The Continuation of the Beginning Part One
written by Barnacle

As the stranger led the four pirates through the veritable maze of caves, tunnels, and passages, Kracken tried in vain to strike up conversation with their guide. Short bits and pieces were all he could get because the stranger was hardly any more talkative than when they had found him. But, slowly, the little bits added up...

"So, what's your name?" Kracken ventured as they made their way down a dark tunnel lined with fallen rubble. "Mine is Kracken, by the way; the captain here is Barnacle; and the two Bushwoolies are Davey and Jones."

"No, mon," one of them said. "I'm Jones; he be Davey."

"No, I'm not," the other Bushwoolie replied. "I'm Davey; you're Jones!"

"Huh, oh, right," Jones replied with a laugh.

"Um, anyway..." Kracken continued.

"I said before my name wasn't important," the stranger said.

"But what do I call you, then?" Kracken asked.

Sighing, their guide replied, "If I told you that my name was, say, Malteeze, would that satisfy you? Would you four stop asking me questions?"

"Umm, sure," Kracken replied.

A moment followed in which no one spoke; but then Kracken continued, "So, Malteeze, I couldn't help but notice the armor; were you a warrior or something?"

Growling, Malteeze replied with a blunt "Yes."

"Were you in an army?" Kracken continued.

"Argh! Yes, I was in an army!" Malteeze snapped. "An army that was lead by three warlord brothers who set out to conquer everything in sight. They started with the Kingdom of the Dakytins and then continued on to conquer the Bouldiers. It was after we marched through the broken streets of Bouldier City that I realized war was not for me and I deserted my post! I traveled into these caves in an attempt to perhaps find myself, and true inner peace! And if it was not for you, I may have been a little closer to that goal!"

Finally feeling a little guilty about his badgering, Kracken simply replied, "Um, sorry."

"ARR," Barnacle spoke up. "But what about this Bouldier City?"

"What about it?" Malteeze said tiredly.

"ARR, what became of it after yee left?"

"See for yourself." The cave they had been traveling down suddenly ended and opened out onto a small ledge overlooking a gigantic cavern. Hundreds if not thousands of feet high, the chamber was so large an entire full-size city had been built on the floor of it. The four pirates were so stunned by the breathtaking view that they didn't say a word as they tried to take it all in. Malteeze, on the other hand, still carried his tired expression as he viewed the city with indifference.

The initial beauty of the city, however, was deceptive; while this had once been an impressive city, close inspection told a different story of the present. From the height they were above, the massive destruction couldn't be seen at first; but as they continued to study it, they began to pick out a smashed temple here, a still-smoking home there, and an empty marketplace which had been looted and destroyed.

"So this be Bouldier City?" Barnacle asked solemnly.

"Yes," Malteeze said with equal solemnness.

"The destruction..." Kracken said. "Did the Warlords do all this?"

Malteeze nodded. "This was an active city full of life before they came-- before we came. This is the reason I deserted. This is the reason I could fight no longer for them, or anyone else, for any reason."

"ARR," Barnacle said. "I've never heard of this place. Where is Dream Valley from here?"

"The gateway which leads out of these caves is inside of the Bouldier's palace; there." Malteeze pointed to a large semicircular structure that sat against the northern wall of the cavern.

"It doesn't look like it is damaged at all, not like the rest of the city," Kracken pointed out.

"ARR, probably because the warlords are using it now," Barnacle said. "But how did they take it in one piece to begin with?"

"Because there wasn't a fight," Malteeze said.

"What do you mean, there wasn't a fight?" Kracken asked.

"The Bouldiers have a society in which whoever holds their Scepter of Lordship rules all Bouldiers unquestioningly," Malteeze explained. "Rosweld, the warlord responsible for conquering these people, simply walked in and took the scepter for himself. To the Bouldier's way of thinking, he was now their leader."

"ARR, so then all the destruction to the city..." Barnacle said.

"...was completely unnecessary and done for cruelty's sake alone," Malteeze confirmed. "Do you now see why I left my post?"

"Oh, yeah," Kracken said.

"Aye," even Barnacle agreed grudgingly.

A moment of silence passed between everyone before Barnacle broke it. "ARR," he said, "so how exactly do we be gettin' to this gateway yee spoke of?"

"You need to take this path," Malteeze explained and pointed to a narrow ledge that lead down from their current position. "It will take you right to the edge of the fortress wall. Once there you'll..."

Malteeze paused when he saw Kracken getting out paper and a pencil. Sighing, the former warrior added, "Maybe I should just show you..."

"ARR," Barnacle said. "Excellent idea."

"Oh, thank you," Kracken said, relieved he didn't have to take any more notes.

With that, the four pirates and their guide set off down the path into Bouldier City.

They descended to the cavern floor in relatively little time, and just as Malteeze had explained, the path terminated right at the foot of the fortress' massive walls.

Kracken had to crane his head all the way back just to see the top of the barrier. "So," he asked, "what do we do, climb up or something?"

"Only if you wish to be shot full of arrows," Malteeze replied. He then reached out and pushed on one of the countless stones that made up the wall. To anyone's eyes it would have looked no different from any of the others, but the one slid back with the touch. Immediately, a grinding and scraping sound came from inside the wall somewhere and then a section of the stones tilted back, making a doorway. "This way is much safer."

"ARR," Barnacle said as he drew his sword and peered inside the opening, expecting danger at any moment. "Where does it be leading'?"

"Yeah, yeah," Jones said. "It be stinkin' down there!"

"Yeah, mon, stinkin'!" Davey added.

"It goes into the dungeons," Malteeze explained. "It'll take you down, but after that, I can go no further. You will be on your own."

"ARR, let's get on with it, then," Barnacle said.

The doorway led into a narrow, stone passageway with a low ceiling. The expertise of the Bouldier stone masons that had built it was evident by the smooth joints in all the cracks. This made for an even and level surface that would have been a welcome relief after walking miles through rubble-strewn caves, if not for the abundance of moisture covering everything, making it as slick as ice. More than once, Kracken and Barnacle would have fallen if they had not caught themselves at the last moment. Nothing, however, was going to keep Jones and Davey from going down.

The passage wasn't very long, but it did descend sharply, taking the group far below the Bouldier fortress. Abruptly, it came to an end with a gaping square hole in the floor, through which came the warm glow of torch light.

Whispering, Malteeze pointed through the hole. "There, that is the dungeon."

"We finally here?!" Davey exclaimed and pushed his way forward.

"Yeah, yeah," Jones said. "Let me see!"

"Quiet," Malteeze snapped. "There are guards!" But his warning came too late. As Jones stumbled up behind Davey, he lost his balance and collided with his brother. In a shrieking scream that echoed loudly through the cramped passage, both of the Bushwoolies fell through the hole into the dungeon below.

Even as they hit the floor, a voice from out of view cried out, "What the--!"

And was quickly joined by another. "Who--? How'd those two get in here?!"

"ARR, Bushwoolies," Barnacle said with a shake of his head. "That's why I usually leave them on the ship."

"And here I was hoping we'd actually make it out of this one without a fight," Kracken said as he drew his sword.

"ARR!" was all Barnacle said as he jumped down the hole with his own sword, followed immediately by Kracken.

As they hit the floor, they could see two guards with swords had already grabbed the Bushwoolies. Looking very much like Malteeze, the guards were also man-sized cats with armor, the only difference being the color of their fur.

"Let them go!" Kracken said with conviction.

"ARR, lest yee wish yer lives to be comin' to an abrupt end!" Barnacle snarled.

Panicked, the guards stood dumbfounded, holding fast to the terrified Bushwoolies.

"ARR, looks like we be havin' ourselves a little stand-off," Barnacle said.

But suddenly, before anyone could say another word, a blur of gray and orange fur came from the tunnel. In a flash of movement faster than anyone could follow, the two guards were lying unconscious on the floor and Malteeze was standing over them holding his staff. Davey and Jones were left sitting on the stone floor just as confused as everyone else.

"Did he just take out those two guards like they were nothing?" Kracken muttered to Barnacle.

"Aye, I think he did."

"No!" Malteeze cried in frustration and dropped to his knees. "I abandoned my past so that I would not have to fight anymore, but yet it seems I keep coming back to it! Why?!"

"Oftentimes the need to true enlightenment is wrought with troubles and battles of many kinds. But, does that make the trip any less important?"

"ARR, who's there?" Barnacle said, spinning around to confront whoever had just spoken.

"Yes!" Malteeze demanded. "Who speaks such wisdom?" He walked past Barnacle and Kracken with a conviction they had not yet witnessed in him.

"I do," came the reply from one of the dark cells that lined the walls. Against the back wall, a small silhouette could be seen perched on a bed-rail in the shadows.

Everyone gathered around as Malteeze strode up to the cell. Then, in a flutter of dingy feathers and tattered robes, the prisoner jumped down into the light.

Standing before them was a short being that greatly resembled a colorful red and green parrot. Dressed in robes that were adorned with various trinkets and talismans, he looked rather wise in a way. But with his once brilliant feathers caked with grime and his flowing robes now reduced to rags, he didn't look too well off.

"Who are you?" Malteeze asked, bending down on one knee.

"I," the parrot said in the clearest English, "am Protius-- scholar, seer, shaman, savant, sage, scientist, your service. Could I be so bold as to ask who you are?"

"He's Malteeze," Kracken spoke up. "And this is Barnacle, I'm Kracken, and they're Davey and Jones!"

"Hello!" Davey and Jones sang out in unison.

Malteeze, however, threw a venomous glance at Kracken and let out a snarl. "Why do you insist on interrupting everything?!"

"But I was just--"

A word from Protius silenced them both. "Anger is seldom productive and in hindsight often causes more trouble than it solves."

A moment of silence followed before Kracken said, "Um, yeah, that's what I was gonna say."

Malteeze, however, kneeled down and bowed his head to the prisoner. "Master Protius, you are most wise; please teach me your ways so that I might one day share in your enlightened perceptions."

Cocking an eyebrow, Protius replied, "First, I'd rather just get out of this cell."

"Yes, of course!" Malteeze hurried off to find the keys.

"ARR, wait just one minute," Barnacle said. "I'll not be makin' the same mistake twice. What do yee be locked up for?"

"I had the misfortune of being in Dakytina when the Warlords attacked; Rosweld insisted on holding me prisoner and taking me with him wherever he went. When he occupied Bouldier City, I had no choice but to come with."

"Why?" Kracken asked.

"He liked to toy with me," Protius said. "If you've seen the city, I think you can understand."

"I found the key," Malteeze announced as he came back.

"Aye," Barnacle said. "Let him out."

"Thank you, sir," Protius said with a slight bow. With that, Malteeze swung open the bars of the cell. "Ah, freedom," the parrot said as he stepped out. "Relatively speaking, of course; we are still in a dungeon, after all."

"Master Protius," Malteeze said, "will you teach me?"

"Hmm," Protius thought. "It's been quite awhile since I've taken on a pupil... perhaps too long... very well-- Malteeze, it is?-- I will teach you the ways of an informed thinker so that you can more thoroughly seek enlightenment."

"Thank you, Master," Malteeze said graciously and bowed low.

"Yes, yes," Protius said with a wave of his wing. "First lesson, don't do that. I can't very well have a pupil who is always looking at the ground. You'll run into walls."

"Deep," Kracken commented.

"Incidentally," Protius added, "I do have a question."

"ARR, and that would be...?" Barnacle asked.

"Where might you people be headed?"

"We be headin' to Dream Valley, ARR," Barnacle said. "Malteeze was guiding us to the gateway out of these caverns, and says it's in this fort."

"Yes," Protius agreed. "I believe it is. However, I now have a favor to ask-- I know you've already helped me a good deal by setting me free, so I'm reluctant to even ask-- but it would appear that our paths are headed the same direction, at least for the time being. Would you mind too terribly much if I-- and my new pupil-- perhaps traveled with you temporarily?"

"ARR, quite a round about way a' sayin' it," Barnacle replied. "Just a moment."

Turning his back to Protius and Malteeze, Barnacle guided Kracken a few steps away and whispered, "ARR, what do yee think?"

"Well," Kracken said, "Malteeze is pretty good in a fight and Protius seems pretty smart. We might be able to use some guys like that."

"ARR," Barnacle replied, "that's actually what I be thinkin'."

Turning back to face the two, Barnacle said, "Alright, yee can come along."

"Wonderful," Protius said happily. "Thank you very much."

"Don't mention it," Kracken replied.

"ARR, Malteeze, which way out a' here?" Barnacle asked.

"Up these stairs," Malteeze pointed. He still carried his strange disconnected attitude, but suddenly, it seemed altogether different in a way that one couldn't put a finger on.

"ARR, then let's get goin'!"

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