I left my hut and walked to the center of the Pirate Village. No one was awake and the sun was barely over the horizon. We had stayed up relatively late last night and spent most of our time exchanging old stories about past battles. Snyde had actually stayed up with us. But when the time came for bed, the three Rogues set up their own tents and slept on the outskirts of the village. In the morning, Snyde and his men and their campsite were nowhere to be found.
There were still hot coals lying in the fire pit. I pulled up a stump that had been carved into a chair by one of the now deceased Pirates. The air was cold and the warmth from the embers kept me from thinking about it. I reached into my bag and pulled out a piece of salted meat that I bought in Klick’Anon the day before. My rapier had been in dirt, mud, and water. It had been in the blood of Humans, the spit of dragons, and the slime of frogloks. And still, I stuck the piece of salted meat right on the end and roasted it over the glowing coals.
The meat was pretty good for what comes out of Klick. Since there aren’t many meaty animals in the area, one often finds snake, bat, or spider steaks at the grocer. I had no idea what I was eating. All I could tell was that it was chewy. And it hit the spot.
I washed everything down with some erollislon stout and then cleaned my blade. The only piece of armor I wasn’t wearing was my helmet. It was much too heavy to put on this early.
The Pirate Village was perfect for a campsite before a raid. There were several huts set up in a circular fashion around the center fire. All of the entrances faced inward and the natural boundaries of the mountain and ocean allowed for a safe spot to sleep. It made sense why the Pirates had chosen the location.
Quinn came out of her hut, her eyes barely cracked open as if the lids were trying to fight away the morning sunlight. She was only wearing her robe and some jewelry. Her leather armor was still in her hut but just as I wasn’t wearing my helmet, she felt it unnecessary to wear her armor. She saw me sitting there and pulled up a seat across from me.
Her hair was down and some of it covered the left side of her face. There was a strong excitement within me in seeing her out of her armor. She stared at the coals and then looked out over the ocean. I remained fixed on her, studying her features from head to toe. She had her mom’s nose and cheeks but besides that, they didn’t look similar. Quinn had smaller breasts than her mom and wasn’t as curvy. Dawnseer had been through countless battles and was well over sixty-years-old. The wrinkles of war shown through like stripes of honor. Meanwhile, her daughter could pass for twenty-one for the next ten years.
Quinn broke the silence.
“You’re up early,” she said.
“Not like me, right?” I replied. It was usually I that was the last one to rise and yet this morning, I was first. “What’s strange is that I didn’t sleep all that well two nights ago in Klick. I don’t really feel too tired though.”
“You will,” she said, sounding prophetic. Her eyes were a sky blue and unlike most Elves, they looked to be full of life. “What’d you think of the Angel of Death?” she asked.
“I think he’s not to be taken lightly. He almost seems anxious just to have someone to fight.”
“I got that feeling too.”
“I do find it odd how he tells us where to go.”
Quinn looked at me and said, “How come?”
“Well, most things in Tunaria aren’t this easy. You have to search and search before you come across what you need. I mean consider something as easy as Bloodmaw, that werewolf creature you need to hunt to impress the Halas citizens. He takes hours to find and he walks around in such a small area.”
She laughed and nodded. “I guess you’re right.”
I continued, “And yet this guy, this thing, tells us not only where these Horsemen are but what they do and even their strengths.”
“I think it’ll be a little more complicated than he made it sound,” said Quinn.
“Of course, it’s never as simple it’s written. These Horsemen are the four strongest beasts to walk the face of Tunaria and—“
“Besides the Angel himself,” interrupted Quinn.
“Right, besides the Angel,” I said. I lost my train of thought and silence fell on the both of us.
We sat there for a few minutes before I spoke up again. “Do you still live in Teth?”
“No,” Quinn answered. “My mom does but I moved out of Teth around the age of sixteen. I went and studied with the Erudites in Highbourne and then recently moved in to a place in Blackwater.”
The Erudites of Highbourne were the highest scholars of all and anyone wishing to train in magic goes to their university. I’ve personally witnessed Quinn’s abilities on the battlefield and there’s no question in my mind that she’s one of the strongest Druids in Tunaria.
“You?” she asked.
“I’m not nearly as brave.”
She smiled. “What’s that mean?”
“I don’t live in a place like Blackwater.” Quinn laughed. “I split time between Freeport and Qeynos.”
Blackwater was smack-dab in the middle of mainland Tunaria. It was surrounded on all sides by pain-in-the-ass creatures like griffons, gators, hexbones, and wisps. If you couldn’t get a coach there and you had to travel, it was always a risky journey since no roads ran directly to other towns. It got so bad that the Freeport government put a direct port between the two cities, though it’s only available to the younger folks.
“Playing shows still?” she asked, referring to my music career.
I replied, “Not like I used to. In fact, I haven’t played a real show in years. The most I’ll do is an old friend’s birthday or special holidays.”
She nodded and we made eye contact. I could feel myself getting nervous and she could tell.
“Any chance you’d consider moving to a place like Freeport?” I asked.
Quinn let out a big laugh and said, “Quite forward are we? Keegan, we’ve known each other for what? Two weeks? If that!”
I could feel my face begin to burn and I knew I was blushing. It wasn’t what I had meant at all, at least I think. But I liked that she had misinterpreted me and laughed rather than scowled. Instead of embarrassing her, I played along.
“But it’s been a good two weeks! Plus, Freeport has a ton more to do and a lot friendlier people,” I said, acting as if I was somewhat begging.
Quinn was about to answer when the flirting was cut short by Trueshot crawling out from his hut. He stretched his arms in the air, reaching into the sky. At most, I’d say he was six feet from fingertip to toe. A big yawn hijacked his face. He hobbled over to us and sat cross-legged beside me on the ground.
“Morning Lythen,” Quinn said.
He just nodded at her and yawned again.
“He’s not a morning person,” she said.
Moments later, Captain Volgo came to the fire pit. Soon after that, Captain Drailis was awake and standing beside his fellow Captain. Drailis looked at me and asked me to wake everyone up. I hate doing this for several reasons but I obliged. I fished out a pennywhistle I carried in my bag and moved it to its highest note. Then, with everything I had, I blew the whistle, holding the same high-pitched note for several seconds. A loud shrill pierced the air. Within a minute, every hut was crawling with life.
Selwyn, Elwyn, and Trueshot provided foraged berries for breakfast. Even though I had eaten, I still took a handful. Ranger food is really good and it never goes bad.
The sun had been up for at least and hour and all of the troops were in their full armor. The lone Barbarian Shaman with us, Benen O’Leary’s brother, Beril O’Leary, was in his gigantic bear form. Beside him sat a black panther companion, whose K-9 teeth hung well outside of its lower jaws. The pet was bigger than Quinn in her white wolf form.
Two orbs of energy, one colored yellow and the other red began to spin around the Shaman. The orbs looked to be chasing each other and they kept getting faster and faster until a blast of energy came from the core of Shaman. Everything fell quiet until the Shaman started to cast his buff again. He looked at Volgo and casted a Shaman spell called avatar onto the Warrior. Avatar is the most dominant buff in Tunaria, making a fighter twice as powerful. Only one person per Shaman can have the buff at a time.
The four Clerics, two Qeynos Humans, one Fayspire Elf, and one female Dwarf began to buff the rest of the crowd with their unite abilities. This created a layer of magic armor that Quinn and her mother then added to with their own spell called nature’s mantle. All the while, I played a power ballad to prevent anyone from tiring.
Captain Volgo, a Cleric, and two Gnome Magicians formed the lead tank group. Captain Drailis, another Cleric, and the other two Magicians formed the off-tank group. They would be responsible for maintaining the two Efreeti Lords. The third group had Selwyn, Elwyn, and Trueshot joined with the Fayspire Cleric to form a bow group. The fourth group had Dawnseer Mistwielder, the Dwarf Cleric and Warrior couple, along with Beril O’Leary. This group was the backup healer group. Finally, my group had Quinn and the two Fayspire Alchemists.
We lined up two-by-two, and marched northbound into the farthest northeastern corner of Rogue Clockworks. I was at the very back of line with Quinn as my partner.
In the front of the line was Volgo and a Qeynos Cleric by the name of Alex Alshea. Alshea was armed with a long staff with a sapphire radiating from its tip. He also carried a tower shield that looked similar to Volgo’s. He was a notorious Cleric to all Western Humans. Yet outside of Qeynos and even in the Eastern Human city of Freeport, Alshea was as well-known as the average citizen.
The area between the mountain and the East Ocean began to get thinner and thinner. We were running out of room to walk in our two-by-two format. The group thinned to just one person thick and we continued to snake our way north.
Drailis was fifth in line, leading his off-tank group. He shouted ahead to Captain Volgo, “Do you think we missed it?”
“Did you see him?” he snapped. His voice was thick with frustration.
Volgo was now sliding along the ledge between the ocean and the mountainside. The waves crashed into the land and the foam reached up, grabbing Volgo’s heels. His silver plate boots became polka-dotted with droplets of water and foam.
He then stopped and the line behind him came to a halt. I was the twentieth and last person in line and couldn’t exactly see what was going on, but Volgo must have seen something up ahead. He continued just a bit further and then lifted himself on a higher ledge. I saw Alshea’s staff and shield go up on the ledge, followed by the Cleric himself. Then the next in line, then the next, until I was standing at the ledge, looking over its crest. There was a path that led up the mountainside to a plateau. I hoisted myself up and almost slipped backwards before Quinn reached down and pulled me forward. I landed on my face. She laughed at my misfortune.
We made our way up the path and to the plateau. It was an open area about one hundred feet across. It was completely flat and there weren’t any rocks or trees. Around the edges there were mountainsides that were too steep to climb. It was a natural arena.
In the very back stood two very large Efreeti Lords. Their bodies were dark red while bright flames engulfed their fists. In between the two minions was the Second Horseman, slouched over on his horse. Our groups began to spread out.
“Drailis, you better take those two damned fire giants away. If I get burned by one of those pricks I’ll personally take it out on you,” Captain Volgo shouted.
Drailis just turned his head and looked at the Barbarian. He shook his head and tried to ignore him.
“You just focus on Horseman,” commanded Drailis. He looked back at me and pulled me close. I had known the Human Captain for years and he trusted me. He leaned up to my ear and whispered, “When the Horseman goes down, grab the Amulet. If you’re not close enough, tell your group and the Rangers to hold off on their firing until you can work your way closer.”
Volgo unsheathed his long sword and slammed it against his shield before raising both arms in the air and letting out a war cry that echoed off the mountain walls. I started a battle hymn and Quinn’s mother blessed us with a spell known as pure heart.
The Barbarian Captain ran in a semi-circle from right to left, taunting the Second Horseman as loud as he could. Captain Drailis headed in the opposite direction but targeted the Efreeti Lords. The two Warriors were equally loud.
Yet Captain Volgo stopped well short of the Horseman. He also stopped shouting. Drailis, too, came to an abrupt stop. The ground between them and the Horseman had liquefied into lava. The Horseman remained standing as his two minions came sprinting across the molten rock. They both targeted Captain Drailis.
Drailis raised his shield and grit his teeth as an initial assault of fire rained down on him. The Lords then unleashed their fists on the tower shield protecting Drailis. Volgo was still shouting his loudest at the Second Horseman but the creature didn’t seem to care.
“Everyone attack the Lords!” screamed Drailis. The heat was forcing his armor to bow and he could feel it scorching his skin. Heals began to pour over him from the Cleric in his group. Soon Alshea stepped in to protect the off-tank, Drailis.
The Magicians sent in their own pets and the Alchemists began to throw their beakers. The three Rangers loaded their magic arrows and fired fifteen magical arrows that lit up the plateau. As the arrows hit, the arrow that glowed with fire stabbed into the head of one of the Efreeti Lords. Quinn’s fire spells began to burn the Lord while the Magicians’ own fire was directed at the same Lord. Everyone was targeting the minion on the right.
With each burn and each puff of flame that engulfed the Efreeti Lord, he grew several inches. After the first minute of assaults, he grew from nine feet tall to over thirteen feet. His fists were hitting ten times as hard and with each quad hit, it blasted Drailis back. He slid so far back that the only thing preventing him from flying off the plateau was the mountainside against his back. His shield began to shatter.
“Stop using fire! Stop using fire!” he screamed. “It’s just feeding them, dammit!” He sounded panicked.
Captain Volgo finally gave up on drawing the Second Horseman across the lake of lava and headed over to try to peel the Efreeti Lords from the Human Warrior. It was too late. Both minions were locked on to Drailis and the beating continued. The Magicians and Alchemists had switched to their ice magic, while the Rangers continued to coat the Lord with arrows. The Dwarf Warrior, whose wife was helping heal Drailis, ran to the smaller Efreeti Lord and began his own string of taunts. If the Captain dies, we wouldn’t stand a chance with these minions running wild on us.
Drailis was almost on his knees. His shield was being held up by his arms and head. With each pounding blow, he felt a growing dizziness. His arms were tired and his legs were weak. The sweat was pouring from his head and running into his eyes. His shield was slipping from his hand. The bigger Efreeti called forth a firestorm that finally ripped the tower shield from Drailis’s grip. Even the heals of Alshea couldn’t protect him. Drailis was burned to death and his body disappeared.
The Lords turned their attention on the two Warriors. The smaller one targeted the Dwarf while the giant went after Volgo. Both men raised their shields and assumed a similar stance that Drailis had. Yet the giant had been taking a beating since the fight started and his blows were much weaker. With a sweep and combination assault, Volgo destroyed the first Lord.
The Dwarf was holding his own. His beard, which was flowing out of his helmet, blackened and began to smolder from the intense heat by the Lord and the lava. He didn’t seem to mind. In just a few minutes, the second Efreeti Lord was taken out, the final blow being delivered by a lightning strike called down from the heavens by Quinn.
As the second Lord fell, the ground cooled and solidified back to dirt. The Second Horseman looked up. He was much smaller than the First Horseman. He looked like a Gnome. His armor wasn’t dark blue like the First. It wasn’t even plate. He wore a fire-red chain mail and at his side wasn’t just one blade, but two short swords. If the First looked like a Paladin, the Second looked like a Rogue. His robe was a midnight red and looked to be a design similar to the ceremonial vestment rather than the stealth black robe I gave to Snyde.
He didn’t talk like the First one did. Once the ground was hard, the Second Horseman vanished. Almost exactly like Snyde had done countless times before. His horse was still standing, motionless. I felt a breeze brush by me and turned but nothing was there.
Quinn’s mother, Dawnseer, was standing at the back of our army. She had been casting spells but mainly keeping an eye out anyone that might need emergency healing. We were all looking forward at the location where the Horseman had been standing.
“Where the f—“ shouted Volgo.
Dawnseer cut him off with a screech that made my pennywhistle wakeup call seem like a tuba. The back of her dress was covered in blood and she fell on her face in the dirt. Before Quinn could get to her, Dawnseer disappeared. The Second Horseman had backstabbed her mother and then vanished again, likely in an attempt to claim his next kill.
I was the first to realize what happened and began to shout orders. “Get the healers in the middle! Everyone else huddle together with your back to the healers. He’s around here somewhere!”
Before we could protect our units, the wife of the Dwarf Warrior who had successfully tanked one of the Lords screamed out. Blood sprayed from her back and onto the Second Horseman. He had gone right through her thick Breastplate of the Anointed.
In a rage, her husband came running at the Horseman. He was swinging his hatchet and taunting with everything he had. The Horseman tried to vanish but the blood from the woman had covered him and he was visible no matter what.
The Dwarf swung high but the Second Horseman, the height of a Gnome, easily ducked and then rolled to his left. The Dwarf raised his shield and the blade of Horseman ricocheted off the heavy piece of metal.
Selwyn and Elwyn loaded their arrows and began to fire in rapid succession. Trueshot and the Alchemists joined in. Their fire arrows bounced off their target. The Magician’s fire spells were absorbed without damage. Volgo stood still.
I had never met or heard of this Dwarf. His name was General Oxfist and he was an incredibly strong tank. Even the blows he absorbed from the Horseman were taken with grit teeth and a smile that only a possessed man could have.
I was calling forth my best battle hymns and power boons to keep the General upright. He was giving it everything he had.
As the Second Horseman’s life began to wane, he transformed into a Barbarian the size of Captain Volgo. He then went into a rage that I have only seen from a Barbarian Rogue when he goes berserk. His strikes became stronger and the Dwarf Warrior was beginning to lose ground. Alshea was running low on energy, too. He had been healing non-stop with his best spells since the battle started and even with my presence, he couldn’t keep up. None of the other healers could match his ability. Thus without Alshea, all would be lost.
In a storm of smoke and energy, the Second Horseman wheeled around the shield of General Oxfist and struck him directly in the left kidney. Oxfist started to cough up blood but regained his composure with his shield protecting his body. He began to feel weak and the pain was rising where the blade had dug deep into his side.
Again, in the blink of an eye, the Second Horseman made a move that put him on the left side of the General. He swung his blade and tore through the armor and into the Dwarf’s right side. His right kidney was pierced. The pain was too much and General Oxfist fell to the ground. In a scissor cut motion, the Second Horseman decapitated the Warrior. Oxfist, too, disappeared.
Until this point, the Second Horseman had been taking the blows from all of us. We had been firing at will but only a few shots connected. He had agility that made Snyde look like a snail. Several of my arrows, and more surprisingly, several of the Rangers’ arrows lined the mountain walls behind the Horseman. All the while, Volgo hadn’t moved a muscle.
He had been in shock that the little Dwarf he had never heard of was holding his own against one of the Horseman. Captain Volgo had fought against the Quintessence of Veeshan, against Cazic Thule, and against the Avatar of Hate. There was no way that this unknown Dwarf was showing him up. So he chose to let him die. Volgo could have easily stepped in and taken over. But Volgo wanted the glory from the start.
After the Dwarf dropped and disappeared, the Captain finally stepped in. The Second Horseman had nothing left and in ten seconds he was on his knees.
I had remembered what Drailis told me. I wasn’t sure why but I trusted him as much as he trusted me. I ran as close as I could, dodging the onslaught of arrows from the Rangers. I lifted my rapier and drove it deep into the heart of the Second Horseman. At the same moment, Volgo ran his blade through the creature’s stomach. The Second Horseman keeled onto the ground and the breath went out of him.
I reached down to grab the Amulet of Fire. Captain Volgo pressed his shield into me and knocked me to the dirt. He reached down and tore off the Amulet and shoved it into his bag. He turned and looked at me with a glare that even through his large helmet frightened me. Before I said a word, Captain Volgo took off down the path.
I went after him. If we got in a fight, I wouldn’t stand a chance but I could definitely slow him.
He got a good head start with a sprint he used down the path. He shimmied his way along the ledge until he was out in the open and he began to sprint around each bend. I lost sight of him.
When I came sprinting around the corner I saw the Barbarian Captain surrounded by three black wolves, their eyes glowing yellow. I slid to a halt in the dirt and wielded my rapiers. The Captain was sitting flat on his butt. His sword was on the ground, well out of reach.
The middle wolf spoke in a deep Irish accent. “Should know better than to steal from folks, ya know?” he asked.
“I… I…,” the Captain stuttered.
“Yes! You, you! It’s always ‘you, you,’” the wolf mocked. “Here’s the thing, lad. You owe those people that Amulet. So, you can either give that on up right here and now or we can take it from ya. Your choice, Capt’n.”
Their conversation went on for a few more seconds before the Captain reluctantly threw the Amulet on the ground in front of the middle wolf. I heard footsteps behind me and I turned around to see Captain Drailis and Quinn come running around the corner. They almost knocked me over. Trueshot and the two brothers were close behind them. I held up my hands to stop them from falling over as they slid in the dirt.
“Volgo, what in the hell are you doing?” asked Drailis. He still looked weary from the resurrection effects.
I turned around and saw Captain Volgo sitting alone on the ground. His sword was laying several feet from him and the Amulet of Fire was radiating on the ground. Captain Drailis quickly walked over and picked it up.
Volgo stood up and looked at Drailis. He didn’t say a word in response to his fellow Captain’s question. He stood up and stormed off to the south. We wouldn’t see him again for quite a long time.
Moments later the rest of the group came around the corner. General Oxfist and his wife and Quinn’s mom were all dazed from the resurrection effects. Tunaria is a very strange place where death is only permanent if you choose to make it that way. If you want to stick around, you can always stick around. But if you want to walk away, that’s your choice and only then do you enter the World of Wonder or even the fabled Real Life. So when the individuals died earlier, they weren’t dead for good. When the other healers offered them the chance to return, they all accepted.
We regrouped and began to head back toward Klick’Anon. I never told the others what I had seen with the wolves. I still wasn’t really sure myself. What I do know is that we have the Amulet of Fire and can present that to the Angel of Death to move on to the Third Horseman.