The summons had come yet again and Dav found himself at the headquarters of the Royal Britannian Guard in Stannar awaiting a council with Kalis Sevren. Kalis had turned to the guild heads in an effort to bolster the Britannian forces, yet Dav noticed more and more mercenaries answering the call. Dav had nothing against mercenaries, but the danger of their motives was ever-present. Some mercenaries were more interested in plunder and blood letting than in preserving the realm. Overzealous blades could perpetuate a conflict, as he had seen in the war between the Larkin and the Vesperians. Some would slay anyone, just so long as they could glean a coin from the fallen corpses. Indeed, some of the fellows who had gathered at the headquarters of the Royal Britannian Guards seemed to fall in this category. They were rude and rambunctious, making jests at the expense of rangers present who went around offering refreshments to the visitors. One man, whose companions called him Gandoff, even made disparaging comments about the other guilds in attendance. "It's bad enough I have to lay my life on the line, but now I must do it while being surrounded by elves?" Gandoff whined, eliciting laughter from his companions. Dav gritted his teeth, but ignored them. It would not do to cause strife if Kalis had summoned them for a battle. Dav marked them, however. Oftentimes in battle, one was torn between choosing who needed aid. He wanted to be certain to make the right choice, to help out the courteous and virtuous, and let karma deal with the rude and greedy ones. Dav grinned in amusement at those thoughts, and in a small corner of his mind, he wondered if the others present noticed and found him odd. He didn't really care. Many others present for the council were quite courteous. The elves that Gandoff had mocked gathered together, conversing softly. Some higher ranking members of the Rangers of Skara Brae arrived to await Kalis. Dav was even surprised to spy a drow among those assembled, but his raised eyebrows turned to a smile. He was not one to judge a person based upon their race. He would wait and see how her actions spoke for her character. The waiting went on for an extended period of time, which grated upon Dav's nerves. The waiting did not trouble Dav so much, but having to endure the antics of the mercenaries irked him. We're all on the same side, he told himself, but was it really true? Were they indeed on his side, or were they just on their own side? He was also tense with curiosity, having to wonder at the nature of the summons. Was there more trouble? Would any of the Twilight Fellowship holdings be threatened? Kalis finally arrived, flanked by the scholarly Clainin. Dav moved closer with the others to hear what Kalis had to say. "My friends, I have grave news to impart to you," Kalis began. "Yew has fallen under attack from the Mercaerin Armies. Many of the northern settlements have been occupied. As you all know, Yew's population has dwindled drastically after the Juka invasion and the subsequent corruption of the forests. With this latest invasion, the most of the remaining citizenry have withdrawn. Alas, this leaves our defenses in the northwest part of our realm in tatters. It is feared this army will march south against Skara Brae next. They could, however, march against Britain and if Britain falls, the whole of Britannia will be plunged into chaos." Kalis spread a map down upon the table as all leaned forward to look. "To prevent this, we have decided to fortify the passes leading into Britain. Fortifications will be constructed at Westpass, Elderstone, and at Northvalley. Our request to you is to aid us in gathering the necessary resources for building these fortifications." The next hour was spent in discussion, some of it valid, much of it nonsense. Many of the mercenaries were visibly disappointed at not having the opportunity to spill blood and they made a nuisance of themselves by making rude jests all throughout the discussion. Dav grew even more annoyed. His first thoughts were for his friends who lived in the settlements around Yew. It hadn't been easy for them dealing with the troubles of the past, but now another army was attacking. He would have to send messengers to Yew to ascertain how the Fellows there were holding up. Then they would have to determine whether to defend their interests there or whether to pull back. Dav leaned by in his chair, turning his thoughts to how the Twilight Fellowship could help Kalis with defending Britain. They had holdings in Westpass and Elderstone and Northvalley wasn't too far from Northstone where they had land. The Twilight Fellowship mining interests were already hard at work supplying ore in order to arm the folk of Skara Brae against any attack. Would they have enough to donate for the defenses of Britain? Dav concluded he would have to talk to Alamara on the subject. Just then, a young ranger rushed breathlessly into the hall. He snapped to attention before Kalis, saluting in the ranger fashion of clapping his fist to his heart. "Sir, I have a message for you. Members of the Yew Council have been captured and are being held at the prisons of Saltwood!" Kalis blinked several times, before rubbing at the pained expression on his face. Clainin looked as though he were going to be ill. "Some of those council members have been privy to our war councils," Clainin said faintly. "Yes, and it would harm us greatly if our plans were wrested from them by torture," Kalis snarled. "We must send a crack strike force to the prisons. Clainin, can you gate them there?" "Yes, but that will be very dangerous for anyone undertaking this venture," Clainin warned. "They will all be spilling out of the moongate to face who knows what sort of foes!" "I'll be going for a certainty and I'll take a company of the Guard with me," Kalis declared. He turned to the assembled guild leaders. "Will any of you join in my venture?" There was a huge outpouring of support, even from the mercenaries who finally would have their chance to do what they did best. Dav departed and returned to the Twilight Goods general store to summon the company he had ordered to be at the ready in case of just such an emergency. A dozen Fellows prepared themselves as Dav donned his valorite shield and helm. He turned to his men and raised his longsword, Orcgelt, high. Together they shouted their warcry. "We are the last light which holds back the coming night!" Dav wheeled Tempest around and they charged back to the Royal Britannian Guard Headquarters. The other warleaders had gathered their troops as well and a small army stood at the ready, waiting for Clainin to complete his gate spell. Warriors and mages, dragonmasters and their dragons: they all stood at the ready. Blue light flooded the fields as the moongate rose from the ground and with many a shout, the soldiers poured through. The serene fields of Skara Brae were replaced by the chaos of the battlefield as the Royal Britannian Guard and their allies found themselves in front of the Saltwood Prisons. Ratmen archers laid down a volley of arrows and Dav raised his shield to deflect an arrow that had been aimed at his head. He heard arrows strike home behind him and he ordered his men to form a defensive circle until he could get his bearings. One of the Fellows lay dead while the other was merely wounded from the arrows. Orcs were charging madly to engage the intruders and they were supported by ogres and trolls. Towering over them all were orc brutes, those orcs who unleashed their inner rage and succumbed to rituals performed by their shamans to transform them into tall instruments of pure slaughter. "Pull back out of range of the arrows!" Dav ordered. "Keep a tight formation and meet the orc charges! Together you can best the trolls and ogres, but stay clear of the orc brutes. They are beyond your skill! Valdon!" Dav called to a young, but skilled swordsman. Valdon looked up expectantly, an eager light shining in his eye. "You are in charge. I must follow Kalis in rescuing the prisoners. Hold this area for we will need to return through the gate. If it is too overwhelming, retreat though the gate and see that the gate is shut or Skara Brae will find an orc army within their city!" "We will hold this ground until you return!" Valdon said. "This I swear!" "Just hold it until it is prudent!" Dav said. "Do not spend everyone's life needlessly if the battle is hopeless or your foes are beyond you!" Valdon nodded earnestly and Dav clapped him on the shoulder, before saluting the rest of the Fellows. "You make me proud!" he roared, then he kicked Tempest into a gallop, charging the orc position with the rest of the Royal Britannian Guard. The fighting was fierce and chaotic as the forces clashed and intermingled. Dav cut down several orcs as he charged, Orcgelt sizzling as it clove through their flesh. The blade had been a gift from Zircon Godhammer, the master smith of Minoc who was renown for being the maker of the Mystic Arms. Zircon had forged Orcgelt when Minoc had been attacked by the orcs. It bore a special enchantment making it exceptionally deadly against them and it proved it's worth as more and more orcs fell before Dav. The Royal Britannian Guards fought fiercely to win the gate and there Dav came face to knee with an orc brute. The creature raised it's massive maul to smash him. Dav pulled hard on Tempest's reigns and the well trained warhorse retreated several steps forcing the brute to lumber forward to follow. Dav then kicked his heels, urging Tempest to charge the brute, closing within the reach of the creature's weapon making it hard for the creature to bring the weapon down on Dav. He pulled hard on the reigns, causing Tempest to rear, hooves lashing out at the brute who grunted in pain. Dav's blade slashed once, maiming the orc's primary arm, forcing it to drop it's maul. He slashed again, cutting a deep burning cut in the creatures thigh. The orc brute stumbled backwards and Dav pressed his advantage, but the powerful creature punched out with a fist. Dav was able to deflect the strike with his shield, but the jarring impact of the blow rang his senses and he gritted his teeth beneath his helm. He slashed, catching the creature beneath the armpit with the razor edge of his sword, using Tempest's moment to cut deeper. The orc threw an elbow as Dav passed, catching him square in the back. Dav felt like he had been hit by a battering ram and he slumped momentarily over Tempest's neck, yet his studded leather armor had helped to dull the blow. The brute was reaching for it's maul with it's good hand and Dav seized his opportunity. He rode up and thrust his blade through the orc's side, skewering it's liver. The brute let out a roar which was cut off by the pain of it's mortal injury. It slumped to the ground, dying. Dav turned, fighting off two other orcs with ease. The Royals had gained the gate of the Saltwood Prisons, though the fighting was still fierce within the courtyard. Orcs, Trolls, and Ogres were joined by the human soldiers of the Mercaerin. Enemy mages had also joined the fight, yet the Mercaerin forces were completely disorganized by the surprise attack. Kalis's arrows were felling all foes who emerged from the doors of the court. Dav was impressed with the skill of those who fought. The mercenaries were gleefully wreaking their slaughter. The elves were an efficient fighting force. Powerful mages were summoning energy vortexes who tore into the Mercaerin. Dav joined the charge into the courtroom. It was complete anarchy within. Royalists and Mercaerin mingled in a unusual sort of deadly dance as they struggled against each other. It was strange to see mounted riders within the courtroom, but no stranger than seeing lumbering ogres smashing down men and women there. Dav fought, acting as judge, jury and executioner for his foes. Several Royalists had fought through the rear doors of the court and Dav quickly dispatched an orc mage before riding for the back door. A ratman archer fled through the door, however, and slammed it shut, barring it against Dav and the other Royalists who still sought to get through. Dav retreated back outside. The prisons themselves were built off-shore on an island. They were accessible by a stone passage which had been built over the water, connecting the court to the prison. Dav found the Royalists mopping up scattered pockets of orcs in the courtyard, though he saw reinforcements down the coast, running hard to join the battle. Finding no quick way to get to the prison, Dav re-entered the court and found that the Royalists had battered down a second door and were fighting fiercely with the defenders there. Dav charged through, slashing orcs as he went. The Royalists seemed to have matters well in hand, so Dav urged Tempest up a flight of steps. He had found the bridgeway to the prisons and others had gone before him, judging by the orc corpses he passed. He fought past several Mercaerin soldiers and orcs whose skill and training were no match for his own and he found Kalis and a contingent of Royalists in front of a heavily secured iron door. They were vainly trying to batter down the door and when Dav inquired, someone explained they had already tried picking the lock to no avail. Dav began exploring, searching for another way to get to the prison cells. He rode down another flight of stairs into a dark, dank cellar. He went to dismount, when he heard the tell-tale squeaking of a ratman. Dav raised his blade and urged Tempest forward, knocking over several crates which sent the frightened ratman scurrying. "Dun hurt me! Dun hurt me!" the ratman wailed as it ran to a corner and cowered away from Dav's blade. Several Royalists and mercenaries rushed down the stairs at the sound of another enemy, but they paused when they saw Dav had the situation in hand. "Kill it!" Gandoff cried coldly. The ratman began squealing piteously, throwing up it's hands and begging for it's life. "I can help you!" it cried. "If you help us, I will not harm you," Dav told it in a deadly calm voice. "We seek the key to the prison. We have come to free the prisoners." "I dun have key--" the ratman began, but was quickly cut off by blood thirsty cries for it's blood. The ratman flinched and seemed to shrink into itself even more. "I give you my word you will not be hurt if you help us," Dav snarled forcefully, staring down Gandoff and the others. They fell silent and Dav turned back to the ratman. "Now, do you know where the key is?" "Yes, da gaoler has it," the ratman answered. "Da gaoler is not here!" Explosive oaths sounded behind Dav, but he ignored them. "Where is he?" "It be too cold here for da gaoler, so he return to desert, but I can help. I can show you da way!" The ratman jumped up eagerly. "Dere be a secret passage and a magic gate to da desert!" "Show us!" Dav ordered, not ungently. The ratmen led the group up the stairs back to the room where Kalis was still unsuccessfully trying to penetrate the door. "Dis way!" the ratman said in it's mousy voice. It pushed on a second of the stone wall and it swung open easily. "Da gaoler is dis way! But he be mean and tough. You be careful," he told Dav. Dav grabbed two young Royalists, both with innocent eyes now wide with the terror of such a hotly contested conflict. "Watch over him! Do not let him escape. What's more, do not let any harm come to him! We may have need of him still." The two youths nodded vigorously, forgetting Dav was not a ranking member of the Guards. The ratman seemed about to protest, a look of terror in his eyes, but Dav forestalled any protest. "I gave you my word. If your aid leads us true, you will go free unharmed." This seemed to ease the ratman some. Kalis and most of the Royalists had already headed off in search of the magic portal the ratman spoke of and Dav fell in behind them. The ratman spoke true. The passageway led to a stone archway which sported a shimmering violet wall. "How do we know the ratman spoke true?" one of the mercenaries asked. "That could lead us to our death." "Clainin's gate could have led us to our death and for many of us, it has," Dav stated. "I have heard of this gate. It leads to a lighthouse in Ansaria, commonly called the Lost Lands." Having said that, Dav took the plunge through the gate. The cool air and scent of sea-spray was replaced by a dry heat and the smell of rock and sand. Dav emerged in the interior of a lighthouse as he had surmised. Others began arriving through the gate, all crowding within the confines of the room. They quickly found an exit and streamed into the brilliant sunlight of the desert. The Royal Britannian Guard quickly spread out, searching for the gaoler. "He's not here!" one of the Royalists said in dismay. "I told you we should've killed that ratman," said a Gandoff. Dav ignored him and kept searching, riding down several box canyons while others did the same. Suddenly, there was a great clamor. Dav turned and saw the Royalists streaming to a plateau where a tall, husky figure stood roaring out a challenge. It looked like an orc brute, but it was shorter and smaller in build. Dav wheeled Tempest around and rode hard to help capture the creature. Surely it would have guards with it, yet none appeared. As he rode, he saw the gaoler quaff a potion. Then it let out another roar. "My god protects me, humies, and makes me strong!" It hurled what looked like the large, bulky dart of a giant at the charging royalists. Everyone evaded the clumsy missile easily, some even laughing at the feeble weapon, until it struck the ground and exploded in a fiery blast. Singed men and horses were sent flying. More darts followed and more Royalists were slain. Dav rode hard, sheathing his sword and circling behind the gaoler. He pulled several purple potions from a carefully packed saddlebag and hurled them at the gaoler. They exploded all around the creature, but much to Dav's surprise, they didn't even knocked it off it's feet. The gaoler turned to Dav, laughing a cruel ugly laugh. "Stoopid humie, I said I am protected!" Then it hurled a dart at Dav. Dav reigned in hard, snatching at the dark to catch it and keep it from exploding. He succeed, just barely, in grabbing it, but the liquid within splashed on him and caught fire immediately. Dav hurled the dart away where it exploded harmlessly, then he beat out the small flames on his clothing. He suffered some mild burns, but it was nothing fatal. Several dragons charged the creature, but amazingly the gaoler stood his ground and drew forth a wicked looking sword. He continued plucking his strange exploding darts out of a pouch, casting them about randomly to destroy his enemies who were encircling him. The dragons engaged and the gaoler's speed and strength were amazing. He was also magically protected. Some of the blows the dragons inflicted would have crushed granite into dust. They simply deflected off some invisible, magic shield. "He is a daemon-spawn from the underworld!" a young Royalist near Dav cried in dismay. "Some dark magic protects him," Dav muttered. "The Mercaerin's knowledge is vast. The spell cannot last forever! We must test it's strength, undo it and him!" Dav charged forward, pressing in with the other Royalists and mercenaries, riding between dragons as they attempted to subdue their powerful foe. Some of the strikes seemed to be getting through the gaoler's protections and emboldened by their successes, Kalis and his army renewed their attack despite their casualties. Finally, the gaoler took one last arrow from Kalis through the eye, falling over dead with a mournful cry. The Royalists stepped back, panting from their exertions while Kalis stepped forward to claim the key around it's neck. "This was a hard won prize," he said, then rushed off to return to the prison. Dav lingered, bandaging up the hurts of the many wounded. Some were near death, requiring Dav's skill to keep them alive. He could not linger, however, for a battle was still being fought at the prisons and the ratman and his own men were still there. As Kalis opened the door to the prison and the mercenaries rummaged through the storeroom looking for plunder, Dav sought out the ratman, finding him still in the care of the two youthful Royalists. "Your aid served us well and you were right: that gaoler was a mean fellow," Dav said, grinning. "I told you I could help," the ratman said, almost proudly Dav thought. "Now I go?" "Yes, you are free to go." Dav saluted the ratman. "Will you be safe? Will they know you aided us?" he asked in concern. "I will sneak away," the ratman assured Dav, opening another secret door. "Return to great swamp. I go now. Good bye." It raised a hand in farewell, then it slipped through the door. "Good bye," Dav said, his chest swelling with the strange emotion that comes when one expects to find an enemy and instead discovers a valuable ally. "I still say we should've killed it," Gandoff muttered. Dav stared at the mercenary coldly, shaking his head. "What?" Gandoff demanded. "It's a wonder it didn't slip a knife between your ribs." "Without his aid, the prisoners we could not have gotten through the door," Dav reminded him. Gandoff shrugged. "There are far more warriors dead than prisoners save," he said. "It all seems foolish to me, except for this." He held forth his hand where a fine golden necklace, adorned with rubies dangled from it. "Blood has been spent and this is what it was for." Dav spat in disgust. "The prisoners had to be freed because of the knowledge that could have been taken from them. The sacrifice of the warriors is for the noble cause of protecting Britain." "It matters not to me," Gandoff said dismissively, then he returned to his looting. It was just a single moment within the whole bloody conflict, but for Dav it vividly illustrated the ideologies which were important to him and his guild. The ratman had most likely aided them to save it's own life, yet Dav held the hope that if he could have rewarded the ratman for his assistance, he might have been able to win its friendship and perhaps convince it to live a virtuous life. Wishful thinking, Dav thought, yet he then swore to never let himself be so embittered that he stopped hoping. Kalis and the Royalists emerged with the prisoners in tow, while the mercenaries were celebrating the discovery of some rare and valuable manacles along with the rest of their plunder. Dav shook his head. Lives were at stake and they were celebrating manacles. Together the entire force returned to Clainin's gate where Dav found his Fellows had fought well and sustained injuries, but none fatal. Other guilds and Royalists were there as well, having fought off the reinforcements to hold the gate free. The assault was a complete success.