someone at a table that he recognized. He walked towards the table and the others saw a black furred panther-man sitting at the table.

"Rokaar!! Is that you?! I thought you were away on a job." said Fredrick.

"I've already finished. I think I'll take a break before I go out on another one." replied Rokaar.

Fredrick turned to Briana and Jason. "This is Rokaar. He's one of the best trackers you'll find. He only hunts criminals though so you don't have to worry." said Fredrick. "How would you like to claim the bounty on Dukco's head?"

"I'd love too. But even I can't claim that one." said Rokaar.

"We have a mission to protect a village from Dukco. If you join us then you might get your chance." said Briana.

"You really think you can beat him?" asked Rokaar.

"We have a skilled group. And if you join us then our chances will be even better." said Fredrick. Rokaar considered it for a moment before he spoke again.

"All right. I'll join your little group." said Rokaar.

"Excellent! Our leader is asleep now but come by the inn tomorrow morning and I'll introduce you too him." said Fredrick.

"One last thing. I've heard someone rich and powerful has put a bounty out on your group. I'm not interested in it but not all bounty hunters are as noble as I. So be careful. It might be Dukco that placed the bounty." said Rokaar.

"Thanks, friend. We'll be careful." said Fredrick. They then got up and left the tavern.

"Are you sure we can trust him?" asked Briana.

"He only hunts criminals and he's very honorable. Once he gives his word he'll never betray that person." said Fredrick.

In the morning, Marcus was eating breakfast, with Rokaar sitting across from him.

"You're taking your time with what you want to say," the panther-man said.

Marcus looked at him. "So, someone's got a bounty on us, and you suspect that Dukco is behind it?"

"Looks to be that way," said Rokaar. "Hundred thousand in gold, apparently, just for you."

Marcus chuckled. "Can I collect it myself?"

Rokaar burst out in laughter. "Good one! So, how are you going to respond to this bounty on your head, to say nothing about the rest of your group? It's about six hundred thousand, maybe a bit more."

"There's a five hundred thousand gold bounty on Dukco's head alone, plus the bounties on each of his men," said Marcus. "Spread the word - tell the other Bounty Hunters that if they want to collect the price on my head, they must assist me in collecting the one on Dukco's. He can't pay if he's dead, and even the greediest of Bounty Hunters would be happy to get even a share of the combined bounty on him and his followers."

"What if they try to kill you though?" Rokaar asked.

Marcus stood up. He then took his shirt off, revealing that his chest and front was covered in black dragon scales. "They're welcome to try. I'm just as scaled as he is - front -" He turned around, slowly. "Sides, and back." He then faced Rokaar again. "I'm not easy to kill."

Rokaar grinned, showing his teeth. "I'll make a mention of that."
Despite Rumors to the contrary Contrary Canine People don't hate Feline People they do tend to void each others lands because they compete for game
Shylock stirred himself awake and groaned a little.Scratching his back, the changeling's eyes widened at the sound of someone else in the room.. He looked down to see where the noise was coming from. On the floor, Rikarm was slowing traveling back to the realm of consciousness.

"Forgot about her."

The halfling yawned as she turned to look around the room. Attached to the windowsill was a bird, which tilted its head quizzically at the halfling.

"Get out of here you pecker!" Rikarm proclaimed,sleep drunk. The bird cawed once and proceeded to do so. The halfling rubbed her eyes a little at the sight. "Huh, I mean. yeah get outta here birdy!"

"Pipe down you." Shylock interrupted. Rikarm shrieked in shock at the changeling's true face while Shylock starred in confusion.

"What? Oh I forgot. Gimmie a second." The changeling's body rippled for a moment before it turned back to his previous face. Rikarm steadied herself as she saw Shylock's normal appearance.

"What in the Hell's name was that!?!"

"Me without my makeup." Shylock slyly remarked.

"You looked like a freaking mimic!" Rikarm exclaimed.

"Hey!" Shylock yelled. "Thats rude. While my species do share some similarities, we're not the same! Its like calling a human being an 'ape' or a dragon a lizard.One is superior than the other."

Rikarm blinked at that statement before shaking her head.

"Sorry I said anything, but I would've preferred If you told me about that. I may have picked another roomie if I knew."

"Everyone else seemed quite happy on who they picked."

"So soft." Anastasia mumbled as she crushed Robin's horse half.

"Help me." Robin spoke to the air."

"Seeing as we're now up. What would you like to do? I can only guess that Marcus and Fredrick are looking for that Necromancer right now. Call it a hunch that I know they're awake," Shylock questioned.
After Marcus had his breakfast and the others had woken. They set off towards the Necromancer's mansion. The mansion was surrounded by a iron fence. As they walked towards the gate, a skeleton stepped in front of them and shook his head.

"We need to see the necromancer. It's urgent." said Fredrick.

"I'm sorry, Sir Fredrick. but he's much too busy. Even for an Immortal." replied the skeleton.

"We made a breakthrough with a research project that he's been unable to solve." said Fredrick.

"He's been studying dark magic for decades. What could you possibly show him that he doesn't already know?" said the Skeleton.

"This breakthrough isn't dark magic. That's what he's been missing all these years. Just ask him what he thinks before you send us away." said Fredrick.

The guard thought about it for a minute before he called another guard and sent him into the mansion. After a moment the guard returned and gestured for them to follow.

"Seems you confined him." said Marcus.

They entered the manor with the guard and followed him through the many rooms until he escorted them to a massive library. The library had many shelves with hundreds of books on them on a wide variety of subjects. At the center was a single large table with several chairs surrounding it. At the head of the table sat a vampire in purple robes with long black hair and bright blue eyes he also had a goblet of red liquid in his hand and Marcus suspected that it wasn't wine in the goblet. As they approached the vampire looked up and gestured to the chairs. As they sat down the vampire spoke up.

"When I heard you set off to go after Dukco, Didn't expect to see you again, Sir Fredrick. Have you completed your task?" asked the Necromancer.

"No. We've been recruiting people that would want to help us." replied Fredrick.

"And is that why you came to see me? You know that my responsibilities to the people under my care keeps me here!" said the necromancer.

"Actually we might be able to help you." said Drakus. The necromancer turned to him and looked at him.

"Is that so?! How?" replied the necromancer.

"You've been working on a amulet that can translate the language of the dead?" asked Drakus.

"I have, and failed. I've given up on ever solving that project." replied the necromancer.

"Have you considered combining light and dark magic." asked Drakus.

"Of course I have! But a single mage can't cast light and dark magic at the same time! This means that two people are needed, and no priest is willing to work with me!" replied the necromancer.

"I'm willing to do it." said Drakus.

"You'd be willing to help the undead? Why!?" asked the necromancer.

"I don't hate the undead. I hate those that do evil, and I know that being undead doesn't make you evil." replied Drakus. The necromancer was silent as he thought on it.

"I never expected to hear a priest say that. You're not like most of your kind. I must warn you that the ritual will be dangerous. If your focus fails you then it could cause great risk to both of us. Are you sure you can do this?!" asked the necromancer.

"I am confident in my abilities. What about you? Are you willing to risk your existence on this?!" asked Drakus.

"I have dedicated my life to helping the 'cursed' and this project will give voice to many that have none. I will do this." replied the necromancer.

"I have to say. I'm surprised at your new appearance. The last time I saw you, you were a old man." said Fredrick.

"I've been looking for someone to take my place after I die but no one I've met is ready for the responsibility. A vampire I helped was kind enough to pass on his gift. I'll 'endure' until I find a worthy successor." said the necromancer.

"Is there anything you need for the project?" asked Marcus.

"Just time. We'll do the ritual tonight. That will give me time to prepare the ritual chamber. Do you have a place to stay?" asked the necromancer.

"We're staying at the local inn." said Falun.

"Ha! I'm surprised your group can afford the place." said the necromancer.

"My father is mayor of the local city." said Falun.

"Ahh. My apologies. I should have recognized you. I've met with your father several times." replied the necromancer.

"You have?" asked Falun.

"I've been trying to negotiate trade agreements with the city. We have goods that your people desires and it would help earn respect for my people." replied the necromancer. "You may explore the town in the mean time. Return tonight and we'll attempt the ritual. One last thing. You! come closer." the necromancer pointed to Marcus. Marcus got up and walked towards the necromancer.

"You have dragon blood in you." said the necromancer.

"How do you know that?!" asked Marcus. The necromancer tapped his nose.

"Vampires can smell the blood in a person and yours has more magic in it than a normal human has. But I sense that you've barely tapped into your power. You'll need it when you fight against Dukco." said the necromancer.

"You know how dangerous that is!" said Marcus.

"Of course! But you'll have to take the risk. Remember that Dukco has no fear of it. Why do you think he's so powerful? If you wish to defeat him then you'll have to be able to match him." said the necromancer.

"Before we leave town. I would like to visit my order again." said Fredrick.

"Your order?! Are you saying ...." said Robin.

"That I'm a Immortal? Yes I am." interrupted Fredrick.

"Why didn't you say anything before?" asked Anastasia.

"Because it wasn't important. But while you were sleeping. Briana, Jason and I received a tip that some in the order might be willing to join us. I would like to look into it." replied Fredrick.

"Do as you wish. The day is yours. Just make sure to return here tonight." said the necromancer.

"Nice fella," said Marcus.

"Just don't piss him off," said Fredrick. "He could be quite scary before he became a vampire when he was angered."

"I'll keep that in mind," said Marcus. "Drakus, I hope that you'll be in top shape tonight."

"Probably take a nap in the afternoon," the draconian said. "That way I'll be rested to use my magic."

"Good idea," said Marcus.

"Do you want to tap into your hidden powers?" Fredrick asked.

"Not really," said Marcus. "I've seen some of those that have. Most, I have nothing against. They have wings, tails, retractable claws, retractable teeth, breath power, increased strength, and are physically superior to those who were just merely scaled on part of their body. But one must be careful when tapping into that sort of thing."

"He is right," said Drakus. "Sometimes that physical superiority gives one the false sense that they are superior to all others, and are above certain things. Dukco is a good, or rather bad, example of the worst sorts. He won't acknowledge that he isn't perfect. It's like he thinks he's a god. Problem is, he is actually smart enough to know when he's outmatched, and is smart enough to run in such cases."

"Always useful when you have to," said Robin.

"It's a smart trick," said Rikarm.

Marcus looked at the hafling. "Where have you been?"

"Below everyone's belts," Rikarm said. "Still, I've learned a few things."
(I'm not sure how much longer I can continue I have too much to keep track of in this story and I'm juggling too many things in RL)
(Don't worry Twiga)
Shylock fiddled with his fingers outside the mansion while he waited for the others. Anastasia stood beside him while he did so, probably just as bored as he was.

"Where are the others with the food? I mean the lion-guy and that Lord fella should've been back by now." Shylock said to the air. Trying to do his best to make small talk. Anastasia grunted in response. The changeling nodded in half-joking agreement. Looking for another subject of his vocabulary, Shylock looked upwards.

"I think we're being followed by that bird up there, I swore I saw it yesterday." Shylock pointed half-heatedly up at the avian.

"Strange. I thought so too..." Anastasia muttered.
Fredrick walked towards the Immortals chapter house which was built almost like a small fortress. The chapter house was surrounded by large stone walls and a large reinforced gate blocked the entrance. Several knights patrolled the battlements. After the others returned with food, the whole group returned to the inn. Fredrick had excused himself and said that he was going to go to the Immortals. Marcus didn't like that he went alone but Fredrick assured him that nothing would happen. Fredrick walked up to the gate and knocked on the door. A moment later a shutter was moved away and a skeleton looked through it.

"What do you ....! Sir Fredrick! My apologies! I'll open the gates." said the skeleton. Fredrick heard a wooden beam being lifted and soon the door swung inward. "I didn't expect to see you again so soon. Have you completed your mission?"

"My mission hasn't even begun yet. I'm looking for anyone who would like to join up. Have any squires finished their training but haven't set off on their personal quest?" asked Fredrick.

"Well. There's your old student, Christopher. He finished his training shortly after you left. He's still deciding what he'll do for his quest." said the skeleton.

"Where can I find him?" asked Fredrick.

"Should be at the training yard. He's been sparring every day." replied the skeleton.

"Thank you. I'll go see him." said Fredrick. He walked forward and around the main building of the chapter house. As he came to the back he saw several undead practicing with weapons. An older vampire was overseeing the drills. Fredrick saw many different undead in the training yard. Skeletons, Vampires, even ghosts. All of them were fighting with their chosen weapons. At the far edge of the field, a skeleton was instructing other undead how to better fire their crossbows. In the center of the field, Fredrick saw Christopher dueling two other knights. He was using two swords like he always did. Most knights used a shield but despite being a vampire, Christopher was never that strong. He knew that he wouldn't be able to endure the heaviest strikes so he used his vampiric speed and other abilities to avoid strikes. Fredrick watched as Christopher fought his opponents. One of the knights knocked a sword out of his hand but Christopher dodged the next strike before catching his sword out of the air. He then knocked his opponent's blade away. He turned to the last knight and delivered a flurry of blows before knocking his sword out of his hands.

"Your footwork still needs some work, Christopher!" yelled Fredrick. The vampire turned to him and Fredrick could see he was surprised.

"Master!!" said Christopher. He approached Fredrick then bowed before him.

"You shouldn't call me that anymore, Christopher. You've finished your training. You're no longer a novice." said Fredrick.

"You taught me everything I know. It's only right that I still call you that. What are you doing here though? You couldn't have beaten Dukco yet." replied Christopher.

"I've yet to begin. I came back to find worthy warriors to join me. Are you interested?" asked Fredrick.

"I'm honored! But I don't think I'm ready for such a mission." replied Christopher.

"I wouldn't have come to you if I didn't think you could handle it. Give it some more thought. I'm only leaving tomorrow morning. Find me at the inn if you change your mind." said Fredrick. He turned around and walked away. As he walked through the streets back to the inn, a large brute stepped out of the shadows and blocked his way.

"You're in my way!" said Fredrick.

"So I am! What are you going to do about it?!" asked the brute. A few seconds later a large bird landed behind Fredrick and morphed into a strange undead that Fredrick never encountered before.

"And what are you supposed to be, bird brain." asked Fredrick.

"That isn't important. What 'is' important is that bounty on you." said the creature.

"You won't find me easy prey!" replied Fredrick.

"It's two against one! I think we can manage!" said the brute. The brute charged at Fredrick but he dodged him and kicked him in the back and he flew into a wall. Fredrick turned to the wraith like creature that was floating towards him. Fredrick tried to punch it but his fist went right through it. The creature then smacked Fredrick in the face and he fell against the nearby wall. Fredrick got back to his feet and drew his axe as the two opponents approached him. Before they reached him, a vial flew through the air and shattered at the creature's feet. Black smoke floated out of the vial and the creature shrieked and turned back into his bird form and flew away. Both Fredrick and his opponent turned and saw Rokaar and Christopher standing at the entrance to an alley.

"GET OUT OF HERE, BEAST!! Before I reconsider my unexpected act of mercy!!" yelled Rokaar.

"This isn't over!!" yelled the brute. He ran through the streets and soon got away.

"Thanks! You arrived just in time! What were those things?!" asked Fredrick.

"It's a complicated story. Let's get you too the inn first. Then I'll explain everything." said Rokaar.

"On the bright side, managed to run into someone interested in joining us," said Rokaar.

"Who?" Fredrick asked.

Rokaar pointed at some dark shadows. "Him."

Fredrick looked, and saw a figure in them. "You got a Drow?"

"Half-Drow," the figure said. "I want Dukco dead."

"Alright," said Fredrick. "Our leader's at the inn."

"I'll be there." The figure faded.

"Impressive," said Fredrick. "I've only heard of Shadowwalkers."

"I encountered her some time back," said Rokaar. "Bounty Poster neglected to mention a few things about her, least of which is the fact that she can walk through shadows. Thought I had her, only for her to sit in a shadowy corner and vanish in front of me."

"What can you tell me about her?" Fredrick asked.

"She's an Assassin, who goes by the name Umbra Mortis, and would kill you for the right price," said Rokaar. "No one has made the right offer for her to kill me though. That being said, seems she heard about the price on your friend's head, and it seems she did some digging. She likes to know who made the offer. She found out."


Rokaar nodded. "Seems that fella you let go went and told him about you guys. Seems he recognized your blind draconian priest friend, and put enough together to realize that Marcus was after Dukco."

"So, why is she willing to throw in with us?" Fredrick asked.

"Let's put it to you this way, she popped up behind me, put a knife to my throat, asked if I was hunting Marcus, I told her I wasn't, she told me that Dukco had placed the bounty, told me what I told you, and told me that she was after Dukco, and would join anyone after him," said Rokaar. He rubbed his throat. "Not many can surprise me like she can."

"What else has she done?" Fredrick asked.

"Murdered at least ten people," said Rokaar. "She claims it was more like sixty though. Includes at least one draconian at any rate."

"How did she do that?" Fredrick asked.

"The details are a little sketchy, but it seems that she poisoned him in bed," said Rokaar. "I'm not going to ask her about the rest of the details."

"I can imagine."

Soon enough, they were at the inn.

Marcus looked at Umbra, who sat in the shadows. "Not my first time seeing a Drow."

"Half-Drow," Umbra said.

"Your kind normally don't like dealing with Surface Dwellers, and you dislike the sun a lot," said Marcus. "And don't get me started on the stories. I'm sure that there's a certain amount of truth to them."

"I said Half-Drow and I meant it," said Umbra. "I might be Evil, as you call it, but my victims were worse than me."

"Why throw in with us?" Marcus asked.

"I want Dukco dead," said Umbra. "My reasons are my own. Suffice it to say, so long as he has a bounty on you, my blades will keep you safe."

"What about after?" Marcus asked.

Umbra chuckled. "Depends on who wants you dead. You might want to sleep with a few lit lanterns in your rooms after this things over."

"At least you're honest," said Marcus.
Back at the mansion inn, all the group had woken up at this point. They were conversing about either their new companion or the strange undead that attacked Fredrick.

"And it turned into a bird and flew away." Fredrick said. "Never seen anything like that before. What about you Brianna?"

"I'm kinda new to this as well. So no. Jason?" Briana turned to the other undead in the group.

"Sorry. There are so many different types of undead and I'm not really knowledgeable about the subject." Jason signed.

"It was a Mormo, or a Dyubbik, or a Clocworster, or..." Shylock said halfheartedly. The undeads looked over to him weirdly as he began to speak his suggestions.

"What?" Fredrick asked. "Are those even real? I'm supposed to be the undead scholar here, changeling!"

"They're real, I'll have you know. I'm not like an almanac of undead,but I do know a sizable amount of info." The Bard replied. "Did its head float above its body by a few centimeters?"

Fredrick scratched his chin and then nodded. Shylock snapped his finger then pointed. "Mormo!"

"Mormo? What is this undead?" Briana spoke. Shylock stared at the three undead looking at him intently and the changeling steadied himself.

"A man,or woman, who died by an animal. But by the will of the Gods, or by dumb luck, managed to kill the beast that killed them."

"But if the animal killed them, how would one..." Briana began to speak. By then, some of the others were came towards the small outgroup.

"Like I said: Gods or Dumb Luck! The guy smashed the animal's head in with a rock while it bit on his throat,speared it when it swung for his head, or a he pushed it down a cliff while he was bleeding out! A lot of things. Anyways, they die and then the two creatures' ...souls? Whatever, combine,or fight, to make a new being. Then, Fortissimo, a Mormo."

"And what can they do exactly?" Fredrick questioned.

"Besides the obvious undead advantages.It gains not only the strengths of the animal that killed it, but also a primal connection to the fauna kingdom. A Mormo hypnotizes an animal then possess it like a ghost. While it can usually do this for a few day, eventually it'll eat the poor thing from the inside-out. It does gain that form as a new a mode of transformation though."

"Kinda like a changeling!" Robin interrupted. Shylock shot her a glare and the centaur held her hands up jokingly. Going back to his story, Shylock began again.

"Kinda like me, yes, but I have a limit of how many forms I can remember before I switch out. Barring being near someone of course. A Mormo can have as many forms it wants, as long as it possessed and ate the animal beforehand. It could turn into a crocodile or elephant for all we know! Next the Mormo can summon ghosts of all sorts to do its bidding. Which sounded like what happened to you back at the training grounds.It can also grab a hold of someone and cause immense amount of pain, but obviously it doesn't really work on a un-living person. Finally, it can temporarily make people fall asleep by looking at them."

The group digested this info before Fredrick spoke up again.


"Standard Undead weaknesses. But looking for a specific one, a Mormo can be only killed--okay this "only" part is a technicality, one could just blow it to smithereens, but its like taking a cannon to a sword fight. Back to what I was saying, the Mormo's weakness is by using the animal that killed it. It can't turn,nor possess, that animal. Not saying that specific animal, I'm talking about the type. Snake Mormo; snake. Bear Mormo; bear."

"Why?" Briana spoke.

"A scholar I used to know said that the animal side that allows the Mormo to hypnotize other animals doesn't like to be reminded of its previous life. So it goes kooky and drags the human side to whatever lies Beyond. Just have that animal bite down on the Mormo's skull and then 'poof', no more Mormo."

"And how would we know what animal is its weakness?"

"Just look at the skull. That will tell you. It will probably have some human features, but you can easily tell."


Mordercai flapped back to his camp and landed onto the forest ground with a thud. His companions saw their crumpled friend and rushed towards him.

"Modercai! What happened?"

"Sorry Abiz." Mordercai spoke. "Got a little cocky there."

The Mormo coughed a little and moved to sit down next to a log. He licked his lips a little bit and the third companion raced forward to give him a succulent piece of meat.

"Thank you, Yvain." Modercai replied. He bit into the red carcass and gulped it down. Technically, seeing as his wolf-skull head floated above his body by twelve,or so, centimeters. Whatever strange internal biology that he used seemed to get rid of the meat, as it smoked greatly like an it was on an open pyre.

"What in all Nine Hells were you thinking!" Abiz screeched. Modercai rolled his head aside.

"Well I was thinking I should summon a Lemure; thought that ghost and me were good enough for the revenant." Modercai replied. "Evidently, that was untrue."

Abiz clutched his massive hand over his face in frustration.

"Why? Why the revenant of all of them?"

"Because I usually know the weaknesses of them boss!" Modercai shot back. Yvain gave him another piece of meat and the Mormo chewed on it gently. "We've been doing this for eight years now and I've taken revenants down like this before."

"You got too prideful Modercai." "Already said that." Modercai mumbled.

"Now they know we're here!" Abiz proclaimed.

"Nah, probably just me. And the Lemure is most likely a dissipated mess so..."

"Just you? Alright then, now let me reiterate my previous question" Abiz took what could've been a deep breath. "WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!"

Modercai rubbed his skull head,while Yvain retreated towards a the back of a tree.

"I'm worried about our bounty boss!" Modercai got up and stared at the Barrow Wright. "I saw some other poachers coming and they're going to be here soon. I'm hoping they kill each other first. But if not? We're going to have some competition! We haven't even been doing anything to hinder our targets, boss!"

Abiz looked at the Mormo for a few moments. Pointing off towards the woods, the Barrow Wright wiggled his finger forward. Out from the crowded undergrowth, the sunlight revealed a few zombies. Then a little more zombies...then a little more zombies...then a lot more zombies.

Modercai stared in shock at the sight, from his point of view on the ground, he could see over 300 zombies shambling in the woods. Looking back at the Barrow Wright, the Moromo gaped in shock.


"What? How did I do this without the necromancer finding out? I called them here." Abiz stated. "Difficult, but if I could concentrate, I could get through his powers. And If our targets didn't know we're coming, I could've called in more. Now they'll be on the lookout for us and I'll only be able to call in 60 or 70 more tonight."

"Sorry Boss." Modercai said.

"Don't be, with what you said about the poachers, they'd be screwing us over soon enough. So we're changing our plans now. We're going to hit tonight. Sending this," Abiz pointed over to the horde. ",over to the town. In the confusion, we'll kill one of them and take the body back to our employer. We only need one, and when we're done, we'll be set for a few years."

Modercai grinned like a wolf and Yvain decided to bring herself onto a log to smile as well.
As night fell. Their group returned to the necromancer's mansion. Umbra, Rokaar and Christopher also came with them. When they got to the gates, a guard escorted them to a large room. In the center of the room was a pedestal with a amulet on it. A strange symbol was painted on the ground around the pedestal. Several black candles was placed in a circle around the symbol. The necromancer turned to them as they entered.

"Are you ready?" asked the necromancer.

"I hope so." replied Drakus.

"If your having second thoughts then it isn't too late yet." said the necromancer.

"No! I'm just a little nervous. I've got a bad feeling about this. I assume you heard about what happened to Fredrick." said Drakus.

"I did. I've already put my finest students on the task of finding your attacker. I've also put the town on high alert. I'm sensing a dark force as well. So I've doubled the guards protecting the chamber." said the necromancer.

"Then lets begin." said Drakus. They stood on opposite sides of the pedestal and then began to murmur the spells. Bright light began to shine out of Drakus while dark clouds surrounded the necromancer.

"I hope they can succeed. This would help many undead." said Christoper.

A few moments later they heard alarm bells ringing.

"What is that?!" asked Marcus.

"Battle alarm! The town is under attack! I need to join the defenders." yelled Christopher.

"We'll join you!" said Fredrick.

"We can't leave the necromancer and Drakus with just the guards. They'll be vulnerable while they preform the ritual." said Robin. Marcus thought about it for a moment before he spoke again.

"Umbra, Falum, Briana, Anastasia! You four will stay here and keep anyone from interfering with the ritual. The rest of us will join the defenders." said Marcus.

They left the chamber and ran through the streets towards the main gates. As they ran Marcus asked some questions.

"Shylock! You said this thing is vulnerable to the animal that killed it. Does that include the beast man form of the animal too?" asked Marcus.

"I'm not sure. I've never heard of it before." replied Shylock.

"Fredrick! You said this thing had the skull of a canine? A wolf or a dog perhaps?" asked Marcus.

"Yes I did! What are you planning?!" replied Fredrick.

"Since we don't have any wolves with us. I'm hoping Okami would be able to take advantage of it's weakness." said Marcus.

"Good plan! But I can't guarantee that it would work." said Shylock.

"We'll have to risk it! Are you willing to try this, Okami?" asked Marcus.

"Ready and eager!" said Okami.

As they arrived at the gates, they were surprised how many people were there. Apart from the Immortals and Necromancers, most of the townspeople were also there holding a wide variety of weapons.

"Why are the townspeople here?!" asked Robin.

"All the people who live in the town are taught how to defend themselves. When the alarm is sounded, everyone is expected to report to the gates to defend the town." replied Christopher. They ran to the battlements and went to stand by a mummified lich.

"I'm Absalom. Second in command of the necromancer school." said the lich.

"Nice to meet you. What's the situation?!" asked Marcus.

"Sentries spotted a large horde of zombies approaching the town. They're being led by a Barrow wraith." replied Absalom.

"What about the Mormo?" asked Shylock.

"No sign of it. But me and my students will keep it and the barrow wraith from turning our own forces against us." replied Absalom.

A moment later they saw hundreds of zombies shambling towards the town. In front of the horde walked a massive skeletal warrior in heavy armor. Marcus assumed that it was the barrow wraith.

"There are a lot of them! Are you sure we can manage this?" asked Shale.

"We'll have to! Besides, I think the attack is just a distraction. We'd better watch out for that Mormo. I'm sure it has some surprises for us." said Marcus.

"Then lets give it a welcome they won't soon forget!!" yelled Fredrick. Behind him the townspeople and knights raised their weapons over their heads and shouted their own war cries.

The barrow wraith pointed his sword at the gate and the zombies began to run towards the gates. Jason took a arrow from his quiver and aimed his bow.

"Remember! Only way to reliably kill a zombie is to cut it's head off or shoot it through the head with an arrow." said Jason.

"Jason says to aim for the head!!" yelled Fredrick.
Marcus looked at the Barrow Wraith, and grinned. "I got an idea."

"What would that be?" Fredrick asked.

"I'm the most valuable one here," said Marcus. "I think I'll go talk to him, and his friends. If this works, we might just gain a few allies."

"You're going to just go and talk to him?" Fredrick asked. "He might just kill you."

"I'm probably worth more alive," said Marcus. "I know that Dukco would like the pleasure of seeing me, and killing me himself. I'll just tell these guys that Dukco has no intentions of paying them, and will instead steal their free will."

Fredrick looked at him. "Do you think that's Dukco's real intentions?"

"It's what I'd want to do with someone dangerous to me," said Marcus. "These guys could summon their own army to attack his. He'd want these guys under his control. If I can get them to side with us, along with other would-be Bounty Hunters, we'd have an army to match his."

"You have a good point," said Fredrick. "Dukco would have the means to strip them of their free will. It's the sort of thing we fear the most."

"Good," said Marcus. "If this doesn't work, get everyone and head as quickly to that village as you can."

That was when Marcus jumped from the wall, and strode forward.

The Barrow Wraith commanded the zombies to halt.

Marcus walked until he was ten paces away from the Barrow Wrath.

"This is unexpected," the Wraith said. "I was expecting to take your corpse to my employer. I wasn't thinking about taking you to him alive."

"Well, in that case, you'd better get your friends, so that you can congratulate yourselves on my successful capture," said Marcus. "Of course, it would be a good idea for you to heed my warning: Dukco intends to enslave you, and make you his. Take me in, and he'll remove your free will. Join me, on the other hand, and you can take his head."

"Do you expect me to believe you?" the Barrow Wraith asked.

"No," said Marcus. "I expect you to ignore me, for your friends and yourself to take me to my half-brother, whereupon I'll be tortured, executed, and raised into his service, after which, he'll enslave you."

The Barrow Wraith was silent. "Let me contact my associates. We'll talk this over."

Marcus sat down. "I'll be waiting."
Abiz the Barrow Wright walked past the horde of zombies to the back of the line. There, Modercai and Yvain appeared to be on the edge of a fight. Holding up a hand, the Barrow Wright motioned for the two to walk with him. Making sure that his zombies were on standby, Abiz began to speak.

"First thing's first. Modercai, where are the other bounty hunters?"

"About a hour or two away from us. And I hope you have a good reason for stopping the horde from ripping one of them apart." Modercai replied.

Abiz nodded, opening his mouth, Abiz started to explain Marcus' reasoning.

The two undead looked at each other,before they stared at their boss.

"What evidence does he have that Dukco would do this?" Modercai said. Yvain nodded at The Mormo's suggestion. "I mean he would be less inclined towards the general, seeing as they're fighting siblings."

"Correct, but Dukco isn't very well-known for being an upstanding member of society. Blame his service with the Dark Lord for that." Abiz replied. "But if he did hire us,just to betray us, then he'll loose all support from bounty hunters all around! All Twelve Major Hunting Guilds would be after his scaly posterior for days. I mean he could just enslave us,but the others? If he takes them out, he'd either be a madman or an idiot. The only people he could pull that enslavement stuff on would be poachers or freelancers."

Crouching down, the Barrow Wright continued.

"This isn't even including our reputation. Let's say we leave the job without even doing anything, we'll be known as liars and scoundrels! No Guild would ever want us again. We have to at least bloody ourselves against these people!"

Yvain piped in, "We could just middleman it. We plan out a drop-point for Dukco's soldiers to come to; we'd have Modercai scout the skies and warn us of the incoming men. Once everything is assured to be in place, we high tail it back home."

Abiz and Modercai looked at each other and nodded in agreement.

"Then its settled." Abiz flicked his hand. Marcus appeared to be happy, thinking that Abiz was about to surrender,but frowned instead.

"Bugger!" thought Marcus.

"Marcus! Get back here NOW!!" yelled Fredrick. He bent over the wall and held out his hand. Marcus ran as fast as he could back to the wall, jumped up and grabbed Fredrick's hand. Once Fredrick got a grip, he lifted Marcus up and placed him next to him on the battlements.

"That went well." said Fredrick.

"Fire!!" yelled Jason. He released his arrow and a moment later the other archers fired their crossbows at the zombie horde. Despite hitting the zombies, only a handful fell. the remaining ones continued towards the wall. As the archers reloaded their crossbows, the zombies reached the wall and began to climb over each other to reach the top. Fredrick and the others drew their weapons and waited for the zombies to reach the battlements. Marcus struck at one zombie then turned to face another. As Marcus turned around, he saw Jason aiming his bow at him. Jason fired and the arrow flew over Marcus's shoulder and hit a zombie that was sneaking up behind him in the head.

"You cut that a little close!" said Marcus.

Marcus saw the Mormo gesture with his hands and hostile ghosts began to appear among the defenders. The Barrow Wright used the distraction to charge at the gate. He ran into the gates and it began to lean inwards.

"Reinforce the gates! We can't let them swarm past the walls." said Robin. Several undead ran forward and held the doors trying to keep it closed. But the Barrow Wright struck the gate again and they were pushed back as the gates began to lean further inwards.

"We need to take out the summoners! It's the only way we'll win this!" yelled Shylock. Fredrick swung his axe, clearing a large section of the wall of zombies. The Barrow Wright stepped backwards and charged the gate again. As he hit the gate, it flew open and knocked the defenders backwards. Both the Mormo and the Barrow Wright then stepped into the town. Fredrick turned to the town and whistled. Marcus then saw Fredrick's nightmare charging through the main street towards the gates. When it was close enough, Fredrick jumped off the wall and landed on his mount's back. He then turned his mount towards the Barrow Wright and charged at him as fast as he can. The Barrow Wright laughed and prepared to deliver a heavy blow. As Fredrick got closer, his nightmare suddenly jumped and both horse and rider disappeared, only to reappear out of the shadows a short distance behind the Barrow Wright. As the Barrow Wright turned to face him, Fredrick swung his axe and struck the Barrow Wright under the chin. The Barrow Wright somersaulted backwards before landing face down on the ground. The Mormo turned into it's bird form and tried to fly away. But Fredrick jumped off his mount and grabbed him out of the air.

"WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU'RE GOING!!" yelled Fredrick. He then slammed the bird back into the ground. The Mormo flapped it's wings and struggled, trying to break Fredrick's grip but he held on. "Marcus!! you need to deal with the Barrow Wright! Okami and I will handle the Mormo!!" The Mormo suddenly started growing fur and becoming larger until a large bear was standing in front of Fredrick. It knocked Fredrick backwards, but Fredrick quickly got to his feet again and he and Okami began to circle the Mormo.

Marcus rushed at the Barrow Wright but it gave him a backhand blow that knocked him to the ground. The Barrow Wright approached him and prepared to deliver a death blow but a vial of black smoke struck it's back. The Barrow Wright growled in annoyance and turned around to see the young vampire, Christopher standing behind him with another vial in his hand. He threw it at him but the Barrow Wright caught the vial without breaking it, then tossed it at a wall a short distance away. "Bottled Calm smoke! Not bad! But you'll have to do better than that!" yelled the Barrow Wright. He then raised his weapon and struck at the vampire but Christopher turned to mist and appeared behind the Barrow Wright. He then struck at it's back and as it turned towards him, Christopher turned to mist again and appeared behind him and struck him again.

"STAY STILL!!" yelled the Barrow Wright and gave him a backhand blow that sent Christopher flying a short distance away. The distraction was all Marcus needed to retrieve his weapon and get back on his feet again.

"Do you really want to go through with this?" Marcus yelled. "Dukco's head is worth at least six times mine!"

"I do have my reputation to think of," the Barrow Wright said. "We can't just leave without trying."

Marcus sighed. He then threw his sword - the blade stuck right into the gate.

The Barrow Wright looked at him. "That's no way to treat a sword."

"I only use that when I'm just going as a Scaled Human," said Marcus. He walked over to Robin. "Time to give me my real sword."

"You know you hate using it," said Robin.

Marcus nodded. Then, he yelled. "All undead! Get at least a hundred paces away! If you value your existence, hurry! Otherwise, expect a great deal of pain!" That was when he drew a large greatsword from a sheath on the centaur's side. He dragged the sword behind him, as he walked back to the Barrow Wright.

The Barrow Wright scoffed. "That's supposed to scare me? You can't even lift it."

Marcus grinned. "This isn't my only form." A sudden shadow enveloped him, and expanded.

The Barrow Wright stepped back in shock.

Marcus was covered in black scales, two large wings sprouted from his shoulders, a tail from the base of his spine, claws from his fingers and toes. He then lifted the sword with ease. He grinned yet again, dragon teeth flashing. "Sanctus Ignis!" The sword flash with a bright light, and appeared to be on fire.

The Barrow Wright and the other undead shrank back in pain, and fear. Soon, the Barrow Wright was up against the wall.

Marcus came up to them. "I tried this the friendly way, so now, let's do this the unfriendly way - you and your associates give up trying to claim the heads of me and mine, or I'll smite you with Holy Fire! Understood!"

The Barrow Wright nodded in fear.

"Good. Extingisus!" The sword became more normal looking. Marcus walked over to Robin, and sheathed it once more. He walked back over to the Barrow Wright. "Now, let's try this again - would you like to join our quest? It would look good on your record to go after a much higher bounty anyways."

The Barrow Wright looked at him. "Let me and my associates figure out if your offer is indeed the better one. That being said, you do have our word we won't hunt you any more."

"Good enough," said Marcus. "I'll give you thirty minutes. Decide against the offer, I'll allow you to leave, unharmed. Agreed?"

The Barrow Wright nodded.

Marcus walked away from him.

Fredrick came out from behind a building. "I could feel that from here. And your scales, and wings, and tail! You could transform into a half-draconian at any time!"

"Yes, and I dislike it!" Marcus hissed quietly. "It's going to take me at least two days to revert back to normal, and during that time, it will be like having to treat everything like it was a fragile egg. Someone else will have to open doors for me, or I'll just knock them down, and don't get me started on clothing, let alone anything else. I'm not used to it, and I'll have to eat a whole lot more than normal. At least a full-blood Draconian learns this from childhood. Me, it comes and goes, and it sucks!"

Fredrick nodded. "I understand. Guess that's why you don't use this form often."

"Useful for using the sword," said Marcus. "My father gave that to me. Harms the undead, as you noticed."

"The free-minded undead got away in time," said Fredrick.

"That's a relief," said Marcus. "Let's hope that those three make the right choice this time."
Eventually a accord was settled and the three undead went off into the distance. The zombie horde followed suit and the defenders went away to heal themselves.

Elsewhere, a group of people watched as Abiz and his associates stalked off with their tales between their legs.

"Welp, their guild's not going to be happy about that." One of these figures spoke.

"Can you blame them, that guy showed off some Holy Fire." Another spoke. "That stuff is no joke against the undead."

"If I be so kind to chime in. Is it possible for anyone of us to take him down?

"Probably not Honey. Just let Lord Duck boy take care of him. We'll just target his associates and be done with it. Avoid him like he has Black Rot."

"There are eleven of us. Why can't we all be friends?"

"We're not being friendly right now? I think that's horrid!"

"And there's twelve of them. We just take one each and then get away from the group."

"If I may inject. How about we make an accord for each of our esteemed targets? We pick one and the others of this little coalition stays away from that doomed soul?

"Also make sure that the it put down: Stay away from Dukco's brotherm."

"Deal. Everyone agree to this little contract?"

Around the group, members nodded in thought before they made their decision.

"Yes" was said in many variations.

"Wait, which one gets us get two ?"
With the town now secured again. Marcus and the others returned to the necromancer's mansion. They came to the doors of the ritual chamber where the others were still standing guard.

"You've returned! What's the situation with the town?" asked Anastasia.

"The town has been secured. The Mormo and Barrow Wright left the area. We might see them again. They said they'll think about joining and find us again if they decide to do so." said Fredrick.

"Who is this? A new recruit?" asked Anastasia. She pointed towards Marcus.

"No! it's me! Marcus. This is just an 'enraged' form of mine." replied Marcus.

"Impressive! Why haven't you used it before?!" asked Anastasia.

"Because I hate this form! There are too many negatives that come with it. I'm stuck like this for a few days until I can take a 'calm' form again." replied Marcus.

"Anything from Drakus or the Necromancer?" asked Fredrick.

"Nothing! And the silence is beginning to worry me. I would have gone it to check but the guards warn me that the smallest distraction could spell disaster for the ritual." said Falun.

Falun just finished speaking when the doors behind them suddenly started to swing inward. They turned and saw the necromancer and Drakus walking out side by side. Drakus seemed a little unsteady on his feet and his scales seemed a little paler that usual but apart from that he seemed fine.

"How are you feeling, Drakus?!" asked Marcus.

"I'm fine. The ritual just took more power than I expected. I'll be fine once I get some rest and something to eat." replied Drakus.

"I see you have listened to my advise." said the necromancer.

"Not my first choice. But it was necessary to save the town." said Marcus.

"Why resist what you are? This form is a part of you!" said the Necromancer.

"Isn't it the same with vampires? You get access to all that power. But digging too deeply could corrupt you." replied Marcus. The necromancer was silent for a moment as he considered it.

"You are right. The power of a vampire can corrupt. I've seen it happen many times. The fact that you can resist the lure of this form's power, proves that you can handle the responsibility. I'm not saying you should use it casually but if the need is great then you shouldn't ignore it." replied the necromancer.

"I won't. What about you though? How did the ritual go?" asked Marcus.

"Better than expected." said the necromancer. He held up a amulet shaped like a skull. "The two magics combined perfectly but we don't yet know if the enchantment will work like it's supposed to." He held out the amulet to Briana and she took it from him.

"Well! Say something!" said the necromancer.

"I'm not sure what to say." said Briana.

"Hey! I can understand that!" said Shylock.

"That means that it worked. I've given it a small area of effect so as long as a undead is standing a few feet from it, They should be able to speak." said the necromancer. Briana tried to hand it back to the necromancer but he stopped her. "No! You keep it! I have everything I need to make more."

"I'll contact my order and ask if some are willing to help you. Most of them don't hate the undead and might be willing to help." said Drakus.

"I would appreciate that." said the necromancer.

"What will you do now?" asked Fredrick.

"I'll make more amulets for the undead. But I want to try creating something larger that can affect an entire town." said the necromancer.

"How would you do that?" asked Fredrick.

"No clue. Luckily I have a long time to figure it out. I assume you will leave now." said the necromancer.

"We'll have to! If Dukco knows that we hired you then he might strike at the village before we arrive." said Shale.

"What of the Morno and the Barrow Wright." asked the necromancer.

"They left but they said they will consider joining us." said Marcus.

"Be careful if they do join! Mornos are part wild animal and that makes them unpredictable. Barrow wrights are from an age of constant warfare and power struggles. That's why those two types of undead have a hard time adjusting to a normal life." said the necromancer.

"We'll be careful. Best of luck to you." said Marcus.

"We need to watch out for more bounty hunters too. Those three aren't the only ones that would want a piece of us." said Rokaar.

"That's all right. This form is effective against more than just the undead." said Marcus.

"What about you, Christopher? have you decided to join us?" asked Fredrick. The young vampire turned to him.

"Sure! It's not like I have anything else going on at the moment." said Christopher.

"Welcome to the team then." said Marcus.

"I'll have a quick chat with the shopkeepers in case you need any extra supplies," the vampire necromancer said. "Anything else you need I'll pay for.The fact that you defended this town, and were instrumental in the creation of this amulet will more than make up for any monies I end up having to pay."

"Thank you," said Marcus. "Probably be a good idea to get at least one wagon, one with a tarp over it at any rate for our Drow friend."

"Half-Drow!" said Umbra. "And I'm not your friend!"

"You still need it for the shade," said Marcus. "Be useful to haul our supplies in it as well. Then there's the extra horses."

Soon enough, the group was on the move once more.

Marcus looked at Briana. "It's good to hear your voice again. Brings back some good memories."

Briana chuckled. "I still remember them. Seeing those wings and tail also brings back memories."

"None of the good ones," said Marcus. "I hate using this form."

"You'll be back to normal in a couple of days," said Drakus. "Your body has to burn off the extra mass and energy."

"I know," said Marcus.

That was when Rokaar came up to them. "We're being followed."

"Near or far?" Marcus asked.

"Two hours ride behind us," said Rokaar. "Got near enough to smell them. At least a dozen. I could also hear them. They plan to take us one by one."

"Everyone hear?" Marcus asked.

"Yes," was the response.

"We push on, until about two hours before sundown," said Marcus. "After that, set up camp, have something quick to eat, and find a hiding spot. I'll stay by the fire with our guests' supper getting ready. After all, they'll have traveled as far as we, and they will want something to eat before they try to capture us. It's only nice of us to make sure that they have a full belly and get a little tired, before we take them by surprise and capture them."

"What about afterwards?" Robin asked.

"I'd hate to have to kill folks trying to make some money," said Marcus. "We'll make the same offer we gave the others: join us, or leave us be. In the morning, if they decide to join us, good. If they decide against it, tie them up in such a way that it will take them at least an hour or so to get loose from."

"And if they still keep after us?" Falun asked.

"In that case, they'd already had their chance," said Marcus. "Kill as many as it takes for the rest to get the hint and run away."
"They're stopping. My birds saw them."


"I think they saw us."

"Then let's get down there and bash their heads open!"

"No you gosh darn idiot! They're setting a trap for us!"

"What if there surrederingerm? Are they throwing down there armserm?"

"Nope, just waiting around the campfire."

"Lets wait and see what our prey shall do. If they're setting up camp, then we shall do the same. If not, then be on guard."

"And after they're done setting up camp?"

"When they wake up and go into the city, we'll swiftly end them there. Understood?"

"I could just move down there and snuff the light out of their existence. No hassle at all."

"And let you take all the money? By whatever Gods stand in the sky, I would end you."
Marcus sat close to the fire tending the food that he was cooking. After they made camp, he ordered the rest of them to hide. He then sat in camp alone and waited for their stalkers. It was dark when Marcus's draconic senses picked up figures hiding in the shadows at the edge of camp.

"I've been expecting you. Come closer! Dinner is getting cold." yelled Marcus.

Marcus waited but he saw that the figures we not coming closer.

"Come now! I won't bite!" said Marcus.

After a moment the figures began to move into the light. Most were human but Marcus saw a draconian and a orc with the group as well. A human in chain mail armor stepped forward and sat down across from Marcus. Marcus assumed that it must be the leader of the group.

"Nice of you to cook us dinner. But lets get to the point of our coming here. You must have figured out why we're here." said the man.

"I did. Wanted to see if we could reach an understanding." said Marcus.

"What? Do you expect us to run like the last ones?" asked the draconian.

"We can't just give up without a fight. Our reputation is at stake." said the man.

"What good is your reputation if you're not alive afterwards?" said Marcus.

"In case you haven't noticed! There are more of us than you! Don't think I'm scared of that little trick of yours." said the draconian.

"Tell you what! Since you want to talk this out then my deal is this. We can't leave without someone so give up one of your people and we'll let the rest go." said the man.

"You can't expect me to accept that!" said Marcus.

"Then you leave me no choice but to take the lot of you." said the man.

"Very well then! Since you aren't willing to see reason. Then there's no reason to keep up this charade." said Marcus. He got to his feet and drew his sword as the hunters did the same.

"Now, first up, let me put things into perspective," Marcus said, as he carefully reached into his pouch. He pulled out twenty gold coins. "This is what me and mine are willing to put our lives on the line for." He tossed it before the Bounty Hunters. "It's a fortune for our clients. A group of farmers, whom Dukco and his ilk are threatening, among others."

The mailed human picked up the coins. "Twenty in gold? You got hired for just twenty gold?"

Marcus nodded. "The bounty on Dukco's head is six hundred thousand. He's got four hundred men, each having a bounty of at least a hundred gold, if not more. Altogether, they're worth at least five million gold. Me and mine, we're barely worth five hundred thousand, and all we're doing is, as I've said, protect a group of farmers."

The draconian looked at the gold coins, and then at Marcus. "You and at least a dozen others, to go up against four hundred, for just twenty gold?"

Marcus nodded. "It was all that they could afford. You tell me, what good does it do to bring me in, if it causes you to being responsible for the murders of several farmers who just want to be left in peace? You might not be the ones swinging the swords, and cutting their heads off, but you'd be doing it just the same. You'd be nothing but murderers. Throw in with me, you can have the reward on Dukco and his men as your fee."

"Tell me, what makes you think that you could beat Dukco?" the mailed man asked.

"Simple - I don't expect to win," said Marcus. "A dozen versus four hundred, I doubt that we'd survive. On the plus side, it would make for one hell of a story: facing odds of forty-to-one, a group of fantastic warriors laid down their lives in order to protect those whose job is to harvest the food that we eat. Hell, we might even be able to kill Dukco himself during the fight. Tell me then, how would you react to that? Finding out that those you tried to hunt down had managed to kill someone that you were too scared to go after?"

"I'm not scared of anyone!" the orc bellowed.

"Easy!" the draconian said. He looked at the mailed human, who looked at him, and nodded. He then looked at Marcus. "We can't just leave. We do have our reputation to think of. Of course, there is another way to settle this." He stabbed his sword into the ground. "Claw to claw. Me against you. I win, we take you all in. You win, we'll discuss joining you, or at least leaving you be."

"Winner has to escort the farmers to their home village," said Marcus. "They've done nothing wrong."

"There isn't a Bounty on them, so, agreed."

Marcus nodded. "Alright." He stuck his sword in the ground. "We go until someone gives up, or is unable to fight. This isn't to be to the death, right?"

"Correct," the draconian said. "You're worth more alive anyways."

"I'm glad you said that," said Marcus. "I'd hate to have to kill you."

The draconian grinned. "Just tell your friends to not try anything while we fight, and there won't be any issues."

"Likewise," said Marcus.
"Did he fall for your trap?" The Lilliputian butterfly woman spoke as she stated as she stared at he companion. A jackal man of some sort, but something about his movements at the moment made her antenna stand on edge. He moved his hands in such a way that made him appear as a maestro.

"I darn well hope so. seeing as he's fighting a my best creation at the moment." The Jackal man twiddled his thumbs for a moment before he spoke in a more refined voice. "What shall be our weapons of choice?"

Yizima watched him with a raised antenna, staring at Cletus' shadow conversation.

"I forgot to introduce myself? Oh my apologies, I'm Ustecle. Foreign I know."

"Will he even believe that? He does have a draconian with him as well."

"I'll just say I'm adopted if he asks darling. Now let me concentrate." Cletus . "Yep, strange name,but I am adopted,sir."

He bent down and spoke to the Yizima.

"See I told ya."

"Pray your distraction will allow our compatriots to rush forth and get us some room and service."

"I'm sure of it honey. My dolls pledged to do service with him, I on the other hand am under no such duress. Besides, this is my best creation yet, two things will either happen. One: I win and we'll get the head honcho Ducko's looking for. Two: he wins and my dolls will have a first hand look into his group's dynamics. Not to mention a sabotaging his plans at inopportune moments."

"Won't the magic casters know you're fleecing them?"

"Nonsense, I have a little something-something to distract from any unwanted attention." Cletus replied.

A that moment, a tiny sparrow flew out from the darkness and landed right next to the duo. A note was attached to it. Yizima plucked it off the sparrow's body and began to read.

"We HavE AqUIRed YOuR RouMS. Be hErE ByE EiGHT"

" Our rooms have been arranged. Lets get this over with,"

"You got it little lady." Cletus cleared his throat. "What weapon shall you choose for this battle, sir?"

"Since we're going to make a show then I might call an audience! You can come out!" yelled Marcus. Marcus waited as the rest of his group left their hiding places and went to stand closer to the camp. They came from all directions around the camp and Marcus could see that it made the hunters nervous. The hunters made a circle in the ground and both Marcus and the draconian stepped into it.

"We'll settle this the draconian way. You win by either forcing your opponent to submit or by knocking him out of the ring. We'll fight with no weapons and no magic, Like how our ancestors, the dragons used to fight. Do you understand the rules?" said the draconian.

"I do." said Marcus.

"Then let us begin." replied the draconian. As they circled each other, Marcus studied his opponent. The draconian was roughly the same size as Marcus, but covered in silver scales. Marcus knew of several clans of silver draconians thanks to his mother. Marcus was aware that silver draconians had a strict honor system. For them honor was more important than anything else. Their pride was also their greatest weakness and they were easily enraged by insults. So Marcus believed that if he managed to beat the draconian, then its sense of honor might force it to join with them. As for beating the draconian, that might be harder. Marcus knew that he could match the draconian's strength, but the draconian had far more experience than Marcus with this body's capabilities.

The draconian suddenly charged at Marcus, forcing him to jump to the side to avoid it. As the draconian rushed past, Marcus jumped after him grabbed him. Marcus gripped his arms to keep him from breaking free but his opponent struck him in the face with one of his horns. As Marcus staggered backwards his opponent turned around and punched him in the stomach, then knocked his feet out from under him with his tail. Marcus fell to the ground stunned, Once Marcus recovered he noticed that his opponent was about to stomp on him. Marcus then rolled away and quickly rose to his feet. They exchanged a few blows but Marcus didn't didn't notice it affecting his opponent in any way. Marcus moved closer to the edge of the ring.

"Come on you weakling! Are you really going to let a half-breed best you! What will your clan say if you lost!" yelled Marcus. The draconian roared with rage and charged at him again. He tried to claw Marcus but he dodged the blow. His opponent managed to claw him in the chest before Marcus struck him in the face. Marcus gave him two more punches in the face, then as his opponent staggered backwards. Marcus ran forward and kicked him in the chest, knocking him out of the ring. As his opponent fell on his back outside the ring, the rest of Marcus's group burst into cheers. Marcus walked towards his stunned opponent and held out his hand towards him.

"I've bested you! Now! Will you join us or leave us be?!" asked Marcus.

"Me and my group need to talk about it," the draconian said. "In any case, it seems that Dukco will need to reevaluate his offer on your head."

Marcus grinned. "Useful to hear."

Cletus watched from his hiding place. "Interesting."

"He bested your draconian," said Yizima. "I've never seen that happen."

Suddenly, Cletus felt something jab him in the back, and a hand clamped over his mouth.

"Don't move," said a cold voice. It belonged to a Drow.

"Cletus!" Yizima pulled out a magic wand, and was about to use it on the Drow when something grabbed her, pinning her arms, legs, and wings together.

"Got me a Fairy," said a cat-like creature. "Good work Umbra."

"Not to bad yourself, Rokaar," said Umbra. "Do you think that we should kill them?"

Rokaar grinned at Yizima, revealing his carnivorous teeth. "It's been a while since I've had a live treat squirming in my stomach."

"You wouldn't!" exclaimed Yizima. "That's just cruel!"

"So would you be if you left those farmers without protection," Rokaar said, as he quickly stripped Yizima of her clothing and weapons, and then bound her up with some twine, so that she was unable to move. He then put her into an empty pouch, and closed it tight. "Behave, and I'll let you go and return your stuff to you. Otherwise, I just might carry out my threat."

"What about this one?" Umbra asked.

"Release the spell you have on the others," said Rokaar. "Do it, or I'll let her kill you, and release them that way."

Cletus wiggled his fingers.

Rokaar looked at the camp, and saw that the other Bounty Hunters began to react in a state of confusion, which Marcus and the others took advantage of. In less than a minute, the Bounty Hunters were trussed up like birds for a feast.

Rokaar looked at Cletus. He got out a length of rope. "Don't try anything foolish. The Drow would catch you before you could even get a hundred paces away. After that, you'll find out just how cruel she can be. There was a fella she skinned alive once. He was alive for seven days, each of which was pure agony."

"That one insulted my mother," said Umbra. "I think that I'd roast this one, and watch his fur burn."

Cletus gulped, and made no moves as Rokaar tied him up, and tossed him over his shoulder.

"Back to camp," said Rokaar, as he grabbed Umbra's hand.

The little group was enveloped in shadow, and were transported just outside of the camp.

"I'll check to see if there's any others," said Umbra.

"Be with you in a few moments," said Rokaar.

Umbra nodded, and vanished.

Rokaar walked over to the fire, and tossed Cletus to the ground. "Here is the mastermind. He had the rest under his control."

The other bound Bounty Hunters looked at Cletus.

"You be-spelled us!" the draconian roared. "I ought to let the orc smash your skull in!"

"Easy there, friend," said Marcus. "He can redeem himself later, as can the rest of you." Marcus looked at Rokaar. "Any others?"

"Umbra's looking, but, here's the other one." Rokaar tossed the pouch to Marcus.

Marcus carefully opened it, and saw Yizima. "Smart. Their clothes give them a few extra benefits in a fight, least of which is being able to hide to most people's eyes."

Rokaar tapped his nose. "I was able to smell that one, and the jackal. When they weren't with the rest, I knew that something was up, so me and Umbra used her shadow-walk ability to sneak up behind them."

"Useful to know," said Marcus. He looked over at the pot of stew. He looked at Yizima. "Hungry?"

Yizima nodded.

"Good," said Marcus. He cut her bindings with his claws. "Behave, and you'll get your things back." He looked up. "Untie the others, and get some bowls for our guests. We have business to discuss."

"You're letting us go?" the mailed human asked. "We just tried to fight you."

"You weren't acting under your own free will, and I can forgive that," said Marcus. "Tell me, are any of you interested in hunting down Lord Dukco?"

The Bounty Hunters nodded as they were untied.

"He's got four hundred," said the draconian.

Marcus nodded. "Tough fight no matter how you look at it. We're in this for just twenty gold."

The mailed human chuckled. "Sounds like a fortune to me right now."

"I'm glad you agree," said Marcus. "Contact the Bounty Hunting guilds and tell them it's open season on Dukco, and that I'm the client hiring them on behalf of a group of farmers. They can keep the bounties on any of Dukco's men that they catch or kill, so long as they help to protect the farmers."

"We'll let them know," said the draconian. "What about Independents?"

"They're welcome to join," said Marcus. "Should be enough to go around."

"Alright," said the mailed human. "Never accepted a Bounty from a Bounty, but there's always a first for everything."
"He does know those aren't actually people right?" Yizima whispered"They are literally not flesh and bone people. They are literally golems"

"I don't know if he caught that,but I ain't asking." Cletus said.
The next day was mostly uneventful so they spent the day getting to know the hunters. They made good progress towards the village. As night began to fall they started to think about making camp.

"It's getting dark we'll look for a camp site..." started Marcus.

"Actually, The hunters can look for a camp spot while we gather food for tonight." interrupted Fredrick. The hunters nodded then left them. Once they were away, Marcus turned to Fredrick.

"Are you trying to show off?" asked Marcus.

"No, I needed to talk with you in private." said Fredrick.

"You could have just asked." said Marcus.

"It would have looked suspicious and I didn't want the hunters to pick up on that. I have some concerns about them." said Fredrick.

"What concerns?" asked Marcus.

"There's something very odd about those hunters. They seem to be only focused on a job. They have almost no personality. Reminds me of the revenents while we were under the dark lord's control." said Fredrick.

"So! A lot of people care about their jobs. There's nothing odd about that." said Shylock.

"It's more than that! Most people have other goals or something they want to reach eventually. But they have none. They also don't seem to have a past. I asked about it but they didn't answer or they answered strangely." said Fredrick.

"What do you mean?" asked Marcus.

"I asked the draconian about his clan and why he left. He mentioned a trial where a young draconian is thrown out when he comes of age so that he can prove that he can survive and that he won't be a burden. But I know that the draconian clans haven't practiced that trial in centuries." said Fredrick.

"Maybe he didn't want to talk about it and lied to you." said Robin.

"I picked up something too. I sensed a constant connection in the back of their minds. At first I thought it was a after effect of the mind control they went through. But with these other things you mentioned it reminds me of something else. Do you still remember the flesh crafters, Marcus?" asked Briana.

"You mean the puppet masters." replied Marcus.

"The what?" asked Shylock.

"A group of spell casters that fought for the dark lord. During the early stages of the war, the armies of light's best warriors began to mysteriously vanish before reappearing again fighting for the enemy. What's strange was that these warriors would meet their friends and family on the battlefield and not recognize them at all. They also seemed somewhat mindless, as if they were being controlled. At first we thought they might be mind controlled or reanimated but we discovered something far more disturbing." said Marcus.

"What happened to them?" asked Anastasia.

"They were assassinated. Then their bodies were taken to the flesh crafters. These spell casters would then create a double of that person. It would look and sound exactly like the real person. But it was the flesh crafters that were controlling them like puppets. These crafters would also create abominations with their magic. Humans with blades for arms, Multiple creatures combined into one body or such things." said Marcus.

"How did they do that? Did they reanimate the body?" asked Shylock.

"No, They needed the body to create the puppet but they didn't reanimate it. After they made the puppet they would either throw the body away or use parts from it to create abominations." replied Marcus.

"What happened to these spell casters?" asked Umbra.

"I led a team to the lair where these casters created their creatures. But while we were fighting the creatures, the casters fled." replied Marcus.

"Why was a bounty never placed on these casters?" asked Rokaar.

"It's difficult to put a bounty on a person no one has seen before. No one ever met these flesh crafters face to face." said Marcus.

"If those two are flesh crafters then we can't trust the hunters." said Rokaar.

"Why do that though? Why would they violate a person like that?" asked Shale.

"The rumors were that they liked to collect great heroes. They collected them like some people would collect gems. The dark lord was impressed with their research. It was what inspired him to create the revenents. But he was also nervous about their ability to create an army. So he put a safeguard in the revenents. If we made eye contact with a flesh crafter. Then we can block their ability to send instructions to their puppets." said Fredrick.

"That could be useful. What happens to a puppet if it's connection to it's crafter is broken?" asked Marcus.

"The crafter put a certain amount of information into their creations so that they can operate independently if needed but the information was second hand so mistakes were sometimes made which was a clear sign that it was a puppet and not a real member of that race. These puppet masters probably read about the trail somewhere and didn't realize that it was outdated. If it's connection is broken then the puppet could make it's own decisions." replied Fredrick.

"So we might still be able to recruit the hunters if we break their master's hold on them?" asked Marcus.

"Possibly but I don't know how effective my blocking ability would be in the long run. Their masters might find a way to bypass it. I never had a opportunity to test this ability so I have no idea what will happen." replied Fredrick.

"Umbra, just how far can you Shadow Walk?" Marcus asked.

"I have to know the location, or be with someone who does, but I could go to the other side of the world within an hour with that ability, and come back, although I wouldn't be able to do it again for at least a week," said Umbra.

"Why haven't you taken us to our village?" Tom asked. "We know where it is."

"Couldn't move more than six others and expect everyone to be intact," said Umbra. "You need to hold onto me, or be tied to me, or be holding onto someone holding onto me, and not let go. I was holding onto the Cletus jackal fella, and that Yizima fairy was in a pouch on Rokaar's belt, and he was holding onto me, so I could move all three of them. More than six, things can get ugly. There's more than a few stories about those who got body parts swapped around, and those are the lucky ones."

"Think that you could get to an actual Bounty Hunters' Guild and be back, and still be able to keep Shadow Walking for a while yet?" Marcus asked.

Umbra nodded. "Can't visit them personally, but I could take Rokaar. He's on good terms with them."

"Good," said Marcus. "Elvira, how much further to your village?"

"Another day's travel by horse and cart," the elf priestess said. "Just south of Oak Ridge Forest, by the Singer's River, on this road."

"Alright," said Marcus. "Rokaar, Umbra, you go to the guild. Tell them you got a tip that I'll be in the area, and that every Bounty Hunter ought to head to that area, because some really big players will also be in that area that also have a price on their heads."

"I see," said Rokaar. "We go to the guild, leave a message, and come back here, and then track the rest of you down."

"What's our story to stick to once we come back?" Umbra asked.

Marcus grinned. "The rest of us keep looking for food until you get back. You were with us the whole time, searching for food."

"See you in a bit," Umbra said, as she grabbed onto Rokaar. The two vanished into shadow.

"Okay," said Marcus. "Now, let's resume our search for food."

About ten minutes later, Umbra and Rokaar stepped out of a shadow, near Fredrick.

"Getting used to that feeling," said Rokaar.

"Spent my whole life doing it," said Umbra. "It's freedom."

"Did you pass on the message?" Fredrick asked.

Rokaar nodded. "Passed on a tip I'd heard. Should be a hundred Bounty Hunters at the village in two days, after a lot of hard riding of course."

"Good," Marcus said, as he came up to them. "Now, let's return, with the fruits of our hunt, and expose the truth to our fellow hunters, and deal with Cletus and Yizima openly. Let's see if they are really willing to work for us, once their puppets know the truth about their existence."
Cletus' had eavesdropped in on the group and snickered like a madman. He hid his grin by his large,black hat as Shylock came over to investigate.

"Creepy fellow isn't he?" Rikarn muttered. Shylock nodded and watched as the Jackal did his best to disguise his grin. While that happened, a part of the Jackal fell down onto the ground and came up behind Yizima. It was a tooth--sorta--it looked more like a ivory covered beetle at the moment. It pierced Yizima's bag,who seemed a little nonplussed at the sight.

"Tha fellows are on the right track, but going to the wrong destination." His tooth spat out. "I took some flesh-crafter tips and a little of the flesh-crafters themselves,but I ain't as stupid as those fools were! They're also going to try that friendship balookey again, and I ain't one bit afraid of the half-draco. I'll fight to the death! "

"It would be preferable if you didn't perish." Yizima replied. The tooth whirled. It began to untie the bindings to her arms.

"I would too, but we got the drop on us. But don't worry, I'll get outta here just fine honey." The tooth whirled. "I do have to admit though, why is it that one of the greatest warriors from a kingdom that defied the Dark Lord's will, working for one of his subordinates?"

"I'll share it over a drink." Yizima spoke before she felt her bindings come off. Getting out of the sack, Yizima did her best to find a nice place to whisper out a spell to transport herself a small distance away from the group. Now in the dark, Yizima summoned her staff and began to clothe herself in various stealth spells. Finishing that action, she flew off towards the other hunters.

Cletus whistled a jaunty tune and watched as Fredrick and the others come back with their loot. He smiled gently as the group surrounded him and began to stomp their feet. One of their members began to explain the situation; which resulted in various forms of shock,anger, or horror.

"Are you willing to work with us now that your plan is out of action?" Marcus spoke.

"Nah. Not really." Cletus replied.

"Then Fredrick, do your thing." The Revenant nodded and looked into Cletus' eyes and the other hanger-ons began to shuffle in fright. It seemed to be working, right before a deep laugh echoed through the night.

"Oh you dear sweet, poor, Revenant. Whatever gave you the idea that I was a Flesh-Crafter and these were controlled puppets?" Cletus' voice echoed throughout the camp. And like Jack-In-The-Boxes the constructs sprung out.

"And what made you think I used the entire corpse or even bent other wills to my own purpose?"

Anastasia bisected the draconian hunter and gasped at the sight. Inside was a variety of gears, coils, and springs. In the middle of this was a cage with a beating heart inside of it. It also seemed the skin around the being was flayed from the species. The weird-clock abomination grabbed onto her leg, while its bottom half began to kick her.

The camp was in chaos.

Fredrick stared at Cletus in shock while Marcus tried to get the group together. Cletus began to bend his arms and was soon out of the bindings, though his limbs appeared to be broken. Still grinning, Cletus began to lengthen and break himself. It was like he was a puppet revealing hidden joints within itself. By the time he was done, he was over 20 ft tall.

He was like a stick-figure covered in barbs, thorns, knives, and spikes. He was an scarecrow of points whose Jackal head leered down at the group. His chest was a large block made of Orichalcum, one of the strongest metals on the planet, capable of tanking even lava.

Fredrick raised his sword as Cletus brought down the full force of the wood limb. The limb shattered of course, but some of the barbs managed to get into Fredrick's "face." The Revenant screamed out in pain and tried to take the barbs out, but Cletus kicked him away.

His shattered limb, meanwhile, formed itself up from the splinters and the puppet-monster brought it back to his torso. It easily attached to its body.

"Don't like that huh? I got those spike blessed from an ungodly amount of different gods, spirits, and what-have-you.If one spike didn't work, I'm betting the four or fives others did."
Fredrick was surprised about the pain he experienced from those barbs. Since becoming a revenent he barely felt anything. But the barbs somehow bypassed his armor and caused pain directly to his spirit self. He also felt a strange draining effect from it, which bypassed his ability to regenerate. He quickly pulled the barbs out of his armor before it could do more damage. Once the barbs were removed the draining disappeared but he still felt weak. He would have to avoid the jackal creature until he regenerated. Because if he took to much damage then his spirit would leave the armor. Marcus had successfully rallied some of the team and were busy trying to surround the jackal creature. The rest were fighting the abominations, trying to keep them from coming to their master's aid. Fredrick saw that Anastasia was still struggling with the draconian construct so Fredrick ran over to her. He bent down and drove his fist through the construct's back. Then once he had a grip on it's heart, he pulled it out. Once the heart was removed, the creature went still.

"Thank you! What are these thing?!" asked Anastasia.

"I have no idea! I've seen some terrible creatures in my time. But never anything like this!" replied Fredrick. "The heart is the source of it's power. Destroy it and you destroy the creature!" Fredrick saw Christopher fighting one and rushed to his aid. Christopher dodged a strike from the creature, then stabbed it right through the heart with one of his swords. As the creature shut down, the orc creature ran up behind him and wrapped him in a bear hug. Christopher turned to mist, then reappeared behind the orc and stabbed him through the back. He must have missed the heart though because the creature turned around and tried to attack him again. Fredrick reached the creature and cut it's heart in two with his axe. Fredrick turned and saw Yizima hiding in the shadows. Robin had kicked away a construct and Yizima was just about to cast a spell on Robin when Fredrick reached Yizima and grabbed her.

"You chose the wrong side, lady!" said Fredrick. He then knocked her out and left her on the ground. Since he had regenerated enough he decided to look how the main battle against Cletus was going. Several warriors had surrounded the creature and were trying to wear it down. Fredrick saw it raise one of its limbs to strike at Marcus.

"Marcus!! Watch out!" yelled Fredrick.

"Before Cletus could impale him though. Umbra suddenly appeared behind Marcus, grabbed him, then they both disappeared and reappeared a short distance away.

"Thanks, Umbra! I owe you one." said Marcus.

"I'll remember that." replied Umbra.

Briana cast a fireball at Cletus and when it struck him he began to shriek and flail around, trying to put out the fire.

"It didn't like that! Guess we found it's weakness!" said Fredrick.
"Let's see if dragonfire does the job," said Marcus.

"Your kind doesn't do dragonfire," Drakus shouted, as he smashed a construct's chest with his large hammer.

"Yours does though!" Marcus shouted back.

"You know I can't see!" Drakus shouted.

"Fredrick! Help Drakus aim his head!" Marcus shouted, as he grabbed a hold of Cletus. "I'll hold this bastard! Everyone else, scatter and deal with the rest!"

Cletus swung at Marcus, hitting him. "Do you honestly expect to pin me down! I'm able to kill you!"

Marcus chuckled. "Long enough to distract you!"

Cletus turned just in time to catch a full blast of dragonfire, courtesy of Drakus, with some help from Fredrick, who helped to aim the blind draconian in the right direction.

Cletus screamed in pain as he tried to get away from Marcus, who still held him. "Let go! You'll be burned too!"

Marcus grinned. "Dragonfire can't burn dragon scales! Drakus! We feel a little chilly!"

Once again, Drakus unleashed another blast of dragonfire.

Cletus screamed until he stopped, and was finally still, nothing but charred wood, metal, and some bones. For good measure, Marcus grabbed his heart, and crushed it.

In that moment, the other constructs stopped, and fell to pieces.

"Looks like that's it," said Fredrick. "Marcus, are you okay."

Smoke came off of Marcus, heat radiating from him. "Give me a bit to cool down."

"Where's that fairy?" Rokaar asked.

Fredrick pointed. Yizima was still unconscious.

Rokaar walked over to her, and just as he did when he first caught her, stripped and tied her up "What do you want to do with her?" he asked. "I told her I'd eat her if she tried something foolish."

"I'd vote for shoving an iron skewer through her, and roasting her over a fire, like a fish," said Umbra. "Got plenty of fire to do that one."

"We'll figure out what to do in the morning, after we're fully recovered," said Marcus. "That being said, we'll give her two options - join us or die. Umbra's not too far off the mark on how to kill a fairy - by driving an iron nail into them and into a piece of wood, which is then placed into a fire. Iron keeps them from moving, while the fire burns them to death."

"Cruel way to kill someone," said Rokaar.

"Seen worse," said Fredrick. "At least she'll have a choice in the matter."
Yizima thanked Cletus for making a facsimile of her own body, allowing her to escape from the group. Already she was farther than anyone of them could've traveled and/or seen.

"I do hope he's okay"

The Orichalcum chest of Cletus popped itself out of the rubble and began to crawl away from the group. Its bulk was indestructible, and it didn't seem the group noticed that bit.

The chest began to move itself away from the entire group and find a nice area to hide himself.

"I'll just stay here and not bother them for awhile." Cletus mumbled to himself.

Yizima soon landed on a roof in near the city and looked for her group. Finding a nice spot to stare for any signals, she happily fluttered when she found a banner flowing from a balcony.

Flying over to the balcony, she knocked on the door. A owl-figure came into view and looked down at Yizima.

"Yizima? When did you get here, where's Cletus?"

"Change of plans. Cletus was captured and the group is nearing the village. Get everyone ready and we'll ambush them one by one. Also, they've hired some other hunters and you know the rules."

"Do not injury them and they won't injury you."

"You got it. I'll you all together near the woods in twenty minutes and we'll march out."
They spent the night resting in the camp. Fredrick and the other undead kept watch since they didn't need to sleep. The next morning they went to Yizima only to find out she's gone. They searched the area but found no trace of her. After a while they gave up the search and continued towards the village. But Fredrick couldn't shake the feeling that they haven't seen the last of her.

"At least that construct friend of her is no more." thought Fredrick.

"So, what was that thing anyway?!" asked Shylock.

"I have no idea! That was the sort of things the flesh crafters made. At first I thought it might be one of their abominations. But if that were the case then it wouldn't be able to think for itself." replied Fredrick.

"Could it be one of their constructs that escaped?" asked Robin.

"I doubt it. It was far to intelligent for that. And the way it controlled the other constructs. A flesh crafter would never gift one of their creations with that kind of power." replied Fredrick.

"Perhaps it's a flesh crafter that made itself like that the same way a necromancer might make itself undead to escape death." said Shylock.

"Maybe. But we'll never know for certain. Only the flesh crafters would know and I hope we never see one of those things again." said Fredrick.

"That makes two of us!" said Marcus. "What can you tell me about the path to your village? Any surprises?"

"Not that I can think of. We'll have to cross the Singer's River before reaching the village. There is a bridge over it so you shouldn't worry. There's also a nearby city but it's overrun by villains and criminals. We suspect that Dukco might be hiding in it." replied Shale.

"Do you mean that bridge?" asked Robin. They looked ahead and saw some scattered debris next to a fast flowing river.

"It was intact when we last crossed it!" said Tom. Briana picked up a piece of it and began to study it closer.

"The wood is charred. So it wasn't nature that destroyed it. It was blown up." said Briana.

"Could be Dukco, trying to delay us from reaching the village." said Fredrick.

"Can we swim across?" asked Marcus.

"No! The water is too strong! There's a waterfall close by and it would be too dangerous to swim across." said Elvira.

"Can you shadow jump us across?" asked Marcus.

"If I do it one at a time, then yes. But we would have to leave the horses and cart behind." replied Umbra.

"Is there another way to the village?" asked Marcus.

"There is a path through the Oak Ridge forest but few travel it. The path is dangerous." said Shale.

"This whole venture is dangerous! I say we risk it!" said Fredrick.

"I say we shadow jump and leave the horses and cart. Whoever blew up this bridge did it to keep us from crossing it. They will expect us to take the forest path and might lay an ambush. They might not know of our shadow jumping ability." said Rokaar.

"They both make good points. What do you think we should do, Marcus?" said Drakus.

"The forest path is obviously a trap," said Marcus. "Load up on your weapons, two days worth of provisions each, and a change of clothes." He looked at Umbra. "You sure about leaving the horses?"

Umbra looked at the beasts. "Well, come to think of it, I could ride them through the shadows. But someone would have to be on either end to hold them until I get the rest of the horses across. Can't bring the cart though, it's just too big to move safely."

"Okay," said Marcus. "Load up the horses with what they can carry. Falun, you go first, and keep an eye out for threats on the other side. Jason, you go last. Cover us until we get across, especially if we have to retreat in a hurry."

The skeletal archer nodded, and readied his bow and an arrow. "Safe trips."

Marcus grabbed a umbrella from the cart and passed it to Umbra. "I think that you'll like this."

The half-Drow looked at it. "Ah. The Assassin's Model. These things don't come cheap. Spring-loaded knife in the tip. A place to store vials of poisons, and it protects from sun and rain, plus a few other features. Very nice."

"Figured that you could use it," said Marcus.

"Might think twice about taking a contract out on you," said Umbra. "That being said, someone offers me enough money, and they don't work for Dukco, I might still come after you."

Marcus chuckled. "Understood."

Falun and Umbra got on the first horse, vanished into shadow, and a moment later, they were on the other side. They waved, dismounted, and Umbra disappeared into shadow, and was back with the rest of the group.

"Doable," she said. "Might be a little tired after all the back and forth trips though. Probably be unable to Shadow Walk until tomorrow though."

Marcus nodded. He looked at Elvira. "How far?"

"Should be there tonight," the elf priestess said. "Especially if we're all on horses."

"Good," said Marcus. "Robin? Do you mind being loaded up as well?"

"I have no issues with that," the centaur said.

"Okay," said Marcus. "Let's get to work."

It took Umbra less than twenty minutes to transport the group, including fully loaded horses.

Marcus chuckled as Jason and Umbra stepped out of the shadows. "That should foil some people's ideas of fun."

"We still could have used the forest path," said Fredrick.

"If nothing else, we've bought us some time for us to keep moving," said Drakus. "While I'd love to make any would-be ambushers see the light, our time would be better spent getting to the farmers' village. That being said, it wouldn't hurt to watch our rear."

"Agreed," said Marcus. "Robin, you travel in the rear. Rikarn, you sit on her, backwards. You see anyone coming behind us, let the rest know, quietly of course."

The halfling nodded. "Got you."

"I'm looking forward to sleeping in my bed tonight," said Tom.

"You're not the only one," said Shale.

"It will be nice to see my temple as well," said Elvira.

"Just keep an eye out as we travel down the road," said Marcus. "If whomever burned that bridge is reasonably intelligent, it would be best for them to assume that we either managed to cross the river, despite the lack of a bridge, or had bested the first planned ambush, and thus would stick a secondary group between here and the village, who could aid the first group, or quietly send someone to the first group, and either check on them, or see about getting us trapped in a pincer movement."


The group mounted, and was on the move once more, the cart left on the other side of the bridge.
"They seemed to have passed your trap." A large brimmed hat Cat-Lady spoke. Her eyes darted across the entire group,noticing the half-drow, the centaur, the halfling,and the changeling. Her eyes could easily see through all their illusions, spells,and hidden trinkets. Combined with her own senses and the thought of sneaking up on her became farther and farther.

"Darnit. how?" A Bull-man proclaimed, his skin was red and licks of fire danced across his fur.

"The drow of course. Or Half-Drow. In fact I think that's Umbra, one of my old-sparring partners." The cat-lady proclaimed, her smile widening. "This job has gotten a lot more fun in my opinion. I haven't heard a peep from her in over four months and I've gotten worried that she'd was rampaging on another continent. She owes me about two lives now, I'm on my third for Bast's sake!"

"Don't let your personal things or stuff or whatever clog up your noggin', Obsidian." The Bull-man said "And be on the watch for their sneaky members, I've heard they had the drop on Zim and Uest"

"You mean Cletus and Yizima, Baroque?" Obsidian replied.

"Yeah, those two."

"Don't worry your big head, I got just the thing to deal with all four of them." Obsidian purred.


Robin and Rikarn watched the shadows as the moon became fat in the sky. The halfling yawned a little in exhaustion,but kept herself steady.

"Getting kinda dark isn't it?" Rikarm said."And you can come out now!"

From beside her melted in Shylock, carrying a cup of something. "Umbra and me got some beverages for you to drink."

Umbra teleported besides them, smiling at the trio of characters. The centaur and halfling accepted the juice and the halfling promptly spat the juice out. She looked dispassionately at the drink before she stared back up at the Half-Drow.

"We call that 'Wake-Up' Juice back in the caverns." Umbra stated proudly. "And it'll get you back on your feet in no time."

Rikarn's face was a look of disgust,but Robin seemed quite happy at the taste.

"I like it, can you get more of that stuff?"

"Sure can we can als-" Umbra stopped and looked around, her eyes scanning the darkness. She waited for a few moments and raised a hand up.

"We need t-" Umbra couldn't get her words out before a flash of darkness took all four characters away. Fredrick turned around to look at the scene, but saw the four still walking behind him. Shrugging, he went back to looking forward. Not noticing that the four were some facsimiles of the group.

Elsewhere, Shylock, Umbra, Rikarn, and Robin were teleported into an empty field still somewhere in the forest. Standing in the middle of this plain was Obsidian and Baroque. The Bull Man was now alight with fiery wisps of smoke and flame coalescing around his form. He held an hammer of iron, its metal head steamed with white hot heat.

"Hello Umbra." Obsidian singed out.

"Obsidian. Aren't you on your fourth life?"

"Third, But unlike you, I'll get back up If I die. And I'm pretty sure you won't"
"Friend of yours?" asked Robin.

"Drow and Half-Drow don't have friends. Only rivals." replied Umbra. "I'm in quite a hurry, Obsidian. But I suppose I can find a few minutes to kill."

"That so! We'll let's get going then!" replied Obsidian.

"You three handle the bull. I'll deal with my old enemy." said Umbra.

"No problem!" said Robin sarcastically. Umbra drew her daggers and charged at Obsidian. The minotaur lifted his hammer to his shoulders and began to walk towards them. They had to look up if they wanted to look him in the face since he towered above them.

"So any ideas?" asked Robin.

"I might have one. Shylock! You consider yourself a attractive person, right?" said Rikarn.

"Of course! Why?" asked Shylock.

"I need you to start attracting that bull. Make it angry!" replied Rikarn.

"I hope you know what your doing!" said Shylock. He moved to the edge of the clearing until his back was against a tree. Then removed a red cloak he kept in case it got cold. "Toro! Toro!"

The bull creature turned towards him and blew steam out of it's nose when it saw him. "You dare to mock me, little pest! I'll crush you for that!" yelled the creature. The minotaur then began to charge at him.

"You better have a plan, Rikarn." thought Shylock. When the minotaur got closer, it lowered its head to impale Shylock on its horns. Shylock dove to the side and the minotaur ran into the tree. It tried to pull it's horn out of the tree but it was stuck. Robin then ran forward and kicked it in the face. The force of the kick forced him backwards. His horn broke and the tip remained in the tree. It fell on it's back but quickly got up again.

"Was hoping that would finish it." thought Shylock.

"SHYLOCK!! DUCK!!" yelled Robin. Shylock ducked just in time to avoid the hammer. It passed over his head and knocked the trees over behind him. A shadow passed over Shylock and he looked up and saw that the Minotaur was raising his hammer again. Shylock jumped to the side and the hammer hit the ground where Shylock was a second ago. The minotaur tried to lift it again but it was stuck to the earth. After another pull the minotaur gave up and released his hammer.

"Fine! Guess I'll just have to crush you with my bare hands!" said the minotaur. It was just about to deliver a heavy strike to Shylock, when Robin suddenly ran up and kicked it between the legs. The minotaur went down on its knees and groaned in pain. Shylock and Rikarn then jumped on Robin's back and then over her shoulders and landed on the minotaur's shoulders. Their combined weight forced it backwards and it landed on it's back. They both then rolled away and Robin rose up on her hind legs and slammed her front legs into its face. Knocking it out.

"Nice teamwork!" said Robin. They then turned to see how Umbra was doing. The two combatants almost moved to fast for them to track. Umbra gave a roundhouse kick to her opponent's hand which knocked her weapon out of her hand. She then slashed it in the chest, causing it to go down to it's knees then Umbra twisted around and drove her dagger under it's chin and through it's head.

"That makes it four! Until next time!" said Umbra. She then pulled her dagger out and kicked it back. Her opponent turned to black smoke and disappeared as she rejoined her companions. The minotaur began to slowly climb to it's feet then it looked at them.

"Your ally has fallen! I'll give you one chance to save your hide!" yelled Umbra.

"This isn't over!" yelled the minotaur. It then turned around and ran away.

"You killed her?" asked Robin.

"Only temporarily. She'll be back. She always is." replied Umbra.

"So, how do we get back?" asked Robin.

"I've recharged enough to shadow jump us to your original location. Then we just track them down." said Umbra.

They held on to Umbra and a minute later they were back on the road.

Meanwhile without Obsidian to keep the illusions going, they disappeared. The others were resting for a few moments when Marcus noticed they were missing.

"Hey! Where's Robin, Umbra, Rikarn and Shylock?" asked Marcus. Fredrick turned around, surprised.

"They were there a minute ago!" said Fredrick.

"Well they are not there now!" replied Marcus.

"There they are!" said Rokaar. They saw them coming around a bend and running towards them as fast as they could.

"Where have you been?!" asked Marcus.

"It's a long story." replied Shylock.

"Ran into a magical cat-lady I know and her bullheaded friend," said Umbra. "This is the third time I've killed her!"

"Real short answer, I think that we can expect trouble at some point," said Robin.

"At least you're alright," said Marcus. "Grab a quick bite and keep moving in that case."

"Don't have to tell me twice," said Shylock.

"Part of it was luck," said Rikarn. "Probably won't be on our side again though."

"Let's hope that the good kind does stay on our side," said Marcus. "Everyone, weapons at the ready. Rokaar, you scout out ahead. Fredrick, you stay in the front. Robin, Rikarn, again, the rear, and keep watch, and let us know if you see anything, even if it's harmless."

The group managed to reach the village by evening. The place was quiet. Almost too quiet.

"Drakus? Rokaar? Okami? Reij? Do the four of you smell anyone besides us?" Marcus asked.

"Big building over there," Okami said. "Is that one of your Meeting halls?"

"It's the temple," said Elvira.

"Rokaar. Umbra. Check it out."

The panther-man, and the half-Drow sneaked up to the temple, and took a look around. They waved the rest over.

"From what I can hear, they're all grouped in there," said Rokaar. "Seems they have some folks with weak-spines among them who spoke loud enough for the rest to listen to them."

"Not a bad place to hole up in if prepared right," said Marcus. "Fredrick, Drakus, the door."

At this, the revenent and the draconian shoved a set of double doors open. Huddled around where sermons were given was the majority of the villagers. Only a few were putting up some sort of token form of defense, by pointing pitchforks and shovels, and other such things at them.

Marcus frowned. "You'd think that they'd at least secure the door with a beam, or shove a bench or a table up against it to make getting in tricky. A person with a crossbow at the windows would be good, or up in the tower to give warning. If I was Dukco, I'd simply set fire to this place."

This caused the farmers and villagers to shudder.

Marcus looked at Elvira. "Any of them got previous combat experience?"

"Not really," the elf priestess said. "The ones that did, tried to fight Dukco when he first started demanding things from us. He killed most of them. The ones that he didn't kill were previously crippled physically, and Dukco merely laughed at them."

"If it's a fight you want, I'll fight you!" yelled a voice. "Same with the rest!"

Up clumped a man with only one leg, an axe in his off-hand, leaning on a crutch. A man with no legs dragged himself forward, a knife in his mouth, before grabbing it in one of his hands. A blind man with a spear came as well. On the blind man's back was a man who was little more than a torso.

Marcus walked up to them. "So, you four would take me on?"

"I'm not afraid of you ya big scaly bastard!" the man who was little more than a torso shouted. "I'll bite your arms, legs, and wings off, and then I'l bite your manhood off as well!"

Marcus looked at him, and smiled. "To be honest, if you had arms and legs, I'd probably run away." He looked at the rest of the villagers. "Hell, if the rest of you had but even a portion of this man's courage, Dukco would be the one running scared."

"You're not the one who saw him kill your brother," said a well-dressed villager. "I still say that hiring mercenaries is a bad idea, and only trouble will come of it!"

"Trouble came the day the rest of you pissed your pants!" yelled the man who was little more than a torso. "You're nothing more than cowards!"

The well-dressed man came forward. "If you had arms and legs, I'd thrash you for that!"

"Try it!"

The well-dressed man clenched his fists, and looked away. "It wouldn't do any good to hit you anyways."

"You're right," said Marcus. "Hitting him would do you no good at all. Hitting one of Dukco's men, that's a different story."

"What do you propose?" the well-dressed man said. "Most of us have never used a weapon in anger, and hardly any of us know how to fight."

"And I've seen battles won by men with no training," said Marcus. "In this situation, we have time."

"Time for what?" the man asked.

"Basic training," said Marcus. "Most of you look to be in decent physical condition, which helps. We can train you in weapons like spears, crossbows, axes and maces, and see to it that you have decent thick-cloth armor to wear, which is good enough to protect you for the most part. We can also build a wall to surround and protect the town, build traps, set up lookout towers, and a few other Civic Improvements."

"But what about when Dukco comes?" the man asked.

"We'll be reinforced by a hundred more fighters, archers, mages, and the like," said Marcus. "Dukco and his men have a rather large bounty on their heads, and folks will be coming here to collect those heads. Your village has just became bait in a very big trap. By the time that winter has come, Dukco and his men will be dead and buried."
Yizima was slowly forming a spell in her hand, before she heard a loud crash from beside her. Looking up she saw Baroque huffing in apparent shock.

"I take it Obsidian is dead?"

"Yep." Baroque replied. "I couldn't take all those combatant on by myself."

"Why didn't you just light the area around you on fire? Smoke them to death?"

Baroque looked at Yizima for a moment before he let out a puff of steam. Sulking back to the impromptu camp, Baroque found a nice place to lay down.

"He and his partner aren't really smart are they? They went after four instead of two,which would've caused a schism if they got back to camp.Why don't you beat the stuffing out of him to teach the bull a lesson?" Adelaide the owl replied. The Fairy smiled and went back to spell forming.

"He's a quarter-god and I don't wanna open up that can of worms." Yizima replied. "Back onto topic,what news do you bring?"

"The group has finally arrived at the village. They're preparing for when Ducko arrives."

"Good, now then send in the next two. I want another hit on the group. No civilians should die. I'll be very cross if that happens."

Adelaid called out to the camp using her birds and two figures stomped away from the site.A chimerical beast dragged its bulk from the darkness,followed by a porcelain-masked jester. Nodding to them,Yizima began to cast her spell.

"Abarat, Grimaldi, make sure to stay away from the village until nightfall. Then strike at your targets that you've chosen.Now i'm going to make sure the rest of us know who you've picked,just so we don't have a repeat of Obsidian and Baroque."

Yizima showed off an amazonian woman and a wolf barbarian to the rest of the group. Finishing that, she cast her spell and teleported the two outside the village boundary.
Marcus wandered through the village looking at there handiwork. They spent most of the day fortifying the village and gathering anything they might need for the fight to come.

They cut down trees from the nearby forest and built a wooden wall that encircled the entire town. The extra timber they stored away for repairs and other projects. Although the walls were stable, Marcus wasn't sure if it would be able to stop a army. They made the temple their main defensive building since it was the most sturdy one in the village. They boarded up the windows to the temple but left gaps large enough for crossbow bolts to pass through from the inside. That way the defenders could fire at any attackers that tried to approach the temple. Elvera, Drakus and Briana were casting spells to further protect the village. While Fredrick and Jason was busy drilling the more promising villagers in warfare. Marcus helped them earlier in the day but left later to oversee the fortifications. Marcus walked to the field where Fredrick was training the villagers. Marcus saw several people fighting each other in mock battles while Fredrick was standing a short distance away, occasionally shouting advice. Further away Jason was trying to teach some people how to hit the targets he placed with their crossbows.

"How's our new soldiers coming along?" asked Marcus.

"Ha! Calling them 'soldiers' would be a insult to professionals." said Fredrick.

"Is it that bad?" asked Marcus.

"They know which end to stick in a bandit. But that's about it. They're also too skittish for my liking. If the battle goes badly then they're likely to throw down their weapons and flee. If I had a week or two then I might be able to beat them into shape. But I doubt I'll be able to do something with the short amount of time we have." replied Fredrick.

"What about Jason?" asked Marcus.

"He's equally displeased. I fact, I'm sure he would be shouting if he could. What about you? Have you heard anything about our reinforcements?" asked Fredrick.

"Nothing! They may be delayed because of the broken bridge. I just hope they haven't turned back." replied Marcus.

"Better not tell the villagers. They're counting on those reinforcements. They're scared enough as it is." said Fredrick.

"I wouldn't underestimate them. You'd be surprised how well someone fights when they have to defend their home and family." said Marcus.

"One last thing! I'm concerned about the recent ambushes we've been having from those hunters. That last group singled the others out. They might be coming at us one at a time and eventually one of those ambushes might succeed." said Fredrick.

"What do you have in mind?" asked Marcus.

"When they come at us again, we need to capture one. We need to hit them where they're hiding." replied Fredrick.

"Easier said than done! You saw how that fairy slipped away." said Marcus. At that moment they saw Anastasia running up to them.

"Sentries said they saw something in the woods!" said Anastasia.

"Dukco's men?!" asked Marcus.

"No. Said it was something very big. Definitely not human." replied Anastasia.

"Maybe they just saw a wild animal or something." said Fredrick.

"I hope so. Otherwise it might be that fairy that's up to her old tricks again." replied Marcus.

"I should have crushed her into pixie dust when I had the chance." said Fredrick.

"I think it's all the same group if you ask me," Robin said, as the centaur came up to them. "Rokaar mentioned smelling and hearing a dozen of them. What if those constructs we fought when we dealt with the first two was just to fool us into thinking that these were separate groups?"

"Sounds like the stupidest group I've ever heard of," said Marcus. "In fact, I wonder if we even killed that one, and Umbra had said that she killed the other person a few times, meaning that they always keep coming back to life."

"What are you thinking?" Fredrick asked.

Marcus grinned. "They want a hundred thousand in gold. I know what to do."

"I just so happen to have that much in gold on me, or rather the equivalent in gems," said Robin. "Easier to carry around in my opinion."

"What's the plan?" Fredrick asked.

"This group has been foolish - sending just two at a time to attack us," said Marcus. "If they were smart, all of them would attack us at once. As it is, we just keep on beating them, because we keep on working together. I doubt that we'd be able to best them so easily if they all showed up."

"Again, what are you thinking?" Fredrick asked.

"See if they want me or money more," said Marcus. "The plan is this - we leave a hundred thousand in gems in a bag in the middle of the road, a hundred paces away from the village entrance. Five paces away, I will be sitting, unarmed. I'll tell whomever it is to bring the rest of their group, including their dead friends if possible. I'll then make my offer to the entire group - they can take the gems, and work for us, or they can take me to my brother. Anyone with a brain knows that Dukco is not to be trusted, and there I'll be just practically giving them the reward in gems."

"You sure it will work?" Fredrick asked.

"I hope it does," said Marcus. "If not, it will buy the rest of you time to keep training these people until Dukco does show up. I'll even explain the situation to these bounty hunters - I'm sure that some of them came from similar backgrounds as these people."
Grimaldi held a trumpet to his ear as he heard Marcus converse his plan. Smiling, the jester turned over to the Chimera.

"So he wants to parleyerm? Abarat, tell Yizima what the Draconian-Man wants to doerm." Grimaldi said.

The Chimera nodded and began to speak through a broken stone.Talking into the stone, he began to hear the boss' response.

"She say that nobody is still willing to join in on the group,but she does have a plan on dealing with the draconian-guy all by his lonesome self."
Marcus was sitting cross legged on the road waiting for the hunters to arrive. He had waited several hours and it was now almost dark when he suddenly caught a unknown scent. He looked in that direction and saw a chimera and a masked man approaching.

"It's about time! I've been waiting for hours!" said Marcus.

"You want to surrender?" asked the chimera.

"No! I have a proposition for your leader." replied Marcus.

"You honestly expect us to believe you! You just want us all together so that you can take us all out!" said the Chimera.

"We are not the aggressors here. I just want to find a way for us both to get out of this in one piece." said Marcus. The Chimera walked a few steps away and removed a object and began to converse with it. After a moment he returned to Marcus.

"My leader will hear what you have to say but you will come alone to a place that we choose." said the Chimera.

"That's not a fair deal." said Marcus.

"That is the agreement! Take it or leave it!" said the Chimera.

"Let me discuss it with the others." said Marcus.

"Do it quickly!" said the masked man.

Marcus walked back into the village where the rest were waiting. He then told the others what the hunters said.

"You can't honestly be considering this!! This is definitely a trap!" said Fredrick.

"This is the only way we can settle this peacefully." replied Marcus.

"They have no interest in doing this peacefully!" said Fredrick.

"What would you suggest we do then?" asked Marcus.

"Take those two captive and force them to reveal their base. Then we strike there and wipe them out once and for all." replied Fredrick.

"I don't like killing innocent people that just want to make a living." said Marcus.

"They are willing to take away a village's guardians, knowing full well that it would mean the village's destruction! They are not innocent! They might as well join Dukco's army and be done with it." said Fredrick.

"There's another reason. If we kill them, then it convince other hunters to go after us. There is good cooperation between hunter's groups. We need the other groups that's coming to the village on our side. If they join Dukco then the village is doomed." said Marcus.

"They might anyway. Gold and reputation seems more important to them that doing good." said Elvira.

"Not all of them are like that. But if we get a reputation for killing bounty hunters then even the honorable ones will try to get us for revenge." said Marcus.

"But giving yourself up to them won't help us either." said Briana.

"So you're suggesting that I don't go?!" said Marcus.

"No! But I am suggesting that we take some precautions. Bounty hunter that meet with their target for a discussion are honor bound to release him if they don't reach a agreement." said Briana.

"They probably won't do that." said Fredrick.

"Then we can hit them without any negative reputation. The other bounty hunters will say that it was their dishonorable ways that caused their deaths." said Briana.

"How sure are you that we can find him after they take him?" asked Fredrick.

"Based on the what the villagers said. Dukco is hiding in the nearby city. They'll probably take Marcus to him once they have him. I've also been studying blood magic. with a small amount of Marcus's blood I can track him anywhere. We can ambush them while they travel to the city." said Briana.

"They are able to teleport people. What makes you think that they won't just teleport to the city?" asked Robin.

"We can teleport too if necessary. If I know from where they're teleporting then I can block it and force them to appear before they reach the city. Thanks to the blood magic I will know from where they are teleporting. I know it's a risk but it's the only way we can remove this group without revenge from other hunters." said Briana.

"Fine! I don't like this but I clearly won't be able to change your minds! I'll tell you one thing though. I regretted sparing that fairy before. I won't make the same mistake again!" said Fredrick.

Marcus then left the village and walked back to the two hunters.

"I agree to your terms. Remember though, if we can't reach a agreement then you're honor bound to release me." said Marcus.

"Of course! We wouldn't dream of going against the hunter's code." said the masked man.

"You'd better, or I'll kill you," said Marcus. He then groaned in pain.

The chimera and the masked man watched as Marcus's wings receded into his back, his tail into his spine, and the scales on his face and arms, and legs reverting to human skin.

"How dangerous are you now?" the Chimera asked.

Marcus grinned. "I'd say twice as dangerous. A tunic and a set of trousers would be nice."

The masked man nodded, and went to the village. "Tunic and trousers!"

A villager handed some to Fredrick, who was watching. He tossed them to the masked man. "Harm him, and I'll hunt you and your friends for the rest of eternity!"

The masked man searched the clothes, and brought them back to Marcus.

"Thanks," said Marcus.

"Don't mention it," the masked man said.

Marcus got dressed. "Take the money, just in case."

The masked man looked inside the bag. "Plenty of gems."

"Equals the price on my head," said Marcus. "Call it a down-payment if you accept my offer."

"We'll talk to our leader about it," the Chimera said. "She calls the shots."

Marcus grinned. "Interesting. Can't wait to meet her."

A while later, Marcus and the two Bounty Hunters were at a campsite. Seated closest to the fire was a normal human woman, wearing armor, with a sword at her side. The masked man placed the gems next to her.

"Not the sort of person one expects to lead a group of bounty hunters," said Marcus, as he sat down.

"You're not the sort of person to have a Bounty on their head either," the woman said. "Hero of Falor, Cross of the Light, Golden Scale of the Dragons, and so many more awards and titles, it's a wonder that you never settled down, and lived the life that is due to one such as yourself."

"None of it ever gave me any happiness," said Marcus. "My half-brother, whom I shared the womb with, he'd gone Evil, becoming a member of the Dark Lord's inner circle. The love of my life, condemned to the existence of one of the undead. My best friend, blinded in such a way that he couldn't heal himself. Then there's the suffering that my brother has caused since the end of the War. He's caused the deaths of hundreds of people, whose names I don't even know, but I feel each death he's caused, felt the suffering of their families, as they must now deal with the loss of their loved one, wondering if they'd be able to survive the season. Ever look into the eyes of those whom one of your own flesh-and-blood had caused such suffering to. Many are the times I've thought about taking my own life, because of one mistake I'd made before the war."

"What mistake was that?" the woman asked.

"I had the chance to kill him when he first started killing," said Marcus. "I couldn't do it then. But now, fate has given me the chance to make up for that mistake, and kill him."

"So, what's with the gems?" the woman asked.

"Price Dukco has on me is a hundred thousand in gold," said Marcus. "Right there is its equivalent in gems, as a down-payment for you to work for me instead. I doubt he's even given you even a tenth of the value he's placed on me, and the price on his head is six of those bags of gems. Then there's the rest of his men - all four hundred have a price on their heads."

"And, if we take you to him instead?" the woman asked.

"Worst mistake you'll ever make," said Marcus. "He'll kill you, and then raise you into his service. Then, he'll have you kill innocent people; farmers, villagers, travelers, your own families. Do you want that on your conscience?"

"Are you sure about that?" the woman asked.

"I know my brother well enough to tell you what he'll do to you," said Marcus. "You have families - those will be the first he has you kill. Your friends, they will be the next. Anyone who knew you, and could say your name, he'll have you kill."

"How do you know this?" the woman asked.

"Briana is the name of my love," said Marcus. "She was killed, and then raised, and was ordered to kill me. I couldn't harm her to save my life. Only thing I could think of was to say her name. Saved my life, because by saying her name, her soul reentered her body, and she got her free-will, and blasted the one that raised her. I have since learned that by uttering the dead person's name, you can place their soul into the body, which gives them their free-will. But, if no one utters your name, then you're a slave to whomever raised you."

"You have given us quite a bit of information," the woman said. "More than we previously had. We would not like to lose our minds to such a curse. We'll think on your words."

Marcus nodded. "I hope that you decide to join me, and help protect the village. I'm certain that they'll reward you with a place to stay when you want it, at any rate."
Yizima watched as Grimaldi and Abarat went off with their mistress, sighing as they did so. It appeared that they were bought off or at least placated with money. They headed off into the distance,but it seemed that they weren't actually joining in on the group.

"Thank the Father for that." Yizima spoke. Adelaide walked up besides Yizima and sat down next to her.

"I'd have to agree." Adelaide yawned. "Though I wonder who that woman was. She didn't appear before."

"Probably the master of the clown and that chimera.No matter, those heroes will soon have to contend with our more vicious members of our crew. I can't even control them.I'm actually hoping that our group loses."


"Because I figured out who they actually are a few days ago."


"Rikarn, where are you,you kinky Halfling?" Shylock spoke aloud as he moved through the village. He waved at various citizens as they trained, built,or stored foods. He scratched his chin in thought, right before he saw a piece of the halfing wave him over.

The changeling smiled and walked over to her. Upon arriving his jaw dropped as he saw what was there. It appeared to be a strange mixture of lizard and bat. Next to it were three ladies holding hands with eldritch fire dancing upon their brows.

One of the ladies held a small halfing with her free hand. Rikarn's mouth bled a little and her body appeared bruised to oblivion, but yet she appeared to be alive.

"Hello shifter, We are Trinity and besides us is Scorn. We are Loyal Servants of Lord Dukco and we desire your death."

The three ladies spoke as one. Shylock's eyes widened and he dashed forward to grab Rikarn out of the woman's hands. He bent around the claws of the lizard-bat and burst past the three women. They gave him a strange look,before they muttered out some words.

Smoke poured from their mouths as the beast named Scorn disappeared into it. A few moments later, a small horde of the beast in miniature came running out at high speeds.

Trinity followed and soon a small cloud of fire began to rise from the smoke streams inside their mouths. It began to hurtle down at the village and the three women holding hands slowly made their way across the landscape

"Guys, Gals, and whatever else! I need some help!" Shylock cried.
Fredrick walked through the village looking at the fortifications. He decided that he needed a break from training villagers. So he left one of the others in charge.

"I hope those villagers will actually remember their lessons when it counts." thought Fredrick.

As he walked deeper into the village he began to see smoke ahead. He also heard Shylock calling for help.

"What kind of trouble have that shifter gotten into now." thought Fredrick. He ran ahead towards the smoke.

"Shylock!! What have y..." started Fredrick. He fell silent when he saw the women standing in the square. He drew his weapon and rushed forward.

"Shylock! Get away from them!" yelled Fredrick.

"What! I can't just leave Rikarn in their clutches!" replied Shylock. As Shylock spoke he saw the rest of their group arrive from different directions of the village.

"You have no idea what those things are!" said Fredrick.

"Ladies that are holding my friend captive!" replied Shylock.

"They're not ladies! They're succubi!" said Fredrick.

"What's that supposed to be?!" asked Shylock.

"A kind of demon. They take the form of whatever someone finds the most attractive. They use illusions and bewitchment to take control of someone. They can then force that person to attack their own allies. Only undead or those who have met their true love can resist their curse." replied Fredrick.

"How are we supposed to fight something that can take control of someone's mind?" asked Robin.

"You're not! But the undead in our group can! Jason, Briana, Christopher! Let's deal with these things! Don't underestimate them. Even though there mind effecting magic won't work on us. They are still skilled spell casters." said Fredrick.

Fredrick charged at them and one of them fired a stream of black fire at him. The others fired their own fire streams at him a moment later. After keeping it focused on him for a minute, they ended the spell. Fredrick's armor was glowing red from the heat but apart from that he appeared unharmed.

"Sorry, fiends! But I'm fireproof!" said Fredrick.

"Then we'll just have to change tactics!" said the three ladies. They breathed out more smoke and it soon changed into the same creature Shylock had seen before. The undead took defensive stances as the creature roared and prepared to charge at them.
"Lord Dukco will be most pleased when we bring you to him," the three said.

"Lord Dukco, you ssay!" said a voice.

The three turned, and saw a cloaked figure. "Yes, our master will reward use greatly for the capture of these renegades. You might you be?"

The being removed their hood, revealing a face that was that of a cobra-like snake.

"A Yuanti!" Fredrick exclaimed. "What's one of those snakes doing around here?"

"Oh crap!" said Briana. "Be ready for anything!"

"You know him?" Christopher asked.

Briana nodded. "Killed that one's brother."

"Where'ss Dukco?" the Yuanti asked.

"We'll take you to him once we deal with these renegades, and burn the town to ashes," the women said.

The Yuanti hissed. "You won't touch thesse micsse!" Then, they hissed some more, and began to change, and grow, into a giant cobra-like serpent.

"We must control him sisters!" the three said.

"It won't work on me!" the Yuanti hissed. The Yuanti lunged forward, and bit one of the succubi, engulfing her. All three screamed in pain, the two outside of the Yuanti's mouth contorting in pain, as the Yuanti swallowed the one. The Yuanti turned to one of the others, and engulfed her, like she was nothing more than a mouse. Her wiggling body slid down the Yuanti's throat. He turned to the third, who was moaning and groaning in pain. "Triple the power, but triple the pain," the Yuanti said. "Tell me where Dukco is, and I'll end your suffering."

"I won't tell you," the succibi gasped out.

"I'll digesst the three of you over the coursse of a year," the Yuanti hissed. "You'll live, for a while. My venom might not be able to kill the likess of you, but my sstomach acsid containss enough tracsess to render you unable to properly heal. The acsidss will enter the injuriess, and work on your sskin and organss. I doubt that you'd lasst three weekss."

The sucubbi began to spit up blood. "The city. He's in the city."

The Yuanti engulfed her head, and ripped it from her shoulders. Her body was still. He swallowed. He then swallowed the body. "That's them." He turned, and looked at the four undead, specifically Briana. "Where'ss Marcuss?"

"He's not here!" Fredrick said. "He's busy trying to convince some Bounty Hunters to work for us instead of Dukco."

The Yuanti nodded. "Very well." He then shifted, into a smaller humanoid form. "I will await him then."

"Are you planning to kill him?" Briana asked.

The Yuanti looked at her. "When doess one of your ssort talk?"

Briana grabbed her amulet. "A necromancer worked with our Draconian priest friend to make a way for the likes of me to talk to the living."

"To ansswer your quesstion, I plan to eat him for cutting my brother'ss head off," the Yuanti said. "He wass no good, but he wass my brother! Blood must be paid for in blood!"

"And Dukco?" Fredrick asked.

"Him for corrupting my brother to hiss wassteful wayss of killing and jusst leaving bodiess, and not putting them to better usse," the Yuanti said. "I'll be enjoying that one'ss corpsse. I'll be waiting for Marcuss'ss return." He walked in such a way, it was almost like a slither, into an empty home.

"Who is that?" Fredrick asked.

"Slivenuss," said Briana. "His brother was a lieutenant of Dukco. Marcus killed that one. Slivenuss heard about it, and vowed revenge on both Marcus and Dukco."

"Yuantis eat the dead," said Jason. "Hard to kill."

"The Succubi didn't stand a chance," said Fredrick. "Still, I'm surprised that he was able to resist their control. Who would love a snake like that?"

"There's someone for everyone," said Briana. "I still love Marcus. Wish we could do more."

"At least you can talk to him now," said Jason.

"Speaking of which," said Fredrick. He walked over to a prone Rikarn. "Rikarn? Are you awake?" He tapped the halfling's face. The halfling was still. "Not good! Quick! Get Elvira and Drakus! She needs a healer, now!"

"Think we can save her?" Brirana asked, as Christopher ran off.

"I don't know," said Fredrick. "Another possibility would be to curse her with Undeath, but I doubt she'd want that."

"Let's hope she makes it," said Jason. "Little lass grows on you, like a plague."
Rikarn was swiftly placed onto a Robin's back. The centaur galloped away leaving the team in the middle of the town. After, the horde of Scorn came rumbling out towards the group.

Fredrick quickly rushed forth and slashed a lizard-bat across the chest but was quickly shocked as the beast split into two more of itself, albeit smaller versions.

This scene was the same across the rest of the team. Slash; split. Slash; split. Slash; split.
"What is that thing!" asked Falun.

"A dark magic creature. Similar to my nightmare." said Fredrick.

"Then why is it still here? It's owners are dead!" said Falun.

"It wasn't bonded to the succubi like my nightmare. It was summoned. And summoned creatures go berserk and start attacking everyone if it's summoner is killed." said Fredrick.

"Then how are we supposed to kill this thing?!" asked Shylock. He slashed at one of the creatures and it split again.

"I might have a way but I need it to be recombined into one creature again." said Fredrick.

"How are we going to do that?!" asked Jason.

"We need Marcus with his sword, Drakus or Elvira. Their magic can banish it. It won't destroy it but it will weaken it and force it to recombine. Then I can finish it." said Fredrick.

"I'll go get help!" yelled Jason. He turned around and ran out of the square.

Meanwhile Marcus was busy walking back to the village. He was disappointed that the hunters didn't join with them but at least they won't trouble their group again.
He just reached the fortifications to the village when he saw Jason running towards him as fast as he could. He stopped in front of Marcus and pointed towards the village. Since Briana held the amulet and he was out of it's range, Jason temporarily lost the ability to speak until he could get closer to Briana again.

"Trouble at the village? Lead the way!" said Marcus. Jason turned around and ran back to the village. Marcus ran after him as fast as he could.

"Wonder what trouble our group has gotten in now." thought Marcus. He ran a short distance towards the square and found complete chaos. His group was surrounded by strange shadowy creatures. Every time one of the creatures were killed another two would take it's place. As Fredrick turned and struck another creature he saw Marcus at the entrance to the square.

"Marcus!! I need you to take your draconic form and use your sword's holy fire to banish these things!" yelled Fredrick.

"Where's Robin?!" asked Marcus.

"She took Rikarn to the temple for healing!" replied Anastasia.

"My sword is on her back!" said Marcus.

Before Fredrick could shout something back, he saw Drakus running towards the square from the other side. "Drakus! Use your magic to banish the creatures! Marcus! Keep them away from him! They might go for him when they realize what he's doing!" yelled Fredrick. Marcus grabbed a sword from a rack and ran towards Drakus.

"How's Rikarn?" asked Marcus.

"She'll be fine! I've healed the worst of her wounds. Elvira is tending to the rest." replied Drakus. Drakus bowed his head and began to mutter a spell. As he spoke, a light glow began to shine from him. The light grew brighter the further he went with the spell. As he spoke, the creatures turned towards him and stared at him. After a moment a few of them broke off and began to advance towards him. Marcus stepped in front of Drakus and readied his sword. As the creatures ran at him, Marcus swung his sword at one. Another jumped at him but Marcus punched it away. A third one was just about to pounce on Marcus, when Fredrick suddenly grabbed it behind it's neck and threw it away. The creature rolled on the ground a few times before getting to it's feet again. Fredrick and Marcus stood side by side as the next wave of the creatures charged at them. They stopped most of them but one managed to dash past them and right at Drakus. It jumped into the air and was just about to hit Drakus, when his spell finished. A bright light flashed out from Drakus. As the light struck the creatures, they roared in pain and was blown backwards. Drakus began to sway to the side and would have fallen if Marcus didn't run forward and catch him. The creatures turned to black mist and began to flow towards each other in the center of the square. Once they all flowed back together. The creature reappeared again in it's original size and shape.

"It's down Fredrick! Do what you have to!" said Marcus.

Fredrick sighed then stepped forward. "I was hoping that I would never have to use this ability." said Fredrick. The creature tried to slash at him with a claw but Fredrick slapped it away, then drove his fist through it's chest and out it's back. The creature roared in pain and turned to black mist again. It hovered in the air for a moment before flying at Fredrick at high speed. When it hit Fredrick, he growled in pain and began to float in the air. The mist surrounded him and began to flow into his armor. As it flowed into him, his armor began to change. Claws grew from the ends of his gauntlets and boots and several spikes grew out of his spine. The mist then flowed to his back and black wings grew from his back. The wings seemed incorporeal and was made from the same shadowy black mist as the creature. With a final groan of pain he fell to the ground and landed on his knees. He took a moment to rest, then got to his feet. As he turned to the others, his wings disappeared into his back again.

"Are you all right, Fredrick?!" asked Briana.

"I hoped I never had to do that!" said Fredrick.

"What did you do exactly?" asked Shylock.

"Revenants are made with dark magic. What most people didn't know is that we can absorb creatures made from the same thing and steal some of their power. The same ability is used to bond a nightmare to a revenant except that it doesn't kill the nightmare like it does other dark creatures. It only binds him to that particular revenant. During the war, The dark lord would create such shadow creatures. Then 'feed' them to a revenant to make it stronger. Some of the older revenants appeared more monster than man because of all the abilities they absorbed. I was luckier than most. I wasn't a revenant long enough for him to do the same to me so I looked more like a human than the others... Until now!!" said Fredrick.

"Are you saying you can fly now?" asked Marcus.

"No! I'm too heavy! My wings won't be able to support my weight. I can glide for a time though and I can use my wings to jump greater distances." replied Fredrick.

"Claws should be useful for climbing too. Are there any side effects of the ability?" asked Marcus.

"Only a more monstrous appearance! The creature's mind is destroyed when I absorb it. Only it's strength and some of it's abilities remain." replied Fredrick.

"I'm just glad I didn't have to take draconic form again! Didn't want to be stuck in that form for another two days. Is you appearance temporary like mine?" asked Marcus.

"No! Once I absorb a creature. The changes remain permanent!" replied Fredrick.

"Did anything else happen while I was away?" asked Marcus.

"Now that you mention it..." started Fredrick.

"Slivenuss is in town," said Briana.

Marcus blinked. "What's that snake want this time?"

"To kill you, as usual," said Briana. "After that, kill Dukco."

"Still pissed off over me killing his brother?" Marcus asked. "Not surprised."

"On the plus side, he ate the three succubi that had summoned that creature," said Fredrick. "If nothing else, he's immune to their mind-control effects. Almost felt sorry for them actually."

Marcus grinned. "Makes one wonder who he fell in love with. Take me to him."

Soon enough, Marcus was at the place that Slivinuss had taken up residence in. He entered the place, and had to blink in surprise at what he saw - the male snake-like reptile was kissing a rather muscular male human, who was wearing orange robes, in a rather passionate manner.

"Who would have thought?" he said.

The Yuanti moved, in an attempt to hide the human from view. "Thought what?" he hissed, loudly.

"That the big human-hating Yuanti could possibly have a soft spot for one of those they like to call mice?" Marcus said, with a chuckle.

"Don't you dare tell anyone about thiss!" Slivinuss hissed.

"I wager you just tell people that he simply polishes your scales, or something along those lines," said Marcus. "I do hope that he has other uses."

The man came out from behind the Yuanti. "I do." He raised his hand, and a fireball was formed in it. He then crushed his hand, extinguishing the fireball.

"Useful," said Marcus.

"Not all." The man lifted up a bed, which normally took four to lift.

Marcus raised an eyebrow. "Useful to know."

"Not all."

Instinct caused Marcus to duck, narrowly avoiding a sword blade. It was then joined by several more weapons. He then heard another sound, and saw the man with a huge crossbow. The man pulled the trigger. Marcus dropped to the floor, as the bolt went out the door, and demolished the home across from them.

"Be glad that no one was living there!" Marcus shouted.

"I know." The man grabbed a sword, and lunged at Marcus.

Marcus drew his sword, and worked to fend off the man. The man was quite powerful. Marcus wasn't sure if magic was aiding the man's blows, or if he wasn't an ordinary human. Then, the man kicked in in a style that Marcus only recalled after he'd flown through the air, and crashed into another home.

As he stood up, the man appeared up on a roof, and then jumped on down to the ground.

"A Zolin Monk," Marcus said. "Ain't you guys supposed to be pacifists?"

The man chuckled. "Yes. But I liked fighting a little too much for my temple's tastes. Still, comes in handy. How did you enjoy the demonstration?"

"Noticed that you held back," said Marcus.

"Slivinuss wants the pleasure of killing you in a fair fight," the monk said. "That, and you're already busy trying to protect the village, so injuring you is out of the question."

"How did you hook up with him?" Marcus asked.

"He came to a village I'd been sent to, to try to learn how to curb my desire for conflict," the monk said. "He was ill at the time. I helped to heal him. We got to know each other, quite well. When he was healed up, he was preparing to resume his search for you when I asked for permission to travel from my Elders, who granted me permission to do so. We've traveled the same road ever since."

"And being his lover?" Marcus asked. "Didn't think he was into humans like that, especially male humans."

"The Gods made me the way I am, just as they made him the way he is," the monk said. "If they make it so that me and him love one another, who are we to try to deny it?"

"I prefer to make my own destiny," said Marcus. "Still, I ain't one to judge, given my own history. What do they call you?"

"Quiet Mouse."

Marcus chuckled. "Interesting name. Let's walk back."

A minute or so later, Marcus was looking at Slivinuss, once more. "Interesting friend. Why are you here?"

"I want you, and I want Dukco," the Yuanti said. "Sso, give me one good reasson I shouldn't kill and eat you right now?"

"Because you'd have to deal with these guys behind me if you tried that trick, and I know you have a hard time stomaching those who are undead," said Marcus.

Slivinuss growled. "Point taken."

"That, and you might want room for Dukco," said Marcus.

"Very well," said Slivinuss. "But oncse I've devoured him, I'm coming for you!"

"Understood," said Marcus. "Although, you might have to get in line."
Shylock held the hand of Rikarn as she slowly began to breath in and out. Her eyes were dilated and her body felt weak. Scratching the back of his head, the changeling brought himself up and paced around the room.

"Feeling alright?" Robin asked as she came besides the changeling.

"Hell no. Rikarn over here got beaten half to death and we haven't even encountered Ducko's crew yet!" Shylock proclaimed. "I'm getting anxious about fighting the guy. Those two kicked the crud out of both of us and look what the did to the town!"

Shylock spoke as he pointed out to the village. Two to three buildings were ruined husks at the moment. Turning his finger a little eastward, he indicated an impromptu medical facility.

"And look at those people!" Shylock proclaimed. "Ten injured!"

Robin looked downcast at the changeling, stepping into the room, she stood next to the changeling.

"Don't worry Shylock, with the help of Fredrick, Marcus, and the more powerful members of our groups, we have a chance at winning!"

"Yeah, yeah." Shylock said half-heatedly.
Fredrick watched as Marcus walked towards them with the yuanti and a robed man.

"You and that snake talked it out?" asked Fredrick.

"Agreed to a temporary ceasefire." replied Marcus.

"If you keep your word, then we won't have a problem. Betray us though and I'll make a pair of boots from you! Understood!" said Fredrick.

"I'll work with you becaussse I want Dukco. I don't fear you!" replied Slivinuss.

"You should!" said Fredrick. He made fists with both his hands and his new wings appeared on his back again. Marcus saw the monk starting to step closer so he stepped in between them before they came to blows.

"Enough!! Fighting against each other will only help Dukco!" yelled Marcus.

"Just want to make sure he understands. The job comes before his vendetta." said Fredrick.

"I won't harm anyone until Dukco isss dead. No promissess for after." said Slivinuss.

"Good enough, I suppose." said Fredrick. He relaxed and his wings disappeared again.

"Don't recall you having wingsss before." said Slivinuss.

"A little gift from the succubi's pet." said Fredrick.

"How are the defenses coming?" asked Marcus.

"Walls should hold them for a time. But once they get past them. We'll be in trouble." said Falun.

"Could use some traps for if they get past. Pity that gnome isn't with us anymore." said Briana.

"I remember him. Wonder what happened to him." said Drakus.

"Who are you talking about?" asked Fredrick.

"We had a gnome with us on a job once. A little odd in the head but a genius with inventions. He left after the job was complete. He would have been useful." said Marcus.

"We actually have someone like that living close to the village. She's a goblin but a genius with technology. She's not very friendly though. Her workshop is a short distance form the village." said Shale.

"She lives outside the village? It's a wonder Dukco's men haven't burned her workshop down yet." said Fredrick.

"They tried! And they came back with a few less limbs. She's infested the entire area around her workshop with traps." said Shale.

"Sounds useful! Let's go see her." said Marcus.
Soon enough, Marcus and Fredrick, and Elvira, were outside the goblin's home.

"Got a question," said Fredrick. "What's up with that Yuanti and that robed man?"

"The robed man is a Zolin Monk," said Marcus.

"Ah, I've heard of them, although I've never actually seen one," said Fredrick. "Supposed to be good with magic and unarmed fighting."

"He's added a few tricks to his capabilities," said Marcus. "Decent with a sword, and carries a really big crossbow."

"So, why are they traveling together?" Fredrick asked. "And I'm not talking about them traveling together - they seem to be unusually close, given what Yuanti are known for."

"They're lovers," said Marcus.

Fredrick looked at him. "You're kidding?"

"I saw the two of them kissing, and then Slivinuss trying to shield Quiet Mouse from my sight, with a bit of panic in his eyes," said Marcus. "They're lovers alright."

"Never thought I'd ever hear of a Yuanti falling for a human," said Fredrick. "I mean, two males taking each other as lovers, I've heard of, and actually seen, but everyone knows that Yuanti like to eat humans. I mean, it would be like a viper courting a mouse, as far as their sort is concerned."

"I know exactly what they like to call humans and others," said Marcus. "Talking Meals. If you're not of any use to them alive, they'll have a use for you dead. I've ran into a few Draconian like that, among others."

Fredrick nodded. "Encountered a few like that myself. Funny thing is, many of the more active Predators aren't around anymore."

Marcus nodded. "Most are actually smart about their dining habits - human dies of natural causes, or via an accident, the one who wishes to dine on them actually pays the human's family a good amount of money, to help ease their suffering of course, and then there's actually a process to preparing the body, so that they whole thing is actually done with a certain amount of respect for the deceased. Happened to my mother. Both my father, and Dukco's father, actually gave her human family a large amount of gold, and I was with them during the preparation. Dukco was there as well, as it was only afterwards that he went down the dark path. There was a great deal of tears in our fathers' eyes as her body was brought out. They said some prayers, for her soul, and such. Then, they ate her, always talking about the good times that they'd had together, until everything was consumed."

"Crazy funerary practice," said Fredrick.

"Everyone has one," said Marcus. "As far as some are concerned, wrapping someone in cloth and burying them a man's height in the ground is odd."
Shylock moved right bedsides Rikarn in her bed and brought out his instrument. Slowly did the changeling begin to play.

Marcus and the others looked at the workshop in front of them.

It was built next to the river. A waterwheel was providing power for the building much like a mill next to a river would do but Marcus doubted that this one was for making flour. A large chimney was releasing a large amount of black smoke. Next to the main building was a workstation with massive amounts of scrap around it. Some of the things he's never even seen before. On the lawn in front of the entrance was a sign. Marcus stepped closer and read it out loud.

"Private property! Trespassers will be shot! Not the most welcoming sign I've ever seen. What can you tell me about her?" asked Marcus.

"Not much. She keeps to herself. Only comes in to the market every second week to buy more materials for her work. Occasionally she would sell potions to fund her work. We've always had a agreement. We leave her alone and she leaves us alone. Very few have visited her. I don't even know what the inside of her workshop looks like." said Elvira.

"Not surprising, considering the traps we found on the way here! It's a good thing you're so good at finding them, Marcus." said Fredrick.

"Had a lot of experience." replied Marcus.

"So what now? Do we knock?" asked Fredrick.

"It would be the polite thing to do." replied Marcus.

Meanwhile inside the workshop, Brunhilda was working on her latest invention. She found crossbows useful but their greatest weakness was their reload. So she built a crossbow that can hold up to 6 bolts before needing to reload. She made a complicated mechanism that 'fed' the bolts into the loaded position. She even made it so that two bolts could be fired at the same time. She made the last adjustments before loading a cartridge of bolts and aiming at the targets she placed in the workshop. She fired at the first target then immediately turned and fired at the second one.

"It works!" thought Brunhilda. She aimed at the last target and pulled the trigger but nothing came out of the crossbow. "Curses!" A knock on her door took her mind away from the problem.

"Every time I get some work done! GO AWAY!! I'm too busy for idle chit chat!" yelled Brunhilda.

"It's Elvira! We would just like a moment to talk!" said Elvira.

"I'm not in the mood for one of your sermons! I'm too busy!" replied Brunhilda.

"We're not here to give you a sermon. We have a business proposition for you." said an unknown man. Brunhilda put the crossbow down on the table and stomped over to the door. She opened it and saw the elven priestess, an human male and a armored figure that Brunhilda immediately recognized as a revenant.

"A revenant! I thought your kind was wiped out! Please come in!" said Brunhilda.

"Uhh... thanks. Why the interest in revenants?" asked the revenant.

"Are you kidding! They are a incredible invention. I bit too much magic in the creation but still a remarkable design. I've been trying to create my own version without needing a person's soul." said Brunhilda.

"And how did that go?" asked the revenant.

"I created some small critters, some dog sized spiders etc. but I haven't been able to power something at human size for more that a few seconds. You don't mind if I do some test, do you?" asked Brunhilda.

"Actually I would mind! I'm not a plaything!" said the revenant.

"We need your help, Brunhilda. We're trying to defend the village from Dukco's men. We were hoping you could improve our defenses." said Elvira.

"That's a nice crossbow!" said the revenant. He began to walk towards it but Brunhilda jumped in front of him.

"Don't even think about it! It's a delicate prototype!" said Brunhilda.

"How does it work?" asked the man.

"It has a cartridge of six bolts in a ready position. As a bolt is fired, a mechanism loads the next bolt and so forth. The process takes only a second. The cartridges are also easy to load." explained Brunhilda.

"Does it work?" asked the man.

"DOES IT WORK!! Of course it works! Well ... mostly anyway. A bolt sometimes doesn't fire properly." said Brunhilda. She turned it on it's side and hit it with her fist. Suddenly the last bolt flew out of the crossbow and hit the wall next to the man.

"Might be useful. Even in it's incomplete state." said the man.

"What's this thing for?" asked the revenant. He held up what appeared to be a raised platform.

"Be careful with the ...!!!" yelled Brunhilda. The platform suddenly opened and a sack of flour attached to a large spring flew out and hit the revenant in the chest. He flew backwards into a wall. She walked over to him and took the device away. "Don't touch anything!! There are some delicate equipment here! Now do you have a plan or are you just going to keep breaking my stuff!?" asked Brunhilda.
"Got a table?" Marcus asked. He pulled out a scroll.

"Somewhere," said Brunhilda. She cleared off one of her work benches. "This do?"

Marcus laid the scroll down, and unrolled it. It was a map of the village and the area surrounding it. "Boobytrap everything but the roads into and out of the village. Traps should be easy to spot and easy to disarm, and break down within a few weeks."

"What good is that?" Brunhilda asked. "The enemy will spot, and thus disarm them."

"Those are the fake traps," said Marcus. "The moment the fake is disarmed, the person triggers the real one."

Brunhilda grinned. "Nasty. Cut a tripvine, only to trigger a spiked log. Right?"

"Exactly," said Marcus. "Of course, the locals will have maps, and the traps will break down into harmless pieces in a few weeks, so that folks can go back into those areas after the fighting is over."

"And the trap-free roads?" Brunhilda asked.

"Funnel Effect," said Marcus. "Realizing that the roads are the only safe place to travel on, Dukco will have no choice but to travel on them. We can then use crossbows and the like to pick them off, having those using them on the rooftops and other high areas. As for those who get close, all defenders not on a rooftop are to have large spears, shields, plus a good one-handed weapon for those who get really close. It's boring, but it's effective."

"Not a bad plan of defense," said Brunhilda. "Turning the village's roads into a choke point for the enemy. Changes their numerical superiority into a liability. Smart."

"Seen it work before," said Marcus. "Heard of the 300?"

Brunhilda chuckled. "Heard that they killed about five thousand, at least, by having cliffs on one side, and a steep drop to the ocean on the other. Of course, Zernes eventually moved some of his forces along that old trail and managed to outflank them. Still, even then, those 300 took quite a few to the afterlife with them."

"That's the truth," said Marcus. "To be honest, I doubt that anyone is going to make it, but id we can break Dukco's forces, he won't be able to terrorize people anymore."

"Got any plans for help?" Brunhilda asked.

"I'm hoping that a group of at least a hundred Bounty Hunters will come to our aid," said Marcus. "But they might take the long way and not get there in time. There is a group of a dozen we might be able to get, if we can convince them to join us."

"I've heard about them," said Brunhilda. "Doubt that Dukco would pay the bounty on your head properly anyways. I lost a husband that way. He turned in this Gnome that Dukco had placed a bounty on. Dukco poured liquid gold down his throat."

"So, you interested?" Marcus asked.

"This will certainly improve my reputation as an inventor of weapons," said Brunhilda. "Count me in. Send someone to carry my stuff. I'll need all of it."

"Perhaps you'll tell this nearby group of Bounty Hunters about what happened to your husband," said Marcus. "Might make them side with us and the villagers."

Brunhilda nodded. "I'll do that."

"Kind of wonder what they are up to now," said Fredrick.

Yizima looked across the camp and sighed. She scratched her tiny chin in thought as Adelaide walked right besides the fairy woman and sat down.

"We only have five of us left, maybe we should cut out losses and leave." Adelaide said

Yizima scratched her tiny head in thought,before coming to a conclusion.

"No, wait, how about an attack under the night?"

(Sorry for small adds, schoolwork)
A short while later they returned to the village. After getting a wagon, Brunhilda returned to her workshop with a few strong men to help with the loading. A hour later she returned to the village with the wagon full of materials. She claimed a empty warehouse as her new workshop and began building the traps she would need. Marcus supervised the deployment of the traps with the others in his group. After spending most of the day deploying them, Marcus and Fredrick went to her to check up on the next batch.

"How goes it." asked Marcus.

"You can't rush perfection! It will be done when it's done." said Brunhilda.

"I doubt Dukco will wait for it to be finished at the normal pace. Is there any way to speed it up?" said Marcus.

"If I had more hands then it would help. But there aren't any in the village that's good with construction and using inexperienced hands would be deadly." replied Brunhilda.

Fredrick meanwhile walked over to a table and picked up a bottle filled with a strange black powder.

"Is this ash?" asked Fredrick.

"Don't touch that! You can blow us to the next world with that!" said Brunhilda.

"What is it?" asked Fredrick. He carefully returned it to the table.

"By combining different powders. If created a substance that explode with great force when it comes in contact with fire." explained Brunhilda.

"Wouldn't that just blow up the person using it? What purpose could this have?" asked Fredrick.

"I haven't yet figured out what it could be used for." said Brunhilda.

"I can think of a few uses for it. How much to you have?" asked Marcus.

"I have plenty." said Brunhilda.

"Do you think you can have several barrels ready. in a short while?" asked Marcus.

"Yes, but what good will that do?" asked Brunhilda.

"I'm thinking of placing them at several places and blowing them when Dukco's men get close." said Marcus.

"You'll just blow yourself up in the process." said Fredrick.

"Jason or Briana can light them from a distance. Might catch some of Dukco's men by surprise." said Marcus.

"Great idea! I'll get them ready for you." said Brunhilda.

The doors to the warehouse opened and Fredrick saw Shylock and Falun enter and walk towards them.

"What's the progress?" asked Fredrick.

"The traps have been deployed. I've sent the villagers back home. They need some rest." said Falun.

"Good idea. We'll continue in the morning." said Marcus.

"I'll gather the other undead. We'll watch the roads for Dukco's men tonight." said Fredrick.

"See you in the morning then." said Shylock.
Meanwhile, in the nearby city, Dukco was far from hiding, he was ruling! He had everything that a King could want - money, power, those who could enforce his will, and people did what he told them to. Of course, he wanted more.

He looked at a reflection of himself in a mirror. Unlike his half-brother, who went around looking human, save for the scales under his clothes, Dukco was in his half-Draconian form all the time. Wings spread from his back as he flexed them. Claws were on his fingers. A tail extended from the base of his spine. His teeth, well, one didn't want him to smile at them. Red scales covered his face.

"Show me what he's up to," he commanded.

The image showed Marcus as he directed people towards different areas, having them do different things.

Dukco snarled as he looked at his half-sibling. "Weak fool. He fears his powers. He's afraid to use them."

"He's good enough to best those sent after him," said a sorceress.

"Bounty Hunters," said Dukco. "I could best them in my sleep."

"Why don't you fight him yourself?" the sorceress asked.

"Only a fool would do such a stupid thing like that," said Dukco. "Have someone else wound him, and he'll be that much easier to kill and resurrect under my control."

"I suppose that would be the smart thing," the sorceress said. "Is that all you want?"

"The part of knowing what my brother is up to, yes, I'm done with that," said Dukco.

The sorceress waved her hand, and the image changed back to Dukco's reflection. "Very well. Anything else before I retire to my quarters?"

Dukco grinned, as he turned to look at her. "Come over here."

The sorceress walked over to him. Dukco grabbed a hold of her and kissed her. He then traced his claws down her body, stopping at a certain point. "Our son's getting big."

"About another week or so," the sorceress said. "I hope you're ready to become a father."

"I hope you're strong enough yourself," said Dukco. "I'd hate to have to cut you open to get him out. It would ruin things for me afterwards."

"I'm strong enough," the sorceress said. "I've been taking some special herbs to help me and our son out."

"Good," said Dukco. "After all, I might want another child."
Finally the last five group of hunters arrived in the dark, waiting for the most opportune time to attack the Village.

Yizima fired a quick shot into some dry hay,while Baroque complimented her actions.

Soon a fire began to spread and the five quickly made their way from the place.
Marcus woke up to the sound of people shouting and the smell of smoke. He grabbed his his weapons and ran out of the house he was sleeping in. As he looked around he saw Fredrick running up to him.

"What's going on?! Are we being attacked?!" asked Marcus.

"Fire at the edge of the village! Villagers are taking care of it. We need to stay alert! Doesn't look like a normal fire." said Fredrick.

They ran together to the edge of the village where the others were waiting.

"What do you see?" asked Marcus.

"I see the same minotaur that attacked us while we were traveling to the village. He's at the edge of the forest." said Umbra.

"That means that fairy can't be far away! I thought you talked things out with them." said Fredrick.

"So did I." said Marcus.

"They made their choice! I won't show mercy again!" said Fredrick.

"We don't yet know why they are so determined! I doubt it's about money or honor. Let's not judge them until we know more." said Marcus.

"If you say so." said Fredrick.

"What's the plan?" asked Robin.

"I'm sure this fire is a distraction to split us. They won't move while we're together. So let's give them what they want. Make some of us appear vulnerable then catch them in a trap of our own." said Marcus.
"What's the plan?" Fredrick asked.

"Some of us will spread out to the other parts of the town, as if to check for any signs of infiltration," said Marcus. "That being said, Umbra, you're in the tallest/highest building keeping a lookout, and with you will be Slivinuss and Quiet Mouse. The moment that you see one of the others encounter any of the Bounty Hunters, you are to teleport the three of you to them. Should all of them be there, you're to come and get more of us - we'll be assisting on putting out the fire."

"Sso, jusst how do you want thesse Bounty Hunterss dealt with?" Slivinuss hissed.

"Capture them alive," said Marcus. "I'd rather not kill unless we have to."

"Why not?" Slivinuss asked.

"I have enough blood on my hands," said Marcus. "I'd rather avoid more if possible." He looked at Fredrick. "I'm sure that you have plenty of blood on your hands, given what a lot of Reverents tended to do."

Fredrick looked at him, and looked down. "You're right. I do have the blood of innocents on my hands."

Drakus placed a hand on the armored being. "You have time enough to repent." He turned towards Marcus. "I'll be one of the decoys. Being blind, darkness doesn't affect me so much." He tapped his long-shafted mallet-like hammer. "Don't need to see in order to swing this thing."

"Good luck," Marcus said, with a chuckle.

Drakus walked away.

"Anyone else?" Marcus asked. "Who else doesn't mind being bait - preferably someone who looks like a weakling, as it were." He looked at Shylock. "What about you? They'll be surprised when you go orc or centaur on them, or whatever one of them is. Might even cause some confusion between them."
Shylock nodded and raced off towards the distance as the rest of the town began to recuperate.
Shylock went to the center of the village as if he was looking for intruders.

"I hope you're watching my back Umbra. I'm exposed here." thought Shylock. He was just about to go around a house when the minotaur stepped around the corner and blocked his way. Shylock turned around but saw the fairy behind him with a few others.

"You looking for a rematch." asked Shylock.

"You humiliated me last time. Now I'll get some payback." said the minotaur.

"You shouldn't have traveled alone." said the Fairy.

"What makesss you think he'ss alone." said Slivinuss.

The enemy group turned to him as he and Quiet Mouse stepped out of the shadows.

"You think you can protect him?!" asked the minotaur.

"What makes you think I need protecting?" said Shylock. He began to grow into a exact copy of the minotaur. "Let's see how tough you are when your opponent is the same size!" He charged at the minotaur and knocked him over which caught him by surprise. The Slivinuss turned into his snake form and swung his tail at the fairy. She flew under the tail and knocked him into a house with a spell. Before she could interrupt Shylock's duel with the minotaur though, Quite Mouse suddenly dashed at her and slapped her out of the air. Before he could incapacitate her though, Obsidian jumped at him and he had to stop to defend himself. Shylock ducked under the axe blow from his opponent then hit the minotaur in the face. Shylock tried to hit him in the belly but he caught Shylock's hand then headbutted him. The minotaur then knocked his feet out from under him. As Shylock lied on his back he saw Umbra appear above the minotaur with Fredrick. As Fredrick fell to the ground his wings appeared again and he dove at the minotaur.

"Stealing my form doesn't grant you my skill, shifter." said the minotaur. He lifted his axe but before he could finish him, Fredrick dove into him from behind. As the minotaur fell to the ground, Fredrick bent down and grabbed him by the back of the neck. He then threw him through a nearby house. The minotaur staggered to his feet and tried to hit back but Fredrick blocked it, then shoved him back to the center of the village. The minotaur tried to get back to his feet, when the rest of his allies were thrown at him from different parts of the square.

"Get us out of here, Yizima!" yelled Obsidian. The fairy quickly rose into the air and began to prepare a spell that would teleport them to safety but before she could finish, Christopher threw a bottle at them. When it shattered a purple smoke flew out of it. The fairy coughed but didn't appear troubled.

"Nice try! We'll see you again next time!" said Yizima. She tried to cast the spell but found she couldn't call on her magic. As the look of surprise appeared on her face, the vampire spoke up.

"Having a little trouble, fairy. It's a Immortal specialty. Keeps trouble making mages from using their magic." said Christopher.

"You have nowhere to run! Surrender!" said Marcus.
"Still got our feet and wings!" Yizima called out. "Run for it!"

"Not going to work," said a voice.

That was when Yizima got hit by a sticky net-like substance, causing her to impact and stick to a wall. She then looked to see the others in a similar situation. "What's going on?" she called out. She looked at was she was stuck in. "A spider's web?" She paled as a figure came into the square. It was a creature with the upper body of a woman, and the lower body of a spider. "A drider? Here?"

Marcus looked. "Alisia. Didn't expect you to be in the area."

"Had some issues with Dukco's forces trying to take over my cave system," the drider said. "Heard that you were after him, and I thought that we'd join forces. We had good times the last time we hunted together."

"I still remember what happened the last time," said Marcus. "Took me a while to heal up."

"You're lucky I was there," said Alisia. "Both arms and legs were busted, along with a few cracked ribs."

"Being cocooned didn't help my pain much," said Marcus. "Still, you did get me to safety that time."

"I also remember what else we did." Alisia grinned. "That was fun as well."

"The part where you tried to bite me wasn't," said Marcus. "Still get nightmares from that!"

Alisia chuckled. "Spider's instinct. Told you that I was sorry." She looked at the trapped Bounty Hunters. "What do you want done with these flies?"

"I plan on making them chose between working for me, or just plan put into an embarrassing predicament, like being made to walk back to the city with nothing - no clothes, no food, no weapons, and the like," said Marcus. "I'd hate to have to kill them. By the way, where's Drakus?"

"Over here."

Marcus turned, and saw Drakus walking up to them. Under his arm was an owl-like creature. He then set the creature down.

"Where are we?" the owl said, looking around, and rubbing his eyes.

"Adelaide!" said Yizima. "What happened?"

"Better sit down, before you trip," said Drakus.

"He used Bright Light on me," said Adelaide, as the owl-man sat down. "Won't be able to see a thing for a few hours. You?"

"Let's just say that we got caught in a drider's webbing," said Yizima. "We didn't plan on that, or their other tricks."

"Always change and adapt your tactics," said Marcus. "First rule of war."

"What are you going to do to us?" Adelaide asked.

"Well, I'm in a generous mood," said Marcus. "I'll give you your lives - you can either work for me, or I'll take your supplies, weapons, and gear, and make you walk back to the city with nothing. Either way is a better offer than what Dukco will give you - he'll kill you for sure, and raise you into his service. Don't believe me - I got a witness."

At this, Brunhilda came forward. "My husband was a bounty hunter, same as you," the goblin woman said. "No job was too big for him. Didn't matter who the client was, or what the target did - he went after them. He was good at it. He captured a gnome that Dukco wanted - price was the gnome's weight in gold. Dukco poured melted gold down my husband's throat. My husband died a cruel death. Then, he got raised into Dukco service, and was sent after me. Luckily, I recognized him enough to speak his name, and restore his soul to his body. He mimed what happened to him. Lately, he just collects dust, not doing much of anything. Brought him with me though - and maybe he'll tell you himself, thanks to that amulet that skeletal woman over there has, if he's up to opening his mouth."
The Bounty Hunters sat down to listen to what everybody had to say,
Marcus watched as Brunhilda's husband told the hunters about what happened to him and the terrible things he went through. As Marcus had expected the hunters did not take the news well.

"I would rather die that go through that!" said the minotaur.

"This is about more than just gold or honor. Some of us have a personal stake in this fight." said Yizima.

"What stake is that." asked Fredrick.

"I come from a small community of fairies living in the woods close to your village. For years Dukco has been sending people to chop down our home but we always held them back with magic and trickery. Recently our defenses have begun to fall. I was hoping that if I hand him his greatest enemy, then I might be able to convince him to leave us be." said Yizima.

"Won't work. He'll kill you and use you to destroy your own community." said Brunhilda.

"Perhaps but what else do you expect me to do?!" said Yizima.

"You're willing to sell out our village to save yours?! Why not join forces with us." said Shale.

"If you recall, we did send someone to you to ask for aid and you turned us down!" said Yizima.

"We're farmers not soldiers." said Tom.

"And yet your people are willing to fight now! Funny how their opinion changes when their homes are the ones being threatened." said Yizima.

"Join us. If Dukco's dead, then he can't hurt your people." said Marcus.

"You're mad! Do you have any idea what he would do to us if he heard that one of us has joined his greatest enemy and were plotting his demise!" said Yizima.

"He'll do nothing! Because he won't be alive to cause any harm." said Fredrick.

"What makes you so certain that you can beat him." said Yizima.

"I know how he thinks, I know his weaknesses. Besides, you saw how we fought." said Marcus.

"Have to admit. You did give us a lot more trouble than we were expecting." said the minotaur.

"What about you? Why are you so eager to fight us?" asked Shylock.

"I've always enjoyed a good fight. It's my grandfather's influence. It's a little hard to control sometimes." said Baroque.

"Your grandfather is a god of war, isn't he?" asked Drakus. Baroque nodded his head. "And how would he feel that you're willing to doom a innocent village."

"He doesn't believe in innocents. He cares about blood spilled. But he does expect warriors to face worthy opponents. He'll show more favor to a warrior that beats an equal opponent than one that defeats an army of weak foes." replied Baroque.

"So he'll be more impressed if you kill Dukco?" said Drakus.

"Only if I survive. He hates overconfident warriors." replied Baroque.

"We will prevail. Join us, then you'll have his approval." said Drakus.

"Dumb question, but how is it that you've been able to beat us during our fights?" Yizima asked.

Marcus chuckled. "Simple answer - teamwork. I'd safely wager that your minotaur friend here could have been able to beat Fredrick here."

"As if," said Fredrick.

"But he got the rest of you chucked at him, and the rest of my crew had already done a number beforehand," said Marcus. "I mean, Shylock over here took on the guy's own form, and got in a few good blows. Then there's our new friends, plus this one over there."

Alisia grinned.

"Don't get on her bad side," Marcus said, quietly. "Do that, and she'll bite you. After that, it's no secret about the way in which her kind feed. After all, that spider over there is doing to some poor fly what she'll do to you."

He pointed over at a corner, where the Bounty Hunters saw what he was talking about.

"Then there's Slivinuss," said Marcus. "A couple of your friends already found out the hard way how he feeds."

"They were only one," Slivinuss said. "Or might asss well have been. Their mindss were fusssed together, and thusss felt everything the othersss felt. Ssstill, they'll ssusstain me for a while, until I need to do ssome sseriouss hunting again."

Marcus came up to the Bounty Hunters. He looked at Yizima. "Dukco's got a lot of enemies. Seems a lot of them are coming here. I can't promise that your village would be left standing, especially if he cuts down the forest, but I never promised that this village would be left standing either. I promised to help protect the people. Should we make it through, I'll help rebuild. I'll make that promise to you - bring your people here, and I'll help you rebuild your village, even if I have to replant each tree myself."

Yizima blinked. "You'd do that?"

Marcus nodded. "You have my word. We can't beat him alone. I can't beat him alone. But together, we can crush him. I'd wager that over where the free-willed undead live, they are getting themselves armed and ready for a fight. Bounty Hunters will be coming. I'd wager that anyone with some sort of grudge against Dukco is coming here. As it is, I'd hate to be Dukco."

Yizima looked at the others, and then at Marcus. "Count us in."

Marcus grinned. "Good."
Meanwhile, Dukco was watching the events through his scrying mirror. As he watched the sorceress approached him.

"Any change?" asked the sorceress.

"They've agreed to work together now. So hard to find reliable people these days." said Dukco.

"Their numbers have been growing. They could become a threat if we let them continue to grow." said the sorceress.

"I have a army. He does not." said Dukco.

"He doesn't have one now but in a few days that could change. My scrying shows that the bounty hunter's guild is on the move and even the Immortals is beginning to stir." said the sorceress.

Ducko looked back at the mirror and thought it through.

"Then it might be best to remove them before these groups unite. Send the captain out with a large force. I want that village burned to the ground! Tell him this is his last chance at redemption. If he fails me again then he'd better not return!" said Dukco. The sorceress bowed, then turned to follow his orders. Dukco looked at his brother through the mirror again.

"You've been a thorn in my side for too long, brother. It's time I removed you." said Dukco.

Back at the village Marcus was overseeing the repairs of the village when Fredrick approached.

"Yizima has left to gather her people. I've put Baroque in charge of the drills for now. Hope the villagers can survive it." said Fredrick.

"Any trouble from him?" asked Marcus.

"He's a skilled warrior but a bit harsh. He's a bit of a hothead too. Hope you know what you're doing recruiting them." said Fredrick.

"They'll do fine. Anything else to report?" asked Marcus.

"I received a message from the other Immortals. They're impressed with what we've been doing. 15 knights have left and are traveling here. They may be few in number but they are very skilled in battle." said Fredrick.

"Good! We'll put them to good use. How long before they get here?" asked Marcus.

"About a day." said Fredrick. At that moment Marcus saw Rokaar running towards them.

"Umbra and I just came back from scouting the nearby city! A large force just left the city and are traveling here!" said Rokaar.

"How long before they get here?" asked Marcus.

"A few hours." replied Rokaar.

"The Immortals won't get here in time." said Fredrick.

"What of the bounty hunters?" asked Marcus.

"They've been delayed. Little less than a day away." said Rokaar.

Marcus saw the rest of their group running towards them.

"Are the traps deployed?" asked Marcus.

"They've been finished." said Robin.

"Yizima's people should get here before the attack." said Shylock.

"They're good with tricks and deception. Maybe they can delay Dukco's men for another few hours." said Umbra.

"I've webbed up the path to the village. Should slow them down." said Alisia.

"Alright," said Marcus. "I want everyone to get something to eat, and to get some rest. Fredrick, you, Briana, Jason, and Christopher are to keep watch. If you see anyone coming, wake me and a few of the others up. If it's Yizima's people, we might be able to place them in key positions where they can assist in the defense. If it's Dukco's forces, wake everyone up by ringing the temple bell."

"Do you think we'll win?" Shylock asked.

Marcus chuckled. "I'd be a liar if I said that we'd beat them easily. I'd rather prepare for the worst, yet hope for the best. I expect that we'll lose our lives, but I hope that we take enough of them with us that they will break when someone else comes to take them on."

"So, what is the point?" Shylock asked.

"We simply hurt them as much as we can," said Marcus. "If we can show that Dukco and his forces can be damaged, that they could be defeated, it will break their reputation of fear. We'll do everything we can - we want them to be afraid of us. Once we prove that they aren't invincible, everyone else will gain courage, and they too will fight."
Shylock nodded and watched as the war council continued to play out.
Fredrick was standing with the other undead at the gate nearest to the city when he saw Yizima return with several dozen fairies.

"Briana! Go wake Marcus." said Fredrick.

As Briana ran into the village, Brenda flew towards Fredrick.

"There's a large force heading here!" said Yizima.

"We already know. Marcus has already begun to plan for it. He'll tell you when he gets here." said Fredrick.

A short while later Marcus, Robin, Drakus and Briana arrived from the village.

"Is this everyone?" asked Marcus.

"Everyone from our community. I hope you have a plan." said Yizima.

"I want you and your people to go out and distract those men. Don't fight them but use your magic and trickery to delay them as best you can." said Marcus.

"That's our specialty but these tricks won't fool them forever." said Yizima.

"This is just to delay them. We can't defeat a force that size by ourselves. We need to buy the village time for the bounty hunter reinforcements to arrive." said Marcus.

"Hope those reinforcements of yours haven't turned back then." said Yizima. She turned around with the other fairies and flew away from the village towards the enemy force.

"Should we wake the others?" asked Drakus.

"No, let them sleep for a few more hours." said Marcus.

They waited several hours but heard no further news, which concerned them greatly. Just as the sun began to rise, they saw the fairies fly towards them at high speed.

"We delayed them as best we can! But they got through our magic. They're right around the bend!" said Yizima.

"Thanks for the help, Yizima. Get your people to safety. Attack the troops from behind us. We'll handle the front lines." said Marcus. As the fairies took positions Fredrick leaned closer to Marcus.

"Are you sure that's a good idea? We need as many as we can get to hold the gates." whispered Fredrick.

"Fairies aren't built for front line combat. They can do more damage if we keep the enemy away from them." whispered Marcus. He then turned to Briana. "Go ring the bell!" said Marcus. Briana ran towards the church and a few moments later the bell began to ring. The entire village stirred into activity. The villagers that were trained to fight ran up to them, while those that couldn't fight took cover in the church. The rest of their group ran up to them.

"What's the news?" asked Shylock.

"Fairies delayed them as best they can but the force has arrived." said Marcus.

"What's your plan?" asked Shylock.

"Hold out until the bounty hunters arrive." said Marcus.

Before they could continue their conversation the army came within sight. The soldiers were dressed in the same black armor they wore while fighting for the dark lord. Behind them was a company of soldiers with crossbows and at the rear a group of slaves were dragging a large siege engine that looked like a battering ram. it's front was shaped like a dragon's snout.

"I'd say their numbers are 300 to 400 men." said Fredrick.

"Dukco has almost 1000 men! Why send so few." asked Robin.

"Maybe he doesn't expect us to win. Even those numbers would be difficult to overcome." said Fredrick.

"I think I know why. While in the city I heard that there are groups in the city that oppose him. Rival crime lords, Rebels and zealots. If he sent his whole force then he would be vulnerable back home." said Umbra.

"That's our advantage then." said Marcus.

"Why bring a battering ram to the fight though? The gates aren't that sturdy." said Fredrick.

"I don't think that's a battering ram. It's design reminds me of something the dwarves were building. They never got it to work though. Better be careful. That thing could be more dangerous than it appears." said Brunhilda.

"Dwarf item?" Shale took a look. "I think that's what my cousin called a Thunderpipe. Idea is that you take a metal pipe, seal up one end, save for a small hole, which has a long candle wick, put in explosive powder, followed by a large rock, light the candle wick, run away, and when the flame gets to the powder - Boom! Rock comes flying out of the pipe and hopefully hits whatever the opening was pointed at. Doesn't always work that way though."

"Thank your cousin for us if we make it out alive," said Marcus. "Drakus!"

"I heard," said the blind draconian. "Let's open things up properly. Fredrick, a little help with the aiming."

"You do realize that those are slaves dragging the thing," said Elvira.

Marcus looked again. "Let me ask you - who would you prefer to save - yourself, or those are dead anyways?"

"What do you mean?" Elvira asked. "Can't you save them?"

"If there was a spark of life and defiance in them, I would charge out there and try to save them," said Marcus. "But, look at their eyes - broken, lifeless, no spark, no defiance - nothing. They're dead men walking. Death would be a release."

"I have to agree," said Drakus. "I might be a priest of the light, whose order to preserve the sanctity of life, but sometimes, you can't save everyone."

"It's still pretty cold though," said Elvira.

"It will warm up for them in a moment," said Drakus. "Fredrick?"

The armored revenent helped the blind draconian to aim his head. "Do we do it now?"

"I don't see any heralds coming forward with a flag of truce, or something like that," said Marcus. "Show them what the blood of a real dragon can do."

Drakus took a deep breath, and then let out a narrow stream of flame. This flame managed to get into the metal dragon's mouth, causing it to glow red, and forcing those near it to run away. Then, it exploded, shrapnel flying everywhere.

"Everyone down!" Marcus called out.

A few seconds later, Marcus got up, and looked over at the metal wreckage. At least thirty had been killed, several dozen were seriously injured, and at least another couple of dozen seemed to have minor injuries or hearing issues.

Marcus then looked at those behind him. Aside from complaining about their ears, and being a little shaken by the explosion, most seemed alright, although a few of the houses were worse for the wear.

He looked at Elvira. She was pale in the face, and breathing heavily. "I managed to cast a shield over us in time. You're right though - I picked my own people over those ones out there."

Marcus nodded. "It's a lesson every combat leader must learn. It's a lesson every fighter learns. If you have to pick between you and the other guy surviving the fight, pick yourself." He looked at the wreckage again. "If nothing else, we've shown them that we mean business."

"I think I'm going to be sick," said Tom. He then threw up.

"I don't blame you," said Marcus. "I'd be worried if you weren't."

"What about you?" Elvira asked. "You don't look sick."

"I'll puke later," said Marcus. "But for now, I'm more focused on what they'll try to do next."
The other members of the group watched as Marcus drunkenly stumbled away from some R&R
Fredrick watched as a man in black armor with a curved sword stepped in front of the soldiers and began to slowly walk towards them. As he walked towards them he gave them a slow clap before speaking.

"Not bad! I told Dukco that his contraption wouldn't do the trick. He relies too much on terrors like this and not enough on proper warriors." said the man.

"Who are you?!" asked Marcus.

"My name isn't important! But my mission here is. I'm to destroy this entire village and make an example of these people." said the man.

"I'm afraid we can't let you do that!" said Marcus.

"I know you feel it is your duty to protect these people! I can respect that because I do this for duty too." said the man.

"Why do this?! Why do you admire that mad man?!" said Shale.

"ADMIRE!! Let me tell you something, dwarf! I hate him more than you can possibly imagine but I must serve him until he releases me from my dept or I save his life. I don't expect a farmer to understand. Only a warrior can understand honor's burden." said the man.

"You must realize that he will never release you." said Fredrick.

"Then I'll just have to complete the other requirement. But you don't have to die here. I'm giving you this chance to save yourselves. Leave this village and you have my word of honor that I won't pursue you. Not until I return to Dukco anyway."

"Dukco won't be very happy if you let us go." said Drakus.

"I don't care what makes Dukco happy. I only do what he orders me to do. Nothing more! and he didn't say anything about what to do with you. Just this village." said the man.

"You must realize that we would never accept that." said Marcus.

"Sigh. I expected you to say that. Then you leave me no choice. I'm sorry." said the man. He turned around and walked back to his men. He then drew his sword and pointed it at the village. "KILL THEM ALL!"

The men drew their weapons and charged at the gate.
"Loose!" Marcus shouted, as he dropped his own sword.

Crossbows released their bolts. Several of the enemy fell, but more kept coming.

"First rank, drop back and reload! Second Rank, step forward! Loose!"

More bolts flew, and some more of the enemy fell.

"Second rank, drop back and reload! Third Rank, step forward! Loose!"

Again, bolts flew and men fell.


"Fall back!" the black armored one shouted.

Men turned, and started running away.

Marcus dropped his sword as he saw the enemy retreating. "Again!"

Crossbow bolts flew, and again, more men fell.

"And again!"

More bolts flew, and more men fell.

"They are retreating," said Elvira. "Isn't it against some sort of rule to loose an arrow, bolt, stone, or any other weapon into a retreating enemy?"

"Only if it was a fair fight to begin with," said Marcus. "This wouldn't have been one anyways."

"They were expecting to kill a bunch of helpless villagers," said Fredrick. "We've proven that you're not so helpless."

The black armored man stepped forward, looking at the dead, and the wounded, some of which were still trying to get away. He growled. He then looked up at Marcus. "A Truce? I want to talk to you."

Marcus nodded. He looked at Fredrick. "Be ready for any tricks." He then walked out of the village.

The armored man came forward.

They met, face to face.

"Why do you fight Dukco?" the man asked. "What did they offer you?"

Marcus chuckled, pulled out a coin purse, and passed it at the armored man.

The armored man poured it into his hand. "Twenty gold? They got you for twenty gold?"

"A grand total of twenty gold, is my peoples' entire pay, plus whatever bounties are on your heads," said Marcus.

The armored man chuckled, as he put the money back into the pouch, and passed it back to Marcus. "You are an interesting one. Never heard of anyone willing to do so much for so little."

"So, are you going to spring some sort of trap, or are you just talking?" Marcus asked.

"I'm just talking," the man said. "My men have made it back by now, those who can. I look forward to meeting you again." The man turned, and walked away.

Marcus watched, and then walked away.

"What did he want to know?" Fredrick asked.

"Why we were willing to fight," said Marcus. "A grand total of twenty gold."

"It's some kind of crazy story to me too," said Fredrick.
Shylocke smiled at Marcus' words and strum his instrument a little.

"What will we call this adventure? The Twenty-Gold Calamity? Death of The Little Dark Lord? The Small Battle?"
"Let's save the naming and celebration for when we actually win." said Fredrick.

"What are you talking about? They fled!" said Shylock.

"They're not fleeing. They're regrouping. Make no mistake. We'll be seeing them again." said Fredrick.

"I hate to say it but Fredrick is right. They won't give up so quickly. At least we bought ourselves some time." said Marcus.

"We'd better make the best of it. We can build more traps and do some more fortifying." said Fredrick.

"Good idea. We should also keep an eye on those hunter reinforcements. Dukco's men could strike at them before they arrive." said Marcus.

"I'm worried about those reinforcements. They were promised a large bounty when they get here. If Dukco's men aren't here when they arrive then we'll be the only bounty in the area." said Rokaar.

"We have soldiers and a fortified village. They will have a hard time collecting on our bounties." said Marcus.

"Perhaps but if they do attack then it will weaken us both. Then Dukco's soldiers can move back in and finish both groups." said Rokaar.

"Don't forget the Immortals. They are few in number but skilled fighters and they will be more loyal than the bounty hunters." said Fredrick.

"Then we'll just have to think of something to convince them to leave us be. In the mean time we should keep fortifying. It will help against both groups." said Marcus.
"Besides, there's another aspect to think on," said Marcus. "When those Bounty Hunters do get here, they probably won't be leaving for at least a day. Got to pick up supplies for the way back, and they'll want a nap. All of that is time for Elvira and her people to tell them her peoples' story."

"Do you think that will work?" Fredrick asked.

"If nothing else, when they sneak up on us, they'll have to wonder why in the world the forest is filled with so many traps, if there isn't at least some truth to the story about Dukco's men being in the area," said Marcus.

"Good point," said Fredrick.

"Well, looks like I spoke too soon about them all running away," said Shylock. "Look over there."

Marcus looked. "Can't really tell in this form."

"This might help," said Brunhilda as she handed an object to Marcus.

Marcus looked at it. "A Looking Glass. Useful." He held it to his eye, and he was able to make out the black armored figure, and several others hiding in the tree. "Smart. Waiting for us to drop our guard."

"Got a plan?" Fredrick asked.

Marcus nodded. "Keep guards posted the next two days, where they can watch everything. After the two days, take them off the walls, and we'll throw a party, with Shylock playing celebratory music. That will be when they make their move to attack. However, we'll have hidden guards watching in all directions, and weapons will be placed everywhere as well. The moment that we get word of the attack, Shylock will change the music from ones used for a celebration, to ones used for battle, which will let people know to grab their weapons, and get to their posts, and to be ready to fight."
"I like that plan, though could I have Rikarn to guard me?" Shylock inquired.
Marcus walked through the village and examined the people he passed as he made his way to the church. A day had passed since Dukco's men tried to take the village. Both the Immortals and the hunters had arrived. The Immortals quickly got to work helping the village but the hunters gave Marcus some trouble. They were expecting to arrive at the village and find enough bounties for them to live comfortably for decades but all they found was Marcus and his group. He managed to convince them to stay but with so many mouths to feed, supplies in the village were dangerously low, a fact that the hunters complained about constantly. The number of hunters were fewer than Marcus had expected too. Their leader explained that several had turned back when they found the easy path destroyed and didn't want to hike through the dangerous wilderness towards the village. Dukco's men realized that they didn't have the forces to take the village without heavy losses so the pulled further back and waited for the defenders to come out. Every time the villagers tried to gather food, Dukco's men would strike at them. The plan was to trick Dukco's men into attacking the village but the supplies would run out before they could put the plan into action.

Marcus opened the doors to the church and walked to the front where a table with maps of the surrounding area was placed. Waiting for him was the rest of his group, the village elders, the captain in charge of the squad of Immortals, the leader of the hunters and Yizima.

"What's the situation?" asked Marcus.

"Grim. Supplies are continuing to drop at a alarming rate. We probably have enough for a day, maybe a bit more if we had strict rations. Something your hunter 'friends' aren't happy with." said Tom.

"I told you! My people aren't used to situations like this! I'm doing the best I can to keep them in line but if you order that then they will rebel. I respect what you are trying to do for these farmers but not all my people are like that. Already I hear whispers that my objectivity is clouded." said the leader of the hunters. He was a silver scaled draconian so Marcus knew that honor was important to him and so he trusted him.

"Well what else can we do?! We can't keep going on like nothing is wrong." said Shale.

"What about the Immortals?" asked Marcus.

"The captain and I know each other very well. The Immortal's morale is high." said Fredrick.

"What about your people, Yizima?" asked Marcus.

"We don't require much food so we don't have too much trouble." said Yizima.

"Biggest problem are the hunters! They almost never stop eating." said Tom.

"You have no idea what we went through to get here, human! My people are tired and hungry." said the draconian.

"Are there enough of you to drive off Dukco's men?" asked Marcus.

"No, in a straight fight maybe but Dukco's men know the terrain, the best ambush sites, the best hideouts. There's a reason we haven't been able to catch them until now." said the draconian.

"Why don't we take 'donations'." said Robin.

"Donations! What do you mean?" said Elvira.

"Dukco's men have more than they can use. Don't they?" said Robin.

"It's true! Umbra, Obsidian and I scouted out their camp and it's got months worth of supplies." said Rokaar.

"And how do you expect us to move enough supplies without them noticing?" said Baroque.

"They're a lazy bunch. They have wagons full of supplies. They only remove that which they need. If we can steal a wagon or two. We'll have enough for months." said Rokaar.

"They're watching the village. If we leave they'll know we're up to something and will fortify the camp." said Baroque.

"I can transport a small group a short distance out of the village. You can then hike through the wilderness and sneak into their camp." said Yizima.

"It would help if you had a distraction. I have a few tricks that could keep them focused elsewhere." said Shylock.

"If they knew you were gone from the village they will attack again." said Shale.

"I can create illusions of those we teleport. Just like I did when we struck at your group." said Obsidian.

"It's dangerous but I don't see any other way. What do you think, Marcus?" asked Fredrick.

"Sounds good to me. It would solve our problem and enrage Dukco's men. It would make the celebration seem more believable too and they will be eager to strike back. We'll steal the supplies, then throw the celebration to trick them into attacking us again." said Marcus.
"In fact, here's what we'll do," said Marcus. "Steal the supplies you can, and destroy the rest. Whatever you can't take, ruin. Burn it. Throw water on it. Dump it. Whatever you wish to do, save poisoning it."

"Why not poison it?" Umbra asked.

"Because we might need to eat it," said Marcus. "Besides, what food is left will end up going to the Officers, and while poisoning them would be useful, it would be better for the lower ranks to resent them for being Privileged. Besides, some might decide that food in their stomachs is worth more than money in their coin purses, and will switch to our side in order to have something to eat."

"You have a point," said Fredrick. "An army of the living marches on its stomach. Undead though, they don't need to eat."

"Let's hope that Dukco isn't that foolish," said Marcus. "While zombies and skeletons make for excellent arrow fodder, unless they are free-willed, they are easy to deal with, especially from a defensible position, such as this village has become."

"I agree," said Jason. "Without free-will, zombies and skeletons are easy to deal with. A farmer with a shovel could bash and crush their skull in, reasonably well. Even with the basic level of training we've given these villagers, they could deal with them easily. A trained fighter, I wouldn't even make the wager."

"What about against the living?" the draconian asked.

"If we can steal or ruin their supplies, they might make mistakes," said Jason. "Besides, without food, it's all a matter of time."

"Like I said," said Marcus. "Steal what you can, destroy what you can't. It might not be a fair tactic, but it will win."
Shylock readied himself for the upcoming blitz the group was preparing himself for.

He shifted quickly between forms to limber himself up, as not to be lock up when a fight occured.

"Poison;steal; destroy. I got all of that boss." Shylock replied.
Marcus stood ready with the people he had chosen to go with him on the raid. He chose Umbra and Rokaar for their stealth, Shylock for the distraction, Briana for her magic, Rikarn at Shylock's insistence and Jason and Brunhilda for their archery skills. Since they would no doubt flee the camp with Dukco's men in pursuit, Marcus thought it best to bring people with ranged weapons so that they can shoot back. He also didn't want to bring the larger members with him as they were easily spotted. Robin was good in stealth but she wouldn't be able to blend in at the camp. Yizima was close by, preparing the spell that would teleport them. As they waited, Fredrick approached them.

"Are you sure about this?" asked Fredrick.

"Not really, but what choice do we have?" said Marcus.

"Wish I could help you, but I'm out of my element in this mission." said Fredrick.

"We'll need good fighters at the village. If the mission goes badly then they might attack directly afterwards." said Marcus.

"We'll do our best to hold them and keep the village safe." said Fredrick.

"Spell is ready. You should step back, Fredrick." said Yizima. Fredrick went to go stand next to Yizima. "I'll teleport you a short distance from their camp. That way you can sneak up on them."

A bright white flash suddenly blinded Marcus. When his vision cleared, he found himself standing in the forest with the others.

"Everybody made it?" asked Marcus.

"Looks that way. Not the most comfortable way to arrive at a destination." said Rokaar.

"Rokaar, Umbra! Lead us to the camp." said Marcus.

Rokaar and Umbra took the lead and the others followed them quietly through the woods. A short while later Marcus smelled roasting meat and he began to hear the sound of loud voices. The group went down on their belly and crawled through the bushes until they could see the camp. Several soldiers were sitting around the central campfire, Drinking, eating and making merry. Marcus removed the spyglass that Brunhilda had given him and inspected the camp. Most of the soldiers were at the central campfire but a few were wandering the camp. The horses were tied close to the far edge of camp with the wagons. A guard was standing close to the wagons. Several wagons had some of their crates removed but Marcus saw at least two wagons that were still completely full.

"Looks like they're having a party." said Rikarn.

"Good! Will make it easier to sneak into camp. We'll steal the two full wagons. Destroy the rest. Shylock, Rikarn! When I give the signal, I want you to release their horses into the camp. Will make it harder for them to pursue us." said Marcus.

"Use these to destroy any supplies you find." said Brunhilda. She handed them flasks of strange yellow liquid.

"What is it?" asked Briana.

"Fireball in a bottle. Once the bottle breaks, it explodes as good as any fireball. Don't use it until we reach the wagons. It will attract the entire camp." said Brunhilda.

"Good to know. Jason! You stay back here. Cover us with your bow while we approach the wagons. Once we have the wagons. Meet us behind that hill over there and we'll pick you up." said Marcus.

"So, what's the distraction?" Shylock asked.

Marcus grinned. "That would be me."

"Let me guess, walk right up to the campfire, snag some food and drink, and kill a few?" Briana asked.

Marcus chuckled. "You know me too well."

"Crazy plan if I ever heard one," said Shylock.

"Crazy enough to work," said Jason. "Brazen plans seem to work nine times out of ten."

"Seems like it," said Marcus. "Give me ten seconds, and then move while I have their attention. With all eyes on me, none will be on you."

"Good luck," said Brunhilda.

Marcus slipped off, and circled around, coming at the camp from the opposite location that the rest would be at. He then walked into the middle, and sat at the fire, much to the surprise of those sitting there.

"Getting cold this time of year," he said, as he grabbed a roasted bird. He bit into it. He looked up, as the leader of the group drew their blade.

"What are you doing here?" the leader asked.

Marcus grinned. "Robbing you of your food and drink."

"All by yourself?" the leader asked.

"I could beat the lot of you with my eyes shut, and my right arm tied behind my back," said Marcus. "Oh, and both legs tied together. Don't need anyone else."

"Where's the rest of your group?" the leader asked.

"Throwing a celebration," said Marcus. "You're welcome to come, providing that you mind your manners."
The Group readied themselves for the upcoming battle.

Various stretches and warmups, did our fair heroes do.
Marcus watched his group sneak up on the wagons. Rokaar knocked the guards standing at the wagons out, then had the others hide his unconscious body. If any of the soldiers surrounding Marcus turned around then they would see his group so he did his best not to look past the soldiers. Otherwise they might turn around to see what he was looking at.

"You're too overconfident for your own good." said the armored man.

"You're more than welcome to test me if you wish." said Marcus. He took a bottle of liquor and drank from it. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a soldier trying to sneak up on him. The soldier struck with a mace but Marcus side stepped the blow then hit the soldier in the back of his head with the bottle. Another soldier charged at him but Marcus dodged the man, then pushed him from behind which knocked him into the other soldiers. "That anyway to treat a guest?"

"You're not a welcome one." said the armored man. The man drew a curved sword and walked towards him.

"What's your name?" asked Marcus.

"Lokhir." said the man.

"Well Lokhir, Let's see what you can do." said Marcus. Lokhir suddenly dashed forward and slashed at Marcus. He just barely dodged the blow then struck back at him. Lokhir suddenly disappeared and reappeared a short distance away. Lokhir threw a knife at Marcus but he deflected it with his sword. Marcus charged at him before he could throw another weapon and struck at the man. Lokhir deflected the strike with the scabbard of his sword then tried to stab him. Marcus bent backwards and the sword missed him. He then struck Lokhir's sword out of his hand. Marcus tried to strike him but Lokhir rolled away from the blow. His sword then reappeared in his scabbard and he drew it again. He struck his sword into the ground and his form began to blur and a second version of him stepped out and the both readied their weapons.

"Shadow magic! Not bad at all. You spent some time in the east I see." said Marcus.

"I was trained by the best! You cannot defeat me." said both Lokhirs. Marcus saw that his group was ready to leave so he put away his sword.

"Well! As much as I would like to test that theory, I'm afraid it's time for me to go." said Marcus.

"You're not going anywhere!" said Lokhir.

Marcus's people suddenly drove the horses pulling the two wagons into a charge and ran down the trail towards the exit of the camp. Shylock was driving the one wagon while Rokaar was driving the other. As they passed a large stack of supplies, they threw one of Brunhilda's bombs at it and the whole lot exploded. which drew the soldiers attention. While they were distracted, Marcus sprinted out of the circle of soldiers towards the wagons. Umbra suddenly appeared beside him, grabbed him then teleported them both back on the wagon that Shylock was driving. Briana and Jason was in the back using the crates as cover and firing at any soldiers that tried to get on the wagon. Marcus made his way to the front and shouted at Shylock.

"Get us as close as we can to those supplies! We need to destroy as many as we can before we flee!" said Marcus.

Every time they passed one of the stacks they would throw a bomb at it and it would soon explode. After blowing as many as they could, they rushed out of the camp with the soldiers in close pursuit.

"AFTER THEM!! Don't let them get away!!" yelled Lokhir. Jason and the others with ranged weapons on the other wagon were already exchanging shots with their pursuers.
"Alright," said Marcus. "Let's get out of here."

Yizima uttered her spell, teleporting both wagons.

They reappeared in the village, the horses being brought to a halt.

"That was fun," Marcus said, as he jumped out of the wagon. "Anyone hurt?"

"Just the usual bruises from a bumpy wagon ride," Brunhilda said, as she and the rest got out of their respective wagons. "And most of the enemy's supplies have been stolen or destroyed."

"Good to know," said Marcus. "Let's get these goods stashed away, and make sure that we're ready for when they come to attack."
Shylock sneaked throughout the various goods, looking for anything of value.
Shylock was checking through the wagon, separating the different items.

"Hope you're not planning on stealing anything from the villagers." said Fredrick. Shylock twisted around and looked at him.

"Of course not!" said Shylock.

"Just kidding. Besides I don't think Marcus would mind if you took something from the wagons after helping them liberate it. What did you find?" asked Fredrick.

"Food, weapons and armor mostly but there are a few things that I can't identify." said Shylock. As they spoke, Robin and Marcus approached from the church.

"We should let Briana or Brunhilda look at those things. They might be useful." said Robin.

"What's the news?" asked Fredrick.

"Marcus put the villagers to work organizing everything for tonight's celebration. The morale in the village is high, even the hunters are happy for once. I don't blame them. I had a look at the supplies. Fine steak, expensive wine. Dukco supplied his men with the most expensive food available. The people are eager to join the celebration." said Robin.

"Not just that. There has been dark times for everyone. It's good to have a time to relax. We must remember that the purpose of the celebration is to trap Dukco's forces though. Must keep our heads clear." said Fredrick.

"What will we do after we beat Dukco's forces though? He still has many troops and we can't stay here forever." said Shylock.

"We'll go to the city and find Dukco." said Marcus.

"With what troops? Dukco still has many men and even with the hunter's help I don't think we can beat him on his home ground." said Shylock.

"Umbra and Rokaar mentioned that Dukco has enemies in his city. I think we should seek them out." said Fredrick.

"What do we know of them?" asked Robin.

"There are three large groups. The first group are undead that have been freed of control. They're fighting a shadow war against Dukco's men. Trying to free the undead that is still under his control. They plan to take control of the city and turn the area into a kingdom for the undead." said Fredrick.

"Undead could use a safe haven. They have been through a lot." said Robin.

"Problem is he doesn't really trust the living. He might be difficult to approach and who knows what he'll do with the living in his kingdom once he takes over." said Fredrick.

"What about the others?" asked Shylock.

"One group is mostly non humans. Elves, Beastmen etc. They want to remove all rulership from the city. Make the place a city of no rules and no rulers. Problem is several such rogue cities have existed in the past but they all ended up destroying themselves. I suspect the same would happen if these rogues took over. The other group is a chapter of knights and priests. Their leader was the former prince of the city before Dukco killed his family and took his throne. They want to return the city back to him and purify the city. They don't hate non humans but they don't exactly like them either. I'm uncertain what this prince will do when he takes power." said Fredrick.

"Would they be willing to work together?" asked Shylock.

"I doubt it. They each have very different plans for the city and they don't exactly trust each other. Which ever one we choose, his rivals might try to sabotage our own efforts so we'll have to be careful who we side with." said Fredrick.

"We'll worry about that later. Right now we should focus on saving the village. We'll worry about the city when Dukco's forces are defeated." said Marcus.
"Still, do you have any ideas?" Fredrick asked.

"Yeah, contact all the various groups' leaders, and have all of them meet in one place," said Marcus. "The prince can have the rule of the City, but at the very least, he's going to get several new advisers, those being the leaders of the other groups. The rogues will like having one of their own in charge, as will the undead. Rules will need to be in place to see to it that all are treated fairly. If the leaders can't agree to work together, then remind them that they can either learn to live together, and cooperate, or they can all squabble, and Dukco can have them all killed and raised as brainless undead, and it wouldn't surprise me if he's working on something to deal with free-willed undead."

"I've heard of stories about something like that," said Fredrick. "The idea scares me."
Shylock cracked his back, knowing that is was his turn to shine.

"Well, you guys and gals need a shapeshifter for this? I can get the drop on any secrets and going-ons in any of those factions."

Fredrick and Marcus stared at the changeling for a few moments,then nodded.

"Great, show me who you want to copy and get me close to integrate them into my system."

The trio began to speak to one another about how plan their next few steps.
"Having a shape changing informer in the groups would be useful but you're ability will be limited. You have difficulty copying undead, don't you?" asked Fredrick.

"I do. I can copy their appearance but not their abilities so I won't be able to speak to them." replied Shylock.

"And you can't mimic someone's scent. so you might be able to infiltrate the rogues but you'll have to avoid wolven, draconians and some over creatures that can smell you. I suggest you focus on the prince's forces. I'll contact the undead. I still have some contacts with undead that fought in the dark lord's army but have been freed. I might be able to approach the undead group. That leaves the rogues." said Fredrick.

"I know how underground rogue organizations work. I might be able to approach them." said Robin.

"We'll still need to find them. Umbra found out about the groups but not much else. We don't even know who leads the undead and rogues." said Marcus.

"We'll find out more once we reach the city. First we should deal with Dukco's forces." said Fredrick. As they spoke, they saw Shale approaching from the village center.

"Celebration is about to start. You four are the only ones missing." said Shale.

"We're on our way. Remember! We'll have to fight later so tell the men not to have too much fun." said Marcus.

"I've already told the villagers that will be fighting. Just hope your hunter friends listen." said Shale.

"They're professionals. They'll be fine." replied Marcus.

"If you say so." said Shale.

Later in the evening Marcus took a break from the celebration to look at what the others were doing. Shylock was playing music to a stunned group of admirers. While Anastasia was kneeling at a barrel and arm wrestling the 'braver' members of the hunters. Everyone seemed happy which pleased Marcus. Despite their victory, Marcus was still nervous about the problems they would face in the city. As he examined the party goers, Rokaar approached him.

"A sentry reported that Dukco's men are taking the bait. They're creeping closer." said Rokaar.

"Start spreading the word but tell them to continue as normal. We don't want Dukco's men to get suspicious." said Marcus.
"Do you think that Dukco will be in this group?" Fredrick asked.

"It wouldn't surprise me," said Marcus. "He'll need to inspire his men somehow, or he'll lose face. His men are weary of us."

"So, what's the plan for Dukco?" Fredrick asked.

"I would prefer it to be me that kills him, but if anyone else gets the opportunity, they got my blessing," said Marcus. "I also don't care how it's done. If Jason looses an arrow into each of his eyes, good. If Umbra poisons him in his sleep, good. If you behead him, good. If Slivenuss eats him, good. If some farmer trips him, causing him to break his neck, good. If Shylock plays a tune that bores him to death, I'll laugh, but that will be just as good. If it takes all of them shoving a spear down his throat, so be it."

"So, first come, first chance," said Fredrick.

Marcus nodded. "Pretty much. That being said, if he's too powerful for anyone to face alone, I'd strongly advise falling back, until there's enough to handle him."

"Do you plan on using your more powerful form?" Fredrick asked.

"If I know he's there, yes," said Marcus.
Shylock cracked his neck to get out some joint pain. If he was about to get into a large scuffle, he didn't want to cramp up.

He walked with the group as they came over to gaze upon the upcoming coterie of Ducko's men.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw Dukco's men approaching from the shadows but the villagers didn't respond since they didn't want Dukco's men to get suspicious. When they were in position, the captain stepped out of the shadows and shouted.

"Having a party without us! That's not very neighborly of you." said Lokhir.

"Party started hours ago! A good guest shows up on time!" said Marcus.

"Had to wait for the guest of honor! There's someone very eager to meet you again after all these years!" said Lokhir. He stepped aside and what looked like a red scaled draconian stepped out of the shadows and moved forward.

"Hello, little brother." said Dukco.

"Do not call me that!" said Marcus.

"You can't change that! No matter how much you might want too!" said Dukco.

"You made your choice!" said Marcus.

"We've been given a great gift thanks to our blood. But you have cast yours aside! I have embraced mine and for this I must die?!" said Dukco.

"It's only a gift if you can control it! You've allowed yours to consume you." said Marcus.

"Dragons ruled the world centuries ago before humans and elves. We are their descendants. I'm just reclaiming my inheritance. The inheritance that was stolen from us when humans drove them into the hills and mountains. It's not too late, little brother. Join me and all will be forgiven. Stop fighting your gifts and you will enjoy them. I promise you that." said Dukco.

"Never!!" said Marcus.

"If you insist on being stubborn then I'll just have to show you. You'll have to die first but once I raise you then I'll teach you what a joy it is to let loose." said Dukco. He then looked at Fredrick. "Fredrick, so we meet on opposing sides once again. That's ungrateful of you, considering what I gave you."

"You cursed me!" said Fredrick.

"You don't age, You don't feel pain and you don't get sick or tired. How is that a curse?!" said Dukco.

"You enslaved me for decades. Forced me to kill my friends." said Fredrick.

"They were holding you back. And your enslavement was just trying to teach you what a joy power can provide. I respected your skill. That's why I chose you to be a revenant. Most people would have killed for the honor." said Dukco. He then looked at Slivenuss. "Have you come to join me like your brother did, Slivenuss."

"You humiliated my family when you enssslaved my brother. I'm here to punisssh you for that." said Slivenuss.

"Enslaved?! Ha,ha,ha,ha! Is that what you think? How foolish! He joined me willingly." said Dukco.

"Enough, Dukco!! Are we going to talk all night or are we going to finish this?!" said Marcus.

More of Dukco's men stepped out of the shadow from every direction. "We can fight if you wish. But it will only make your 'education' more painful for you." said Dukco.

"You're not the only one who can bring reinforcements." said Marcus. The hunters and more villagers stepped out of their hiding places.

"Mercurius." said Dukco.

"Dukco. I've been looking for you for a very long time." said the silver scaled hunter leader.

"I heard. You should have taken my offer and killed Marcus and the others. Now you and your men will pay for that mistake." said Dukco.

The two groups then drew their weapons and charged at each other.
Marcus soon found himself getting bowled over by Dukco.

"Hello little brother," said Dukco. "Today you die!"

"Your father disowned you!" Marcus shouted. "He said that you died the moment that you decided to murder that woman! Everyone disowned you, even mother, may she rest in peace."
And so the battle began.

Warriors fought on with the strength and fury that inflicts men in times of strife. Arrows flew across the sky like horrid avians. Metal clashed against metal and the sound of screams filled the air.

Spearmen charged against the deathly legion of Ducko. Men were flung across the air, before being stricken down by magical artillery. Spells, clashing bright, struck pain into both sides of the conflict.

Warriors fought hard to taste the nectar of survival. Felix crashed into a twelve men row, taking them down with his weight. Fist struck metal, denting it with undead strength.

Yizima rained down a blight of fiery stars; crashing,cratering and burning a line of soilders.

Rogues disappeared into the flurry of battle; whipping in and out of each line.

And scenes like this played on tenfold.
Fredrick dodged the blow from the soldier in front of him before punching the soldier in the gut and sending him flying through a wall of a nearby house. He then stopped and looked at the situation. The fighting had split both forces into several groups and it was difficult to see where he was needed most. Several of their group was spread out fighting smaller groups of enemies. He saw Briana and Elivira dueling the sorcerers in Dukco's forces. While Brunhilda and Jason had taken command of remaining archers. Christopher was with the other immortals while Yizima's group were close to her and protecting her and the other fairies while they threw magic at the enemy soldiers. And in the center of the chaos Marcus and Dukco were dueling each other. Most of the group seemed to be fine but Fredrick saw that Marcus was having difficulty keeping up with Dukco. Marcus had not yet taken his battle form yet. Fredrick took a step towards them but didn't get very far before the captain of Dukco's forces stepped in front of him.

"Where do you think you're going?!" said Lokhir.

"It's not wise to stand between a revenant and his enemy, captain." said Fredrick.

"I'll take my chances!" said Lokhir. He lowered his hand down to his sword and dashed at Fredrick. When he got closer he slashed at him. A wave of force flew from the blade and flied toward Fredrick. Fredrick side stepped the wave and it flew past and hit a pillar behind him. Fredrick watched as the pillar was cut in half and the two pieces fell apart.

"What trickery is this?" thought Fredrick. "I'll have to be careful. Even one hit could do a lot of damage." He pulled out his axe and prepared for the next attack. Lokhir slashed at him again but Fredrick struck at the wave with his axe, deflecting it to a nearby house. When the force wave struck the house, the whole building fell apart. Fredrick struck at the captain twice but he dodged both blows, then as Fredrick struck at him again, he blocked the axe strike with the edge of his sword. the strike felt as if Fredrick had struck a mountain. his arm flew back and he struggled to regain his balance. The captain tried to stab Fredrick but he knocked the sword to the side. Since they were both too close too each other, both of them stepped backwards and began circling each other again. After a moment they charged at each other again. When they were close enough they struck at each other. Their weapons locked together and as they struggled against each other a glow appeared where their weapons connected. After a moment a wave of force blew out and both weapons shattered. The captain struggled to regain his balance and Fredrick used the opportunity to knock him over. He checked on the captain to make sure he was out. The captain was unconscious but still alive. Fredrick looked at his broken weapon.

"Must have taken powerful magic to do that." thought Fredrick. His weapon was made for him when he became a revenant and it had served him well for years. He wasn't even aware that you could break a revenant's weapon. He grabbed an executioner's axe lying on the ground and got back to his feet again. He saw that Dukco and Marcus were still dueling and began to walk towards them.
"Why won't you take your true form?" Dukco said, as he threw Macus against a house. "It's much more powerful!"

Marcus stood up. "Wrong. It makes you overconfident. That is a weakness in and of itself! By staying vulnerable, I know my limits."

Drakco walked over to him. "And what makes you think that you can beat m-"

Marcus slammed his knee into Dukco's groin, causing him to fall to the ground. "That always hurts."

Dukco got up with a groan, and found himself looking at the tip of Marcus's sword.

Marcus swung his blade.
Over the skylines, arrows flew down to shoot Marcus through.

It wasn't much, but to Ducko's men, it was enough.
Before Markus could finish Dukco, A few arrows struck Markus's back. His scales protected him from the worst of it but it staggered him and he refocused on the soldiers. Dukco used the distraction to kick Markus in the knee which caused him to stagger backwards. Dukco then got to his feet and the duel resumed. Fredrick paused for a moment, unsure of where he's needed most. Markus seemed to have the duel under control but if more of Dukco's soldiers interrupted the duel then it might push the odds in Dukco's favor. Fredrick then turned and ran towards the archers to keep them from firing another volley at Markus.

Markus ducked under Dukco's blow then countered by slashing at his chest. His strike hit him but Dukco's scales deflected the slash. They stepped backwards and faced each other.

"You've grown stronger, little brother." said Dukco.

"I've had to. I'm surprised you haven't fled yet." said Marcus.

"One can only run for so long before you have to turn and face your pursuer. How long have we fought?" said Dukco.

"Since childhood if I recall." said Marcus.

"We've had quite a brotherly rivalry." said Dukco.

"That we had. But I think it's about time we..." said Marcus.

"Ended this." interrupted Dukco.

They both took a battle ready stance and after a moment charged at each other again.
Ducko swung is sword, attempting to behead Marcus, but Marcus ducked under the sword, and thrust his own blade, right into Dukco's neck, piercing through it.

Ducko's eyes blinked, as if in disbelief. Marcus then twisted his sword, removing Dukco's head from its body, which collapsed.

Marcus looked at the surrounding soldiers. Many of those with free-will decided to run away.

"You killed him," Fredrick said, as he came over.

"See to it that his body is burned," said Marcus, as he walked away. "I wouldn't be surprised if he knew the trick to coming back in Undeath, like a lich or some such thing, in case I did kill him."

"I'll see about that," said Fredick said. "Do you think it's over?" He pointed at their allies, as they effortlessly destroyed the mindless undead, who just stood still, waiting for an order that wasn't coming.

"I don't know," said Marcus. "Maybe. Right now, I want something to eat, and to sleep for a week."
Their was a cheer though the crowd, a sense of relief. They had just routed one of the Dark Lord's last remnant on this world. It was a joyous fair to look upon.

Shylock smiled as he saw the crowds of shaking hands and weeping faces.

"Hey Shy." Rikarn spoke."Loving that sound?"

Shylock looked the halfling over and gave a curt nod.

"Yeah...yeah It seems that I do."
Marcus took a step back to check on their work. About a week had passed since the battle in the village. Marcus and his group spent the time helping the villagers rebuild since the damage to the village was extreme. After the battle, the bounty hunters rounded up all of Dukco's men that wasn't killed in the battle. When they were finished, they escorted them back to the city where they could cash in the bounties. Rokaar went with them but before he left, he gave Marcus a letter of credit that they could hand in at a bounty office which proved that they helped with the capture and should receive a reward for their trouble. The all the Immortals except for Christopher and Fredrick left for the city where Dukco used to rule. After news of Dukco's death reached the city. The remainder of his loyalists went into hiding, which allowed the prince to seize power in the city. Without anyone controlling Dukco's undead, They became feral, attacking anyone they encountered. The prince wanted to exterminate them but the Immortals hoped to defuse the situation. They called on the necromancer because they were certain that his magic could restore their minds and their freedom. As Marcus looked at the village, he heard Fredrick approaching from behind.

"Village looks as good as new." said Fredrick.

"That it does. The rest of us will be leaving soon. Will you be joining us?" asked Marcus.

"I can't. A message from the Immortals has arrived. They've struck a deal with the ruling prince. He and his men will help to capture the feral undead alive, once the necromancer has restored their minds. All the undead are to abandon the city. Me and Christopher will be needed to help with the evacuation." said Fredrick.

"A full evacuation?! I can't imagine that it pleased the undead rebels." said Marcus.

"It didn't. But they know they don't have the numbers to force the issue. The necromancer has offered them save haven in Purgatory. This came for you as well." said Fredrick. He handed Marcus a big bag. When Marcus took it he heard the sound of coins.

"Who gave this?" asked Marcus.

"The prince. He wanted to thank you for returning him to his throne. He said if you or your group ever visited the city. Then they would give you a hero's welcome." said Fredrick.

"We didn't do this for him." said Marcus.

"I know but you're heroes to his people. That makes you a threat to him. If you opposed him then the people would be with you. So he's trying to play nice." said Fredrick.

"Should we help with the evacuation?" asked Marcus.

"The choice is yours." said Fredrick.
Marcus chuckled. "If the Undead wish to leave for a place that is made for their sort, then we'll help them to leave. However, if they were born there, raised there, fought there, died there, and then raised there, and don't feel like moving, I'm not going to force them to leave their home."

"I don't think that the prince will like that," said Fredrick.

"Try to point of the benefits of having loyal Undead citizens, who could potentially fill dangerous jobs," said Marcus. "Poisonous gasses don't bother you, which is useful in the mines, don't need to eat or sleep, so important building jobs could be done a bit quicker, and getting arrows in your organs doesn't bother you most of the time, so useful as the front line in repealing a bandit attack. After all, we had more than a few Undead, all of which proved to be very useful."

"You have a point," said Fredrick.

"A similar argument could be used for any non-humans the prince tries to toss out as well," said Marcus. "Having some of each group on his Council board would be very useful."

"Do you think of everything?" Fredrick asked.

Marcus chuckled. "No, but I know of how people can be."
"What help do you need from me chief?" Shylock questioned Marcus as he began to walk towards him. He smiled as his half-dragon boss looked the changeling up and down.
Fredrick and their group was walking on the road that led towards Dukco's former city.

"Thank you, everyone. For agreeing to help me with this." said Fredrick.

"No problem. After what we went through in the village. This will be a vacation." said Shylock.

"I wouldn't be so sure. Princes and undead can be equally stubborn." said Fredrick.

"What can you tell us about the situation?" asked Robin.

"I know as much as you do. The Immortals didn't go into detail. They just said that I should report to the city. They'll brief us when we arrive." replied Fredrick.

"What about the city itself?" asked Marcus.

"What's left of Dukco's men went into hiding when they heard of his death. The prince's guards were able to find a few of them thanks to Rokaar and the bounty hunters that were helping the guards, But many more are still at large. The rogues have also gone into hiding except for the occasional crime spree." said Fredrick.

"Are you expecting trouble?" asked Marcus.

"The Immortals wouldn't have called me if there wasn't trouble. The prince has strong ties to the priests of light so he might have had a change of heart. Or maybe the undead rebels have reconsidered abandoning the city. I suggest that we be ready for anything. While you're in the city. You should also cash in that letter of credit Rokaar gave you." said Fredrick.
As for what happened to Marcus and his friends afterwards, that's another story.

The End!

© Copyright 2019 BIG BAD WOLF is Merry, Twiga, Grave Robert, Goodvibes, Grateful Jess, The Grim Reaper, (known as GROUP).
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