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

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.”

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