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

26Sep/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0013

The meeting place at the southern branch of the Devil's Fork river had a larger number of people gathered than Ritter had expected. A small stage had been set up and the Halz wondered what that meant. The wagon stopped within sight of the area, but Enzi kept the group far from the gathering crowd.

“An auction,” Enzi said, “This may work for us or complicate things.”

There were perhaps two dozen people gathered near the stage. A large tent had been set up behind the stage. Enzi headed there, taking Ritter and Gierig with him. Several armed and armored men could be seen near the tent. Two of them guarded the entrance and the rest seemed to be patrolling around it. Obviously the tent could protect people from seeing all the goods that might be available to steal, but one could slice through the fabric easy enough.

The mercenaries gave Enzi and the two Halz suspicious glares. Still the Feergrus man approached them without hesitation or fear. As Enzi neared the two soldiers guarding the tent entrance, the two men shifted their stance. They were in position to draw their weapons and strike with ease.

One of the mercenaries spoke in Infernus, “Halt. This area is not for the bidders.”

Enzi was not shocked that they spoke in his native tongue and smoothly replied, “We are here to speak with the boss. We suspect someone may be trying to cheat him with goods stolen from the dwarves.”

One of the mercenaries yelled something inside the tent. Ritter was not sure what the soldier said. From the sound of it, the Halz suspected he had spoken in Agonori. After his time in Center Point, Ritter thought he might be able to recognize nearly any language, even if he couldn't understand it. Soon enough a well dressed Agonish man strode out of the tent. His appearance was greatly at odds with nearly anyone else Ritter had seen in the human lands thus far. His clothing was clean and straight with vibrant color. The blue seemed particularly striking to the Halz, though he suspected the deep reds were more difficult to achieve.

“Ah, a Feergrus and two dwarves,” the Agonish man said in the Feergrus tongue, “I suspect I know why you are here. You should come with me, I could actually use your help in this matter.”

“Our help?” Enzi asked.

“It is not something for the public to hear,” the finely dressed man replied, “We have several items for auction, but this one was not what we had been told. Please come with me.”

The man patted one of the guards on his shoulder as he walked past, saying something quick in Agonori. Enzi and the two dwarves passed by the soldiers and inside the tent. Ritter had originally believed that the auction was just for the halzium box. Now he saw a wide array of odd items. He saw the distinctive blue sheen of mithril as well as several items in gold or silver. He passed by one item crafted of a metal he did not recognize. The red metal seemed to have a golden hue to it as well.

However, he soon found his attention stolen away by the box they had come for. It was large enough to fit a full Halz inside, depending on how thing the panels were. The runes on the side were immediately recognizable to Ritter.

“That isn't just any box,” he muttered in Nuvro, “That is a puzzle box.”

The Agonish man nodded and spoke in fluent Nuvro, “You are correct. Most humans would not know, but I have had extensive dealings with your kind before.”

“Then you know if a Halz put something in a box like that, it wasn't meant to be opened except in the most dire of situations. Anything in there can't be valuable in the normal sense of the word.”

“Yes,” the man said, “It could also be potentially dangerous. However, whoever put the item in the auction made sure everyone knew about it. This makes the situation slightly more unique.”

“I think we can handle making it vanish so that no one knows it was here,” Enzi said, “And get it somewhere safe and in the proper hands.”

“Let us discuss plans then. You two stone-kin should guard the item. It is yours after all.”

Enzi and the Agonish auctioneer began discussing their plan while Gierig and Ritter stood near the puzzle box.

“This is interesting,” Gierig said in the dwarven tongue, “The runes say this was locked by the Platinum clan. Locked by the edict of isolation.”

Ritter looked over the runes, “Then this isn't dangerous except to those in power.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, that particular edict is about keeping the dwarves as they are. Something in here would be valuable to the Earthbreakers.”

“Like us. Then perhaps we should open it.”

“Eventually. We should get it out of here first,” Ritter said.

The tearing of fabric suddenly filled the air. The soldiers that had surrounded the tent had just all cut their way inside.

“It appears someone bought off your guards,” Enzi said.

“Yes,” the Agonish man replied, “Greed is a terrible thing. Perhaps someday we will all live in unity, but this chaos is most unbecoming.”

“Just step out of the way short stuff,” one of the soldiers said towards the dwarves.

“We will never get the box out of here like this. Whatever is inside has to be easier to carry,” Gierig said, “If you know how to open the thing, now would be a good time. I can hold these scrawny humans off.”

Gierig readied his axe and smiled.

***

Mayitso's growls were the first warning that something was wrong. Several warriors were headed for the wagon. Glancing towards the tent, Eurysa saw that a score of the soldiers had just cut their way inside.

“You get your wish Kava, we get a fight after all,” the gorgon hissed.

Kava's croaking voice was full of bliss, “About damn time.”

Enzi's Irregulars poured out of the wagon as the enemy warriors approached. Kava and Aldebaran dashed into combat to keep the warriors off of their ranged support. Then from behind them a familiar voice spoke out.

“My sources were correct, you are here after all.”

Eurysa turned to see the magehunter Laerdik Verdiss. A dozen possibilities flew through her mind. However, the fight ensued before she could do anything. The soldiers moved in with quiet competence as the magehunter closed on his primary target. Eurysa's bow would be of little use if the magehunter kept her in melee range. Mayitso snapped at the Agonish warrior and he kept his distance.

As the great wolf charged at Laerdik and the human moved with an almost uncanny speed and grace. His extensive training had paid off. There was a flash of metal in his off hand. He had pulled a dagger as he dodged the lycanthrope. There was a terrible yelp from Mayitso as Laerdik drove the dagger home. The great wolf hit the ground bleeding from his side. Eurysa rapidly analyzed the bloody dagger in the man's hands. It was coated with pure silver.

“I learned quite a bit about your little group,” the magehunter said, “There were quite a few tales about you and your allies and the terrible things you have done. The number of innocents each of you has slain. It is the end of your time on Doulairen.”

“Several of us had a rough time dealing with humans that would destroy us because we are different,” Eurysa hissed, “They are not so innocent. Enzi has helped us avoid the trouble.”

“You may think you are doing good, but I've seen some of the reports. Especially of your minotaur friend. There is no excuse for many of those slayings. I learned how magic corrupts those who use it. The teachers in the fortress at Hadrarius drilled many things into the heads of young magehunters. I wondered how true it could be. Ravalei has mages but did not seem corrupt. But I've seen the effects again and again. You may have done some good, but it is time to end your menace before the magic completely corrupts you. Nothing personal.”

Laerdik charged in with blinding speed, leaping over the prone Mayitso. The great wolf was breathing heavily, obviously in great pain. The arming sword in the magehunter's hand flashed through the air as Eurysa slithered back from the attack. She was not skilled at dealing with melee combat and she felt a flash of pain as she tumbled backwards over her tail and hit the ground. Blood oozed from the severed snake that had once been part of her hair.

Kava and Aldebaran were embroiled in a fight with far too many soldiers to come to Eurysa's aid. Laerdik was likely too skilled for any one of the team to defeat easily, certainly not with several soldiers aiding his cause. He stood over the gorgon and raised his blade.

“I am truly sorry,” he said.

“Then don't do it,” Eurysa hissed, “You've felt doubt about magic before. My people were born with this natural ability. You have seen for yourself the good that the Ravaleians can do. There are always those who will misuse a tool.”

Laerdik hesitated and Eurysa continued, “Someone told you that we would be here. They used you as a tool.”

“Yes,” he said, “Perhaps it is true. But I can not simply allow a monster to live. I may not be one of the Cleansers, but a threat is still a threat.”

He raised his blade again and before Eurysa could speak again there was a blur of motion. She saw grew fur stained with red blood. The lycanthrope tackled Laerdik. The blade flew from the Agonish man's hands. Pure fury filled the eyes of the great wolf.

“Mayitso, no!” Eurysa yelled in a raspy voice.

It was no use. The fury of raw nature had been let loose. Instinct and rage drove the lycanthrope. The wound had driven his higher order thinking away. His fangs sank deep into the magehunter's neck. The rending motion that came after was quick and brutal. The blood spray was horrific to any who viewed it. Yet that would not slake the thirst of the beast. Mayitso leapt from the corpse and launched himself at other soldiers, gnashing his teeth.

The battle was soon won. The killing field looked like a slaughterhouse. Mayitso had calmed as the slayings soothed his feral nature. He whimpered in pain and collapsed from exhaustion and blood loss near the wagon. Eurysa glanced around, trying to ignore her own wound despite the dead snake flopping over one eye.

“If he was told ahead of time so that he could be here, then this whole thing was planned. This was a set up, a trap.”

“Oh that little dwarf is gonna get it,” Kava croaked, “Wonder how much shorter he will be without his legs?”

“Oh Enzi,” Eurysa hissed, “Please be okay.”

19Sep/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0012

Enzi stood silenced by the loss of the golem. The Nuvroci soldier took advantage of that quiet pause.

“Now it is time for you to leave,” the Nuvroci man said, “Though I wonder if we should let such monsters remain free.”

“It would be a mistake to slay those who have shown honor in combat and saved the lives of many. Ones that have shown no threat to you or your people,” Ritter said.

The grizzled old man snorted, “In deference to the dwarf's words, I'll let you leave untouched. But never return to my country. We don't need your kind here.”

Kava's orange eyes almost seemed to be on fire, appearing nearly red as she seethed with anger.

“Come Kava,” Enzi said softly but firmly, “We have other business to take care of.”

Within a few hours the wagon was well away from the trouble. Enzi seemed sad and worried.

“There was nothing you could do,” Eurysa said with her calm soothing voice, “Any action would easily have led to slaughter.”

“I know,” Enzi replied, “That is not what strikes me the hardest. Knowing the stories of Sisera Dane and with the evidence I gathered, I can only come to one terrifying conclusion. He ultimately succeeded in his life's goal.”

“A truly sentient mind and soul in a golem's body?” Ritter asked.

Enzi nodded, “And not just any sentient mind, not just any soul. He was driven because he had a goal he felt that he could not fail to meet. A disease had killed his wife. That disease had been passed to his son. He was dying, and Sisera sought a way to save his life. I fear that he succeeded. The mind of a small child, unable to understand all that had happened to him. Forced to watch as he killed his own father. Forced to see the deaths of many others as the programming of the golem body killed any that approached him.”

“In the end, he had sought only to get away from everyone,” Enzi said, “So that no one was ever hurt again. It was obvious that he was struggling to control that body. The step off the cliff was his final action against his programming. A defiance of self preservation.”

“Is it possible to have survived such a fall?” Kava asked.

“The rocks at the bottom of the cliff are sharp and deadly,” Enzi said, “The ocean wears away at the rock except for the Halzium deposits. Unlike other rock that might be worn to smoothness or to being rounded, Halzium is almost impossibly sharp.”

Ritter nodded, “A good Halzium weapon can pierce armor with ease.”

“Golems had always been weak against such weapons,” Enzi said, “I fear the rocks have ended the life of an innocent trapped in the body of a monster. If by some chance it has not, we shall still never see him again. The ocean floor can bring no other harm to the golem. There are no humans there for him to harm. He would remain there. The world is safe from danger.”

“Then what is next?” Kava asked.

“Another day,” Enzi replied, “Another job.”

“Another several weeks of travel with you lot,” the vodyanoi said, “Maybe we should have stayed and killed the crowd. It would have made us all feel better.”

Aldebaran snorted at that.

“See? The minotaur agrees!”

Aldebaran merely raised an eyebrow at that.

***

The snowflakes drifted slowly through the air. The Enzi's Irregulars wagon sat outside Center Point.

“Ugh, the first snow of the year,” Kava said, “I hate the cold. Mayitso, mind if I carve off your fur?”

The wolf merely growled at her and curled up near Eurysa. The gorgon also seemed affected by the chill air, though perhaps less than the vodyanoi.

“I'm surprised Mayitso doesn't tell Kava off like Aldebaran,” Ritter said to the gorgon.

“Well, he can't speak human languages in wolf form, and it is a bit cool now to shed his fur to take human form.”

Mayitso began to snore as Ritter continued, “And Kava doesn't follow through on her threats against him?”

Eurysa hissed with laughter as she replied, “No. Mayitso is not like Aldebaran. Being a wolf is his natural form. A wild animal. Being able to take human form is something he does only when it is required. Kava is smart enough not to annoy a wild animal. They can bite.”

“He seems quite attached to you,” Ritter said bluntly.

Eurysa nodded, “Lycanthropes deal with others based on assumed rank. When he fought that other lycanthrope, it was to see who was dominant. As I lead the team on missions, Mayitso sees me as the alpha of the group. That means he will follow me anywhere and follow my orders without hesitation. At least until he decides he would make a better alpha.”

“I somehow don't see that happening,” the Halz said, “Are you sure there isn't more to it?”

Eurysa made an odd hissing snort sound, “That would not make any sense. We are not even the same species. Or as Kava would say, we are not even the same type of species. Not that I am a type that exists anymore. A mix of lizard and what she calls mammal. It was only possible with magic, and even then I do not know how it was possible.”

The snow had begun to accumulate. It was not much, but it was enough to discolor the ground and give footsteps a slight crunch. It was that noise that alerted the mercenaries to a visitor. Ritter was rather surprised when he looked up. It was another Halz. The crystalline hair of this Halz was a silvery white in coloration. Like all Halz, his eyes were entirely black with no discernible iris. Like Ritter, his features seemed like carved stone.

The Halz looked at Ritter and spoke gruffly in Nuvro, “About time I saw someone around these parts who looks trustworthy.”

Ritter absentmindedly stroked his nearly platinum blonde beard, “Well I do admit it has been a while since I've seen another of my kind. What do they call you stranger?”

“Gierig Earthbreaker,” the silver-haired dwarf replied.

“Oh, same clan and you two don't know each other?” Kava asked.

Ritter chuckled, “Let us just say the Earthbreakers are unusual in that way.”

“That is one way to put it,” Gierig said, “But it is truly good to find another Halz. I've been searching for a good group to help me with a small problem.”

“We help for any good cause,” Enzi said as he joined the conversation.

“Ah, the famous Enzi, I assume,” Gierig said, “I had to come see if the rumors were true about your crew. I have an item that needs to be recovered. I would not trust most of the mercenaries about this place. They would want to take an heirloom and keep it for its material value.”

“An item?” Enzi asked.

“A box,” the dwarf replied, “Made of the finest adamantine and with ancient designs of the Halz carved on it. It is a legacy of our people. It was made to seal away something of even greater value.”

“Oh?” Ritter asked, “What would one seal in a box like that?”

“I am not entirely sure,” Gierig said, “But I know the thieves that took it care only for the value of it. They would ruin the box, a work of art, to get at whatever is within. The box itself will certainly become scrap sold to metalsmiths for a handsome sum. I know that metal is somewhat rare in the human world.”

Enzi nodded, “Halzium sells for about ten times as much as regular steel. Iron is expensive enough. I imagine that quite a few look at Ritter's heavy armor with some jealousy.”

“Yes,” Gierig said, “Metal is not so rare in the mountain homes of our people. Yet even we value adamantine and the green hue hidden in its dark depths. A full suit of plated armor matched with a weapon of similar quality makes for a nearly unstoppable warrior.”

***

The wagon set off towards the north. Enzi and Gierig had negotiated out a price of the services of the Irregulars. Now Ritter sat wondering which clan Gierig had originally came from. His silvery hair suggested the Diamondheart, Platinum, or Silveraxe clans. Ritter was certain it was not the Platinum clan, but dared not ask his fellow Halz of his heritage. Taking the clan name of Earthbreaker meant that one had broken with the clans. The stone-kin did not speak of such things openly. It was considered an invasion of privacy.

The two Halz sat near each other, and Gierig spoke in the ancient tongue of the dwarves, “It is good to be able to speak my native tongue again.”

“True,” Ritter said, “Though it might seem rude to leave the others out of the conversation.”

“There are some things only another stone-kin can know. I trust you more than the others on this. Your honor is needed. I ask only one thing of you. I want you to carry the box yourself. I do not want any but an honorable Halz to handle this.”

“I'll see what I can do.”

Soon the mercenaries and their dwarven passenger paused to camp for the night. It would be several more days before they reached their final goal.

“The south branch of the Devil's Fork?” Enzi asked.

Gierig nodded, “It seems they chose a neutral place near Agon and Feergrus to bid on the box. Some powerful Agonish man with substantial money convinced them to hold it that far north.”

“Kyran Diafand,” Enzi said, “That is my guess. He is a noble from the city of Lucantul. It is only a few days travel to the Devil's Fork from there, especially if they just go down the river. At least if he got his hands on the box, you would be assured that no one would ever open it. He collects rare and unique items for his own personal museum display. A lot of people just call him the Collector.”

“I'd rather see the art back where it belongs,” Gierig said, “Back in the hands of the Halz. It was bad enough that it had been stolen by goblinoids. To think that some humans had dealings with those foul creatures and gained the box seems somehow worse to me. I can't imagine anyone on good terms with those monstrosities.”

Ritter nodded, “Obviously humans of the lowest sort if they are dealing with goblinoids. I imagine you have met some of the less honorable humans in your time above ground.”

Gierig nodded, “Yes. I have learned quite a lot about their deception and trickery. It makes me question the goals of the Earthbreakers.”

“I can understand that,” Ritter said.

Several of the other mercenaries obviously did not understand what that meant. Enzi certainly did, and Ritter wondered if Eurysa had learned much of Ritter's goals from Enzi. Aldebaran, Kava, and Mayitso certainly seemed clueless. Eurysa's gaze, however, was on Gierig. She seemed to be studying him. Ritter guessed it was a good opportunity to examine two Halz beside one another. Enzi's brow was furrowed with worry. Ritter hoped that the Collector would not be a problem.

12Sep/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0011

Approaching the crowd, it seemed that there were quite a few city guards but it was mostly normal citizens. Ritter was surprised that so many people had come this far out into the wasteland. He did notice that some merchants were taking advantage of the situation, having brought water and food to support the crowd. The crowd paid little attention to the wagon of mercenaries. Ritter imagined the crowd though that it was just more supplies being delivered.

“Ritter and I will see what we can learn,” Enzi said, “If this is what I think it is, the rest of you want to stay out of sight for the moment.”

Ritter wondered what Enzi meant by that but had to agree that the Nuvroci would be much more comfortable speaking with a human and a Halz. Although he imagined they would be speaking to him rather than a Feergrus. A minotaur, gorgon, and lycanthrope might be attacked on sight as monsters, but that was a danger anywhere the Irregulars worked.

“A dwarf!” one Nuvroci said, “And you look like a warrior! Excellent, just what we need. You should talk to the constable.”

“Oh?” Ritter said, “Why don't you take me to him, I could stand a bit more information on this.”

The Nuvroci citizen nodded enthusiastically and led Ritter to a grizzled veteran. The Nuvroci man had more than his share of scars. He wore a shirt of mail and had a large axe strapped on his back. He looked at Ritter with an appraising eye, then moved with the help of a cane. His voice was raspy and the Halz was not sure if it was from age, damage, or a mixture of both.

“Ah, one of our stout brethren from the mountains. We need more good strong soldiers for this endeavor.”

“Perhaps you could tell me more of this... Endeavor as you call it,” Ritter said.

The old warrior raised an eyebrow at the question, “You know of the monster?”

“Yes,” Ritter said, “I was not expecting to see so many people here.”

“Ah,” the Nuvroci replied, “That makes more sense. I was beginning to wonder how you were here if you didn't know what was going on. Yes, I was able to put together a militia of brave folks to face this monster before it slaughters more innocents.”

“That is why I and my friends are here,” Ritter replied, “And we seem a lot better equipped to deal with danger than these citizens.”

“This monstrosity has been quite unstoppable by simple soldiers,” the old man said, “They only thing I can see to stop it is by sheer numbers.”

“A lot of people will die,” the Halz said.

“Yes, but we are prepared for that. The death of a few to save the many.”

“By that logic, you should let my group try first,” Ritter said, “If we fail, then you still have your group.”

“Or we could add your strength to ours,” the grizzled veteran said.

“I doubt your people would want to fight beside all of our group,” another voice said.

Enzi had made his way around to the leader without either Ritter or the old man noticing. The veteran looked over Enzi, noting the scars on the Feergrus man. The Nuvroci had a discerning eye and quickly determined that Enzi was at least as much of a veteran of combat as he had been in his own life. That lead to as much suspicion as it did respect.

“So who are you exactly?”

“We are called Enzi's Irregulars,” Enzi replied, “We deal with unusual and extraordinary threats. Or anything else threatening the human race if we have time.”

“Irregulars. You have some army training to know such an appropriate name for such a squad,” the Nuvroci said, “Go then and destroy the monster, or be destroyed yourself.”

“Thank you,” Enzi said, “I would hate to have seen so many people harmed.”

The veteran grunted and then watched as the irregulars entered the ruin. He saw the gorgon, the minotaur, and the enormous wolf.

“Irregulars indeed,” the man said to himself, “Simply more monsters. I should have known a Feergrus would have a hidden agenda.”

The light streamed into the ruin and Ritter saw the glint of metal. The group slowly made their way through the decaying rubble and the Halz gasped as the metal moved. It looked like a metal human, perfectly formed. The metal had an odd blue tint to it and Ritter recognized it immediately. It was the metal of the elves, what they had called mithril. However, the body had another color to it. The crimson color of blood. Gore covered its hands and had splattered across its metallic body.

It cocked its head towards the mercenaries. Enzi had remained behind, not wanting to spook the creature if humans set it off. Ritter worried slightly that perhaps he was too human in appearance and remained at the rear, watching what happened. Something about the golem unnerved Ritter. He wondered what the attempt to infuse it with a human soul had done to it. Then it spoke in a voice that was all the more bone-chilling for the tone of innocence.

“Daddy?” the voice of a child spoke, “Where is my daddy?”

The horror washed over the Halz in a palpable wave. The mind of an innocent child chained to the body of an unstoppable killing machine. It was nearly inconceivable. The dwarf knew that a soul could infuse an item with great power, but ever had he seen actual intelligence of any kind. If the Ravaleian had somehow succeeded than he had crafted a horror unlike any other. It would mean that Sisera Dane would have broken every law of nature. Ritter could not imagine what would drive a person to do something so insane.

“Where did my daddy go?” the mithral golem whined, “I want my daddy back!”

Eurysa slid forward slightly and hissed, “It is okay. You will be okay. We will find your daddy and no one is going to hurt you.”

***

The Nuvroci man looked out at the gathered crowd. The Feergrus man was out of sight, and the soldier assumed he was helping his team capture the golem. The old man knew that the golem was far too dangerous for that. He felt it with all his soul. Even if Enzi's Irregulars could contain the creature, he did not want such a monstrosity in anyone's hands, especially not the hands of a Feergrus. He smiled, however, as he knew the mercenaries would distract his target. It just made his job easier.

“Listen good folk of Nuvroc. We have come here today to face a grave threat to our nation, to the very well being of the human race. We must destroy this metallic monstrosity once and for all! Gather your weapons, we charge now!”

The crowd roared. At the entrance to the ruin Enzi heard the roar. He glanced and saw the whole crowd headed his way.

“Wonderful,” he muttered to himself.

He yelled inside towards Ritter, the nearest mercenary to the entrance, “You guys need to move now, the crowd is coming!”

The mithral golem cocked its head towards the noise, “Daddy?”

“Come now, let us get you out of here,” Eurysa said softly, “We want to help you.”

Kava moved forward, then the eyes of the golem lit up as she closed in. Suddenly there was a blur of motion. The vodyanoi took to the air in an acrobatic flip as the metal fists of the golems flew through the air in a frenzy. Enzi had been right. It had a self defense protocol. As a frightened child, it was certain to strike out at any perceived threat. To a child, almost anything could be a threat. The crowd erupted into the room and the golem squealed out in childish fear.

The crowd, however, had not heard the mithral golem calling out earlier. All they heard was a high pitched squealing. They reacted as if under attack and charged at the golem while yelling and roaring themselves. The golem turned and fled, crashing through the rubble effortlessly. Its immense strength was obvious. It had blown through rock as easily as Ritter could have ran through a wall of paper.

The five mercenaries gave chase as did the crowd. Soon they had cornered the golem at the edge of the Scorpion Cliffs. The crowd pressed in as the veteran chanted.

“Kill the monster! End its threat!”

“Stay back!” the golem said in its childish voice, though it was drowned out by the roar of the crowd.

“I don't want to hurt more,” it said, “Not like daddy. Now daddy is gone.”

As some of the crowd charged in, the golem swung its mighty arms. Aldebaran leapt forward and swung his heavy blade. He connected with the arm but did not more than deflect the blow. It did not even leave a scratch on the surface of the golem. The thing was nearly invulnerable. It was obvious that if the golem wanted to that it could just slaughter its way through the crowd. It was far too strong to be stopped. Even if it was no more than the size of a man, it was many times heavier.

Simple weapons poked forward at the creature as the unsure crowd tried to edge forward. The weapons were quickly knocked back or even broken. The golem had nowhere to go, it had to fight now. Enzi attempted to take advantage of the lull in the crowd. He stepped out and raised his voice.

“This creature does not wish to harm anyone as you can see and hear, but one does not move towards a cornered animal. Stay back for your own safety!”

“Do not listen to the Feergrus!” the veteran Nuvroci soldier yelled out, “Like all his kind he wishes to enslave this monster to his cause. Look at what he has already enslaved. We can not allow such power in the hands of anyone, but especially not a foreigner like this.”

The crowd roared and surged forward. Ritter expected blood. He expected the golem to defend itself. Yet somehow the golem finally overcame its programming to protect itself from harm. It leapt backwards off the cliff. The Halz swore he could see a look of fear in the golem's eyes. The golem vanished into the mists below as the ocean crashed into the cliffs and was gone.

Its haunting last words echoed across the crowd, “I'm sorry...”

5Sep/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0010

Gharaf was happy to hear the sound of coin hitting his counter as a voice spoke to him, “Your information was quite helpful. I have found exactly what I have been looking for.”

“Then I have a business proposition so you can earn those coins back.”

Greed tinged the voice that replied, “And more?”

“Potentially much more,” Gharaf said, “Coin flows freely if you have the right allies. You should take the offer, it is like getting in early on a business before it grows much, much larger.”

The customer across the table from the Ravaleian fence glared suspiciously at him. Gharaf could certainly be quite convincing but not all of his contacts were entirely trustworthy. Those who dealt with him knew that Gharaf Targata's information could only be trusted as far as the source he got it from. However something about his manner this time was far more confident.

“It sounds tempting, but you could have been fooled by someone whose idea is not workable.”

Gharaf chuckled, “Oh this information did not come from some unwise words from a random source. No, this is something I know personally. My business succeeds here with thanks to this group. We have an advantage in our unity. We could use your skills as an agent. You could even work on your own goals as well. There will be ample opportunity in what we have in mind.”

“Then I might just agree. My target seems to have left off somewhere though.”

“Yes,” Gharaf said, “Enzi took his mercenaries on some mission of his own. As long as nothing distracts them, perhaps when they return we can put our plan into motion.”

“Good. I have a score to settle. And a profit to make from it.”

“Then it is settled. Come back here tomorrow after closing, I will have an agent of Unity here to speak with you.”

“Wait, they call themselves Unity?”

“Among other names, depending where they are and what they are doing,” Gharaf said, “Our organization sprawls across the continent and is involved in many things. All of them could mean great profit for someone who has proven their loyalty. Even if the loyalty is only to wealth.”

“If the coin is good, I'd do about anything.”

“That sounds perfect,” Gharaf said, “I think this will work quite beautifully.”

***

Mayitso's hackles raised as he growled at the unknown voice.

Enzi made a hushing noise before he spoke, “Do as he says. This is not unexpected.”

Ritter left his hammer in the wagon trusting to the Feergrus man. Enzi was surprisingly calm. The Halz assumed he had to know what he was doing. Eurysa left her bow and Aldebaran left his massive two handed elven wave blade. Kava left her one hatchet but did not remove the prosthetic right arm.

Whoever it was had sharp eyes, “Take off the hatchet arm.”

The vodyanoi yelled out, “Aw man, this thing is part of my arm.”

“Kava.”

The simple word from Enzi did not dissuade her, “Do you know how hard it is to get this thing on or off?”

There was a loud twang and a crossbow bolt planted itself in the ground right between Kava's legs.

“Okay, okay,” the orange eyed amphibian said, “But be warned that this is putting you on my list of people I really don't like.”

“Isn't that about everyone?” Aldebaran asked.

“Yes,” Kava said as she struggled with the straps on her prosthetic weapon, “But they all deserve it.”

Finally the prosthetic hit the ground and a single Nuvroci man strode out of the bushes. He wore a leather jerkin and held a crossbow. He was broadly built, like most Nuvroci, but was more lithe than most. He moved like an experienced woodsman. His eyes glared with suspicion at the Irregulars.

“A Nuvroci Ranger,” Enzi said, “Good. We are on our way to Nuvroc and hope the way is safe.”

“A bunch of monsters and a Feergrus don't make me want to be very helpful,” the man said, “You are lucky the Halz is with you, though I wonder why he is with such odd company.”

“The first group that hasn't judged me for what I am,” Ritter said, “Or tried to sell me off to some circus or such. Plus they have been quite honorable thus far.”

“I can certainly believe the first, and I might have heard rumor of the second. Though my suspicions are still aroused,” the ranger replied, “What reason do you have for coming to Nuvroc?”

“A monster hunt,” Enzi said, “We want to deal with a threat so that it does not bother any innocents again.”

“Is that the goal of your little mercenary band?” the Nuvroci asked, “Deal with monsters? Make them part of your team?”

“If it makes sense,” Enzi said, “Your first reaction is to view them as a threat and attack. If someone attacked you, you would want to fight back and protect yourself. Some races just need a chance not to be slaughtered without questions. And some things are just monsters.”

“Why exactly would I trust you?”

“You do realize we could have just slaughtered you, right?” Kava asked.

“Not before I shot one of you at the least,” the ranger said.

“Depending on who you shot, you might have found your weapon ineffective,” Eurysa said, adding her tactical knowledge to the conversation.

“I have a couple of silvered bolts for dealing with things like your lycanthrope friend,” the ranger said, “But you make a point. If you were determined I would not have lasted long.”

“Especially not even now as your current bolt is normal and a lycanthrope is always armed,” Eurysa said, “You have some considerable knowledge of the woods to recognize a lycanthrope this far from their normal lands. You likely realize that all of us have our own skills and talents that would make any combat encounter with you go very badly for you.”

“But we won't,” Enzi said, “We are here to help you. We hunt a danger that is already within your borders before it might hurt your people.”

The ranger lowered his crossbow, “You can pass. Bet you will be watched.”

“I never doubted that,” Enzi said, “Your partner watches us still.”

The ranger seemed a bit shocked at those words but merely smiled, “Perhaps you are skilled enough for your endeavor. If you speak the truth, then I wish you luck.”

***

The woods had been purposely timbered near the mountain river. It gave a clear view across the river which was the southern border of Nuvroc. The rangers patrolled beyond the river to keep the area safe. The wagon which rolled alongside the river had been watched by rangers as it had neared the border. Now as it approached the bridge to the town of Water's Gate the town guards took notice. Especially as it crossed the Border River into Nuvroc.

Ritter now sat in the front of the wagon, acting as an ambassador. Seeing a Halz returning from his adventures made the Nuvroci more trusting. The people also had the assumption that the rangers had vetted the strangers. The mercenaries entered Nuvroc without hassle but not without suspicion. It mattered little to Enzi. He stocked up on provisions in town and readied the group to head off the road. They were headed away from the rocky hills snuggled against the mountains where the Nuvroci civilization was built and out into the dry desert badlands where none dared to live.

Near the mountains the Nuvroci had access to water. While Water's Edge had the Border River flowing down from the mountains, most other Nuvroci towns had built massive aqueducts that brought water down from the mountains. Ritter knew of them quite well. The records of his people told of the engineers that had originally designed them and the many Halz who had helped build several of them. As the mercenaries were headed away from the forest's edge the ground was going to become rougher as well. The Nuvro Range shielded Nuvroc from rain and blunted the winds. Without as much erosion, the area was full of sharp edges.

Traveling without roads across such terrain was extraordinarily difficult with the wagon. It had been built to handle rough terrains, but the two oxen that powered it were having trouble. They were not used to such harsh terrain. The days that passed were rough but eventually Eurysa's sharp eyes spotted something in the distance.

“What is that?” she asked, “It looks like the ruin of a building!”

“An elven ruin,” Ritter said, “From ancient times when they pretended to be the allies of the Halz until they got all they wanted from us. They had talked of a plan to bring the forest northwards and cover Nuvroc with life, but it was a lie to let the humans accept them. As soon as they gained what they wanted, they abandoned their outposts and retreated deep into the Tarvo Forest.”

Enzi spoke, “Usually only bandits inhabit the ruins, and usually only the ones closer to the cities.”
The sound of ocean waves crashing upon rocks could barely be heard by the group, though they could not see the water except a possible hint of it across the horizon. They were approaching the Scorpion Cliffs, a great wall of rock that stretched from the great ocean to nearly a full mile above the sea at its highest point. It was almost completely vertical along much of its length. The darkness on the rock wall spoke of a high content of Halzium, like the reason that erosion had not carved further into it.

There were certainly small caves and other such things on the cliff wall, but they usually held the reason that the cliffs got their name. The Nuvroci scorpions were immense, some as large as a small dog. Their poison could be quite deadly, especially to the weakened or in high quantities. The scorpions were another reason that few dared venture into the dry wastelands of Nuvroc.

“From my information, I believe our target has fled here,” Enzi said.

“I imagine you are right,” Eurysa hissed, “As we do not appear to be the only ones who have come to such an out of way place.”

Her finger pointed towards the ruin, but only her eyes had picked out the details. As the group closed in, however, the rest saw that a large group of people had traveled across the wasteland. It was possible they were bandits so the team armed themselves for whatever might come next.