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

31Oct/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0018

“What is it Mayitso?” Eurysa asked in Infernus.

“I think you call them Trenchers,” the lycanthrope said, still uncomfortable in his pale humanoid form.

“Trencher worms?” Eurysa hissed, almost in derision, “Those things are pests that bother farmers. Even the largest ones are less than two feet long and not that dangerous.”

“Those are the larvae,” Mayitso replied, “If fertilized, they get much different.”

“Different?”

It was obvious that Mayitso was struggling for the right words to describe them when a large shape zipped past the group from the direction of the ladder. For a brief moment Ritter saw four diaphanous wings carrying a worm body with six legs. It was about the same size as the Halz. The legs looked like scoops, though each had a sharp point. The dwarf thought he had seen a gaping circular maw full of needle-like teeth as well. However the creature's attack was not against the mercenaries. The lit torch was ripped from the wall as the creature flew by. The light disappeared quickly.

“How did it come from behind us?” Eurysa hissed.

“They can hide on these walls,” Mayitso replied, “And now the real fight begins.”

Ritter saw the lycanthrope shift forms. The magical fey power that allowed such a transformation was shocking to see. The darkness hid it from most eyes, however. The Halz wondered about the magic that some Feergrus used to shift their own forms. He wondered if it was at all similar. Of course, the lycanthrope's ability was innate.

His thoughts were interrupted by a shape in the darkness. The scoop-like legs of a flying trencher worm wrapped around the currently blind Eurysa. She hissed loudly as she was yanked off into the darkness. Mayitso spun in that direction, though he could not see without light. His nose, however, was working perfectly. The large wolf immediately trotted down the hallway following the scent. Kava was flailing her arms until she found a wall.

“You know, Maybe I will just guard the exit here,” the vodyanoi croaked in Infernus.

Ritter and Aldebaran looked to each other, nodded, then headed off after the kidnapper. The enormous hallways gave the creatures plenty of room to fly. Having been built to allow a giant to walk through, the ceiling was well beyond the reach of Aldebaran, even with his two handed sword adding to his reach. Mayitso bounded far out of the sight of the Halz and the Minotaur. The buzzing of a creature flying past was brief but terrifying. The two warriors moved onwards, keeping their eyes open in the dark hall.

The Trenchers had begun to build on the walls. Ritter could see horrifying shapes made out of the insect's resins. Suddenly he was glad for the darkness. Color would have made those shapes only more horrifying. The crunching of the resin under their feet was only worsened by the feeling of good that stuck to their feet as they walked.

A yell from behind the two made them spin. Far above them Ritter spotted a Trenched flying off with a struggling shape in its legs. It was too small to be Eurysa and had come from the wrong direction. It had to be Kava. Aldebaran and Ritter continued on, coming what had likely once been a huge room. Now it was choked off, with small tunnels leading in all directions.

“Wonderful, just when we need our tracker,” Aldebaran said in Nuvro, worry obvious in his gruff voice.

At that moment a pair of winged monstrosities erupted from boils on the walls. Viscous goo splattered all over the place. Ritter swung his warhammer as one flew past him. Another was pestering the minotaur. The creatures kept flitting about. Whenever it got close, the Halz could feel a strong vibration. He wondered what it was until the creature got its maw close to him. Ritter could feel the sonic emanations coming from the creature's maw. It seemed to use the noise like a sonic drill of sorts.

He could feel it trying to penetrate his armor. His metal armor had no defense against such an attack and the dwarf crashed backwards. He stumbled and rolled down one of the tunnels. The Halz could feel the thrumming vibrations coming closer as the creature chased after him. A thought struck Ritter. From what he had seen of the creature, it did not seem to have any area for eyes. It had to be feeling its way through the dark with the help of its noise.

He yelled as loud as he could as he charged into battle, hoping to disrupt its ability to see. He couldn't tell if had any effect, but his warhammer struck true. As the winged creature lay twitching on the ground, he smashed it again. Certain it was dead, Ritter looked around. He had bounced around a lot when he had tumbled into the tunnels. The area seemed honeycombed with the tunnels, so it was hard to tell where anything was. He had been separated from the others. Everyone was on their own now.

Ritter stumbled onwards, searching for some sign of life, whether it was an ally to rescue or an enemy to smash. The dwarf moved on for what seemed like hours. Then he heard something. The sound was terrifying without context. It sounded like something enormous sliding along ooze and resin, pausing for a moment, then moving again. Deciding it was better to deal with it rather than avoid it, the Halz moved towards the creepy sound. Everything he had prepared himself for had not been enough. He spied upon an enormous room centered around a large pulsating gelatinous cocoon.

Then he saw Eurysa and Kava. They were wrapped up in resin. They were to be food for whatever monstrosity would come out of that cocoon. The cocoon itself was gigantic, easily over two dozen feet long. Ritter heard the dragging sound again. It was Aldebaran. The minotaur was being dragged towards the cocoon. Ritter leapt into action. His hammer smashed down on one of the Trencher gatherers. The other made a low reverberating sound. Suddenly Ritter found himself facing off against three of the four winged worms.

His hammer flew through the air, left and right. His shield blocked sharp legs that stabbed at him. Ritter felt a solid hit as he crushed one of his foes. The other two circled him, diving in and swooping around. They finally swooped from opposite directions. Knowing his options, the warrior decided to charge into the path one one of them. His shield created an opening and his hammer crushed the creature with ease. However the other hit him in the back. The Trencher unleashed the full fury of its sonic power towards his head.

Ritter hit the ground face first. His world was spinning. It seemed he had failed his friends and would soon join them as dinner. He saw one of the sharp scoop-like legs raise up and Ritter thought it was the end. Then the insect was tackled off of the Halz. The lycanthrope Mayitso had finally arrived. He tore the winged worm in half with his mighty jaws. After a few sniffs he transformed into his pale human form.

“I found the eggs. Six of them,” Mayitso growled, showing his feral nature even in humanoid form.

“Well, I killed three here and one earlier. With the one you killed, I guess that means one is still left.”

“No,” Mayitso said, “It is here. Cocooned. Growing. It becomes.”

“Becomes?”
“King of the Trenchers,” the lycanthrope said, “Enormous, nearly unstoppable. They can make the larvae change into gatherers. Sometimes a gatherer can turn into a king. Once the process starts, the colony continues to grow and expand. My people fight a great many of these in our lands, trying to kill the kings to keep them from spreading.”

“Then we need to destroy this abomination,” Ritter said, “And free our friends.”

Mayitso spoke, “I agree. I can smell them, but the scents are difficult to pick out with the Trencher scent all over. I can not see, I need your eyes to save them.”

“If you can not see, how did you get the trencher off of me?”

“I guessed.”

Ritter shuddered to think what might have happened if the lycanthrope had missed in his guess. He imagined that even with his heavy armor, those teeth would hurt. Even if they did not penetrate, the twisting motion of the wolf's max would likely dislocate or break limbs. Ritter pulled himself up off the floor. He could feel the goo underneath the floor's resin sticking to his armor and face.

He badly wanted to take a bath, though he was unsure how to do that easily as they were isolated from civilization and sitting in the middle of winter. A great many scenarios filled his head for a moment before he brushed them away. He had more important things to attend to. He broke the webbed resin that covered Aldebaran, Kava, and Eurysa. He gathered those the could not see together for support. He then set about trying to smash the cocoon. Its gelatinous form made it nearly immune to his hammer. He looked around the room and spotted something that gave him an idea.

“Mayitso, do you think you can help lead the group to the entrance?”

“Yes,” the lycanthrope replied.

Ritter turned to Aldebaran and spoke in Nuvro, the only language the two shared, “Try to make some marks with the blade of yours in the resin so I know the path. I have a plan, but I'd like to hurry once it is in place.”

The minotaur merely nodded, still in shock from his capture. The group wandered off, following Mayitso using Aldebaran's eyes. Ritter turned and began wrenching barrels out of the resin. The man who had lived here had been a hermit. He kept supplies. This included several barrels of lamp oil. The Halz began pouring the oil over the cocoon. The cocoon was oozing it places where he had hit it. He had damaged it, but the warhammer was not the tool to truly finish it.

After rolling the other barrels of oil over to the cocoon, the Halz pulled out the flint and steel he kept in his kit bag. He struck the spark and the oil lit up. The flames started slowly, licking across the oil. Ritter turned and ran off down the hallway. The light of the flames began to create shadows that flickered across the oozing resin walls, floor, and ceiling. The place looked like it was covered in grotesque pustules. The colors that the Halz saw only made the scene more horrifying.

Behind him, the flames roared to life. Ritter hurried as fast as his short legs could carry him. He followed the path that Aldebaran had cut until he finally came to familiar territory. The group was there, standing at the edge of a mess. The insects had blocked the passage out of the cellar. In the heat of battle and his idea, Ritter had completely forgotten about that. Aldebaran was busy digging at the Resin and the collapsed floor boards.

Ritter began to help, hauling the torn out bits down the hallway. The roar of the flames soon could be heard. Eventually enough light crept in that Eurysa and Mayitso were capable of seeing the situation. Able to work in such low light conditions, they hurried to help haul the rubble. As a side effect it also made a barrier for the approaching flames.

“Didn't quite think this through?” Kava asked in Nuvro.

Ritter chuckled, “It was a good idea. Except for the whole collapsed entrance problem.”

“Damn,” the vodyanoi croaked, “No way I'm dying like this. A pyre is fine and all, but only when I'm laid atop the massive pile of enemies I was able to slay before they finally took me down.”

Aldebaran grunted and heaved a massive block of stone that had somehow been part of the collapse, “I promise to make that happen. These damn things not going to get me either.”

“Aw, how sweet,” Kava replied, “Only a true friend would want to set you on fire.”

The flames began to lick at the barrier of rubble the group had created. Aldebaran's eyes grew a deeper red as he focused his rage. He nearly exploded upwards as he jumped. He crashed through resin and wood as he roared and tore at the blockage. Spent, he fell to the ground. Things seemed hopeless, but Ritter spotted light that was not from the flame. He climbed up the ladder as far as he could while the others tended to the Minotaur. He pulled out his warhammer and battered at the debris. Aldebaran had obviously loosened it in his rage as two hard swipes cause the debris to shift. A passage had opened.

“Okay folks,” Ritter said, “Lets get the hell out of here.”

24Oct/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0017

The snow was piling up fast. The chill in the air had begun to cause serious issues for the Irregulars. The amphibious Kava was having trouble staying awake. Eurysa was not doing much better. Aldebaran's tawny fur had grown thicker, and in her more animated moments the vodyanoi had called him a big fluff ball. Mayitso had the least problems. He already had a naturally thick coat and was used to being out and about in the worst of conditions.

Ritter was completely unprepared for the severity of the winter. Deep in the mountains, the Halz had little worry from the snow. While they would often send some of their people up to shovel out some snow to bring back as a source of fresh water, they never needed to deal with prolonged exposure. The heat of their hearths kept the chill out of their mighty halls, as well as the fires of their mighty forges. However, even Enzi found the furs they group used for warmth seeming too thin and threadbare.

The Feergrus sighed. It was to be a brutal winter. He decided it was time to upgrade their winter provisions. That meant he would have to go into town. That was not a problem in itself. Enzi knew he would have to deal with the shady Ravaleian Gharaf Targata. Enzi knew the merchant had the greatest access to hides in Center Point. His access to goods of all kinds was unparalleled in all the Disputed Lands. He was also useful as a broker of information. His buying power meant everyone had to deal with him at some point.

Many had tried to upset the balance of power and take Gharaf's seat at the top of the mountain. The fact that no one had unseated him meant that the Ravaleian was cunning and had the resources to hold onto his power. In a town like Center Point it also meant the Gharaf had to have powerful friends. Enzi always worried that some alliances that the merchant made would be with some rather distasteful folks. Dealing with such people had many dangers, not just for Gharaf but for all of Center Point. However, such villains would find a way to do business one way or another. Enzi had to admit that the wily Ravaleian was likely the best choice to deal with such dangerous people and survive.

Enzi trudged through the steadily gathering snow. Gharaf's shop radiated heat. It was built into the very stones of the ancient ruins. Gharaf had spared no expense to make sure that he would be comfortable during any weather. That also made sure that any customers would find a haven from inclement conditions as well. Enzi was quite surprised that more people were not at the shop. It was empty of customers. The Feergrus would have expected at least one person to have slipped in to escape the chill, if not to pick up an item or two. Perhaps everyone else had stocked up early.

Gharaf was relaxing behind his counter, enjoying the warmth of his hearth, “Ah, Enzi! How nice to see you. Whatever can I sell you today?”

The greedy green eyes of the Ravaleian showed no hint of malice. Enzi did not know of Gharaf's actions against the Irregulars. The Feergrus did not know that his information had been sold to the Cleanser known as Naphar Bura. He certainly did not know of Gharaf's involvement in the incident with Gierig. He also did not know of the organization known as Unity, nor of the Ravaleian's association with them. Gharaf also gave no hint that he had done anything wrong, not that he actually believed anything he did was wrong.

“Looking to stock up on some things for the winter,” Enzi replied, “Some food and some blankets.”

“Food is easy enough,” Gharaf said, “But you are not going to find any blankets. Not even at exorbitant prices. I already sold the few I had for some nice profit.”

“What is going on with the blankets?” the Feergrus man asked with curiosity.

Gharaf shrugged, “I didn't get my shipment this year. Usually I get a large batch of hides, but my source has not come in yet this year.”

A sly look crossed the Ravaleian's face, “Perhaps you want to earn your blankets, and a bit of coin as well?”

“A job? From you?” Enzi asked with suspicion.

“My source for hides is a recluse. A hermit if you will. He is a Kurrot and he takes the stereotype of their distaste of others to an extreme. However, his attitude and ability to survive alone have earned him the respect of the Hirkans. Each year when they travel north for the winter, he meets them at their trading post of Kanea. Outsiders normally don't get to visit, so he gains a large number of goods for the cost of trade in goods. Of course, he gets those goods from me. The hides are provided to me.”

“I worry that he has found a way to annoy the Hirkans,” Gharaf said, “That seems most likely. Either that or he finally found something worthwhile for his other hobby.”

“Other hobby?” Enzi asked with a touch of worry.

“He looks for strange and unique things to sell to the Collector. He keeps hoping to make a big score and be able to retire. I really don't see that as a possibility,” Gharaf said with a twinkle in his jade eyes.

Those eyes always made Enzi feel slightly uncomfortable. While green eyes were not unheard of for a Ravaleian, they were quite uncommon. The same held for blue eyes. While history said that Ravaleians were descendants of the Agonish people, their tendency to skin tones that were less dark and a sprinkling of eyes that were not brown suggested some other heritage also hid in their bloodline. The obvious answer was the Tarvoni, thanks to the strong friendship the Ravaleians showed to the mages that came to their lands.

“Perhaps you could go check on my friend,” Gharaf said, “If you can, bring me my hides. I will make sure you are well compensated. Plus you will have your much needed blankets. I suspect the winter will be quite harsh this year.”

Enzi grimaced. He could not see a reason not to take the job. With a shortage of hides, many people would suffer. While it was distasteful dealing with Gharaf, the Ravaleian had his uses. Finally Enzi relented.

“Okay Gharaf,” Enzi sighed, “Where can we find this Kurrot friend of yours?”

***

Aldebaran led most of Enzi's Irregulars through the snow, blazing a path with his massive body. A shivering Kava stayed behind him, sheltering herself from the chill wind. Eurysa followed her and Ritter was in the rear guard. Mayitso was busy bounding through the snow and outrunning the group. He was enjoying himself. He obviously was more comfortable in this weather. It made Ritter wonder where the lycanthropes normally lived. He seemed to have fully recovered from the incident at the auction ground. However, the brutality of the scene where the lycanthrope had slain so many had rattled the Halz.

He was working with monsters. They were sentient, but each was certainly not entirely civilized. More than ever Ritter respected Enzi for directing their violence in useful ways. However it also made him wonder about the possibilities of the humans and the Halz working together. He wondered if it was possible that the two races were just too different to ever entirely get along. Ritter decided he was not going to give up yet. The fate of his entire race depended on him finding a way to bring peace to the seven remaining clans.

It was interesting to be part of the group on their own again. Having Enzi with them on the last few missions had been interesting. The Halz had seen him fight. He had also learned that Enzi had not even brought his full power to bear in that fight. The Feergrus had been impressive enough, fighting without armor or weapon. The Halz hated to think how powerful Enzi might be if he used his talents as one of the shifters of his land. Ritter imagined that would have exposed Enzi far too much. The Feergrus did not need to draw too much attention to himself.

A snort from the minotaur brought the dwarf's focus back to the present. The group had arrived at their destination. It looked like a broken down shack near the edge of the Tarvo Forest. However, the Halz quickly saw that the looks were deceptive. As an engineer he saw that while the shack looked small and ramshackle, it had been built to cover up another structure. The Halz bet that it was another outpost once built by the giants in ages past, like the ruins at Center Point.

If that was true, it was very possible that the building had some extensive and very large rooms beneath the ground. The seven clan halls of the Halz were all built for giants. Ritter's people had been enslaved, much as the elves and humans had been. The giants had used the skill of the Halz to create the great halls. It was one reason that Tralenheim had been so beloved by Ritter's people. It was a place for the Halz only, built by the Halz. The Halz had suffered under the rule of giants for far longer than the other races, such an act of independence had given the Halz a sense of unity.

The fact that the giants had came back and defeated the Halz and all the other races to end the Second Goblinoid War was a terrible memory. It had been the humans, under the leadership of Ago, that had freed the land once again. That act had given the humans a great deal of respect within the hearts of the Halz. It was the source of the Earthbreakers and one reason that Ritter hoped that human example would aid his shattered people.

Aldebaran blazed a trail to the door of the large shack. It was locked, but the minotaur was polite enough to knock first. There was no answer, so Aldebaran knocked louder.

“Just knock the stupid door down already,” Kava blurted, “Its freezing out here. At least we will be out of this damn wind in there.”

The minotaur sighed, then kicked the door with one of his mighty hooves. The door shuddered and gave way before the fearsome assault. The wooden part of the building was certainly every bit as ramshackle as it had looked. The stone foundation upon which it was built, however, would certainly not have given way to such an attack. The minotaur did not immediately enter, so Kava rolled between his legs to get inside.

“Ooh, this feels nice in here,” she purred with her croaking voice.

“It smells... Sour,” Aldebaran said with a confused look, “That is unusual.”

The best nose in the group, however, was still bouncing and playing in the snow. The rest of the mercenaries poured into the shack. The warmth was comforting, but the Halz did notice the odd smell as well. It was not the smell of death, but the Halz certainly could not place it. It was slightly acrid. The odd scent did not daunt the mercenaries. They searched the shack and quickly found it empty of any life or immediate clues. Ritter knew that it was built on ruins, however, and surveyed the shack for a route to a basement. He was not disappointed.

“Here,” the Halz said, his completely black eyes spotting the hidden trap door, “A passage to the cellar.”

The group cracked open the trapdoor. It had been excellently hidden as just some more poorly laid floorboards. Mayitso still had not joined the group, but Ritter knew the lycanthrope would not let Eurysa go far without him. The four mercenaries slipped down the shaft and immediately Ritter felt an oppressive muggy air assault him. He felt an odd sense of revulsion as he stepped on the ground.

There was a sick crunching sound as he stepped on the floor. His eyes could easily peer through darkness and he did not see anything odd. However, there was also a crunching noise as he put his gauntlet on a nearby wall to steady himself. He took his hand off the wall and part of it stuck to his gauntlet. A goo or slime of some sort stretched from the broken off pieces of wall and the wall itself.

“Ugh, what is this stuff?” Ritter asked.

Eurysa found the ladder down a bit difficult to traverse. The floor felt horrific to her skin as pieces broke off and the slime trailed after her. While Aldebaran and Ritter could see perfectly fine in the darkness, Kava was nearly blind in it. Eurysa had decent night vision, as long as there was at least some ambient light. The same would hold true for Mayitso if he was there. Ritter lit one of the slime covered torches on the wall so all could see.

Bringing light to the scene did not help at all. While the dwarf could see shapes perfectly well in the darkness, without light there was no color. That was why the cities of the Halz were always well lit. They wanted to show off the gems and crystals they had mined. The sparkle and color was of great beauty to the eye of his people. What he saw in the basement of the shack was incredibly foul. The stone was covered with a shell that looked like stone except for its foul coloration. It was some mix of brown and green that almost exactly failed to please the eye.

As they continued down the oddly coated hall, they heard the skittering of a great wolf's feet on the floor above. The Ritter heard an odd sound. It was the pattering of human feet behind them. The group turned as Mayitso caught up to them in his human form. His icy blue eyes were wide with panic.

He spoke in the tongue of the Feergrus, “We need to leave now.”

There was a large crash behind them where the ladder was.

Mayitso merely sighed, “It is too late.”

17Oct/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0016

“Much like your story, I need to give you the tale of who my people are,” Enzi stated, “The Feergrus have a long history, but our current civilization started because of our religion. The majority embraced the three deities. Rakar is the deity of all that is good in life. Yet this did not make for a perfect deity. One could be consumed by the good and forget all the terrible things of the world. The second deity was Chasar. He presided over pain, suffering, and war. Among our people he is thought of as the deity representing the harsh realities of life and death. Each of those two deities had their place. The third is Nazzer. He brings balance to our beliefs.”

“He is considered to be the structure by which the Feergrus live. It is the will of his priests that designed how our society lived. A society that was to understand the world's pain through Chasar and bring it healing through Rakar. The priests decided then that society would be divided by its purpose. Thus began the creation of the castes. The soldiers of our nation belong to one such caste, and it falls under the power of the commander of the army. This man is Karrum Tamb, a man who leads all the generals of Feergrus and reports directly to the leader of all of Feergrus. This all falls under the purview of the deity Chasar.”

“Another caste are the merchants. Their purpose is to spread the power of Feergrus. They fall under the purview of Rakar. This group is controlled by the Executor of Feergrus, a man called Devis Lane. The most powerful caste is, as would be expected in our theocracy, the priesthood. They are controlled by the followers of Nazzer. Above them sits the very leader of Feergrus himself, Lord Glanar Dale. This a simplification, as even in each caste there are varying levels of power. Beyond those higher castes are also the lower castes, servants, slaves, or worse.”

“This system was seen as a fair way for people to fit into their place. To give each a purpose and a place where they could rise to the limit of their ability. It may have even worked at first, but like all things time can corrupt any idea. When one person gains power, they often seek to keep it at any cost. Thus came the powerful families of Feergrus. Several families grew in power as they found positions of great power and made sure that others of their family were given preferential treatment. Soon our caste system became a way to keep the weak in their low caste while those of the higher castes reaped the benefits.”

“This was the culture I was born into,” Enzi sighed, “My family was one of the more powerful ones. You will find a Cala in nearly every high office. Most of us actually did the hard work and effort to be worthy of those positions. This high level of competence made us targets. Our decisions were often second guessed by those who hoped we would make a mistake. Such pressure merely made my tactical decisions sharper. It made me look for plots against me. This ever sharpening focus is what brought me to my ultimate revelation.”

“I could finally see the big picture. It did not make sense at first because I could not comprehend the scale of it all. The plan was beyond enormous. It was subtle and slow, meant to slip by the notice of those with short lives. This plan had been going on for hundreds, perhaps even thousands of years. Such patience is nearly beyond the comprehension of most humans. It pointed me to a horrible conclusion about my country. While I love my family and my people, I saw that the direction of our country was being subtly directed. Our leaders had manipulated us for their own greater goal.”

“The ultimate goal is for all of Doulairen to fall under the control of the theocracy. At first I wondered if that was so terrible. Yet I saw something else hidden deep within the plan. It was a complete disregard for life of any kind. Our people had been chosen because of convenience. We had been nearly ready to destroy ourselves in a civil war between a powerful group called the Ahk and those of our people without power. The church had come and given power to fight the Ahk necromancers. Much of this history we had been taught, but there was much that did not make sense to me.”

“I began to dig deeper. I found our history teaching had been manipulated. I learned a shocking truth. The man who had brought the teachings of the church to my ancient ancestors was Lord Glanar Dale himself, along with his aides Devis Lane and Karrum Tamb. These three were not human at all. Their skill at hiding their immortality was impressive. The indoctrination of our children in their schools helped some, while they used the caste system to separate children from their families as much as they could. They made it something a parent wanted. A chance for their children to join the priesthood. It was open to all castes that could prove themselves worthy.”

“The most powerful and well educated families made sure it was their children who were taken. At least as much as possible. It was why our leaders had let the caste system turn into the shambles it is now. It was the perfect way to keep information from being shared and their secret from growing well known. Yet now I had discovered their secret. I was not sure what to do with the information. That decision was quickly made for me. The spread of our people across the lands by Devis Lane was not only for us to spread the word of our religion, but also to gather information.”

“My research had not gone unnoticed. I am not sure when I was first discovered or how long I had been under surveillance. However in the end, Devis Lane himself had watched as I pieced together their history piece by piece. He had watched on purpose. He had wanted to see how I did it. He wanted to make sure it would be harder for anyone else to learn. He also wanted to see just how good I was. Most of all, however, he wanted to see my reaction when I discovered the truth. He congratulated me on my endeavor.”

“He told me that he had never expected a mind such as mine to exist among the humans. We had a discussion about the direction of the country and of the human condition. The more he spoke, the more I understood that my people were just a means to an end for Lord Glanar Dale. Devis Lane's skills were greater than mine. He read my reaction perfectly. He saw my growing disgust. He knew that he had lost me. Yet he also had great power over me.”

“He had the power to make my family suffer,” Enzi said with a deep sadness, “Yet he offered me a chance to escape unharmed. He said all I had to do was beat him in a fight. If I lost, I would be dead and no longer a threat to Feergrus. If I won then Devis Lane would be slain and my family would be safe. I was perhaps the greatest warriors that had even been in the Feergrus military and I was still in my prime, if perhaps on the edge of being too old.”

“I had no choice. I accepted.”

“How did you beat him?” Ritter asked.

Enzi laughed, though it was bitter and dark, “Beat him? I was not even a challenge for him. I watched as my attacks did nothing. The warriors of Feergrus often learn a way to call upon the power of our panthers. Some can take the form of a panther for combat or surveillance. With training, one can even take a form that is a hybrid of human form and panther. It was this power I used against Devis Lane. My claws could not penetrate his skin.”

“He transformed as well. His form was similar to the hybrid form I had taken, except his form seemed inhuman to me. I am not sure what it was. Our fight continued, but it quickly became obvious that he was toying with me. He slashed the hamstring in my leg. I could not hold my hybrid form any longer and I collapsed. We were near the top of one of the many towers that spiral throughout Feergrus. He threw me through the stained glass window and I plummeted to the ground far below. For me, everything went dark.”

“That I awoke at all was a miracle. My leg had been healed, as well as my other wounds. It had been magical healing that had saved my life. My body had been taken to the local Temple of Nazzer. It was to have been used as a corpse for the ranks of the undead used for menial labor. Yet one of the acolytes had been a Cala. He recognized me and saw that I was not yet dead. I had been stolen away and healed by the greatest of our healers. They had already heard tales that I had been slain.”

“Yet there were a great many hints that my death had been dishonorable. Things had suddenly become very hard for the Cala family. They saved my life, but wanted nothing more to do with me. My very presence could bring them more pain. I could not levy that cost upon them. I fled Feergrus, using all of my skill to disappear. I knew I could not do anything about the three that led Feergrus from inside. They had too much control. So I eventually decided the only thing I could do was to help the world to become a stronger place. A world that could stand up to the machinations of the leaders of Feergrus. A world that could one day free my people.”

“That explains a lot,” Ritter stated with a look of understanding, “My own people need an outside force to help them see the destruction we have ahead of us. Sometimes it is hard to see the problem if you are too close to it.”

Enzi nodded, “Then we are but two who hope to change the world by our actions.”

Ritter chuckled, “By action, by word, or by both.”

The dark skinned human merely nodded.

“So how do you tell people of the creatures that usurped your government?” the Halz asked.

“I don't,” Enzi replied, “If my family knew, they would be targeted. Devis would find out. He is far more resourceful than I could have ever imagined. For many years I disappeared. I had been disheartened by my defeat and originally saw no way I could do anything to stop the evil that I saw. I mentioned I had eventually came to my decision of how to help. Eventually in this case had taken nearly two decades. This means less to you than to a human.”

“By this time I had largely been forgotten by most in Feergrus. My family had slowly worked to regain the trust of the leaders of Feergrus. I began work to build the small mercenary work I have here today.”

“Humans have such short memories then,” Ritter replied, “Do you think any will recognize you or report of your existence?”

“That is not something I have to worry about,” Enzi replied with a slight touch of anxiety, “Devis Lane discovered me some time ago. He decided to let me live and continue my work. He certainly has his own purpose for that. He knows the story of what he actually is has been kept safe. I tell it to you now as I expect that Devis will not always decide that I am so harmless. He will not regard you as any threat as he expects no human would believe anything you say.”

“True enough sometimes,” the Halz replied with a touch of merriment, “Your kind often has little trust in those who are different. Devis might underestimate the relationship between the Halz and the Nuvroc.”

“Even that relationship is strained as the years pass,” Enzi's yellow eyes spoke of determination, “Yet it is stronger than any bond the Feergrus have made with the Nuvroc. They have little use for superstition there and religion does not fit them well.”

“Logic and science often makes one disregard superstition as merely a fool's fancy. However, your people wield real power.”

“Even that power is no different than the magic found in other lands,” Enzi replied, “Their training in how to use magic allows them to access their power in a way that can not be seen by Magehunters or other mages. The religion had been specifically designed to control the populace. That is the greatest secret of thee three deities. I suspect a few of the most powerful hierophants of the religion may even know the truth. I doubt I am the only one who knows the secret. My reaction to their evil sealed my doom. There are many who would accept such lies as necessary to reach the very heights of power.”

“Greed can be a powerful motivator,” the Halz agreed, “My own story spoke of that.”

Enzi nodded, “It is too bad that we have such evils to share.”

“I'll keep your secrets,” Ritter said, “Hopefully what we have learned today will make us both ready for whatever may come.”

Enzi raised up his waterskin for a drink and nodded, “To whatever may come!”

10Oct/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0015

Eurysa was busy with target practice. She was experimenting with different ways of keeping her one dead snake from compromising her aim. Kava and Aldebaran were busy sparring. Mayitso had found a quiet area to rest and recover. Enzi made his way over to Ritter. The Halz was busy cleaning his armor, but the Feergrus knew he would likely not find a better time.

“Lets talk,” Enzi said with a serious tone.

The dark skinned human motioned for the dwarf to follow. The Disputed Lands provided plenty of cover, and Enzi had found a nice grown over clump for the two to sit behind and discuss their pasts. It was hard to tell what the small mass had once been. It could have been a forgotten wagon, a pile of corpses, or many other things. Whatever it had been, now it was enough shelter to hide from prying eyes for a short time. It also helped to shelter them from the cold winds when they sat on the lee side of the mound.

“You have been a part of the Irregulars for many months,” Enzi stated, “Soon winter will truly let loose and coat these plains with snow. We often get our most dangerous missions in the winter. Few groups wish to dare the freezing temperatures. Mercenary jobs are dangerous enough without such complications. We may not have time to discuss things once we get back to Center Point.”

“I assume you would like to know what the heir of the Platinum Clan is doing topside?” Ritter asked with the angular smirk his stony face allowed.

“Actually I thought we would both share our pasts,” Enzi replied, “You know as little of me as I do of you. Plus it would be good to know if we have any more surprises in store for us.”

Ritter chuckled, “I certainly didn't expect to see another Halz, and certainly not one with a grudge. I suppose I should start my tale at the beginning, the event that made my people they way they are today. I can only tell this tale as I have heard it. I have seen hints that all the clans have their own views on these events. Gierig certainly showed that some views are more extreme than others.”

“As well as showing that not everyone can forgive and forget,” Enzi said with a knowingly sad look in his yellow eyes.

“The tale of the Halz begins and ends with a city,” Ritter stated with a wistful look of his own, “The great capital of all our people, the metropolis of Tralenheim. It was built over four thousand years ago. It was a place that all the clans were welcome, though we still each had our own great hidden cities as well. It was the seat of the king as well. In the capital, the clans could easily trade with each other, as well as arrange marriages and other deals to make the Halz one united and strong people.”

“The great cave that held the city had everything a Halz could want. A great underground lake had formed there. It glittered green in the light. We called it Lake Emerald. It was fed by what we called the Waterfall of Jewels. Near the lake were the great mushroom fields that fed our clans. In the center of the cave was a great pit. It was from there that we mined adamantine. Yet it was none of these things that truly made Tralenheim great. There was one reason that the Halz gathered and made a city and one alone.”

“It was the Forge of Souls,” Ritter said with a sense of awe, “For as long as my people had existed, it was an artifact of legend. The Soulforge Clan was named for the myth and had long been our greatest artisans. When the artifact was discovered, all the clans sought to claim it. It was one of the Soulforge Clan that made the treaty that made Tralenheim possible, a Halz we now call Strongarm Clanfather. All clans were to be equal with an elected king to administrate. He was the first king of the Halz. Most of the successors were of the Platinum Clan, though we had many blood ties to the first king.”

Ritter's words were tinged with sadness again, “We did not have the city for even twelve hundred years. The forge was powered by magma and something went wrong. Lava devastated the city. The clan hall of the Soulforge was the worst hit, as they lived closest to the source. The Silveraxe Clan was also hit hard. Emerald Lake helped halt the advance of the lava towards the hall of the Goldbeard clan. The Platinum Clan hall sat across the mining pit from the source and like the Goldbeard we escaped relatively unscathed from the disaster. The Diamondheart Clan was hit nearly as hard as the Silveraxe Clan, except that they could escape up the Sapphire Staircase to the source of Lake Emerald.”

“The Stonehammer and Orcdoom halls were far enough that any living in them could have escaped easily. Unfortunately, they made up a lot of those that worked in the mining pit. The magma flowed over the easiest escape from there, leaving thousands of Halz trapped until the heat and fumes of the lava killed them. This tragedy changed our people. Blame was thrown around for the catastrophe. Many blamed the Soulforge for trying to run the Forge of Souls too hard. All of us have hard feelings towards the elves who did not fulfill the duties of our treaty with them.”

“The Silveraxe had a different target. They blamed the Platinum Clan for their pain and suffering. We ran the administration of Tralenheim and held the seat of the king when the tragedy came. We denied funding to a great many projects that were seen as a waste. Those hit the hardest by this were the Silveraxe Clan. Their projects were always designed to give them superiority over other clans in whatever area they were trying to horn into that day. Yet they also had several odd requests that made little sense to us at the time. They wanted to build great bridges across the pit and over inhabited areas. They wanted to make great streets that were easy to traverse.”

“We saw no benefit to this. The system we had set up within the metropolis worked quite well. The materials from the pit had a direct thoroughfare to the forges. We saw nothing else that needed to be so expedited. However the Silveraxe Clan would constantly speak of the rulings being an impediment to progress and safety. When the magma came, they saw themselves vindicated. Their great roads and bridges could have saved a great many Halz. The Silveraxe Clan stated that the Platinum Clan had denied the funding despite the potential disaster that the magma presented.”

They wanted restitution for their dead, as well as restitution for the dead of all the other clans,” Ritter said as his tone showed some aggravation, “It was this that lost them the support of the other clans. The Silveraxe Clan wanted it all for themselves. Their greed had swept their moral high ground from beneath their feet. The other clans might have been willing to listen if the Silveraxe Clan had been willing to share and help others. Instead they merely reminded everyone why their many extravagant requests had always been turned down.”

“That did not stop them. In fact it brought us to the situation that created a Halz like Gierig. Only a few of the Silveraxe Clan held their extreme views. No one dared speak against them because they held the great symbol of the clan. It was a magical axe that had given the clan its name. Its power was extreme, perhaps more than the artifacts held by the other clans. It was like the whole clan was under a spell when that axe was presented before them. The wielder of the axe attacked the home city of the Platinum Clan.”

“The assault on the city of Carmarthan was seen as the ultimate insult. The small force seemed unstoppable until the leader was disarmed. Without the magical silver axe it seemed all their will to fight faded. The axe was taken and sealed away. Those that led the assault were banished from the lands of the Halz. The rest of the Silveraxe Clan was embarrassed by their actions and upheld the banishment. Those few Halz that were banished took their families and were never seen again.”

“Until now,” Enzi said breathlessly.

Ritter nodded, “As well as the great axe. I was stunned to see it. It had been lost for generations, much like the ancestral relic of the Platinum Clan. I knew that no one of the Silveraxe Clan could dare let it get away, especially not in the hands of a human. It has the power of being not only a symbol, but true power as well.”

“That is something that worries me greatly,” Enzi replied, “I have some experience with magical items. The more powerful they are, the more dangerous they can become. Age also has a tendency to increase their potency. This comes with an increasing price. To my ears, your tale speaks of an item that has become extraordinarily dangerous. It already affected the mind of those that wielded it. Excessive greed, a need for domination, ideas that were taken to an extreme. I have seen magical items take a minor quirk of a person and turn it into the driving force of their lives. Worse, when it comes into the hands of another, those same drives appear in that person.”

“Even if they have never had such drives before?” Ritter asked.

Enzi nodded solemnly, “Even the most innocent can be corrupted.”

“Then are the Magehunters right? Is magic corrupt?”

“I can not claim to know for sure. However, magic often falls into the hands of the powerful and corrupt. It is hard to say if it is their corruptions that twists the magic or if magic itself has some of the blame. In the end, it matters little. The items become corrupt and can then corrupt those that use them. As time passes, their corruption grows stronger.”

“That is something to worry about,” Ritter replied thoughtfully, “Though I am not sure what we can do about it at this point.”

“True enough,” Enzi said, “I expect that your tale is not yet done, however.”

Ritter chuckled, “Yes, you are right. My tale is of the Halz, and not yet of me. I have not yet even reached eighty years of age and the tale I told is of things that happened over three thousand years ago. Yet that was an important part of the tale, as you can see. After all the excitement, things calmed down for many generations. Trade between the clans slowed down until it was rare to see a Halz that was not of your own clan. Our numbers slowly dwindled as blood ties became closer. Without outside blood, marriages were something we had to be very careful of. Being too closely related could cause severe problems with fertility.”

“Expeditions were sometimes sent to explore the potential of reclaiming Tralenheim. None were ever successful. This was the world I was born into. My father had been Clanfather of the Platinum Clan for nearly three decades when I was born. His father had been the Clanfather before him, and it was expected that one day I would take my place as leader. I spent much of my young life learning. I was coached in the intricacies of mathematics and engineering. I was trained by the greatest warriors of our clan. In my studies, I also saw the hard work of the wedding planners.”

“They sought out the few rare females and tracked their blood lines. It was their job to find the best matches to keep our race alive. Looking at their problem was daunting, but I applied my skill at mathematics. The answer I came to frightened me more than anything. At best, we Halz have two more generations left as things are. I knew then that I had to find an answer. The Halz need something to unite them once again. I suspected that I would not find the answer below the mountains where we hide. My people need a place where we can gather and meet together. Yet we have long hidden away, even from each other.”

“Your people, however, mix freely. Even if you do not all get along,” Ritter said, “I have already learned some about you, both good and bad.”

“I worry about that as well,” Enzi replied starkly, “As a mercenary group, we often deal with the worst of my kind. Not all humans are pleasant.”

“While the Halz are less likely to fight with cold steel than I have seen for you humans,” Ritter replied, “That never stopped us from constant fighting and bickering. I heard a great many tales of the arguments between the clans in Tralenheim. Drawing blood was always taboo, however. The attack by the Silveraxe Clan was an aberration beyond anyone's belief.”

Enzi showed his understanding, “Thus why the banishment was accepted so easily, even by the clan they came from.”

Ritter merely nodded.

“This certainly explains a lot of you,” Enzi said, “I believe it is time I return the favor. In some ways, my life is not so different from yours. My own family was... Is one of the most powerful families in Feergrus. It means that any of us will rise in rank quickly in our fields of employment. It also comes with great expectations. A failure can mean more than just your own dishonor. Sometimes it is better to be thought of as dead then to be known as who you truly are. It is why I do not talk of who I once was. That man is dead. Yet today, for you, I will discuss this man.”

“I was once known as the greatest military leader of the military of Feergrus, the high general of the forces of the Temple of Chasar. I was thought to be the greatest tactician and soldier ever to come from the powerful Cala family. My fall could have only brought them down. So now I work in the Disputed Lands. Enzi is a common enough name in Feergrus that it draws no attention. However, the name General Enzi Cala will draw attention. It is sometimes amazing how a mere four letters can change the meaning of everything.”

“Then this is not a story with a happy ending.”

“Not yet,” Enzi replied with a weary smirk, “But for now I will tell what I know of it and hope that the future brings a satisfactory conclusion.”

3Oct/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0014

Ritter looked at the dwarven puzzle box. The runes did not always seem to make sense. His entire concentration focused on the riddle before him. The sound of battle around him seemed to fade away as he studied the halzium artifact. Finally frustration set in. The runes just did not match up in a way that made any sense to him. He kicked the box as his rage built. The mighty artifact moved from that blow, toppling over. Ritter panicked for a moment as it hit the ground.

It broke his concentration for the moment. He glanced up to see the battle in the tent. Gierig seemed to be in a stand-off with several soldiers who seemed to be afraid to approach him. Enzi was surrounded by nearly a dozen soldiers. Ritter saw that the auction leader that had been speaking to them earlier had slipped away from the combat and was hunkered down behind some crates not far from the two Halz. Ritter turned to join the battle and aid Enzi but paused at the last moment.

The runes suddenly made sense to him. Some of the words had been written in different directions. Halz runes meant entirely different things based on the direction they faced. With the new insight, Ritter's focus snapped back to the puzzle box. He quickly deciphered the runes that he could see. One side was on the ground, but it did not matter. He had read enough of that side to understand. It was a tale of the noble Platinum clan of the Halz. All you had to know to open the box was the part that was wrong. That passage happened to be on the side that was facing up.

Ritter pressed the runes in the correct order, feeling them lock into place. He slid the panel back to reveal a slightly glowing handle. Ritter recognized it as ancient runic magic. Reading the runes, however, left Ritter confident. He twisted and yanked the handle and the lid of the puzzle box snapped open. His eyes opened wide as he glimpsed what was contained within. However, his attention was yanked away as he felt a boot hit his side. He stumbled back from the box and turned to see Gierig wielding his axe menacingly.

The dwarf was grinning maliciously, his ill intent towards his fellow Halz unmistakable, “Its all yours. Now for my reward.”

Gierig hefted his axe as Ritter asked with surprise, “Why?”

“I know exactly who you are,” Gierig said with almost mischievous glee, “Your clan has caused mine great harm. Ritter of the Platinum Clan. It is why I knew that you could open the box. Only someone of your blood could pull the final magical switch. The fact that I got paid for getting the box open and having all these nice soldiers keep your allies away from me is merely a sweet bonus.”

“What grudge could you hold so viciously against me? What ill could I have done to deserve such a fate?”

“You were born a Platinum. That is enough. The best part is knowing that I slay not just any one of you clan, but the heir himself.”

“I am an Earthbreaker now,” Ritter declared as he tried to think of a way out of the situation.

Ritter was on his back and his shield was trapped beneath him as he had left it slung while he worked on the box. His warhammer was at his side, but any move to grab it would certainly cause Gierig to drop his axe. Enzi was engaged with all the soldiers in the room. The auction master had slid up to the puzzle box and was extracting its prize. There would be no aid for Ritter's dire situation.

“If you walked back into your clan hall, do you expect me to believe that they would not welcome you back immediately?” Gierig asked despite already knowing the answer, “Your death will be felt deeply. A small measure of satisfaction for the wounds your clan has inflicted on mine. A great many of my ancestors died at the hands of yours. When we sought to redress these crimes, those who came to the court were banished for daring to speak out against your leadership.”

Knowledge glimmered in Ritter's eyes, “Then I know who you are from this twisted tale. I have been told a very different story of what happened. I will not claim that either are entirely true or right. The time for petty revenge is over.”

“It will never be over until all of your clan is slain.”

“Anger cannot guide you forever. Most of your clan has put the anger behind them. I know they have outcast those who still hold on to the old grudge. This certainly explains a great deal. Yet even today revenge will not serve you, Gierig of clan Silveraxe. The puzzle box held a prize that you seek dearly, I am afraid. You should have taken the time to look.”

“I can think of no prize that will forestall my revenge!”

“You know who sealed that box, and you know the stories of the clans and their history,” Ritter said, “The very symbol of your clan rested there.”

Gierig could not help himself but to turn and look. He saw the auction master rushing out back with his prize. He could see enough to know that Ritter was telling the truth.

“This only gives you a temporary reprieve,” Gierig snarled, “Fate was with you this time. You will not be so lucky when next we meet.”

The treacherous Halz rushed off after the Agonish auction master. Ritter clambered to his feet. He knew that Gierig could not allow an ancient artifact of the clan to escape him. Ritter's armor had saved him. The time it would have taken to slay Ritter instead of slowly wounding him might have given the Agonish man time to get away from Gierig. With warhammer and shield in hand, he waded into battle to aid Enzi.

***

Eurysa entered the tent to see a great many soldiers on the ground. Aldebaran and Kava had their guard up, yet everything seemed calm. Enzi looked exhausted but otherwise unharmed. She saw no sign of Gierig.

“You need rest,” she hissed at Enzi.

“Perhaps,” Enzi said, “I'm not as young as I used to be.”

“I was actually quite impressed at your martial skill,” Ritter said appreciatively, “I have seen few people fight that well without weapons, let alone if age has affected your skills.”

“So the traitor escaped?” Eurysa asked.

Enzi nodded, “And the auction master. I thought he seemed too excited to see our two Halz.”

“This was organized well in advance,” Eurysa said as she motioned to the lifeless snake she had draped behind her head, “They brought in the magehunter that we encountered before to give us a difficult foe.”

“What of those that came for the auction?” Enzi asked.

“They fled, but saw our fight. I can not imagine that it will look good for us,” the gorgon reported, “We should leave immediately.”

Concurring, Enzi led the others to their wagon. There he saw the wounded and exhausted Mayitso laying in the back. Enzi turned and surveyed the slaughter grimly. The mercenaries climbed into their wagon and rolled off back towards Center Point. Enzi wondered how much the witnesses had seen and how they would interpret it. Yet, it was no time to try to explain it to authorities. They would see the group as monsters and nothing more. Several of the members of the Irregulars had been through tough times such as this before. Their reputations would never be pristine.

Ritter, however, now truly intrigued Enzi. A prince among the Halz, heir to the leadership of the Platinum clan. His education in engineering as well as his well-honed combat abilities spoke of someone who had access to excellent teachers. He was too young to have gained all that knowledge without coming from a family of at least some wealth. Enzi had originally suspected that Ritter had merely come to the surface to prove himself, but now Enzi began to suspect Ritter's motives were indeed honest.

Long groomed for leadership, if Ritter gained experience of the world it would indeed be possible for him to sway the politics of the Halz. A great sadness then swept over Enzi. Ritter had seen little of the human race to inspire him. The Irregulars fought the most troublesome of foes, the most corrupt of what humans had to offer. Those were understandable. However, it was the respectable foes that were the true travesty of humanity. The ones that still did terrible deeds despite their many redeeming qualities. Some did them in the name of their country. Some for noble ideas. Many were misguided, blind to the truth of the world around them.

The Feergrus man decided that it was long past time that he talk with the Halz. His own past had led him down the wrong path. He felt that perhaps he could give Ritter an insight into the troubles of the human race and how the two races could work together. If nothing else, Enzi felt it was time for the two to get to know each other. Even though Gierig had proven that not all Halz had honor, this dwarf was trustworthy.

***

The Kurrot man trodded through the grass. It was stained with blood. That reminded him of the Blood Plains in his homeland. The grass there often seemed to have a red tint. So much blood had been spilled there that the ground was renowned for it. It was the most fertile area of Kurrot and it was commonly said that it was the blood that made the grass grow. The patches of Razor Grass merely helped the reputation of the area. The blades of that deadly plant were like sharpened steel and had bled out a great many fools who ran without looking where they were going.

Naphar Bura paused as he saw the fallen man before him. Like so many of the bodies, he had his throat torn out by a great beast. Yet this man was different. He wore white face-paint in the shape of the Agonori letter M. It was a magehunter. Such a foe would be difficult to defeat. The white-robed Kurrot found the silver dagger the Agonish man had used and noted the blood on the blade.

Within a few minutes the Kurrot had constructed a vision of the battle that had happened. Eyewitness accounts had given him some clues, and the scene told him the rest of the story that he wanted to see. This was the tale of uncontrolled monsters. The slaughter of innocents was plain in the eyes of the man. He was a Cleanser, a monster hunter. He had come to find a slain magehunter, three dozen soldiers, and an auctioneer.

The auctioneer had been the worst. He was an unarmed innocent. His clothes marked him as a member of the Rava Coast Trading Company. They would not be pleased to learn of the Ravaleian man's death. Naphar found it odd that the group had taken the time to hide that body, unlike the many others. The details of their plan did not matter to the Kurrot. He had his own mission.

Then his eyes came alight with joy. He had seen something actually useful. He knelt down and grasped the odd thing he had found, lifting it to look closely. It appeared to be the head of a snake, but it was unlike any serpent the Cleanser had encountered or read about. He knew immediately that it must have come from the head of the gorgon. He decided to try to confirm that fact when he next spoke with his information source in Center Point.

He noted that the snake head did not have its own eyes. That meant that the gorgon did not have any extra range of vision. Opening the mouth, he examining the fangs and noted that there were venom pouches for them, similar to what you would find in a venomous snake. He would have to see whether he could get the venom analyzed. His knowledge of his foes would grow. The slaughter what he had found proved to him that these were not foes to take on until he was ready and had the advantage.

“Keep making mistakes,” the Cleanser muttered, “Soon enough your time will end. Each crime you commit grants me allies and resources. Each mistake gives me an advantage to use against you. Someday I will be in the position to end your threat. Permanently.”