The Hero of Legend

Chapter 10: Hostage Situation

The group had returned to the Romaly-Portoga border with their new key in hand. As they entered the building they found the same man they had met before sitting at the same desk doing paperwork. Once again the man paid no attention to the group as they entered. Suzanne took out the magic key and tried it on the lock. Tiny blue magical sparks came from the key as it broke down the enchantment on the door. The door was unlocked and could now be opened.

Now the man finally looked up at the group. "How did you do that? Where did you get that key?" he asked, now standing up and walking over to the group.

"You said that if we could open the door we could go to Portoga, didn't you?" asked Suzanne.

"Yeah but, they've never given the key to that door to anyone that I know of. Are you some sort of Portogan ambassadors?" the man returned, clearly confused.

Suzanne started to the stairs on the other side of the door. "This leads to Portoga right?" she asked.

The man just stared at her for a moment and then answered, "Yeah, I think so. I've never seen anyone go through, so it's only a guess."

The group proceeded down the stairs, which led them to a hallway underneath the river. In the middle of the hallway was a door to the left. After finding that the door was locked, Suzanne tried to use the magic key on the door. However, the key was unable to break the enchantment on this door and it remained locked.

"Dammit!" cursed Ron. "We better not have to go through there to reach Portoga. I've had enough of these doors and their keys!"

"Settle down, the hallway goes on a ways. We'll probably still reach Portoga," said Alice cheerfully.

The group proceeded down the hallway and found a staircase leading up. They found themselves in a building almost exactly like the one on the Romalian side of the border. However, this one did not have a guard in it. The group went outside and found themselves on a tiny island with a bridge going to the mainland. Alice confirmed that they were now officially in Portoga.

It took a day and a half to get from the Romaly-Portoga border to get to the castle town of Portoga. They spent the rest of the day at the inn and, the next morning, were going to set up an appointment with the king when they found they were being summoned by him. In traveling the country, the people quickly noticed the group as outsiders. As the border with Romaly had been closed off, and all other outsiders came by ship to the land and thus were located on the coast for the most part, the group quickly attracted attention. Word of their coming reached the king almost the same day they made it to the castle town.

The group made the trip from the inn to the castle. They took in the scene as they walked to it: the castle actually was out on a tiny island in the ocean connected to the town by a large bridge. The group made their way to the throne room of King Saldor, ruler of Portoga. The king was significantly older than Emperor Vilisik or Queen Calasta. He looked as though he were in his late seventies or maybe even his early eighties. After bowing and curtsying, the king began to speak.

"I have heard rumors that you come from across the Romaly-Portoga border," the king began. "Last that I checked, the border has been sealed by magic. By your coming here, am I to take it that Emperor Vilisik has forced open the border?"

"No, your Majesty," replied Suzanne. "We acquired the means to get through the border by our own power."

"Acquired the means by your own power? You must have gone to quite some trouble to get through the border. Such trouble would suggest that you needed to accomplish something here. Might I ask what they something is?" the king conjectured. From his tone, the group could tell he did not believe they were not with the empire.

"Actually, we came to talk to you over an important matter. Since we are already in meeting, would you mind if we began our piece on the matter?" Suzanne answered.

The emperor nodded and Suzanne asked, "You have heard of the Archfiend who lives in southern Tarasia?"

"I have heard the rumors yes. If Emperor Vilisik has worried you over this Archfiend, I can assure you the rumors are exaggerated," King Saldor said.

"What makes you say that?" Suzanne asked.

The king laughed, a cold laugh of mockery, "If your story is true, you do not know Emperor Vilisik well. He is a young, foolish ruler of an even more foolish nation. Nevertheless, the empire has shown its cunning in the past. If he's not making a big deal over nothing, than he is exaggerating facts to get after something."

"He says that the Archfiend has wiped out humanity on the southern side of Tarasia," Suzanne said.

"Lies and exaggerations," the king said dismissively. "I will not believe such a claim until I see proof. Is this the entire point of your meeting with me?"

"Not entirely," Suzanne answered. Knowing that getting the king's cooperation was a long shot, she hesitated before she began again, "We have been convening with different nations and we are hoping to build an alliance against the forces of the Archfiend. You may find the Archfiend's threat exaggerated, but what if it is not? Would you not be more secure standing next to other nations in defiance of what this monster might do?"

The king listened to Suzanne and then laughed his mocking laugh again. "Young miss, do not try to scare me. Perhaps you do not know your history, but I do. I know what happened the last time someone went around uniting the nations against some 'great threat.' I fought in the Second Great War almost fifty years ago. I am not about to let that happen again."

Suzanne kept her cool, even though she could see this was a lost cause, "Think more on the First Great War than the second. Think of the devastation that resulted from that war."

The king was very annoyed now, "More exaggerations. Almost all of humanity wiped out by some smarter-than-normal monster? Impossible. Being the greatest struggle of the time, I am sure the historians exaggerated its effect. I saw the effects of the Second Great War with my own eyes. I know the results of that one."

The king then began to calm down a little bit. "Your plea is very similar to another group of travelers that came here. Interestingly enough, the leader was from the sealed land of Aliahan. Unfortunately, he met with little success in his quest. Have you met with anymore success? You said you had been convening with different nations. Which ones have agreed to your claims?" the king asked thoughtfully.

Suzanne hesitated before answering, "The Romalian Empire and the Kingdom of Isis."

The king laughed his mocking laugh once again, "So you have met with more success! Impressive! But you must forgive me if I do not immediately join the side of my enemies and their allies all because of some big scary monster that everyone has been whispering about."

"If we could give you proof that he is a threat, would you join this alliance?" Suzanne asked.

"I might," the king asked. "But how will you get such proof? From all reports I have seen, this Archfiend makes his home in the Necrogond Mountains. How will you even reach the mountains, let alone find his castle? Do you have a ship?"

"No we don't your Majesty," Suzanne answered.

"Well then, I may have a business proposition for you," the king said. "Black pepper is a fine delicacy in this country. The people like to say that it is worth more than its weight in gold. Unfortunately, we have run out of this fine spice and increasing monster activity over the seas has made it impossible to procure some more. We get this pepper from a town called Baharata, to the east of the empire. Since you can go through the empire, your journey would be shorter. Get a significant amount of black pepper, and I may reward you with a ship."

"That is a generous offer, your Majesty," Suzanne admitted.

"There is a tunnel underneath the mountains to the east of Assaram. This is the best way to Baharata. However, the tunnel is blocked and can only be navigated by use of a secret passage. An old friend of mine, Norud the dwarf, knows the passage. I shall give you a message to give to him. May you return with a great deal of black pepper," the king continued.

The group thanked him for the information and prepared for another journey.

"Well, we seem to have a knack for attracting the attention of rulers," observed Ron.

"Too bad half of them are less than willing to listen to us," Suzanne said.

"Well we expected that when we set out," Alice chipped in. "After all, we are from the sealed land of Aliahan. All in all, I'd say we're doing pretty well."

"I guess you're right. And if King Saldor does give us a ship, we can go from country to country until we find another one to join the empire and Isis. Each one that joins us will add up. Plus, if we can scout out the Archfiend's forces, King Saldor will have to believe us," Suzanne said.

"Flyers!" yelled Thomas.

Coming at the group was a party of four large bees. These ones were colored purple and blue. As was usual when going against aerial enemies, Ron, Suzanne, and Thomas formed a protective circle around Alice. Alice sent the weaker of her two stream of fire spells at the four, hoping to conserve her magic. The bees were all horribly burned, but still able to fight.

Two of the bees came at the protective circle only to be cut down by the blades of the three front-liners. The other two hung back and cast spells at the group. Surprisingly, the group found two streams of fire engulfing them, giving them noticeable burns. Realizing the danger of these foes, Alice sent another stream of fire at them. They fell to the ground, dead.

"It seems like our foes keep using stronger and stronger magic," Suzanne observed.

"We'll have to remember to take those things out early from now on," Ron suggested.

The group had been traveling for one day, including going through the tunnel that the king had mentioned. As promised, Norud the dwarf let the group through after seeing the king's note. They found themselves sandwiched between two mountain ranges, though the one they passed through was replaced by a large river after a while. In between the two ranges were hills and forests. After two more days of traveling, the group came out of the forest they had been traveling through. It was another day before they made it to the town of Baharata.

"That's odd, there's nobody at the counter," Suzanne observed.

"Excuse me," Alice said to the other man in the pepper store. "Do you know where the storekeeper is?"

The man sighed and said, "Like me, you're out of luck. It seems the store is closed since the shop owner's granddaughter has been kidnapped."

Alice gasped, "Kidnapped? By who? Why?"

"Couldn't tell you who. As to why, that's easy," the man replied. "The pepper business is booming right now. I hear the king of some far off land places in large orders for pepper. The stuff is gold. You'd be able to get a king's ransom from the owner."

"Thanks for the information," Suzanne said to the man. Then she turned to the rest of the group, "Let's find the owner and see if we can do anything to help."

After asking around for a little while, the group soon found the owner of the shop, an old man looking to be in his seventies, at the beach of the large river that ran through town. Standing next to him was a man around the same age of the group, with a sword hanging on his waist. Both looked to be in quite a bit of distress.

"Excuse me," said Suzanne as she approached the two men. "We're looking for the owner of the pepper shop, would you know where to find him?"

"Shop's not open now," said the older man.

"Are you the owner?" asked Suzanne. The man gave an annoyed nod and Suzanne continued, "We've heard about your dilemma. Is there anything we can do to help?"

"Not unless you've got 200,000 gold to spare," replied the man. "The kidnappers asked for that in ransom. If I can't get that in three days she is as good as dead."

"We don't have the gold but we do have blades and magic and the skill to use them. Might we be able to rescue your granddaughter?" offered Suzanne.

At this point, the younger man spoke up, "These weren't regular thugs that took her. Six of them were knights from the Romalian Empire to the west. Their leader wasn't, but he looked as strong as a demon. Looked the part too, as his skin was this strange blue color. Our local authorities tried to stop them and the knights killed three of them. They were no match for them."

Suzanne persisted in her offer, "We've handled crooked knights from the empire before. I'm sure we can defeat them."

The younger man was angry at this point, "No! If anyone has a chance to save Tania it'll be me! I'll find her and I'll save her!" With that, he angrily stormed off.

"No, Galen! You don't know what you're getting into!" shouted the old man. Unfortunately, Galen ignored him and kept going.

"Damn it," cursed the old man. He turned his attention back to the group. "Forgive me, my name is Daniel. That man Galen is my granddaughter Tania's love. He's taken her kidnapping as hard as I have. I appreciate your offer, but I couldn't ask complete strangers to risk their necks to help us."

"Don't worry about it. Do you have any idea where the kidnappers are?" asked Suzanne.

"That's another thing. They're in a cave to the northeast, past the mountains. You could get there by taking the bridge a few miles southeast of here, than following the river to another bridge. It's almost straight west from there, just a little to the north. But there's terrible monsters in that cave," explained the old man.

"We've got experience against monsters too. We'll get her back. How long is the trip?" asked Suzanne.

"Two days," the man said grimly. "I have to leave tomorrow to get there by their deadline."

"We'll have to get moving then. Don't worry about anything, we'll bring her back safe," Suzanne assured him.

Suzanne and the rest of the group decided to head to the inn to discuss their plan of action.

"If we've only got three days, we can spend the rest of today resting up and gathering what information we can on the kidnappers," suggested Ron. "Then we can join the old man and ambush them at the exchange."

"I would guess they would expect that," pointed out Thomas. "They'll probably have a trap of some sort ready."

"What choice do we have Tom? Are we going to show up a day late?" asked Alice angrily.

"It won't do much good to show up on time if their trap involves killing Tania before we can get to her," pointed out Thomas. "Really, they don't even need a trap. All they need to do is leave Tania in the cave and refuse to tell us where she is. She'll be fending for herself while we waste time fighting them."

"So we'll go early," said Suzanne. "They've have to be keeping watch on her. They may not expect an early strike either. They won't leave her on her own and they'll be less likely to have a trap ready. We may surprise them. Anyone object?"

Nobody in the group objected. "One thing bothers me," said Ron. "He said six of them were from the empire. It seems that we didn't get all the crooked knights after all."

"There has to be more corrupt knights than what we fought," said Thomas. "Money and power are terrible influences on some people."

"We'll have to mention this to Emperor Vilisik when we get the chance. But for now, we better leave right away," said Suzanne.

It was about a day and a half's trip to the cave. Since it had already been midday when the group had found out about Tania and the kidnappers, they made it to the cave at night. The group decided to go right inside rather than camp outside for fear that the kidnappers might find them. Plus, they might have a better chance at surprising the criminals at night.

"Yet another search mission," pointed out Ron. "You have to love how we always go through dangerous areas without knowing where we're going."

"Be alert guys," said Suzanne. "If they see us before we see them, this could get disastrous in a hurry."

The group quickly went about exploring the cave. They found the cave was very structured and easy to search. It was made up of several large rooms with small passages in between each room. The catch was that there were several rooms to go through. The group found that anytime they came to a room the room had two or three more rooms to go to. Although it took almost no time to search each room, as they were all empty, it looked as though it would take a while to visit every one.

"You're keeping the map, right Alice?" asked Ron. "We could easily get lost or lose track of where we've gone in a place like this."

"Don't worry about a thing, I've got it covered," Alice answered.

The group came to a locked door. The group readied themselves to enter and strike, quick and hard. Ron got out the magic key and prepared to open the door. The magic key was quicker to use than Baker's key, even on doors without magical locks, so the group had decided to use the magic key instead. Ron unlocked the door and swung it open and the group charged in.

There weren't any humans inside the room, but there were monsters. Four winged cat creatures, similar to the ones they fought around Assaram, were in the room. Unlike the ones from Assaram, these were dark blue in color. Alice sent a strong stream of fire at two of the cats, the other two were across the room, and killed one while severely wounding the other. Thomas tried to finish the wounded one but it just barely dodged him. Suzanne and Ron ran at the other two creatures and Ron killed one of them with a great slash across its middle, literally cutting it in half. Suzanne's foe managed to react just in time.

Alice sent a fireball at the cat she had wounded and it finally died from its wounds. The other three tried to get at the one remaining, but it was flying around the ceiling of the cave in strange patterns. A star of green light came out of Thomas, signaling the loss of some of his magic. After that, the creature finally descended enough to be within reach of the group. Suzanne managed a jumping strike at the beast which wounded its wing, sending it down lower. Ron finished it off by decapitating it.

"More magic-draining enemies," Alice observed.

"Looks like we've got some treasure chests here," Ron said.

"Wait!" Alice warned. "I've done some reading. I know how to see whether or not these things are monsters!"

"Won't they attack once we walk away anyway?" Suzanne asked.

"They'll have no idea we're here until we open them or strike them. I don't need to touch them to use this spell and they have no sense of smell or hearing to sense us with," Alice explained.

They found some gold in one chest and found the other to be a monster in disguise. Thankful that they did not have to fight it, they moved on to the rooms to the west. They found that these three rooms were sectioned off from the rest of the cave by one locked door each. In the other rooms they found some gold, a phial of fairy water, a medical herb, and no monster chests.

The group proceeded through the rest of the cave cautiously. Since every room looked exactly the same, Alice's map was invaluable. They soon found themselves on the southern side of the cave facing another locked door. They prepared themselves for battle once again and opened the door. They did not find any enemies on the other side. They had found another section of rooms separated from the rest of the cave by locked doors.

As they explored this section they soon came across a group of one blue cat monster and two new monsters that looked like a small human wearing a robe of green skin and fat that reached to its ankles. Unlike humans, the monsters did not seem to have faces. They did carry wooden staves in their hands. All three monsters came at the group while Suzanne, Ron, and Thomas met them in melee. Alice sent a strong stream of fire at the green monsters only to find it had no effect.

"Damn! They're resistant to magic!" Alice cursed.

Unfortunately, the monsters could also cast magic. One monster blocked Ron's coming axe with its surprisingly extra sturdy staff and sent a spell at him at the same time. He was overcome with yellow waves of magic and proceeded to stand up, looking around confused. Suzanne managed to strike her foe on its arm while it returned with a block to her head, though her helmet did wonders in softening the impact. This one also cast a spell while it fought in melee and the group was reacquainted with the familiar purple haze of an illusion spell. This time, Suzanne and Thomas managed to fight off the spell while Ron and Alice fell victim to it.

Thomas took some claws to his shield arm but returned with a jab to the creature's wing, sending it to the ground though not killing it. Alice finished off the cat creature with a bolt of ice. Ron inexplicably ran at and tried to hit Suzanne. Suzanne, not expecting the attack, was not able to defend herself from Ron but luckily the illusion spell combined with the confusion he was under made it nearly impossible for him to make contact. Suzanne finished off her foe with a slash on its head, which would have split its face in half if it had one.

The last green monster ran at and swung at Suzanne, getting blocked by her shield, and cast a spell at the same time. Alice found herself falling victim to the yellow waves of the confusion spell. Suzanne slashed the monster across the midsection while Thomas came over and finished it by stabbing it in the back. Ron was about to make an attempt at Thomas when suddenly, at the monster's death, he stopped, axe raised, and then looked around in a daze. Alice, who had been about to fry her friends with a spell, also looked around in a daze.

"Ron, Alice! We're your friends!" Suzanne yelled at the dazed two. "Do you recognize us? Are you alright?"

After shaking his head, Ron responded, "Yeah. What just happened?"

"A confusion spell," Thomas said grimly. "One of the most diabolical of all enchantments. It turns friend into foe."

"Oh my goodness, I was just about to fry you guys!" Alice cried in terror.

"I actually tried to kill you two!" Ron said horrified.

"You had no control over your actions. If Susie or I had been affected by the spell, we would have done the same thing," Thomas consoled.

"Thanks, Tom. It's nice of you to be so comforting for once," Alice said. Seeing Thomas frowned she added, "Just kidding, you're great."

"Those were very dangerous monsters," Suzanne said, changing the subject. "Not only did they have their confusion spell, they could cast spells and fight us in melee at the same time. I've never heard of such a thing before."

"Neither have I," said Alice. "If I could do that, I wouldn't need you guys to form a wall up for me every time we get into a fight."

The group continued their explorations and soon found a descending staircase. Preparing themselves once again, they went downstairs. They found themselves in a hallway with a split to their left. Both the path ahead and to the left had locked doors at the end of them. The group decided to try the one in front of them and, when they took the magic key to it, were surprised to find the door had been magically locked.

There were no enemies in the room beyond, but four treasure chests. After checking every chest, they found seeds in all of them. The group distributed the seeds amongst themselves, though Alice refused to eat the acorns of life they found. Thomas took the acorns instead and was met with similar pain as Alice had had when she ate them. The group then went back to the other door and once again prepared themselves.

They finally struck gold this time as they opened the door and found four knights inside, two guarding the door and two sitting at a table. As they had been told, the knights wore the familiar golden armor of the Romalian Empire. The two guarding the door had been waiting past the small entryway between the door and the large room the group was now in. As the group charged in, the two at the table quickly sat up and grabbed their weapons while backing away from the charge. The two guarding the door fell in behind the group, surrounding the group.

"So who would you be now?" asked one of the door guards.

"They're not guards, but they are pretty well armed. You guys thinking you want to join us?" asked one of the ones that had been at a table.

"Not over our dead bodies," replied Suzanne. "We know you've been involved in a kidnapping. Surrender now and you will be spared!"

The four knights laughed at Suzanne's words. "It's not us who need to be spared," said one.

Seeing the situation would not be resolved peacefully, Alice released the spell she had been preparing. The group was engulfed in a bright yellow light, reducing their vulnerability to physical harm. This came just in time as the two door guards ran at Alice. As they were surrounded and facing four opponents, it was impossible to form a wall around Alice. Thomas cut one off but the other got through. Thanks to her spell, she took only a cut to the shoulder. Thomas blocked his opponent's blow with his shield and got him in the side.

With better equipment and more skill since their last fight with Romalian knights, Ron and Suzanne met one opponent each and easily outmatched their foes. Both dodged or blocked blows from their man and returned with solid slashes to their opponent's arms. Alice desperately backed away from her foe and somehow managed to get another spell off, further raising the group's resistance to physical harm. Now when the knight fighting her slashed at her, his sword turned off her robe as though she were wearing armor.

The rest of the battle went pretty routine. Alice's two spells had made the group near impervious to the knights' attacks. With the reduced risk, the group was able to subdue the knights rather than kill them. Within a half a minute, the knights had all been knocked out. The group removed them of their armor and weapons and put them in one corner while they put the knights, who had also been tied up, in another corner.

"That went pretty well. Alice, your spells were great! That fool was no match for me at all after that!" exclaimed Ron.

"Keep quiet!" scolded Thomas. "There were four. According to what we've heard, there are two more knights and a blue-skinned man left."

The group proceeded into a hallway on the side opposite where they had entered the room and found a couple of cells blocked by large stone jail doors that had no keyholes or any indication they could be pulled or pushed open. There was a beautiful young woman in the one to the left and, surprisingly, Galen in the one to their right.

"Oh brave heroes, please save me! I am Tania of Baharata!" yelled the young woman.

Galen walked up to his jail door and said, "It's you, the ones from town. I'm sorry you had to come rescue us. The button that opens this door should be near the table at the end of the hallway there."

Sure enough, there was a button just where Galen indicated. The button made the stone doors lower. Galen and Tania ran at each other and embraced. The two exchanged a kiss and then Galen had a proposition.

"When we get back, let's get married!" he said to Tania.

"Oh, Galen, yes! Let's get married" replied Tania. The two kissed again and then ran for the exit.

"Wait!" called Suzanne. "Don't run off, we can teleport you out!"

The group ran after the couple only to find them blocked by two knights and a familiar figure. The blue-skinned man that Daniel had described wore the same sort of clothing as Kandar had. Indeed, when the man spoke, he spoke with Kandar's voice.

"Now that we're back, you'll never escape!" one of the knights laughed.

Tania screamed for help, "Save us, brave heroes!"

The group ran up to the couple's aid. "Leave him to us! Run! Quick!" she shouted.

As the couple ran away from the three criminals, Kandar looked at the group in disbelief, "You again! This time I'll finish ya off!"

Alice cast the same spell she had the last battle. Strengthened against physical attack. Ron, Suzanne, and Thomas were able to keep the three men from going after Alice or the couple. Suzanne and Thomas engaged the two knights and just as before had little to fear from them. Ron engaged Kandar and found a different story. Kandar cut through Ron's armor and enchantment and dealt him a nice blow to the shoulder. Ron cut Kandar across his shoulder, but was amazed when the cut began to heal itself right before his eyes.

Alice helped out Ron by sending a fireball at Kandar. Unlike her other fireballs, this once exploded upon impact with Kandar. Kandar was knocked back a bit but both were amazed to see his burns heal before them. Ron gave him another slash, and that began to heal itself as well.

"What the hell!" yelled Ron. "His wounds are healing themselves!"

Ron took another slash, this one to his side, and stepped backwards a bit.

"We have to finish this quickly so we can help Ron, Tom!" Suzanne yelled at Thomas.

The two finished their knights as quick as they could and ran to help Ron. By this point, Ron had taken a blow to the leg. He was still fighting strong, but he could not take as much abuse again. Thomas sent his stronger healing spell at Ron, which closed up the wounds he had received.

What happened next was amazing. Seeing that Suzanne and Thomas were there to help Ron fight Kandar, Alice cast another strengthening spell on the group. Kandar was still able to deal blows through two enchantments and armor. Even more amazingly, he took blows from Ron, Suzanne, and Thomas while taking exploding fireballs from Alice and, although his wounds did not heal fast to make up for all the abuse he was taking, still fought on.

Eventually, Kandar's axe fell to the ground. "Damn it! I can't feel my arm! I'm no match for ya guys! Spare me, please!" he yelled. Just like last time, Ron put the blade of his weapon to Kandar's throat.

"So here we are again, Kandar," Ron growled at him.

"Please, it wasn't my fault this time either! These are the same knights as before. They tracked me down and were going to kill me for botching their scheme at ruling. Then they made me kidnap the pepper shop owner's daughter!" Kandar pleaded.

"So you've been taken advantage of twice?" asked Suzanne. "Once maybe, but twice is starting to get out of hand."

"Kandar," Thomas cut in. "Do you know what that blue paint you've got on does?"

"Yeah. I know. They told me. Than they made me put it on to make me fight better. That's where we were before we came back. Said I'd be able to slaughter anyone who tried to rescue those two," Kandar explained.

"We'll spare you, but we're turning you in. Then we can discuss you and these knights," said Suzanne.

"No wait! You don't want to do that!" yelled Kandar.

"Oh what this time!" yelled Ron. "Is there another village out there under an elf curse? Maybe the unicorns are going to attack!"

"No but these two are still in danger," Kandar said nervously. "Have ya ever heard of Tricebane?"

Thomas, at the mention of the word, immediately walked up to Kandar and looked him angrily in the eyes. "You didn't! You did not poison those two with Tricebane!" he demanded.

Kandar looked like he was going to cry at the sight of the enraged healer. "I didn't do it!" he protested. "The knights did. It was their defense against a rescue attempt!"

"What is Tricebane?" asked Suzanne.

"It's a deadly, though slow-acting, poison that is immune to magic and can't be treated with normal antidote herbs," explained Thomas. "If these two have it, they only have about six days to live unless we can find the antidote, which is incredibly rare."

"I know where the antidote is!" yelled Kandar. "They didn't want to risk poisoning themselves, so they kept it around."

"I still can't believe we let that dirtbag go again!" yelled Ron, as the group waited in the pepper shop.

Unlike last time, Kandar had lied about the poison. The antidote he gave the group was nothing but died water, so that Thomas would not immediately know it was fake based on the color. Kandar then escaped by having the group teleport him out of the cave and taking another wing of wyvern. After finding themselves duped, Suzanne had Thomas do a full check-up on the two, on a hunch that if Kandar lied about the antidote, he lied about the poison. Thankfully, the two had not actually been poisoned.

"After last time, he probably did a lot of research to find himself another way out if he got caught again. There are few non-clerics that know of Tricebane," Thomas had theorized.

After getting into town, Tania and Galen had run to find Daniel. However, it was already morning of the next day when the group made it back, and Daniel had already left to try and negotiate for Tania's safety. Ron and Thomas quickly went out to find him and were able to bring him back. Daniel was greatly relieved to find Tania and Galen safe, though he did not know Galen had been kidnapped as well. Meanwhile, Suzanne and Alice had taken a quick trip to Romaly to turn in the four knights they had captured. Emperor Vilisik was thankful to see them brought to justice at last.

Just as they had promised each other in the cave, Tania and Galen were soon wed. After their incident with Kandar, they wanted it done as soon as possible. The group attended the wedding a week later and were treated to a great day of celebration. After that, Tania and Galen were given Daniel's pepper business as the old man handed it over to them. The pepper shop was open in another week and the group was anxious to procure what they had originally come for.

"We won't be seeing him again, I think," said Thomas.

"What makes you say that?" asked Suzanne.

"I recognized that paint he had on. It was used to strengthen men way back in the First Great War. When it was first used, humanity thought it was a miracle. It turned the tide at first. Then we found out some of its side-effects," explained Thomas.

"The paint heals wounds at a remarkable rate and stops the person from feeling the pain but it comes at a terrible price. First of all, you can't wear armor or even clothing where you have the paint. Any of that will burn and mold into the skin, an incredibly painful process that can even kill," Thomas continued.

Thomas than sighed and went on, "But more terribly, it doesn't really heal the pain and wounds you receive. It only delays them. Once the paint fades off, Kandar will feel every slash and every fireball that was thrown at him. In the First Great War, men died in excruciating agony when the paint wore off. Those that didn't often went insane with the pain."

"My goodness," gasped Suzanne. "Is it possible to keep the paint from wearing off?"

"You can keep reapplying it, but the result is almost as terrible. Constant exposure to the paint drives a man to insanity as well. In this case, the subject is overcome with insatiable bloodlust and just wants to kill everything that moves. The person won't even eat or sleep so long as it can hunt whatever lives," said Thomas grimly.

"I guess even Kandar doesn't deserve that," Ron said grudgingly.

"We still don't know if he's even at fault," said Alice. "He may have been telling the truth all this time, except for the poison. Have we ever seen or heard of him actually kill someone?"

"I guess we haven't," replied Ron. "But a man doesn't get into that much trouble if he's a good man. He should be brought in to answer for what he's done."

At this point, Galen stepped up to the counter. "Oh my heroes!" he greeted. "What can I do for you today? I assure you, everything is on the house as far as you're concerned."

Suzanne stepped up and laughed nervously, "You may want to take that back in a second. We need to place an order for King Saldor of Portoga. He wants a year's worth of black pepper."

Galen's smile did not fade at all. "When I say everything, I mean everything! The lack of the king's money will be a blow, but now that we're back in business we have enough customers to make up for it. We will get the king his pepper, at no cost to you! It's the least I can do for what you've done."

"The least!" laughed Alice. "After all the money you'll be losing, I don't see how you can say that word."

"Oh well, money is nice and all, but now I see other things are more important," said Galen. "My life, and more importantly, the life of my beloved Tania are the most important."

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