The  Barzon the Axe had been restless for the past few days. He paced around his room atop the fortress known as Uluru https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uluru. Things were peaceful and quiet in the lands around the fortress. Too quiet, and it worried him. He had taken to carrying his double-bladed battle-axe with him all the time. He had been Tazmar-Lord of Uluru for the past ten years, and it had been an eventful time, fighting vermin of all kinds, dingoes, Taz-Tigers, and many other scum of the land. They had retreated months ago, and now it was quiet.

His Kangaroo Guard noticed his increasing restlessness and watched him closely. He peered out the window to the lands below, wondering what was going on. Only vermin called him 'devil,' all others called him Lord. And 'devil' was a fit description of him, as he was fierce in battle, asking no quarter and taking none. "I know you're out there," he growled. "Show yourselves, you vermin scum!" He only went down to eat when urged by his crew. What was written on the wall of the secret room where only Tazmar-Lords went had told him that things were going to get hectic very quickly, and he would be ready for it. So would his Kangaroo Guard. They would not be taken by surprise, not on his watch!

Luetenant Tigram Forg Willingrum the 4rth cheerfully hopped up to his agitated lord.
"Aye, mate! You been watching for villinous vermin to wrestle? I be thinking you been going and scarin' them off! They won't come back for a bit! But you should have a bite! Aye, matey?!"
As he talked he made exagrate movements, trying to cheer Barzon up.
"Come on, iffen you don't hurry, mate, I'll eat up all your pudden!"

Barzon tried unsuccessfully to stifle a smile at his Lieutenant's antics. He lay a heavy paw on Tigram's shoulder. "Aye, they're out there," he said. "I feel it in me bones. Don't let yer guard down, not yet. But I'll go down with you and have a bite, so don't touch me pudden."  He didn't tell the roo what was written on the wall of his secret chamber. He turned and left his room for the dining room below, where many kangaroos were now gathered and busy eating. He sat down in his massive chair and pulled a bowl towards him and dug in.

Tigram smiled.
"That's what I like to hear mate!" He then raed down the stairs, rushed to his seat, and started gobbling down food like his life depended on it.

Barzon poured himself some October Ale, grabbed a hunk of cheese and some bread, then stood up. "My friends," he began. "I have reason to believe that our foes are not gone for good, but they will be back sometime very soon. It is written that they are on their way, and I don't want us to be taken by surprise. Keep your eyes and ears open, sharpen your blades, inspect your bolas and boomerangs, and be ready."

He threw back his head, raised his battle axe and gave the ancient mountain battle cry "RoolaloolooLOOOOOOO!" The kangaroos echoed the cry.

Shravell approached the main gate of the grand fortress Uluru. The massive stone formation towered above the area, imposing in its impressiveness. He slowed as a kangaroo guard bounded towards him. "Aye, mate," they called out, "what're you here for?" Shravell just shook his head, and attempted to brush past the guard. They put a paw on Shravell's chest, stopping him, "Unless you got business here, I suggest you leave." The lizard glanced at them and pointed at the gate. The kangaroo looked from the gate back to the stranger, but they didn't say anything. Shravell gave a silent sigh, and reached into their satchel. He pulled out his slate board and chalk, and began to write quickly. When he was done, he showed it to the guard. They stared at it for a moment, their eyes slowing going wide. "I need to inform the Lord," he began to run off, stopped, and pointed at Shravell, "stay right there!" They rushed into the fortress, desperate to reach the Tazmar-Lord as fast as possible. What was written on the slate was simply, 'A horde is coming, larger than any in recent time.'

Barzon got up, ready to head for the forge for preparations when two of the Guard bounded into the dining hall. "My lord," one said, "We have a messenger at the gates who says a horde is coming, larger than any in recent time!"

For the first time, the Tazmar Lord smiled. "I knew it!" he said. "Battle stations! You, bring the messenger here, I think I know who it is." The roo bounded away to fetch the lizard. The rest ran to get their weapons and get to their posts. Others made to bar the entrances to Uluru. Barzon patted his axe. "We shall see action soon." he said, as he waited for the messenger.

Tigram was halfway through a salad when Barzon gave the orders for the battle.
"Jolly bad form, mate, stopping a chap halfway through his vittles! Oh well, better get a move on!" The kangaroo staitioned himself beside his lord, waiting for further orders.
Since he specailized in hand-to-hand combat, he only had a small dagger at his side, and light armor.

Chisk sat on the edge of a boulder, swinging her legs and staring off into the distance. The skies were clear and blue today, and the grassy plain stretched on in all directions, broken only by a few stunted trees here and there. A light breeze dulled the heat of the sun for just a moment, ruffling her fur and swaying the parched stalks of grass. Leaning against the base of the boulder was a dingo with light brown fur, her most trusted general.

Behind her lay the encampment of a vast army at some distance. Even at this distance, the chatter and noise of so many soldierbeasts carried over, but Chisk paid no mind, too focused on the horizon.

The dingo spoke "Are you really certain we should attack Uluru? Surely we can mount our assault on the southern packs with the forces we have now. Why risk it all on some fortress all the way out here?"

Chisk looked down at her general. "Oh, that's an easy answer! 'Cause it's more fun that way."

The dingo was taken aback. "Wh-what do you mean?"

"Just think about it Dusky! Hundreds of past warlords have died trying to take over that rock. That means I'll really have to put my all into it. And with the ol' devil and all those roos guarding it, there'll be a real risk of dying, not like fighting those small fry tribes along the coast! There's nothing more exciting than mortal danger!" The taz-tiger paused. "And anyways, taking it over will send a message to those dingo packs, that we're a real threat. No matter how far away they are, they'll definitely, definitely find out! I know you're all practical and boring, so rest assured this is all perfectly strategic!"

The dingo, Duskbiter, still looked concerned, but relented. "Well, I guess that's alright with me, but I dunno what General Siltscale might think…"

"Course it's alright! And if Scalie doesn't  like it, you can bite off her tail!"

"Whaaah! Why do I hafta do it Chisky?" Duskbiter stammered, shaking at the prospect of confronting the massive goanna general.

Chisk grinned "Jus' joking! You look funny when you're scared. But I keep telling you to stop calling me that when others might hear. If those chumps knew about us, what'll that do to my authority? I've got a reputation to uphold after all!"

"There's hardly anybeast left that dares to defy you." Duskbiter replied. "Well, there's still a few dissenters in the ranks, mostly from the tribes you conquered last season, but they've shut their yaps for now after you made an example of the ones behind that assassination plot."

"Their teeth were very nice!" Chisk ran her claws along the tooth necklace around her neck, now with a few recent additions. "I wonder what devil teeth look like. Prolly big and sharp." She grinned, her own toothy maw glinting in the sunlight. "Well, I guess I'll find out soon!"

Barzon ignored Tigram's complaining. He knew this roo was like that, and in spite of it, he was the one he would have by his side in any crisis, none better. He gave a shrill whistle, and a whistling kite

http://www.birdsinbackyards.net/sites/www.birdsinbackyards.net/files/styles/extra-large/public/forum/rjwaring/images/Whistling Kite 2012_09_13 05.jpg?itok=sqNvUhwA

flew in from outside and alit on his shoulder. "Zophar, my friend, I need your help."

Zophar and Barzon were friends from time out of mind, a counterpart to Sunflash and his kestrel Skarlath in a far distant place.

"What can I do for you, Barzon?" he said.

"I want you to go, fly as fast as you can to Tjuta Abbey. I need any warriors they can spare, bandicoots, raptors, mice, wombats, wallabies, echidnas, any that can wield weapons or be weapons themselves. Fly straight and true."

Zophar didn't have to be asked twice. He shot off like an arrow from a string, straight for the Abbey. Zophar smiled. He didn't have to worry about that bird. He would raise an army to march to Uluru. He would need them.

Shravell watched as a roo stepped out, said something to the remaining guard, and gestured for the lizard to follow. He shuffled in, already preparing what to tell the lord. They had met a few times before, but never under such dire circumstances.

Shravell entered the dining hall, doing his best to ignore the multitude of kangaroo soldiers. He focused on the Tazmar Lord. Bowing low, the lizard spread his hands out, palms up. A show of goodwill and peace. Straightening, he quickly began to write on his slate board.

'A horde is coming, led by a fierce beast of incredible strategic mind. They have already slaughtered many of the tribes along the coasts. I know you must be eager, but to face them straight on would be suicide. Remain here, and they will crush themselves against these walls.' Looking up, Shravell hoped that the lord would heed this warning. He had seen this horde, and was certain that no one could face them directly.

"I thank you, Shravell," said Barzon. "I have already alerted my Kangaroo Guard and sent for reinforcements from Tjuta Abbey. And I would have need of you as well. Would you like to come up with me to the forge? Your unique talents would be needed to help forge weapons. I've taken the very precautions you spoke of, but it may be that sitting here won't make them go away. I have several concerns about the coming horde and where they'll strike next. Come on up, you too, Tigram." He turned and headed for the forge. "There is something I need to show you both that normally only Tazmar-Lords are able to see."

Swiftpaw moans softly as the beast sinks her paws into his back, massaging the kinks out of his shoulders. Being in the shade of his own tent, his belly full of a fine breakfast and having his wife behind him there was little that could improve the moment.

And then the dingo pup lept onto his arm to bite his ear. "Ok, ok, enough. Lightpaw, you are not helping daddy. Let go." Brushtail only laughs as she scoops up the dibbun in her arms, placing him with the other dibbuns running loose about the gregariously sized tent full of furs and decorations.

Being a general has its perks. "Go play with your sisters, your pappa needs to get ready for work."

Standing up the light furred dingo wraps his arms about Brushtail, leaning his chin across her shoulder. "Are you going to be ok here today?"

"I'll be fine. Go on, get your armor on and get going. You have beasts to destroy." She replies sweetly, "Do me a favor; do pick up a health kangaroo prisoner on your way back, I need more hide to finish that rug…"

"Your wish is my-" Swift begins. He is interupted by a loud howling call of, "HEY SWIFTPAW! ARE YA UP YET?!"

"UNCLE VRAS!" the trio of young dibbuns chorus as they rush out of the tent, tackling the beast out side with a loud yelp.

"On second though, start with HIS hide..." Brushtail scowls, pulling away from Swiftpaw as the moment is ruined.

"Kids, please do not refure to the murderous warlord as 'Uncle'." Especially since they are not even related. The dingo general calls out before grabbing his armor. He is still buckling his breast plate as he exits his tend, finding his trio of children having defeated the most sorry excuse for a dingo Swift had ever seen.

Despite being a mercenary leader, the dingo dresses like a comman foot soldier. He was a scrawny dark furred creature wearing a loosely fitting iron breast plate. Aside from the shoulder pauldren and half cape he wears Vraskar leaves his back, belly and sides exposed...along with the mass of scars accumulated over the years. His ears ended in tattered edges, his tail was missing some of its fluff. When Swiftpaw first met the warrior he was half starved looking, now days he was still a skinny little runt, but at least his armor didnt hang off of him like a tent.

"Kids. Inside." The taller, more broad shouldered warrior commands and his dibbuns obey.

"Thanks mate. Little rascals nearly had me that time they did. They be growin inta fine warrior beasts so-" the dingo oofs as Swiftpaw jams the butt end of his lance into his distended looking stomach, "D-Don't do that Swift, that's able to explode you know..."

"You're drunk." Swift growls, driving the pole arm deeper. "I could smell the ale on you from a mile away."

"Oh that's nutthin. I just gone and fell into a barrol o ale last night. I...think I may have fell asleep in it."

"A pity you didn't drown. You beserkers and your howling kept my pups up all night." Swift paw removes the lance, offering a paw to help Vraskar to his feet. "Come on, we will make a propper general out of you yet...asuming our fearless leader doesn't kill you someday..."

"Oh come off it. I am a propper general! Why, I burned down a whole village last week."

"Yeah...you razed it to the point we had nothing left to loot."

Vraskar chuckles evily, showing his teeth as be smiled, "Sometimes the fire is its own reward." he pats Swiftpaw on the shoulder, "Come on, we got a war meeting to go to and I need someone all dignified like to help me walk there. Me legs are still feeling all wobbly and I have this kink in my back from sleeping in a barrol all night..."

Inside a large tent, sheltered from the harsh rays of the sun overhead, the war meeting was just about ready to convene.

At the head of a large makeshift table covered in maps of the surrounding regions, Chisk stood, or more accurately slouched in mock boredom, her back leaning against the edge of the table. To most onlookers, she seemed to barely pay any attention to the few stragglers filing into the shaded space, but her keen eyes were in fact taking in every detail. Such as the two dingoes that were finally making their way into the tent at this moment, one of them leaning on the other for support.

At her side, Duskbiter also observed the occupants of the room, mentally doing role call of the assembled horde leadership.

Right off at the other end of the table was General Siltscale, a massive dark-scaled goanna whose hide was mottled with white bands and scars that seemed to blend together. Whatever plans Chisk would suggest, Siltscale would likely challenge them. That was probably why she always stood at the other side of the room. It was less dramatic to argue with someone when you're standing right next to them.

Next to Siltscale was General Iretooth, a lithe female quoll with reddish-brown fur and pointed ears. The inventor general didn't look too happy to be standing so close to the notoriously disagreeable goanna, arms folded with distaste and glaring. One of the downsides of Chisk's leadership style was that someone as vain and rude as Iretooth was kept around, as Chisk found her insults entertaining more often than not.

Duskbiter's gaze roamed further along the line, and almost passed right over a short black-furred, white spotted quoll, whose presence was easy to miss. As the general specializing in infiltration, Starpelt had the uncanny ability to avoid detection even while standing in plain sight. It was almost impossible to detect his presence unless he let himself be noticed, like right now. He was eating a loaf of bread he had pulled out of his satchel, even though Duskbiter had told him numerous times not to eat at meetings. At this point, Duskbiter was too tired to care.

On the other side of the table, Swiftpaw was taking his place, alongside Vraskar. Out of all the generals, Swiftpaw seemed the most reliable, and in fact Duskbiter was the one who encouraged Chisk to appoint him to the position. It was nice to have someone around who wasn't overly disagreeable or strange.

Vraskar, on the other hand, was someone that Duskbiter strongly disliked. He and his loud bunch of ruffians were undeniably useful in battle, but outside of battle they were a nuisance. Those same traits, however, were exactly why Chisk liked them so much. Duskbiter could only hope that the rather unbalanced looking dingo didn't disrupt the meeting too much. As if these meetings didn't already get wild enough already.

Compared to all these battle-hardened generals, Duskbiter herself seemed almost comically normal. She was only slightly more capable in battle than an ordinary footsoldier, and she looked more suited to the farm she grew up on than in a war meeting of a massive horde. Still, she and Chisk had known each other since they were pups, and the warlord relied on her practical judgement and organized mind to run this massive operation.

Before Duskbiter could continue scrutinizing the rest of the crowd, Chisk slammed her warclub onto the table as a signal that the meeting was now underway. Duskbiter resisted the urge to admonish her for hitting the already unstable table, which wobbled slightly but miraculously held up.

Chisk was getting bored of all this pointless chatter, so like it or not the meeting would start now.

"As you all probably know, unless you've been asleep this whole time, we are about to reach Uluru. Even though we've already discussed our strategies in previous meetings, Dusky insisted we do this final meeting to make sure we're all on the same page. Since some of you are probably stupid, I guess this is necessary. I'm warning you though, we're making this quick and not getting into another argument that makes this drag on longer than needed. I'm especially talking to you, Scaley. If you annoy me too much this time, I'll make Dusky kick you."

Chisk barely noticed Duskbiter holding up her paws apologetically as Siltscale glared at the dingo with derision.

"Okay, I'll go through all this in one go so we can get this over with quickly. Don't interrupt, or I'll flick you on the nose!" Chisk began "We'll start with the usual fake diplomacy, sending in Dusky, 'cos she looks the most trustworthy and nonthreatening. We'll offer to spare their lives if they surrender, the usual spiel.  Anyways, they'll definitely refuse, but while they're distracted, some of our forces will be sneaking into Uluru, to take it from the inside."

Siltscale interrupted, shouting across the room while pointing her claw in a way that was unnecessarily dramatic "And how do you propoze to do dat? The wallz of dat rock are zteep, even for uz goannaz, and I am not aware of any pozzums or koalaz in our forcez."

Before Chisk could go over and flick Siltscale's nose, Iretooth also interrupted. "Ha, every word you say just reveals your ignorance! Our wise leader personally asked my ingenious self to build special grappling hooks that will allow our fighters to scale those walls without breaking a sweat. In fact, I made all sorts of devices for our attack, but I don't even need to share that secret information with you ugly lot!"

Siltscale hissed in anger, and Duskbiter quickly intervened "Iretooth, please refrain from insults at this meeting!"

Iretooth's confident demeanor instantly shattered, and she shakily muttered  "Gggghhh, no one appreciates my genius…"

Chisk grumbled "Scaley, Toothy, the two of you need to shut up."

Siltscale huffed in annoyance, crossing her arms and turning away, while Iretooth paled at the implied threat and shrank back.

Chisk continued, her mood suddenly cheerful. "Anyways, if the climbing plan doesn't work, I've got a two pronged attack plan as backup. The first prong will involve infiltration and poisoning, which I will entrust to Starry" She pointed at Starpelt, and several beasts jumped in shock at noticing him for the first time, despite how loudly he was eating. He casually waved at them. "I will also have Toothy assist with certain aspects of that, which will be kept secret for now. The second prong consists of our main fighting forces, which will besiege Uluru. Scaley and Swifty will lead the bulk of the forces. Since Scaley has so rudely interrupted me, I will let Swifty give his report on the state of our forces."

"Alright! Time for some ACTION! Woo!" Vraskar claps his paws together. "I always wanted to storm a castle."

"Actually…this opperation will require a different skill set than you posess." Swiftpaw manages to smile as he watches his fellow dingo deflate. It makes up for baring through this meeting, watching the generals bicker as their fragile egoes rub together. And also at being called 'Swifty'.

"It is a fine plan my liege, but, also a tad complicated. Our enemies are a strong and proud people, and prepaired for warfare. If one thing goes wrong they will lock down their fortress. If that happens we will die of old age long before they starve on their supplies. So I suggest we prepair for the long haul...just incase." Swift gestures to the map, north of the fortress, "While our forces attack the castle I suggest we send a smaller unit of soldiers to take the villages to the north. Their supplies will feed our own and the enmy will have to split their forces from the castle to defend them."

"Ok, I can totally do this. Just say the word and my beasts can head on out." Once again Swiftpaw draws a sharp breath at Vraskar's words, causing the smaller dingo to whine, "Ah come on! My beasts havnt seen propper action in weeks! They are getting soft and fat from all this idleness. We gotta be used somewhere. We are raiders! This is what we are built for! To...raid things! And raze villages to the ground! Which...would...actually be a bad thing because we...need to leave something left for the enemy to protect to draw them out of the castle..."

Swiftpaw actually smiles. So Vraskar was capable of thought beyond savage violence. "Don't worry, I'm sure our leader can find a place for your mercenaries somewhere."

Vraskar crosses his arms, seeming to grit his teeth. His mood chances in an instant as he remembers something. He slaps Swift lightly on the breastplate, "Oh! Swifty! Tell them about the thing! You know...the thing."

"Ah, yes. THAT. A rash of contraband known as NIGHTSHADE has been appearing around the camp ever since our mercenary friends joined our cause." Swiftpaws smile fades.

Holding his paws up the scrawny merc says defensively, "For the record, I dont encourage my beasts to use the stuff."

"You don't discourage them either..."

"Hey if the spear fodder want to cut his life short for the good of the battle, I wont stop them. Not like any of us planned on seeing our golden years anyway, but I've been trying to weed out this particular vice among my beasts for years and I don't let my officers drink it. Nightshade is Bloodwrath in a bottle yo, made from special berries and hard liquor it makes a beast think he can move mountains."

Vras shrugs, "Sure, it gives a beast an edge in battle, maybe two, but afterwards, they are no good. It ruins them. Those that don't eventually die from it I have to run off before they turn FERRAL."

"That said," Swift paw finishes for the merc, "If the Bezerker general thinks it is too dangerous I strongly urge my fellow officers to take heed. I already had to remove two of my own officers for using this...brew. I strongly urge my fellow generals to do the same if they come across beasts who have used Nightshade. Otherwise the our beasts are ready and itching to be the first beasts to take down an undefeatable castle."

Bowing again, the skink followed Barzon up to the forge. On the way up, he eyed the kangaroo, Tigram. Shravell didn't really know many people here, but this soldier seemed to be not much different from the rest of them. Caught up in thoughts of what this person's relation to Barzon was, he didn't they had reached the forge until he noticed that the others had stopped moving.

Undeterred, Shravell moved up to the forge proper. Placing a hand on the anvil, he thought about the time he'd spent here. Some of his best work had been made here, his master would be proud. The skink looked up at some of the weapons that were proudly displayed here. His favorite accomplishment, a long-bladed spear with a green ribbon tied at the base of the blade and with runes along the length of the haft, was still there. He smiled as he looked over the other pieces. All of them were works of art, but more than capable for battle, should the need arise.

Taking a moment to compose himself, Shravell turned to the Tazmar-Lord. He wrote quickly on his slate, 'What is it that you wanted to show us?' A thought occurred to him just, and he couldn't help but write, 'And what is your relationship with this soldier? Are you two particularly close?'

Tigrams eyebrows went up when he saw the last comment on Shravell's slate.
"Me, mate?" He looked at Barzon, "If you don't mind, sir, but I would like to answer the last question." He turned back to the skink. "I'm just a good freind of this here lord! I was born here, and as soon as I could hop, I made the most mischevouis possible!! So me and the lord got along just fine, right mate?"

Barzon laughed. "Yes, he is a lord of mischief, but in spite of that, I would have none other at my side in a crisis." he said. "But come with me, both of you. What you are about to see must remain here, and I am taking you to a secret place where only Tazmar-Lords go."

He went to a place where the wall was bare and laid down his axe for the moment. He came to the place and dug his claws into a crack in the wall. His muscles bunched as he pulled hard. Nothing happened for a moment and then the crack got wider. As Barzon pulled, it formed into a door of stone that opened wide. He breathed hard with the effort and then kicked the handle of his battle axe into the doorway. "Come with me, but be silent." he said as he entered. "Bring a torch, you will need it." He also took a torch from the wall and went in himself.

The room was like a long hall, and many pictures were on the wall. The smell of what smelled like incense permeated the room, giving all a dream-like quality. At the end of the room was a throne, and seated on it was a suit of armor. Barzon explained that the bones of an ancient Tazmar-Lord were in the armor.

He came to one picture on the wall that looked recent. "Now, Shravell, you will see that your message was not unexpected." There in the picture was the mountain of Uluru surrounded by the largest horde ever assembled. All looked hopeless. The fortress was besieged. But he pointed at two characters at the other side of the horde, a platypus and a wombat. "They are our hope, and no victory against this new foe until they come." There was writing beside the picture in Tazmar-script that only Barzon could read. He then translated the message:

_The horde approaches,
Hope fades away,
But a glimmer of light
Is at the end of darkness.

The two must become one
Then the tide turns
And the brush goes down.
The bill and the burrower
Are the hope of Uluru

Until then wisdom must reign
And vigilance is the word.
Beware the shades of night
The challenge then awakens
And boldness is the key._

He waited for their response.

Tigrams eyes widen as Barzon used his immense strength to push open the walls. He grabbed a tor h and followed, his eyes getting wider at everything. He shivered, but was in awe with the armor. His eyes grew the widest when he say the picture, and heard his lord read out the ancient words.
"What does it all mean, matey? Who is that there platypus and wombat? How big is that horde?"

Shravell shrugged sheepishly at the response to his last question, but was quickly distracted by the secret stone door. His eyes widened as he looked at the pictures on the wall. His attention was quickly grabbed by the suit of armor, though. While still listening to the lord, the skink ran a claw lightly over the intricate metal. Despite it being clearly ancient, there seemed to be no signs of wear on the armor. Shravell turned to Barzon as he finished talking. 'It is certainly perplexing.' he wrote on his slate, 'It seems that we will have to hold out until these heroes arrive, if they ever do.' He turned to Tigram, writing quickly, 'The horde I saw was many thousand strong, but I did not get a good look. I had to move quickly, you see.' Shravell frowned as new thoughts entered his head: just who were these heroes, and how could they possibly defeat such an incredible threat?

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