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

28Nov/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0022

The wagon sat well outside of Center Point. Ritter and Eurysa had the unenviable job of keeping Gierig alive while Enzi paid a visit to the bureaucrats that tried to run the mercenary town. Most of them had positions of leadership due to control over something. One led the guards that protected the merchants. He was effectively the justice for Center Point. That was the man that Enzi had gone off to interrogate. That left Ritter and the gorgon working to try to keep the vodyanoi and the minotaur from ripping apart the Halz guest.

The rage of the minotaur was difficult to contain for Aldebaran. Ritter had seen Aldebaran in combat and understood that well. He had heard hints of the mighty creature's past. It seemed it was filled with violence and anger. Kava was another matter. Her thirst for combat was insatiable. Gierig had crossed her, which gave her more reason than she needed to kill him. Eurysa was hard to read, but her self control and calm nature helped keep the others in line.

Mayitso was completely calm. Oddly enough, the lycanthrope was the most well adjusted to the change of anyone. Ritter wondered what that meant. Ritter had plenty of hard feelings for his fellow stone-kin. Now the mercenaries were likely targets. As many were monstrous they had already been targets to some and suspect to most of the rest. Things had never seemed dire, especially with Enzi around to keep trouble at bay. Now suddenly Ritter thought the outlook seemed bleak.

The Disputed Lands were full of mercenaries. It would be far too easy to put a bounty on the head of the Irregulars. At that point, it would take a miracle for them to survive long. The thought of being persecuted and hunted washed over Ritter. Suddenly he felt more kinship with the others in the mercenary group. As a Halz he had never felt racism in the same way as the others. Certainly many humans were racist towards him, but he was not considered to be an animal to be hunted down. The difference in scale was staggering to the dwarf's mind.

He had underestimated the suffering of his fellows. Their survival was against all odds. That they kept fighting for righteous causes was beyond commendable. Ritter's stony face showed a slight smirk. This was not the time to become disheartened. These warriors had been through worse. This was just a minor obstacle for them to overcome. Kava shifted in her seat. Her attention span could be counted in seconds and Ritter had a sudden foreboding feeling that her shift meant she had become bored with the current status quo.

The orange eyed amphibian opened her overly wide maw, “So Gierig. You don't like our short little walking ball of metal? I can understand that. I fully hate at least half of the dwarves I've met myself.”

Gierig said nothing which to Kava was an invitation to dig deeper, “I love how you prove your so called honor by seeing to the death of a lot of others, innocents as well. I'd invite you to our little club here, except I took the position of amoral murderer myself.”

Gierig snorted, “You have killed for money. What happened was a job. You should be pissed at my employers. If it had not been me, another mercenary would have taken the job.”

“Going after Ritter was just a job?” Kava asked.

“It was getting paid to do something I wanted to do anyways. You and your allies were nothing I wanted to deal with. My employers seemed more than happy to come after you for themselves. In the end, they betrayed me. In this we have a common enemy. I may still wish to unleash my vengeance upon the Platinum Clan, but I harbor no ill will to the rest of you. You are mercenaries. You understand the life.”

Ritter was surprised at how good a point Gierig made. Gierig certainly seemed sharper upon this meeting than the last. Ritter suspected that his fellow stone-kin was not among the brightest of his kind, but he certainly proved he was not a dullard. Ritter's training in engineering had taught him to think through problems. He wondered how well Gierig would have done with such training. Perhaps he would have been able to see the flaws in his thinking. Certainly, though, he could not predict the randomness of the vodyanoi.

“Why would anyone but a dwarf want a stinky old dwarf axe anyway?” Kava asked.

“You are quickly becoming someone I might enjoy killing if paid to do so,” Gierig growled.

“Good, good,” Kava said, “Now I am beginning to like you. Maybe. Even if you do like ancient rusty useless poorly crafted weapons.”

The fire of anger filled Gierig. The Halz had great passion and showed it strongly. The relative stiffness of their stony features meant their emotions were often exaggerated. It took a lot of control to hide those expressions and Ritter highly doubted Gierig would have had reason to practice that. That only meant trouble. Seeing that she had provoked Gierig, Kava would surely continue to torment him.

“You know nothing of craftsmanship,” Gierig said, “My people craft things that are made to last. The axe of my clan is a great and powerful artifact.”

“It is from your clan then?” Kava asked, “Proof that it must be weak.”

“If it was so weak, then why would humans want it for themselves?” Gierig asked.

The vodyanoi grinned, “Ah, no fun. You should keep to the anger and blurting out silly things.”

The rage cooled on Gierig's face as he resumed a neutral look, “I see now your game.”

“Well yes,” Kava said, “I just told it to you. Perhaps I could have said it more plainly even.”

“Indeed. I will be happy when the axe is safely out of human hands and back with the Halz.”

“Ugh,” Kava croaked, “I don't really want you to be swinging it around either.”

“Such a proud weapon is not for me,” Gierig replied, “I would not wield it. It needs to be returned to a spot of honor in the clan hall of my people. Safe from misuse.”

Ritter narrowed his eyes at the thought of the axe being misused. He wondered if the Silveraxe clan would rise up once more if they had it in their hands again. Ritter began to wonder exactly what would need to be done if they finally did retrieve the axe.

“So your clan had the only super magic axe?” Kava asked, “The other clans must have been jealous.”

“Perhaps,” Gierig said, “But the axe was the relic of our clan. Each of the other surviving clans had their own relics.”

This made Ritter pause his train of thought. He knew of no relics within the Platinum Clan. Certainly one might count the Forge of Souls as a great relic of the Soulforge clan. The Diamondheart, Goldbeard, and Orcdoom clans had no appreciable relics that Ritter knew of. The Stonehammer clan often spoke of the mighty hammer of their founder, but it had long been lost. It was the only thing that Ritter could think of that might be considered a relic, though at least tales of the hammer told of no magical properties.

As if reading Ritter's mind, Gierig spoke, “Of course the most relevant one is the Hammer of Ruin, the mighty weapon of the founder of the Stonehammer clan. Even now an expedition moves to recover it from where it had been lost.”

“How would anyone know where that is?” Ritter asked, “It was lost long before the fall of Tralenheim and the loss of records could not have aided any search.”

“Being lost that long ago was a blessing is disguise,” Gierig replied, “The records of it were hidden away in the clan hall of the Stonehammers and never sent to Tralenheim. Scholars unearthed the hidden texts and even now seek to obtain the relic.”

“Where would it have been hidden and not found?” Kava asked, “I imagine you dwarves go digging everywhere.”

“Of course you do,” Gierig said dryly, “It was not hidden in stone, but in the land here above.”

“Then it might have fallen in human hands?” Ritter asked.

“Worse,” Gierig replied, “Elves.”

Ritter made a face of disgust as Gierig continued, “It was at a time that we had some trust for the foul creatures. Yet luck holds for us. The treacherous elves threw the hammer away in their betrayal of the Halz. Records were found that indicated what had happened to it, many found in the recovered texts of Center Point itself.”

Ritter swooned at that. Center Point was a ruin of the ancient kingdom of the giants. He wondered what exactly the giants had been doing in that ruin when it had been whole and new. He pondered why records of the Hammer of Ruin would have been there.

“So if they found the records in a human controlled area, you think the humans want that little dwarf weapon too?” Kava asked, “I bet it has to be more awesome than your rusty axe.”

“There are few tales of the Hammer of Ruin,” the silver-haired Gierig stated, “It is mostly just stated as the weapon wielded by the founder of that clan. It certainly has a lofty title.”

The blonde-haired Ritter spoke, “Kava may have a point though. If the people that wanted the axe learn of the hammer, they may seek it as well.”

“Especially if they think it is powerful,” the vodyanoi croaked, “Everybody loves power.”

“Do you know a lot about this?” Ritter asked Gierig.

“Quite a bit actually,” Gierig replied, “As I was in Center Point at the time, I aided in the recovery of the texts and read them myself.”

“Then perhaps this Unity needs to learn of the hammer. And learn of its many mighty magical powers,” Ritter said.

“Magical powers? I thought dumpy here said it was just some old leader dude's favorite toy?” Kava asked.

“Yes, but Unity does not not need to know that,” Ritter said, “Then we can lure them out.”

“Not a bad idea,” Gierig stated, “I would ask how we get the humans to believe it, but I think I actually have an answer for that.”

“Oh?” Ritter asked.

“I read those ancient texts for a reason,” Gierig said, “They were carved into stone, so actually moving them would have been difficult to say the least. Unless one was a giant. So they are still there. Unity has people that can read Halz runes. We just need to convince someone to look.”

“A few rumors could take care of that,” Ritter said, “Seeing the runes would make them believers. Although I am uncomfortable with them knowing the location of the relic. Even without power it is a great historical artifact.”

“I know where the hammer should be. We just need to be there first,” Gierig replied, “The expedition should still be there as added backup.”

Ritter nodded, “It sounds like a solid plan, depending on what Enzi learns. We can run it past him when he returns. Perhaps he will have more ideas to add.”

21Nov/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0021

The fact that the guard had Ritter's weapon probably saved Gierig's life. As it was, Gierig was shocked as Ritter yelled and charged at him. He brought his weapon around and away from Gharaf. That was when Enzi struck. Gierig's axe clattered across the ground as the Feergrus man struck it from the dwarf's grasp. At the same time, Ritter tackled his fellow Halz.

“You don't want to do this,” Gierig growled.

“No, there are far worse things I'd like to do for all the trouble you have caused,” Ritter replied.

“No more than I would have liked to avenge the injustice wrought by your clan,” Gierig replied, “But there are more important issues at stake for the Halz.”

As the guard came over, he pointed his blade at the two dwarves. Ritter stood up as the guard took Gierig into custody.

Ritter shook his head, “Why would you attack this man?”

“Who do you think hired me for the job we did?” the Halz said, “All as a reason to take the axe of my clan. The thief escaped, and now I am tracking him through the last source left.”

Enzi raised an eyebrow at Gharaf as Gierig was dragged out of the shop.

The Ravaleian swindler shrugged, “I get people posting jobs through me all the time. I don't exactly keep track of all of these things.”

“You are in the business of information,” the Feergrus man replied, “I find it hard to believe you don't know exactly who it was.”

“There are some people even I do not ask questions of,” Gharaf said slyly.

“Gierig will find a way to extract the information from you physically if he gets a chance,” Enzi said reasonably, “

“There are worse threats than him,” Gharaf said losing some of his practiced charm, “Now please leave.”

Enzi and Ritter left the shop and the Feergrus looked towards the Halz, “I have never seen Gharaf like that. Whoever hired Gierig for that job must be quite powerful. They also had no problem setting us up for failure.”

“And now they have one of the ancient artifacts of my people,” Ritter said, “That seems like a bad combination.”

“I agree,” Enzi said, “Worse, I fear we may know too much. Whatever people these are, they may wish to eliminate us now. I hate to say it, but it looks like we have a new mission. We need to learn more. I fear there is only one person who will help us now.”

“Oh, who is that?”

“Gierig Silveraxe.”

Ritter made a face at that, “While distasteful, you are right. If it is for the good of my people, Gierig will work with us to help them. He may hate me, but he does seem to love my people more. I would trust him as far as it takes to help the Halz, though no more than that.”

“I think I can arrange us to be his new jailers,” Enzi said with a devious smile, “Though you might want to go talk with the others and warn them while I make the arrangements.”

“Oh, the others should enjoy this,” Ritter said with a touch of worry in his voice.

***

“What?” Kava asked with exasperation, “We have to let him live? Can I at least torture him for the information we want?”

“He will give the information freely, I suspect,” Ritter sighed, “I don't like dealing with him any more than you. He is a reminder that even my people have those that can not be entirely trusted.”

“You know, with enough violence I bet we could make him more trustworthy,” Kava said hopefully.

“Kava,” Eurysa hissed solemnly, “Be calm.”

The vodyanoi made an odd sound then trudged over to the wagon to sit against it. She slumped there and sulked. Eventually the wait of the mercenaries ended as Enzi came along with Gierig in tow. Gierig gave the mercenaries a suspicious look.

“Believe me,” Ritter said, “I am sure I find working with you as distasteful as you do with me. For now we have a common goal.”

Gierig sighed in defeat, “You are, of course, correct. Let us work together for now, for the good of the Halz.”

“First you should tell us what you know,” Enzi said.”

“When I came to Center Point, I learned of Ritter. I knew getting to you would be difficult, and I came to Gharaf for information. It seems others he talked to learned of my quest and came up with a plan. A group that called itself Unity. Gharaf has strong ties to them at the very least and from what he told me I expect he is a full member.”

“They are powerful enough he did not speak of them, even knowing of the threat you posed to his life,” Enzi interjected.

“Yes, I had tried a few ways to gather information from him,” Gierig continued, “Violence was to be my final method, though I was interrupted. It seems even that might have been ineffective. Persuasion has never been my strongest suit.”

Kava snorted at that comment, but said nothing.

“Gharaf told me his shop succeeds because of this group,” Gierig stated, “How much of what that snake-tongued fiend said is true at any time might be questionable, especially as he was trying to convince me to trust in the job they offered. It is certain that he knows enough to further my search for my clan's ancestral axe.”

“What did they tell you of the job?” Enzi asked.

“Just that it was a puzzled box with Halz runes. They had already figured out that it was tied to the Platinum Clan. I had already talked with Gharaf about Ritter and his clan earlier. It was his information that allowed me to confirm who you were. They needed you to open the box. Then they would take the treasures inside and I would get a cut. I just had to help the escape with the loot, which would be achieved through the elimination or subdual of you and your allies. For me it was a pay day and a chance for revenge. I never suspected the box could hold something so important.”

“I had thought such an artifact would have been put in a vault and locked away as dangerous,” Ritter said, “I was as shocked as you to see it appear.”

“The agent disguised as the auctioneer escaped with it,” Gierig said with obvious disgust, “I was unable to catch him. I searched for him and for any leads. When all trails ended, I came back to Gharaf.”

“Perhaps we can...” Enzi started.

The Feergrus man paused, the hair on the back of his neck standing at attention. His intuition was screaming at him. Eurysa caught the pause and began looking around.

“A dozen or so figures approaching,” she hissed, her green eyes having caught the motion in the distance.

“I can't imagine they are friends,” Enzi said.

With that Kava was on her feet with a grin. The rest of the mercenaries grabbed their weapons. Several soldiers approached the group and the Agonish leader looked over Enzi and his irregulars.

“Ah, it seems your prisoner escaped and has slain you,” the soldier growled in Nuvro, “Too bad. Kill them.”

The fight erupted as Gierig sat bound and helpless. As most of the soldiers engaged Enzi and his irregulars, the leader strutted towards the prisoner.

“Unity sends its regards,” the Agonish man said, “I am afraid you know too much to live. At least we never had to pay you.”

The man raised his blade to end the life of the dwarven traitor. However suddenly Gierig found his bonds cut. He rolled away from the attack that came and saw the inhumanly wide grin of the vodyanoi.

“I sensed you wanted to slay me, why help me to live?” Gierig asked as he stumbled to his feet.

“Oh, I will kill you,” Kava replied, “But it will be me when the time comes. Now beat the living snot out of these useless humans.”

Ritter felt the solid impact of his warhammer against the leather and mail of his opponent. He saw Aldebaran cut down a pair of foes with a single cleaving stroke. Eurysa's arrows whistled in the air as Enzi's unarmed and unarmored abilities proved far superior to his armed and armored foes. It was quite impressive. Kava and even Gierig helped, though without his axe, Gierig's main ability seemed to be to distract foes.

However poorly organize the irregulars had been at the beginning of the battle, by the end they moved like a well oiled machine. Even Gierig was impressed with their skills. Soon only the leader remained and Gierig was sitting on his chest. Disarmed and pinned by the Halz, the Agonish man stopped struggling.

“You should start talking, boy,” Gierig threatened.

The Agonish man snorted, “I may die here, but your threats do not frighten me. Even our failure here still ends you and your allies. The monsters have slain an innocent group. Again.”

“Again?” Gierig asked.

“Oh yes,” the leader said, “That slaughter at the auction is terrible news. Rumors already swirled about it. Today we confirmed it. And now you have slain another group of humans.”

“So Unity will frame us for murder?” Gierig asked.

“Yes,” the man laughed, “Our bureaucratic members can make anything happen.”

“I've heard enough then,” the Halz said, then broke the man's neck before anyone could stop him.

“He would have been trouble later,” Gierig said, “But a bureaucrat is easier to intimidate. We should find this person that works with the people around here and question them.”

“I hate to say it,” Enzi sighed, “But you are right. Leaving that man alive would have only made things worse. Already we are in a terrible situation. By now we are likely considered criminals. Things just got a lot more difficult.”

14Nov/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0020

The lid on the odd diamond box shifted and Ritter took an instinctive step back. There was a noise that reminded the Halz of a sigh of relief. Then one of the Tarvoni beside the box almost seemed to explode. It was as if something had reached inside the mage and tore his insides out from the inside, nearly turning the Tarvoni inside out. The dwarf turned and ran for the doors, his stubby legs moving his heavily armored form as quickly as they could.

The seven statues in the hall then creaked to life. Some foul spirit had possessed the inanimate objects and now they chased after Ritter. The whole tower shifted slightly and the Halz felt the floor shift beneath his feet. He could not keep his balance with his extreme forward momentum. He hit the floor and skidded across it for a few feet. The friction of his metal armor against the metal floor brought sparks. Then the Halz heard a voice in his head. It did not speak any language he knew, but he seemed to understand it anyway.

“You can not escape me. Run all you want, but I will come for you. Perhaps in your sleep. Perhaps in combat. It is best to just accept it. Lie there and await your fate.”

Ritter felt like that might be the best idea as his will slowly sapped away. He saw another Tarvoni torn apart. The possessed statues closed in on the Halz. They were ponderous and slow. Whatever had animated them was having trouble moving them. As this flitted through Ritter's mind he came to a realization. Death was certain for all eventually, it was a certainty so powerful that avoiding it was a monumental task. That meant death was extremely powerful.

Yet if it was so powerful, why did it have trouble maneuvering the statues? Why did it only slay one of the Tarvoni at a time? As these questions flew through Ritter's mind, he realized that whatever entity had been trapped in this tower, it was not death itself. It was not all powerful. Certainly it had astounding power, but someone had trapped it in the tower. These realization brought renewed energy to the dwarf.

Ritter pulled himself to his feet. The sluggish statues were nearly upon him as a third Tarvoni was torn inside out. The Halz scrambled towards the great double doors. It was odd. They seemed very far away, but Ritter was sure he could not have walked that far into the tower. Beyond that, he knew the tower was not anywhere near large enough to hold such a great hall.

His knowledge of architecture and engineering flooded his mind with logic. He concentrated and the world around him became more clear. His willpower began to banish the illusions that his body was experiencing. The hallucinations vanished and Ritter saw the simple truth. The statues had never moved. The Halz had not moved beyond tripping himself up. The room was small. It was nowhere near as majestic as it had seemed. The entity that lived in the tower had been warping his senses.

He saw the fourth Tarvoni die, but noticed something else. There was no box of diamond. The four Tarvoni were staring at nothing. It had all been a trick. A lure to keep the prey from escaping. It was not the box that had trapped the entity, but the tower itself. Ritter remembered what that mages had said about the orichalcum keeping their magic from penetrating inside. He wondered if the properties of that metal kept the spirit inside as well.

It was a struggle to move at all. The Halz put one foot forward. It took all of his willpower. The more he struggled, the more the spirit's voice called for him to surrender. Told him that it was hopeless. The open doors looked so tantalizing, yet each step towards them was excruciating. Ritter heard the splatter of the fifth Tarvoni's death. Ritter tried to call out to the rest of the mercenaries but found he had no voice.

“Your friends can not help you. I will attend to them soon enough. I will come for all in the world. Just relax and let it happen.”

Ritter thought of the danger to his allies and a new determination settled in. He took another step.

“You can not resist me. I am stronger than you. If you try, I will make sure all of your race suffers.”

The thought of his race being tortured and slaughtered by that entity was unbearable. Ritter had come to save his race. He certainly was not about to let some strange spirit destroy the Halz. The dwarf's willpower shattered the hold on his mind and he found his footing solid and true. With a few bounds he reached the outside of the tower. His mind cleared nearly completely as he reached the outside world. However he could still feel that the creature within the tower had a tenuous link to him.

“Do not leave me,” it whispered, “Come back to me.”

Ritter saw that the other mercenaries had set up camp. Night had begun as the last light of dusk disappeared behind the mighty trees of the Tarvo Forest. Ritter wondered just how much time had passed within the tower. He turned to look and saw the sixth Tarvoni torn to shreds, leaving only one left alive. The Halz grabbed one of the mighty double doors and pulled it shut. The mechanism that had opened them had acted as a lock and seal upon the gates.

“No! You can not seal me in here again!” the voice yelled.

Ritter grabbed the second door and pulled it until it closed. He quickly worked the mechanism until the lock and seal snapped back into place. The voice squeaked out of the dwarf's mind as the seals completed.

“I... was... so close...”

Ritter felt as if a great weight had left him. He stumbled over towards the campsite, feeling an extreme exhaustion. He collapsed to the ground and his world went dark.

***

Ritter awoke to find his whole body sore. He had fallen asleep in his armor. It meant the Halz still felt fatigued as well. Suddenly panic filled his heart as he thought of the specter in the tower. He turned to glance in that direction and saw nothing but jungle. If ever a tower had once stood there, no trace was left of it. As the other mercenaries began to awoke, many questions filled the camp. Ritter told them of his harrowing experience.

“Weird,” Kava croaked, “If it wanted out, why didn't it just leave once the doors were opened?”

“I am not sure,” Ritter replied, “I do not know enough of whatever it was to make a guess.”

“Sounds like a fanciful tale at best,” Kava snorted, “If I had not seen the tower sitting right over there yesterday I would have thought you had made it all up.”

“Even so,” Eurysa hissed, “Not all of it may be true. Such powerful mental manipulation and hallucinations may have changed perceptions. The only truth we know for sure is that the tower was here, and now it is gone. Along with the Tarvoni that had come to investigate it. We have a long journey back home through potentially hostile territory.”

“Hey, at least we got paid,” Kava said, “As far as any dangers on the trip ahead, I say to bring it on. I could use a good fight.”

“Lets head home,” Ritter said tiredly, “If we have to deal with any foes, hopefully it is something my hammer can hurt. Something more simple.”

“Now that sound reasonable!” Kava exclaimed, “I knew there was something I liked about you.”

***

Seven dead Tarvoni laid splattered across the floor inside the unlit tower. The force that resided within the tower sighed.

“Seven souls for the seven clans,” the ghostly spirit said to itself, its terrifying voice echoing in the lifeless chamber.

“My payment received and taken,” the voice continued, “I am free of the bond that holds me, yet my cage remains. When next the cage opens I shall be free. I shall have my revenge on the dwarves. They trapped me again. They shall suffer greatly. But now I must wait for the time to come again. Another five thousand years to wait. They shall pay for each day spent waiting. I am death. Avoid me now, but not forever for I am always near. It is useless to run for I come to all. The final answer to all things lies within. Learn of me, just as did those immortalized in my hall.”

***

Escaping the Tarvo Forest had been surprisingly easy. The group had come close to a hunting party of Hirkans, but the barbarians had been busy pursuing Snow Elk as the herds made the migration south for the spring. The vodyanoi, of course, had been rather disappointed by the lack of action. Ritter had felt much better after getting a good night's rest. Even he had begun to have doubts as to what had happened in the tower. The specter had gotten into his mind. It was impossible to know what was real.

It was a new experience for the Halz. It made him question all he had done in his life. It made him think back on all the people he had met. He thought of his allies and his foes. He thought long and hard on his mission to the surface. He realized that he missed the companionship of his fellow stone-kin. As the group lumbered up to Enzi's wagon, Ritter wondered if it was time to leave and visit the Platinum Hall. His fellow Halz would welcome him back and he had learned much.

Ritter saw Enzi in a confrontation with a heavily armed man. The man glared towards the inhuman mercenaries and stormed towards them. A perturbed looking Enzi quickly followed.

“There you are you damnable dwarf!” the heavily armed man shouted in Nuvro, “Knew I would catch you eventually. Your threats are at an end!”

“Threats?” Ritter asked, “What are you going on about?”

“Don't play dumb with me! You've been threatening Gharaf Targata for the past several days!”

“Wow, you are good!” Kava said with a sly sounding croak, “How did you get here ahead of us, threaten a shopkeeper, and get back to us so fast? I want that ability!”

“As Kava just pointed out in her sarcastic way, it is as I was telling you,” Enzi said, “Ritter has been away from Center Point and could not be the person you are looking for.”

“Whatever. Just how many dwarves come by this place?” the heavily armed guard asked.

“They are rare, I agree,” Enzi said, “But not so rare that you do not know what they are. We will go and investigate this with you. Ritter, myself, and you can go talk to Gharaf and he can confirm that Ritter was not the one threatening him.”

Ritter left his warhammer at the wagon to appease the guard. With Enzi and Ritter unarmed, the three walked into the markets of Center Point. Soon enough the three arrived at the shop owned by the seedy Ravaleian. Enzi saw the door was broken down. The three glanced at each other briefly then rushed inside. Ritter's earlier thoughts about missing interaction with other Halz melted away as he viewed the scene before him. Gharaf was against the wall with the blade of an axe hovering menacingly near his throat. The dwarf that held that axe had his stony face contorted with rage. Ritter knew that face immediately.

Ritter growled out a single name in Nuvro, “Gierig Silveraxe.”

7Nov/12Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0019

Enzi's Irregulars stood in the snow beside the hermit's shack. The wooden structure soon erupted into a pillar of flame. Mayitso was still in his human form from having to climb the ladder to get out of the tunnels hidden beneath the building. There had been no sign of the man who had once lived in the building. Ritter expected his fate had been quite grim.

“At least the fire is warm,” a shivering Kava said, “I guess we won't have any hides to take back then.”

“No,” Eurysa said, “But at least the Disputed Lands are safe from this threat. We don't need more problems.”

The five mercenaries began to trudge through the snow back towards Center Point. Behind them the flames burned for over two hours before they finally began to die down. Eventually all that was left of the flame was smoke. The cocoon had been thoroughly cooked, the creature inside was dead. As the giant worm corpse deflated, a single large object could be seen.

The scorched skin broke around the object. It was an egg. It twitched slightly, then the shell broke. A single scoop-like leg busted out. It was alive.

***

The man that approached Enzi wore a black robe. There was a symbol on it, a swirling vortex shaded in a deep purple that nearly matched the blackness of the robe. It was the insignia worn by the Abyss Cult, the largest and most powerful of the Tarvoni cults. Like most Tarvoni, the man was not tall and his pale porcelain skin stood out in a crowd. Like all Tarvoni, his ears had a flat top and back, giving them a boxy shape and a point where the two straight edges met. Like most of the Abyss Cult, this Tarvoni had dark red eyes.

The color of the Tarvoni's eyes almost seemed to glow with power as he focused them on the Feergrus man, “I find I have need of your talents.”

“Then let us talk.”

The five mercenaries were gathered around a campfire. The winter had been brutal and jobs had been scarce at best. However, hints of spring could be seen in the air and on the ground. None of the mercenaries was happier for the coming of spring than the amphibious vodyanoi. Used to the heated marshes that had once been her home, Kava had little love for snow or the cold. Her need for moisture was not helpful when the available water was freezing.

“Someone with a job for us,” Kava croaked, “Good. At least if we are moving I might be able to forget this damnable ice.”

Finally Enzi approached the group with their next mission. It would require travel deep inside the Tarvo Forest, but the Tarvoni would escort the mercenaries so that they would not be hassled. It was a long trip and the mercenaries learned little of the Tarvoni man. He spoke little to the mercenaries, keeping his relationship cold and professional. Ritter worried about that, it reminded him of the attitude of the elves. The odd ears of the Tarvoni made him wonder if they were somehow related.

Certainly it was not possible. If elves could mate with humans, it would have been seen long ago. Breeding across species just was not possible. As the weeks of travel passed and the group delved deep into the territory of the Abyss Cult, the Halz felt sure that eyes watched them. He never saw any other Tarvoni and no one hindered their passage. Ritter wondered if the escort had really aided them or if they had merely missed any patrol. His instincts told him that without an escort they would have been attacked a great many times.

Then the dwarf saw something amazing in the deep forest. A great tower could be seen ahead. It looked as if it had erupted out of the ground and through the woods. It had a slight lean to it but Ritter recognized the material. It was build out of solid halzium, or adamantine as his people called it. Such a structure was impossible. That much halzium just could not exist. Even if it did exist, shaping it into such a tower would have taken a hundred generations of dwarves, or perhaps thousands upon thousands of human generations.

“This tower did not exist a few months ago,” the Tarvoni said in Nuvro, the first he had spoken in weeks, “Our investigations have been fruitless. We thought bringing in some people with different expertise might give us a new start.”

Ritter felt the pale human's red eyes on him. He wondered if the mercenaries had really been hired just because of him. Still, this mystery was intriguing to the Halz. His knowledge of engineering was screaming to go investigate the odd tower. Ritter began to walk towards the structure, his black eyes soaking up the architecture. Then he saw the doors. There were runes on the door, etched with mithral. The blue metal stood out brightly against the dark hue of the halzium.

“Or magics have been unable to affect the tower at all,” the Tarvoni said, “Even our divinations have been absorbed. I suspect that beyond the halzium and mithril that can be seen, this place also has a significant amount of orichalcum used in its construction.”

“Orichalcum?” the Halz asked, unfamiliar with that metal.

“It is a reddish material with a slight golden hue. It has an odd affect on magic,” the pale man replied.

Ritter remembered having seen a metal like that several months ago. He dismissed the thought and turned his attention to the door. The runes were in his language. The writing of the Halz on an impossible tower deep in what he would consider to be elven territory made a thousand questions flutter through his mind. The dwarven runes were complex and Ritter noticed the language they used was ancient. It was difficult to understand, but his education as a noble had given him a lot of insight into such older texts.

The runes mentioned several features of the doors. Examining those, Ritter quickly deciphered how to make the mighty gateways open. The gates rumbled as Ritter worked the mechanism behind them. However, this also disturbed something else. No one had paid much attention to the hideous gargoyles that sat upon the tower. However, they were creatures known as rock falcons. A large and hideous bird that looked like stone, they often perched on buildings to blend in while surveying the land for prey.

The massive falcons swooped down on the six beings below. Kava rolled instinctively out of the way while Ritter felt sharp talons scrape at his armor. Mayitso, Aldebaran, and Eurysa each avoided the attacks and prepared for battle. The Tarvoni yelped as blood was drawn on his shoulder. The falcons flew up out of reach and circled around to come for their next attack.

This time, however, everyone was ready. The gorgon loosed an arrow as the rest of the mercenaries readied their attacks for when the creatures came in melee range. The Tarvoni narrowed his eyes at the creatures and Ritter saw the red coloration of those human eyes flare up. As the falcons neared he could feel the sheer power of the Tarvoni beside him. A flame leapt from the mage's hands and erupted across the birds. While their appearance was stony, their feathers were as flammable as any avian creature.

The creatures that survived turned and fled, though several looked like flight would not be possible for long. The Halz turned and looked at the Tarvoni. The small wound and the massive display of magical power had exhausted him.

“Go,” he said, “Investigate and return. I will rest here. The other Tarvoni will be here soon after that display. Those things likely won't come back, so I'll be safe.”

Ritter nodded and the group entered the massive doors. Their job was to find a way inside the tower and make the entrance safe for further exploration. Ritter nearly swooned as he looked at the internal dimensions of the tower. It was not built to the scale of the giants. That meant only one thing to him. This tower was from before the time when they had ruled the Halz and made them build the seven great halls that now served as the clan halls of the seven surviving Halz clans.

The orichalcum that had blocked the Tarvoni's magic coated the entire inside of the tower. Light gleamed across it with a golden gleam. Its luster was beautiful on the eyes. Mithril was used as trim and decoration as well as sparkling gems. The tower was beyond anything that Ritter could have imagined. Just the smallest bit of light that came in through the mighty double doors lit up the whole place. The way everything reflected light was amazing.

Statues lined the entry hall. Faces of people of many races, all with names that the Halz did not recognize. He had studied the history of his race, but this place likely held tales of times long lost to his people. Much of the records of the Halz had been lost in the destruction of Tralenheim. Ritter saw statues of fellow Halz, of humans, and even of elves. The further he moved inside the tower, the more his guard dropped.

Kava, however, was less comfortable, “This place gives me the creeps. It seems safe enough. Lets get out of here and report.”

“Agreed,” Eurysa hissed.

The voices of the two seemed to carry through the tower unnaturally. Aldebaran shivered noticeably as the voices echoed back hauntingly. Mayitso growled. His growl returned with a quality to it that raised the hackles of the mighty wolf. However none of the sounds broke the growing reverie of Ritter. The Halz continued onward, drawn in by the beauty and mystery before him.

“Hey Ritter, you coming?” Kava croaked.

The Halz did not answer and merely continued onwards.

“Bah, keep looking. This is your kind of place anyway I guess,” the vodyanoi said, quickly making her way towards the entrance.

As the group exited they found a small collection of Tarvoni outside. Their contact was there and looked much better. His wound had been magically healed. All of the Tarvoni wore the robes of the Abyss Cult and all but one shared the vivid red eyes of their contact. That one different Tarvoni had violet eyes that were every bit as vivid and bright as the red eyes of his colleagues. Two of the Tarvoni were female, but all of the seven gathered humans had blonde hair, though the shade ranged from nearly platinum blonde to a dark golden blonde.

The contact handed a bag to Eurysa, “Your final payment for your aid. Your dwarf friend was quite useful.”

Eurysa nodded, “He is still inside looking around.”

“Good, perhaps he will answer a question or two if we have it,” the Tarvoni replied.

The seven Tarvoni headed inside while the mercenaries made a quick camp. Night was approaching and they had to wait for Ritter before leaving. Plus the gorgon wondered if their trip home would be safe without an escort. These were all worries that could wait for the moment.

***

Ritter stood before a great throne of gold and gems. It was made for a Halz. There was no doubt in his mind. The mithril text told of great kings that Ritter's history books had no mention of. As he looked at the dates, they made little sense to him. He wondered just how old the tower was. There were legends that the history of Doulairen was far older than anyone imagined. This room lent credence to that tale. Then he saw something that drew his attention fully.

It appeared at first to be an altar of solid diamond. Such a thing astounded his imagination. The mighty altar was enormous. However that made him worry. He wondered why an altar would sit in a temple of the Halz. His people worshiped no deities. Suddenly the glamor that had held his attention was broken. He began to notice all the oddities that surrounded him. Something was terribly wrong with the tower.

Ritter noticed now that the altar before him was similar to a box. The lid could be removed. Then he noticed the seven Tarvoni. Their eyes were full of wonder much like his had been. They all came to the altar, just as he had. They ran their hands across the mighty box of diamond. Ritter saw runes had been carved on the lid. He was not sure how he had missed that before, but his reverie had dimmed many of his perceptions. The text touched something is his memory.

A Tarvoni asked, “What does it say?”

Ritter answered, “Avoid me now, but not forever for I am always near. It is useless to run for I come to all. The final answer to all things lies within. Learn of me, just as did those immortalized in my hall.”

“Answers,” the Tarvoni said, almost in a daze, “That is what we truly seek.”

The seven Tarvoni shoved at the lid of the alter and it shifted slightly. The riddle on the lid flew through the mind of the Halz, As clarity had come to him once again he realized what the answer must be.

He spoke as fear leapt to grasp at his heart, “Death...”