Chapter 5: Kandar
"Ron's late," Thomas observed.
"You think we don't know that Tom!" Alice shouted back at him.
Suzanne sent a glare at the two of them to quiet them. Thomas went back to reading a book while Alice failed to calm down. She began to pace back and forth around the small room they were in.
Tempers had been high since the group had infiltrated the land Kandar held. Alice seemed to snap at anyone who did not bring good news. This constantly put her at odds with Thomas, who could not help but bring up every negative event that came to pass. Suzanne had almost given up trying to keep the other two from each other's throats, it was enough work just to keep them from alerting every person in camp as to what they were doing. Suzanne found that her mood had been sour for the past week as well.
Getting into Kandar's land was not too difficult. The group had decided to ambush some of Kandar's soldiers who strayed from the area. Thomas put the men to sleep and the others would disable them. When the men came to, the group interrogated them. The men were little more than a collection of rogues, it was easy to get information from them. The group then sent the men to the castle in order to be tried in court.
Luckily, the men had come from the bridge itself. Now the four had all the information they needed to get past the guards at the bridge. The plan had Ron posing as one who wished to join Kandar while the others snuck through. It was customary to test a new recruit through fighting and every man at the bridge was eager for a good fight. While Ron proved his worth, almost every guard at the bridge went to watch.
Ron was immediately posted to guard duty on the bridge. Having proven himself to be an exceptional fighter, they put him where there was most likely to be a good fight. Meanwhile, the rest of the group took up residence in a nearby work camp. They could not just stay there idle however. Thomas was pressed into doing work for Kandar's men while Suzanne and Alice laid low throughout the day. Many people found the two, but most were villagers who had no urge to betray them. The two easily defended themselves against any of Kandar's men that found them.
The group decided to keep Ron working for Kandar. His position was a vital source of information the group needed to put together an assault on Kandar. For the most part, Ron's job was pretty routine. The men would do some building during the day, or test any new recruits that would happen to arrive. After the shift, the men would often go drinking. This was where Ron found most of his information. Then Ron would go to the others and give a report on his day. The only difficult part of his job was trying not to hurt any innocents without giving himself away. Several times a week, Ron would tell the group of a close call in which he helped a poor civilian escape without alerting fellow guards.
The night progressed and the group eventually set up their look-out shifts. As they were in hostile territory, they slept similarly to how they did traveling. But now the group had to switch things up to account for Ron's absence. Thomas and Alice went to bed first while Suzanne was kept on watch.
It was only a couple of hours before sunrise the next day when Ron turned up. He came into the tent with a great smile on his face.
"Well, someone's happy," Alice snarled at him.
"And so will you three, when you hear what I've got to say," Ron responded, undeterred by Alice's mood.
Alice was not convinced, "Really now? It better be good, considering how late you are. And it better not be that you scored with some girl."
Ron chuckled softly, "You won't be disappointed. But for now, I think I'll head to bed. Good night."
Alice just about lost it. She opened her mouth to yell at him when she remembered that she was to be quiet, and instead hissed at him, "No you will not! We've been keeping watch for longer hours thanks to this stunt of yours. I think you should keep watch now."
Now Ron started getting angry. "I haven't slept all night and I've still got a shift tomorrow! I didn't try to stay out later than usual, I just couldn't get away! I'm sure you got at least a little sleep in!"
"A little bit less now that you two are going at it," mumbled Suzanne as she sat up.
"I'm sorry Susie, I was trying to be quiet," said Ron, glaring at Alice.
"Don't pin this on me! This is all your fault!" Alice retorted.
"Enough!" hissed Suzanne. "Since I'm up, we may as well wake Tom so you can tell us what is so wonderful. I have no clue how he can sleep through all this."
Suzanne started shaking Thomas awake. "He's always been a heavy sleeper," Ron observed.
After some doing and a few grumblings from Thomas, Ron began speaking, "Okay, we have our opportunity guys. Kandar is apparently an arrogant bastard. It seems that some people have gotten wind of his scam and there have been a few uprisings against him. In order to quiet these uprisings, he's planning some sort of parade through the land the show everyone his crown and warn against taking action against the Empire. It's planned to occur in exactly one week and preparation begin tomorrow. I'm actually being pulled back to the Tower of Shanpane to help out."
"That's interesting, but he'll likely station a heavy guard around himself. Even if we did manage to take him out we'd have a time getting the crown. Without the crown, one of his men could just step up and keep going," Suzanne said.
"But he's going to open himself to attack right before the parade," Ron continued. "He's going to send the almost all his men in the tower to nearby towns in order to make preparations right before setting out. If we attack then, we'll have a decent chance of getting to him."
"This sounds like a trap. Why would he send his guards away right before leaving?" asked Thomas.
"Trap or no, this is too good an opportunity to pass up. We may never get another chance. Okay Ron, you make sure to tell us exactly when to make our move. Until then, we keep going as usual for this week. For now, Alice you're still on watch. You might want to apologize to Ron too." Suzanne said. She and Thomas went back to sleep.
Alice sighed and looked at Ron, "Fine. I'm sorry. I thought that you were just partying late with Kandar's men. You really came through this time. What can I do to make it up to you?"
Ron laughed and replied, "Don't worry about it. I did pull that stunt back at the castle. If I were you, I'd probably have thought the same thing."
Ron turned around to head for bed when he turned back around and looked at Alice thoughtfully, "Though, now that you mention it…"
"What?" asked Alice.
"A kiss or something would be nice," laughed Ron.
Alice responded by slapping Ron.
The week could not have gone by at a slower pace. The group was eager to begin the assault on the Tower of Shanpane. The greatest part of their plan was that it they would not have to fight any but Kandar's closest men. They wouldn't have to fight any villagers who had been pressed into serving Kandar. Halfway through the week, Ron found out that the men who were staying with Kandar were none other than the knights who had broken their vows and joined him. Although these men were the most dangerous, it would allow the group to take out all the most powerful tyrants in one attack.
At long last the week came to an end. The group snuck out of camp in the middle of the night to travel to the Tower of Shanpane. They came within two miles of the tower and hid while they watched Kandar's men walk towards their respective destinations.
"I've never seen such lack of organization. It shouldn't be difficult at all for Ron to break away from the rest," Alice observed.
"They seem to be in an awful hurry," Suzanne said.
"They most likely have some free time before Kandar marches out. They probably want to enjoy as much of it as they can," mused Thomas.
When the number of men coming from the tower had slimmed down to almost none, the group moved towards the tower. They had to disable some men who spotted them along the way, but otherwise made it without incident. They met up with Ron some hundreds of yards away.
"I thought you'd wait in the tower," said Suzanne.
"I would have, but there are monsters in there!" exclaimed Ron.
"Monsters?" asked Alice, confused.
"Yeah! One guy saw me head back to the tower. I thought I'd have to knock him out but he just warned me about going back to the tower. I went inside and, sure enough, there were some monsters in there," Ron explained.
"How can that be?" asked Suzanne. "There's no way monsters could move into the tower that quickly, especially with all the commotion caused by the men leaving. It'd have to have been empty for a little while for that to happen!"
"It would seem things aren't going to go as according to plan as we thought," observed Thomas.
The Tower of Shanpane had long been the capitol of the region. Since the region was poor and sparsely populated, usually the Duke who watched over it was at the end of his political career. As such, the tower was usually a dreary place. Some Dukes had even allowed monsters to enter the tower by not employing enough guards. The nearest town was about five miles away and nobody other than the Duke and his guards lived in the tower.
The reason the tower was so large was actually for military reasons. Ironically, the tower had been built to repel the Romalians who invaded the region before it had surrendered to the Empire. Although it was a fine fortress, lack of equipment and men led to it being captured quickly. In the present day, few even remember the name the region once had.
"I wasn't able to get a map of the tower, or learn where exactly Kandar is. That's one thing he was smart about. Looks like we'll have to check every room we can find," said Ron.
The group proceeded through the first few rooms at a quick pace. All the rooms in the tower were pretty large and open, so it was not too difficult to see whether or not Kandar was in the room. When the group came around to another room, they were greeted by a large teal caterpillar.
"Watch out! That's not the same kind of giant caterpillar we've been fighting around here!" warned Thomas.
Almost right after Thomas finished his sentence, the caterpillar opened its large mouth and let out a purple-colored gas at the four. Thomas and Alice managed to stay out of the breath, but Suzanne and Ron were almost engulfed in it and started coughing. Alice chanted a spell and sent a bolt of ice at the caterpillar, striking it head-on. After his brief coughing fit, Ron took out his sword and finished the caterpillar off.
"Both of you," Thomas said pointing at Suzanne and Ron, "come here for a second."
Thomas spent some time examining Suzanne and then cast a spell on her. He did the same for Ron.
"Poison?" Ron asked.
"Yeah. That breath is toxic to us. Those monsters are really dangerous because of that. I managed to neutralize it in both of you," Thomas explained.
"I see we have little worry of toxic monsters with our healer around," Ron said with a smile.
The group proceeded through the first floor, making sure to check every room. Then they backtracked to a set of stairs they found and went up. On the next floor, they noticed the tower was open from the north side going counterclockwise to the southeast side.
"I'm guessing that was so the defenders could shoot arrows at their attackers?" asked Alice.
"Most likely," said Suzanne. "Though it may not be. After all, if it were the Romalians that were invading, why would the wall be open on every side but the northeast? Wouldn't that be the direction they'd be coming from?"
"Actually, the Romalians weren't the only ones to invade this land. Apparently, they successfully fought of some invasion from an island kingdom to the northwest. I don't remember the name, or if it even still exists. That's probably the original reason the tower was built, and why it was not as effective against the Romalians," explained Ron.
"Incoming!" yelled Thomas.
Four men suddenly came flying, literally, at the party. The men all had fangs, heads with two points on the top, and wings coming out of their backs. Other than that, they were just like regular men.
Two of the mutants came at the group. Suzanne was tackled by one, but quickly lopped off one of her attacker's wings. Ron manage the slay the one that rushed him before it could tackle him. Thomas ran forward and scored a slash across the torso on one of the other two. Alice and the fourth mutant were chanting spells. The mutant finished its spell first, and the four were engulfed in strange energy waves. When Alice finished her spell, nothing happened.
"What the hell!" she exclaimed. "I know I chanted that spell correctly!"
The mutant Thomas attacked managed to give him a good blow as it flew at him but Thomas finished it off with a slash to the skull before it could get away from him. Suzanne finished off her foe while Ron ran over to the one that had cast the spell and impaled it.
"What was that spell they cast?" asked Ron. "I didn't feel anything, but I know it hit me."
"I know what it was now," began Alice. "That's a spell that keeps your enemies from casting spells. That's why my spell failed."
"How long does it last?" asked Suzanne.
"A few minutes," said Thomas. "It's actually a spell that some clerics can use."
"We better be careful then. We're going to need magic to take out Kandar and his men," said Suzanne.
The group proceeded towards the top of the tower. They came upon more monsters on the way, but managed to defeat them all with little incident. When they came to the fifth floor of the tower, they found themselves in a furnished room with two men in golden-colored armor sitting down in chairs. There were two swords sitting on the table between the two men. The men took notice of the four.
"That's the armor of Romaly! These are the knights!" said Ron.
"Men of Kandar! Surrender now and we will spare you!" yelled Suzanne at the two men.
"Whoa! Get a load of these weirdos!" said the one on the left.
Thomas and Alice started preparing spells. When the two men saw this, they grabbed their swords and started running up the stairs to the next floor. They made it up the steps just before they could be hit by a stream of fire and a harsh-cutting wind.
"After them! Before they can get reinforcements!" Suzanne yelled. The four gave chase.
When the four got to the next floor, they were greeted by the sight of the two men, another man with the same equipment, and a man who wore only enough to cover himself up plus a mask and who wielded a large axe.
"You done well to make it this far," the unarmored man said grimly. "I gotta hand it to ya."
"Whoever you are, surrender now and show us to your leader!" Suzanne yelled at the man.
"My leader?" asked the man. "I'm the leader! I'm Kandar, ruler of these here lands!"
"So you're responsible for all this tyranny," said Suzanne. "So be it. If you surrender, even you can be spared!"
Kandar laughed. "Just one thing," he began, "Ain't no one can catch us!" He then took a step forward. The four had no time to react before the floor underneath them gave away and they fell to the floor below. They could hear Kandar laughing above them, "See ya, suckers!"
After the four recovered from their fall, they ran back up the stairs. They were shocked to find that Kandar and his men were nowhere to be found.
"How is this possible!" Ron shouted in frustration. "There's only one way off this floor!"
"Well two," said Thomas, "if you count the way we just took."
"The wall is open over there!" shouted Alice. "Maybe they jumped!"
Thomas shook his head, "Unlikely. We would have seen them land somewhere on the same floor as us."
"Let's just check it out," Suzanne said.
The group proceeded to the break in the wall and found that there was a slide that led into a tunnel. The group wasted no time going down the slide. They found themselves going down two floors and landing somewhat roughly. As they got back up, they saw Kandar's men walking away.
"You won't get away from us!" Ron shouted at the four men.
Kandar and his men turned around, surprised. Kandar shouted back at the group, "Stubborn fools! I'll show you who's boss!" Kandar and his men spread out, surrounding the group.
Thomas quickly cast a spell at Kandar. A purple mist covered the air around him. Unfortunately, none of Kandar's men were caught in the spell, they had already spread out by then. However, Kandar was left sleeping on his feet. Alice let loose her stream of fire at Kandar, but that too failed to hit another target.
"Do not let them ruin what we have going! Kill the spellcasters first!" shouted one of Kandar's men.
As the three men rushed at Thomas and Alice, Suzanne and Ron stepped in front to block them. Suzanne took two nasty slashes to the midsection while Ron managed to block the one attack aimed for him. Suzanne managed to catch one man in the shoulder but Ron's counterattack was blocked.
"We need your help in melee, Tom!" shouted Suzanne, as Thomas was beginning a healing spell. Thomas terminated his spell and rushed into the melee. He struck the man who Suzanne had not struck back against in the leg. Suzanne ducked under another slash and returned with an upward slash at her man, giving him a nasty wound in the middle of his torso. This blow was followed by an ice bolt from Alice and the man was sent to the ground. Ron and his men traded blows, with Ron striking the man in his left arm while blocking another blow.
"Kandar's awake!" Alice warned. Kandar was coming to and Alice was unguarded from him.
"Counterclockwise rotation!" Suzanne yelled. The group had practiced several formations when they trained. As it was now, Ron, Suzanne, and Thomas, in that order from left to right, formed a front line in front of Alice to protect her from Kandar's men. With Suzanne's order, Ron left his man to engage Kandar, Suzanne took Ron's man, and Thomas took Suzanne's man.
Ron found that Kandar was a dangerous opponent. Ron took a blow across the shoulder from Kandar's large axe. Kandar than dodged Ron's blow with surprising speed for one so large.
"Focus on the others Alice!" Suzanne yelled as she struck her opponent, taking one in the leg as well. Alice had been about to blast Kandar when she heard Suzanne's order. She turned around and hit Thomas' opponent. Thomas was then easily able to finish off his foe. Ron and Kandar once again went at each other. This time, Ron managed to hit Kandar, though he took another slash, this time to the midsection.
Thomas went over and helped Suzanne finish her foe while Alice hit Kandar with an ice bolt. The blow knocked Kandar back and allowed him to take a deep cut from Ron's blade. With that, Kandar dropped his axe and cried, "I give up!"
Ron rushed up to Kandar and put his blade to Kandar's throat. "No funny movements," warned Ron. Thomas began healing the group of the various wounds they had received. Alice checked Kandar's men to see if they were going to get back up. She shook her head, indicating that they were dead.
Kandar was nervous, but continued talking, "Will ya let me go if I give ya the crown? Please?"
"Let you go?" asked Suzanne. "We'll let you live, if you do that and help us end your little regime here. But we can't let you go."
"Don't talk like that, it wasn't my fault! The crown is right over there!" Kandar protested, pointing to a chest towards the edge of the tower. Thomas ran over and grabbed the crown and showed the others. Kandar went on, "Those guys you killed weren't my men! They made me do this!"
"They made you do this?" Ron asked skeptically.
"Yeah. I took the crown, ya know that. But I didn't want to become a bad guy. Me and my buds, we were just goofin' around before we took it apart and sold it. Some people saw me and started bowing to me, callin' me 'Duke'. We thought it was pretty awesome, but then those knights found us. They killed my buds and forced me to be the 'Duke'. Said they had a big chance that they wouldn't have without me. Said people would recognize them since they were knights, but the Duke hardly got out ever."
Kandar took a deep breath and continued, "So they made me do this. I was just a person to put on the crowd and act noble. They're the ones that went and did all that stuff to the people. I just wanted money."
"Be that as it may," replied Suzanne, "we still can't just let you go."
"Wait!" shouted Kandar, almost making Ron cut him on accident. "I know something! Something ya all will want to know! There's some people under a curse somewhere! This guy told me when he thought I was the Duke! There's people under some sleeping curse, and if they don't wake soon, they'll die!"
"Sounds like quite the story," snarled Ron.
"It's true!" Kandar protested.
"Let's say it is true," said Suzanne. "Why not tell the Emperor? He sent us because he didn't want to kill his own people. Surely he could send him men in this case."
Kandar persisted, "They won't make it! The guy said they only have about…" he paused to remember for a second and then continued, "three days left! It'll take at least one for the Emperor to mobilize some mages! He'll need them to get them to Kanave on time, but even then the town's too far away! If you hurry, you can make it!"
Suzanne thought it over for a second and then asked the others, "What do you think guys? Is he telling the truth?"
"He's lying to save his skin," growled Ron.
"Probably true," began Thomas. "But what if he speaks the truth? Many lives could be in the balance. I don't think we can take that chance."
"Okay then, where is this village Kandar?" Suzanne asked.
"Oh no ya don't! You're not trickin' me that easy!" Kandar said. "You have a map of the Empire?"
Alice reached into her bag and took out a map of the Romalian Empire.
"Give me the map and somethin' to write with," said Kandar. "I'll mark it, and you give me a wing of wyvern. Sound good?"
Suzanne nodded. Alice took out a wing of wyvern and handed it to Suzanne, along with the map. Suzanne gave the map and a pen to Kandar. Kandar marked down a spot on the map and then nodded. Kandar and Suzanne both began to exchange items at the same time, careful to watch the other.
"On the count of three Kandar. And I warn you, if even a single feather falls off the wing, it won't work. So I'll have no trouble keeping you here if you try not to give away the map." Suzanne warned.
"And I can rip the map off where ya need to see if you do the same," said Kandar.
Suzanne counted the three and the two quickly made the exchange. Kandar quickly threw the wing into the air and teleported away.
"I can't believe we let that dirtbag go," said Ron.
"I think he was telling the truth," said Alice. "He may be a thief, but I don't think he's a murderer or a tyrant."
"If he's telling the truth, we have to get a move on," said Thomas.
"But on our way out, we still have to liberate this land," Suzanne said.