Barnacle was not alone as he stood silently and stared at the massive wall of the
fortress. From inside
the structure came the fierce sounds of battle. Occasionally, over the muffled sound of crashing
steel, Pierre could be
heard crying out. However, no one could tell if they were the cries of pain or the cries of
"He's being slaughtered..." Protius muttered, keeping his eyes fixed on the
"There's no way he could fend off the entire fortress," Kracken added.
"ARR, Malteeze, just how many troops be stationed in there?" Barnacle asked their
"I have no way of knowing for certain, but since we routed all of the warlords' forces
from the land of
the Bouldiers..." Malteeze paused, "in all likelihood... all of them."
No one could bring himself to say anything further. The situation did not look good and
if their gambit
failed, they would not only lose their new companion but their only chance at freedom as well.
Suddenly, from the
direction of the main gate, a great crash was heard and then a moment of silence.
"ARR, what was that?!" Barnacle said as everyone turned to look in that
A moment later, the gate swung down and crashed to the ground throwing up a
billowing cloud of dust.
Everyone stood and strained to see through the haze, not quite sure what to make of this strange
turn of events. But as
the dust started to clear, they could begin to make out a shape coming towards them from inside
It was Pierre!
"Come, mine comrades! Ze way iz made clear! Ze advantage iz ours to take!" the
cried to them.
"I don't believe it," Protius muttered.
"ARR, well, ya better start, ‘cause we ain't got no time ta waste!" Barnacle said.
NOW!" As the motley crew ran at full speed across the grassy field in front of the fortress,
Barnacle began barking
orders. "Once we get inside-- Kracken, Malteeze-- we'll be followin' Pierre's lead!"
"Aye-aye, Captain," Kracken said as he drew his long sword.
"Agreed," Malteeze confirmed.
"And what of me and the Bushwoolies, Captain?" Protius asked as he hurried to keep
up with the
"You hang back and keep those two out of trouble!" Barnacle replied and shot a glance
at the two
"What?" Davey said.
"Yeah, what do ya mean?" Jones added.
As the group came to the front gate they now got a good look at Pierre. Despite all of
the combat he
would have had to have gone through to get this far, he looked none the worse for wear.
"See, my friends!" he exclaimed. "I told you my plan would work!"
"ARR, true, we're in the fortress but what now?" Barnacle asked over his own hurried
breathing. As he
took in the surroundings of the gate room, he could see several guards lying unconscious on the
floor. Pierre had been
very busy in the short time he had been in the building.
"Yes, you are no doubt wondering what iz to stop ze vast ‘ordes of the warlords' army
on us and tearing us to pieces, no?" Pierre said good-naturedly.
"Something along those lines..." Kracken agreed.
" ‘ave no fear; I ‘ave thought of everyzing!" But just as the insane freedom fighter
finished saying this, a
feline soldier came out of nowhere and tackled him off of his feet. Malteeze grabbed the soldier
by the scruff of his
neck and tossed him aside.
"Everything?" Kracken said.
Pierre just jumped back to his feet with a wide smile plastered across his face. "Yes,
thank you friend Malteeze, for ze save. One of the bandits must ‘ave escaped me!"
"One?" Protius asked, "What of all the others!?"
"Ah, I was jus' coming to zat," Pierre said. "Ze fortress is on its night shift. Zere were
but a pittance of
the full compliment of guards on duty. Ze rest are soundly asleep in zere quarters."
"ARR, but what's ta keep ‘em there?" Barnacle wanted to know.
"A heavy wooden plank across ze door, of course!" Pierre replied. "Now, enough
chit-chat; we ‘ave
other matters which must be attended to!" As he dashed off down a hallway that lead deep into
the heart of the fortress,
he called out, "Follow me!"
"ARR," Barnacle said. "I guess we follow him."
"I had hoped the fall might have improved his social skills somewhat," Protius added as
he took up the
rear following after the others.
The arched passageway down which they ran was high and wide. Periodically, a torch
had been placed
along its length; but, for the most part, it was quite dark inside. Finally, the passage ended and
opened into a broad
grassy courtyard brightly lit by the full moon. No one had noticed it rise as Pierre had spread
chaos throughout the
Surrounding the yard on all sides were rock walls that rose about eight feet. Behind
these were seats
that were stepped back to form a stadium-like area. All around the perimeter were countless
torches that also cast some
light on the scene. Directly across from where the heroes had entered, a broad set of steps lead
from the ground up to a
wide platform on which sat several richly decorated seats, obviously set aside for royalty.
But on this night, the ones who occupied them were nowhere near royalty. In the chair
on the right sat a
huge feline who Barnacle and his crew remembered well. If his intimidating size and dark fur
were not enough, then his
highly polished armor would have given him away. This was Rosweld, one of the three warlord
brothers who had taken
control of the Bouldiers and laid waste to their city.
On his left sat another feline, but this one was much shorter and slimmer than his
companion. He was
covered with white fur, which was broken up by deep black spots. He wore little armor and a
strange smile was
showing across his lips.
"Gellatinus..." Malteeze said just loud enough so his comrades could hear. "He is the
second of the
three brothers, and the one who was left to watch over the Dakytins."
"Yes," Pierre called out and boldly stepped forward. "You were the one took zis land
as your own and
zen enslaved my people! I will ask you once to step down and walk away. If you refuse, I am
afraid I will be forced to
make you leave."
Gellatinus said nothing but his smile spread a little wider and a flash of ivory teeth could
be seen at the
corners of his mouth.
Rosweld rose up from his seat slowly and deliberately to address the group before him.
"I know I speak
for both of us when I say that we have no intention of giving this land over to any one, especially
to the likes of
"Zen," Pierre said and took a step forward, "you will face me in combat."
"A duel?" Rosweld said in mocking tones. "How quaint."
"ARR, what are ya afraid of?" Barnacle said. "Last time you and me fought, you ran
away and said it
wasn't over. Don't be tellin' me ya've changed yer mind."
"I am a warlord of the Feline Hordes," Rosweld replied. "One small pirate is hardly
"How about two small pirates?" Kracken said defiantly and stepped alongside his
"And me," Malteeze added.
"Oh, yes, I hadn't forgotten about you, Malteeze," Rosweld added. "But a duel with my
First Prime is to give you more respect than you deserve. Flogging and a lengthy prison stay
would be more
"You were Rosweld's First Prime?" Protius said suddenly, turning to his student.
"What's a First Prime?" Kracken asked.
"A warlord's chief lieutenant. He would have reported directly to Rosweld," Protius
said, a small
amount of shock creeping into his voice. "That means you would have been the one who lead the
attack on the city of
Lowering his head, Malteeze finally replied, "Yes, it is true that I was Rosweld's First
Prime. But when
the orders were given to destroy the city after we had already won, I could carry out my duties no
longer. I deserted my
post, leaving this monster's service forever."
"I never thought you would break, Malteeze!" Rosweld cried. "That is why I chose you
as my First
Prime. But I was wrong; you were weak! You still are!"
"A weak mind would have mindlessly continued to carry out your orders of
destruction," Protius spoke
up for his pupil. "It would take a strong being to oppose the likes of you."
"I thank you for your support, Master Protius," Malteeze replied. "But this is my own
"Just look at yourself," Rosweld said, "calling this flea-bitten bag of feathers your
"I believe the only thing that ever bit me through my long imprisonment at your hands,
you," Protius replied simply.
"Worthless intellectual peacock! I should have done away with you when you first
came into my
possession!" Rosweld howled, baring his teeth and taking a menacing step forward. Even as his
brother was loosing his
temper, Gellatinus continued to be content to just sit back and smile at the whole situation.
"That's it; I'll deal with you all myself." Casting aside his cape, Rosweld drew his huge
sword and took
a step down the stairs towards the group. A soft voice from behind stopped him, however.
"No, my brother, leave the lizard for me." Finally, Gellatinus had seen fit to speak. His
voice was like a
cold breeze, not fully substantial and yet bone-chilling at the same time. "I would like to take this
one up on his
"Very well; he's yours to deal with," Rosweld snarled. "But the traitor is mine!"
"Then I suppose that leaves me with the pirate rabble," a new voice spoke from behind
Rosweld and Gellatinus both turned around to look at the heavyset figure that stepped into view.
"Surely you two could
have rounded up something with a little more challenge to it."
"If you want a challenge, Fireball, you can fight me when this is over!" Rosweld spat at
warlord brother. He was roughly the same size as Rosweld, but his long black fly-away fur made
him look much more
massive-- as well as more sinister. His two green eyes reflected the torch light from under a steel
helm, and in his paws
he carried a heavy war hammer.
"Brothers, brothers, please," whispered Gellatinus who now stood with an unnatural
grace. "There is no
need to argue. Let us be done with these intruders once and for all."
"Well spoken, as always, Gellie," Fireball said as he stepped to the edge of the steps and
freedom fighters below. "None of you will last long at all, for tonight, you face Obsidian Fireball
and the Warlords of
the Feline Hordes!"
With that, the tyrant jumped forward and cleared the entire flight of steps in one bound.
Landing just in
front of Barnacle and Kracken, the warlord sprang forward as if his legs were nothing more than
powerful springs. Both
of the pirates dove in opposite directions to avoid the swing of Fireball's long-handled
As Fireball began his attack, the other two brothers started in as well. Rosweld dashed
down the stairs
with a blinding speed, slicing through the air with his gigantic sword as if it were weightless in his
ducked and bounded to the side as only he could; but for the first time since they had met him,
Barnacle and the others
saw that Malteeze was going up against an opponent that was just as fast as he himself was.
Gellatinus simultaneously dove headlong down the stairs only to perform a somersault
that brought him
right on top of Pierre. Somewhere during his descent to the stadium ground, he had unsheathed a
pair of jeweled
daggers; but no one had caught the move, it being so sudden.
As Fireball continued his assault on the two pirates, Kracken ducked and dodged to
avoid getting hit by
the massive weapon. Trying to reassure himself as much as anyone else, Kracken quipped, "This
guy's nothing but a
pushover; we can finish him off easy!"
"ARR, don't be getting' cocky! Remember the fight with Rosweld!" Barnacle
"That one only went the way it did because he had an unfair advantage with all of his
guards staring us
down. Here we have an open playing field," Kracken replied confidently.
"Yes, open, just like your defenses!" Fireball gloated as a back-handed swing from his
Kracken a glancing blow to the side of his skull. This spun the sailor around several times before
he fell to the ground
were he remained motionless.
"ARR, you'll be payin' for that one!" Barnacle cried as he thrust at the warlord with his
Fireball, however, was no longer in the path of the pirate's blade and completely avoided the
attack. Raising his
hammer high, he readied for a crushing blow to be delivered square to Barnacle's head. The
pirate captain parried with
his sword at the last instant, which succeeded in deflecting the hammer fall; but, with a sickening
clang, half of
Barnacle's blade went sailing through the air.
Taking a brief moment to examine his now useless weapon, Barnacle muttered "Blast!"
to the side to again avoid yet another swing of Fireball's hammer. Without a weapon, all he could
do now was dodge
and hope that he could wear Fireball out. The prospects of that seemed poor at the moment,
Meanwhile, Pierre found an opponent with acrobatic abilities to rival his own in Gellatinus. As
Pierre thrust at
the feline with his rapiers, his attacks met with only empty air for Gellatinus had moved to the
side, performing a
graceful cartwheel to avoid the flashing steel.
"You are well-trained, my Dakytin foe," Gellatinus said in his soft tones. "Unfortunate
for you that I am
"Better? Hah!" Pierre replied as he parried a thrust at his opponent. "You are better
only if they have
changed the meaning of the word in my absence."
Gellatinus's disturbing smile reappeared on his lips as he said, "Obviously they have, if
you think for a
moment that you are MY better." Diving forward, the feline delivered a blinding series of attacks
that Pierre parried on
every front. But as one of his swords twisted around a dagger to push it aside, the Dakytin
suddenly found one of his
hands empty and his sword sticking point first in the ground some distance away.
As Pierre performed a series of back flips to quickly put some distance between them,
continued to insult the lizard. "I believe your skills as a swordsman are no match for mine."
"Hah! I laugh at your pathetic display of what you would call skill!" Pierre said as he
struck a defensive
pose with his one remaining rapier held at the ready and his cocky smile stretching all the wider.
On the other side of the field another battle was being waged just as fiercely, if not more
so. "Why do
you insist on using that stick, Malteeze?" Rosweld asked. "I taught you to fight with a sword, not
Malteeze spun his staff around just in time to parry a blow from Rosweld's sword and
said, "If I were
given a choice, I would not fight at all."
"Bah!" Rosweld spat. "What have these creatures done to you? There was a time when
you were a
"They have done nothing that I would not have done myself," Malteeze calmly replied.
has merely shown me how to go about it."
"You've gone soft!" Rosweld cried and lunged again with his gleaming sword.
In the midst of all the fighting, Davey and Jones were scrambling across the field in an
attempt to get
near Kracken and discover if he was all right or not. Protius, meanwhile, was chasing after them
and screaming, "Keep
your heads down! We don't want to get in Barnacle's way! Arh!" The last part he cried out as
swung just inches past the top of his head on its way towards Barnacle. Dropping to the ground,
the seer heard a clang
of metal that meant that Barnacle had successfully blocked the attack, but the fight was still far
from over. "Oh dear,"
he muttered as he got to his feet and hurried over to Kracken's side.
Davey and Jones were already on the scene next to the senseless pirate. As Jones
tugged on his arm in a
vain attempt to pull him to his feet, Davey pulled on one of his feet, trying to drag him out of the
"Stop it, stop it, both of you!" Protius called out to the two Bushwoolies. "You're
doing more harm than
good like that."
"Sorry," they both said in unison as the dropped the respective limbs they had been
Protius sighed in exasperation and helped Kracken prop himself up. "Kracken, are you
"Yeah... fine..." Kracken slurred as he looked around and tried to make his eyes focus
Unfortunately he wasn't having any luck. "Just... point me... in the right... direction..."
"I'm afraid you're in no condition to continue this battle," Protius informed him. "It
appears you have
quite a concussion."
"Nonsense!" Kracken said and he tried to use his sword to push himself to his feet. But,
his balance, he fell right back to the ground groaning, "I think... I'll just lay here... for a
"One of the few sensible things I've heard you say," Protius agreed. Turning to Davey
and Jones, he
was about to tell them to help drag Kracken out of the fighting, but was instead cut off by their
behind him, Protius saw that Fireball was backing up right towards them!
In a panic, the two Bushwoolies tucked themselves into balls and rolled towards the
They both struck their target, which knocked Fireball off balance and sent him crashing over
backwards, just short of
The seer got no chance to thank them for their bravery, however. Fireball jumped back
to his feet with
Davey and Jones clinging to his armor and biting and pulling at his fur.
"Filthy vermin!" Fireball cried in rage.
"Hey, mon, we not be filthy!" Jones said as he bit into a handful of the warlord's
"Yeah, yeah!" Davey confirmed as locked on to Fireball's tail with a death grip.
As Protius was searching his brain for something he could do, Barnacle suddenly
flopped down next to
him trying hard to catch his breath.
"Captain Barnacle!" the bird exclaimed. "We have to do something."
"ARR," Barnacle agreed. "But he's a strong one... and fast."
"Speed and strength can always be matched by cunning," Protius said. "Unfortunately, I
am at a loss at
"ARR, and I be too," Barnacle said as he held up his stub of a sword. Considering it for
a moment, he
tossed it aside. "This thing ain't be doin' me any good any longer." With that, he rose to once
"Wait!" Protius cried. "Do you mind if I borrow this?" Grabbing hold of Kracken's
sword, Protius struggled to drag it over to Barnacle.
"Sure... go ahead..." Kracken replied distantly as he waved his hand.
"I think your odds might be slightly better if you took this," Protius told Barnacle who
took the sword in
hoof and tested its weight.
"ARR, it be a wee bit heavier than I'm used to, but right now anything is better than
what I had,"
"Good luck," Protius offered as Barnacle prepared to throw himself back into the
But as they had been talking, Fireball had grabbed hold of Jones and tossed the
to the far side of the stadium. Screaming all the way, Jones passed right between the two
goalposts and landed in the
At seeing this, Fireball cried out, "Yes! Four points!"
From the stadium, Jones sat up rubbing his head and said, "I don't be likin' this
"And now for the extra point," the warlord added as he took hold of Davey and
prepared to throw him as
"ARR, what was that you were sayin' earlier about leavin' yer defenses open?" Barnacle
said right as
Fireball was throwing the second screaming Bushwoolie. The warlord turned his head just in time
to see Barnacle's fist
hit him square in the gut. As he brought his war hammer up to parry a swipe from Kracken's
sword, Fireball was
further thrown off guard when the blade severed the long handle in two which sent both ends
sailing through the air! A
final kick from Barnacle and the warlord was tumbling to the ground, defenseless.
Meanwhile, Davey had not been quite so lucky as his brother. Fireball's aim was more
than a little
hurried as Barnacle had attacked, and this sent the poor Bushwoolie flying right into Gellatinus's
face instead of into the
stadium! Not knowing what else to do, Davey held on for dear life as the warlord flailed about
trying to dislodge him.
Pierre smiled at his good fortune and took the opportunity to retrieve his fallen sword.
"Zis iz quite a turn of events, no?" he commented to his foe as Davey finally let go and
Showing the first sign of irritation, Gellatinus snarled and said, "I don't see how. All this
means is that
I'll have to personally deal with that... thing as well."
"Yes," Pierre agree smugly and then pointed over Gellatinus' shoulder with one of his
swords. "And zat
thing, as well, I would believe."
The warlord spun around just in time to see the heavy head of Fireball's hammer falling
back to earth
and colliding with him in the process. Needless to say, Gellatinus fell to the ground,
"Excellent work, my friend," Pierre said to Davey, who was cowering behind the lizard's
maneuver was perfectly executed! Well done!"
"Um... yeah," Davey said shakily, "but I was jus' tryin' ta get away, mon."
"Ah, but it does not matter in the slightest," Pierre replied. "It looks az zough our
could still use our help! Come!"
With Fireball and Gellatinus finally dealt with, Barnacle and Pierre ran over to see if they
could be of
any help to Malteeze. Protius remained by Kracken's side and Davey went to retrieve his brother
from the stadium.
But, as Barnacle was about to step in and finish the conflict entirely, Pierre placed his sword
across the pirate's
"ARR," Barnacle demanded. "What do ya be thinkin'?"
"Alas, mon'capiton, zis fight iz between zese two and zese two alone," Pierre said. "I
believe we should
let them finish it on zere own."
Barnacle was about to protest; but one look at the intensity of Malteeze and Rosweld,
and he knew
Pierre was right.
"You know, Malteeze, you were the best First Prime I had ever had," Rosweld was
saying as he and the
other feline squared off for another melee but made no move to attack just yet. "Ruthless,
blood-thirsty, and cunning...
those were qualities that you had, and you should have developed them."
Standing fully upright with his staff at his side, Malteeze didn't seem at all winded by the
In fact, he still looked rather calm, but something intangible was brewing just beneath the surface
that every one could
sense. "Those days are behind me," Malteeze replied.
"Ah, but you could bring them back," Rosweld prodded. "I can see it in your eyes; you
power you had over others. And you miss it, I know."
"No, you DON'T know. I miss nothing of what I blindly did under your command!"
baring his fangs as the anger welled up in him.
Rosweld smiled deviously. "Come back to my army now, Malteeze, and I will forget
this entire chain of
events ever occurred. Abandon your pitiful new friends and help us conquer the entire
Malteeze was silent, his head lowered in contemplation and deep thought. As Rosweld's
First Prime, he
had wielded great power. Vast legions of soldiers followed his every command. They marched
kingdoms with his mere direction to do so. He had been someone who was feared and respected.
It had been a grand
possession to hold.
And, he could have it back...
Without warning, Malteeze let out a guttural snarl and leapt towards Rosweld. His staff
with blinding speed, but was deflected from impacting the warlord at the last instant as Rosweld
raised his sword.
"I'll never join you!" Malteeze howled, true rage seeping into his being for the first time
and the others had first met him. "Never again will I be a party to such acts!"
Rosweld laughed as he defended himself against Malteeze's frenzied assault. "You
would choose this
band of riffraff over the most glorious army in all the world!?"
"Better to be regarded as a friend than to be feared as a conqueror!" Malteeze said as
his staff finally
made contact with Rosweld's leg and sent him falling onto his back.
"If that is the way you want it..." Rosweld said cautiously, "...then you can die!" With
jumped to his feet and charged Malteeze, his razor sword held out before him.
"No one will die today," Malteeze replied, regaining his focus. Easily sidestepping
Malteeze thrust his staff between the warlord's legs and sent him sprawling on the ground.
Rosweld quickly scrambled
for his sword that he had dropped as he fell, but Barnacle finally stepped forward and kicked it
out of reach.
Lying face down on the ground, the defeated warlord looked up at the three persons
standing over him
and considered his options... he had none left.
"It is over," Malteeze told him. "No more will you be allowed to crush anyone under
"No," Rosweld muttered. "It can't end this way. Not after all we've done. Not because
of a pirate and
"And do not forget about the dashing Dakytin freedom fighter!" Pierre added with a
"NO!" Rosweld howled.
"ARR," Barnacle said as they tended to the wounded and secured the prisoners.
"Malteeze, why didn't
ye ever tell us you were Rosweld's First Prime?"
Malteeze considered the question for a moment before replying. "You never
* * *
The next morning, Barnacle, Kracken, Davey, Jones, Malteeze, Protius, and Pierre were
all gathered in
the same courtyard where they had fought the terrible battle the night before. The warlords and
their men had all been
turned over to the Dakytins and their newly restored government.
The lizard-men were most grateful for the group's help and were fully prepared to throw
a huge party in
their honor, but Barnacle insisted that they move on as soon as possible. They had already wasted
far too much time on
their journey as it was. Protius and Malteeze were going to continue traveling with the pirates
until they arrived at
Dream Valley, so that only meant it was time to say their goodbyes to Pierre.
"I greatly appreciate all your help in freeing my people from zis tyranny!" Pierre was
saying to them.
"But alas, my skills as a freedom fighter are no longer needed... I feel as zough zere is nothing left
"You could always go into politics," Kracken suggested as he fiddled with the bandage
tied around his
forehead. "I hear revolutionaries are good at that sort of stuff."
"Yes, that would be perfect..." Pierre's expression perked up for a moment. "But wait, I
am not yet old
enough to sit on the council."
"I'm sure you'll find something that fits you," Protius said helpfully.
"I am afraid ze life of a freedom fighter has made me crave adventure too much to
remain content with
ze peaceful and uneventful life zat takes place here," Pierre said in dismay. But suddenly he
exclaimed, "Wait! I will
accompany you, Captain Barnacle, so zat I may see ze world. Zere I will learn what I need to
know so zat I can one day
return here and sit on the council to lead my people. After all, you are a great leader of men; who
better to observe so
zat I may learn how to lead myself?"
"ARR, I suppose that be true," Barnacle grudgingly agreed. "Alright then, ye can join
me crew if ye
"Yes, I do indeed!" Pierre exclaimed.
"Welcome aboard," Kracken said shaking the lizard-man's hand.
"Whee!" Davey cried. "Pierre be comin' with us!"
"Yeah, yeah," Jones agreed. "Big fun, mon!"
"I'm sure there are worse career moves than from freedom fighter to pirate..." Malteeze
muttered in the
"Well, I suppose we should be off," Protius said. "If we make good time, I should think
that we could
be in Dream Valley in three days or so."
"At the rate we've been going, that would be nothing short of a miracle," Kracken
"ARR, hold yer tongue," Barnacle advised. "Ya'll be cursin' us before we're even
"Yes, there's nothing between us and our destination now except a little bit of the Dark
Forest and that
Sky Bridge thing," Protius said. "And I'm sure we have nothing to worry from it, right,
"ARR, I knew it!" Barnacle exclaimed. "Nothing has been easy on this whole trip