517 The King

    The ring of steel on steel echoed in the small camp as the two sword wielders circled warily. Their blades' constant clashing was accompanied by the gentle sounds of music that flowed from Duran's recently repaired mandolin.

    Nix kicked sand into his adversary's face then attempted a leg sweep while Chiba's sight was impaired.  When his leg contacted nothing, he rolled free and brought up his guard, but it was already too late.  The flat side of the old woman's blade slapped him gentle on the shoulder.

    "Well done, Apprentice!"  Chiba took a long drink from her canteen and then wiped her mouth with the back of her sword hand.  She offered her apprentice a drink, but he shook his head and produced his own container.  "One last spar!"

    "There's no telling what you put in your canteen."  Nix knew without asking that it was booze.

    "True..."  Chiba stood barechested in the mid-morning sun.  Her short gray hair, pale skin, and flat chest hid the fact that she was female from those who didn't know her well.  She toasted Nix with her canteen and took a long drink."

    Nix returned her toast politely.  "To the King."

    Chiba paused after stowing her canteen.  "The King?"

    Nix grinned at the old woman.  "Fuh... King."

    Chiba stared at him for a moment before her laughter erupted, the creepy sound of it making everyone nearby turn and stare.  "HAHAHA... PERFECT I LOV.."  Her hilarity was interrupted when Nix tapped her shoulder with his blade.

    "I win."  Nix stowed his blade and took turned abruptly while his Master continued to cackle uncontrollably.

    "Nix!  Come back! Don't cheat your Master!"  The old woman was still chuckling when her apprentice disappeared towards the beach.

    A few minutes later, Nix arrived at his destination where  Morti, Fey, and Soup were playing in the surf.  The entire camp was enjoying the brief respite from 'bone form.'  After returning for their R\u0026R trip, Jun Li set up a light roving guard and gave the camp a day off.  Cookfires were set up, and the recently rezzed members from the Striker Graveyard were given a chance to acclimate themselves.

    /Alpha: Semmi: Where are you at, Boss?

    /Alpha: Nix: Down at the beach.  Problem?

    /Alpha: Semmi: Not really, we'll come find you.

    After returning from Vasai Virtual, Nix had put a long leather strap on Commander Bensic's helm.  The shiny headgear was an upgrade from his last helm but still only covered a fraction of the cub's huge head. "Looks good, Morti."  Morti was sitting on his enormous butt, letting the surf flow around him while he scratched figures on the wet sand.

    "Thanks. I like it." Morti's wet fur was sticking in all directions.  "Soup has gotten stronger."

    Nix glanced toward the sea turtle; Fey was in human form and laying comfortably across Soup's shell.  "She's been fighting a lot.  Apparently, the sea creatures around Ionova are very territorial.  Our girl is keeping them in line."

    "Commander!  Commander!"  A familiar voice shouted his name from the rocks.

    Nix seemed to freeze in place for a moment.  "Say it isn't true."

    Morti glanced toward the running figure.  "She's really fast."

    An instant later, a tiny blond figure skidded to a stop in front of him.  She snapped a salute while her large smile threatened to consume all of her face.  "Captain Bali reporting for duty!"

    Nix returned her salute, biting down on the smile that bubbled up.  "Did I promote you?"

    Bali nodded.  "Permission to hug you, sir?"





    "Fine."  Nix chuckled and scruffed the blond ranger's hair.  "Now that the big guns are here, maybe we can make some progress."

    Bali nodded in agreement.  "Am sure Ronnie has missed me.  Know where she is?"

    "Probably test flying the new Bone Crow mounts."  Nix noticed Semmi and Pon walking toward them.

    Bali took a sideways glance at Morti.  "Love the new helm."

    Morti seemed more intent on his drawings, even though the surf was erasing them before he could finish.  "Thanks, Captain," he replied without looking up.

    /Alpha: Semmi: Meant to tell you, Bali came through the Mocai Coven portal.

    /Alpha: Nix: With who?

    /Alpha: Semmi: Elan Mtui and Beta.

    /Alpha: Nix: Breach Commander Mtui?  Why is he here?

    /Alpha: Semmi: He's here to support us; we should probably guild both him and Beta.  That will give them mounts and permanent Boneyness.

    /Alpha: Nix: Mtui is a tank?

    /Alpha: Semmi: Yes.  Oh, and Sharl was able to summon Floyd.

    /ALpha: Nix: Now that's awesome news. Where's Pathfinder?

    /Alpha: Semmi: They have a tent set up next to yours.

    /Alpha: Nix: I have a tent?

    /Alpha: Semmi: Medium-sized one that you're sharing with Fajii and Shae.

    /Alpha: Nix: Nebs arrival gives us another cleric!  Things are looking good.

    /Alpha: Semmi: Meeting in 30 minutes, going to discuss cleaning out the rest of the Peril (14) Burrough and our current status.

    /Alpha: Nix: I'll be there.  Check out your mounts yet?

    /Alpha: Pon: Kinda awesome, way better than those **ing brooms, they come with a padded saddle!

    [Summons: Raven]

    Nix whistled softly when his mount appeared in front of him.  He'd seen the Bone crow mounts flying overhead on his walk down to the beach.  This was nothing like those.  The Raven was covered in black feathers that seemed to absorb the light around it, placing it deep in the shadows.  Raven had a sharp-looking black beak and wickedly curved claws on its black feet.  It stood around three meters in height and immediately 'cawed' at him.

    /Alpha: Pon: Damn you, Bastard!  Why is your ** always awesome?

    /Alpha: Semmi: That's pretty nice, Boss.


    Ducky walked past the guard at her door, immediately he left his post to follow her.  He was a member of the Slaughter guild but was careful to be respectful with his words.

    "Where are you going, Ducky?"

    "I've heard the Keep was attacked.  I'm curious about what happened."  Ducky offered him a slight smile.  "You can walk beside me. I feel like a prisoner when you follow behind me like that."

    "Sorry!"  Pradi was a top-notch thief with nothing to do. He had been volunteered to keep tabs on Ducky by his Guild Leader.  "Not much to see.  The Keep was hit with an insanely powerful fire attack that blasted a tunnel through several meters of rock.  The armory was completely destroyed, along with most of that wing."

    As a resident of the Keep, Ducky could see that the roster had been trimmed by more than a hundred.  Most of those were heroes from the Trifecta.  "Your name is Pradi?  There was some sort of guild event, right?  Did you win anything?"

    "Win?"  Pradi sighed heavily.  His dark eyes seemed troubled while he considered the cost of the event.  Their stats had been drastically reduced, and now they were vulnerable to fire.  Not the best outcome when facing a guild called 'Inferno.'  "Our overall strength has been compromised, the status quo within the Keep has changed. Unless..."

    Ducky considered his words for a moment; bits and pieces of conversation that she'd overheard gave her a good idea of what was happening with Trifecta and Glacia.  They had formed a precarious alliance that was based on both sides have similar strength. Her own arrival should have been considered a boon to Glacia, but the Water Witch hadn't made any movements.  "Unless I join the Trifecta?"

    Pradi ran a dark hand through his jet-black hair. He was tired of the fortress, the nonexistent battles and benefits they had been promised months ago.  His assignment had been given to him by Sandi, who was the real-life sister to Sloan, the person that tried to fly out of Ducky's window. Pradi made the mistake of joking about it in alliance chat and was punished with his current posting outside her door.  "Are you considering that?"

    Ducky shook her head honestly and stepped into the rubble that had once been the armory.  There were still a few people picking through the ruins looking to score one of the missing treasures.  "No.  Your chances of winning are zero.  The way the Bone Fortress is setup puts momentum with the aggressor.  Trifecta is just waiting here to die."

    Pradi shivered slightly; the Water Witch seemed unshakably calm to him.  "So you are with Glacia?"

    Ducky tilted her head slightly.  "Pressing me for information?  There's no need for that.  Ask me whatever you like."

    Inwardly Pradi noted that he was within a few meters of the abyss created by the armory's destruction. "Are you with Glacia?"

    "Glacia is just here waiting to die."

    Pradi cursed under his breath in Hindi.  "You said the same thing about Trifecta."

    Ducky nodded in agreement.  "I did.  Do you not understand what is going on in the Southern Burroughs?  The tide is turning, and by the time it arrives here, both of these groups will be washing their necks."

    "Washing their necks?"  Pradi let the remark slide, his eyes staring at the smooth glass-like surface of the once rough stone.

    /Trifecta: Pradi: What's it mean when someone says to wait here and wash your neck.

    /Trifecta: Durham: Means you stink.  Take a bath!

    /Trifecta: Ubari: Not sure... Wash your neck and see.

    /Trifecta: Sandi: It means you should prepare for your execution.  Maybe headsmen don't like to cut through dirty necks.

    Ducky stared off into the wide-open space that was once a solid wall.  "Losing the Bone Fortress will result in several things, none of them good for you."

    "Such as?"

    "You think losing the King came with a harsh penalty?  What's going to happen when you lose the entire Keep?"

    Pradi sighed heavily; he joined Slaughter with a group of friends, none of which continued playing more than a few months.  "If I could leave, I would."

    Ducky turned away from the carnage caused by her friends and faced the dark-haired thief.  "Would you?"

    [Hidden Quest Revealed: Freedom Fighter]

    Freedom Fighter

    A new force has surfaced within the Bone Fortress. Who are they allied with?  Do you dare take the chance to find out?  You need more information.

    [Freedom Fighter: The Water Witch]

    Make friends with the Keep newcomer and try to find out more information. Accepting this quest will not have any impact on your current allegiance.

    Reward: Unknown

    Pradi stared at the message on his hud for a moment before making his selection.
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