Well, in all honesty we should have seen this coming.

So there we were, on the deck of Leafwood's ship, going over blueprints for Maximus's sky castle thing. We made a plan - the thing was powered by a large engine. All we needed to do was get to it, and pop out the lightning capsule. Easy as pie. We'd need to hit hard and fast, and they wouldn't know what hit 'em.

Once we went over the basics of the plan, I headed up to the deck to get my gear and thoughts in order, but Tibles stayed back to pour over the map a little more. There was something scrawled in the margin, it read:

P.O. Box 40
Are you in the clear?
Pre-alpha engine delivered
Plan A-go?

The blueprints, of course, looked old, and we thought little of it. In about twenty minutes time, we had caught site of the large craft, and Leafwood put up a smokescreen around us to disguise us as one of the clouds. We latched onto the large moving mound of earth underneath one of the hangars, and Tibles, D'arcy, and I all set to work. Using what little stealth we had, we were able to grapple and fly our way up the hangar without being detected, and get in position to quickly take out all the guards before an alarm could be raised. Their bodies were dumped over the edge. Now we just needed to find the engine. A couple of old wooden doors at the back of the hangar led into the ship proper, but there were crewmates coming and going, and it wouldn't do to be spotted. Thinking quickly, Tibles cast a spell that made the air in there noxious. The crew would be killed painlessly and soundlessly. Meanwhile, I looted some of the crates that were on deck. One was full of silver bars, another full of Bishkan mail, and another full of bits and bobs from what once were the pride ships of the Lavandan Fleet. Damned Bishkans.

Once the air cleared, we headed inside, lightly treading over the corpses of the crewmen. It was a simple matter to get into the engine room. The big metal beast was humming away smoothly, but Leafwood had showed us how the thing worked. I located the power capsule release lever, and gave it a victorious tug.

After that, everything became a blur. Instead of the power source being popped out like we'd expected, the room started to fill up with a thick, noxious gas. I got a whiff of it to the face, and before I collapsed, I saw Tibles and D'arcy coughing and holding their hands to their faces. Then, everything went black.

When I came to, I was hanging in a wooden gallows type affair, suspended by chains connected to each of my limbs. My gear had all been stripped, and I was standing in my (rather unflattering) undergarments. Undergarment.

Tibles was next to me, screaming in pain, and I saw what had awoken me. There blood trickling down the side of the Wizard's head - as he jerked around, I saw that his left ear had been cleanly severed. But I knew that Tibles wasn't howling in agony because of that. He'd sustained worse injuries, I'd seen it myself. No, what was causing him that pain was far worse. In a cage in front of us, Emrys lay dead and in pieces, and next to the brass mesh of his prison, sat the barrel of a smoking pistol, held by a woman who looked to be in her late forties, with pale skin and paler eyes. What skin she was showing was covered in black tribal tattoos, and her shoulders were adorned with human skulls. She had just killed Tibles' familiar, and he was feeling the sting stronger than anything he had ever lost.

I looked around the room. D'arcy was to my right, gritting his teeth in anger. Before me sat this woman, whose name Tibles spat. Samura. Behind her stood Maximus, and a scrawny looking man drinking a cup of tea that looked sugary enough to change its viscosity. We were in a great hall, lined with grand windows overlooking Ashan, and we were surrounded by guards.

The skinny of it all was that Leafwood had betrayed us. We never had a shot at sabotaging the grand ship. We were going to be captured, and now we were being forced to watch as the ship approached Gootham, all its firepower trained on the incoming dirigibles of the Ashan air force.

Maximus savored the moment. He angled our cage so that we could see out the windows at the city, already beginning to be torn apart. We asked him why he was doing all this, and his response was well rehearsed. "Why? Why anybody? There will always be good, and the side of evil offers more room for experimentation. Kill me, and countless others will take up my torch. I fight against good for the same reason you fight for it. I simply believe it is the side I belong on." Then, he made his leave.

We struggled against our bindings a while, and then were roused when one of our guards cried out in surprise. There was an airship headed towards us, but it was not a bumbling zeppelin or dirigible. It was Leafwood's ship - headed on a collision course through the window. There was a crash, and I was shaken free of my bindings. That bastard - had he uncrossed us? Triple crossed Maximus? I wanted answers. I dug Tibles out of the rubble when the dust settled, and, with all my strength, climbed onboard the now wrecked craft.

Leafwood was at the helm, alone. He had been impaled by a splintered bit of the steering wheel. All he had time to say before he choked out his last breath was "I'm sorry…"

What was left of our company scrambled onboard, and scaveneged the ship to see if anything of ours was still onboard. Volkin was gone, along with Moira's body, and everything else we had left behind. But it seemed Leafwood had intended to outfit us. There were packs, and suits of armor. D'arcy and I donned new sets with craftsmanship and enchantments that made our old ones seem second-rate. Tibles picked up some magical accouterments, the likes of which he couldn't explain to us. We had enough basic gear to get started.

The orders of the day? Find Maximus, stop the bombings, and get our Bard back. I was sick of dealing with this slipshod criminal ring, and I wasn't in a mood to be trifled with. D'arcy, Tibles, and I exited the grand hall, and made for the bridge.

—Richard J. Buckles

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