The Hero of Legend

Chapter 16: Suspicious Soldiers

After the defeat of the Orochi, Jipang went insane overnight. It was much like when the group had liberated the western area of the Romalian Empire. However, there were no riots as there had been in that incident. Between Himiko's aide, who had witnessed his transformation into the beast, and the loud noises of the group's fight, the group did not need to prove that they had not brutally murdered Jipang's leader.

The group was immediately hailed as the saviors and heroes of Jipang. A great celebration was held in honor of their deeds. Along with this celebration came two additional rewards. There was an old Jipangian legend that stated, "From the blood and flesh of the vile dragon comes a blade of magnificent quality. The blade will be bestowed to the hand responsible for the slaying of the dragon."

Indeed, a wonderful magic hand-and-a-half sword had somehow materialized from the Orochi's remains over the night the group killed it. The group was going to let Thomas use the sword, but he was inadequate in using it due to its heavier than normal weight. So Alice was given the sword while she gave her zombie slasher to Thomas. Ron had taught her how to wield such weapons. Alice examined the blade and found that it could also release the spell that increased vulnerability to physical harm.

As good as the sword was, however, the group's best reward had come in the form of one of Himiko's treasures. In one of his treasure chests was a purple orb, which the people of Jipang bestowed upon the group. Suzanne wondered if it was one of the orbs from the Portogan legend. Alice and Thomas both launched a heavy investigation on the object, but could only identify that there was a mysterious, unknown, yet powerful magic within the orb.

"This could very well be proof of the legend!" exclaimed Suzanne. "We could give the king of Portoga and Eginbear and any other person proof of the danger if we could just get to the Archfiend's land!"

"Or this could just be a dangerous artifact of some other sort. Hell, even if we could get to the Archfiend's land, how are we going to leave without fighting our way out? Unless this means of transportation mentioned is a teleporter I don't see how this really helps," said Thomas, as usual providing the healthy skepticism for the group.

"If there are other orbs, we can't let them fall into the wrong hands, if they're not already there," chimed in Alice. "We know there's a lot of power in this orb. If there are others, we have to see what they are capable of."

"I say we search for the orbs," agreed Ron. "We don't have a lot of other leads at the moment."

"I suppose you guys are correct. We can't risk such powerful artifacts falling into the wrong hands," conceded Thomas.

"Then it's settled! We'll search for more of the orbs!" declared Suzanne.

"Not any time soon you won't," came the voice of Captain Marbeley. "As the climate grows colders, sea monsters become the least of our worries. It's too dangerous to go sailing for much longer until spring. Even I'm not foolhardy enough to do so."

The group took four months off their quest to wait for the waters to thaw. However, the group did not simply relax during the break. They continued their training in both weapons and magic. Thomas and Alice, in addition to their other studies, searched for any text that would give clues on the purple orb. Unfortunately, there was no information to be found.

The game decided to resume their journey on Suzanne's 17th birthday. The group had tried to argue that they should relax for the extra day but Suzanne had said otherwise.

"The greatest birthday present you guys could give me is to join me on the road again. There is still so much to do," Suzanne had said.

The group had also settled on a course of action to restart their journey. They would start by paying Bill and Polce a visit in the area Polce hoped to begin a new town. They wanted to see their old friend again before setting off. After that, the group would search for the Tower of Arp on the southwestern side of Malandoras.

"Remember what the Soo shaman, Banil, told us," Alice had reminded the group. "In this tower there's supposed to be an Echoing Flute that is supposed to help locate the orbs."

"A wise suggestion," agreed Suzanne. "We found the purple orb by chance. If we're to have any chance of finding the other five, we'll need such an item."

The group teleported to Portoga and they found Captain Marbeley and the Mad Hound ready and waiting for them. After catching up with the captain the group set sail for where they had left Bill and Polce in eastern Malandoras. They found the forest had been cleared out a bit since they had first been there. There was a path that led from the edge of the forest to the lake where the four had met Polce. They now found there were several houses surrounding the lake in addition to the one that had been there before. There were even some people milling about, going about their business.

"Wow, I didn't think there'd be any more people here!" remarked Alice.

"Yeah, there wasn't a lot of time between when we visited and the seas becoming dangerous," noted Ron.

"There's even an inn and a shop here," noticed Suzanne.

"Let's go to the shop! I'm sure we'll find Bill there. He'll probably try to rope us into buying some rare item only found in these parts," laughed Ron.

"Of course, some people here might fall for such a trick," replied Alice.

Ron glared at her, "Hey! He didn't con me that one time. That was a perfectly good item I bought from him and I'm glad I spent the money on it."

"Sure you are Ron. Sure you are," Alice retorted.

The group entered the shop and they were surprised to find a woman behind the counter instead of Bill. Suzanne walked up to the clerk and asked, "Hello. Do you know where we could find a man named Bill?"

The woman smiled and answered, "Oh you must be those friends of his! You can find him in the building being built just south of here.

The four thanked the woman and went to the building she spoke of. They found a shell of a building just south of the shop. There were a few men working on the construction while Bill appeared to be looking over their work.

"Hey Bill!" called Ron.

Bill spun around and saw the group. He walked up to them, shaking his head and smiling, "Well if it isn't you lot. I suppose you must have blown all your money by now?"

"Nice to see you haven't changed a bit," laughed Alice. "Looks like the town has really shaped up since last we were here. I can't believe this many people came before the waters froze over!"

"Well I don't like to brag, but I may have had something to do with that," said Bill, as the four rolled their eyes at his statement. "I can't believe old Polce just waited around here for people to show up! No, I took some action. I gathered up some items around the area that I'd never seen before and used a wing of wyvern to go to Portoga. I went around advertising and selling the rare goods of Malandoras and telling people of a wonderful place where they could either start over or make some quick gold. Then I traveled to some other regions. I used the money I made to rent a ship back over here."

"Rare goods of Malandoras huh?" commented Alice. "I knew that'd fit in somewhere."

"Now I've got some volunteers to go make the next recruiting trip for me," continued Bill. "But we need some more things to draw the people in. So I'm overseeing the construction of a theater. Without a strict government to rule over the entertainment industry here, I think that this will bring a lot of people, both artists and viewers, over here. With no censorship laws or danger of enraging the king, it's an artist's dream!"

"That does sound like a really great plan," complemented Suzanne. "Sounds like you're having a great time here after all."

"I'm sorry I can't come back with you guys. You must be so lost without me," apologized Bill. "But I have a good thing going over here."

"We understand, man. Sounds like you're really raking it in here," said Ron.

"But hey! How would you guys like some Malandorian merchandise? I've got some herbs in the shop that heal all sorts of injuries! You won't find them anywhere else!" asked Bill.

Ron's eyes lit up, "Oh really? Well let's take a look at - "

"Not today Bill," cut off Alice, giving Ron a quick elbow to the ribs. "We have to be going."

Bill's cheerfulness dropped a little bit, "Oh not today? Well be sure to come back sometime! I'll have even more wonderful goods by then!"

The four returned to the Mad Hound and set off for the southwestern region of Malandoras. The group took a somewhat unorthodox route there. If they wanted to simply go around Malandoras, it would take four days to reach the region. However, Alice studies the maps she had and decided that it would be much quicker to teleport to Jipang and set off from there. Indeed, it took only two days from Jipang to reach the western coast of Malandoras. The group took to land to search for the tower.

According to all information and maps the group found on the tower they guessed it was in the field in southwestern Malandoras. The group could see the tower from where they docked due to its height and proximity to the shore.

"So what's the scoop on this place?" asked Ron.

"According to what I've read, it was built by the elves before the First Great War as a tribute to some god-bird. It's said that the reason there's no roof over the top floor was so this bird could make this tower its nest," explained Alice.

"Oh that's great. Our last meeting with the elves went so well," commented Thomas dryly.

"Well at least they didn't try to kill us. The elves were driven out of this tower and the region during the First Great War. They returned some time later only to be driven out again by Desmond's forces in the Second Great War. I would guess that this place is home only to monsters now," said Alice.

"I don't suppose you found any maps of the interior?" asked Suzanne.

Alice laughed nervously, "As usual, I did not."

"It wouldn't be right if we didn't walk blind into a hostile area looking for some trinket or other," noted Thomas.

"Well we know the drill by now," said Suzanne.

As the group approached the tower they found that there was a group of three men in crimson armor guarding the entrance.

"Does anyone know what nation sports crimson as their colors?" asked Suzanne.

"Samanao I believe. I remember reading about them during my brief stint as Emperor," answered Ron.

"Excellent! If we talk with them we might find out more about their land. We might even figure out how to get there!" said Suzanne.

The four approached the soldiers with their arms raised high, meaning to show their lack of malicious intent. When the soldiers spotted the group, however, they immediately drew their swords. The group halted in their tracks, not wanting to provoke the men.

"We come in peace!" Suzanne called out to them. "We just want to talk!"

The three men appeared to talk amongst each other for a short time and then suddenly charged at the group.

"Either they don't believe us or they really hate getting visitors!" warned Ron.

"Try not to kill them, guys!" advised Suzanne.

The four had no choice but to draw their weapons and prepare their spells. Alice took out the staff they received from the Soo and spoke the command word, gesturing forward at the soldiers. The stream of fire materialized and struck the men, but only the man in the middle of their formation seemed to be affected.

"They must have magic-resistant armor!" yelled Alice.

Thomas had been preparing a sleeping spell, but at Alice's warning decided that it would be useless. Thomas drew out his sword instead. Suzanne and Ron were already rushing to meet the men in melee. Suzanne barely managed to block her foe's strike with her shield, though her counterattack was similarly blocked. Ron executed a cunning sidestep followed with a slash to his opponent's midriff. The man's armor blocked the majority of the strike, but the strength of the blow knocked him back, almost taking his wind.

One of the three men had hung back from the melee and cast a spell. The group found themselves engulfed by the familiar purple light of a spell that increased their vulnerability to physical harm. Alice wasted no time busting out the counterspell, as the group now found themselves bathed in its yellow light.

Suzanne gave a low stab to her opponent's legs but in doing so let herself be slashed in the arm. Ron took a hit to his shoulder but managed to slice his foe's side, getting around the man's armor. Before the man could recover his fighting stance after taking the wound, Thomas rushed forward and landed a terrific blow to his neck, killing him. The spellcasting soldier ran into the melee at this point and gave a terrible wound to Thomas going from his shoulder to his hip.

Alice drew out her sword and ran over to help Suzanne. Her attacks were easily blocked by the more experience swordsman, but distracted him enough for Suzanne to run him through with her sword. Thomas backed out of melee with his foe and quickly cast a healing spell on himself. The man foolishly tried to follow him, opening his defenses to Ron in doing so. He managed to bring his shield back around to knock Ron's strike just enough to avoid being killed.

Unfortunately for the soldier, he was now severely outnumbered. Alice and Suzanne ran over to help Ron. Using Alice as a distraction again, Suzanne knocked the man across the face with the flat of her blade, knocking him out but not killing him.

The four had little time to relax, however. Drawn by the commotion, four more similarly armed and armored men had come around from the sides of the tower. Seeing the last moments of the fight, they now rushed at the group to avenge their comrades.

Since the soldiers wore magic-resistant armor and since the four new enemies were split into groups of two too far apart to target with a stream of fire or ground-rising ice, Suzanne knew that an attack spell from Alice would not be effective.

"Alice! Raise our attack power! Start with Ron!" yelled Suzanne.

Alice did as she was told and soon Ron was engulfed in crimson light. Ron, Suzanne, and Thomas formed the front line to protect Alice as the four soldiers drew near. Ron, under the influence of Alice's spell, ran one of the soldiers through with his sword. Suzanne took slashes from two soldiers to her left shoulder and midsection but returned with a slash of her own to one soldier's shoulder. Thomas tried to slash at the last soldier but had his attack blocked and then was knocked off his feet as the soldier used his shield to bash Thomas.

The soldier lifted his sword up to deal a terrible blow to the prone Thomas, but Alice had drawn out her own sword and leapt to Thomas' defense. She was not strong enough to completely block the soldier's blow, but she knocked it off course so that it missed Thomas. Ron attacked one of the soldiers who had slashed Suzanne and almost cleaved the man in two. Suzanne dueled with the last remaining of her opponents and managed a terrific sidestep around the man's attack and counterattacked, almost taking the man's sword arm off.

Thomas quickly got to his feet and together with Alice fought the other soldier. The soldier slashed Alice in the shoulder but left himself open to Thomas' attack, taking a slice to the knee. The man was unable to keep his footing and fell. Alice took advantage of the man's fall and stabbed him in the back of the neck. She breached the jugular in doing so and the man fell to the ground dead.

Suzanne tried once again to take out the last man without killing him. She swung with the flat of her blade but was surprised as the man knocked her sword out of her hand with his shield. She had thought he would be unable to put up much resistance with his sword arm being useless, but he followed his block up with a shield bash to Suzanne's face. Ron came to Suzanne's defense by also attacking with the flat of his blade. He struck the man in the face, but as a result of Ron's increased strength the man's face was almost taken off. He fell to the ground dead.

When no additional soldiers began running at the group, they began healing their wounds and discussing the situation.

"Dammit. We only could save one of them," cursed Suzanne.

"I'm sorry Susie. We should have tried harder not to kill them," apologized Alice.

"No, we did all we could. It's difficult, impractical, and dangerous to hold back against opponents that are trying to kill you," replied Suzanne.

"Ironically, their advanced armor may have led to their demise. If it weren't for their magic resistance, we could have put them to sleep. We could have saved more of them then," remarked Thomas.

"So do we interrogate the one we kept alive?" asked Ron.

"We can't take the chance now," said Suzanne, shaking her head. "Looking at where those other four came from, it looks like there are two other entrances to this tower. Those men were guarding this building. Besides that, they must have been ordered to kill anything on sight, or they would have at least considered our words of peace. Something is going on in this tower, and there's bound to be more soldiers in there. We need to press on and take the initiative before they realize the guards have been defeated. Then we should hold the element of surprise."

"Good idea. We better hurry then," agreed Ron.

After tying up their prisoner, the group finally made their way into the tower. There were three entrances into the tower, which is why the group met one group of soldiers first and then fought reinforcements from the sides. The initial group was guarding the south entrance and the reinforcements came from the west and east entrances. The three entrances led to a large room that was separate from the main portion of the tower. A door at the north end of the room led to the main tower, which extended upwards several stories.

"This room looks like a lobby of sorts, except for the fact that there's no furniture or decoration here," observed Suzanne.

"It was probably used as a social spot for the elves, as well as a room used to wait for ceremonies that were held here," theorized Alice.

"At least they were nice enough to clear the room of monsters and not post any additional men here," said Ron.

"This could be a trap," cautioned Thomas. "Those men had magic on their side. They may have triggered an alarm of sorts."

Then Suzanne led the team to the door leading to the main tower, "We'll have to try and be quiet then. It's a safe bet that there's several more men in the tower, all ordered to kill on sight, no questions asked. We will need surprise on our side."

The four found that the door was locked, though such trifles were mere annoyances with the Final Key. The group left their prisoner in the entrance lobby. They came into a hallway of sorts that went to both sides. It circled around the middle of the tower and the two ends of the hallway converged on the north side. The hallway was cut in the middle by a couple of doors on each side. Where the hallway converged was another door that led into a room in the center of the tower. Inside that room was a grand staircase leading upwards.

The group ascended the staircase as silently as they could. They found that there were four different hallways at the top. The group chose the one on the right side. As they came to the end of the hallway it opened into a middle sized room. In the room they found a group of three men dressed in green tunics. Although not soldiers, the four instantly knew these were not friends as their skin was colored purple.

"Zombies," whispered Thomas.

The four gave each other a nod and all four simultaneously sprung into action. Alice used her magic staff to send a stream of fire at the zombies. They all gave bone-chilling, inhuman screeches as their deteriorating flesh was burned by the magic. Suzanne, Ron, and Thomas all drew out their swords and ran at a separate zombie.

This was the first time the group received an opportunity to test the magic of the blades against the monsters they were designed to slay. They were happy to find that the tales had not been false sales pitches. The zombie slashers not only sliced through the zombies' skin and bone like butter but also left searing burns of light in the wound. The zombies' screeches intensified as the light overcame them and they crumbled to dust.

"That was pretty easy," said Alice perkily.

"Looks like the magic in these things works pretty well," observed Ron.

Suzanne, however, was troubled, "Why are there monsters here? Wouldn't those soldiers have cleared them out?"

"Maybe they're using those things. That may be why they have guards here: not necessarily because they've heard what we have regarding the tower but because it's out of the way and a good place to experiment with necromancy," suggested Thomas.

"Whatever the case, the closer we get to the top, the more likely our fighting is to alert any other soldiers still here. Be ready for any sort of trap guys," Suzanne warned.

The group resumed their search of the tower. This floor was almost completely empty. Three of the hallways led to rooms that had nothing in them. The last hallway led to an ascending staircase.

The next floor looked a lot more interesting. The entire floor seemed to consist of one giant room, about the size of the entrance lobby. However, there was a great hole in the middle. In the middle of that hole was the top of a small mini tower within the main tower. There appeared to be treasure chests on the top of the mini tower. The group could not get to that area though as the hole was simply way too large. Their access to the rest of the floor was similarly limited, as there was floor only in the corners of the room, and none of the corners connected. Luckily, there was another ascending staircase next to them.

"Geez, this is a weird place!" exclaimed Ron. "I wonder how we're supposed to get to that area with the chests over there? Why did they think it was a good idea to put a giant hole in the floor here?"

"It was built for a giant bird after all," answered Alice. "Maybe this hole is big enough for the bird to fly freely through here."

The group went up to the next floor and found a similar layout. There was still a giant hole in the middle. However, the solid floor was continuous and outlined the hole, allowing for more exploration. Unfortunately, the floor was also narrower, to the point that in some places the group would have to walk single file. Even more unfortunately were the two Hades' Condors that were flying around and the two bird-head monsters on the ground. Unlike the bird-head monsters that the group had already encountered, these were blue in color.

"Go for the Condors first, guys!" called out Suzanne. "We don't want anyone getting teleported away!"

Alice had just the spell in mind. At the end of her incantation a large explosion went off, engulfing all the combatants. Incredibly, the four humans were unharmed by it. The four bird enemies, on the other hand, were visibly wounded. The two Condors almost fell out of the air, but managed to regain their flight before falling too far.

The bird-head enemies quickly mounted a counter strike. One of them ran at Alice, only to be cut off by Ron. The creature launched a flurry of attacks on him, pecking at him with its huge beak and scratching him with its talons. Ron's own strike missed the agile creature. The other bird-head cast a spell of its own and the group was hit by a mini tornado, slicing them with dust and debris.

The Hades' Condors were beginning their spells but made sure to stay out of reach keeping flight above the hole. Thomas and Suzanne had anticipated this tactic, however. The two chanted spells of their own and finished them before the Condors. Suzanne sent out a strong stream of fire, the same as Alice's favorite spell. Thomas sent out a mini tornado of his own. Having taken a beating from three spells by this point, the Condors fell out of the sky and landed hard on the ground below.

Alice drew out her sword and joined Ron in combat against his bird-head. She managed a cut to the creature's head that went across its right eye. Dazed at its sudden decrease in sight, it was unable to dodge Ron's coup de grace as he stabbed the creature just below its beak. The four got hit by two mini tornadoes. Somehow, the last bird-head had cast two spells at once.

Suzanne and Thomas ran at the creature to finish it off. Thomas feinted with his strike, which drove the creature straight into Suzanne's powerful horizontal slash. The bird-head's legs were cleanly removed and it thudded to the ground, unable to move. Suzanne put the creature out of its misery.

"Damn, that was a tough one," said Ron, as he tried to catch her breath. "Those spells they cast sure add up."

"I can't believe it was able to cast two spells at once," commented Suzanne.

"From what we've seen, those things can move their legs and beaks pretty much independently. Add in the fact that there's more than one way to cast some spells and it probably cast a spell with its beak and one with its legs," theorized Alice.

After Thomas finished his healing rounds, Suzanne hurried the group further, "That explosion must've alerted everything else here to our presence. The element of surprise is gone but we can still get them before they have too much of a chance to react."

"I'm sorry Susie. I didn't think about that," apologized Alice.

"Don't apologize, you did the right thing. If it weren't for you, one of us would be who knows where while the rest of us would have gotten a few extra doses of wind spells," replied Suzanne.

There were three other descending staircases on the floor. They all led to the other corners of the previous floor, which were empty. They returned to the fourth floor and found an ascending staircase in the northeast corner. The group quickly ascended.

The group came to the roof of the tower. Although there were walls rising on the edges there was no ceiling or additional floors. This floor featured the same hole in the middle of the floor and in this case solid ground was put in two parts. The north end of the room where the group stood was a solid "shore" of land but the other side was cut up into three small pieces. In this case, the group would be able to traverse the hole as there were tightropes drawn all across the hole.

"That's it," said Ron. "The top. And I don't see any more soldiers."

"You know," replied Alice thoughtfully. "Those doors on the ground floor looked fairly new compared to everything else in the tower. Besides that, they were damaged by monsters from the looks of it. I'm wondering if the soldiers didn't just seal off the ground floor from monsters and guard the entrance."

"So they were sent to guard the place but not to secure anything here?" wondered Suzanne. "Why would they do anything like that? That just seems stupid."

"Let's not also forget they were apparently ordered to kill on sight," reminded Thomas. "It's like they knew people would come here for something, but didn't actually want to use that something."

"We'll have to ask our friend out there when we finish here," said Ron.

"Speaking of friends, we have some company!" warned Thomas, pointing to the sky.

There were two large wingless serpents flying toward the tower from the north. The group came to the grim realization that they had seen these things before.

"Those are the same dragons from the Tower of Garuna!" warned Alice.

"Two huh? This is going to be fun," said Ron sarcastically.

"Alice, cover us with your magic. Thomas, if they both stay out of melee range to use their breath weapons we fight back with magic as well. Otherwise, we three focus on one until we're sure it's dead," commanded Suzanne.

The other three nodded and waited for the dragons to get into range. When they did, mayhem broke loose quickly. As Alice released her spell, causing spines of ice to rise up and strike the dragons before bursting. At the same time, both let loose their fiery breath, engulfing the entire floor on which the group stood with fire. The four suffered severe burns but were still able to fight.

The dragons had no intention of staying away, as Suzanne had feared, and came in with their claws. They both went straight for Alice, forcing Suzanne to cut one off while Thomas and Ron focused on the other. They timed their attack perfectly so that they simultaneously stabbed into opposite sides of the dragon's head. The creature gave a terrible cry and fell to the ground, dead.

Suzanne aimed a slash at her dragon's head but it jerked its head to the side, causing Suzanne's attack to glance off the creature's scaly armor. It followed up with a quick and vicious bite to Suzanne's arm, almost taking it off. She managed to fall backwards enough before contact to avoid that fate, though the dragon got a nice chunk of metal and flesh for its effort.

Alice quickly chanted a healing spell for Suzanne. She had learned how to cast Thomas' stronger healing spell, fortunately for Suzanne. Although there was still a vicious gash at the site of the bite, the majority of the flesh and muscle she lost regenerated. Suzanne, Ron, and Thomas ganged up on the beast with a vicious flurry of slashes to its face. The attacks left the creature without eyes and writhing in pain. It exposed its soft belly, allowing the three to finish it off easily.

"Another close one," commented Thomas, after they made sure the beasts were dead. "Alice sure came through with her healing magic. Wouldn't want you to lose your arm again Susie."

"Yeah, thanks for the save Alice," thanked Suzanne.

"It was nothing," returned Alice.

"But man, two dragons. Do you guys realize we've slain four dragons now? Can you believe it?" asked Ron.

"Yeah. Our power and skill has progressed tremendously over our quest," observed Suzanne. "A good thing too, we're going to need all the assets we can get."

The group healed up and carefully crossed the tight ropes to the other side of the room. They found three treasure chests in the "islands" on the other side. Alice checked them and found two of them were traps, but the other one was okay. Unfortunately, it only contained a torn up set of clothes.

"No Echoing Flute," said Ron. "Now what?"

"We have to get to the top of that mini tower. It had some treasure chests on it. And I think I know how to get there," answered Suzanne.

She went to about the middle of the giant hole and looked down. "If we jump from here, we'll get to the mini tower. Alice, do you think you could lower yourself down?" she asked.

"I'm afraid not this time, Susie. My magic is tapped. I don't think I could slow the fall of a grain of sand right now," Alice answered.

"Well then I guess we'll have to do this the old fashioned way," said Suzanne. She returned to solid floor to get some rope and a hook from her pack. She carefully went out to the center again and connected her rope to the tightrope. Using her rope, she lowered herself down. The other three followed suit.

"I suppose you can't check the chests either?" asked Suzanne to Alice. Alice shook her head. "Well I guess we'll have to be careful then. Look lively guys!" said Suzanne.

They carefully opened each chest one by one and were relieved to find none were monsters. Inside them they found a small sum of gold, two magic acorns, and a flute.

"Can you check if this is it?" asked Suzanne. Alice shook her head again. "Well then, I guess we'll just have to check later. We better leave now though. We're in no shape to get into any more fights."

"This could be bad. If Alice can't teleport us, then we'll have to risk spending the night here," said Ron.

"I can handle the teleportation," said Suzanne. She cast the spell and transported the four out of the tower. They then went back inside to check on their prisoner.

They found the man where they left him, still bound and still unconscious. Ron went over to pick him up when suddenly Thomas stopped him.

"Wait!" warned Thomas. "Something isn't right. Let me examine him."

Ron backed off and let Thomas examine the man. As Thomas did so, he was very careful not to touch the man.

"Damn! They must have been instructed to kill themselves if they were captured!" cursed Thomas.

"What's wrong?" asked Suzanne.

"He's dead! Poisoned. They must all have vials in their mouths. Not just any poison either. It's called the Last Stand. Desmond's forces used it in the Second Great War to avoid capture. It not only kills, but it affects the skin as well. Any who touch the afflicted get infected as well. What's even worse, it eventually turns its victims into zombies," explained Thomas.

"That explains the zombies we fought. But I don't see anything wrong with his skin. How did you know what happened?" Suzanne asked.

"The poison gives off a faint dark aura. I thought it was part of their armor when we fought them. Even when we fought the zombies I didn't remember. But it hit me just before Ron picked the body up," answered Thomas.

"Wait, did we get this poison when we fought the zombies?" asked Ron.

"I don't think so. By the time the body is zombified, the poison is no longer contagious. But just in case, I better check everyone," Thomas said. With that, he quickly checked the group and all were relieved to find his search turn up negative.

"You know," said Alice thoughtfully, "Those zombies we fought weren't in armor. If they weren't soldiers then who were they?"

"Actually, few zombies can use armor without it crushing them. The strength that they put into their blows comes from the dark energy that is their life force," explained Thomas. "They focus the energy when they strike. But they can't sustain that focus over their entire body for long enough to support armor."

"There is definitely something suspicious about these men," said Ron, referring to the soldiers. "Were they guarding this tower because of the flute?"

"We probably won't know until we find Samanao," replied Suzanne.

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