Disc: Tactics Ogre is the property of Enix.

The Siege of Allamoot (Part 1)

"I didn't get into this for the money, ya know. Not originally. Just wanted some respect, hoss. Some way to be bigger than just some guy who could talk to animals. I had my pets. They were my only friends. They all liked me, I liked them, and that was enough.

Then I met Destin. A kid playing at rebellion where a bunch of grown men failed. I didn't realize until Shangrila that to me, this was more than just a job. It was a chance to be somebody. Somebody they'll talk about. Somebody they'll never forget. Somebody special, who folks would finally respect.

A hero? Nah. I'm just a bounty hunter who happened to be on the right side at the right time."

-Galnam Lyon, Beast Lord


The enemy Tiamat gave the high death shriek that had never failed to gouge at Fenril's heart before falling into the clouds, taking its rider along with it. Satisfied after three such losses that this singular opponent- double if one counted her own Gold Dragon mount- was far tougher to slay than the numbers suggested, the remainder of the Imperial fliers turned and flew for their base.

And Fenril of Ice was satisfied as well. Her skills in the realm of mounted aerial combat had not been dulled by years of peace. In fact there was only one being she could recall as being more skilled a 'dragon rider' than she- the very being she had come here to save. Fogel the Cursed, last of the Sky Knights to be freed by result of little more than the luck of the draw.

Taking one last wheel around to check if any yet remained to block her path, she was chagrined to see a single Seraphim yet lingered. No doubt Fogel forced them to help the Imperial dogs defend their capture. A ploy more effective with him than with Slust or herself, for even those who lived under his protection feared the final Sky Knight's wrath. With good reason.

That being the case, she would make this kill quick and painless. Charging with a blast of frigid cold already gathering in Kamuul's mighty jaw, she turned aside just in time when the enemy raised her hands to form an oval sphere- the Sky Island gesture of peace.

The angel changed the arc of her flight, coming up alongside Fenril's dragon until they were close enough to speak. "Idiot."

"Pardon?", she scoffed back. "The dragons and swords I expected, but insults?"

"Not an insult; it's the truth. They're drawing you into the noose Fenril, making you think them weak. When you get near Fogel's castle, they'll pounce from all sides and take you down." Mirroring Fenril's customary sternness, she finally plucked the faded string of memory. "Good thing I decided to look after you, eh?"

"Yushis", she recognized. "Betrayer-kin. You returned?"

"I have. My mission was a failure... So I found a new mission- stop Rashidi."

"Does a mouse leap for the moon after failing to climb a mountain?" Recalling the girl's defiance more and more, Fenril shook her head in disdain. "Return home, betrayer-kin. This battle is not yours to fight."

"Nor is it yours." Pulling around at top speed, she parked herslef in front of Kamuul, slowing him down by force and gliding backwards. Thankfully, the dragon liked Yushis better than its rider- it had no conception of what her sister had done to their people. "It's the rebellion's, you fool. Didn't they say that they would get around to taking this place once Fort Allamoot fell? Shouldn't you be helping them out?"

"Silence!", the Sky Knight commanded. When that failed to work, she stroked the dragon's spines and halted altogether. "The humans' goals are not our goals. Slust may well have damned himself by consorting with them. As have I. I must help Fogel, by myself."

"You. Can't", Yushis maintained. "You dump on me for going down to Earth trying to help my sister all alone, and then-"

But she'd already said too much without realizing that such a comparison would not go over well. While it did confirm suspicions she had long held, the look on the Sky Knight's sculpted face made clear her fury. "Fogel is nothing like your whore of a sister", she scowled. "That charm of Rashidi's was too powerful for either of us to resist it. He is not aiding the humans by choice."

"'And neither was Mizal", she said, refusing to back down. She would have to gamble on Fenril's vows to protect her people- no matter how much her kin angered her, anything less than a full act of war by the former would not result in violence. Fenril kept that famous temper under strict control, to the relief of all who knew her. "But back on the matter at hand- you can't do this. I swear on my life they're leading you into a trap. Maybe even to put that 'charm' thing back on you!"

That threat had gotten through. The last thing the Sky Knight desired was to be controlled in such a way again. More offended though, Yushis noticed, by the likelihood that the rebellion would come and be required to save her a second time in such a scenario. "How do you know this, betrayer-kin? You are no tactician, unless the humans taught you their crude methods while you were in their world."

"Hardly. I came in from a higher angle than you did- I saw the divisions on the island. They've got just as many as they did at Shangrila. More telling though- Rashidi is there with them. Organizing them."

The reaction was so strong that Yushis nearly regretted saying that name. Clenching one fist hard enough to crack her blue armour, Fenril stared into the cloud banks ahead as it trying to see the ambush in wait. Though nearly identical in all directions, none of her people could ever become lost among the clouds.

Nor would they ever fail to pick out a chill overtaking them that most certainly was not atmospheric wind. Looking around, Yushis' expression changed from concern to the utmost horror. "The undead. They're here!"

"More blasphemy brought upon our home", Fenril remarked, pulling the young Seraphim onto Kamuul's back with her enhanced strength. "But I require no further proof- Fogel's freedom... shall have to wait for the moment."

As the golden-scaled dragon stretched his wings to take flight again, they both saw the signs and had no need to communicate them. The chill growing in intensity, strange blotches of darkness forming on the clouds before bursting free like vile plant spores. Three sickly-yellow coloured spectres, followed by a Cockatrice carrying the wizard responsible for them.

"JIHAD!" Yushis reacted first, but rashly- the trio of coruscating light beams flew past their targets, thrown off by her own panic and the speed Kamuul had already reached. Fenril tried a flying projectile of a spirit technique, but the blast passed through the ghosts leaving no harm at all. The other flying creature's narrow gaze flickered dangerously, but Fenril had seen Cockatrices in action before, and twisted at the last second to prevent her mount from being turned to stone.

The wizard's bolt, however, was not so simply evaded. Kamuul howled in pain, throwing their passenger clear as he thrashed. Cursing, Fenril turned to follow her down, realizing she must have been struck as well. Each phantom eagerly drained a portion of the Sky Knight's energy as they passed by but she did not slow, only stopping once their target had hit a solid surface.

Not dead, Fenril recognized in relief, surprised as anyone at how much the annoying girl's continued survival meant to her. Injured. The wings were torn- it would be impossible to fly from the precipice of Shiggult she'd fallen upon. From here one could see the two main portions of the long-ruined island. And the dozens of enemy divisions who still worked to transform it into an Imperial bastion.

Sensing its master's fury, Kamuul lashed out, freezing the white-feathered beast as it passed by. Fenril saw the wizard's hopelessness as his bird struggled in vain to shed the ice that had covered its wings. His robed hand stretched out, an open request for mercy if she knew humans correctly. He would gladly take being captured by the rebels over death by falling.

But he must have mistaken her for Slust. This was one of the humans who had conquered her home, enslaved her friends, and even attempted to destroy it.

"GO!", she heard Yushis shouting from below. Either she could not make out the falling wizard, or she too did not care greatly about his fate. "Get out of here! Rashidi's coming!"

Even if Fenril could not decide right away, her pet could- Kamuul wheeled away from the phantoms and did not look back even as other enemy fliers began to appear. Before long the area would be crawling with them.

"Hang on", the Sky Knight whispered as the massive island began to fade away. "I shall save you... Betrayer-kin."


The waters of Komaya pass were warm and dirty in comparison with the fresh feeling of the Kastolatian sea, but Eribeth did not let discomfort slow her as it flowed across her athletic ruby fins. Rather it was viewed as a reminder of what her people were fighting for- to prevent every body of water from being violated and despoiled as this one had been by the cutthroats who called it home.

Cutthroats, as in human renegades. Pirates. Despicable criminals who did not even abide by the meagre protection laws the Empire afforded its more beautiful provinces such as Shulamana and Malano. Under mer-Queen Porkyus no mermaid had betrayed their people in such a way, for there was nothing to gain by turning on their people.

And now that she was murdered, already their people had been fragmented. Hearing a series of clicks ringing through the archipelago's waters that were not her own, Eribeth snarled and dove deeper. Tyne and her pack of traitors were in the water as well; less than five miles off by the sound of it. Sending out her own more rapid clicks, she summoned her division leaders and surfaced to spot the collection of human ships she'd been told to protect- Cale Previa's fleet, carrying a legion's worth of divisions by themselves.

Eribeth was disgusted by this as she was by all humans, but even that revulsion did not overcome a keen tactical sense. Alone, her people simply lacked the numbers to avenge their queen, particularly after losing Tyne's group. Together with Empress Endora's troops, they could finally have vengeance, so it was worth stomaching them for now. "North-east!", she called up to the men on the deck of the flag ship. "At least half a dozen vessels, escorted by mermaids."

She did not have to wait long. A shiny silver dragon swept down alongside her, bearing the 3rd Deva upon it. Despite their proximity, Previa still had to speak loudly to be heard over the crashing of the waves. "I've dispatched fliers to watch them. For now, we'll guard the Komaya pass. Gives them only one place to run."

Eribeth scowled. "Your master said we would have the first shot at them."

"And so you shall. But we can't simply charge them blindly." The man flashed a smug grin. "Hey. Just hold onto that beautiful rage a bit longer toots. There'll be plenty of targets to go around, I'm sure."

Out of reflex more than anything, she sunk back down into the waves and began clicking out her frustration. She was pleasantly surprised to find three of her five sub-leaders clicking back to her in equal fury. They had not come this far to be told to sit and wait. Particularly under the command of a human who had no respect for the ocean.

A minute past, the decision was made. Eribeth had known and respected Queen Porkyus for all her life, and held no desire to become a dictator. Clicking back, she gave the two reluctant leaders a firm assurance that there were no hard feelings, and commanded the rest out into the bay with her group. Previa could certainly communicate with them, but nothing he could say or do would alter their course.

They would settle things with the mer-Queen's assassins. One way or another.

"Human!", she called into the sky, surfacing again. "Human!"

"Right here", the general replied- he had not yet returned to his flagship. Good. "At least I assume I'm the one you wanted."

"It is. I wish to share something with you before we begin."

For once, the consumate joker had no idea what to say. Taking one last took around the fleet as if he suspected it all to be illusion, he swooped down closer. "What kind of something?"

"Something very... special. I wish to make up for how rudely I have treated you."

The subtle lick of the lips confirmed his conclusion- humans were so very predictable. Smiling, he descended further down towards the Nixie until his dragon mount was kicking up water behind it. "Oh. Oh really...? Well you could've picked a better time. But who am I to complain, eh? I should apologize too y'know, Hikash doesn't get out much so he thinks-"

"It's all right", she said in a relaxing tone. "I understand perfectly. Let me... make it up to you."

Eribeth's gills took in the clicks from below even as he took her offered bait. The sub-leaders were laughing, joking at how foolish the Imperial general was. Like all of his kind.

And Eribeth agreed. Giving him the long, slow kiss he desired was the diversion needed for her other hand to slide up his back plate and reach the clasp at his neck. Knowing she had mere breaths to act, she turned that hand into a vice, pushing off with all her strength in the same instant. Cale Previa fell sputtering into the sea, already long behind them by the time the kiss was broken.

Not that catching up would be his first priority- that would be trying to not drown in the heavy zenithite armour he'd been wearing. Shooting out ahead she could the panic coming from the ship crews. Surely the other Imperials would get their Deva out of the water before his life was in danger. But by then, Eribeth's entire group would be long gone.

And then this battle would be won. By her people, not the Empire of humans.


Destin dreamt of the past more often now. Dreams did not heed their dreamer's will, and certainly not his fears. It was not hard to guess why- he had learned, experienced more in the past year than he had in all his time at Volzak.

So he could not help but see the mangled faces of the fallen once more, both ally and enemy. Each one had fought for their chosen side with all their might and died all the same. Their expressions seemed pleading, begging to Destin for a way for him to save them from the fate he knew would happen.

No sooner would he acknowledge that then the fate would come to pass; Bors would be impaled by a valkyrie's pike. Jennifer burned to a screaming death by a fire spell. Ara Kestler carved by the Black Knight's cruel axe. Tally electrocuted by Kapella's lightning and then the district governor's own fate, perhaps the only high-profile kill he'd performed without help. In his final moments, Kapella had been terrified of his killer, just as afraid as Gares had been of him.

"Destin. Thank you for responding to my summons so quickly." It took a moment for him to realize the next face was speaking to him. Moreover, the next face was not the face of the dead.

"Oh, Prince Tristan. What are you doing here?", he murmured, still unsure if he was dreaming. Where was this? Were they back at Zenobia?

The prince did not answer him. Instead, a heavy pressure made itself known around his arms, pressing them to his sides and choking him. In the same instant, the prince calmly drew Calfydwch, as long a blade as those the Deva used.


"My most sincere apologies." It couldn't be Tristan. The prince was a bright, honest young soul. He would not do this. Never! Not to him! "We have nothing against you, but we cannot allow you to live."

"I-I dont-!"

"Forgive me, Destin. By being hero, you were bound to come for the throne sometime."

He thrashed and screamed against the pressure. There was only one who could have held him like this, and the voice that whispered in his ears confirmed it. "Sir Destin. Pl... please forgive me. Oh, by the Gods!"

The cold of Lans' blade had slashed into his spine. No mere grazing wound, but the steel of the Thirteenth. Not even he could recover from such a gaping wound. Already he felt hazy, as though life was already starting to slip away...

"I shall never forget your bravery, Destiny's Child. May you rest in peace."

"NO!" He sat up, the feeling vanishing along with the prince's terrified face. "No..."

"Trouble?", Deneb called from the next cot over, while the nearby deckhand simply chuckled at his howl of fright. "It's almost time. Better put your armour on, or do you need some help dear?"

No. This wasn't the palace. They were still nestled up in the hull of the Serpent's Breath, the leader of the ships Tristan had hired to transport them. The fleet would be well into the archipelago if things were proceeding on schedule. It was well past time.

"Fine. Just a nightmare, that's all."

"Fine. Then you can help put mine on, won't you?"

Water seemed to help clear away the fog that had taken up residence in his head. Along with a dozen others he made ready for battle, taking the familiar fiery red head piece and body plating from the chamber formerly used for storing cargo. Eskendale, a wide ice-enchanted blade,still felt bulky and awkward and heavy in his hands, but there was no helping it.

Shaking off grogginess he finished the last clasp of Deneb's own armour- a suit of pink with hearts painted on it that she refused to say where she'd found. Together they proceeded to the upper deck of the vessel, beholding the majesty of Rallibel Cove almost long enough to forget why there were there. To slay the enemy, regardless of when or how they attacked.

They were not the only ones. Yulia Walf had flapped on deck, looking cheery as usual ever since the fall of Castle Parcival. "Nothing yet, Destin. There's a big bunch of Imperial ships blocking Komaya pass like we thought. They've got mermaids and kraken with them."

Nodding, he leaned out over the rail and scanned the water to the west. This early, it would be impossible to make out any distinctive shapes. "What about Muspelm?"

"Luvalon's group is headed there on their flying mounts", their 'flying messenger' said. "My brother estimates we have a few hours before they return."

"Good. The timing should work."

Though he had not been there personally for the battles to take the first of the Sky Islands, he had listened intently to stories from the other divisions about the tactics involved in taking and holding them. It would have taken virtually the entire rebel army to defend Muspelm from enemy attack, and so they had opted not to even attempt it.

Instead, the island's cities had been fully evacuated long beforehand, leaving only a handful of Hawk clanners and angels to man the chock and make it serve as their diversion. Tanaburs Luvalon would make them retreat without a single loss hopefully, but the Deva's small flying divisions wouldn't allow for a permanent capture of the place either.

"Relay the message north then. Tell group two to deploy to Lasieve harbour. We'll head for the Komaya fleet."

Yulia looked like she was about to say more, but a massive explosion rocking the waters put an end to that for the moment. Several more such detonations followed, the ships moving to steer clear of it. Reaching down, Deneb carefully licked one of the orange fragments that had fallen onto the deck of the ship and smiled. "Pumpkin bomb. Happy halloween."

"Mermaids", Yulia noted in awe. "Otherwise we would've seen the ships coming. What should I tell Tyne?"

"Engage them", Destin decided after only a moment. "Deneb's pumpkin soldiers might have thrown them, but it won't last." Saradin's golems had similar orders- simple ones that they could remember- to home in on an underwater explosion such as what the pumpkins had just created with their heads, and engage the mermaids there. Hopefully between those three forces arriving one after the other, Eribeth's divisions could be beaten or at least stalled.

"Master Saradin", he whispered to the sea breeze as though just remembered their own role in this. "Are you ready?"

"Ready, young man. But don't call me 'master'." The Truthsayer was not alone- four other lesser mages accompanied the blue-robed man, each with their own degree of magical knowledge. Only together could such a feat of magic be attempted. With Deneb and several others clearing a wide area of deck, the five wizards joined hands and began to chant a new incantation. As full of bizarre linguistics and impossible twists of the tongue as any spell he'd ever heard, Destin tuned it out and instead watched the sky for the results.

Hopefully, Cale Previa's fleet would be seeing it as well.


"It's starting. Now comes the hardest part", Tristan announced, lying down on the deck, though still able to see the flare of bright blue arcing into the sky. "Would someone care to hold me down?"

None of the others positioned in the prince's 'group two' looked to have a clue what he was talking about. The crew continued their own duties on the vessels, not bothering to interact with the rebels beyond gruff acknowledgements or commands, possibly due to their elderly pirate captain being such an incredibly harsh taskmaster.

The attack had begun smoothly enough. Just as expected the Imperial air divisions had hit them fast and hard from the moment they had set out into the seas separating them from the fortress, and losses had already been sustained even with divisions of their own flying cover.

"Are you sick, prince?", Warren found room to jest. "You're not the only one lacking their sea legs here. Half Zagan's division is laid up."

"No, no", Tristan nodded enthusiastically, lacking the distrust most of the rebels now treated the Sage with. "I just need someone to stop me from running off the boat and trying to help the others."


"I can't STAND it", the prince emphasized, kicking the rail again and again. Beside him, Iseult said nothing. "Everyone else is away doing their part in this attack, risking their lives while we just sit here on our butts!"

"We've already risked our lives once today, prince", Gilbert Oblion consoled him. The beast tamer may have been the best human swimmer in the task force- after being knocked off his boat by the enemy he had swam down and fought like a fiend with merely his skinning knife, slaying one muse and capturing her wyvern mount. "Sometimes, the hardest thing to do in war is nothing at all. We must be patient and play our part, if the plan is to succeed."

"Then shall you do the honours, sir Oblion?"

Gilbert nodded, hesitant at first but encouraged when the prince did not resist. Soon he was tied to the rail, looking up at the clouds, peaceful as if affected by some euphoric herb. "I can see Muspelm up there", he noted casually. "Looks like they took the bait."

"Remind me to thank sir Slust once more when we see each other again", Tristan said, leaning back as well. "Without his cooperation this would not have been possible." The lecherous Sky Knight would be to their far south now, helping Destin put up a fierce battle at Komaya pass, hopefully enough to convince the enemy that the rebels' intent was to land at the southern shore. Rauny would be with him as well, aided on all sides by Canopus' aerial wing and Lyon's dragons.

Assuming Lyon was still in for this. He had to admit the mercenary, while surly on the best of days, had taken a turn into a vile temperament which no one seemed capable of explaining. No one really knew Galnam Lyon well, unless one counted his animal friends. "I should have asked them", Gilbert decided out loud. "Now is not the time for old grudges to spill out."


"Lyon", he explained to Warren's curious look. "You heard?"

The Moon sage, back in his old methods of disdain towards the majority at once, shook his head. "Typical mercenary loyalties. He thinks maybe he might get more money working for the Empire- they've now snatched up everyone we didn't take, good and bad. But he can't just switch sides, not with us watching him. And a betrayal means he's counting on the Empire's good will after the fact. He should be safe so long as we keep him well paid and fed."

"A fragile alliance", Tristan noted from the deck, alarmed at the prospect. "Who else in the rebellion is a hired sword, besides the pirates? With so many people, I still have yet to meet everyone."

"Only Selec Fubuki", Warren noted. "And he is not your average thug, as you may have seen when the Daimyo granted him his new title of Samurai Master. His code of honour guaranteed he would never turn, at least not without ample warning."

"Yet he attacked lord Destin", Gilbert protested. "He fancies himself a better leader. I saw it in my own castle long ago, and it was not the first time. Why keep him on?"

"Just his usual way", the sage replied with a quiet smile, well aware of the irony. "He continued to test Desin until, at some point, his worth was made clear." There was another one who had been disturbingly quiet as of late; even more so than usual. "And that man's worth has lately improved to the point where we can permit him a few quirks." Gazing out over the prow, his brow furrowed. "And speaking of quirks..."

The other leaders glanced over, only the prince maintaining his position beneath the rail. Most recognized the black beard and portly belly of Toad the merchant- now merchant lord- instantly. "Hello there my friends. I had heard word that you had come here. Is master Faroda around by chance?"

"Not here", Gilbert replied neutrally. He'd heard all about the last time they'd crossed paths with the duplicitous trader. "But it's true. We're in this for everything we've got."

"Ah." The inviting grin widened, and he ignored the dirty looks the pirates were giving him. "How fortuitous. Since you have been so impressively honest with me, I think I shall be honest with you. I've recently come into a spot of bad luck I'm afraid. Too many deals gone bad and all that. Even my most valuable treasure, the Golden Goblet, stolen!"

"Strange", Warren said. "Whatever happened to all that treasure in Baron Apros' vaults we gave you?"

Toad shrugged. "Ah... that was not quite the boon you might think it to be, for along with his fortune I have inherited the late Baron's debts, which are many. Disgraceful really, for a noble of Malano to be so deeply in hock... However! Do not think that I would allow such misfortune to hamper our relationship! No sir!"

Opening one side of his increasingly worn tunic, he revealed his latest item, a band of cloth divided between stripes of black and white. "This is Zebra's fur. Understandable if you've not heard of such an beast, for they only exist in a handful of far-off lands, and even there such animals are passing rare. This is an incredibly valuable treasure, but for my loyal customers I'll make an exception!"

More to humour him than anything, Gilbert leaned over to him. "How much?"

"Oh... well I'm certain all your assets are tied up with this assault at the moment. We can name a figure later, yes?"

Having untied himself, Tristan chose that moment to rise up over the rail and fish eye the merchant. The effect on him was automatic, shrinking away as though the prince had drawn a sword and threatened to cut him. "Y-y-you?"

"Old merchant's trick", the prince noted sadly. "Not naming a figure until later. Which means that he could take us for every bit of Goth we had as soon as the battle was over. Good effort, but I spent the majority of my adult life as a thief among Malanians. You pick up on the various ways by which they cheat each other. You're not going to get us with anything that simple, at least not while I lead."

Just like that, the facade of politeness dropped. But not, Tristan noticed, the worry that he'd demonstrated when speaking of the lost Goblet. "You should not be here prince. These are dangerous waters, ruled by savages."

Tristan eyed the captain, who didn't look to have heard the insult. "Savages whom merchant lords pay piddling amounts of Goth to risk their lives and locate rare treasures for them. In fact, many here are the underclass of Malano, forced into this life by economic imbalance. Are you going to quit while you're ahead now, sir Toad?"

Beside him, burly Iseult grunted through his cloaking hides. Even Toad could tell the prince's bodyguard was not one to be trifled with, and nor were the rest of group two. "V-very well. A less rigid trade then, prince? Find my Goblet, and the Zebra fur is yours. If I may say so, t'would make a lovely anniversary present for your lady."

By now he'd regained the old charm and suaveness in his voice, but the speed with which he fled the port suggested otherwise. Only after he was gone did Warren Moon burst out laughing, several of the others joining in. "Considering your position well-earned, my prince", the sage joked. "Whatever you might lack in battle prowess is made up for by your tact. I believe that is twice now you've prevented that scoundrel from taking all our money on a technicality."

"He'll keep trying", Tristan acknowledged, not quite as excited about his new talent as the rest. "With how cuthroat that business is getting, I might consider his financial losses genuine and be moved by pity... except that there is no way to ascertain that from his usual facade. That is the price one pays when you operate without trust."

"Well spoken", Gilbert said. "The financial experts shall never receive full credit for their efforts, but in a way they are every bit as integral to winning a war as the legendary fighters." Seeing the Toad trip over something, he stiffened. "Truly, I'd not be surprised if the Empire might be bringing in one such man soon. Cardinal Randals wipes his ass with his tax money, but surely even the Empire's war chest must be nearing parity by now."

"Not the man we need to worry about in any case", Tristan considered. "Have you seen the signal yet, sage?"

"Not yet", Warren said quickly, though scanning the skies for the missing island. "Not yet. But soon."


For once, Cale Previa was thankful to be a Highlander. Had he not, he might well have been shivering right through the thick wool blanket his captains had brought to him after fishing him out of the water. Hardly conductive to morale to see your leader in such a state, particularly if they asked him how it had happened. Though, in all fairness... that fishwife's kiss was completely worth it.

He stood on the deck of the lead ship in defiance of the chill winds that assailed them. Though his armour had been forcibly discarded to avoid drowning, master Hikash had drilled into him the importance of a visible presence. Everyone would feel safer if an Imperial Deva was nearby to help fend off attacks, armour or no. Thankfully, he'd brought a spare sword and garment.

"Just a little dip in the surf", he assured the crew self-mockingly. "Awful pretty down there. I figure it's now or never, eh?"

His second-in-command didn't laugh. "What are your orders, general?"

Previa stared through a telescope across the north horizon, well aware of where Eribeth's battle group had gone. They had at least lured out a good portion of the enemy into sight- he could make out a half-dozen vessels bearing the rebel blue, and the Zenobian lion's head on what he figured was the flagship. They're transports, he realized what he wasn't seeing. None of those ships had any heavy cannons or armour, only cargo space. Fishwives must've caught them flat-footed. But this gives us a chance as well.

They had to know Komaya pass was a deathtrap. Why not send the warships first, try and sneak these ones through during the fighting?

"Engage", he decided firmly. "Through the pass, but keep an eye out for more ships or flying divisions." It was too easy, but the instincts Hikash had drilled into all his apprentices told him he would accomplish nothing waiting here. "Oh, and if we spot any mermaids along the way, fry 'em up good."

Little reaction from the crew at the joke. They all knew that lady Eribeth's group had brought fate about themselves by charging ahead. No one ever said working with a Deva was easy, doubly so for their master. Arranged in an arrowhead formation that protected the vulnerable transport vessels- like the rebel fleet should have been doing- Previa's entire legion crossed through the point in the water where the width of the channel narrowed to a mere five ship lengths, ready for any attack that might come their way.

Except possibly one. There was no sign of direct attack from the transports. Only a streak of blue light blasting off into the skies, followed by a descending curtain of glitter too beautiful to be snow.

And the ships stopped. Ground to a halt just outside the pass, slowing before the crewers looked down in confusion. "Ice? At this latitude?"

Previa looked down as well, and cursed. "Damned clever use of Zenobian magics. This flotilla must be the one carrying the wizards." Even as he spoke, the water ceased lapping at the hulls, transitioning into a smooth sheet of ice that spread in every direction outward from the fleet. Over twenty vessels, and not one could move another inch in any direction.

"Still", he reminded them positively. "Now we know where those wizards are." He pointed with his spare sword, out toward the rebels transports which had been caught up in the ice the same as they had. "And they can't escape us either. Give them another minute to make the ice stronger, then order all hands to abandon ship... and prepare for ground assault!"

Victorious cheers from five hundred throats rang through the air.

So long as Cale Previa was there, they had nothing to fear.


The Supreme Overlord Hikash took in each report and patrol with practised patience, avoiding the habit of staring out to the horizon in anxiousness for the battle to come. It would come when it was time and no sooner, he reminded those troops who remained. If they endured no battle the entire day and were bored stiff because of it, then they could instead rejoice that the rebellion's drive had failed, and their home would be safe.

"Pirate allies", Hikash interpreted from the Deva's wizard-delivered messages. "As we anticipated, the port city Lasieve has come under attack as well." Up in the skies, Luvalon's group reported little resistance on the Sky Island. The citadel had fallen without a single loss, the towns abandoned save for a few scouts who had fled, and now the general was busy trying to make the island's control mechanism work again.

But neither would Lasieve fall so easily. Just the opposite- Hikash had spent the last few days slowly shuffling frontline units out of the fortress and into the port, to the point where it was now better staffed then his own garrison.

"Too quiet", he murmured after a moment's consideration. He wanted to believe that was the extent of it, that the rebels wished to use the flying island as a diversion before launching their true strike at the port... but that did not sound much like the enemy who had forced them back this far. Normally stoic to a fault, he found he could not sit still in the command room, and went back over each report.

Most of them indicated that Destin Faroda was indeed back with the rebellion after a lengthy absence. Well familiarized with the young man's face and red armour by now, Hikash idly hoped he would get a chance to see this 'Child of Destiny' in the flesh no matter which way the battle went. "Rankless, not even a noble", he considered. "Younger than any Deva, yet in such a short time he has become nearly our equal." Small wonder the Zenobians rallied around him, believing him to be their holy salvation.

The captain on the next scroll, they were more familiar with. Lans Hamilton, survivor of the royal guard who had been rabble-rousing for the duration of the occupation. Reported dead by Luvalon... and here Hikash had given up explaining that, as Luvalon had never before been known to exaggerate, or falsely claim a kill like some soldiers eager to out-do their fellows.

And then... Rauncorintha. His daughter. The most accomplished of all the Highland defectors, and reportedly now the wife of Zenobia's lost prince, himself another miracle survivor. His eyes closed tight in remembrance, trying to pick out some sign of her plan that might have tipped him off during their last talk together in the city of Malano.

What could the prince have said to sway her? She had no need for money or power. She had shown nothing but honour and dedication and duty to her people for her entire military career. Why now? Why with the new leader of the enemy? What had he done to earn such disrespect?

"My lord", one of the remaining commanders stepped in. "We have an emergency report from the 4th aerial division."

Hikash stood. That was one of the groups he'd set to scouting the south end of the desert, this particular one carrying a large number of fully-grown Cockatrices, capable of turning entire divisions to stone as they passed- lethal during air battles "What's the problem?"

Wasting no time, they walked out to the number of scrying circles attuned to each group's spellcasters on the outer rampart, each tower holding one. The sandstorm that had been buffeting their fortress for the entire day bathed their armour in grit. There were a number of other circles active, but none conveying a large object like this one was.

He squinted. The object looked like...!

"A second sky island", the mage on the other end confirmed. "This one is significantly larger. It's sweeping over the dunes now, but they haven't attacked us yet. We'll shadow them for as long as we can."

"Wonders of the old magic", Hikash remarked once the circle was cut. That division knew its duty, and had alerted them to the third prong of this attack, possibly the one meant to defeat them. "Arrange the 3rd at the south wall. If it weren't for this blasted sandstorm we'd have seen the isle already. But now we shall be ready when they come."

And come the enemy did. Less than an hour after the report, Hikash himself sat along the south wall with the men and women of the 3rd legion, watching as a flight of bird-men dropped out of the clouds to the ground.

They carried but one cargo- a man with sandy hair in red armour. "He's insane or desperate", the commander of the 3rd remarked beside him. "He cannot possibly hope to assault us like this even if we were caught unawares. Sage Rashidi couldn't do that."

"Unless Shangrila has a second target in mind", Hikash supposed. "Perhaps several battle groups at varying points. Anything to slip a handful of wizards past us so they can blow up the wall. In any case, we must answer the call. I shall face this one alone, but keep all our fliers watching for further surprise attacks."

The Muse looked worried. "Sir. I have heard of spells that render a person invisible, what if-"

"Then they shall wish they stayed invisible", the overlord said harshly. "But by all means, post lookouts. Respond as best you see fit, commander. This front is mine to hold."


The rebels aboard the ships trapped by their own ice could not run, nor did they try to. By the time general Previa's divisions were prepared, he could make out some hundred figures waiting for them around the boats, a fair number of them in the common hoods and robes of wizards.

"So this was the real threat", he mused in satisfaction. The threat that was effectively stalled, for neither of these armies were going anywhere now.

And his still outnumbered theirs by a great margin. To complete his sense of triumph, he made out the familiar features of Destin Faroda at the front of the enemy line, guarding the casters with every available blade. Looking about, he saw the other leaders rallying their own divisions beside him. The pink-clad witch Deneb was there, along with the blue robes of Saradin Carm coordinating the wizards. A lack of muscle that would ensure Faroda's own division would be pulled in too many directions at once trying to guard them.

All Previa had to do was strike all along the line, and the enemy would crumble. The dragons and their handlers he held back, for fear of breaking the ice. Likewise for the wyverns, who could easily melt it with a missed blast of fire breath.

"General Faroda", he called out once they were in verbal range. "That is the rank you go by these days, isn't it? Not 'Emperor'?"

He'd touched a nerve by the look on the young man's face, and he did not even reply to it for many moments. "Tristan is the ruler, not I. For you, the Drei-Deva of the Empire it matters not."

"I wonder if you'll still sing the same song after he orders you to spare us", Previa countered easily. "That whole family... they were never ruthless enough to survive. Of course, that assumes you'll live out the hour. A crucial mistake there, trying to sneak in through Komaya. Now you're trapped."

"We've beaten worse odds", he called back. "And no matter what the situation our people shall always be ready to FIGHT IT OUT!"

"I should hope your skills are greater than your choice of a battle cry", Previa said once the clamour of echoing shouts had died down. "But mayhap I should withhold judgement until the victor is clear. Ewiger rum Freya!"


The mermaid Eribeth sped along in the enemy's wake, rush with the thrill of victory. The enemy had fought well, even sprung ambushes the closer they drew to the port cities. Tyne had been there, leading the rebel-aligned mermaids, but they had been outnumbered, and the Nixie's lieutenants had fought with unmitigated fury against the traitors. And the rock golems. And the pumpkin creatures with self-destructing heads that grew back onto the open stump within seconds... she didn't want to know how the rebels had come into those.

She was grateful at least that their leader had not wasted time trying to convince her to stand down. Both of them knew it wouldn't work, and killing a fellow mermaid who had surrendered was one of the few things Eribeth hoped never to have to do.

For Tyne, she might yet have made an exception. Young and naive with an unusually long bronze tail making her stand out, she had sold out her people to the very scoundrels who had slain queen Porkyus. So Eribeth sped on ahead with every kick of her own beautiful red tail, beckoning her divisions to follow into shallow waters. Even the golems who had walked the sea had been no match for the combined merfolk army, due to their crippling vulnerability to spells. Their remains now littered the sea floor.

Looking around, she smiled thinly. The edges of the shore were narrowing, becoming closer to a bay or a cove that pirates of the region used as hidden bases. Very soon, Tyne's remaining forces would come against the end of that inlet and become trapped against the island.

She had them. She had won.

A tremor jarred her from that pleasant thought. A large body of water such as this situated near volcanic activity would act up from time to time, generating undersea quakes to release the pressure. It was part of why this area of sea was so warm and dirty compared to the vast expanse of Kasolat. No cause for alarm.

The swishing tails of Tyne's traitors were up ahead. Just a little further, and they would be outnumbered nearly five to one. They did not even seem to be trying to escape anymore, as if resigned to their fate. Eribeth sighed. So many of their own people lost to foolishness. They were even more endangered than the bird men now- they should be working together to drive back the humans, not fighting each other.

It had to be Destin Faroda's doing. She had heard rumours around the Empire that the rebel's leader had an uncanny knack for recruiting people of all races and religions to his cause. The gift of the silver tongue was a primarily human trait. A terrifying one, to be sure- it had somehow convinced Tyne to betray her queen's memory.

Of course Eribeth had a tongue as well, but merfolk never had reason to use it when speaking to their own kind. Swishing to a halt for a moment, she released a brief burst of clicks echoing through the water. A simple message in their language, and one that would reach Tyne's membranes very quickly: -I am sorry-

A few of her division leaders echoed the sentiment in shorter barrages of clicks. Clearly they felt as horrible about doing this as she did. Destin Faroda will pay for this, she decided firmly. He and the human prince, Fichs Tristoram Zenobia, will be the next ones to die by my hand after this.

Which would place the entire Empire in great debt to the merfolk. A massive debt which would be honoured if the Highlanders knew what was good for them. They would-

-I'm sorry too-

Eribeth's slender head shot up, hearing the short burst of clicks hitting off her membranes. Tyne's words. Why?

She looked around the entire cove in panic. Something not right. Something hidden from them until this crucial moment. She could feel it in her bones. But what?

Only one way to find out. She surged forward, towards Tyne's division. The rest of the army followed suit, already charging spells and rousing their Kraken pets into action.

Tyne had none of those left. But she was rising up, kicking toward the surface of the water, her entire group following behind.

They breached the surface at the same time, Eribeth staring at the entire enemy group treading sedately on the horizon, watching their leader expectantly. -Goodbye-

Clicks didn't carry as well near the surface. Eribeth had little time to dwell on before two things happened. Firstly, the chime of a human-crafted bell rang across the surface, the soundwaves echoing to far shores even as its clarity disoriented all the nearby merfolk.

Secondly, the appearance of a score of silhouettes to the east. Winged ones. Winged men, the leader of which was beginning to look familiar...

In the time it took Eribeth to process this and dive back down to release barrages of clicks commanding her divisions to run, Tyne's division was gone. The light from the bell clanging in her hands had somehow expanded into a sphere, engulfing them all before vanishing with the sun.

Enchanted bell, she thought to herself with a sick feeling. Though expensive, they were a common-enough item in Zenobian circles, items blessed by wizards to release a single spell before irreparably breaking. This one, understandably, was a teleport spell.

It didn't matter where the traitors had gone to- the bird men were coming. Canopus Walf, the Wind Rider, was coming. -Out now- -Get away- -Thunder comes- -Bad- -Must escape-

They understood. The water churned all around her as hundreds of tails and tentacles scrambled to push away from the cove's inlet. Making sure everyone had heard her panicked message, she swept around one last time, kicked and kicked her tail-

Stared straight ahead. The shadow of a dozen wings sliding across the waters, faster than they could outrun. The largest of those shadows stopped, flapping just above the water. His comrades duplicated his move, able to fly as least as fast as they prey could swim.

Canopus. Drawing closer to the surface again, she could make out the murderer's grim face. Along with the energy charging up in his club. The energy being copied by all of his allies. Thunder...!

-No- The denial had come out on instinct, through her membranes rather than her mouth. That simple syllable, an admission of failure, collapsed whatever courage she had left.

They swam. They kicked as fast as they could, burning through the water towards open sea, forgetting everything else but that. -No-

But above them, Eribeth could see the storm brewing, following them. -No- -No no no no no no-

The bolts struck the surface of the sea. The water around Eribeth boiled and crackled and hissed until everything was gone.


The sandstorms here were strong. They felt like a force of their own, attempting to bully those weaker than they into curling up from the strain of continuing on. Those who did became mummified, buried beneath the ever-shfiting dunes for years until some nomad of Deneuve found them- many had made a business of that very thing, selling any items of value to Malano and keeping the food and water for themselves.

Hikash Vinzalf would not be bullied. He reached for his blade's hilt, remembering the weapon's history at the slightest touch. Gottwachter it was called, a massive edge of polished steel half the size of a man. For long, far too long, it had lain dormant with no need for use, his very presence enough to scare thieves or pirates into contrition. In this way among others, reputation could be detrimental to one's skills.

"So here you are", he tried to speak loudly through the whistling sands. Upon seeing his coming, the bird men had all fled. "All alone? Have you come to negotiate on behalf of your people?"

The figure had every single feature from the posters. Now that they were close he could ensure it was not a decoy. But the lack of emotion threw him- it was a sign he saw overtake every soldier at some time or another, a monotone and dull expression resulting from too many kills. "I am Destin Faroda, son of Lexar Faroda. I bring liberation."

"Of course you do."

"I am the one destined to destroy the Empire and restore honour. To follow me is to follow the Gods."

That was even more surprising. All the reports painted the rebel leader as a more level-headed man than the typical Zenobian paladin, who were generally steadfast on matters of belief. "If that is how you feel, then I suppose further negotiation is useless."

"I, Destin, general of the second Zenobian Revolutionary Army, do hereby pledge to restore the Zenobian crown to its former glory."

"And I must pledge to stop you", Hikash sighed. Such a pity. He'd been looking forward to matching wits with a leader of men who could actually think instead of just blindly reciting the oaths and religion of his people. There were too many on both sides who were like that, endlessly repeating words placed in their mouths by their superiors.

His massive blade swung down with typical force for the Supreme Overlord, creating a channel of displaced sand before his foe. The rebel leader rolled to avoid it, but slower than expected and Hikash's follow-up was blocked instead of creating another trench. Spinning, he brought Gottwachter around to catch Destin's arm, fragmenting the armour along it.

"Use your Iainuki, Destin Faroda", he advised after withdrawing from a counter-blow. "I know you have one."

Destin refused. He barreled forth, slicing with both weapons like a windmill but expending his energy on a mountain of unyielding metal. Another wide swipe sent him flying back into the sand, head first.

What is this I'm feeling? Disappointment? He was not Figaro. He did not live solely for the supposed thrill of bloody combat against a strong enemy, no matter how much he'd tried to get that out of the boy's system in their training sessions. No. Something else is amiss here. A simpleton like this wouldn't have come so far.

"I am Destiny's Child. I bring liberation. I am Zenobia's hero, its savior!"

"Fine". The overlord's eyes glittered. Whatever sense of drama he had demanded a longer duel, but the sooner he ended this, the sooner he could figure out what was really going on. "Niebelung... BLADE!"

He had, after all, taught General Debonair how to best use that technique after his trial. And it was the best way of ending it, still capable of slicing through buildings and armour all the time. To his amazement, Destin did not howl as the blue beam cut through his left arm, leaving it lying on the sand. And the stump-

He stopped and stared. The stump was not even bleeding. How? Some form of magic?

Now he was curious. "Niebelung... BLAST!"

General Figaro's technique was not quite as effective- it only churned the sand further, leaving behind a crater where Destin had once lain, but this time he had dodge in time. Pouncing on the fallen rebel, Hikash sliced down at the area past the stump, subjecting his foe to a series of deep cuts that would at least reduce his armor to nothing but mangled plates. Every strike was angled to pierce the gaps and sever organs, each one backed by the muscles of the mightiest Highlander alive.

He had him. He had won.

Hikash looked down, already feeling a sudden cessation in movement beneath his feet. All four of Destin's limbs had been severed, his armour scattered on the winds. A limbless torso stared up at him now, his eyes blank and featureless.

"I am liberation. I am the rebel's hope. I am-"

"You are dirt", Hikash cut in, thrusting Gottwachter down into the gaping face. A crushing noise lacking in all finality rang out, and the supreme overlord gaped.

Stones everywhere. Not armor fragments or any trace of flesh, but cold stone already taking on bits of blowing sand.

There had been no need for him to focus on the armour. The flesh was the armour, the armour the flesh. No layers. They were one unified being, each composed of well-sculpted stone, now rendered lifeless.

A golem.

"Idiot, idiot, IDIOT!", he howled to the winds. A diversion! Nothing more than a decoy who bore his name and looks! Inwardly he could appreciate the genius that must have gone into the creation of such a convincing golem in human form, but anger at himself overtook admiration. Had he paid more attention, he might have seen the signs even in the heat-distortion of the desert.

Crushing one such rock in his hands with another furious scream to the sky, Hikash studied the fortress he had left. A twenty minute journey back across the desert at most. Even if the bird men informed the enemy of his having taken the bait, just how much could happen in twenty minutes' time?


As usual for him, the heavy slugging had gone past Cale Previa leaving only scant memories of each exchange and face. All he knew was that he had killed several rebels with Fafhniel, and that the enemy was being driven back to the boats by a similar performance by his men even as they suffered a similar casualty rate. It was a far more even contest than many rebels had come expecting- that much showed on their faces as he cut them apart with glee.

Finally, inevitably, he had been drawn in close to Destin Faroda, on a patch of thicker ice. Signaling two Raven men, he began to maneuver against him. Spotting the danger almost immediately, rebel-aligned dragons moved in to assist.

"Not going to face me in a duel yourself, are you?", the rebel asked in-between volleys. "No longer quite so confident?"

Previa smiled as if they were old friends sharing a joke before speaking in clipped Zenobian. "I'm not that insane maniac Figaro. Duty comes before bravado." When the Iainuki came he expected it, and dodged aside. "Or did you expect me to cut off a part of this ice so we could duel alone?"

He shrugged. "We do what we will, all of us." For a moment it looked like he'd been blinded by the rising sun, but instead of flinching he merely stepped away. "Actually, it might have been more problematic if you had."

No more joking, he decided, risking a brief survey of the others to ensure the rebels hadn't pulled some kind of trick. Nothing yet- everyone was engaged, trying to press past the formation into the rebel mages who had created this ice. "Well, thanks for getting rid of Figaro. You can die now."

Right on cue, his two bird men released their Inferno spell in a crisscross pattern, thick columns immolating the ice all around Destin and melting it with a mere touch. When a steaming figure came charging out of the flames, Previa met him with his blade, unsurprised. "Huh. Not even a scream . You're tough all right."

"Icecloud" the reply came, simple and curt, turning the incoming spells into steam even as it filled the holes with fresh ice. Arrows and Blizzards followed after, driving off the Raven men. "Iainuki!"

For one moment Previa winced, but thankfully his opponent hadn't reached the level of the Samurai masters of Dahlmud yet- the tall spike of energy merely glanced off his armour, draining Destin and leaving him open to a counterstrike along his flank.

Armour plates flying through the air. Blood dripping onto the clean ice, shared by a dozen other rebel soldiers being overwhelmed by numbers. When a cloud of stunning magic came down to blind the frontline Muses, Previa's group was ready with two Wyverns focusing their attacks against the division of Deneb the Witch. In the time it took to move that one to safety, several of the mages had fallen dead along with their protectors... and there were no sign of the Shamans and Monks the rebels loved using to heal their people back from the brink.

Previa smiled. He had them. He had won.

Just a little more pressure and they would break. All he had to do was finish the leader. Finish Destin Faroda, who no longer seemed interested in clashing swords with him. Perhaps he understood he'd finally run into an opponent who was too much for him, even with the support of his army.

Instead of another Icecloud to mend the damage numerous stray fire spells and breath attacks had wrought, Destin was working at something on his waist, steadily falling back towards the rest of his group now that his battle line was broken. A bell?

He did not ring it. Instead, taking a moment to join with a group of archers, he pointed at the Raven clanners who had been hounding him and shouted something in Zenobian, impossible to tell from his distance.

Previa ran, charging up the center with his troops, but even his speed could not stop the concentrated barrage of arrows and magic that now shot out at the Imperial fliers, tearing them to ribbons even as the Muses broke Destin's new line with their own spells. Ignoring it as best they could, the mages under Saradin's command created a second wave of their deadly art to take down the Cockatrices in Previa's other aerial division, leaving only a Wyvern rider left.

Impressive, he noted after his current target, a Paladin, died on his blade. They'd been playing dead this whole time, attacking sporadically and ineffectively, in an effort to convince him the rebel mages were incapable of the coordination it would take to bring down such strong fliers.

All he could do now was pay them back for it. Losing his flying divisions didn't change the fact that all, or nearly all, of the rebel spell casters were here. Here, and unable to destroy the walls of Allamoot, and trapped on the ice, and waiting to be butchered by an army that yet outnumbered theirs.

Once the last of the rebels' armored fighters were dead, it would become a bloody mess rivaling some of the fights he'd endured in Antalia fighting Omicron's insane cult of the Imprisoned One. Wizards and their ilk were derogatively referred to as 'squishies' by Imperial troops for a reason.

Another stun cloud from Deneb battered at his senses, but he shook it off in time to hear the chime. The bell ringing atop Destin's only remaining large creature in this fight; a young-looking griffin. The clanging somehow went on even as the bell shattered, collapsed into an expanding sphere of light.

Whether they knew the truth or not, Previa felt and saw his people step up their efforts, refusing to be afraid of the ball of light. Three more rebel wizards and two archers fell dead before the sphere reached its maximum size, then the survivors winked out along with the sphere.

Leaving Previa's divisions alone and confused. He felt the same way, but tried not to show it. A magic bell? What does he hope to accomplish teleporting himself and his people all the way back to his base in Malano? They've just lost days of progress getting to Allamoot's walls.

He did not think for a moment Destin had given up on taking the fortress. "Rally up", he ordered in Zeteginean. "Back to the ships, everyone. Once we're aboard we'll see what we can do about breaking this ice."

Too late. It came out of the sun on draconic wings of dark ruby- an adult red dragon, far larger and bipedal but still capable of normal flight.

Previa saw its rider gesture with a whip, and the jet of flame it released carved a line between the Imperials and their frozen ships. Dodging counterattacks of lightning with every flap, it did the same thing going back. When the clouds of rising steam had finally cleared, Previa knew that the ice there was gone. Gone for at least a mile in both directions, leaving a wide channel of frigid water in its place.

So angered by this slow realization, he caught himself in time to avoid releasing his Niebelung against the creature- even if it managed to hit from this distance, it would only help the red-skinned creature, who was now attacking and killing his last Wyvern rider.

Stay cool, he told himself repeatedly, looking around for a way out of this. He wasn't general Figaro. He wasn't going to have a homicidal temper tantrum when a battle didn't go the way he wanted. He wouldn't even swear in front of his troops when the enemy lit the ships on fire, betraying his anxiety that way.

Unfortunately, it soon became clear that thanks to Destin Faroda's trick and Galnam Lyon's skill as a dragon rider, being cool was about all his army of five hundred soldiers could look forward to for the rest of the day.

A/N: Back after another long break/working on a Bleach fanfic that I found more interesting to work on for a long time. Now, I hope to alternate updates between that one and this, so 'Spirit Eater' will be updated next, then this again, and so on.

As to some of the weird stuff in this chapter, there is an actual item Toad trades you for called 'Zebra's Fur'. Translation issue? I'm not sure. And if you agree to his first offer, he really does take all of your Goth! Every penny! This is just the first portion of the trading sequence that goes on in this area, and given the size and scope of the battle going on here as well I had to split it into two parts. The magic bells used in this chapter are also purchasable magic items, though expensive.