The Silver Tower Chronicles Adventures in other worlds, other times, and other realities

8Jan/14Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0080

Ranum shook his head at the reports of what happened at the southern front. He had expected the dragon to fall, but the defeat that was handed to the goblinoids was just humiliating. A great many of the goblinoids now looked to Ranum for guidance. The wise elderly goblin had correctly predicted how the war would end. His actions to hold back as much of the army as possible had saved a healthy portion of the goblinoid forces from a terrible death.

If all the forces had gathered, perhaps they could have badly hurt the human forces, but the end result would have been the same. Even then, by the end of it all, the goblinoids would have been hurt far worse than the humans. With Ranum's actions, the goblinoids had taken a terrible blow, but within a few years they would be able to recover fully. With the aid of a few artifacts, they would have a mighty army. It would be one that the humans would not expect.

After the defeat the goblinoids had been handed, the humans would expect that the goblinoids would not be seen again anytime soon. The surprise of a new war soon after the last would catch the humans off guard. The display of power from ancient artifacts would further confuse the humans. Ranum expected to win easily at first thanks to surprise and an unusual direction of attack. Then the goblinoids would consolidate in their new home, a place that was not a foul mire. They would have fresh air, good food, and be safer from strange predators.

Ranum had a vision of a goblinoid utopia. It would not be easy. The elderly wizard did not expect he would live to see it to fruition. He did know that in the end, the humans would have to be completely destroyed. In Ranum's eyes, the xenophobia and greed of the humans meant that they would never accept any other race as equals. They had proven poor rulers of the world, slaughtering all that were not like them. Certainly the goblinoids had made slaves of the humans, but they had not capriciously slaughtered them like vermin.

The wizard touched the scars on his body. They were scars that the humans had given him. Many of his family and friends had been slaughtered for doing nothing more than existing. Ranum knew he might not live to see much of it, but he was certain that he would live to see the beginning of his revenge. The humans would pay for driving the goblinoids into the marshes. They would pay for thinking of them as unworthy of life. Most importantly, they would pay for hurting him.

***

The scaled foot hit the ground with a loud thud. Several of the lizardfolk warriors quickly reacted, coming with weapons ready at the arrival of a stranger. However, all of them backed off. The visitor was one of the Naxaeless, though not one of their tribe. Normally that would not stop hostilities, but this was a female. They were the leaders of the race and no male warrior would dare raise their weapons toward one. It was a death sentence to attempt to fight a female.

They were larger, stronger, faster, and smarter. This female was odd in many ways. She was not wearing the armor and arms of a warrior. That did not lessen her imposing presence in any way. She looked at the male warriors around her and growled. The smaller Naxaeless backed off quickly. The males did not know what to do. They had an intruder but could not dare attack. The female sighed, wishing that the tribe she had entered had smarter members.

“Where is your female?” the intruder growled in the Draconic language.

The language was the tongue of the dragons. Many of the Naxaeless had worshiped the ancient creatures despite the fact that none had been seen active since centuries before their civilization had even begun. The language had spread and was used by all the Naxaeless, even the ones that did not worship the dragons. The fact that an egg had been stolen, hatched, and slain by humans gave more fuel in a fight of whether worship was right or not.

It was proof of the existence of dragons, but also proof of mortality. If your deity was so weak as to be slain so easily by mortals, was it truly worthy or worship? Questions on faith had erupted. The dragon worshipers had long been a dominant force among the Naxaeless, but now other voices had begun to speak and be heard. The ill advised war against the humans and their allies had severely reduced the numbers of the lizardfolk. Many had begun calls for another way.

The female of the tribe finally came to see what the ruckus was, “What is going on here?”

The intruder spoke, “I am called Slass. I have come to speak of the war.”

The tribe leader looked at Slass. Slass was an impressive specimen of the Naxaeless, standing just an inch under seven feet tall. This would be a powerful warrior to add to the war. The tribe leader hoped it was another come to slake their blood lust, although she worried that this Slass was here to challenge for leadership of the tribe. The tribe leader was an experienced warrior, but she was not sure if she was an equal to this new female. Slass nearly radiated power.

“The Naxaeless have come to a crossroads. Some wish for war, some wish for peace and an end to fighting. For many generations, we have hunted and fought, ignoring those who wished for peace. Now our numbers grow thin. In order to survive, we must adapt.”

The tribe leader sneered, “We will not end our fight. We will slay those who dared to steal and egg and slay a child of the great dragon.”

Slass did not react to the tone and sneer of the tribe leader, “Then you will continue to fight. What we propose is simple. An alliance of all the remaining tribes in a great project. To your war we will send all our children with a lust for violence. Those among your tribe that have no thirst for blood will come to our new tribe of peace. It will provide you with warriors. For the rest, it will provide a growing tribe that will live on despite how the war may turn.”

“While having more warriors is nice, what of the other tribes?”

“Some wish for peace, some for war. I can put you in contact with the other warrior tribes. You can coordinate or not, whatever you wish. I merely wish to preserve our species. Those without a love of combat are of little use to you. Those who wish to kill are of little use to peace. It seems to work to both our benefits.”

“While I would prefer all the warriors I can get, regardless of skill, I can see your point. If revenge ends my tribe, then it would be good for us to continue regardless.”

“Then we have an agreement?”

“I see no reason good enough not to. Let us go to my tent. We can work out any details away from the sniveling masses.”

The tribal leader's disregard for her people made Slass sad. It was one reason why she hoped she could save a few of those with the temperament needed to live in peace and harmony with the world around them. The number who favored peace had always been large, but their voice had been lost beneath the savagery of a few. The most vicious females had dominated many tribes and brought them under their leadership. Slass could not claim to be an exception, her hands were covered with the blood of the innocent.

Now she had the chance to make amends for her past sins. She would lead a great tribe of the Naxaeless. It would be a tribe dedicated to nature. They would revere the world around them and all the life within. Such a thing might have horrified Slass' mother, but her mother's proudest day had been when she was murdered by her own daughter. That death had put the tribe in Slass' scaly hands. It was not the last of her own kind that Slass had murdered. Yet now she would murder no more. Now she would only make new life and nurture it.

***

The thump of wood and metal hit the stone floor, followed by the thud of a heavy boot. These oddly paired sounds continued until the one making them paused at their throne. The wood and metal thump came from the prosthetic leg that the creature wore. It sat in the mighty throne. The throne was carved from obsidian and fitted with precious jewels. The finest gold and silver were used as trim and in designs on the surface. It was a work of art that was beyond the skill of any human hand.

Another creature came and spoke in the tongue of the Halz, “Welcome to the throne, oh great king of the Halz. The times have been rough and we have been in need of guidance. Once your father took sick, we worried since you had not returned from your travels.”

The one legged Halz on the throne nodded, “I am sorry that I left. I learned much upon the surface, but none of it good.”

“Yes, they should pay for the loss of your leg, my liege.”

“No, that wound is a reminder of a great battle with noble allies. They were proof that nobility exists outside of our people, but not in the humans. I would not dishonor them to forget their sacrifice in that final battle.”

“What happened up there?”

“We fought a monster out of the myths and legends of old. It would have made an epic tale of heroism like any old tale of our great heroes. The ending was one of betrayal and murder, however. The monster had slain one of us and wounded me. The third of our team stood victorious. We had given her the opening she needed to give the monster a final blow.”

The king sighed, “But victory was short-lived. The humans came to the field of victory. They killed the victor in cold blood. None would stand up for her. If the Nuvroci had not stood up for me, I am sure I would have been slain as well. Even they would not stand up for the mighty Eurysa. It showed that even their supposed nobility is only a self serving deference to our kind for all that we have done and still may do for them.”

“As you say my lord.”

“Even the one human I thought might prove the humans had some shred of dignity proved only to have a use for nobility as long as it served his purpose. It led to the death of another warrior. We will remember the deaths of Aldebaran, Eurysa, and Kava even though the world above will never even know they existed. I once thought as many of the Earthbreakers did. I thought we might find allies above ground. I thought we might find answers to our problems that we were too short-sighted to see. Now I see that we are alone. What few allies we might find will only be slain by the humans. Some day they will come for us when they have run out of room above the ground.”

“My liege, should we prepare for war?”

“War is coming. That much is certain. We must ready ourselves. It may not be for many years, but we are patient. The humans may forget many things, but when they come for us, we will make sure they never forget the Halz. Fire up the forges. Train the warriors. Send word to the other surviving clans. Tell them that King Ritter Platinum has seen that war is coming. We will make a stand like none on Doulairen have seen before, and we will be remembered. We may die, but we will be immortal.”

The End

1Jan/14Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0079

Gharaf Targata was a very happy man. Two members of Enzi's Irregulars were definitely slain. That helped his mood a little. What made his ecstatic was the dragon. The commander in charge of the drake corpse was a member of Unity. There were sure to be many valuable things to come out of such a dragon. The hide and bones were known to be of great strength. While it no longer had any supernatural power, it was still an impressive set of materials.

Gharaf wondered how many fantastic sets of armor and powerful weapons they could make out of the dragon. Several of the other parts would easily sell for top coin on the black market as delicacies. Certainly a lot of alchemists would love to get their hands on some dragon parts to test new elixirs. All Gharaf could think of was the sheer amount of money he would have access to after dicing up the dragon parts to the highest bidder. Obviously Unity would have a share, mostly by taking the bones and the hide, but Gharaf had plans for the rest.

He would become the most powerful merchant outside the Rava Coast Trading Company. Unity had some connections inside that powerful company, but having other options never hurt, as long as the competition did not turn violent against Unity's establishment. If bad things happened to the Rava Coast Trading Company, that was fine as long as it did not come back to bite Unity. Just being a powerful merchant outside the consortium the Ravaleians had formed would make him a target, but he planned to remain strictly black market as much as possible.

As far as Enzi's Irregulars went, the dwarf had been badly wounded and the Nuvroci had drug him off. His sources told him that his left leg had been 'degloved'. Gharaf did not know what that meant, but it from what his sources had said, the dwarf would not be returning to battle anytime soon, if ever. It had taken powerful magical healing just to save his life. The vodyanoi, lycanthrope, and Enzi himself were still a potential problem, but he was hoping for word on that situation soon.

A face had poked into Gharaf's tent to speak, “A man has arrived from the Disputed Lands with a message from Center Point.”

“Excellent, I have been expecting news,” Gharaf said.

A Kurrot stepped inside and handed a sealed message tube to Gharaf. The messengers of Kurrot were amazing. They had trained for long distance endurance, and could run for miles upon miles without tiring. They made excellent messengers, as their stamina was far beyond even the greatest steeds of Agon. A horse might be faster in small bursts, but nothing ran for long distances like the messengers of Kurrot. Gharaf tore open the tube and yanked out the note inside.

He smiled as he read the message it contained. It seemed that the vodyanoi had indeed been slain. Naphar had gotten some information on that, but Gharaf loved to see confirmation. The lycanthrope Mayitso, however, had disappeared after leading the other lycanthropes into a conflict with the troglodytes of the marsh. Enzi had also disappeared, there was no news of what had happened to either of them. That worried Gharaf, but it sounded like the group had fallen apart. Enzi's Irregulars was no more.

***

The lizardfolk had turned back. Their forces had been badly hurt. They would not dare an attack again. The lycanthropes had decimated the troglodytes. Devis Lane smiled. Plenty of time had passed, he was sure that Mayitso leaving now would be of no consequence. As expected, the alpha of the lycanthropes came to see the man that had disguised himself as Enzi Cala, a man who had died many months before. The Rakshasa no longer had any need or use for charm.

“Ah, Mayitso. Good job. The troglodytes will not be a danger to the innocent humans of Feergrus any longer. You should hurry to deal with the dragon now.”

“What of you?” the lycanthrope asked after he shifted to his pale human form.

“What of me? Everything that is important is taken care of. The affairs of Agon do not concern me. I have bigger concerns here at home. I wish you good luck in slaying the dragon, if it has not already been slain by the army. I would rather it not reach this far.”

Mayitso snorted, disappointed in Devis' obvious indifference. The lycanthrope shifted to his wolf form and ran. He ran as long and hard as he could. He did this for days on end, hoping to find Eurysa. When he finally reached the southern front, he crept around and listened. He was able to learn that the dragon had been slain, though little else. He did not understand enough languages to learn more. However, he was able to pick up on the smell of a former ally. Ritter the Halz was convalescing nearby.

The lycanthrope transformed to his human form and crept over to speak to the dwarf, “Ritter.”

“What? Who?”

“It is Mayitso. I search for the others.”

“Late. Too late. Dragon dead. It killed Aldebaran.”

“Eurysa?”

“No. A human got her. One in white robes. Where is Enzi?”

“Enzi will not come. He does not care about anything except his Feergrus now. He has abandoned us. He kept me from being here. Now so many are dead. I should have seen through him earlier.”

“No,” Ritter coughed, “It was nothing of your doing. It is the humans. They... They are broken. I had thought Enzi to have honor, but even he has shown his true colors in the end.”

“I must go,” Mayitso said, his eyes filled with rage, “There is something I must do.”

***

Naphar Bura laughed heartily. The ale helped with that. The head of a gorgon was the centerpiece of the tavern at the moment. Tales of the death of the dragon and the slaying of a supposedly mythical creature that could turn men to stone with her gaze had given the Cleanser a great many free drinks. He had picked out a nice town on the border of Agon and the Disputed Lands to celebrate in until they got tired of him. Then he would move on.

Free drinks and meals suited Naphar Bura. He had rid the world of a dangerous menace. The Cleanser from Kurrot had decided to ride on his success as long as he could then he would return to Kurrot with his trophy. It would sit in a place of honor in the secret halls of the Cleansers. His name would go down in history as one of the greatest monster slayers of all time. He just wished that he had been able to get the minotaur as well. It would have been easier to string alone the local townspeople.

A loud crash was not enough to awaken most people from their drunken stupor. Naphar looked in the direction of the noise and saw a huge wolf. The huge beast seemed to be staring at the severed head of the gorgon. The creature turned its one rage filled eye towards the Kurrot wearing the white robes. The patrons near the instance were beginning to realize something was off. Even through their drunkenness, something about a feral animal breaking in could bring back awareness.

They grabbed whatever they could and took swings at the massive wolf. The weapons bounced harmlessly off the side of the scarred beast. Something had taken the creature's left eye and left a terrible jagged scar. Naphar knew instantly what he was dealing with. Luckily he had been showing off his collection of exotic weapons to the locals. Naphar grabbed his silver dagger. The giant wolf leapt at Naphar, focusing only at the Cleanser. The silver dagger sank cleanly through the supernaturally enhanced hide of the lycanthrope.

Mayitso's jaws clamped down on the throat of the Kurrot. He did not care about the pain of a dagger being repeatedly thrust into his side. He only cared about the death of the one who killed Eurysa. The two warriors sank to the floor, their blood pooling beneath them. Neither would leave the tavern alive that night. The townsfolk started screaming and beating on the corpse of the lycanthrope. Finally they separated the two. Then they began to debate what to do with their new-found treasures.

The corpses of a hero and a lycanthrope, the severed head of a gorgon, and a collection of exotic weapons from the slain hero now sat up for grabs. The town decided to put the lycanthrope and the severed head on public display. They would make an interesting tourist attraction. The head had already been taken care of with taxidermy, but the wolf would need to be taken care of soon. For the moment, they displayed what they had. The town leader took the weapons, storing them until the townspeople decided what to do with them.

The town was buzzing with turning the fight into a holiday. Many lost perspective that two creatures had lost their lives. Many had quickly seen this as a way to change from being just another poor town full of equally poor people into a thriving community. The thought of prosperity turned many a mind to greed with little regard to the life of an outsider and a monster. The work on the proud display continued through the next day. That night, however, turned in a different direction.

The night was dark and the two moons shed little light on the land below. Numerous dark shapes surrounded the small town. They could see the disgusting display. They had watched the people and their activities during the day. Then one of the shapes raised its maw towards the sky and howled. One after another, the chilling howls filled the night. It was enough to awaken the townsfolk. They milled about, wondering what was going on. The town leader scrambled to get the silver dagger out of storage.

Then the shapes moved. Dozens upon dozens of lupine forms rushed across the plains and swarmed into the town from all directions. The night was soon filled with a different kind of howl, the screams of death. After two hours, a solemn procession left the town, carrying the slain body of Mayitso and the severed head of Eurysa. When morning came to the town, all that could be found within was gruesome. Gore covered the streets and the walls. Not a single living human remained.

The town had become a ghost town, a monument to revenge. The lycanthrope pack returned to their homelands to bury their great alpha and the one he loved. Unfortunately, their peace did not last. They found themselves embroiled in a long term conflict with the lizardfolk. It seemed that Devis Lane had been busy, planting evidence that acquitted the Feergrus of any crimes, and placing the blame on the pale races. While technically true that it was a pale race that took the egg, the troglodytes saw little difference between the Tarvoni, the Shimese, or the lycanthropes.

While it was certain that news of the death of the dragon would come to the lizardfolk soon enough, it was uncertain what effect that would have upon them. Certainly not all of the troglodytes worshiped the dragons, but it was impossible to see if peace would ever come. If Devis Lane had his way, peace would only come with the death of all those who had not become part of Feergrus. The Rakshasa had now set in motion another conflict where his potential opposition fought each other.

The lycanthropes had no idea that the shapechanger had caused the current shift in the lizardfolk's priorities. They merely had to deal with the backlash. The troglodytes had been hurt bad enough that there was no open war, but the sneak attacks on the lycanthropes had caused several problems. It only fueled the anger of the mighty wolves, who then caused problems for the lizardfolk. The cycle of violence continued as each side felt justified in vengeance for what had been done to them.

25Dec/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0078

Eurysa spotted the dragon first, “Heads up, everyone, incoming! Get into your lines!”

The archers lined up and prepared their Halzium tipped arrows. As the dragon dove through the sky, Eurysa suddenly felt breathless. The thing was enormous. The egg that had hatched it had been far larger than a human, but this young drake dwarfed the gorgon's imagination. The thing was nearly sixty feet long with a massive wingspan. It had scales that glimmered in the light of the day. They were mostly mottled green, some of them dark enough to look black.

The creature had narrowed its eyes, it had obviously seen the archers below. It still was swooping down on their position. Eurysa wondered if that meant the creature was overconfident. She hoped for the sake of all the soldiers that the creature was vulnerable. The archers held their arrows until the drake came closer. Finally they unleashed their volley. Eurysa's only arrows joined the others. Many of the arrows scraped across the scales. They were not direct hits.

The scales of the beast was designed to turn blows away, like any good armor. The true test was hitting an area where it could not deflect the blow. A direct hit like that would tell the tale of the battle's possibility of victory. There were several direct hits, including Eurysa's shot. However, all of them were stopped cold, and rebounded off the impenetrable scales. Even the Halzium tips could not shear through the dragon's scaly hide. Then came the retaliation.

The dragon seemed to spew out some foul liquid across part of the front line. The vile fluid instantly began to melt anything it touched. The screams of those hit by the acid breath were full of both fear and pain. The drake swooped past the survivors and began to lift back up into the air. Eurysa followed the dragon with her eyes. Her sharp vision scanned all that she could see, searching for some crevice in the armor, any kind of weakness that could be used to stop the threat.

She saw the perfect spot. However, it was behind the wing. Eurysa would have to shoot at a target that was flying away from her. To hit it hard enough, she would have to strike the target right as it paused on the bottom of a dive. That meant she would have to lead the target considerably to have the arrow arrive at the right time. It would effectively be a blind shot and the gorgon expected she would only have the once shot. She only had one Halzium tipped arrow left anyway.

It also meant the drake would get a second attack. Eurysa knew she had to make it the dragon's last aerial assault. She watched the trajectory of the drake as it came around for its second pass. She watched the dive, watched as the drake found its target. Eurysa took a deep breath, drew her bow, and turned her back on the drake. She aimed at the open space where the dragon would be. She drew her bowstring back and fired at nothing.

The huge dark shape swooped past her, spewing out acid. The breath weapon decimated many more soldiers, but the gorgon's eyes were on her arrow. Her aim had been perfect. Eurysa watched as the arrow slid between the scales at a weak spot in the dragon's armor. Like all armor, it had to be more open at the joints. Her shot aimed for where the wing joined with the body. The arrow sank in perfectly. The drake shrieked out in surprise and pain, spinning out of control at the sudden wound and crashing into the ground.

Aldebaran and Ritter hit the ground running as the leapt from their seats out of the way of the archers. They charged across the field toward the felled drake. They hoped for a chance to finish it off before it could do any more damage. Aldebaran reached the drake first thanks to his longer legs. The minotaur brought his blade down on the dragon as hard as he could. A blast of sparks leapt in the air as the metal scraped against the hardened scales.

Ritter took aim at the dragon's other wing. The Halz wanted to make sure that the beast could not take to the air again. His warhammer resounded with a solid crunch as the dwarf slammed the beast with all his might. The drake howled. It erupted up from the ground, leaping to a standing position. Its eyes were full of pain. It swatted the Halz and the minotaur away with its mighty front paws. It took a moment to survey the situation. The humans were mostly dead, though a few had fled.

The only enemies were the three monstrous mercenaries. They had hurt the drake. It wanted to make them pay for it. It could feel that neither of its wings would be of much use. An arrow in one and a broken bone in the other. The dragon had never taken damage before, but he found himself surprisingly resilient. The pain was a new sensation, but he had quickly learned how to manage that. It had, however, learned that there were threats that could challenge it.

He looked first to the gorgon. The archer was slithering over to the first batch of archers that had been slain. She was searching for another halzium tipped arrow. Most had been destroyed, but unless she was lucky, she would only have enough time to fire one, if she could find one in time. The drake would not allow that, however. It charged across the field looking to slay Eurysa first. She had been the first to harm the drake, it seemed only right that she should be the first to die.

Eurysa struggled through the mangled remains of the archers searching for an arrow as the dragon neared. It chuckled as it looked down at the gorgon. Eurysa stared back up at it, knowing she had no chance to escape. She tried to use her gaze, but her power was too weak to effect the drake. It drew in a great breath, preparing to unleash its breath weapon once more. There was a loud clang sound as metal hit scales. At the side of the beast was the mighty Aldebaran.

“No one else on our team dies while I yet live!” the minotaur yelled.

The drake cocked its head to the side and grinned, “As you wish.”

It opened its maw and stretched down to bit the minotaur. Aldebaran did not attempt to dodge the blow at all. He instead raised his blade and tried to jam it down the creature's throat. Feeling the pain of the jab, the dragon ejected its acid all over Aldebaran. The drake stumbled back, coughing up blood from the wound in its maw. It would not make that mistake again. It would be careful about how it bit its foes. Then pain flashed again. A sharp pain came across its front paw.

Looking down, it was the dwarf Ritter. The drake had been worried for a moment that the minotaur had somehow survived the full fury of its breath weapon. However, Aldebaran was little more than melted sludge. The minotaur would never slay another foe. The dwarf, however, was quite annoying. His warhammer could break bones and crush flesh, the scales were not made to protect as well against such a powerful bludgeon. The dragon snapped at the dwarf, teeth sinking into the leg of the Halz.

The drake then snapped its mighty neck, flinging Ritter away with all its might while rending flesh with its razor-sharp teeth. That left only the gorgon. The dragon spun back around to face Eurysa. It saw the archer with bow in had and an arrow nocked. Eurysa let the barb loose. It sailed through the air with perfect aim. The arrow had been aimed for one last soft spot. It hit the dragon's eye and pierced it. The arrow sank deeply inside. The drake shuddered for a moment, then collapsed.

It had taken several wounds from the three monstrous mercenaries, this one had simply been the one that had tipped it over the edge. Eurysa could not even be sure that it was dead, however. There was a different sound, however. Several soldiers were rushing up behind the gorgon. The rest of the humans had arrived. Most of them swarmed over the drake and began to stab at it to make sure it was dead and stayed down. Eurysa breathed a brief sigh of relief, the battle was over.

She looked over at the remains of Aldebaran. It was sad that he had sacrificed himself. He had been a friend for many years. The gorgon scanned the area, looking for any sign of Ritter. It looked like a couple of the Nuvroci had found the Halz although it was hard to tell what was going on exactly. The drake had flung the Halz quite far away and even the gorgon's sharp vision could not see detail at that distance. Eurysa was surprised that the group had somehow won.

“Hmm, so where are the others?” a voice asked.

“It killed Aldebaran,” Eurysa hissed quietly, “I think Ritter is with the Nuvroci.”

“That is too bad,” the voice said, “I wanted to kill him myself.”

Eurysa spun to try to see who had spoken and there was a sudden pain. Her world turned upside down and seemed to revolve. She could not quite understand until her head hit the ground and she saw her headless body collapse on the ground beside her. The man standing over her body was wearing white robes. It was Naphar Bura, a Cleanser of Kurrot.

Eurysa hissed her last thought as all slipped to darkness, “Where were you Mayitso?”

Naphar claimed the gorgon head, putting it in a sack for safety. He looked over the mess that had once been a minotaur. There was nothing there that would serve as a trophy. It was too bad. The Halz was busy being tended by the Nuvroci. They would not let Naphar slay a dwarf, but the Cleanser did not care. The Halz were not a major concern. The world was rid of minotaurs and gorgons. Never would such a beast terrorize the human race again.

The Cleanser strode over to the drake. It was another monster that was dead. The human race was safer now. In the distance a mighty goblinoid army closed in on the scene of the battle. Naphar grinned. The noseless abominations of nature would find their mighty weapon slain and the army of Agon unwounded. Horns blew and were answered in the distance. The cavalry was on its way. The goblinoids closed in on the corpse and Naphar climbed to the top of the drake. He wanted to see the end of the war at point blank range.

Hobgoblins, orcs, bugbears, and goblins gathered and slowed as the neared the fallen drake. Naphar stood on top of the beast, a single human in white robes. Chatter began to flow through the goblinoid ranks and their march forward slowed. A low rumble could be heard as the great Agonish cavalry approached. It was obvious that the goblinoid army was not sure what to make of the sight they saw. The sound of the bards and heralds of Agon brought a great uncertainty to the horde.

Fear washed across the goblinoid army, as well as disbelief. They could not understand how the humans had stopped the dragon. Especially not without having their army decimated. Their stupor was broken as the Agonish cavalry began its charge, swarming around the corpse of the drake and streaming toward the goblinoid army. The goblinoid lines broke before the cavalry even reached them. The horses and their riders crashed against the goblinoid horde. The goblinoids tried to flee, but most were cut down.

It was bloody work. The goblinoids scattered to the winds if they could, though the riders chased after as many as they could to make sure they never came back. The few that survived could send a message back to the rest of the goblinoids. Their army and its weapon had been destroyed. The goblinoids were beaten. The soldiers all cheered. They knew what this battle meant. It meant that the Fifth Goblinoid War was over. They could all go home. It was all that a weary soldier could ask for.

18Dec/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0077

Naphar Bura was cleaning his weapons when an odd man approached him. Naphar Bura was a Kurrot, powerfully built for one of his race, though still slightly more wiry in build than an Agonish man of similar athleticism. Naphar wore the white robes of a Cleanser. White was the color of monsters and evil men. It was a symbol of the foul things that Naphar fought with a slayed each day of his career. The man that approached was Gharaf Targata. Gharaf was a Ravaleian, a race that often leaned towards ostentatious displays.

Gharaf, however, was not wearing anything too extreme. He had been busy making good trade with the armies of the southern front. His manner reminded Naphar of a rat. Gharaf seemed like a schemer to the Cleanser, but the Kurrot had dealt with far worse people than Gharaf. The Ravaleian had at least been useful over the past two years. He had provided a lot of useful information to the Cleanser on opportunities to eliminate foul creatures that threatened the human race.

“The time is upon us,” Gharaf said with a vile smirk, “You will not believe what wandered into camp the other day.”

“Oh?”

“A gorgon, a minotaur, and a dwarf.”

“What of the Feergrus, the vodyanoi, and the lycanthrope?”

“No sign of them, but my sources tell me they spoke with General Crowe Spencer.”

“The high commander of the southern front himself? That is most interesting.”

Gharaf nodded, “It seems they continued northwards with many of the force's best archers. They seek to slay a monster. The goblinoids have a secret weapon they have been preparing. They say it is a dragon.”

“Impossible,” Naphar said as he spit at the ground, “If such creatures are anything but myth, they can not be controlled.”

“Supposedly it is but a young child. One raised by the goblinoids for many years. I imagine it is a lie, and merely some abomination raised up by the Tarvoni working with the noseless mouth breathers. It does not matter either way. The monsters will fight each other. All of them need to die. I knew you would want to know that all of these monsters have converged.”

“Yes. Thank you for this information. It seems the opportunity has come to end this threat to humanity once and for all. With only half of these monstrous allies together and with a dire fight against this so called dragon, the threat of these monsters will finally be ended. I will let them fight each other, then the survivors will be eliminated.”

Gharaf smiled, “Good. They have lived for too long and caused too much strife. It will be nice to have one less problem to deal with in this world.”

***

The waiting was the worst part. Several of the best archers in the southern front had joined Eurysa, Aldebaran, and Ritter in a forward camp. Daily forays into the Goblinoid Lands by scouts on horseback kept the front appraised of any activity by the goblinoids. Thus far it had been eerily quiet. The three monstrous mercenaries suspected that meant the attack was coming soon. The goblinoids were likely gathering their forces and readying for the final assault.

This would be the moment that changed the course of the war for better or worse. Eurysa felt the balance of the arrows tipped with Halzium. Whoever had made them knew what they were doing. The gorgon archer was glad that such a precious metal had not been given to a lesser craftsman to make the arrows. They needed every advantage they could get. A dragon was a considerable foe, even if this was only a young drake. The arrows might not do much, and Eurysa was worried that suck small barbs would not slay the beast.

Even if they could knock it to the ground, the gorgon wondered if they could even slay such a beast in melee. Aldebaran was stronger than any human, but even that might not be enough to wound the drake. Beyond that, there was also the worry about the rest of the goblinoid army. If the goblinoids had their whole army with them, along with Tarvoni summoners and whatever monstrosities had been brought forth by their foul magic, then it would be a fight that the few people at the advance camp could not possibly win.

Hopefully the goblinoids would send the drake as their vanguard, leaving time for the military to defeat the dragon before it could do too much damage. Even alone, it was possible that the drake would be too powerful for the advance force to defeat. Hopefully it would give the soldiers at Grafenthal time to modify the ballista to use against the beast, assuming the dragon did not destroy it first. The more she thought about it, the more Eurysa believed that there would only be one chance to defeat the dragon.

She wished Mayitso was there. He would be greatly helpful once the drake was grounded. The gorgon could not imagine what was taking the lycanthrope so long. She did not want to believe that Enzi had delayed Mayitso more than was necessary. The lizardfolk had been a threat, but certainly the Feergrus military could handle it with the assistance of the lycanthropes that came to their aid. They could not possibly need Mayitso any longer. He had to be on his way by now.

***

Disguised as the Feergrus man called Enzi Cala the Rakshasa named Devis Lane smiled. The lycanthropes had been extremely successful at fighting the troglodytes. Devis had been able to keep the soldiers of Feergrus out of the battles and had kept Mayitso busy commanding his brethren. He had done his best to muddle how much time had passed, keeping Mayitso too busy to think about his friends, and distracting him with something else when that failed.

Devis knew it could not last forever, but knew that it no longer mattered. It had been over a month since Aldebaran, Eurysa, and Ritter had left for the southern front. There was no way that Mayitso could arrive in time to help in their battle now unless the dragon came much later than expected. The Rakshasa would try to keep him as long as possible, just in case. Devis need that dragon to do as much damage as possible. He hoped that it tore through the Agonish front lines. A weak Agon would make a Feergrus alliance much stronger.

Mayitso approached Devis, transformed into his human form, “Should I be leaving now? My friends need me.”

“No worries,” Devis said, “You have plenty of time. I need you for one last great offensive. A great queen of the lizardfolk has gathered a huge force to defeat your brethren. They will need your aid to survive. Do this and we should finally have the break we need to survive this war.”

Mayitso transformed into his wolf form and snorted as he turned away. Something about Enzi had begun to rub him wrong. It had been getting worse over the past month. He had a hard time imagining that Enzi would deceive him, especially after the many long years they had worked together, but it was getting hard to deny that Enzi was delaying him. Mayitso could only hope that Enzi was right. He wanted to be there to protect Eurysa from harm when the dragon came. He prepared himself to lead the lycanthropes into battle one last time.

***

The creature soared through the air, free of the caves it had lived in all its life. The cool blew felt terrific as it soared through the sky. It had learned much from the goblinoids that had raised it. It had learned why the caves were its home. The humans hunted those that were different from themselves. The goblinoids had been forced to live in a small area of poor quality. Rage filled the young dragon. Freedom felt so good. Now it would destroy the humans and claim its own freedom. In the process, the goblinoids would be free as well.

In the light of day, the drake looked over its body. Its mottled skin was varying shades of dark olive green and black. It would be excellent camouflage in the swamps, which supposedly were its home. The goblinoids had told the dragon that they had rescued it from humans that had hunted its kind in the swamps. They sought out the helpless eggs to keep the dragons from continuing, since the humans were too weak to face an actual dragon.

The drake swooped, dove, and climbed back through the air. It needed the practice. The time had finally come for the assault on the human forces. The goblinoids had formed a mighty army and marched southwards. The dragon flew overhead, ready to act as their greatest weapon. The drake would pay off his debt, giving a life to the goblinoids for the life they had saved. It would also feel good to slay a bunch of the evil humans that would work to destroy helpless eggs.

The drake soared ahead of the army, scouting out what was ahead. Then he saw it. A small camp of humans had come out away from the war front. It was a perfect target. The dragon felt a sense of elation. It would finally get a chance to unleash terror upon the greatest evil in the world. An evil that would oppress all those that were not human. The drake had even heard of how the humans fought each other over the minor differences across their race. The Tarvoni had helped the goblinoids.

The pale mages had been hunted for being different as well. Their pale skin marked them as evil in the eyes of many other humans. Their ability with magic annoyed yet others. Their tales had only proven to the dragon that the humans needed to be humbled. Perhaps then a more noble culture like the Tarvoni could lead the surviving humans to become a better race. If not, then genocide was always an option. It would be a sweet justice to inflict genocide upon a race that was so genocidal. The drake wondered if that was irony.

It swooped down towards the humans, expecting to watch them scatter. The humans did move, but they formed groups and took aim with their bows and crossbows. The dragon felt mirth at the thought. A hail of arrows flew up towards the beast. The arrows scraped against his scales and flew off. A few hit directly enough to bounce off the drake's armored hide. It was as the goblinoids had said, the humans were no threat. The dragon gathered up all of his rage and hate, as well as his acidic bile.

The drake felt power well up within itself. The dragons were innately magical monstrosities. It unleashed the power of its magic as a blast of concentrated acid. The goblinoids had called it a breath weapon, and while it blasted out as a cone from the drake's maw, it had little to do with breathing. It was a magical ability, and like any magic it caused some drain on the magic users stamina. As a dragon, however, such drain was of little consequence. Even as a drake, his endurance was leagues beyond any mortal.

The effects brought a sense of elation to the dragon. The spray of acid smothered dozens of human soldiers. The screams of pain and suffering brought great joy to the dragon. They did not last long, however. Those struck by the acid did not live long. The drake was instead treated to looks and scream of horror by those who had witnessed the carnage. The sharp eyes of the dragon also spotted a few odd creatures with the humans. One seemed to be some sort of snake woman, another was a cow man, the third looked like a short and strangely proportioned human made of stone.

The drake was surprised to see humans and monsters fighting beside each other. However, the young dragon had seen many monsters summoned by the magic of the Tarvoni aiding the goblinoids. These were obviously just more magical creatures that needed to be slain. Anything that aided the humans had to be destroyed. The dragon lazily came around for a second pass, enjoying the helpless creatures skittering about beneath him. He unleashed another blast of acid on another group of humans, melting them. The drake felt that the battle had been won. There was nothing that could stop him now.

11Dec/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0076

“Who goes there? The rider called out in Agonori.

Unfortunately, only Eurysa spoke the native language. The Halz would likely have been the better choice to communicate. Even he would have faced racism, especially with a minotaur and gorgon by his side. The rider that had found them could not see them well in the fading light of the dusk, especially with the tall grasses of the plains. The three would have to take a chance, and Eurysa had an idea. She was quite clever, it was one reason why she had long helped Enzi to lead his mercenary band.

“Just some mercenaries headed to the war front,” Eurysa hissed, “We did not wish to bother anyone so we cut through open space.”

The rider squinted in the dimming light, slightly suspicious of the gorgon's odd voice, “Well, you will be a bigger bother in the fields. Those of us not at war are busy training and herding horses. Stick to the roads.”

“Of course. We will just get out of your way then and head to the road. Sorry about any inconvenience.”

Eurysa hoped it would work. The rider expected that if the shapes he saw were any trouble, they would be more easily controlled out on the roads or in towns where any guards might handle them. While a lot of people had joined the army to be a part of the war, most of the Agonish men had militia training, and many guards had remained behind. Agon had mobilized its regulars along with volunteers. They had not found a reason to pull the full weight of their forces out. The dragon might do that if the Irregulars failed.

The Halz, gorgon, and minotaur continued northwards, hoping to avoid more people. They continued to avoid the roads, but tried to make sure to stay somewhat near the roads so that they could avoid the open spaces and any other herdsmen and their horses. They were lucky and avoided any further entanglements in the plains, finally reaching the foothills of the Nuvro Range. The herds of horses did not usually come into the foothills. There were too many sinkholes and other dangers.

The Agonish did not make many of their homes in the foothills though a few towns sat on the edge of them. The mountains forced rain down on the foothills as the clouds passed over them. Likely this was the reason for the odd sinkholes and the occasional cave. The mighty fortress of Hadrarius sat deep in such lands, as it was built on the side of one of the mountains of the Nuvro Range. It was the home of the Magehunters, a dreary place thanks to the rains of the mountains. The only other settlement near the mountains was Grafenthal.

The three Irregulars still needed to travel north through the foothills for over a week to reach the southern front. Without much human traffic, they expected to find the trip smooth. For five nights, all was quiet. As the three inhuman warriors laid to rest on the sixth night, they set watch as normal. As the mountains were close in the west, the sun dipped behind them leaving the group in early darkness each day. Thus, Eurysa had last watch, when dawn was approaching as her night-vision was the worst of the three.

Their foes, however, had perfect night vision. They were quite hungry for fresh meat. Hungry enough to dare an attack on three much larger creatures. They were the size of a small to medium sized dog and slithered like snakes as they crept up on the Gorgon, Halz, and Minotaur. They had six legs, but often did not use them for movement. They were useful for burrowing or climbing. Their large, reflective eyes glinted in the starlight as they approached the unaware Eurysa.

The beginning light of the coming dawn had not yet crept over the horizon. The light of the two moons were minimal. Then the gorgon saw a flash of movement out of the corner of her eye. She rolled reflexively. Her serpentine lower half made writhing like that surprisingly easy. As the light of the morning started to slowly illuminate the area, Eurysa saw a horrific face in the darkness. It almost looked human except for the gaping maw full of deadly teeth.

The gorgon knew what it was. It was a naga. Their huge eyes and human-like faces made people think they were intelligent. However, they were merely beasts. Their diet was supplemented with minerals, their teeth could tear apart rocks. Their six legs were perfect for tearing apart stone into bite sized chunks, though they were less useful in movement. They were an odd creature to be sure, and many myths had arisen about them as they were often misunderstood.

Eurysa knew they had to be starving to take a chance on attacking. They did not have enough mind for the gorgon's power to easily paralyze them and she was no match for them in close quarters. Luckily, her tail could reach Aldebaran. The archer slapped the minotaur with her tail to wake him. He awoke with a yelp and his eyes had the fire of rage in them. That fire had been missing since the loss of Kava. The minotaur focused the rage as he grabbed his sword. He would not allow anyone else to die.

Brutal teeth snapped as his blade sliced the head off one of the nagas. Another slithered up behind Aldebaran, but a heavy warhammer slammed down and crushed its skull. Ritter had been awakened by the commotion. He was not wearing his armor, as he had been sleeping, but that made him no less of a warrior. He was more vulnerable, certainly, but that did not affect his offensive capability. With the two melee warrior engaging the nagas, Eurysa finally had a chance to take aim with her bow. The three warriors quickly slaughtered several of the serpentine beasts and the rest fled.

“Ugh,” Ritter coughed, “Basilisks. I hate running into those things down below. Those faces are creepy. A lot of people say those huge reflective eyes can turn you to stone too.”

“That is a myth,” Eurysa hissed, “Unlike the gaze of a gorgon, there is no hidden grain of truth to justify the myth in these nagas.”

“I think it is because they eat rocks,” Ritter stated, “People think they turn their victims to stone in order to consume them.”

“I guess that makes sense to someone who has had their mind rattled enough,” Eurysa said as she smiled.

The three stripped the dead nagas for meat and had a good morning feast. Their moods had improved slightly. A good meal and a fight had helped them to forget about their troubles briefly. The time left in the trip to the southern front allowed some of the morose thoughts to creep back in however. The southern front itself looked quite good. The Agonish cavalry had dominated the battle. They would be of little use in a fight against a dragon unless the drake could be grounded though.

The army was gathered outside of the town of Grafenthal. The city was like a small fortress, built near the Nuvro Range. A large keep was a major feature of the town. It had long held a garrison of soldiers to keep the border between Agon and the Goblinoid Lands free of trouble. Now Grafenthal was the command center for the southern front. The front was large, stretching from the Nuvro Range to the Marnea River. The goblinoids would not dare cross the river.

The Marnea River practically erupted out of the ground and spewed forth in a torrential flow towards Lake Hargis. It came from the mountains, but traveled under the foothills until it emerged and generally flowed northwest. The current in the river meant that no sane foe would dare to ford it. Even a boat could easily be swept away. Sharp rocks in the river did the rest. The river had supposedly been named after someone with similar uncontrollable qualities.

It meant that the Agonish only had to protect a border that was perhaps seventy miles long. It was still a significant swath of land, but it was open territory. It might be possible to hide in the foothills, but that was where the city of Grafenthal sat. The western part was open plains. It was a perfect place of the Agonish Cavalry. The songs of the heralds kept fear in the heart of the goblinoids. They all knew such music was the harbinger of the cavalry and their deadly charges.

However, all the power of the Agonish military would be of little use against a dragon. If they were lucky, they might have a ballista at the keep, but such siege weapons had likely not been designed to fire high into the sky. The main threat for many generations had been on the ground. Even the hobgoblin griffin riders were unlikely targets, being too small and quick for a ballista. The Irregulars did not know if they could help change the defenses. They were not even sure anyone would listen to them at all.

Without Enzi, they were just three inhuman creatures. It was possible that their only greeting would be violent. They knew that General Cassius Tessium had sent messages ahead, but anything could happen. They steeled themselves and made their way toward the keep in Grafenthal. A large percentage of the infantry they saw was Nuvroci, including several Steel Warriors. Luckily, they were the first to encounter the Irregulars. The Nuvroci still had good relations with the Halz, even if the two groups did not talk much anymore.

The Nuvroci soldiers were able to provide protection for the three monstrous mercenaries until word reached the leadership. The general of the southern front had received the messages from the north and had some clue who the Irregulars were. He was an Agonish man, his g\hair was a lighter brown than most, but his dark skin showed he was definitely Agonish. He was young for a general, no more than a year or two older than Cassius Tessium had been.

The group wondered if leadership had been thrust on this man like it had for the Nuvroci man at the northern front. However, seeing the man's efficiency at work made them believe this man had worked his way into the position. His command center had exquisitely updated and detailed maps. His officers came with reports on friendly and enemy movements, which allowed the general to update his maps. He sent out orders as needed to keep the southern front working like a set of well oiled Ravaleian gears.

The three Irregulars told the general of the goblinoid's new weapon. The young dragon would be a terrible threat. It could lay waste to entire battalions, turn buildings to rubble, and decimate the innocent with ease. Most of the non-combatants had already been evacuated from Grafenthal, but there was still a large amount of support personnel. Even then, if Grafenthal fell, the drake would be able to swoop into the heartland of Agon without significant opposition.

General Crowe Spencer looked over the maps and thought ab out the tactics, “There is only one thing we can do. While we prepare for the worst, we must send out our best archers to try to bring this monster to the ground. Luckily we have something that may help. We have a few dozen arrows tipped with halzium sharpened by some of our greatest smiths. Hopefully they can help pierce the thick hide of a drake.”

“It can not hurt,” Ritter said, “I know the Nuvroci at least know how to put a good edge on adamantine and the weapons are exceptional at piercing armor.”

“Adamantine?” Crowe asked.

“I find it odd to hear the metal named after my people the Halz, although such a strong metal is the kind of impression we love to be associated with. We call it adamantine as it is a match for the diamonds of the deep mountain, forged by intense pressure. It is very hard to work diamonds, they do not shape like a metal. Adamantine is a metal, though it may be more difficult to work than iron or steel.”

Eurysa hissed, “It is the best plan we have at the moment. Unless we can modify the ballista to for at large moving aerial targets. It would be a useful weapon against a dragon.”

Crowe nodded, “Though I doubt we will ever face such a threat again in the future, it might be worthwhile to be prepared.”

4Dec/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0075

The traps were simple. There was not enough time to do anything too elaborate. The warriors had spread themselves out to make it look like the town was still inhabited. They would all flee before the troglodytes to draw the enemy force into the traps. Once the humans regrouped, they would attack the lizardfolk and attempt to hold them back. Devis was prepared for this to fail. He would use his power to change shapes to escape when the time came.

The next part was the waiting. They did not have to wait long. While the lizardfolk had good eyes for dim light, the darkness still affected their vision. They attacked at dusk, swarming the town. The soldiers of Feergrus fell back, as planned. The traps swung to action, crippling and maiming many of the troglodytes. The few traps could not hold back the horde. Eurysa sat behind the human forces and began picking off the lizardfolk with the bow.

They had gathered a large number of arrows for her to use in the battle. It was certain that otherwise she would run out. The Naxaeless army crashed against the human forces supplemented by a Halz, a Minotaur, and a Gorgon. Ritter's warhammer cracked skulls left and right. Aldebaran's mighty two handed sword cleaved through lizard flesh again and again. Devis Lane, disguised as the human Enzi Cala in a monstrous hybrid form, struck foe after foe with his clawed hands.

Enzi had shown his ability as a Shifter before, but had always saved it for the most dire of situations. Devis felt this would qualify. It also allowed him to use more of his natural skill without seeming suspicious to the Irregulars. If any of them survived, he needed to keep his disguise for when Mayitso arrived. Devis felt that perhaps he could just slay them all and blame it on the lizardfolk, but for the moment he tried to play it straight. An opportunity would arise if it was needed. It always did.

Devis knew how to seize such opportunities. He had assassinated dozens of important figures at important points in history. He had shifted the politics and allegiances of many people. Each move might be minor, a subtle step towards his goal. Added together, they had helped build the world they lived in. He had slowly weakened those that might stand in his way, manipulating entire countries into war or out of it. The decline of the dwarves and the elves had seen the hand of Devis Lane in it.

Now his hands were involved in a small skirmish on the border of Feergrus. One warrior after another fell. Devis saw this day could not be a victory. The human warriors would fall. Enzi's Irregulars would die. A shout was raised from the rear of the lizardfolk ranks. Suddenly one after another of the Naxaeless fell. The troglodyte assault force was eliminated swiftly and efficiently from behind. The foes of the lizardfolk then met up with the line of humans as the two forces crushed the lizards between them.

Somehow the lycanthropes had arrived. Devis had no idea how they could have possibly arrived so soon. It had been less than three weeks since they sent Mayitso to find his people. Yet there was a massive wolf with a jagged scar across the left side of his head. It was Mayitso himself. There were dozens of lycanthropes with him, of all shapes and sizes. One of the largest transformed into human form. The Feergrus were surprised as the creature remained naked in human form.

The way the Feergrus transformed into panthers and a hybrid form was a magical power. Things they held close transformed with them. The transformation of the lycanthrope, while still obvious supernatural, acted along much more natural rules. Oddly enough, it meant the lycanthropes fit in best around the Feergrus. Nudity was not uncommon in the land. The only surprise at the nudity by the soldiers was an expectation that the lycanthropes would be soldiers like them in human form, with armor and weapons.

The lycanthropes, of course, had only their natural weapons. Their supernaturally tough hides made them excellent soldiers. Their sharp teeth and powerful muscles worked well on the offense as well. Their distinct lack of ranged capability meant they were not a permanent threat to the Feergrus, especially if one knew their weakness. They had a supernatural weakness to silver, which penetrated their hides as easily as steel did to a human.

The lycanthropes would fall if they tried to rise up. Devis had no worries about that. He expected the war with the lizardfolk to keep them weak. He was overjoyed to see Mayitso's return. While several of the human warriors had fallen, several others still lived. It was a better outcome than Devis had hoped for. Still, the rest of the Irregulars were no longer of any use to him. While he could send them with Mayitso to fight the Naxaeless, he knew they would want to go deal with the dragon eventually and might drag the lycanthropes with them.

Disguised as Enzi Cala, Devis bowed to Mayitso, “It is good to have you back. Now we can take care of the business at hand. We have much to do and little time to do it. We have limited time before the attack in the north by the drake. Because of that, I feel the only answer is to split up. Mayitso, you have proven your speed. We will need you to direct the lycanthropes for a while longer. You can certainly catch up with the rest of the Irregulars later. If something happens here that is unexpected, the southern front will still have at least three of you to stop the dragon.”

“I am uncomfortable going without Mayitso, but you are right that time is limited. Surely the lycanthropes can take care of themselves now?” Eurysa hissed.

“Mayitso has taken over as the alpha. Without him, they are uncontrollable. It will not take long to build a relationship between us and them, Enzi said, but that will take both Mayitso and myself to make this work. Once the relationship is cemented, then Mayitso will be done. He is faster than all of us, thus why I give you a head start. As I said, the only concern I see is any kind of unforeseeable event delaying us. Without Mayitso here there will a great many death of innocent Feergrus.”

“What of the innocents in Agon?” Ritter asked.

“Even without us, Agon can bring a force to bear to defeat the drake. We will try to save everyone, but priorities must be taken.”

The Halz frowned at that. Lives were lives. The dragon was far more dangerous than the lizardfolk. Yet even Enzi showed concern for his own country over another, despite all of them still being human. Ritter had thought Enzi was better than that. Aldebaran was unfazed by the words. He had barely heard them, his thoughts had long been focused on killing the lizardfolk. It was his vengeance for the death of Kava. He had been fighting on autopilot for quite some time.

Eurysa, like Ritter, felt some betrayal in Enzi's words though she could not disagree with them entirely. It would be best if they could save everyone, but she felt the priority should have been the dragon. If Enzi was right, it was possible they might be able to do both. She had a terrible premonition that things would not be that easy. Everything felt wrong, but it all made logical sense. The Feergrus were still Enzi's people. Perhaps he had more feelings for them than he had let on.

“Just trust me on this,” Devis said, “Everything will work out for the best. When have I ever led you astray?”

The group admitted he was right. His tactics had always led to victory. They assumed that Enzi had to know what he was doing. Enzi's Irregulars gave Devis Lane their trust. Aldebaran, Eurysa, and Ritter headed off to the northeast. It was a long trip to reach the southern front. They hoped that enough information had reached that front to prepare the humans for three monstrous mercenaries. It would be odd going without Enzi, but the group would do what they had to do.

Devis, of course, no longer cared what happened to the three creatures. They had a hard road in front of them. They had no support. Devis would send no word ahead to make their trip easier. He would let the authorities deal with the three mercenaries as they saw fit. He imagined that the authorities would do nothing unless the three provoked a response. However, a foolish guard might challenge them. Such foolishness deserved death. As the Rakshasa watched the three leave, he smiled. He had work to do.

***

It was nearly three weeks before Enzi's Irregulars reached the eastern border of Feergrus. Supplies were short. It had been difficult to resupply. Ritter was the least monstrous of the three mercenaries, but even he was met with distrust. The group had to scrounge in the badlands as they traveled. However, they had finally reached the Disputed Lands. The badlands would fade into plains and food would be easier to come by. Still, their rations were meager at best.

Still, the three traveled eastwards for two weeks before the reached the point where they decided to turn northwards. It was at this point that they would enter the kingdom of Agon. The trip through Feergrus had been without incident. The few that had seen the three inhuman warriors had ignored them. More surprising, however, had been the hassle free trip through the Disputed Lands. There were a lot of people that stood to acquire a good amount of coin for capturing or killing the Irregulars for crimes they did not commit.

However, most of the mercenaries were busy with the war. It had made the trip through the Disputed Lands remarkably quiet. The trip through Agon would be the most dangerous part, although they were traveling through the open plains where the Agonish raised their mighty steeds. They would avoid the roads and the towns as much as possible. Even then, it would be a three week trip to the southern front. They were cutting the time a lot closer than they preferred. The group could only hope that Mayitso would arrive in time to aid them.

The three monstrous mercenaries made their way through Agon, day after day. Oftentimes they saw herds of young horses racing through the fields. Usually it was far in the distance. Agonish trainers rode steeds along with the herds, picking out the strongest of the young steeds to take back to a homestead to train. The other horsemen worked to keep the herds together and accustomed to a human presence. The training at the homesteads was to train the horses to accept a rider.

The Agonish preferred their steeds to have spirit and tried not to break it. Getting a horse to accept a rider without breaking its spirit was a difficult job. They had to train the horses to trust the humans as a part of them. The best horses worked as a partner to their rider. It was what made the cavalry of Agon so dangerous. The elite riders and their trusty steeds could crush the most dangerous of foes. It was what most enemies of Agon feared the most.

The Magehunters were feared as well, but in a more localized way. One never saw an army of Magehunters. They were lone warriors. The Agonish Cavalry was more like a force of nature. Now three members of Enzi's Irregulars traveled through the heart of the cavalry's home. They just had to hope that none of the horse herders became too suspicious of three figures traveling northwards during a time of war. Ritter looked around and hoped that the three were not as doomed as he thought. He wondered how Enzi could have let them come without his support. Racism was alive and well, especially against something completely inhuman.

27Nov/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0074

Mayitso heard the howl in the distance. He listened carefully. He understood the subtleties of the noise. It was a signal that all was clear and safe. It had been a long time since he visited his people. This was the location where the majority lived, far away from civilization. Their only human worries were the Vashimi. The ability of the lycanthrope to take a human form had helped mitigate that, especially as their human form could pass as a Vashimi from a distance or to an untrained eye.

This was not a good thing when dealing with other humans, but it had led to an alliance with some of the less violent Shimese tribes. The cannibalistic Shimese tribes gave no care if someone was an outsider or a Vashimi, they would kill anyone. They didn't have a problem killing people in their own tribe. They called it culling the weak. It was a good thing that their murderous streak included their brethren. It kept their numbers from exploding.

Mayitso slipped through the forest. The land of the lycanthropes was south of the marsh on dry land. A massive ring of volcanoes could be seen in the distance. They were called the Ring of Fire. It was not the most creative of names, but the lycanthropes cared little of such things. It was merely a dangerous place to avoid, and a useful landmark. The smoke that constantly rose from the peaks could be seen anywhere in the Shimese Jungle. The heat permeated the whole area, extending even into the marsh.

The sulfurous fumaroles of the marsh proved that. The jungle was firmer territory, but was still always unseasonably warm. This far south, things should be very cold. It was still a long way to where the water turned to ice, but it was close enough that the jungle should not have been an actual jungle. Evergreen trees should have been more common. They certainly appeared at the far southern edge of the jungle, but near the Ring of Fire or the Marsh of Vashim, the atmosphere could easily get quite muggy and steamy, especially in the summer.

Mayitso crept closer and closer to his kin. He looked for the perfect position to come striding into the group. He needed to make a grand entrance, brave and proud. If they were going to listen to him, he had to prove himself as an alpha. Many lycanthrope customs came from their wild cousins. Regular wolves often ran with the lycanthropes and Mayitso's kindred could communicate with them on the same level. The kinship made the group stronger, although a wolf's lack of sentience often made it an inferior comrade.

Mayitso steeled himself. He stood up tall on his four powerful legs. He then began to crash through the jungle towards his kindred as if he had no cares in the world. The other lycanthropes were immediately alerted to his presence. There was panic among the wolves and the weakest of the lycanthropes as few creatures would dare approach with such disregard to danger. The strongest and bravest lycanthropes moved to the front, just as Mayitso hoped.

Mayitso came in on parade, his head held high, his ears forward and erect, his tail out and raised, nearly level with his spine. It was a dominance display. Many of the lycanthropes were instantly cowed and showed submission. Mayitso's large form and scars were enough to win him respect from the lesser members of the pack. It was the leaders that he had to worry about. The betas growled at Mayitso, but he stared at them without fear or flinching.

That was enough to keep them at bay, though they did not submit. A massive white wolf with light gray markings finally appeared. This lycanthrope was large, but it was not his size that was impressive. His demeanor told Mayitso that this was an alpha who had seen many challenges from his betas and had easily dominated them. Mayitso, however, would not be cowed. The two massive lycanthropes circled each other as the rest of their kindred backed off.

There was a blur of motion. The two mighty beasts clashed with a strength and fury that made even the beta males hunker down submissively. The alpha male that Mayitso fought was older and larger. Mayitso was faster. Even with his missing eye, Mayitso had the advantage. His experience in war had brought him many useful skills. It was very obvious to all that it was not an even contest. Mayitso soon stood above a thoroughly defeated lycanthrope.

None of the gathered lycanthropes had ever seen such a terrifying display of skill. It had bought Mayitso the attention he needed. Unfortunately, he needed information that could not be communicated as a wolf. He shifted to his human form, feeling distaste at it. He looked over the other lycanthropes with his one eye and finally spoke with all the authority he could muster.

“We need to talk. There is a great danger to our people and I will need your aid. First I need to know about any encounters with the lizards that walk as man.”

Mayitso soon learned of several attacks on the lycanthropes. His people had found it odd, usually the lizardfolk left them alone. Mayitso told his people that the Naxaeless now planned to kill all they saw as humans, including the lycanthropes, there was a great discussion. Many wanted to run off and hide, to allow the lizardfolk and the humans to fight. The former leader, however, had knowledge that changed everything.

“The lizards that walk as man must be stopped. The humans can not stand alone in this. I have seen a great and terrible beast that sleeps in the swamp. If they let it wake, it will destroy the humans. Then they will destroy us. Only together can we show the combined might that the lizards will respect.”

Mayitso nodded, “He is right. Already a small dragon has been readied to be unleashed on the humans in the north. If this happens in the south as well, all is lost for all of us. I came here to lead us to war not because I want to, but because I must.”

The former leader grinned, “We will follow you. You have proven your strength. Now let us prove ours.”

***

Enzi's Irregulars had retreated to the town of Dargaz. The mood was dour. The Rakshasa disguised as Enzi Cala had slipped away. Devis had decided to do his own scouting while the mercenaries recovered. The mercenaries were not taking the loss of Kava well. The disappearance of Enzi had not helped matters. Aldebaran had taken the loss the hardest. The mighty minotaur sat slumped in a corner as healers bandaged his wounds. He said nothing as he sat in silence.

His shoulders were hung low, as was his bovine head. His eyes stared at the floor. It gave the impression that the massive creature had shrunken. Eurysa and Ritter remained calm, but without Kava the room had fallen quiet. The vodyanoi had brought a certain energy to the group, now it felt empty. The three inhuman creatures rested and healed. Doubts began to creep into the mind of the Halz. He wondered if they would really be able to stop the drake the goblinoids planned to release.

Meanwhile Devis made his way through the forest with natural ease. Away from anyone, he had taken his natural form as a Rakshasa. If he ran into any lizardfolk, they would be sorry. His ability with stealth was unmatched. Soon he was spying on the Naxaeless. They had regrouped and were making plans for their next assault. They were glad that they had broken the defenders, but angry at the loss of one of their females. Their next assault would be massive.

Thousands upon thousands of lizardfolk gathered. Several females moved through the group, organizing them. Devis knew that many Feergrus soldiers were gathering at Dargaz. He had sent soldiers in all directions to try to bring more men to the front. He hoped that he could prevent the loss of more of the soldiers of Feergrus. If the monstrous mercenaries were lost, Devis would not shed a tear. They were useful tools to save his people and his country.

Once the lizardfolk threat was over, they became a liability. The Rakshasa began to plan for how he wanted to deal with the group. Hopefully he could just send them off to get killed by the drake. For the moment, Devis had to return and prepare for the troglodyte attack. He hoped that he had a decent number of soldiers to hold off the Naxaeless until Devis could get some form of reinforcement. Returning to town, Devis saw that nearly three dozen templars had gathered to aid in the fight.

The templars were the official standing army of Feergrus, charged with protecting the priestesse4s and priests of the land. Soldiers of the theocracy, they were supposed to be fearless, knowing that their deaths would be rewarded with a position at the side of the three deities. Their competence varied, unfortunately, as well as their level of belief. Still, they were well armed and armored, giving them an advantage over the common warrior. If Devis was lucky, at least some of the templars that had gathered would be well trained.

The Rakshasa had already transformed into his disguise as Enzi Cala, former high general of the armies of Feergrus. He met with the scouts that he had fought along earlier. He let them know where the next attack would come. Then he finally went to visit with Aldebaran, Eurysa, and Ritter. The minotaur, gorgon, and Halz were doing quite well. A healer had come along with the templars and had used his magic to heal up what damage he could on the wounded.

“Sorry for the delay,” Devis said towards the Irregulars, “The danger is still close. The lizardfolk have decided to send a massive force directly to here. They want to raze the town and slaughter the people as their first foray into Feergrus. We have to stop them to save innocents. I know we have lost a good warrior, but unfortunately there is no time to grieve.”

Aldebaran grunted softly. He had no energy or will to respond. Ritter and Eurysa got up. It was nearly time for battle. The Halz was somewhat comforted that Enzi had not forgotten Kava, but had been too busy saving lives to worry about the loss yet. Still, something felt wrong to the dwarf. He could not quite put his finger on it. Eurysa felt it as well. Enzi had begun to feel slightly wrong to her. She wondered what had come over him. He had seemed more and more aloof since they left the northern front.

It bothered her. Enzi had always confided in her before. She wondered if something had happened that she had missed. Able to read their surface thoughts, Devis could see the growing discontent and worry. He did not care. His ruse would no longer be needed after the next attack. He just needed Enzi's Irregulars to fight one last time. He was worried, however. The soldiers and the Irregulars could not hold off the coming attack. They needed that help of the lycanthropes.

The Rakshasa hated to lose one town, but it was better than facing the lizardfolk militarily. He decided it was time to have the town evacuated. Those that remained could turn the town into a deadly trap for their foes. He told the Irregulars of his plan, as well as the scouts. All agreed that it was the best way to limit the loss of innocent lives. If they failed, however, the troglodytes would easily be able to catch up to the fleeing humans. Holding them off was the best they might be able to do and no one was confident of their chances at success.

Even with all his power, Devis was still only one creature. None of the Naxaeless would be able to harm him, but they could overwhelm him with numbers. It was not the kind of battle he liked to fight. He wished that Karrum Tamb was here. As one of his brethren Rakshasa, Karrum had similar capabilities. However, where Devis concentrated on subterfuge, Karrum concentrated on the art of war. He was a warrior through and through. Together Devis expected they could defeat nearly any foe. Any aid, however, was but a pipe dream at the moment, however.

20Nov/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0073

Kava felt the soothing moisture on her skin. She was home again. The marsh felt like she had never left. The vodyanoi moved with an odd grace through the foliage. It was a good thing that everything was working well, as she needed all of her skill in stealth. She had been investigating the lizardfolk positions for nearly a week. Kava understood their language perfectly well. The troglodytes often did not speak, but when they did it was important.

Kava was making her way back to Enzi and the others. She had learned enough to know when and where the lizardfolk would strike. The news was not good, but it meant a good fight. Kava nearly salivated at the thought of a massive battle with the lizardfolk. She owed them a lot of death. They had slaughtered her people. Kava admitted that the vodyanoi likely deserved their fate, but she still wanted to give as much chaos back to her old enemy as she could.

She looked down at her right arm. It was missing a hand and part of the forearm. That had been the work of one of the troglodytes as well. The prosthetic she wore was deadly. She had learned to use it as efficiently as the weapon in her other hand. It would feel good to sink her hatchets into lizard flesh. Revenge might be petty, but Kava enjoyed being a little petty. She also enjoyed the violence and the blood. It was who she was and she was finally glad to have a chance at showing off her brutal side once more.

“Well, we are in luck,” Kava said to the man she believed was Enzi.

“Oh?” Devis asked, though he could already see the answer in the thoughts of the vodyanoi.

“The main thrust of their first assault will not be far from here, and there is plenty of time for us to get there before it happens.”

Kava was nearly salivating at the thought of battle as Devis replied, “That does not sound good to me, except for our ability to intercept it. I was hoping there would be more time before they finally decided to unleash their attack on Feergrus.”

After Devis let the scouts know the information, the group made their way towards the location where they might intercept the lizardfolk. Without Mayitso, it was Eurysa who maintained the lead, her sharp eyes watching for danger. Kava stayed near, as the vodyanoi was familiar with the kind of terrain they were traveling through. The only good thing was the that incursion of lizardfolk had driven off most of the Vashimi. They had been the first targets of the lizardfolk.

Devis Lane was quite happy to know that the Vashimi had been hurt by the lizardfolk attacks. The Vashimi had long been an annoyance to the Feergrus. They rarely traveled outside of the marsh, but they sometimes would raid the border towns. They might take food, clothing, or kidnap people when they did. Their acts of terror was the reason that so many soldiers remained on the border of Feergrus. It was enough to deter anything other than a focused assault.

This worked out well for the group, as it forced the same thing on the lizardfolk. They would meet resistance anywhere they chose to attack. Therefore the intelligent tactic was simply to pick a spot and attack in force. Enzi's Irregulars would now be there to help blunt that attack. As many of the soldiers of Feergrus nearby that could be gathered would aid the fight as well. They had to blunt the attack. Eventually Mayitso would return, hopefully with reinforcements.

They could not count on his return for many days, however. Even with his increased land speed, it was at least a two week journey to reach the heart of where the lycanthropes lived. Even then, he had to convince the lycanthropes to join the war effort. After two days of travel, Devis and his allies had finally reached the point where the lizardfolk planned to spearhead their attack on Feergrus. The group as well as the forces of Feergrus did their best to find positions to attack and surprise the enemy force.

“Well folks, now comes the fun. Target the largest ones first. Those are the females,” Kava croaked, “They are the leaders. You might not see them, however. They send the males in first as much as possible. Luckily they are a lot weaker and smaller than the females. Their numbers, however, can be troublesome. They should not have the sheer numbers of a human nation, but we do not exactly have a full army here yet.”

Aldebaran grunted in Nuvro, “Our little frog turtle seems to be enjoying herself for a change.”

“I heard that,” Kava growled back in Nuvro, “And there really is nothing like a good fight. Too bad you are not good at fighting.”

“We will see who kills more foes when the lizards attack.”

“I will sit upon a giant pile of my slain foes. From there I will look down upon you and laugh.”

“Then a contest of who has the biggest pile of dead bodies.”

Kava grinned creepily with her overly broad mouth full of razor sharp teeth, “Excellent.”

It was another three days before the Feergrus scouts reported back on the movements of the creatures that called themselves the Naxaeless. The group watched as the lizardfolk approached. They were trying to be stealthy, the colorful frills of the male troglodytes were flat against their necks. The frills of the females did not have bright colors like the males. The Irregulars and the few gathered forces from Feergrus awaited the coming assault. The lizardfolk were unarmored, trusting to their thick skins to protect them.

As the lizardfolk moved past those that were hiding, Kava led the charge with a mighty croak. Enzi's Irregulars and the soldiers of Feergrus fell upon their foes. The less stealthy members of the group had further to charge, as they had to remain back from the combat to allow the surprise attack to work. Kava's hatchets went to work, blood splattering across the ground. Arrows streaked past the humans and their allies and planted themselves in the lizardfolk. Eurysa's aim was impeccable.

Aldebaran's two handed blade soon entered the fray, carving a path into the foe's line. Ritter was the last to the battle, his short legs finally carrying him into combat. His hefty warhammer cracked skulls left and right. The Feergrus did their part as well. Devis spent most of his time working to keep the human soldiers safe from harm. Soon the lizardfolk were slain, but Kava was looking at the slaughter with suspicion. The numbers were far too small.

There were no females in the slain group. Too late, the group saw that it was but a small scouting group. A hulking female troglodyte could be seen slowly approaching as a horde of her lizardfolk swarmed over the human position. The desperate fight had begun. Spears stabbed wildly at the humans and the Irregulars. Devis did what he could to prevent human casualties, but even in the confusion of battle he did not dare reveal his true prowess. A few losses were acceptable.

Ritter deflected spear after spear with his shield and heavy armor. Eurysa tried to stay out of melee range, using her gaze to paralyze a few lizardfolk. Even with that, she felt a couple of spears pierce her skin. Aldebaran looked far worse than that, his huge form was a huge target for the enemy. However, getting close to him was a deadly prospect. His sword was cleaving through the enemy with unbridled ferocity. However none of the Irregulars could match the vodyanoi.

Kava ducked and weaved through the enemy forces with uncanny grace. Her hatchets severed limbs, opened skulls or chests, or ripped flesh from bone. She was in her element and it was amazing to see. With all of her skill though, even the vodyanoi could not defend from so many foes. Blood flowed as several spears cut her, some more deeply than others. The leader of the troglodytes approached the battle, seeing the devastation. She raised her spear and waited. At the right moment she plunged it into the battle.

The Naxaeless were often strong, with the females much stronger than the men. This female was stronger than most. She knew her foes would be difficult to strike in the midst of the chaotic melee. That was assuming she wished to avoid striking her allies. As leader of the fight, she had made a terrible decision. She had decided the male warriors were all expendable. With that in mind, she plunged her spear through one of her own allies. It killed the troglodyte instantly, but it also struck Kava in her what would be a sternum on a human.

The vodyanoi hit the ground, reeling from the blow. She was coughing and gurgling. The wound was nasty. Kava's orange eyes did not show any fear or worry. There was only rage and blood-lust. She leapt over the slain male lizardfolk and attack the leader of the troglodyte forces with dire fury. A dozen lizardfolk spears pierced her from behind, seeking to protect their leader. The vodyanoi did not flinch. Her hatchets landed blow after blow as Kava wildly flailed at the female troglodyte.

The leader of the lizardfolk fell as Kava collapsed on top her her, spent of her fury. At least six spears pointed towards the sky where they were still implanted in the back of the amphibian. Without their leader, the male lizardfolk turned tail and fled, retreating to regroup with new leadership. The battle had been terrible. Devis counted six dead humans. Most of the Irregulars were wounded. If the lizardfolk regrouped and returned, the line would not hold.

It was more likely that they would regroup and find another location to strike, but Devis saw that the best scout for learning more was on the ground. It was the minotaur the rushed to the side of the vodyanoi first. Blood matted Aldebaran's fur, but he did not care about his own pain. He knelt beside Kava to check on her. She looked up at him, her large eyes glassy and unfocused.

“I got a bigger pile than you,” she croaked, spitting up some blood as well, “And took down the damn leader.”

“Yes, I think you finally beat me,” Aldebaran replied softly.

“Say it loud and often,” Kava said, “About time you admitted I was better than you. Now lets get these bastards in a pile. I want to sit on top of them and sneer down at you like you deserve.”

Soon the troglodyte corpses had been made into a pile. A great many had been slain. Aldebaran heaved the massive female Naxaeless on top of the pile, then gently lifted Kava onto the top.

“Ah, much better,” the vodyanoi said softly, her voice fading, “This is a throne to be proud of. The troglodytes felt the roar of the vodyanoi this day. They will not soon forget us.”

“No one will forget,” Aldebaran stated as a tear rolled from his eye.

Kava did not speak again. The vodyanoi had stopped breathing. She would never speak again, nor would her people. Finally the vodyanoi were extinct. It was hard to say if they had made their mark on the world at large, but those that knew of Kava knew of her impact at the very least. As the group moved the wounded back towards the border, Ritter thought about what had happened. The Halz wondered if the humans would even mention the vodyanoi. He wondered if they would become little more than an ancient legend.

It was a sad thought that such a hero might be forgotten. If she had been human, Ritter expected she might have been more widely recognized for her deeds. The dwarf knew that when he returned home, that he at least would remember her sacrifice. His people thrived on such tales of valor against impossible odds. Ritter glanced back one last time. At least the vodyanoi had lived to fulfill her greatest wish. She had died atop a pile of the corpses of her enemies. It was oddly fitting, but the Halz saw it had a deep effect on Aldebaran.

13Nov/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0072

The ferry crossed the river slowly. The priestess had certainly been surprised at the warriors that Devis had brought with him. However, she had quite agreed that such monsters would be useful in combat. She had sent a pair of the templars to help make sure that the transfer across the river went smoothly. They had ensured that the locals kept their distance. The less that the Feergrus were seen associating with Enzi's Irregulars, the better. It would not help if their image was tarnished by the proximity to criminals.

Devis imagined that more than enough had been done to minimize any impact in Agon. As the ferry reached the other side of the Ago River, the disguised Rakshasa smiled. He was now in the land where he had the most control. He expected things to progress smoothly and quickly. He led the Irregulars westward, headed for the city of Ta'afar. From there, they would have to take the roads. The badlands of Feergrus made it difficult to travel overland. The roads would be quicker and safer.

The ferry's drift upriver had placed them about one day's walk from the city, walking through the farmlands. Devis felt comforted to see the workers tirelessly tending the fields. The workers were mindless undead, under the command of whatever necromancer controlled the area. While outsiders were often frightened by the undead, Devis could not understand why. The undead were mindless after all. They only did what their controller commanded them to do. If they were uncontrolled, they would merely do nothing.

They were harmless unless commanded to harm something. They were as safe as any tool could be. It was a way to continue to use the few resources of the land. Even in death, the people of Feergrus could continue to provide aid. When the bodies were damaged beyond the ability for necromancy to animate, they still were useful as fertilizer to continue the cycle of life. It was the way of Feergrus. It was also why the creation of intelligent undead was illegal.

The humans of Feergrus were supposed to live by the tenets of their religion, which included the necessity of death. This tenet of the religion, of course, had been put in place by Lord Glanar Dale for good reason. It was easy to keep the humans in line if they did not have a long enough lifetime to see what the Rakshasa were planning. This was one of the things that made the Ahk Separatists so dangerous. Their leaders were intelligent undead, some of which had been around since the creation of the nation.

These elders knew how long Glanar Dale, Karrum Tamb, and Devis Lane had been around. They had good reason to fear the three Rakshasa. To some, that might make the Ahk Separatists heroes. The vile deeds they performed only proved to Devis Lane what he had long since learned to be true. No one group could be considered good. In the hands of a human, power only ever seemed to corrupt. It was why the Rakshasa planned to rule over the humans.

In a position of power, Lord Glanar Dale could control the human populace and keep them focused. To Devis, such a goal was preferable to any flawed human civilization coming into ultimate power of the lands of Doulairen. It was a goal that Devis would work to bring to fruition. He would do whatever it took. It did not matter to him if his acts were evil, they were acts towards his greater purpose. His ultimate loyalty was to his country. He did not care how outsiders saw his actions.

The walk to Ta'afar was quiet. One of the good things about the mindless undead is they were never curious. None of them got in the way of the group. None had any cares that six monsters walked past them. It was a long two days of walking, but the next morning they entered the city. With a brief stop at the local temple, Devis had word spread of his mission. The path to the border of Vashim would now be a clear path. The Shadow Guard would make sure of that.

With that, the travel moved quickly as they headed southwest. Four days after entering Ta'afar, the group reached the city of Shabestar. Following that, they traveled four days westward to the city of Ardishai. Finally they traveled southwest from there for four more days to reach the capital of Feergrus itself. The mighty city of Adazar sat before Enzi's Irregulars. The spires of the city glistened in the morning sun. The mighty star in the sky called Feras slowly made its way eastwards after its rise from the western horizon.

“I have a few places to visit while we are here in order to make sure we are welcome in the battle we are headed toward. We have been pushing hard, so get some rest before we head off again. It will be at least six days to the next city this time. You might want to pick up extra supplies while we can. We will be passing through the Brackenwater Barrens. That place can be rather dangerous and if we are delayed, I would hate to run out of supplies. It is hard to find anything edible in the barrens.”

Devis left the five monstrous mercenaries on their own, confident they would have no problems. The Shadow Guard would keep the locals in line. The Shadow Guard had long served Devis well. They were his spy network throughout the country. They took care of things while Devis was busy handling the things outside of the country. The disguised Rakshasa made his way to the main temple. It was the home of Lord Glanar Dale himself. Devis Lane had quite a few things to report.

Entering the temple would normally be difficult, as the templars that guarded it would be suspicious of strangers. A simple pass word, however, got Devis past the first guards. Such a thing would not work to reach the next part of the temple, but that was no longer an issue. Now that he was out of sight, Devis returned to his standard Feergrus form. Making his way through the temple as himself was far easier. Eventually he arrived at the inner sanctum, where Lord Glanar Dale resided.

“All goes well with the plan to stop the troglodyte invasion,” Devis stated.

Glanar was in his Rakshasa form, his white fur and black stripes seemed quite regal to Devis, “That is good Devis. What of the situation in Agon?”

“Our man Roukaan Pallis is now in place as tutor to the prince. After all is settled, I will visit again to ensure all is going well.”

“Good, it appears all is moving according to plan.”

“For the moment. I wanted to report in before I continues southwards.”

“Thank you for your news. I have little to tell you. Things have been surprisingly quiet with the separatists. I would have thought they would have made a move while our forces were busy with the lizards.”

“That means the distractions by my Shadow Guard have been working. I will have to complement them on their work. Even without me they have been showing considerable skill in manipulating the enemy.”

“Be careful Devis, we do not want them to become too clever.”

“It is no worry, my lord. When an asset is too much trouble, it can be easily eliminated. On that note, I have finally disposed of Enzi Cala. His use came to an end.”\

Lord Glanar dale nodded, “Good luck on your mission. Soon this war will be over and our position in the world will be improved.”

Devis nodded and excused himself. He made his way out of the temple, changing back to his disguise as Enzi Cala along the way. Devis met up with the Irregulars, finding them well supplied for the next leg of the journey. The trip southwards was surprisingly quiet. The Separatists liked to hide in the Brackenwater Barrens and the Rakshasa was pleasantly surprised that they remained quiet, even against a small group like Enzi's Irregulars. When he had taken care of the troglodyte problem, Devis would have to find out what his Shadow Guard had been up to. He was quite impressed.

Devis and the five monstrous mercenaries reached the town of Amarah without any problems. From there it was a four day trip to Dargaz, a town that sat on the southern border of Feergrus. Finally the long trip was over and Devis could begin his master plan. Just by asking around town, he heard of several small skirmishes between the templars and the troglodytes. The real war had not yet begun, but the lizardfolk had been massing for months.

“Well, now we at at the war front once again,” Devis said, “The enemy masses and prepares an attack. Not just against us, but against everyone they consider human. This also includes the lycanthropes. As they have seen some of the priests of Feergrus transform into our panther shape, they believe the lycanthropes like Mayitso are the same. It is because of this that I have a terrible favor to ask of you, Mayitso.”

“You wish to bring his people into a war?” Eurysa hissed.

“They are already a part of it, even if they do not yet know it. I hate to ask, but it would be better if the fight included all the parties involved. The lizardfolk will fall back easier with a concerted effort and a large show of force. Only you have enough speed to get there and back quickly. Only you know the way, The rest of us can hold off the assault until you arrive. Can you do it? For us? For your people?”

Mayitso looked at Eurysa for guidance and the gorgon hissed, “Enzi may be right. The lizardfolk might not be hitting hard here because they are already hitting your people. You should at least talk to them and find out what is going on.”

The lycanthrope nodded and began running off into the forest. Devis smiled, all was going according to plan. He already knew that the lycanthropes had been attacked by the troglodytes. At least the lycanthropes thought that it was the troglodytes. Some of the Rakshasa's best agents had worked to plant that evidence. The chat that Devis had with the Shadow Guard when he first entered Feergrus had confirmed their success. It was possible that other conflicts had happened as well, those would merely be icing on the cake.

Devis and the remaining Irregulars moved on to meet up with the scouting forces for the Feergrus. Devis needed solid information on where to strike the troglodytes to keep them from going on the offensive. Finding them was rather easy. Devis had a good idea of where they were camped. One of his Shadow Guard had been placed with the scouting group, and that agent made relations with the scouts quite easy. Devis had been expected.

“Welcome to Enzi's Irregulars,” one of the Feergrus scouts said in their native language.

“Greetings, Devis replied in Infernus, “We are here to offer our assistance.”

“We are in need of it,” the scout said, “Our forces are spread thin. We have been trying to identify where the first strike will come, but the border is quite long. Scouts have found the troglodytes all along the border, but have not found their plan. Attacking along the whole border would be suicide.”

“They were scouting us, much as we scouted them,” the disguised Devis stated, “They are a cunning foe. Now that my team is here, we can hopefully figure out their plan. We have an expert on the lizardfolk with us.”

Understanding Infernus perfectly well, the Vodyanoi grinned. Her frog-like mouth made her smile frighteningly wide to a human's eyes. The fact that she had vicious looking Pedicellate teeth made things all the more frightening looking. They looked vicious, like a row of long sharp fangs. The teeth of a vodyanoi were longer than the average amphibian, but the vodyanoi were much larger creatures.

6Nov/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0071

Devis did his best to disappear from sight. When he was sure no one could see him, he shifted his form into an Agonish man. Enzi's clothing was simple enough it could pass as normal about anywhere. The man had wanted to wear something easy to move around in for combat and travel purposes. It just happened to serve well as anonymous clothing. The disguised Rakshasa then strode directly into town. It was time to mingle and learn how best to cross the river.

The town was bustling with activity. Farmers were trading their goods as people were preparing to ship any extra goods downriver to the capital and beyond. Barges moving up and down the river were a constant sight. Trade thrived on the rivers. Devis knew that finding boats was easy. Finding a boat that was willing to take passengers would not be too difficult. Finding one that was willing to take monsters, however, that was the problem.

Disguising himself as just another one of Agon's citizens helped a lot. Devis was able to chat with a dozen different people and learn about the trade barges expected in and out of town. He also learned about the captains of each. The word captain seemed like a lofty term for a barge owner that poled a barge upriver than let it drift back down towards the ocean. However, the personality of the men often overshadowed their miniscule power. The term captain might have aided that by boosting their ego.

With information in hand, Devis visited a shop to make a few purchases. It was nice to be in the heart of civilization again. He could solve quite a few problems by throwing a little bit of coin around. He kept a small collection of the coin of each country in a few different pouches. He also kept a few small gems to us in bartering for anything that might require a little more buying power. It was more than enough for nearly anything he needed.

Purchases in hand, the disguised Devis headed for the river. He headed out of town, stopping along the way to change his disguise. Falling back into the character of Enzi Cala was easier than Devis expected it to be. He limped along the riverbank until he found the five inhuman mercenaries. They had found a nice spot near the shore where they could rest out of sight of both the road and anyone going down the river. The Rakshasa handed each of Enzi's Irregulars a present.

“I purchased some cloaks for each of you. It may be the wrong season for them, but it will help hide us until we reach saner shores. I believe I know of a barge that will aid us. This particular captain is expected to reach town today and has been known to transport almost anything for the right price. We are lucky that it seems this will not require much diplomacy at all.”

Aldebaran pulled out a rather large cloak, “I am surprised you found anything near my size.”

“I asked for the largest cloak they had,” Devis replied, “I was surprised it was as large as it was, though it might still need to be larger to be fully effective.”

“True. We lost the custom sized cloaks when we had to leave the wagon behind<' Eurysa hissed, “These are not a perfect replacement, but they will be enough. It is the wrong season to wear them, so it will not dampen suspicion much.”

“More than you might guess,” the creature disguised as Enzi Cala stated, “The Kurrot often wear cloaks like this. People tend to give them a wide berth due to their reputation as being potentially violent. It will hopefully deter most people from bothering us as long as we keep away from towns. In the midst of a small town, the local guards might watch out for troublemakers. It changes again in a large city like Agonor. The sheer amount of visitors they get there means that one has to expect people of all kinds will be wandering the streets. The town guard there have much bigger problems to deal with than someone in a cloak.”

“Maybe we should drift down to the capital then,” Kava croaked.

“As we are wanted criminals, it is safer to avoid the area just in case.”

Eurysa hissed, “A cloak would not hide my tail on the hard streets.”

“Yes, the grass and soft ground here helps us considerably,” Ritter said, “I imagine the hooves of a minotaur would draw attention on a hard surface as well.”

Devis nodded, “We do not need that kind of suspicion. There are few groups as unique as ours, we would be chased by the guards far earlier than we could imagine. It is possible that some are on our trail even now if that farmer has sent out word.”

“So now we wait,” Aldebaran grumbled.

“I hate waiting,” Kava croaked.

Two hours passed as Devis stood at the riverbed and watched. Finally the Rakshasa spotted a barge as the captain and his helpers took it slowly upstream. Against the current of the Capital River, however, poles were not enough. One of the crew was walking on the shore, leading a powerful ox. The ox was towing the barge, the poles were used to keep the barge from crashing into the shore more than they were for forward motion. Devis stepped out to great the bargemen as they drew near.

Devis used a standard Agonori greeting, “Hail and well met.”

“Hail stranger,” the captain yelled back.

“I have some business to discuss. My companions and I seek passage across the river.”

“I must admit this seems odd. You could have approached me in town.”

“There are reasons we did not enter town, and equally good reasons not to associate ourselves with you in public. It would likely harm your reputation I expect.”

“Such talk makes me think there is a good profit to make here.”

“I would agree,” Devis grinned, knowing he had baited the hook well, “A handsome payment is not an issue.”

“For a foreigner, you know the language I like to hear well. Let us pull to shore and we will see what we can do for you.”

The discussion was short and simple after the captain was introduced to Enzi's Irregulars. Coin crossed palms and the six foreigners stepped on the barge. The ox was also led on the barge as the crew used their poles to push the barge across the river. It drifted slowly back down the river due to the current, but soon enough it had reached the other side. It had been a good chance to rest as well. Devis led the five monstrous mercenaries southwards, headed for the city of Mocelare.

The ferry across the river had lightened the wallet of Devis Lane considerably, but he did not care. Money was of little concern to him. He had the resources of an entire country behind him. From what he had learned of the captain, he expected most of that coin to end up back in the hands of the Feergrus soon enough. He would likely splurge at the next temple of Rakar he came to. The temptations of the services offered by the temples dedicated to pleasure often drew people like the barge captain.

Enzi's Irregulars spent two days walking through fields of grains. The sheer amount of agriculture in the river valleys of Agon meant that the country was a powerhouse in the trade for food goods. Most of what they grew were grains, as such things traveled well. It also meant that it was nearly impossible to starve the country. Between their control of the majority of the continent's prime farmlands and the required militia training of the majority of the men, Agon was a country that no sane nation would attempt to take on in a direct military confrontation.

Luckily the group passed through the fields without running into any of the farmers. The sheer size of the fields made such encounters unlikely unless one got too close to where the farmers happened to be working or to their house. It was nearly noon when the group approached the town of Mocelare. It was long before that when they could see their goal. The town had a temple of Rakar in it, and the spire of the building could be seen from miles away.

Devis felt much more confident once he could see the temple spire. The temple in Mocelare had been the first of its kind. As the first place that had allowed the religion of Feergrus to enter Agon, the town had long had friendly relations with the native land of the slain Enzi Cala. It was not unusual to see a great number of visitors from Feergrus itself while within the town. Mocelare was not near any particular city of Feergrus, the other side of the river was covered with farms run by the people of Feergrus.

Once again, Devis headed into the city first as well as alone. This time, however, he saw no need to transform. He blended in equally well as a Feergrus, and there was no suspicion about one such as he approaching the temple dedicated to the feline deity Rakar. The Rakshasa walked into the temple and was immediately greeted and welcomed. He was asked what he needed and Devis told them to ask the priest about a special blessing. His question, of course, was a code word that such a priest would understand.

As expected, the head priest of the temple soon appeared, an elderly priestess. Like all priests, she wore a circlet. Hers was made of gold, which spoke well of how long she had been a priest. The quality of material was part of the hierarchy of the priesthood. The gems were less important, they merely showed which deities the priest had learned the secrets for, though often a powerful priest might have more than one gem for a certain deity. This priestess had three red gems in her circlet. Red was the color of Rakar.

“It has been a long time since I have heard someone asking for a tiger root,” the priestess stated.

“I expect so, things have been quiet here. The war has not reached this far into the center of the continent. That is why I need aid. Feergrus is under attack. My allies need transport across the river into Feergrus. I will lead them past the Boneyard and into the Marsh of Vashim. There the troglodytes move against us thanks to the machinations of the Tarvoni.”

“I have heard of trouble there,” the priestess sighed, “I have found it hard to remain here when so many troubles besiege the land.”

“Do not worry yourself. Our healers work with the armies and my allies will help to end the threat to Feergrus. Peace will come to our land. The people here still need you.”

“I can easily aid you, we have our own transport to cross the Ago River.”

“My allies might be seen as unpleasant to the locals,” Devis stated, “They will have circled around the city to the riverbank by now.”

The priestess nodded, “Even now the locals are uncomfortable with the use of the mindless undead. At least they no longer find it entirely horrific. The more they understand, the less they fear. I expect if you have found allies to fight the troglodytes, they must be mighty indeed. Such allies could easily be frightening to the populace.”

Devis nodded, “They are also wanted by the authorities, who see them as a threat. Any aid you can provide in making this go smoothly without causing any problems for you would be much appreciated.”

“Leave it to me,” the priestess stated, “I will not fail you. Your disguise is excellent, my lord. You may not remember, but we met long ago. Only the great Devis Lane would be traveling to aid our country and know of the code word.”

Devis briefly shifted his face to the one that many of the Feergrus thought of as his real face, “It is an honor to aid my country.”

“No. It is my honor to aid you.”