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.

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