Ash's Black Op

From Charred Marble/

Ash ordered all 14 Dragons to remain hooded before they had ridden off. He did not care if they looked suspicious. At least no one would approach them. Hooded men were generally considered men who wanted to be left alone.

The fifteen Dragons finally reached the outskirts of the city by dusk. The sky was clouded, yet Ash could spot the full moon shining upon the sea. Eight guards were present at the gate. One of them asked:

"Name and business!"

Ash was in the front of their group. He took out a perchament from his cloak. He then handed it to the bearded guard. As the man read through Pezza's official authorization, he scratched his head. He seemed bewildered and has one of his men call the city guard captain.

Ash tapped his foot, but remained calm. There was no reason to flame up because of these slow, dumb idiots. He quickly looked over his shoulder to check on his team. Fourteen of the most experienced Omega Dragons had been chosen for this operation. More importantly, Ash knew these fourteen Dragons would not question his orders - whatever they may be.

James was his second-in-command and Ash saw him talking quietly with Che. The other Dragons were all cautious, ready to draw their weapons, should they need them. A Dragon remained vigilant at all times.

After four minutes of waiting the guard captain arrived. Ash rolled his eyes before facing the broad-shouldered man. One of his eyes was missing. He approached Ash with a fearful tone:

"Sir, I am very sorry for the slow response. My inferior had to confirm the true nature of your unit. We have become very cautious lately. After the war and…"

Ash interrupted him:

"Yes, captain - I do not need this kind of small talk. Please let me and my men in and show us where this Nar resides."

His voice was calm and yet full of authority. The captain fumbled with the letter and his lips trembled.

"Today Captain!"

The captain said nothing, but turned and gestured to Ash that he should follow him. His Dragons followed silently after their leader. Their cloaks were completely black and the guards looked at them with awe as they passed by.

One young guard whispered to his friend:

"What are they?"
"Special units of some sort, if you ask me" was the reply. The young man shivered and then returned to his duty.

The captain did not seek contact with Ash. He kept a distance of about five feet from the Dragon Leader. Ash smirked slightly. The letter had no doubt terrified him. The letter presented Ash and his followers as members of the Champions - the elite unit under command of Akatosh. They were famous across the Realm, but the letter had also stated that inability to meet the Champion unit's wishes would bring immediate arrest upon the responsible White Army officer or soldier.

The Battalion's secret identity was not revealed but the captain was smart enough not to ask furhter questions. Champions without heavy armour were unusual, so the captain had guessed these ones were some special regiment of sorts. They were hear to escort the young man Nar to Weissland and escorts were Champion duty so that was good enough for the battle-hardened, one-eyed captain.

Ash was pleased to see their disguise not only work but also bring an aura of authority, respect and fear around them. He did not want his questions asked. Just because this Realm had contracted him did not mean he had to follow their ridiculous rules.

After seven minutes of walking, the captain stopped at an inn near the harbour.

"N-nar is in there, sir!" the captain announced as Ash scanned the shabby building. He silently signed to James to remain outside with the Dragons using subtle hand commands. Ash smirked again. The letter also stated that the Champion Captain - meaning Ash - had complete tactical superiority and was to be considered a superior by any soldier or officer below the rank of General. Very neat. Being contracted by the Lord did have advantages.

"So it is, captain!" Ash replied. "Shall we?"

Ash's cold voice did not make the man want to ask any questions. They stepped inside, crossed the full and noisy "restaurant area" and climbed the stairs to the rooms. Ash drew quite a lot of attention with his mysterious appearence, yet felt assured that the captain knew what he was doing and returned to drinking, eating, talking and flirting. Ash grunted at the thought of these pathetic humans.

They reached a room on the second story and the captain knocked on the door.

"Mr. Nar, the Champion escort are here. They have been sent here by the King of Photoshop."

A muffled reply came from inside the room:

"Ah yes, captain Traegod - I am ready to leave."

Half a minute later, a young man with a rather old violet cloak exited the room. He looked at Ash and said nothing. Ash appreciated that - he did not want unnecessary conversations. At least not here.

The trio exited the inn and once outside, Ash spoke to Traegod.

"Thank you for your assistance, Captain!" Ash saw Nar look at the Dragons as if surprised by their numbers. "Here is a gold coin for your trouble. Now, if you would excuse us. We must bring young master Nar to Weissland immediately!"

The Captain received the coin with a spark in his eyes and quickly walked away from the mysterious "Champions". He did not need to ask such a generous man.

Ash now turned towards Nar, waved his Dragons to get moving and started walking himself. Their destination was a ship at the norhtern end of the harbour.

Ash then whispered to the still-silent Nar:

"I'm in charge here. No unnecessary questions. You are just here so that I can report to Pezza. Any trouble and we will lock you up. Understood?"

Nar simply looked at Ash a long time, his eyes were calm and his lips unmoving. He slowly looked to the other members of the Dragon Battalion. Then slowly turned his head back towards Ash and simply nodded.

Ash subtly tilted his head, still keeping Nar locked in his gaze. This man did not give in to the threatening tone of Ash. First test had been passed. Of course, he thought, Pezza would not send a rookie with me

"That makes me very glad, master Nar. Now, let us board our ship. I will have my first report to our lovely Photoshop King tonight. Let's see how this works, shall we?"

Ash's voice was cold. He turned his head away from Nar and moved on. A tiny smile scrolled across his face as he moved ahead of Nar. James was a few metres behind Pezza's man. He scanned the area for enemies and kept a tight grip on his sword as he moved on.

Nar simply followed them men through the dark city streets.

The group reached a quiet and empty part of the dockyard where a lone ship, small but sturdy, waited for them.

"Board the ship, men!" James said to the Dragons. They quickly and nimbly leapt on board. They had been offered a crew, but Ash did not want anyone unwanted on his ship. The Dragons would sail it just fine.

Ash and Nar remained on the docks while the Dragons prepared silently for the sail-off.

Ash spoke to Nar once more:

"We will not have escort with us. Now please, master Nar, get on board!"

Ash waited behind Nar, tapping his foot.

Nar went on board.

Ash leapt on board and James ordered to leave the docks immediately. Nar stood on the deck and looked at Port Village as the ship departed into the black sea.

Fifteen minutes later, Ash inquired about the ship's status and after a throrough report by James, Ash thanked his second-in-command and moved towards a still-silent Nar.

"Master Nar, you may leave your things in a cabin, prepared for you. I want to contact Pezza to make sure this connection works."

Nar spoke for the first time, putting his sack down on the deck and turning to Ash, "Sir. It does not really work that way."

Justwhat he needed. A trouble-maker Ashthought. With a subtle hand gestured, which Nar did not notice, Ash got the attention of two nearby Dragons to be ready for anything. He then spoke calmly:

"Why, Master Nar, I believed that you were here as our "communications officer" and nothing more. Would our guest please fill me, the man in charge, on.." Ash paused for a dramatic effect and then added, imitating Nar's tone: "how it works?"

Ash kept his expression completely still. No emotions were shown. This was his true self - not the weakling when in Pezza's company!"

Nar blinked once and his jaw shivered before talking, though with a sturdy voice, "It's a spell sphere sir. It's impossible for me to let you talk through it. Maybe it can be done, but I don't know how."

Ash was completely shocked by this statement. He almost lost his temper. Almost.

He asked with a steady, but clearly angry voice:

"What? Pezza said you knew how to handle these spheres! How the Oblivion does he want me to keep him posted if we can not conact him. Speak, Realmer!"

Ash had raised his tone a bit too much and many Dragons now followed the conversation. He ignored that.

Nar shook his head, "We can contact him Sir. The spell sphere will however only allow the caster to speak, and the one who receives the message to respond."

Ash had seen this coming, but he still felt furious over the lack of control. Nar had turned into a serious snag of this operation.

He spoke with ice cold voice:

"That matters not. I shall stand next to you and you shall repeat my every word, Master Nar."

Nar seemed to be wanting to take a step backwards, but he stood still. His eyes shivered, throwing a glance to the ground. "It's a mental spell, sir. I speak not through words heard."

He looked up in the face again Ash again however, and spoke with words as sturdy as a mountain. "But, I do give you my word as loyal member of the Dragon Battalion that I will not fail my commander. You are the leader here sir, all I ask is that you trust me."

Ash did not want to trust this young man this much. He was from Zeta Squad and if Pezza wanted him to go, then he would be loyal to Pezza. Ash knew some Dragons were more loyal to the King than to their true Dragon Leader, but in this case, Ash simply did not have a choice. He would do everything he could to limit Nar's knowledge of his team's actions in Weissland and fill him in himself.

After half a minute of silence, Ash crossed his arms and said:

"Very well, Nar! Short, concise reports, Nar! We do not want to waste much of Pezza's valuable time. Understood?"

Nar nodded quickly, "Understood sir."

"Good. Prepare to report to Pezza in such a case. Tell him everything is as according to the plan, we have left Port Village and will arrive in Weissland in approximately two days. Tell him that the next report will happen once we reach the coasts of Lathaon's land."

His voice was commanding and as he looked around, his Dragons returned to their duties.

Nar nodded, picked up his sack and turned to walk toward his cabin to prepare his spell.

Ash frowned as he looked aft at the disappearing Port Village. Arms crossed, he could feel the wind increase and blow his hood off. Ash hated ships. He also hated Pezza's influence on his mission. He would, however, not fail to find and kill Fenix. Once and for all this traitor would die. Of course, Nar had made Ash's other plans much more complicated, but in due time, he would still manage to speak to Fizban and move on. It would be for the best of the Battalion after all. They would truly return to their roots. They would no longer be pets of the Lord and Pezza. Dragons are wild creatures - not meant to be tamed. With Fizban's help, Ash would make the Dragon Battalion a powerful and famous organization - instead of having to lurk in the shadows, he could taste the true glory - glory greater than Pezza had ever achieved.


The voyage had been uneventful, but Ash was delighted when he finally spotted Amei and the Weissland coast on the horizon.

The busy port city blistered with activity at noon. The men aboard the small ship the Circumferencecould see that from miles away. Dozens of ships were sailing in or out of the harbour and sweaty sailors worked hard to load and unload goods from merchant and transportation ships. There were quite a few warships in the area as well, watching over the large harbour in the blistering midday sun. The sun reflected in the calm sea and it blinded the eyes of the old Dragon.

James took his gaze off the docks as the ship closed in. He had already set course for an open docking spot. The fee would be hefty, he knew. These Weisslanders were no fools - they would get as much out of such a large port city as they could get away with. A large ship of the Weissland Navy seemed to sail towards the Circumference. James knew that the war between the White Realm and Weissland might be over, but both sides were cautious when unscheduled ships approached important port cities.

Ash appeared by James' side. Another Dragon also approached the bow of the Circumference.

"Well - I don't think we will have problem with the Navy. Unscheduled or not - we have enough gold to make our little visit to Weissland worth their while!" James said to his commander. Ash nodded.

The Dragons had donned regular sailors' clothes and looked like a completely normal merchant ship. Zuka had been chosen to act as the owner and captain of the ship. He had slightly more luxurious clothes on to show this. Ash did not want to have attention drawn to his face - nor to that of his second-in-command. Zuka's face was so bland that they would never recognize him if he was to be arrested later on. Nar had been ordered below deck. He would not screw things up this way. The Dragons aboard the ship acted completely believably as regular sailors. To be a Dragon required not only martial skills, but also great acting capabilities. His hand-picked Dragon team were some of the best and no one could guess they were elite mercenaries from their current work on the miniscule "merchant ship".

The Weisslendish warship came closer, Zuka ordered "his" men to slow down, as the crew on the war vessel signaled with flags that an officer was to board the "unscheduled ship".

After the larger warship of the Weissland navy had anchored up beside Circumference a boarding plank was laid from one deck to another. From the warship, which had the name Spear of Tethren painted over it, came five men. First came two soldiers dressed in leather armor and wearing navy uniforms, they were both tall with fair faces.

Then came a grey-bearded fellow with an elegant mustache, unusual for a Weisslander. An important man without doubt considering his clothing. Right behind him came a young boy, who carried a larger book as well as a wooden case for the other man. Then lastly, came another soldier.

The bearded man looked around on the deck of the Circumference. "I am harbormaster Lethin Olemus. Who commands this ship?"

Zuka was already waiting for the Weisslanders a few metres from the boarding plank. He had crossed his arms and looked genuinely proud of his ship when he said:

"Why, I do, dear Harbourmaster!"

Zuka smiled and held out his hand to the Weisslending. The two soldiers tracked the "merchant's" gesture, uneasy about the situation.

James stood calmly although beneath it all he was tensed ready to fight if needed, he was calculating what movements he would do to maximise the damage he could cause while surviving with as little damage as possible.

Ash was scrubbing the deck in his patched clothes, appearing completely concentrated on his task. His face was not visible for the boarders and yet the trained Dragon could hear every word in the conversation. He had James on "stand-by", but would not risk his own face being seen too much. It was a bit too distinct with the small, grey eyes and scar on his nose.

Lethin Olemus looked, with a sort of arrogant look in his face, at the hand of Zuka before slowly taking and shaking it.

"And your name and business here?" he asked. "Captain, is it?" wondering about how to correctly entitle him, not sure on what the position nor the cultural background of the man was.

He snapped his finger and the young boy came to his side. The three soldiers dressed in navy uniforms looked around at the ship and the sailors, searching for anything suspicious. One of them locked eyes with James for a short second before carrying on.

Zuka played his role perfectly, balancing perfectly between arrogant and accommodating. A more humble man would not be so happy about being boarded by men from the Weissland Navy.

"My name is Thomas Kaprinsk. I come from Port Village in the mighty White Realm. We have an appointment in Amei. We are to deliver a few hundred of your Weissland special fruit - cabondalés I think we call them! Then we sail back to the Realm."

Zuka smartly scratched his head and quickly added, with a smile:

"Although I am not sure if Port Village counts in the Realm with all those Weisslendings there!"

He then laughed.

The harbourmaster sniffed at what he considered a sour attempt at humor from the man.

The boy to the left opened the wooden box and Lethin took forth a large leather-worn book from it. "Who are you to deliver these cabondalés to?"

James had met the eyes of one of the soldiers and had noticed the distrust there. These men were suspicious and they had to be careful. He wound up some of the ships ropes so they were not lying disorganisedly, the whole while ensuring he was prepared. He had a knife in his boot if it was necessary, but he could probably take at least two of these men unarmed.

Zuka carefully changed his facial expression. He now allowed himself to look intimidated by the old harbourmaster. He searched his pocket for a piece of paper, found it and folded it out.

He cleared his throat and read the text out loud:

"Three hundred cabondalés to be delivered to Terrence Watergood, Filliaton. He will pay you in gold as soon as the goods are delivered."

He put the paper away and said:

"Anything else you wish to know, sir?"

Ash slowly shook his head as he continued to scrub the deck. The last sentence was a sentence too much. Ash would make sure to point out to Zuka once he had the opportunity.

Lethin opened his book at a specific point and let his finger run down a list of names. "Ah, Terrence Watergood. But of course, he has been waiting for those I have heard, ain't that right Timus?"

The young boy, Timus his name, nodded quickly but it seemed like Lething ignored him.

Lethin shut the book and put it away. He then looked at Zuka, "If it is so that you are too be paid for this after your delivery, we may ask for the fee when you leave port again possibly?" Lethin smiled, he knew that this was against the rules but also knew that this could bring more gold to his own pockets.

'Thieving bastard!' James thought to himself. However he said nothing, he just hoped they would leave soon. He was not scared but this was wasting time now and they had a job to do.

Zuka Zamamee had come from a poor family. Giving away more money than necessary was against his every instinct, but it was crucial to the mission, and the task force did not need unnecessary attention - attention they would get if he was to start hagglewith this arrogant idiot. In the end the Dragons would rid Weissland of a dangerous criminal and it did not seem right to pay to save them, but orders were orders.

"That sound reasonable, harbourmaster, sir! Now if you will excuse me, my men are tired from the voyage and are eager to reach the harbour as to enjoy the pleasures Amei holds for any sailor!" Zuka said, smiling and winking at the old Weisslending. He wanted them off the ship immediately.

Zuka remained stationary, glaring at the magnificent Weisslandish ship slide away. He turned his head and shouted to the men to sail towards the dock. Zuka knew that the Weisslending jerk would keep a close eye on them. Their disguise had to hold for now.

Zuka walked towards James and whispered:

"What do you think? Convinced them?"

"Maybe, we will find out." James whispered back. "Next time don't be so damn cheeky. 'Anything else you wish to know, sir?', too much."

Zuka knew the moment after he said that sentence that it was a mistake. He blushed now, but vowed to let it never repeat.

"I am sorry. I just experience that Realmers are so damned sweet and accomodating. But no excuses, James! I will not let it happen again!"

Zuka scouted toward the docks.

"How long till we reach the harbour? I am no damned sailor!"

"Don't worry Zuka, we got away with it." James said patting Zuka on the shoulder.
"Twenty minutes I would say." James added looking to the shore.

Zuka still felt embarrassed. Omega Squad was no place for mistakes. This was a very minor one, but Zuka Zamamee saw himself as a perfectionist. Zuka sighed, nodded at James and walked away. He avoided Ash, who now walked toward James.

Ash's usual, cold voice was heard over the gentle breaking of the waves against the ship's bow.

"He did all right. A small error, but I doubt that old idiot became suspicious. It is usual for ships to come without notice and in the end it means more gold for him. He won't care about us."

James said nothing for a minute or so. Ash spoke again, now staring his old friend in the eyes:

"We have to track Fenix down as fast as possible! Once he is dead, I will meet Fizban. The plan must proceed smoothly. I hope this Nar bloke won't screw things up!"

"If I can make it any smoother I will Ash." James said smiling. "I had a word about the error but he is regretting it."

James watched the Weissland ship as they moed further away.
"Fenix is good, don't forget that Ash. He is as good as many of us." James said looking at Ash again.

Another Dragon came up on the deck from below, "Ash," he began. "Nar wants you to know that he finished and sent the report back to Thunderton. He only mentioned our progress across the Sea of Strength as well as our destination."

Ash did not turn his head. He simply asked:

"Who did he contact?"

Ash added a hand gesture to James to wait a moment.

"Pezza," the Dragon said. "Well, of course I can't know that for sure but Nar has his loyalty to him."

James nodded understanding and looked away slightly so as not to intrude into the conversation.

Ash was, of course, not surprised by the reply. He just needed to know if Pezza was personally involved or had some puppet to take care of this operation. Clearly the old traitor kept an eye on him. It made Ash slightly nervous, but he knew that if he remained cool, Pezza would not be able to touch him - not that far away - not in Weissland - and not when "the King of Photoshop" was no longer a Dragon. Ash smiled at the thought. Triumph!

"Very well, Psynjir! Return to your duties!"

The Dragon bowed and walked away. Ash turned to face James and then spoke in his usual way:

"I know Fenix. He has taught me a lot of his art of thinking and acting. I admired him once. I also plan to learn from his mistakes. Thus make me stronger than him! I do not want the new Battalion to be what the Serpent Clan turned out as. He became too greedy. For money! I just want freedom. Lord Sunnycool pays us well, but we have our hands tied!"

Ash balled his hand into a fist and then continued:

"We must stay focused on the code, James! I need you to watch my back. I don't want some greedy Omega Dragon to stab me in the back. I do not wish to bring harm upon fellow Dragons. I just want to start over. To make a true Dragon Battalion in this continent. I want people to be awe-struck by the mere mention of the Battalion. I want glory! I want honour! If the White Realm is so focused on these virtues, then why should we not aim for them as well?"

Ash was convinced he was right. It was easy for Pezza to like the Dragons obedient and safe. He no longer lurked in the shadows. He was a "king" now. He had eternal glory! Why should Ash not strive for the same? Why should he not lead all other willing Dragons to honour, glory and freedom! Whatever the cost!

"Of course I shall watch your back Ash." James said his voice slightly hurt. "But what need have we for glory, Fenix wanted glory and look where it took him. We have our lives, we have money and can do what we wish. Many men would kill for such things. Why take more when it is not needed." James said trying to reason with his friend.

Ash reached for his dagger. He took it out and looked at it, playing with the shining blade's ability to reflect the sunlight. He then spoke, without looking at James, turning the sharp blade in his cunning hands:

"The traitor Fenix attacked fellow Dragons. He is no man of glory! He just wanted money and power. He has that now! I have no need of gold. You know me, James! You know you! We live a spartan life - gold means nothing to me. Neither does political power - look what Perry ended up as. No, my friend, have no doubts! We will search for the greatest things in the world - freedom and glory! Neither a part of our current profession! Dragons are no pets, yet the Battalion only does what Lord Sunnycool wants it to do. That is wrong! If you do not agree, I will have you removed from this task force, James! I thought at least you would still have eyes! Fizban has the power to help us rebirth the Dragon Battalion!"

Ash's voice was sharp. He thought that James was merely playing with him - testing Ash's persuasion skills. If the Omega Second-in-Command was not willing to accomplish this sacred mission, Ash would have to kill him. He knew too much already! But Ash feared not. James had never failed him before.

James looked at Ash and the slight manic look in his eyes.
"Ash don't be fooled, I wish the same things as you. But before we throw off what we deem shackles perhaps we should talk with Sunnycool first and gain freedom through reason. He was one of us, he will understand our feeling to some degree. But Ash remember this, I am not your enemy!" James finished before walking away to the side of the ship and looking into the water.

Ash turrned and walked toward his friend again. Superiority and arrogance scrolling accross his face and showing even in his walk:

"Don't be a fool, James! Stanislav would never let us become independant. Autonomous! With all of the black operations we have done at his will, he would never risk any of them slipping out! Of course I have no plans of telling the world about his small personal wars - I am a man of honour and I bow to the code, but he would not risk it. Neither would Pezza"

Ash grunted and then continued:

"Besides, they would both be afraid that we would join forces with Fenix or choose that traitor's path."

Ash shook his head, sheathing his dagger.

"No James - this is the only way. With Fizban's help we will suceed. He has assured me that the Realm has no power once we set up the new Battalion in Weissland. We will be untouchable!"

"You know I am with you Ash, I just think we should try talking about it first. Ah well." James said shrugging.

"I value your critical approach, James! I have no need of mindless drones! It is good you question our mission. But have no doubt beyond the hypothetical! Let us focus on tracking down Fenix. We have little to no recon on this location. We need to split up, visit the local inns and pubs and find someone who knows about the Serpents setting up here. Save none of the gold. Pezza is sponsoring us on this one. Can't say I am unhappy with that." Ash said, completely without emotion, "What about Nar? Do you think he might know what we are up to?"

Ash wanted to see if James would be of the same opinion without telling him what Ash thought. He had to check his friend's sharpness.

"I suspect them all." James said his face serious. "As for Nar, yes he could be expecting us. We shall have to be cautious but we are here to get the job done no matter what." James finished, a faint smile on his usually stern face.

"What do we do with him once Fenix has been eliminated? We send him back to the Realm alone on the Circumference? No - Zuka must get this ship back to the White Realm. We will hire a minimal crew. I do not want these Weissland idiots to get suspicious!"

"A minimal crew and a good wind." James said quietly.

Ash nodded and smiled. They were close to the docks now.

"James, you had a contact in Amei! Where can we find him? We need to know the best places to start looking for traces of Fenix!"

"He will be in the Black Raven, a small tavern near the harbour. If more than three go into the tavern he will run. He will be sitting facing the door and will have a black bandana on." James said nodding.

Ash grunted. Black Raven. This bloke sounded like something from a bad novel. Oh well, Ash thought, if he can help us track that scumbag down, I don't give a damn about his customs.

"Very well, James!" Ash said, exhaling loudly, "let's visit this tavern. I want you and Nosaree to join me."

Ash waved at Zuka and told him that he would be in charge of the men with Ash and James abscent. The Dragons were to remain on or near the ship. Ash trusted his men would follow his orders without problems. Omega Dragons were no amateurs.

James slipped another knife into his bracer should it be needed then followed Ash from the ship. He glanced at those being left behind, nodded to them then made his way onto the quayside.

Ash ordered one of his Dragons to buy a room in an inn some hundred metres from Circumferrence's docking spot. The inn was called "The Beast and the Harlot". Ash added that three sets of full Dragon Battalion uniforms be placed in the room as well as a small stash of gold and a single dagger.

Ash, James and Nosaree left the small ship and walked on the busy harbour as a handful of Dragons completed various chores on the ship. A pair of Dragons strode towards the "Beast and the Harlot".

His men were professionals.

The busy harbour did not impress Ash, although he recognized its enormous capacity. This was an important city to the economy of Weissland, he guessed. So many ships. So many people worked here.

Ash felt slightly annoyed by the large presence of Weissland military as the three Dragons walked on. It would be no problem - if they did not screw up. In parts of the Realm, even screwing up could be fixed. But with so many soldiers and guards present, they better not screw up. Ash made a mental note to warn his men one extra time.

Ash, James and Nosaree walked around the harbour for almost one hour, studying the surroundings. Ash would have a small team closely observe the routines of the harbour guards. He would have another team look through the entire area for blind spots in the patrolled areas, good running, hiding and surveillance positions and so on. Everything would be done professionally - even before they had the smallest idea of Fenix' position.

After the little "walk", the three Dragons returned to the ship briefly, Ash received the key to the room in the "Beast and the Harlot" and without a word, they approached the inn. It was humid, full of smoke and smelled of sweat and beer. Ash smiled. It was perfect.

A trio of prostitutes approached the three "seamen". Nosaree dismissed them, staying in character, by saying that it was a bit too early for that sort of "activity", but that he would love to have all three of them later the same day if his friends were not up for it. Giggling, they left the three Dragons.

Ash led his friends up the stairs to their room. He unlocked the lock, opened the door and closed it behind them as they entered.

It was not large, had a single shabby bed, a small table, stool and closet, but it suited them fine. James checked the window - the Circumferrence was just visible.

"Good work!" Ash exclaimed as he opened the closet and retrieved the cloaks. "We'll stay here for two hours and leave when the inn is just about full. No one will notice us leaving, while having three sailors enter and exit as cloaked men a few minutes later would be idiotic! In the meantime, James could tell us about his friend here!"

James put on his uniform, pulling the cloak around himself.
"This man owed Fizban money and using that as leverage we have taken control of him." James began before pausing, "However forgive me I haven't said who he is. He is a merchant from Weissland, an elf by the name of Tarion , who has in the past used Fenix and his team to eliminate competition, quite below anything we would have done really but still, gold is gold."

James continued calmly. "He began running out of money and Fizban of course appeared to lend it to him."

James flexed his arms to ensure his uniform fit snuggly but properly. "He hasn't payed him back and Fizban has hinted of dire consequences, so he is scared." James sheathed two knives into his belt and one into his boot. He also slipped two throwing discs into satchels in his belt and attached his sword to his side.

"As far as Tarion knows he has to help us to pay his debts, or he dies." James said smiling. James tied a black bandana over his dark black hair which was tied in a ponytail.

Fear, Ash thought. It has always been a powerful motivator. He shrugged as he cleaned his shortsword. It was ancient. Its curve made it look like elven craftmanship, but it hailed from the lands, where the Dragon Battalion had its roots. Ash recalled to have killed at least two hundred men with this blade. It deserved respect. It deserved to be clean.

Ash nodded, satisfied with James' story. He had already donned his uniform and was sitting on the bed. The room's corners were full of webs. Ash hated spiders.

"As soon as Fenix and his top lieutenants," Ash paused and added with disgust, "- the former Alpha Dragons - are dead, we will dispose of this Tarion. Let's call it that we won't make the mistakes Fenix made. We won't have loose ends!" Ash smiled.

"Amen to that, Ash!" Nosaree exclaimed as he fastened his belt.

"No trace of us shall be left." James nodded. "I will make sure of it."

"Very good, James. Very good!"

A few hours passed and James stood up as the sun set slowly over the sea.
He checked once more he had his sword strapped to his side and his belt was secure with his throwing weapons, his straight edged dagger and his curved knife.
He looked over at Ash and nodded.
"Lets go."

Ash had been playing with his blade. He smiled and sheathed it. He made sure his hood covered most of his face by the shadow it cast and nodded to Nosaree.

The three cloaked Dragons exited the room and Ash locked the door.

Downstairs, Ash could hear tha the inn was full and happy. Men were shouting and wolfwhistling. Some were singing.

The Dragons walked down the stairs, entered the lounge full of somoke, sweaty men and cheap prostitutes. Ash nodded, smiling. The inn lived up to its name.

They silently exited the inn.

They moved through the streets, James led the way and they came to the Black Raven. James opened the door and looked across the room. Facing them was a booth and sittign at it was an elf in a black robe with the cloak down, exposing his long blonde hair.

James walked to it and sat down without saying a word.

"There are no more?" The elf asked sharply although there was fear in his voice.
"No." James said. He held out his hand presenting Ash who would lead the conversation from now on.

Ash tried to lock gaze with the elf, but failed to do so. The elf looked away at once. Ash finally got eye contact with Tarion and said:

"Greetings. How are you feeling, master elf?"

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