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

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.

Comments (0) Trackbacks (0)

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.

Trackbacks are disabled.