Dance's With Beavers
or Final Fantasy II told as an Animal Adventure

The frigid depths of the Snow Cavern are about as hostile an environment as one could imagine. Categorized as a glacier cavern by geologists, the cavern was rather infamous for being quite unstable. The underground dwelling experiences the same year-round frost as the surrounding snowfield, an expanse of frosty terrain which covers the northern reaches of the world. To gain access to this geological wonder, one would have to board a snowcraft and navigate it across shifting glaciers, around narrow avalanche-prone mountains and through treacherous icy canyons.

Alternatively, you could be one of the local beavers.

It was their furry likeness that Guy first noticed when he awoke at the bottom of the cavern, his body half-submerged in the frigid subterranean lake. Blinking the sleep out of his eyes, he spotted two of the small rodents eying him with trepidatious wonder. Light was streaming in from high above, possibly daylight reflecting off the shimmering crystal. Within moments he was awake enough to realize exactly how cold he was, the uncontrollable chattering of his teeth and the needle-pricks of chill running through every inch of his body. In a primal rush he charged his way onto the rocky shore, the thick brown and green limestone offering only slightly more warmth than the water.

Need… fire…

The beavers had scurried away from him, but he didn't have time to focus on that now. He tried to find something that could hold a flame. Unfortunately, there wasn't so much as a twig lying on the ground. He wasn't much of a mage, preferring to use his great axe or perhaps even his bare hands when fighting. But Maria had once tried to teach him how to summon the elements to his defense. The only spell he'd ever been able to demonstrate any proficiency at was, fortunately, the one spell that could help him right now.

He pictured a candle in his mind, stretching his palm out.

"All you have to do is take the flame from the candle and put it in your hand," Maria had said.

Guy didn't understand her at first. There was no fire. It was just a picture in his head. How could he put a make-believe fire and put it in his hand?

"Well, just make believe that it's in your hand!" Maria had insisted.

And then it had clicked, and Guy had summoned a small puff of smoke from nothingness. With training, the smoke had become an ember. Then a spark. And now, whenever he needed it, he could take that candle's flame and…

The beavers let out a panicked chittering as the small fire appeared in Guy's hand. It was small, and certainly wouldn't deal much damage to an attacker. But its warmth was real. A little too real, in fact. Within mere seconds he had to extinguish the flame as it began to burn his hand. You were meant to hurl the flame, not hold onto it.

That would do him no good without something to light. But the brief bit of warmth had at least given Guy some time to think. He stood up, attempting to pat dry his blue tunic and stripping off his water-logged blue boots. His brown hair was partly frozen on the left side, but his right side remained almost completely dry. He wouldn't last very long like this, even if he could summon fire from nothing.

It had been like this when he was little. Alone in the wilds, abandoned by whatever parents had created him. He remembered wandering through the forests near Kashuan and being taken in by a small flock of chocobos. He learned the language of beasts before that of man. And he was far more fluent in the former.

He turned to the beavers. There was maybe a chance. He let out a small series of growls and guttural noises in an attempt to communicate his meaning. Each species had its own unique ways of communication, but general intent was fairly universal. Even most men could get animals to understand their louder and more immediate concerns.

With a bit of inexpert chattering, Guy eventually conveyed his meaning. "Need be warm."

A thicker looking beaver approached Guy warily. He had a long black mane running up his back, ending in spiky fur around his head, almost like a crown. He was clearly the Alpha.

"You speak beaver?" The Alpha asked, raising up on its hindlegs to appear more threatening.

"Guy speak beaver," Guy replied. Then he clarified. "My name Guy. You have name?"

The Alpha nodded. "Beaver call me Amik. What Guy doing?"

Guy wasn't sure how to answer that one. He'd been traveling with his friends, Maria and Firion. They'd come to this cavern to help the rebellion with a man named Josef. Guy didn't really do much of the thinking. He let Firion and Maria handle that. They took good care of him, ever since he found his way to the kingdom of Fynn so many years ago.

Six years had passed since he was taken in by a kindly butcher and taught the ways of humans. The first thing he learned was clothes, and cooked food shortly after. Language took a bit longer, but Guy found that despite the fact that humans insisted on using a lot more words than most beasts, their desires were often the same. Food, sleep, mating. Not so different.

"Guy come with friends. Fall down hole. Guy not know where friends are," Guy tried to explain. A slight numbing around his pelvis reminded him of his greater concern. "Guy cold and wet. Need be warm. How?"

This seemed a silly question. The beavers were obviously warm because of their water-resistant fur. Even Amik seemed confused by this.

"Beaver have fur. Guy no have fur," Amik explained bluntly.

Guy decided to be a bit more direct. "Guy make fire. Need wood. Beaver have wood?"

The beavers began to hiss slightly and Amik seemed affronted. "Beaver no like fire. Man bring fire. Fire burn down beaver home."

This seemed more a concern of woodland beavers than those living deep within the Snow Cavern. What man could possibly want to bring fire to this place? What could be gained here?

"What man bring fire here?" Guy asked.

"Big man. Bad man. Looking for shiny sound," Amik explained.

Shiny sound? Guy wasn't sure what was meant by this. He remembered Firion talking about a bell. Bells were shiny. Bells made a sound. Could this be it?

"You mean bell? Shiny sound?" Guy asked. He then did a crude imitation of a bell sounding. "Ding ding ding. This?"

"Shiny sound!" Amik exclaimed. "You know of shiny sound? You know big bad man?"

"Me try stop big bad man," Guy replied. "Me and friends look for shiny sound to stop big bad man."

Amik still seemed suspicious and the cold was creeping up on Guy again. He sank to his knees and wrapped his arms around himself, shivering uncontrollably. He reiterated. "Need be warm."

"Please" wasn't something animals were familiar with. Pretty words that conveyed to humans what animals could determine through other means. Desperate need. Gratefulness. Slight submission even. These were the markers that Guy was giving off even without trying right now. He felt consciousness ebbing away as he tried to keep talking. He fell forward onto the ground, unable to stand any more of the cold. Blackness overtook him, and he knew nothing for a short while.

He awoke a few hours later, feeling far warmer than he had when he'd collapsed. There was a fuzzy feeling around his perimeter. For a moment, Guy almost thought that he'd suddenly grown a full body of fur, but this effect was ruined by the occasional claw or nose poking around. Surrounding him was the group of beavers, all laying huddled around him to lend him their body warmth. Amik, the alpha, was laying atop Guy's stomach as though it were a bed.

"You awake, Amik?" Guy asked.

The alpha stirred slightly, looking Guy in his eyes. "You no bring fire against us like big bad man did."

Guy nodded and reiterated. "Guy stop big bad man."

Amik let out a small purr of acknowledgement. "You look for friends? Beaver find friends."

Guy became properly alert now. Maria and Firion were okay?

"Where friends?" Guy asked.

"They near lair of big turtle. They make fire. Beaver see but don't get close. They no speak beaver like Guy," Amik said, stretching out, rubbing its claws against Guy's shoulders affectionately before leaping off of him.

Guy reluctantly stood up, not wanting to leave the warmth of his new friends but knowing that his Maria and Firion were probably worried sick.

"Amik take me to lair of big turtle?" Guy asked.

Amik bristled slightly. "Amik lead beaver. No lead Guy. Koplok and Gutuk guide you. They find friends."

Two small and runty looking beavers chittered to Guy on his left side. They were younger beavers, and probably served as scouts in the beaver society of the caverns. They weren't as big or ferocious as hunters, and there wasn't much that could be gathered in a cave like this. Far too young to breeders as well.

The smaller of the two, Gutuk, rubbed his nose in greeting. This was a common way that rodents chose to acknowledge things bigger than them. If Guy were to translate the meaning into the language of men, it would be something akin to, "Me friend. Me taste bad. Don't eat." Guy was reminded of how hungry he was and hoped that his friends had saved him some food.

Koplok was dragging with him a small wooden branch. It looked like it had been the hilt of some poor former miner's pickaxe.

"You need stick for fire? Keep warm?" Koplok asked.

Guy nodded. "Make torch. Good fire, see."

And with that Guy once again summoned the small spurt of flame and let it catch the small bit of wood on fire. The beavers flinched simultaneously for a moment but stopped when they realized that Guy was in complete control of the fire, and that it would not be used against them.

The warmth was just enough to keep Guy moving. He used the torch to dry off his boots before slipping them back on. It wouldn't last long for certain, but hopefully it would get him far enough into the cavern to find his friends.

"Guy take," Amik said, handing a small metal talisman to Guy. "Sign of friend."

Guy glanced down at the frozen bit of metal. It was silver and light blue and seemed to be as cold as an ice cube, though perhaps this was from the surroundings. A strange whistling of wind seemed to emanate from it as Guy held onto it. Upon closer inspection the design was apparent. The blue represented a field of stars, and the silvery crescent along the left side was the moon.

"Guy keep. Friend of Beaver," Guy replied, offering a nod of respect to the Alpha.

"Travel safe, stay warm, friend of Beaver," Amik said.

And with that, Koplok, Gutuk and Guy made their way into the next series of tunnels.

Koplok took the lead, staying several paces ahead to warn them of impending danger. This cave was home to many creatures seeking shelter from the perpetual blizzard outside, and many of them were not as friendly as the beavers.

Guy hadn't thought to ask this before, having been too excited by news of his friends' whereabouts. But as they made their way down the dark, monster-filled cavern it seemed more pressing.

"What big turtle?" Guy asked.

Gutuk hissed involuntarily, an instinctive reaction to something which had obviously caused the beavers a great deal of strife.

"Very big turtle," Gutuk explained unhelpfully.

Koplok had been sniffing down one of two paths at a small fork and decided to offer a bit more insight. "Turtle big as two Guy. Mean turtle. Gorge on water. Eat rocks. Break beaver home like bad man."

"Big turtle even eat beaver," Gutuk added.

"Turtle eat beaver?" Guy asked, realizing that this monstrous thing was certainly no mere "turtle". Turtles couldn't exist in these frigid regions anyway, with their cold-blood. But something as big as they were describing, who ate beavers – and apparently rocks – seemed like something Guy had only come across once before in his life.

"Adamantoise," Guy said to himself.

Gutuk had caught Guy's words and let out another hiss. "That what big bad man call big turtle!"

That confirmed it. The Adamantoise. Closer to a dragon than a turtle, in reality. It was a massive reptile with a shell that covered most of its body, made from the hardest material known to man: Adamantite. When Guy had been living in the southern reaches of Kashuan, the chocobo herd that had adopted him had migrated into the mountains in search of food. The mountains of Kashuan were fruitful places, where a favorite treat of the chocobos, Kashuan Greens, were known to grow. Not as popular, perhaps, as the ubiquitous Gysahl Green, but good enough in a pinch.

They'd spent three weeks there, near a small mountain lake with ample shade and plenty of greens to go around. Guy was even able to catch a few fish for himself. He didn't have much of a taste for greens, even being raised by chocobos as he was. The spot had become an ideal nest, and with the mating season well underway, a small grove nearby had become a nest. Within perhaps a month a new brood of Chocobos would be born. Guy would have so many new friends to play with.

It was during the fourth week when the lake was invaded by an Adamantoise who had made its way down from the peak of the mountain. At the time it was perhaps as tall as three of Guy, but then he'd been much smaller. The chocobos battled bravely, protecting their young and their mothers. But the toughest of chocobo beaks didn't put a dent in the strong stone-like armor. The fiercest chocobo claw was shattered in the attempt to pierce it.

Chocobos are a brave sort and will fight to the last when they are protecting something. But in the end, it was to no avail. Guy had managed to grab hold of one of the fleeing younger chocobos as it ran, panicked at the marauding lizard. The last thing that Guy had seen from that horrible night was the crushing of chocobo eggs, the screeching of his murdered family.

That was the way things were. There was always something bigger to take away what the small had. And that was why Guy had always trained to be as big and strong as he could. If he could help it, he would never lose another friend. Not if he could stop it.

"Stop!" Koplok hissed, bringing Guy's memory to an abrupt end.

Guy sensed it too. Movement. And it certainly wasn't Maria or Firion.

They had made their way through the dark and narrow tunnels to a small round chamber. The path they were on was on a higher level to the rest of the chamber, but it sloped down creating a natural ramp. There was a northern exit, opposite to them, from which Guy could see a bright light, which Gutuk immediately recognized.

"Fire!" Gutuk hissed. "Bad man here?"

"Maybe Guy friend," Guy said. "They make good fire."

"Big beast below," Koplok said, even lifting his paw in an attempt to silence their chatter.

The two looked over the edge of their path to the center of the chamber. It was the lowest point in the room and seemed to act as a natural bed for something quite unpleasant. There was small pool of water, and an unfortunate number of recently picked at corpses. And in the center of this lot was a large primate with purplish grey fur, tinged slightly crimson from its recent meal. The sasquatches who lived deep within this region were given a name that sounded far more pleasant than was appropriate for such a vicious thing: Snowman.

"Maybe we sneak by?" Gutuk asked.

"Beaver sneak by. Guy no sneak by," Koplok replied sensibly.

It was true enough. As soon as they were on the same level there would be no missing the massive human. Guy didn't have his axe with him, he'd likely lost it in the fall. It was probably still at the bottom of that lake now that he thought about it, but it was far too late to consider turning back.

"Guy fight big ape?" Koplok asked.

Guy was strong to be certain. He could throw a punch with the best of them. But he didn't like his odds against a creature that seemed to be ninety percent muscle, especially when Guy was half-dead and completely starved. His friends were so close. He had to take a chance.

"Guy use fire at ape. Scare big ape. You go back to beaver home." Guy said.

Koplok didn't seem to want to move. Gutuk, on the other hand, was very excited at the prospect of returning to safety.

"You need help," Koplok said.

"Guy fight. Guy no lose beaver friend to ape," Guy said. "Go back home."

Koplok gave one last huff of hesitation, before joining Gutuk on his way back. Koplok reached the mouth of the tunnel, turned back once and then was gone.

Guy saw the Snowman, picking at one of the bones nearby idly. It was clearly waiting for its next meal to wander carelessly into its home. The ledge Guy stood on was at the southern end. Guy's friends were at the north. And in between the two was a massive muscled beast ready to pounce. He would only get one shot at this.

He brought the fire to his hands once more. The sudden spark of additional light caught the notice of the beast. It looked up to find the source and let out an ear-splitting roar of anger at the manmade creation which all animals feared.

Guy hurled the ball of flame at the beast. It dodged to the left in a panicked scamper, exactly as Guy had planned. He dropped the torch, in a fluid movement, the stick smacking against the Ape's head before the lit end caught his fur. The flame caught on some of the bloody remains of fur, burning away as the ape howled in pain. The Snowman would soon put the small fire out, but by then, Guy would be with his friends. He leapt over the edge of his perch and sprinted towards the light at the northern end of the cave.

The Snowman let out a howl of fury and charged after Guy, even partially ablaze. The ape was strong, but Guy was faster, his feet moving with the speed he'd developed running with the chocobos in his youth.

He made it into the tunnel, and the light grew brighter, even as the tunnel itself grew narrow. Guy charged with the sound of the apes horrible beating drawing in closer with every step. It let out another terrible shriek as its claws swiped at Guy's back, ripping the back of his blue tunic.

Guy heard something in the ape's mindless shrieking. He heard the will of the monster well enough. The hunger and the fury that his prey might escape his grasp.

"Eat… tear… flesh… fire… eat!"

The ape went in for another swipe as Guy cleared the narrow tunnel, falling forward into a large open room full of light. There was the gasp that clearly came from a human female. A bit of man words which he couldn't understand at the moment in his bestial panic.

He collapsed on the ground as a man draped in a white cloak and colorful bandana lifted his sword against the ape. Firion's strike was true, his blade piercing the ape's heart. Maria stroked Guy's head as he turned to look up at his friends.

"Guy!" She said. Guy hadn't quite remembered the language of man. But he knew his own name. Words weren't necessary when intent was clear.

As Firion kicked the ape's body off of his blade , he turned to Guy and began chattering animatedly. Guy couldn't understand a word of it, but the excitement and relief was clear. The olive-green robe of Josef appeared in Guy's periphery. His words were calmer, and more precise. Guy could almost make them out. Essentially the message was, "let him breathe."

Josef reached into their pack and found a spare robe, a small brown traveling cloak , and wrapped it around Guy. Guy wasn't ready for sleep yet, but he certainly appreciated the warmth. He steadied his breathing, took a moment to clear his thoughts.

And then, just like the first time the remains of his chocobo flock had stumbled their way wearily to the kingdom of Fynn, his plea now was the same.

"Food," he muttered in the language of man.

Josef was ever the prepared adventurer, having cooked up some hearty stew with pork and spicy Salamand Root. Even the broth was delicious, and the warm liquid within helped Guy recover from his ordeal.

His human sensibilities were returning, and conversation was now possible. Guy started with the first question that came to his mind.

"What happened?"

"The Empire's been blasting in here, hoping to find the Goddess Bell," Josef explained. "Their mining operations created a shockwave which tore the chamber we were in apart. You fell into a sinkhole. I did too, but fortunately mine just led to a smaller chamber directly below us. You, obviously, fell quite a way."

The "big bad man" was obviously from the Empire. Part of the beaver's tale was beginning to make sense now. The tyrant Emperor had sought to bring the entire world under his control for years now. It was the constant panicked whispering Guy would hear late at night when the butcher spoke to his wife.

"The Empire is coming for us next," he would say.

And every year the butcher's wife would console him with the same words. "Fynn is strong. Fynn will endure."

That had been true for six years. And then, one day, it wasn't. One day, Fynn wasn't strong enough to stop the Empire. One day Fynn did not endure. And so, with their blazing kingdom behind them they'd run: Firion, Maria, Guy and their friend Leon. They'd fled through the woods until they'd were run down by Imperial riders. Had it not been for the intervention of the rebellion, they'd have surely been killed. And as far as they knew, one of them still was. There had been no sign of Leon anywhere. Guy hadn't been strong enough then either. Not strong enough to save Leon.

Guy remembered something the beavers had told him. The crucial next step of their journey.

"Adamantoise," Guy said.

"What's that?" Josef asked, kneeling down.

"Adamantoise in next chamber. It guard the shiny… er it guard the Bell," Guy explained.

"How did you find out about that?" Firion asked, brushing his silver hair out of his eyes as he gave a cautious glance towards the next tunnel.

"Beavers told me," Guy explained.

The group all gave him a queer look, particularly Josef who wasn't familiar with Guy's upbringing. He rubbed his bald head and tried to make sense of this latest revelation. "Uh, the beavers?"

Maria came to Guy's defense. "Guy was raised in the wild. Chocobos and the like. He can speak to animals. I think we should listen to him."

There was a sudden rush of wind from another nearby explosion. The shockwave caused Maria's long violet hair to whip around wildly. The group steadied themselves but didn't seem to have any other reaction. Apparently, the Empire had grown more desperate in Guy's absence.

"Can we tackle something that big?" Firion asked. "Aren't those monsters supposed to be pretty much invulnerable."

"Interestingly enough they have a slight weakness to frost magic," Josef explained. "It's the primary reason I doubted Guy's story. What would one be doing in a cavern made of ice?"

Maria snapped her fingers and brought a small wind current to palm, small crystals of ice swirling around it. "If it's weakness is Ice, I can handle it."

"You have some natural talent to be sure, Maria, but it will take something far greater than that to undo this one. Again, consider where it lives and what it is guarding. It will take something far mightier to bring it down," Josef said.

Josef liked words. It made Guy's head hurt.

Firion raised his blade defiantly. "We'll take it down one way or the other. We have to get the Goddess Bell before the Empire does."

Guy may have been strong, but Firion was always the bravest. He had not seen as much of the dangers of the wild as Guy had growing up, but he'd seen his fair share of death. Where Firion found his inner strength, Guy wasn't sure, but it was times like this when all things seemed hopeless that he was welcomed it.

"We go. Guy keep safe," Guy said, lifting himself up off the ground.

"Your axe is gone," Maria pointed out. "Maybe you should stay in back and let us handle it."

"Guy have fists," Guy insisted, channeling some of Firion's reflected bravery. "Guy fight with friends."

Josef nodded approvingly. "I think the matter is settled."

The journey into the final chamber was unnervingly silent. The blasting from the empire seemed to have stopped and the tunnel was free of any incidental vermin or cave beasts. Nothing with any sentience wanted anything to do with the Adamantoise. Except them.

Josef, who had taken the lead, let out a small awed gasp of wonder at the chamber before letting those behind him take it in for themselves. A massive golden fresco with a carving of an ancient Goddess of Kashuan mythology stood before them, atop a large set of ornate gilded stairs. Pillars depicting times long past kept the structure safe from the constant quaking of the cavern, and the enormous Adamantoise lay in the middle of the room, fast asleep.

"Ah, I see. The Kashuan king decided to make an Adamantoise guard the Bell. Of course. They're the most ferocious thing in the region, and would make a suitable guard," Josef explained. "But this one must be ancient."

"Think we can sneak by it?" Firion asked, pointing at the small pedestal at the base of the fresco.

A beautiful silver bell rested atop it, untouched by the years. The beautiful shimmer of the metal reflected every mote of light back in a radiance that seemed to make the chamber shimmer with an ethereal glow.

"Somehow I doubt that, Firion," Josef replied, stretching out his hand warningly.

The creature stirred, reacting to the new presence. Guy recognized the features of the thing at once. While of course this was no mere wild Adamantoise like the one that had killed his chocobo family, the menacing traits were readily apparent.

"Guy fight. Lure away. Friends get bell," Guy said.

"Guy, I don't think-"

But Josef was too late. Guy's heart beat with a sudden rush of fury. If they all stayed here, they would all be killed. All of them. And Guy's family would be gone once more. Not here. Not now. Guy would fight.

He delivered a ferocious right hook to the creature's jaw, causing it wake fully and let out a shriek and snapping in Guy's direction. It was large, certainly, twice as tall as Guy and thrice as long. Every inch of it apart from its head and fins were covered in that rocky Adamantite armor. It swiped with one of it's foreclaws, cutting Guy deeply on his arm, but missing the bulk of him.

Maria sent a blast of Ice its way, but as Josef had predicted the ancient creature barely noticed it. Firion, stabbed at the stony back of the creature but his sword's strike did little more than make a loud clanging sound. Josef swung his own blade, aiming for the creature's flippers, but it let out a great sin, swiping at the three of them with his tail and knocking them off the platform.

It was now Guy and the Adamantoise as the three scrambled around to the stairs once more. He launched a fire ball, but the creature was unimpressed, absorbing the pitiful flame and paying Guy back for it with a snap that barely missed his unblemished arm.

Blood was draining from Guy fast, and he was using up his limited reserves of strength as he grappled with the horror from his past. He jumped onto the back of the monster and with his bulk he did manage to pin its front half down for a moment. Guy wrapped his muscular arms around the guardian's neck, hoping to throttle it. The Adamantoise bellowed and spun but Guy held onto him. This foolhardy plan seemed like it might actually work, until the Adamantoise charged into a nearby pillar, bringing it down on Guy and the creature alike.

Guy's strength failed him as he fell over on the platform, trying to recover from the concussive blow the falling stonework had given him. It was a small mercy that the Adamantoise seemed temporarily dazed as well, but it was coming to and fast.

Guy's hand slipped into his tunic pocket and held fast onto the talisman that Amik had given him. The Adamantoise turned to his friends who were now rushing up the stairs to his aid. A poorly timed blast from the Imperial mining operation shook the foundation some more and left the three of them open and stunned in the middle of the stairs. The beast saw its opportunity and began to lunge towards them. The talisman Guy held onto fiercely was so cold. Frigid, in fact. Having been in his pocket, near fire and under the warm clothes Josef had given him the Talisman was still like a block of ice in his hands. Instinct took over and with a mighty hurl he flung the talisman at the Adamantoise as it charged at Maria.

There was a loud snap, a rushing of violent Antarctic wind and then silence.

Guy lifted his head up to see his friends safe and sound and standing in the shadow the Adamantoise which had been frozen solid. The talisman lay shattered at the bottom of the stairs.

"What was that?" Maria asked.

"Gift from beaver," Guy explained, wrapping his bleeding arm in his robes.

Maria rushed over to him and began to run her hands over his wound, the healing light of her curative magic knitting the wound back together.

"It would seem that the Kashuan knew that if they ever needed to retrieve the bell, they'd better hide a key of sorts," Josef commented. "It's a good thing your beaver friends were so accommodating."

As Josef lifted the Goddess Bell from the pedestal, the fresco shifted. The walls upon which it had been painted lowered, revealing a passage behind them.

"And a hidden exit," Firion added. "Can't ask for more than that."

"Are you okay, Guy?" Maria asked, patting his back.

"Guy fine," Guy replied simply. "Guy just hope beaver safe now."

The secret passage led to a small, neatly carved tunnel with a curved path which lead to a small ledge overlooking the first chamber of the cavern. Guy remembered this place from when they'd entered a day or so ago. The long ornate set of stairs carved into the rock leading down to the mouth of the cave. There were, however, many more side passages than there had been.

"The Empire's mining operation has torn this place apart. We need to hurry," Josef said, dropping down from the ledge the twenty or so feet to the main chamber. Guy, Maria and Firion followed after.

As they approached the stairs, they heard a high-pitched and nasally voice from behind them.

"You!"

They turned to see the squat figure of Count Borghen, the traitor of Kashuan. Once a Count in service to the nobility of those of Kashuan Keep, lured in by the Empire of Palamecia's promises of wealth. He was short, with a red-face which matched his rose red shirt and tricorn hat. A black cloak was wrapped tightly around him as he approached the group.

"Where are your soldiers, Borghen?"

"Eaten by monsters, crushed by avalanches and those who remain have burrowed so deep into the earth they'll never find their way out," he growled. "And I see you have the Goddess Bell. Mean to take it back to your friends in the rebellion? You wish to further ruin me, and I won't have it!"

He raised his blade, but the Count was never a fighter. Far too cowardly to ever fight for himself. He'd only ever lifted his blade against a peasant who could not defend themselves. Never before against four experienced and battle-hardened fighters.

Borghen cast his blade aside at once, realizing that the fight was hopeless.

"I don't care anymore. I know that I've lost. But I have a special surprise for you," he said. "If I am going to die, I am going to take all of you with me!"

His other hand came forward from out of his robe, and in it he held the switch to a crude blasting device. His intent became apparent immediately.

"I was instructed by our good Emperor that if I failed then I was to make sure that nobody could claim the Bell. But at least it means I'll be able to kill you all too. I'll see you in hell."

Borghen triggered the device and the walls erupted from the simultaneous detonation of dozens of explosive devices.

"Stairs, now!" Josef cried.

They ran down the long set of stairs to the base of the cavern entrance, but one final gift from Borghen came behind them. A massive round boulder began to roll down behind them. Josef turned and summoning all of his strength he held the boulder in place for a moment.

"Get… back to the rebels…" Josef said as his strength began to fade.

"Josef, no!" Maria cried.

"Are you mad?!" Firion called.

"You coming with us!" Guy shouted. "We want you come!"

"This thing will crush us all. Go!" Josef yelled, as he feet began to slide on the rock. He struggled for a moment. "Nelly… I'm always with you."

They had no choice. They rushed to the bottom and out of the cave. Within seconds of their safe exit came the sound the boulder crushing its way to the bottom, hitting the back of the cave with a sickening crack. The rest of the cavern mouth soon collapsed, forever trapping their friend within.

Firion had set up a tent on the snowcraft. The wooden raft couldn't support a fire, for obvious reasons, but there were magicked stones for warmth and cooking which the three of them huddled around as the unforgiving arctic wind whipped the flaps of their tent around wildly.

Once again, Guy hadn't been strong enough. Once again, in spite of everything he'd done, he'd lost his friends. He didn't even have the stomach to swallow the cooked meat that Firion handed to him. He just held it in his hand, thinking.

Guy hadn't ever been much of a thinker. He always let the others handle that. But now he couldn't stop thinking.

He looked back to the collapsed ruins of the Snow Cavern, and something caught his attention. At first it looked like a large fuzzy worm moving through the snow. But on closer inspection he caught sight of Amik, with Gutuk and Koplok in tow behind him, along with the entire colony of beavers.

Amik stood on his hindlegs again and gave him a mournful chitter. The beavers would have to find a new home. The Empire had taken that away too.

"We stop Empire," Guy said determinedly. "We make pay for Leon. Me make pay for Kashuan. We make pay for Fynn." He swallowed hard. "We make pay for Josef."

Maria patted Guy's shoulder before closing the tent flap, leaving only the sound of the frost-bitten wind, and the exodus of the beavers.