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

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.”

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