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

25Jul/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0004

The gray skies doused the battle scarred plains below. Ritter heard the raindrops as they hit his armor. He knew he was going to have to spend some serious time cleaning his armor after this. Eurysa and Aldebaran used their cloaks to help shield themselves from the cold, piercing rain. The giant wolf Mayitso looked miserable, reminding the Halz of a drowned rat.

“This weather thing you have above grounds is miserable,” the dwarf said.

Kava snorted as she bounced merrily through the falling water, “Miserable? No, this is glorious. It should be for all of you too. You all need water to live and here it is falling out of the sky itself! Perhaps if you were amphibians you might appreciate just how precious water is.”

Ritter's heavy boots stomped through the mud and water shaking his head. One never had to deal with this underground. Water was easy to hear from a distance, dripping off protrusions on some ceilings or flowing as an underground river to various waterfalls or lakes. The dwarf wondered how people could maintain their armor if this happened much. It made him re-evaluate why he saw so few people wearing heavy metal armors.

The vodyanoi might have been slightly annoying to Ritter as she enjoyed the downpour, but he was not sure that it wasn't better than her normal bloodthirsty manner. At least this was cheerful and peaceful, even if it was at an odd time. The Halz was not sure how she could be so carefree in life and in battle if she was the last of her kind. The minotaur and the gorgon were both the end of their lines and neither one of them acted like Kava. The minotaur certainly had issues with anger and Ritter could understand that. The gorgon was careful and efficient. Those were the traits of a survivor.

The dwarf could not understand how Kava expected to survive if she remained so reckless. Aldebaran and Eurysa had learned control. Ritter wondered if perhaps more time spent with them would influence her. His own influence might help as well. If nothing else, he expected that getting her under control would help the rest of the team survive. It was always the weakest link in a chain that breaks. Ritter knew that he needed more practice in communicating with outsiders if ever the Halz were to integrate with the rest of the world.

“Have you ever thought of a different approach to Battle, Kava?” Ritter asked.

“Different? Not really. I have always been one of the ground fighters of my people. Being one of the leapers would be fun though. I just don't have the legs for it though,” the vodyanoi replied.

“That is not quite what I meant,” the Halz said, “You are the last of your people. If you engage your enemies recklessly you will end up as part of an extinct people.”

Kava shrugged, “It was bound to happen anyway. We fought the troglodytes, we fought the Hirkans, we fought the Vashimi, we always found foes to struggle against. I imagine if we had ever won, we would have then turned on ourselves. That would have been a glorious last war.”

“You aren't worried that you will be slain and no one will ever know of your people?”

“Not many knew of us before, and certainly not many now,” Kava said, “We don't care about recognition.”

“So you were nothing but violent savages then?”

“You got it,” Kava said, “I'd probably be out doing it alone, but even I know I can kill a lot more people with back up. Ending up as someones caged beast is my main worry. That won't happen with the rest of these bums around. They will give me plenty of time to slaughter people until someone finally gets lucky and cuts me down. I am hoping that it will be on a great battlefield after leaving a pile of dead that can be seen for miles.”

“That seems unlikely,” Ritter said.

“A girl can dream!” Kava replied with a feral gleam in her orange eyes.

***

The rain had been unrelenting for nearly a week. Ritter noticed, however, that the ground he was walking on seemed to remain parched and brittle.

“This is definitely the edge of Feergrus,” Kava said, “My people never came this far north. The badlands just seem to devour moisture and remain dry and hard.”

Eurysa nodded her scaled head as the snakes upon it flitted about, “Only the hardiest of plants survive in Feergrus, at least this part of it. Up in the far north near the Agon River are the more fertile grounds. They are heavily cultivated and less populated.”

“Makes sense to me,” Ritter said, “If fertile land is at a premium, you don't waste space on homes. The Halz certainly don't build in the caverns capable of supporting mushroom fields.”

Mayitso's nose was to the ground. The lycanthrope was working to find their targets before they reached the civilian population. The great wolf's nose lifted into the air and he trotted off southwards. From what he had been able to tell, the lycanthrope was trying to track his kin that was with the Tarvoni summoner. Ritter was still worried about how they were going to deal with the mage. The fur on Mayitso's neck suddenly raised and he growled with a low rumble. Instantly the group was on edge, but what they saw instead was a lone man walking along.

His darker skin placed him as likely Agonish. However, they was something white on his face, some kind of paint marking him. If Ritter had known Agonish letters he would have recognized it as a letter M. Surely the man could see them clearly by this point, but he showed no fear. Ritter noticed his allies were certainly on guard however.

“This is unexpected,” Eurysa hissed.

The man then spoke out in a language that the dwarf did not understand. Eurysa spoke back and Ritter could sense there was tension. The rest of the group looked as clueless as the Halz on the language. He hoped that the gorgon's ability to give cues would work if the discussion failed. However, the man switched from speaking Agonori to speaking in Nuvro.

“Greetings to all of Enzi's Irregulars,” the painted Agonish man said, “It appears we are after the same prey this day. I am Laerdik Verdiss, one of the Agonish Magehunters.”

“Agonish Magehunters?” Ritter asked.

Eurysa nodded, “They hunt down and slay mages.”

“Wait, all mages?” the Halz asked.

“That depends on the Magehunter,” Laerdik answered, “Hunting every mage would be difficult, though some are dedicated to eradicating all arcane influence. I stick with getting rid of threats to Agon and other civilized people first. That is more than enough work. Trying to deal with the often more helpful magic use in Ravalei, for example, seems like something that is a waste of time when there are immediate threats. Many of us are less picky, however, and seek to end all magic before it corrupts more people.”

The Halz wondered about that. His people had long sine lost their libraries which had held wisdom, including magic. Some of the ancient creations of the Halz still remained. He had a few magical runestones of his own hidden away back home. The greatest loss had been of their magical forge at the lost capital. To feed that forge the dwarves had redirected magma. It had been an error in their engineering that had unleashed a great torrent of lava that had ended the massive city of Tralenheim.

The error at first had been minor. A message had been sent to the elves to ask for their aid before things got worse. The reply they had received had been insulting. The Halz had not yet begun evacuation as they had expected their long alliance with the elves to make the problem go away with ease. Ritter's people did not have the proper resources to fix the problem. The elves had the natural resources they needed. As the dwarves had begun to flee, the problem became worse. A flaw in one of the elven components of their great system gave way under the stress.

It had been a dark day for the Halz when the magma devoured their capital. Nearly half of their population had been killed in the span of a few minutes. Their long time allies had abandoned them in their time of need with a message that they no longer needed the Halz and thus saw no reason to aid them, especially for a problem they had brought upon themselves. It was a bitter memory for Ritter's people. Their trust in outsiders had been shattered, their people were dying, and their main home was lost. The seven remaining clans had retreated to their distant homes. Contact between the clans had died and the shattered people had been dying a slow death ever since.

Ritter shook off his feelings. He had come to the surface to create ties to the outsiders once again. The Magehunters as a group might see only corruption in magic and deny its use as a tool but this one person showed understanding. The humans still had much to learn. They were a race with short lives and therefore had little time to think over their experiences. It was what others taught them that would help shape them, Ritter believed.

“Well, I certainly don't see any reason not to have someone that can deal with the mage,” Ritter said.

Aldebaran nodded while Kava shrugged.

“Agreed,” Eurysa said, “Now let us find this threat and end it.”

Mayitso resumed his tracking. The Magehunter seemed to be peering through the distance as well.

“He certainly has not comes this way yet,” Laerdik said, “No one has used magic around here recently.”

“You can track magic?” Ritter asked.

Laerdik nodded, “All Magehunters can. Each does so in their own way. Some can hear it, some can feel it, some can see it. Those who learn the ability each say they experience it in a different way. Mine is vision, I can see it as a red glow.”

“So you can tell if someone is a mage?” Ritter questioned.

“Only if they have cast a spell somewhat recently, depending on the power of the spell. The trail they leave is dependent on them using their magic. If someone never uses magic, they have nothing to fear from us.”

The group trudged onwards along the dry lands. Even the clouds that had earlier brought rains had retreated. The sun gazed down at the six figures and tried to set them ablaze with its penetrating heat. Dust soon flew from each of the company's footsteps and the last of the moisture in the air evaporated. Mayitso began to pant as his heavily furred body was built for the cold. It was then that Laerdik paused and pointed in the distance.

“There, a flash of red in the distance. Though it may simply be the haze of this growing heat.”

Ritter grunted, “With as far south as we are, you would think it would be cooler.”

Kava grunted, “I think it is the air here. The sun blazes through without anything holding it back.”

Eurysa hissed, “You should see the nights here. They are colder here than most places further south. Temperature in the badlands swings to both extremes but neither stay for long.”

Ritter nodded and the group moved to intercept their foe, hoping that the Magehunter's eyes had seen true. As they neared the area, Mayitso growled a warning. There was little need, however. The earth giant that traveled with the summoner was easy enough to spot in the distance. While it had a humanoid shape in many ways, its build was slightly different than a human. Its sheer bulk was one difference, as its limbs were more large pillars without muscle definition. The giant had no separate neck. Its head, if it could be called that, was just flesh along the top of its shoulders in a dome shape. Sunken eyes stared out from its rocky hide.

It had fashioned a massive club for itself and had draped several large hides over its body. Several rocky nodules seemed sit upon its stony flesh giving the creature a slightly misshapen look to the group. It towered over the rest of its group, which soon could be seen. A massive black wolf trotted out in front and quickly locked eyes with Mayitso. The mercenaries could also see the humanoid lizard with them. While Ritter had heard tales of them, he was not expecting to see one so large.

“Oh my,” Kava said with her orange eyes glistening with glee, “That is a female troglodyte. This will be fun.”

“How can you tell from here?” Ritter asked.

“Well, even if the enormous size didn't give her away, that frill of hers isn't some garish color. All the boys have brightly colored frills. It is like painting a big target on their head saying 'Hit me here'. Not sure why a female would be here, but they are a lot more dangerous.”

The dwarf looked at the lizardfolk warrior and could not disagree. She moved like a trained warrior and was powerfully built. He could certainly see the frill that the vodyanoi had mentioned as well. It was erect, standing up along the center of the creature's neck to the top of her head. However, the dwarf did not immediately see the summoner. The Magehunter was scanning the area, searching for his prey.

“There,” Laerdik said, “He is weaving powerful spells. I expect they have seen us and decided we are enemies. Likely we will be dealing with his allies and any summoned creatures soon enough.”

“Then let us take him down,” Eurysa said as the battle lines were drawn.

18Jul/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0003

The hammer crashed downwards and the target shattered. Dust and stone chips flew as the soft stone that had been used as target practice was nearly disintegrated. Ritter put his hammer away and nodded to the others. The minotaur merely grunted but the vodyanoi's orange eyes glittered with some obscene thought.

“Oh the thought of how that would crush bone,” Kava said, “I think I'll have happy dreams about that.”

“It is to crush armor,” the Halz said, “The crushing blow can affect bone as well, but any good weapon is made to cause damage to your foe.”

Eurysa was curled around a stump, effectively sitting there. Mayitso was laying on the ground nearby. Finally Enzi made his way over to the group.

“Well, let us finally debrief on all that happened at the bandit camp.”

Eurysa described the tactics they used. Ritter heard of all that happened that he had missed. The Gorgon's first shots had been to eliminate the other tower guards. He learned the tactic to rush in had been decided based on the light armor and small number of rogue mercenaries. The surprise had easily taken out nearly half of the bandits before they could retaliate. Even then, the enemy had been unprepared for such a brutal attack.

Enzi nodded, “A little dangerous to take a new hire into a fast paced situation like that, but with that kind of armor I can understand the decision. Our next job is going to require less of a full frontal assault.”

“Too bad,” Kava said.

“Don't worry, I am sure there will be plenty of combat for you,” the dark skinned human said, “I have recently learned that a mage of some power has gathered some unusual forces of his own for an assault on undefended towns.”

“Ugh,” Kava replied, “Why do they always go after the defenseless? Where is the challenge in that?”

Enzi continued, ignoring the vodyanoi's comments. The minotaur seemed not to be listening or even caring at all. The same could be said for the lycanthrope. The gorgon, however, was listening intently, as was Ritter. The dwarf had never dealt with a mage before, he was more than willing to listen to the experiences of others on this matter.

“It appears the mage is a summoner, able to weave spells that call creatures to fight for him out of thin air. Yet he has also gathered a few unusual allies as well,” Enzi said as he began to list them off, “One of the lizardfolk of the marsh.”

Kava spit at the ground, “That one is mine.”

“A lycanthrope.”

Mayitso's ears perked up at that and swiveled to listen more carefully to the Feergrus man.

“And an earth giant.”

Ritter's eyes narrowed. He knew of the giants all too well, especially the earth giants. The Nuvroci called them trolls. The Agonish called them ogres. The Halz called them many names, none of which the dwarf would prefer to repeat in polite company. If one of his people was going to run into trouble upon leaving their tunnels in the mountains, it was very likely to be earth giants. Their size and power could overwhelm an unprepared Halz. Enzi gave directions of where to find the group based on what little intelligence he had gathered. The five inhuman mercenaries then began their trek across the plains of the Disputed Lands.

***

Ritter's boot found something that crunched and snapped. He was half afraid to look down and see what it was. Luckily it was just an old blade. Exposure to the elements had left it rusty and brittle. It was not uncommon to find such things scattered around the Disputed Lands. Many had died on the fields, many that had no stories of their fall. Ahead the Halz saw the rotted remains of what might have been a wagon. There was little left of the wood and it was mostly overgrown. The bones of the fallen were nearby, dried in the sun. The vegetation that had been killed by the decomposition had mostly recovered and would soon envelope the bones. Then another traveler might find do much as the dwarf had, only this time with brittle bone.

Ritter nearly jumped when Kava spoke to him in her normal blunt fashion, “So what are you anyway?”

The dwarf raised an eyebrow, “A Halz of course.”

The vodyanoi laughed, “No, I meant as a type of creature. Like fish, lizard, mammal, or amphibian. Your skin looks like stone, so that is a bit different.”

“I'm not sure I understand your classifications,” Ritter replied.

“Well fish are scaly, lay eggs, and live in water. Lizards are the same except they live on land. Mammals give live birth and use parts of their own bodies to feed their young,” Kava replied with a slight look of disgust, “Amphibians are a mix of all the best parts of the creature types.”

“So what are birds then?” the dwarf asked.

“Birds are lizards. They don't breathe underwater, they lay eggs, and those feathers just look like a different type of scales to me.”

“I guess the Halz are mammals then. While we often wonder if we had once been hewn from stone due to our appearance, our skin is similar to other humanoids. I wonder why you want to know.”

Kava nodded, “Well, unlike some, you fit well into the way of things in the world. I study the nature of things.”

“Unlike some?”

“Yeah,” the amphibian replied, “Like Eurysa. I can't get answers out of her. She has scales. She has snakes for hair. That all screams out lizard. But then she has those lumps of flesh on her chest like a mammal. Is she some sort of unnatural half breed of a snake and a human or what?”

If it was not for the fact that his eye was a solid black color, Kava might have noticed the dwarf rolling his eyes, “I don't tend to speculate on others and their origins.”

“You should. You might assume the wrong things are important otherwise. Before I started studying nature, I thought those flesh lumps on some humans might have been important. Of course, all hitting them with an axe did was let loose some blood. No vitals organs or anything else. A Ravaleian scientist told me about mammals. I didn't understand most of what he said at the time, but I got the gist of it. I'd go back and ask him for more information now that I know more, except I had to disembowel him when it turned out he was going to try to capture us all and use us as his own private science experiment animals.”

Ritter grimaced slightly at that. The vodyanoi had let it go nonchalantly. The Halz wasn't sure how such things couldn't bother her, and was afraid to ask. It was far easier to understand Eurysa's reluctance to speak with the vodyanoi about her nature. Knowing the small amphibian used her knowledge to unleash a more effective death for her foes was unsettling. Her blunt nature certainly didn't help smooth over relations either. At least she was social, however. The minotaur barely ever spoke. Ritter decided to try to be blunt as well, as he had his own curiosity to sate.

That evening as the mercenaries began to set up camp, Ritter watched Aldebaran pull out a whetstone and begin to sharpen his elven wave blade. Mayitso padded off, taking first watch. Eurysa curled up near the fire, soaking up its warmth as Kava dampened her skin with some water from one of her extra containers. Ritter summoned his bravery, knowing he had to learn one thing about the minotaur before it drove him mad.

“So why exactly do you use some elven weapon anyway?” the Halz finally asked.

The minotaur merely grunted and continued his work. Ritter sighed and returned to his resting place. Eurysa slithered over towards him.

“It takes a while for Aldebaran to warm up to people,” Eurysa hissed softly, “But all of his equipment is gained in the same fashion. He takes things from those he has slain. He claims the only way to earn something is to make it yourself and protect it, or to take it from others in combat. I don't understand it myself.”

Ritter nodded and found some new respect for Aldebaran. He hoped that it had been an elf that the minotaur had slain to gain the blade. He expected that it was far more likely to have been taken from a human. The Tarvo Forest was littered with elven ruins. Only the best craftsmanship would survive those conditions, so at least it was likely that the blade was the finest that elves could produce. The dwarf figured it still was not even half as good as what a Halz could craft, but he would prefer that the minotaur did not slay any of his people to gain such a weapon.

***

Enzi was putting supplies into his relatively empty wagon. He knew his mercenaries would need them in the days to come. While his senses were sharp, he did not notice the man that approached. This man was almost indescribably average, if quite young looking. His skin tone could have placed him as any of the northern races, Agonish, Kurrot, or Ravaleian. His decided lack of ostentatious clothing, gaudy jewelry, or extensive body art made it less likely he was Ravaleian. He did not seem quite lean enough to be Kurrot. Yet his skin did not seem quite dark enough to be Agonish.

Most people would pass him off as the son of two nations. It was not unusual. This man was of course not what he seemed. If Enzi had spotted him, he certainly would have sensed it. His movements were too sure for his age, his manner too calm for a place as dangerous as the Disputed Lands, even if they were near the relatively civilized bastion of Center Point. He strode purposely up to the wagon without purposely moving stealthily, yet his footsteps missed every twig, rock, or other bit of debris that might have warned the aging mercenary leader.

“Good day,” the man said finally.

Enzi nearly jumped out of his shirt, but quickly collected himself, “Ah, yes. Can I help you?”

“Actually you already are,” the man replied, “Your interesting little group will soon take care of a threat for me.”

“The summoner?”

“Yes,” the man said, “The agent I sent to hire you confirmed many things I had wondered.”

Enzi looked at the man suspiciously, “You are purposely talking around something, avoiding some topic you seem desperate to bring up.”

The unusual man grinned widely at the Feergrus man, “Indeed. But a realization on your own will have a better effect on what I am telling you now. You continue to live because I allow it. You are useful to us still. If you ever cease to be useful, your punishment for the betrayal of Feergrus will be swift and brutal.”

The dark skinned man's eyes opened wide, “Devis Lane!”

The strange man smiled almost impossibly wide as his for shifted. He was now a Feergrus man of a height that might be slightly below average. His build was sleek and powerful, and his eyes shone a brilliant green and his hair had reddish orange hairs hidden among the black. Neither the hair or eyes were a normal color for their people, but this was the form that Enzi knew best. It was hard to say what the true form of such a shapeshifter might be.

“Yes, I am Devis Lane, Executor of the Theocracy of Feergrus. General Commander Karrum Tamb quite misses your skill as one of his high generals. The church of Chasar misses your exquisite talent for combat leadership.”

“I don't lead in combat anymore. Now I teach some things to other and make money serving the good of the weak and helpless. I won't be a pawn in your games to keep your master in power at the expense of those who inconvenience him.”

“That is where you are wrong,” Devis said, “As I mentioned you are already doing a job for me. Soon you will see our goals are not so different, even if mine are to help my country first and foremost.”

“And only,” Enzi added.

“True enough,” Devis replied, “My loyalty to my country often means a disloyalty to any other. That is the way of things until all come under one rule.”

“You expect it to be under the rule of Feergrus,” Enzi said.

“Of course. Someday,” Devis said, “We are nothing if not patient.”

“Then why tip your hand to me now?” Enzi asked, “I could easily have never known about your involvement in any of the jobs we take. Now I'll be looking over my shoulders and rechecking all my jobs for their legitimacy.”

“That is actually my point,” Devis said, “These are dangerous times. You may count me as an enemy, and it may even be true. You are yet useful. The world works to array itself against you and your little band of mercenaries. There are other players out there now that want to eliminate things that are different. People like me. People like your mercenaries. Things are about to get very interesting. Whether you like it or not, we are allies in this battle. Until you finally lose.”

“I am sure there is more you are getting out of all of this than just that, but I know your penchant for hiding the greater truths behind lesser ones. I'll take you at your word of the dangers to come, such things do not surprise me. I will still only take the jobs I think are right and do the most good.”

“Then we are agreed,” Devis stated simply as he turned and left Enzi to ponder all that he had said.

11Jul/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0002

Ritter charged across the open plains towards the walled bandit encampment. His steel armor clattered as his short legs worked to propel him. The rest of Enzi's Irregulars quickly outpaced Ritter. It allowed the Halz to get a good look at his companions in the open sun, and the dwarf disapproved of them taking the lead. He was the only one that wore armor, but none of the others seemed to have enough natural armor to make up for the lack of it. He had thought of many questions just from the ride to the bandit camp, but seeing the others in motion really let him see what he thought were their flaws.

The vodyanoi had appeared to have the thickest natural armor as they were seated, but in motion Ritter saw that the shell was softer and more flexible than it had originally appeared. Her weapons also seemed like a joke to the Halz. She had a few simple hatchets slung on her belt, and one in each hand. They were not of any particularly noteworthy design or quality. It was the kind of tool for chopping firewood, not for the slaying of foes. They somehow fit the primitive ferocity the amphibious humanoid exuded however.

The leader of the group, the gorgon Eurysa, had scales like a snake. Ritter doubted that they would do much to slow a weapon however. However, armor would not go well with her stealth or mobility. Ritter doubted most armorers would find an easy way to protect her tail either. She used a bow of Agonish design, much to the dwarf's disdain. The Halz had invented crossbows for their ranged weaponry, and Ritter knew such weapons were popular in Nuvroc. As far as Ritter was concerned, the bow was an inferior weapon based on elven designs. He chalked up the preponderance of bows among the humans and their ilk as mere ignorance that time would rectify.

The minotaur had an enormously bulky build covered in reddish brown fur. He moved like one would in heavy armor despite wearing nothing more than a cloak and a loincloth. A full eight inches over eight feet tall and with shoulders even more broad than the dwarf, Aldebaran towered over the rest of the group. Ritter imagined it might be difficult to armor a creature of that size. The weight would be troublesome, although the minotaur appeared quite strong.

Yet all that paled in comparison to the creature's weapon. It was a sword of obviously elven design. Unlike a straight edged human blade, the two handed sword Aldebaran used had curves along the edges. The Halz could see no point to such wavy edges on a blade. Curves were difficult to fashion, and straight edges served well enough in the dwarf's eyes. It was easy enough to see in dwarven construction with square pillars and straight lines. Anything that could be supported by a curve could be equally and elegantly supported by straight lines. They did not have to connect at pure ninety degree angles after all.

The lycanthrope Mayitso was an unusual case. He had no weapons and no armor. He was just an enormous wolf in his natural form. A wild animal with the intelligence of a sentient race was certainly dangerous. The Halz could respect that. Armor on such a form would be impossible. That was a serious problem in the dwarf's eyes. Hunters had learned for years upon years the best spot to place weapons to kill such prey. Ritter did not expect Mayitso to last long on a field of battle against a prepared foe. The Halz expected that Enzi's Irregulars would have a short existence in the Disputed Lands. He just hoped they would not get him killed before he could evaluate the human world.

***

Aldebaran, Kava, and Ritter moved into the bandit encampment. They rushed past Mayitso and Eurysa who had opened the way. Mayitso joined the rush in and the four melee combatants spread out. As their alarms had not yet been raised, the first few bandits were easy targets. The sound of battle quickly alerted the camp. Ritter quickly worried about the other warriors as all would soon be outnumbered. The Halz knew he could handle the soft bandits in number, but suspected the others might not fare as well.

Ritter kept his shield up and swung his warhammer at his foes. Like most of his armor, the hammer had been lovingly forged with Halz craftsmanship. His helm and his shield were of human manufacture. He had picked them up in Nuvroc. The dwarves usually put the symbol of their clan on their shield and helms. As one of the Earthbreakers, Ritter had no clan symbol. The use of human gear seemed an appropriate symbol to the Halz.

He glanced over his shoulder to see how his team was doing, expecting to have to run to the rescue. The minotaur was drawing the most attention, but the huge sweeps of his blade were cutting foes down handily. Several times he cleaved right through one foe to hit a second. The bandits quickly learned to fear the giant creature. Kava fought in an entirely different style. She kept low to the ground and used her powerful legs to propel her in random directions. Her acrobatic skills were impressive as she tumbled around her foes confusing them with her unpredictable movements.

Her hatchets were deadly. Hamstrings were hewn left and right. Blood flew as the hatchets seemed to find the weakest spots in the bandit's defenses. Their offense seemed useless against her as their blades always seemed to swing through the area Kava was no longer in. Mayitso's tactics, however, gave the dwarf great concern. He seemed utterly fearless. He charged foes and pounced upon them to tear out their throats. The dwarf saw an archer take aim and fire a perfect shot at the great wolf. Ritter was rather shocked to see the arrow glance off the lycanthrope's hide.

The Halz was certain it had been a perfect shot, but assumed his eyes were playing tricks on him in the heat of battle. The archer that fired at Mayitso never got a second shot. In the rear, watching over the assault was Eurysa. Her bow supported the group. She picked off targets that were difficult for the melee combatants to reach or at other times evened the odds if it looked like any of the group was outnumbered too greatly. The dwarf merely shook his head and returned to his work. The humans were soft in Ritter's opinion. Most of the bandits wore little more than leather armor.

Ritter put his full concentration into the battle in front of him. He felt the satisfying crunch of bone as his warhammer fell time and time again upon his foes. His shield kept most blows from connecting to him and the rest found his armor impenetrable. Quickly the bandits turned to flee. Ritter did not give chase. His short legs were a disadvantage in such races. Eurysa stopped those that fled easily enough. Her arrows were deadly and accurate. Though the Halz had found many reasons to be wary of the team, they had proven competent enough for this venture at least.

As the battle quieted down, most of the group began to gather near Eurysa. Kava stood over the fallen mercenaries she had slain, her slick skin coated in the blood of her foes. The blood lust still ran in her eyes as well as disappointment.

“This was all?” the vodyanoi asked, “We need a bigger battle. I need to be standing on top of a pile of corpses I made so high that I can see the far end of the marsh from here.”

Aldebaran grunted in his gravelly voice, “You could return to the Marsh of Vashim if you miss it so much.”

“Miss the sulfur vents and their wondrous smell?” Kava replied, “Well maybe a little. Human stench is not much better. I just don't get a good opportunity to kill things there. Everything likes to hide. Where is the fun in that?”

The minotaur merely snorted in disgust. The Halz thought he could understand the beast's feelings. Such blood lust should be saved for a foe worthy of disdain. Goblinoids seemed the obvious choice there, or perhaps elves. Ritter wondered if the elves were somehow related to the nose-less vermin that infested the world. One could always tell the presence of a goblinoid by their heavy breaths trough their gaping maws full of misshapen teeth. The dwarf imagined that their lack of noses meant a reduced sense of smell. This certainly made a lot of sense to him. The smell of a den of goblinoids was enough to make Ritter want to smite off his own nose.

“Enzi and the wagon should be here shortly,” Eurysa said with her soft yet forceful voice, “Let us see if there are any spoils of war to claim.”

Soon enough, the five non-humans had searched the camp for loose coins or salable materials. The wagon pulled up to the partially fortified encampment and the five mercenaries began loading armor, weapons, and other gear into it. Enzi made his path around the wagon to greet the mercenaries. He nodded to Eurysa and smiled at the rest.

“Good job,” the human from Feergrus stated as his yellow eyes twinkled, “Three towers, some walls, but no gates yet. Not that hard a job then. Still, this will keep a lot of innocent people from being harmed.”

“Find us a harder job next time,” Kava grumbled, “I barely whetted the thirst of my axes.”

Ignoring the vodyanoi, Enzi looked to Eurysa, “So how did our newest recruit fit in?”

“Well he certainly had time to pay attention to the others as he fought,” Eurysa said, “His skills will do if he keeps his mind on the job at hand.”

Ritter raised an eyebrow. The gorgon had certainly had the perfect view to keep an eye on the team and coordinate. However he bristled at the thought that he might have been distracted. It was fair to think that certainly, though he had his reasons. He imagined that the gorgon would never know them if he didn't speak them aloud, despite her obvious power over the mind.

“Aye,” the dwarf said, “It would be easier to keep my worry on only my own foes if I had trust that the others would survive and not need a rescue. You are lucky these bandits are weak. One good blow looks like it would slice any of you. Especially the poor wolf, I was certain they had him dead to rights once until luck intervened.”

Eurysa let out an odd hissing sound and her serpent-like eyes sparkled. It took a moment, but the Halz figured out it had to be mirth and the hissing was her form of laughter. The great wolf beside her perked up its ears at the sound.

“You need not worry,” Eurysa said, “Though I suppose you have not had time to learn our abilities. Mayitso may very well be the toughest of all of us. A lycanthrope is a fey creature, tied to the magic of the world. Most weapons will have a hard time harming him. I am glad you had concerns for us, but you will quickly learn that they are not warranted.”

The lycanthrope preened a bit at the praise.

Enzi chuckled, “Well, you certainly have had your chance to begin learning of the world, friend Halz. Now, let us head back to Center Point and see if we can offload these goods.”

***

The Enzi's Irregulars wagon sat behind one of the rows of tents that made up the merchant's area of Center Point. The shop that Enzi was visiting was built into one of the stones that scattered Center Point. It sat in the center of Merchant's Row and was a highly prized shop. Enzi had done business with the man that owned it for many years and knew exactly how far to trust him.

“Enzi!”

“Ah, Gharaf Targata,” Enzi said, “Still here I see.”

“You don't think any of the other merchants could get the upper hand on me do you?” the man said, his oily voice oddly soothing the Feergrus man.

“Not likely,” the dark skinned mercenary captain replied.

Gharaf was dressed as flamboyantly as he always did. Like most Ravaleians, he loved fine clothing, jewelry, and body art. While he played the part of the ostentatious Ravaleian well, Enzi knew that Gharaf would gladly use every bit of the reputation of his people to his advantage. They were known to be free with their coin and the merchant knew how to make his customers feel like they had made a great deal with him. He pretended a servile manner when it suited his purpose, but did little of such with Enzi.

The Ravaleian man quickly looked over the goods that Enzi had brought him and the two haggled out a price. Money changed hands and the Feergrus man left the shop out the back door, the same entrance he had used to come inside originally. After he left a tall gaunt man in pure white robes stepped out of his hiding place.

“That was him?” the Kurrot asked.

Gharaf nodded, “Enzi. Leader of Enzi's Irregulars.”

“And you are sure he harbors unusual creatures there?”

“Certainly. While it might not be entirely common knowledge, it is well enough known. As long as he is useful and his monsters don't cause any problems then those that know of them turn a blind eye.”

“You seemed familiar enough with him,” the Kurrot said warily, “Why would you betray him for coin?”

The Ravaleian laughed, “Betray? I give out information if people pay me enough. There are others who know of him and his business. I would rather the coin come to me than anyone else. I am a businessman, pure and simple. If someone wants me to forget something, it merely takes coin. My memory can be refreshed with larger amounts of coin. What is done with the information is none of my concern.”

The Kurrot nodded, then turned and left the shop. He looked out in the distance as the wagon carrying the monstrous mercenaries rolled away. He smiled, then continued on his journey. He would cross path with Enzi's Irregulars soon enough. He had some research to finish first.

4Jul/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0001

A light breeze blew across the grass as the man in the watchtower surveyed the area. He did not see the slight movement below him and he heard the slight whistle in the air too late. The arrowhead pierced through the bottom of his chin and shot up into his skull. The sentry collapsed to the floor of the watchtower in a heap. The figure in the grass below moved upright and waved the rest of her team forward. She slithered ahead to the wall of the brigand encampment as the rest of the team advanced. The archer noted that the newest member was as loud as the largest member. She only hoped he was anywhere near as skilled.

***

“Excuse my poor grasp of your language,” the stout creature said.

The creature was roughly humanoid in shape, though it was barely six inches over four feet in height. It was very nearly as broad across the shoulders as it was tall and its thick arms reached well past its knees. It had a thick torso and short but powerful legs. Its skin had a rough texture with a reddish grey tone and its features were very craggy. He had hair and a beard, though it almost looked like crystalline strands in the sunlight. Like all of his kind, his eyes were completely black. His race called themselves the Halz, though most human legends just called them dwarves.

“Your grasp is better than many who were born to it friend,” the human replied.

The human was a native of Feergrus. Like all of those land his skin tone was chocolate brown with a dusky grey tone. His hair was white, betraying his age, and his pale hazel eyes showed wisdom and a great fiery resolve. Some would call those eyes yellow in color and all would be drawn to look towards one of them thanks to a scar on the man's face that crawled from under his right jawbone across his cheek, under the right eye and over the top of the bridge of the nose. It was by no means the man's only scar, but it was the most obvious one.

“You have come to seek our aid? Or to become a mercenary?”

“Both in a way,” the dwarf replied, “My people are fading. Most want to stay hidden in our hidden homes as each of the clans die out. A few, like myself, have decided to venture into the world. Perhaps we will find a way to grow our people again, to thrive once more. We have broken from our old clans, set in their ways. We call ourselves the Earthbreakers.”

“So how would one address you?”

“Well, most would just call me Ritter. If you need more you can call me Ritter Earthbreaker. I highly doubt you are going to run into many of the Halz, especially ones that might share my given name. The chances seem quite slim.”

“Do you know much of chance?”

“It is something all our people have to learn at least a small bit about. Engineering is in our blood, and that requires a solid understanding of mathematics and probability.”

“That education places you above most humans in those matters then, though I would warn you not to always assume so.”

“So I've told me my name, what should I call you?”

“I am called Enzi. We will leave it at that for now,” the man said with a grin, “But you should be happy that you ran into me. A lot of humans would seek to take advantage of an outsider. Especially one who is not human. I specialize in mercenaries of an unusual nature.”

“Yes, so I had heard. After some fool sought to imprison me for his profit. He was quite talkative when I had my axe out and him at his disadvantage.”

“Usually I am the one who seeks out the people I want to join my mercenary company. However we could certainly use someone with a bit more formal education.”

The Halz nodded, “Luckily I learned the language of the Nuvroci at home, and some of my people's allies among the Nuvroci taught me some of the other tongues of you humans. One would think you would have just one, it would be more efficient.”

“Humans are rarely efficient.”

“Then I can understand why you might want me among your mercenaries. It will give me a chance to learn more of your human conflicts. Perhaps with a more neutral look than joining one side or another.”

“Then let me introduce you to the rest of the team,” Enzi said, “Follow me.”

Enzi walked with a slight limp, something that few would notice. Ritter was one for seeing small details. Having seen the scar on the man's face, a slight limp did not surprise him. This human was one that had seen a large number of battle and had survived. That was an accomplishment for any warrior. Enzi still walked tall, standing a little over six feet tall. His age had not yet caused him to hunch over. When the pair arrived, Ritter was slightly surprised at the final location. He saw a large covered wagon hitched to four powerful oxen. There was writing on the side of it, and luckily the Halz could read one of the languages.

“Enzi's Irregulars,” Ritter said under his breath.

“Did you say something?” Enzi asked.

Ritter raised his eyebrow at the sharp senses of the old man, “Ah, nothing.”

The old man smirked and came to the back of the wagon as Ritter came up beside him. Inside the darkness Ritter could make out several shapes. He heard a growling sound and saw a large wolf perched near one of the shapes, obscuring most of that shape's bottom half.

“Quiet Mayitso,” a feminine voice said, “It seems we may have a new teammate.”

The voice came from the shape behind the immense wolf, but then another feminine voice was heard. While the first voice had been soft and soothing, the second almost seemed to croak.

“A dwarf? What is next? Go find one of the scrawny elves if there are any left?”

Ritter's face immediately turned more sour. He had heard plenty of stories about the elves throughout his life. He had never seen one and hoped for their sake that he never would. Before their betrayal, the dwarves had been a thriving race. After that, most of his race had been slain, and then separated into a few small and dying clans. The insinuation that they too had failed as a race seemed to be like karmic justice to his ears. Still, the thought of them brought no happy thoughts.

“They are called the Halz, Kava,” Enzi said, “I would think you would be more sensitive to racial nicknames.”

“What would it matter to me?” Kava replied in her croaking voice, “Your people called us Bullywugs, the damned lizards called us Kappa, and we call ourselves the Vodyanoi. Different languages, different words. Though I do enjoy your peoples' word for the lizards. Troglodyte has such a perfect sound to it. Much better than them calling themselves the Naxaeless.”

Enzi merely sighed, “That is Kava Roukami, a vodyanoi warrior.”

The dwarf's eyes had quickly adjusted to the dark inside the wagon. The eyes of a Halz were used to such dark conditions. The one called Kava was a short amphibian creature, not much taller than Ritter himself although she was certainly not as broadly built. Her greenish skin was roughly textured and her back almost looked like a shell. Her head was squat with large orange eyes and a wide mouth. She resembled a cross between a turtle and a frog, except in a humanoid form.

Enzi motioned to a huge hulking cloaked creature, “And this is Aldebaran Celeno.”

The massive form snorted and turned its head enough that Ritter could see beneath the cloak's hood. The face of the creature reminded him of the oxen that pulled the wagon. Even the Halz had heard the myths and legends of the minotaur. Now he could see one for himself. Ritter had imagined that such tales were not quite true, but he guessed that nearly anything was possible.

Enzi then motioned to the enormous dark grey wolf that had growled earlier, “This is, as you may have guessed from earlier, Mayitso Hastine. His people rarely mix with humans.”

“People?” Ritter asked.

Enzi chuckled, “This is no mere wolf. We call them lycanthropes although most do not realize what they really are. Their ability to disguise themselves in human form can be useful, although their human forms usually look more like the Vashimi.”

“Not a disguise for civilized lands,” came the soft female voice from the cloaked figure seated behind the protective lycanthrope.

“And finally the one who leads the forces in the field, the esteemed Eurysa Thulea Medenos.”

Ritter wondered at the cloaked woman and he soft spoken manner. If she commanded this crew in the field it spoke a lot about her skill. Now that his eyes had adjusted to the darkness, he saw that the lycanthrope had helped to hide the fact that Eurysa was sitting strangely. She did not appear to have normal legs. As she reached out her hand in greetings, the Halz saw the hand was covered in brownish scales. He also noticed that her lower body was that of a serpent.

“I hate to cut this short,” Enzi said, “But I have a mission for us. One against just the sort of trouble we need to stop. A mercenary group has turned to banditry. They have a small encampment with three towers and a wall. Any attack on them by regular forces would cost far too many resources and lives.”

“Do we have to take any of them alive this time?” Kava asked resignedly.

“They are just bandits, nothing special needed,” Enzi replied.

Blood lust sparkled in the eyes of the vodyanoi, “Oh finally. I love being able to let loose.”

***

After killing the sentry with her bow and slithering up to the wall of the bandit encampment, Eurysa peeked through the entrance in the wall nearest that tower. A single guard sat inside, paying little attention to the entrance. He obviously expected the men in the towers to catch any problems. Eurysa noted the arrival of most of the rest of her team. Mayitso was missing, but she knew he had to be close. She had never known anyone to be better at stealth than him. Eurysa knew she would have to move soon. She could almost feel Kava's need to kill something radiating from the vodyanoi. The guard was not in a good position for Eurysa to stop him stealthily but she really did not want the bandits to be alarmed quite yet.

Mayitso solved her problem in a flash of grey. A slight gurgle was the only noise the man made as the lycanthrope tore his throat out. Eurysa was not even sure where Mayitso had sprung from. She merely motioned the team to move into the encampment. Weapons were drawn and they moved inside only to have a bandit exit his tent at exactly the wrong moment. Eurysa met his gaze as he stood mouth agape. Her cloak's hood was off and the man was merely staring at the snakes that writhed atop her head with a fearful gaze. Then he saw Eurysa's green eyes on her scaled face. The eyes were like that of a serpent and enthralled the man.

Eurysa's eyes flashed with power as she hissed, “Don't move. Don't make a sound.”

The bandit suddenly found his muscles locked. He had no choice but to be a living statue.

Eurysa smiled, “Sometimes being the world's last Gorgon has its benefits.”