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

29Aug/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0009

“Oh a good fight then?” Kava asked with a gleam in her orange eyes, “Terrible odds?”

“Oh, something far more difficult for you than that,” Enzi replied, “This is a job that requires diplomacy and tact.”

“Oh ugh,” Kava replied, “I don't see this going well.”

“That is a possibility, but only you five are going to have a chance to get close,” Enzi said, “As this is a recruitment offer to a rather dangerous individual. Especially to humans. I am hoping that you five will have a better chance. I have a decent idea where to find it, but it is certainly being hunted as well. We need to eliminate the threat, one way or another.”

“What exactly are we dealing with?” Eurysa asked.

“It is hard to say exactly,” Enzi replied, “Myth, legend, and rumor surround this tale. Knowing exactly what is true is difficult. It could end up this is just a mindless abomination that needs to be destroyed. I suspect there is more. We need to gather into the wagon. We have a long trip ahead of us. I've already gathered provisions. We can discuss the matter more on the trip.”

“Where are we off to?” Ritter asked.

“A place you are more familiar with,” Enzi said, “And we may need the reputation of your race to keep the rest of us safe from suspicion.”

“Nuvroc then,” the Halz said, his logical mind drawing the most obvious answer.

Enzi merely nodded. The mercenaries quickly gathered up their belongings and jumped into the wagon. The dwarf wondered how the group would fare at diplomacy without Enzi. He would be going with them for most of the way, but not to talk directly to the foe it seemed. Ritter tried to imagine what kind of creature would be violent towards humans. Too many options came to mind as the humans had been ruthless in their expansion. Certainly the dwarf thought many of the foes deserved their fall, like the goblinoids and the giants, but his imagination quickly thought that there could be many others that had been wronged.

He would have to wait until the evening to hear the briefing. Enzi wanted to get moving as quickly as possible and the dwarf could not blame him. If this mysterious creature was that dangerous it should be dealt with as soon as possible. His curiosity drove his thoughts as the wagon rolled eastwards across the Disputed Lands. Nuvroc would be a long trip and there were a great many potential dangers on the way.

The campfire that night attempted to fight the chill in the air. Eurysa had found a rock to wrap around as a seat while Mayitso laid contentedly beside her in his wolf form. Kava was busy sharpening her axes while Aldebaran prepared a place to rest for the night. Enzi seemed almost unwilling to talk, but finally the dark skinned man began to tell the mercenaries what little he knew.

“I can not claim any or all of what I am about to tell you is true. This is built from rumors and hearsay. We will investigate the rumors and deal with the threat. The story starts with a Ravaleian man...”

“Oh wonderful,” Kava interjected, “Some abomination of nature then?”

“Perhaps, though I am not sure how much nature has to do with it. The man's name was Sisera Dane.”

Eurysa drew a sharp intake of breath. The sound it made was unusual. A lot of her sounds were odd to the Halz due to her serpentine features. He imagined they were equally odd to the rest of Enzi's Irregulars. Obviously the gorgon had heard of the Ravaleian. Such infamy did not bode well.

“All his life he had worked to create the perfect golem. He made a giant leap forward with his prototype of a Halzium golem.”

“Halzium?” Ritter asked, recognizing his racial name in the word.

“Yes, sometimes called dwarf steel, it is a metal alloy exported by Nuvroc that is a green so dark as to look black.”

“Ah yes, we Halz call it adamantine. The only metal even an adamant can not scratch. We had to find new ways to engrave such armor when our diamond tipped tools did not work.”

Enzi nodded, “He was able to made the golem much smaller while still being more powerful than any other. It was nearly human sized. But it was just the next step in his mad quest. He did not just want a stronger and tougher golem. He wanted a smarter golem. This adamantine golem had the ability to understand and fulfill extremely complex commands. It could even be mistaken for a very large human in massive armor, especially if given the right commands.”

“That was not enough for Sisera. He wanted a golem which had a mind like a human. He wanted it to be truly sentient. So he began a quest to make his greatest creation. He nearly disappeared from the world after that, only being seen when he was selling off his personal golems for the coin he needed to purchase the raw materials he needed. He had always been a private man, so it was not unusual for him to disappear for extended periods.”

“The last of the absolute facts I knew is that someone finally checked up on him after he had not been heard from for over a year,” Enzi said, “What they found was terrifying. People had been disappearing off and on for well over a year, but no one thought to tie it to Sisera and his experimentation. However, they found a huge number of dead bodies at his laboratory. Several had decomposed to naught but bone, but all were in terrible shape. One of the more recent bodies was Sisera Dane himself.”

“This is where rumor and guesses begin to take place,” the Feergrus man said, “The slaughter was placed entirely upon the golem that had long since left. I expect that there is more to it than that. I believe that Sisera Dane was using people in his experiment to create sentience in a golem. Almost certainly though, the creator had been slain by his creation, though even that I cannot be sure of. Suicide after such a set of terrible crimes is not out of the question.”

“I believe that the golem did indeed slay its creator based on what I've been able to learn of it and its creation. With the methods used to create it, I would not blame it for stopping such a madman. Although I suspect it is more a glitch in its programming. From the studies done by Ravaleian scientists, I suspect the golem's self preservation programming is too sensitive.”

“Self preservation?” Kava asked, “I thought golems were made to just wade into battle since they are nearly invulnerable.”

“Yes, but this golem was made to act human,” Enzi replied, “To want to live. Tales of this golem have spread across the land as myth and rumor. Some believe that Sisera never finished it. Some talk of it stalking prey across the continent. There are enough tales of a metal man being encountered and the destruction left in its wake for me to believe that it is definitely real.”

“The thing that both worries me and interests me is the question on whether Sisera actually succeeded or not.”

“Don't be silly,” Eurysa said, “You can't just infuse a soul into an inanimate object.”

Ritter cleared his throat, “That is not entirely true. The power of a soul can certainly be infused into an item. Sentience, however, that I am unsure about.”

While the other mercenaries looked at the dwarf with curiosity, Enzi nodded and continued, “So our mission is to find this golem and learn more about him. Recruit it if possible or destroy it if the danger to humans is too great. Based on the reports of its appearances, I believe it has fled from humans into the uninhabited areas of eastern Nuvroc. This behavior makes me wonder if it is sentient.”

“Seems doubtful,” Eurysa interjected, “Fleeing from the humans is a good way to fulfill a need for self preservation.”

The small mercenary band then drifted off into their own conversations or readying for sleep. Kava approached Ritter, her orange eyes twinkling with curiosity. Ritter kept himself busy with his preparations but the vodyanoi would not be avoided.

“So, what does a dwarf know of soul infused items?”

“The Halz have seen a great many things over the years and we keep excellent records,” Ritter said.

“I suspect you are dodging the question,” Kava said, “What effects would a soul have on an item?”

“Great power,” Ritter replied, “Life is the very basis of magic. Rumors of the Halz having little magical power comes from our home being deep beneath the mountains where there is less life.”

“Oh, and the rumors of powerful elven magic is from their dwellings deep in the forests that are overwhelmed with life?” the vodyanoi asked.

“That would make sense, yes,” Ritter said, “Though no race has a monopoly on powerful magic, it would be much easier to learn when surrounded by growing, living things. In the end, it makes no major difference.”

“Well, the Tarvoni are known for their magic and they live within the Tarvo forest.”

“They got their name as Tarvoni because it was the name of the forest first,” the dwarf said, “But yes, it makes logical sense that humans would learn best within such a place.”

“I would mention that the Ravaleians and their multitude of wizards go against that, but as I think about it, they incorporate vegetation in all their town and maintain a few wooded preserves in their lands. I mainly remember their vast number of golems and their laboratories. It is a place I never want to be again,” Kava said with a shudder.

Things soon quieted down and the mercenaries had a calm, restful night. The next two weeks of travel took them towards the northeast. At the end of that, they were on the edge of the Tarvo Forest. They were near the border zone between Agon and Tarvon. The Tarvoni made no direct claim on the land adjacent to Agon and the Agonish people did not dare to build there. The mercenaries were planning to travel through the buffer zone on their way to Nuvroc.

Ritter was surprised they had not run into any trouble in their trip through the Disputed Lands. A dingle wagon would seem like a prime target for attack by Hirkan raiders, Tarvoni provocateurs, or bandits. Of course with an area as large as the Disputed Lands, it was possible to never see another group. Two armies could pass by each other without ever knowing. It was a reason why scouts and trackers were so important. Mayitso served that purpose for Enzi's Irregulars. His nose and ears served them well. The path the group followed now, however, had much less land area and was often patrolled.

The wagon made its way into the lightly forested area the next day, making their way towards the foothills of the Nuvro Range. All of the group was on edge. They could encounter nearly anything and the foliage meant that the wagon was not going anywhere fast. However, as the days passed the group began to relax more and more. A full week passed without incident, bringing the wagon within a day or two worth of travel from the border to Nuvroc.

A deep, powerful voice called out in the Nuvroci tongue from the forest, “Halt!”

There was no sign of who said it and even Mayitso seemed surprised. Whoever it was had the skill not to be easily noticed by one with the senses of a wild animal.

“Come out from the wagon where I can see you and leave your weapons behind,” the voice said, “I wouldn't try anything if I were you.”

22Aug/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0008

“Is there anything we can do to stop this slavery?” Ritter asked.

“The priests are remarkably adept at making service to the noble caste seem like a good thing. They often call these slaves their servants, using that word to make it sound less vile,” Enzi said, “But they convince most of the slaves to choose the life for themselves. At least at first. Compared to the uncertain and terrible lives led by many of those they choose, a life of service sounds much better. A certainty of food and shelter sways many to choose that life.”

“But you can't unchoose it I suspect,” the Halz replied.

“That is indeed the catch,” Enzi agreed, “But by then they are deep in Feergrus territory. Outside of their territory, they take no one without the consent of the person. The other countries then have little say over it, though several have thought about laws to prevent such choices being made. However, such discussions never get far. An alliance with Feergrus is too profitable to ask too many questions.”

“So there is little we can do to help the poor man?”

Enzi shook his head, “It would have to be by force. A priest is a formidable foe. Beyond raw combat ability there is also their ties to the government of Feergrus. Even if you did rescue the man, by now he believes the choice to join them as his own. He would go to them of his own free will. To him, the idea of service to the nobles is less dangerous than being a mercenary. He will have access to food, shelter, and the drugs he craves. A tempting offer to be certain. Most people have little concept of how long eternal service may be. Especially in a land full of necromancers. In Feergrus, the most menial of tanks are performed by the undead.”

“I worry more of the undead turned into an army,” Eurysa said.

“The body of one who falls inside of Feergrus or within the power of one of my people never rests,” Enzi said, “At least until it completely falls apart. Unlike other countries we have no graveyards, tombs, or crypts. A dead body is considered an object and is promptly taken to a necromancer to be used as raw materials for a new servant. The number of undead within Feergrus is a staggering number. Even I would not want to make a guess. But it certainly makes the country an opponent few would want to face in battle. Even if the mindless undead are not that difficult opponent, their sheer numbers make them dangerous.”

“You would think the people would rise up against his,” Ritter said.

“The caste system gives the people of Feergrus order and a place in their society,” Enzi said, “And those at the top work hard to keep things as they are. Those at the bottom are given hope of rising, though very few succeed. Even the success stories are of the people that those at the top wanted to succeed. People with exceptional skills they wanted to add to their families to make them stronger. It is amazing how even a small glimmer of hope is enough to keep most people in line.”

The Halz nodded. With the short lifespan of the humans, he imagined it was easier to miss the long term. It seemed there was little he could do at the moment. The human world had many problems it seemed and he wondered if the aid of his people could solve them. However, the thought struck him that his people had their own problems to solve as well. That was why he had come to the human lands. To see if the races could work together to make a better world for them both. Ritter began to ponder his options. He knew there was a lot of work to do and a long way to go.

***

The Kurrot man in white robes looked at the walled city of Rheamoor. It was one of the city-states of Kurrot and widely thought of as the capital of the country. The mighty walls stood as a stark contrast to the sweeping grasslands of the country. It was by far the largest city in the land, and definitely the most well built. Tales said that it had been the first settlement of the land, back when the people of Kurrot were only exiled criminals and deserters from the armies of Agon and Casea.

That culture of the time, however, had meant a lot for some of the more unusual things about the city. It was a place built on top of a great many secrets and there were hidden passages, secret tunnels, and massive rooms hiding within the city. The great walls had been built much later, when order had came to the area. That had mostly come at the hand of the Kurrot military, led by the Bladestorms. But this Kurrot had no tie to that group. He was Naphar Bura and he was a Cleanser. He wandered the lands hunting monsters and eliminating them for the safety of the people.

He made his way through the city after passing the enormous stone gates. His white robes afforded him some respect. The Bladestorms might not have always liked the Cleansers as they had no control over them, but they did see a use in those specifically trained to deal with inhuman threats. Finally he passed into a rarely used alleyway. He pressed in on one of the stones on the wall of a building, then shoved hard to open the secret door he had unlocked. He traveled down a flight of stairs and lit a torch on the wall.

The flickering light revealed some of the room before him. It was a library. He lit a few more torches to give himself plenty of light then began searching through the array of tomes looking for the specific books he was after. Soon enough had had a varied array of literature in front of him. It was time to begin his studies in earnest.

“Oh which first?” he mumbled to himself, “Gorgons, minotaurs, or vodyanoi?”

He looked down at the silvered blade he had on his belt, “At least I already know how to kill a lycanthrope.”

***

Mayitso rested in the shade beside Eurysa as Ritter cleaned his armor. Aldebaran was nowhere to be seen, but the Halz suspected he was visiting Kava. The Vodyanoi had been trying to leave her bed and begin practice but she had not entirely recovered. The minotaur seemed more concerned than the others about the team's smallest member. It made the dwarf think for a moment. He could not remember a time that the minotaur had spoken that wasn't somehow a response to the vodyanoi. He was sure that Aldebaran probably had spoken outside of that context, but it seemed to be responding to her in some way was prevalent.

Ritter looked to Eurysa, “So what is with Aldebaran and Kava? She seems to be about the only one he really talks to.”

Eurysa's hissing laughter came next, then she spoke, “Well, he used to never speak unless he had to. Kava likes to antagonize people, as you might have noticed. So she began volunteering him for things. Or asking if she could do things and taking a lack of response as a yes. Aldebaran very quickly learned to answer her. It helped to open him up. No matter how much she aggravated him he put up with it. It was his attempt to be noble. Of course, his instincts are rage. Eventually he snapped. The fight was amazing. Yet it also made them friends. In both of their cultures, combat was a way of life. You sparred with your friends. You respected your enemies with a fair fight. Admittedly the vodyanoi had far less of a sense what we consider to be honor in their code of combat, but that didn't stop the two from bonding a little.”

“I guess in many ways they would be well matched in combat. The small and fast versus the large brute,” the Halz replied.

Eurysa nodded, “Kava has always been the most social of us. Even if her attitude would not normally be considered socially acceptable. She is not about to care about such things.”

“I imagine if she was given a lot of restrictions, she would rebel just because it was something to rebel against.”

“One might call her a free spirit.”

“Indeed.”

***

“You need to stay down and get more rest,” the gravelly voice commanded.

Kava snorted, “It will take a lot more than you to keep me still. I'm plenty recovered enough. I'm not gonna get any stronger sitting in bed doing nothing. My training will start wasting away. Vodyanoi don't exactly live for a long time, so I don't want to waste what little time I've got. Now get out of my way before I have to kick your butt. Again.”

“Again?” Aldebaran said, “You haven't even done it a first time!”

“I must have really hit your head too hard if you don't remember me winning all our spars.”

“If I swing fast enough to be effective against you, I'd actually hurt you,” the minotaur said.

“You would have to actually hit me first.”

“The faster blade would catch you.”

“Not a chance,” Kava cackled, “You move like Eurysa used her gaze on you at the best of times. Maybe now that I'm not at the top of my game you might actually come close. But I doubt it.”

“With an attitude like that you might be recovered after all. Or at least deserving of a smack across the head.”

“Besides, I need to see how sharp my new choppy arm is. You could use a good shave I think.”

Kava pulled herself to her feet and attached her prosthetic to the stump of her right arm. It had always been her best arm, and now she had to get used to it all over again. Something about having an actual weapon as an arm excited her. The ground felt odd against her feet, her balance felt slightly off. She needed to move. Even more, she needed to fight. She grabbed the bucket of water that the minotaur had brought with her one good hand and dumped it over her head.

The moisture felt wonderful and made her feel a lot better. The ground seemed more stable to her and she shook off the excess moisture. She grinned with her wide monstrous mouth.

“Are you ready to bleed?”

“I seem to have left my blade back at camp,” he said, “Maybe by the time you walk there you will be too tired to fight. I know how weak you are.”

Kava snorted, “You are definitely going to pay for that comment.”

***

Enzi watched Kava strut back to the group. His trained eye saw every weakness in her movement. She still needed more rest, but had recovered remarkably well. The spar with Aldebaran went well, though Enzi could tell that the minotaur was taking it easy on her. He paid for that a couple of times when she got in close enough to slice through some of his shaggy fur. She had taken to the new prosthetic incredibly fast.

That was good news as the Feergrus man had already found them a new job. He expected the five inhuman mercenaries would be tasked to their limits on this one. Enzi looked out at the horizon and wondered what Devis Lane was up to. The shapeshifter did not seem to have any tie to this latest job but that did not stop Enzi from pondering how he might be involved. Devis was one of the most dangerous creatures on Doulairen, and certainly one of the most cunning. If he was involved, then any job became a thousand times more dangerous.

15Aug/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0007

Ritter's nose was assaulted by an odd scent as he started to head away from the medical tents. A mercenary sat looking towards the tents. Smoke came from his lips. He was burning something, inhaling it, then exhaling the smoke. This puzzled the dwarf as he assumed it could not be healthy. He knew of many a tale of the old forges where his people would die from smoke inhalation. Black lung had been a common way to die until they had manufactured better ways to ventilate their industry.

The man was a Nuvroci mercenary. His skin looked tough as leather with a yellow tint to it. His build was every bit as bulky as the Hirkan barbarians Ritter had seen about. The Nuvroci had some of the most varied of builds, from the short to the very tall. Most were broad across the shoulders. Their eyes sat slightly different than the other human groups, almost as if they had been slightly tilted. They were perhaps the palest of what was considered the civilized races. Ritter had dealt with a great many of them in his time.

The Nuvroci man did not appear to notice the dwarf. His eyes were watching the medical area with an almost frightening intensity. As Ritter approached, the man did not seem to notice him. Despite his intense stare, his body seemed relaxed. As the Halz came within a meter of the man, he finally began to take notice. Ritter noticed that the man's reactions were muddled and it took a while for the man's eyes to focus on his new target.

“Are you alright?” Ritter asked the man.

“Huh?” the man asked, then as comprehension dawned on him, “Oh yes. Just waiting for one of the priests.”

“You need healing then?” Ritter asked, “Admittedly you do seem a little off.”

“Oh no,” the man said, “I'm battle ready. Their stuff makes you not feel the pain, it is perfect for a warrior.”

“Stuff?” the dwarf asked.

The man showed off his pipe he was smoking from, “Feergrus Smoke Weed. It is everything a good soldier needs. Calms the nerves, soothes the pain. Though I ran out again. My pay just can't quite cover the quantities needed.”

Ritter was skeptical, “Wouldn't you just need it in battle then?”

“Well, there are other pains. Wounds and such never seem to entirely go away, you know?” the man replied, “And of course you never know when an attack may come, you always want to keep your edge.”

It sounded like the man was desperately trying to justify the use of the drug, but it seemed to be having less than optimal effects on the man. His slow reactions certainly would not help him in any battle. Deadening pain might have some advantages, but it also brought a great many disadvantages.

“I can't see how dulling your senses helps in combat,” Ritter said, “You are more likely to take wounds, even if you don't feel them. They still add up. Plus if you spend all your coin on it, you won't ever leave this life.”

The man looked up blankly at the dwarf, seeking desperately for a reason to keep using the drug. Yet there was also the smallest glimmer in his eyes. The man could almost see the truth of his desperation, the addiction that he had. The dwarf was a chance to escape before it was too late. Fate, however, was often not kind. One of the healers had glided across the field from the medical tents with a silence that had left the dwarf surprised by his appearance.

He was a priest of Rakar. He wore a circlet on his head that denoted his deity and rank within the church. Ritter had little idea what the gems meant but knew enough of the Feergrus to guess what he was correctly. The man had an aura about him that made Ritter feel even smaller than he was. This was a powerful man, his presence was intimidating. His dark skin was matched with sharp gray eyes that seemed to pierce to the very soul.

He ignored the Halz and looked to the Nuvroci man, “You have need of me?”

The mercenary seemed to relax immediately, “Yes. I have a need of more of the Smoke Weed, but I have run low on coin.”

“Yes, that is not a problem,” the priest replied, “We help all those in need. Come with me, I know how to aid you.”

The priest then turned his gaze on Ritter, “He shall be taken care of. Worry not for his safety.”

The dwarf merely nodded. The power of the words were quite persuasive. The healer certainly had to know how to deal with a drug addiction. As he stumbled off from the encounter however, he started to wonder. The words almost had the tone of a threat about them. Ritter decided he would discuss the issue with Enzi. He was from Feergrus and likely would know far more about it than anyone else he could ask.

***

“You seem troubled,” Eurysa said.

Enzi nodded, “From the description you gave me of the Tarvoni mage and his robes, he must be from the Void cult. I find it odd that one from that cult would go after the leaders and want to avoid harming the rest of Feergrus. They have nothing against the undead but despise magical healing. They believe a life lasts as long as it is supposed to last and that death should be final. Yet they use the undead as they believe that the dead body is merely an object to be put to use as part of the cycle of life. It will still rot and feed the plants, but they see no reason not to make use of it while it rots.”

“That mage seemed to have nothing necromantic about him,” the gorgon added.

Enzi nodded, “Exactly. Though he did summon a flesh beast. Those creatures can use dead bodies to aid them. Yet still his actions strike me as odd. He had to know that he had no chance to get to his goal.”

“In defense of your sanity, his seemed slightly off,” Eurysa said, “Those whose minds are twisted may not do what is in their best interests.”

Enzi smiled at her attempt to soothe his worries, “I have some... Other reasons to suspect all is not as it seems. It may be that the mage was manipulated into his rash course of action. I worry what could have done that. The Void Cult is generally peaceful as long as they are left alone. While this could just be the action of a single warped individual, I have plenty of reasons to worry that more is going on that I don't know about.”

“If you did, could you do anything about it?” Eurysa asked.

“I could perhaps be better prepared, but it depends what the problem is. For now I guess we continue on.”

The two heard the distinctive clanking thuds that were the footfalls of someone in heavy armor. Someone was coming to the wagon of Enzi's Irregulars. They were sheltered behind a large rock not far from the medical tents and few knew where they were camped. Fewer would even want to visit. The pair quickly saw that it was just Ritter returning. The Halz seemed almost as troubled as Enzi. The dwarf then explained his encounter with the drug addict and the priest.

Enzi sighed, “It is too bad for that young man. That priest is obviously a recruiter.”

Ritter looked puzzled, “He is being recruited as a priest?”

Enzi looked surprised and had to suppress a laugh as the topic at hand was a serious one, “No. They only allow other Feergrus to become priests. His fate is a more dire one. He will soon be shipped back to Feergrus to serve as a slave.”

“Slavery?” Ritter asked with disgust.

“Effectively,” Enzi said, “Though they have many other terms for it. He will be working for them to pay off his debt, a debt that can never be paid off as he will continue to need their drugs. A lot of soldiers use their drugs to take the edge off their pain. Some become addicted. It results in a steady recruitment.”

“Aren't they spreading the religion to other lands?” Ritter said, “Certainly they won't stand for such things?”

“As long as it does not affect anyone important, no one cares. It is a sad truth. Of the northern nations, only Nuvroc has refused to allow the Feergrus to build churches. Their laws allow only Nuvroci to own land and build.”

Eurysa hissed, “And this mercenary was Nuvroci?”

Ritter nodded.

“A valuable commodity then,” Enzi said, “You are lucky you did not attempt to stop things. The priest would have done a lot to secure such a prize and you would have been caught unprepared. I imagine they are gathering enough Nuvroci to find those they can completely control. With enough coin, no one will question a purchase of land from a mercenary. I doubt it will be soon. The leaders of Feergrus take their time in doing things so that they can do it right the first time. Sometimes waiting generations. Their patience can wear down other nations.”

Ritter nodded, “I noticed most of you humans are rather poor at patience. From what I have learned, it seems your short lifespan is to blame. I suppose if I only had a hundred years to live at best, I'd want to get a lot more done with what little time I had. Still, I had not thought of it as a weakness that some might exploit. Though it does make some things difficult. It is amazing how easily you forget about my people. Until they see one of us, most humans seem to consider us a myth. It was only a couple thousand years ago that we all fought the goblinoids side by side and drove them off.”

“The tales of King Ago being aided by legions of dwarves and elves is often seen as a heroic myth around a larger than life figure,” Enzi said, “Some of the exaggerated stories make it hard to discern fact from fiction.”

Ritter snorted, “One should set a proper record in stone. Any engineer will tell you that measurements should be exact and facts are facts. Trying to exaggerate or do anything fancy will likely leave you with an unstable structure.”

Eurysa spoke, “You will find humans are creatures of superstition. The Halz value logic and facts. Such things banish superstition.”

Enzi nodded, “Magic does not help the situation. To those who do not understand it, it seems it can make anything possible. Superstitions can easily build around that.”

“Or creatures of myth and legend,” Eurysa said, “Until one day we no longer exist.”

“That will be a sad day indeed,” Ritter said.

Enzi nodded, “Yet that day is still far off. We shall do our best that if such a world comes to pass that it will remember the past. That it will remember the bravery of a few. The sacrifices that were made, the heroes that made the world a better place. It would be nice to make Doulairen a world of peace, a world free of schemes and evil.”

“So, a complete fantasy?” Eurysa asked.

“Everyone wants to live in their own fantasy world,” Enzi said, “If we are lucky, we will have a chance to make one. Or at least as close as we can with what we have to work with.”

8Aug/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0006

Aldebaran dove into the thicket of grass with alarming speed. The rest of the mercenaries quickly dug and found the unconscious Kava. Eurysa immediately did all that she could. The kit bag she wore at her side was slung so that it crossed its leather band with the strap of her quiver. Ritter was surprised that she had any training in healing, but knew that someone in the group had to. Otherwise any wound might be the group's last. Infection was a terrible affliction and caused at least as many death as the weapons of war did themselves.

“Will she make it?” Aldebaran grunted.

“I'm not sure. I've bound the arm as well as I can, but she has lost a lot of blood. We need a real healer.”

The minotaur lifted her limp body, “Then we move. Now.”

Laerdik's voice interjected, “Eurysa, correct?”

“Yes?” the gorgon replied.

“That was an interesting show of arcane power,” the Magehunter said, “Magic is dangerous enough in human hands.”

“We really don't have time for this,” Eurysa said, “So just stay put for a while will you?”

Her gaze settled on the Magehunter but he merely shook his head, “And using you power so casually. I am sorry for your friend, but it is my sworn duty to end all magical threats. It is too bad, you seemed honorable enough.”

With the sound of a loud crack, Laerdik's eyes rolled back in their sockets and he hit the ground. Behind him Ritter was shaking his mailed fist. The other mercenaries looked almost quizzically at the dwarf.

“What?” Ritter asked, “Let's get a move on then! He will wake up eventually. He seems smart enough to chase after some real dangers instead of us.”

Eurysa smiled, nodded, and turned towards the northeast. Aldebaran carried their fallen comrade as Mayitso plodded along beside them quietly. The dark furred lycanthrope had already slunk off towards the south and the Tarvo Forest that lay in the far distance. The small group hustled off in the hopes of saving their friend.

***

For many, waking to the moans of the wounded and the smell of blood would be uncomfortable. To the vodyanoi it was the sound of life continuing on despite the odds. Her right arm gave her a dull, throbbing pain that told her she was still alive. Kava's memory flashed sharply, seeing the unprotected belly of the female troglodyte. She had cut at the easy target, but it had been a feint. Her hatchet had struck true, she had seen the blood. She had seen the vital organs start to spill outwards. She had also felt terrible pain.

Her world had gone dark. She had thought she had felt motion. She imagined that must be true. She was laying in a cot of some sort. It was not something one found in the middle of nowhere. She finally opened her orange eyes to gaze upon the world once more. She immediately regretted that. The light was harsh. Still she struggled to figure out where she was. As the world around her came into focus, she saw she was in a small tent and light was streaming inside and over top of her. The flaps lay open and a cool breeze blew over her almost painfully dry skin.

She could hear the groans of other wounded, perhaps in another nearby tent. The pain in her right arm was not dulling, so Kava glanced down, shakily lifting her weakened limb. She saw the bandaged stump. That would not do at all. That meant half as much killing. She tried to pull herself out of the cot but her head spun. The blood loss had left her weak and her dehydration was not helping. She wasn't going anywhere quite yet.

“You know,” she croaked softly, “Maybe I'll just rest here a while longer.”

***

Ritter was not certain what to make of Mayitso's human form. His pale skin was similar to that of the Tarvoni, perhaps slightly more pale. Perhaps pale was not the right word as the skin seemed almost translucent, but that was not the correct word either. He was much larger than the Tarvoni mage had been, but smaller than the Hirkan mercenaries that Ritter had seen. As the pale races dominated the southern forest where the lycanthropes lived, he could understand why their form matched more closely to them if it was meant to be a way to blend in.

The Halz had never seen a Vashimi but wondered how close this form was to one of them. The lycanthrope spoke in the language of the Feergrus. Eurysa and Enzi understood him, but Aldebaran did not. The minotaur seemed more worried about Kava than what Mayitso had learned from the other lycanthrope. Ritter's grasp of the language of the Feergrus, a tongue they called the Infernus, was getting better but the Halz still sometimes struggled with it.

“The mage had a plan to eliminate the leadership of Feergrus, to slay the one called Glanar Dale.”

“He would not have made it far,” Enzi replied, “Though I commend his goal. His attack would have only slain the Feergrus that got in his way until he was defeated. Likely a force awaited them at the border in case you failed.”

“That may be more right than you know,” Eurysa said, “We were met by a healer from Feergrus on our way to return here. Her power brought Kava back from the brink of death. Though I do not understand why they did not move to aid us earlier.”

“That is simple enough,” Enzi said, “The government of Feergrus will not allow any of the warriors under their command to get involved in any battles outside of their lands. Their strictness in this allows for several things. For one, their healers are welcome everywhere as all know they will not fight. The government can also disavow any violence that takes place by one of their people as the actions of an individual. I suspect their hand in a great many events in the world, always behind the scenes.”

“Then why not let foes blaze their way through to end the government?” Mayitso asked.

“I may disagree with the government, but I still love the people. They are my people, my family. The government may manipulate many things, yet they are smart enough to allow the people to do good for the world. It serves their purpose. That does not stop the actions from being good. The people that do them do it for the right reasons.”

“It is indeed foul to use the good deeds of another to bolster ones own plans,” Ritter said, “To borrow their reputation.”

“Do you think the Magehunter will come after me?” Eurysa asked.

“Hard to say,” Enzi replied, “We will keep our guard up just in case. You say the healer mentioned him?”

Eurysa nodded, “They came not only to aid us, but to the fallen Agonish man.”

Enzi nodded, “He is in good hands with the healers of Feergrus. The priests and priestesses of Rakar have no equal in the medical field. For our sake they will likely hold him as long as they can tending to his wounds. They can be quite persuasive. Certainly if he was set on you as his primary target, he would have found a way to get here by now. Perhaps some time has cooled his head to allow him to see true dangers to the people of Agon.”

“You don't seem surprised by the news of the mage's plan,” Ritter said

“No. I came into more information on what was going on after you left. It does not change what had to be done. No matter how much I might like the government to fall, it should not be at the expense of so many innocent lives. That is why I never joined the Ahk separatists. Their methods are too violent and poorly targeted. Even if I had taken over command, I would be leading a group known for murder and terror. I'm not sure the government can even be overthrown by simple violence.”

“Only when the corruption is revealed for all to see,” Ritter said, “A true revolution.”

“Perhaps someday,” Enzi replied, “But for now shall we go see our wounded friend? I have a gift for her to make her feel better.”

The group made their way to the healer's tents on the edge of Center Point. Kava had her own small tent away from the others. The healers had thought that her inhuman appearance would affect the other patients. Ritter had a hard time disagreeing. The humans often gave the Halz odd looks and they were far more human looking than a vodyanoi. Soon the small group arrived and found the vodyanoi resting in her cot. She looked tiny in the cot, her stature was smaller than the average human for whom the cot had been crafted.

“Now to wake her up,” Enzi said.

“Oh that is my job,” Aldebaran said.

The minotaur had brought a bucket and he spilled its contents upon Kava. The water poured across her and Kava's bright orange eyes snapped open.

“Oh I needed that,” she said.

Aldebaran grunted.

“Yeah, I'm no fun am I?” Kava said, “Though it looks like I only get to have half the fun now.”

“Not entirely true,” Enzi said, “I brought a gift. I had this made especially for you.”

The dark skinned man unwrapped a prosthetic and worked to strap it to the vodyanoi's arm. The end of the prosthetic gleamed in the light streaming in through the tent's entrance. Her right arm was now a weapon in its own right. An axe that was effectively part of her own body. The vodyanoi grinned as her eyes gleamed.

“I didn't know people could do this sort of thing,” Kava said, “So can someone lop off my other hand so I can get another of these things?”

Enzi chuckled as Ritter asked, “Then how would you feed yourself?”

“Well, I'd just have Aldebaran here feed me.”

“Not going to happen,” the minotaur grumbled in his gravelly voice.

“Guess I am going to have to get some practice with this thing,” Kava said as she tried to leave to cot again.

She grunted and laid back down as her head swam, “Well, maybe tomorrow.”

“Maybe tomorrow indeed,” Enzi said, “For now, all of you get some rest. Things won't stay quiet for long.”

The Feergrus native strode away as the mercenaries chatted among themselves and mumbled under his breath, “They never do.”

1Aug/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0005

“Skreeee!”

“What is that?” Kava asked.

The creature erupted into the empty sky, summoned by the Tarvoni mage. It did not look like it should have been able to fly. It was too powerfully built. Muscles rippled under its tawny hide. Giant feathery wings held it aloft. A terrifyingly sharp beak sat upon its nose. The creature seemed to be built like a feline but with the features of a predatory bird.

“Skreeee!” It screeched again as it swooped towards the group.

Eurysa took careful aim with her bow and fired a single arrow. The arrow struck true on the creature's wing and it plummeted to the ground. It stood up however and shook off its fall. The creature was obviously extremely tough to survive that, though Ritter judged that it was wounded. However, that only seemed to make it mad.

Reaching for another arrow Eurysa merely hissed out, “Griffin.”

The Rock Giant bounded across the plain, a fierce determination was found in its sunken eyes. The female lizardfolk came at a more cautious pace. She held a massive spear that had an odd head on it. The tip of the spear seemed to be black and looked as smooth as glass. On her side she wore a knife of Hirkan make. Most would call the saw toothed blade a sword, but the Hirkans considered it merely a knife. The immense size of the lizardfolk warrior made it seem much more like a knife. Of course, on the giant it would have barely been a dagger.

“Hmm, obsidian spearhead,” Kava said, “The troglodytes love that stuff. Nasty sharp, though it is a bit brittle. This should be exciting. I've always wanted to fight one of their females.”

The enemy lycanthrope bounded forward. It was every bit as large as Mayitso, but its fur was pitch black. Much like Mayitso it had icy blue eyes. Its gaze met Mayitso's own. The two enormous wolves began to circle each other. Ritter wondered where to start his fight and thought about aiding the lycanthrope but he heard Eurysa hiss.

“Leave him,” she said, “He may learn something. Their culture is different about combat and challenges.”

The Tarvoni slowly walked forward, though he seemed to falter as Laerdik strode forward confidently. The Agonish Magehunter seemed to show no fear at all. The summoner quickly began to weave another powerful spell. Eurysa quickly took aim and fired off a shot. Her arrow arced beautifully through the air, directly on target. Then as it neared the mage it suddenly began to lose momentum, stopping dead in the air in front of the mage, then dropping straight to the ground. The Tarvoni merely grinned as he continued to summon another creature to aid his cause.

Aldebaran charged forward towards the Griffin. The Minotaur knew that Eurysa would be choosing targets of opportunity as needed. If he could end the creature while it was on the ground, that was one less foe she had to worry about. As he neared the beast, it snapped at him with its deadly beak. Ritter hustled forward, setting his eyes on the giant. He had fought them before, though usually only when he had a serious strategic advantage. As he closed in on his chosen foe, he noticed the ground in front of the Magehunter suddenly move.

A creature erupted from the ground out of nothingness as the mage finished his spell. Watching something physical erupt out of nothingness made the dwarf's brain scream about impossibilities. The thing that formed out of shapelessness was unusual to say the least. The dwarf saw fire mixing with ice and lightning as the creature thrummed with a terrible indescribable sound. The Tarvoni seemed quite proud of whatever it was he had summoned.

The mage yelled out something in Agonori as he laughed. Laerdik seemed grim about whatever news had been delivered. Now all the mercenaries were engaged with foes. Something needed to give in order for this battle to be won. Ritter adjusted his grip on his warhammer and charged his foe with a mighty yell. The giant seemed more amused than anything and slammed his club down in the path of the Halz. Ritter knew it was coming and spun to his right out of the way of the crashing weapon. The mighty club shook the ground as it struck and the dwarf dashed past it. His hammer whistled through the air and slammed deep into the side of the Rock Giant. It felt like he had hit solid stone.

The giant chuckled as he spoke in the Halz's native tongue, “Nice move little one, but you will have to do better than that. I'll enjoy adding you to those I have slain. At least you were almost a challenge.”

The giant lifted his club from the small crater it had created with uncanny ease. The bulky humanoid swept his club just over the ground at Ritter. The dwarf brought his shield up to help but it did little to aid him. The hit slammed into him hard and nearly knocked the wind from his lungs. The mighty clang that the club made against his armor resounded across the plains and the badlands. The world spun around the dwarf. He was not even sure how he was still on his feet. His mind was freed from its daze as the air filled with the crackle of lightning.

Laerdik rolled as the amorphous creature in front of him unleashed pseudopods of pure electricity, flailing wildly. The Magehunter avoided them though the electricity in the air caused hair to stand up on end for the few mercenaries that had it. Ritter saw that Aldebaran was standing on top of his slain foe while Mayitso was wrestling for dominance with his. Kava's foe had lost her spear in the first round of the battle with the vodyanoi, but now had the brutal Hirkan knife readied. The giant made another sweep of his club at the Halz, but Ritter was far enough back from the last swipe to avoid the blow.

Seeing an opportunity from the long arc of the blow, Ritter dashed in and slammed his hammer into the giant's knee with bone shattering force. He felt the impact through the hammer's handle and heard the terrible cracking sound followed by the giant's roar of pain. The immense creature faltered and could not use the one maimed leg to stand. The stumble brought the giant to his knees and more in line with the dwarf's range. Another swing of the hammer shattered a wrist and the mighty club hit the ground. The other hand flew through the air and grabbed Ritter.

“You were a worthy foe,” the giant said, “But no more. Now I end this. I am almost sorry.”

The Halz was surprised by this gambit. He was lifted off the ground with ease but then the dwarf heard an odd sound from the giant. He looked down as saw the feathering of an arrow protruding from his eye. The Rock Giant was slain and Ritter quickly assessed the situation. The griffin was down, as was the lizardfolk warrior. Aldebaran seemed to be keeping the chaotic elemental creature busy while the Magehunter was standing over the defeated mage. Another creature of some sort lay slain near Eurysa, likely something else the mage had summoned. However, Ritter did not immediately see Kava.

The summoned creatures wavered in the Halz's sight then vanished, including the elemental spirit. Ritter began to look around for the missing vodyanoi as Eurysa and Aldebaran regrouped with him. Mayitso seemed to have won his battle, thought the other lycanthrope seemed unharmed. The two wolves sat off to the side of the battlefield and Ritter imagined they were having a discussion.

***

The griffin reared up and clawed at Aldebaran. The minotaur kept his sword at the ready and avoided the deadly looking talons. As the griffin landed his blade slashed at the beast's neck. It was a quick and clean kill. He heard Eurysa hiss and looked her direction. She had just fired an arrow and slain an unusual creature. It looked like some sort of amorphous blob of flesh. He could hear the Agonori mage taunting the group, though he did not know the language. He certainly could understand the tone.

“Go distract that elemental!” Eurysa hissed at him, “The magehunter needs to get to the mage. I'll see if I can stop him from casting any more spells.”

Eurysa looked towards the Tarvoni and yelled out in Agonori, “Mage!”

“Ah,” he said, “You excel at killing the flesh and blood. But I see my elemental confounds you as much as the magehunter. I should have guessed he would travel with mundanes. So I shall summon another and watch you suffer and die. You cannot harm me now!”

“No, perhaps not,” the gorgon replied, “But I wager your protections have a limit. And it will be much easier to test that if you don't move.”

Her gaze pierced the battlefield and the Tarvoni felt his muscles lock up. His mind struggled against her magic, he was trained to resist such things. However, he felt his will bend then finally break. His training had not been enough to resist her. As the minotaur gave the elemental a new target, Laerdik rolled away and made a mad dash for the mage. His blade slammed against the protective field around the mage. He took a deep breath and stabbed at the porcelain skinned Tarvoni with all his might.

The blade pierced the magical protection and the life faded from the man's eyes. As he died, the Gorgon's magic had no more sway over his mind and the mage collapsed. His magics quickly started to unravel as his life force disappeared. Aldebaran swung again and again at the elemental. His blade passed through the creature harmlessly. He could certainly feel some resistance as his blade passed through, but it was like slicing water. One could not harm it, but it could certainly strike with physical force.

Without the power of the mage, the elemental no longer attacked and began to fade. Eurysa sighed with relief and turned her attention to the other side of the field. She saw the lizardfolk warrior was down and saw Ritter had brought the giant down to size. She was as surprised as the dwarf when the giant grabbed him. One quick arrow took care of that problem.

***

“What did I miss?” Ritter asked.

“I had to paralyze the mage,” Eurysa said, “He just kept summoning monsters faster than we could kill them. Worse, he realized we had little to defend ourselves against magical creatures like his elemental if we were traveling with a Magehunter. He was bragging that his next summon was going to be another elemental. Being that busy, I had little time to assist you until the end, but you seem to be doing well.”

Ritter nodded, “Yes, your timing was excellent. Now where did Kava get off to?”

“Good question,” Aldebaran grumbled in his gravelly voice, “I expected her to be bouncing around after slaying one of her troglodyte women.”

The group trudged over to the slain lizardfolk warrior. She was laying at the edge of one of the patches of tall plains grass that survived in the transition area between the Disputed Lands and Feergrus. The warrior had one of her hands clutching at her belly. It was obvious that Kava had landed a vicious blow. The warrior had been disemboweled. As Ritter circled past the warrior, he saw something sticking out of the grass.

Moving closer, he saw fingers sticking out of the grass. It was definitely the hand of a vodyanoi. She was hidden in the tall grass it seemed. He reached down and grabbed Kava's cold, clammy hand and went to pull her out of the grass. However, all that happened was that he pulled out her hand and part of the forearm. A jagged wound had severed the arm.

“This is not a good sign,” Ritter said.