The Continuation of the Beginning Part Four
written by Barnacle

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 battle.

"He's being slaughtered..." Protius muttered, keeping his eyes fixed on the fortress.

"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 feline companion.

"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 direction.

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 the fortress.

It was Pierre!

"Come, mine comrades! Ze way iz made clear! Ze advantage iz ours to take!" the crazy lizard-man 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. "Everyone, move, 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 others.

"You hang back and keep those two out of trouble!" Barnacle replied and shot a glance at the two rambunctious Bushwoolies.

"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 from descending 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, everyzing! And, 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 fortress.

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 you."

"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 worth my bother."

"How about two small pirates?" Kracken said defiantly and stepped alongside his captain.

"And me," Malteeze added.

"Oh, yes, I hadn't forgotten about you, Malteeze," Rosweld added. "But a duel with my own traitorous First Prime is to give you more respect than you deserve. Flogging and a lengthy prison stay would be more appropriate."

"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 the Bouldiers..."

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 fight."

"Just look at yourself," Rosweld said, "calling this flea-bitten bag of feathers your master."

"I believe the only thing that ever bit me through my long imprisonment at your hands, Rosweld, was 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 challenge."

"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 the warlords. 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 the third 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 addressed the 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 hammer.

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 paws. Malteeze 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 snapped.

"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 hammer dealt 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 cutlass. 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!" before jumping 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, though.

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."

"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, Gellatinus 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. "Hah-hah!"

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 a toothpick!"

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 fierce warrior!"

"They have done nothing that I would not have done myself," Malteeze calmly replied. "Master Protius 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 Fireball's hammer 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 way.

"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 holding.

Protius sighed in exasperation and helped Kracken prop himself up. "Kracken, are you alright?" the parrot asked.

"Yeah... fine..." Kracken slurred as he looked around and tried to make his eyes focus on something. 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, quickly loosing his balance, he fell right back to the ground groaning, "I think... I'll just lay here... for a while..."

"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 screaming. Looking 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 Warlord's feet. They both struck their target, which knocked Fireball off balance and sent him crashing over backwards, just short of Protius.

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 fur.

"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 the moment."

"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 again confront Fireball.

"Wait!" Protius cried. "Do you mind if I borrow this?" Grabbing hold of Kracken's hand-and-a-half 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," Barnacle replied.

"Good luck," Protius offered as Barnacle prepared to throw himself back into the fray.

But as they had been talking, Fireball had grabbed hold of Jones and tossed the diminutive Bushwoolie to the far side of the stadium. Screaming all the way, Jones passed right between the two goalposts and landed in the stands behind.

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 game."

"And now for the extra point," the warlord added as he took hold of Davey and prepared to throw him as well.

"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 scrambled to safety.

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, unconscious.

"Excellent work, my friend," Pierre said to Davey, who was cowering behind the lizard's leg. "Zat 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 friend, Malteeze, 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 path.

"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 confrontation. 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 enjoyed the 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!" Malteeze replied, 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 world!"

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 across countless 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 swung around 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 since Barnacle 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 that, Rosweld 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 Rosweld's charge, 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 your oppressive leadership."

"No," Rosweld muttered. "It can't end this way. Not after all we've done. Not because of a pirate and a traitor!"

"And do not forget about the dashing Dakytin freedom fighter!" Pierre added with a roguish smile.

"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 asked."

* * *

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 for me."

"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 wish."

"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 background.

"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 said.

"ARR, hold yer tongue," Barnacle advised. "Ya'll be cursin' us before we're even off."

"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, Malteeze?"

"Well... um..."

"ARR, I knew it!" Barnacle exclaimed. "Nothing has been easy on this whole trip yet!"

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