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

2Jan/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0027

Ritter continued his tale, “Freya's axe cut through giant after giant as she sought to reach her fiance. Her brave companions fell one by one as they sought to keep her alive. Finally she reached the one she had loved. It is said that blood poured from a hundred wounds. The villain was unharmed and ready for her. With a simple swipe of his weapon he beheaded the fair maiden. What was left of the small army retreated. Of her closest companions, only Barrett Orcdoom survived.”

“Ulf Silveraxe carried her body away from the traitor and the giants, despite the wounds he took as he could not defend himself. The elves then rescued Freya's corpse and took it to be honored among their people for her work in freeing the elven prisoners. The Halz retreated, most of their forces destroyed in the great battle. Trade relations began with the elves and the Halz began to build a great army to honor Freya. Eventually an elven delegation arrived at the Soulforge clan hall with a magnificent coffin that held the remains of Freya Soulforge.”

“She was honored there and her treacherous love had his named stripped from him. It was with this that the elves and the Halz became allies. The relationship was sometimes rocky as they were not Halz and we did not entirely trust them. Yet eventually our two armies joined forces and together we could fight off the giants. Life became much easier, especially as steel became common for both sides.”

Kava snorted, “So where is the elven evil in this?”

Ritter sighed, “For many years we thought little of the ramifications of the incident. The trade with the elves brought rare materials to us and we provided iron ore to them. We did not think much of their quick mastery over iron and steel. We took many generations to perfect it. The loss of Freya's knowledge had delayed our perfection of the process for quite some time.”

“After the elves betrayed us, our historians discovered many things. We had not paid much attention to the one thing that was missing from Freya's remains. Her armor and weapons. The elves had kept the steel to analyzed it with their magic. They kept a relationship with us so that we could provide the raw materials. They had many motives for aiding us. The release of the enslaved elves and the weakening of the giants we knew. Yet they had other plans from the start. They wanted to learn our technology and use our resources. Certainly we would have aided them if they asked. Yet they not only did not ask, they did not provide us with the information they had learned from Freya's equipment. The Halz could have mastered steel much sooner if they had been willing to share.”

“That really isn't that evil,” Kava replied.

“No,” Ritter said, “It was just the beginning. As they learned more of us, they found more important things they wished to harvest from us. This was just an example that even when our relationship was at its most honest and pure, they still had a secret agenda.”

***

Enzi's wagon sat near the Tarvo Forest. It was close to Hirkan territory. As spring had come, the Hirkans had begun to head southwards, following the great herds of Snow Elk as they migrated. Only the permanent trading center known as Kanea kept any Hirkans in the north. Those Hirkans stayed to protect their forest from being logged. Enzi was already in discussion with one of those Hirkans.

The Hirkan was quite large, as far as humans went. Most Hirkans were quite powerfully built. He was no match for Aldebaran, but the Hirkan towered over Enzi. The Hirkan had ragged blonde hair and was sparsely dressed. The Hirkans were used to colder weather, so any that remained further north as spring and summer came often shed as much as their clothing and armor as they could spare. It was one of the things that gave them a reputation as savages.

Ritter pondered that point. The Feergrus often went with very little clothing, but were not considered savages. However, he guessed that it was only one thing and that every culture had at least one thing different about them. Otherwise he assumed all of them would just all be the same country. The Hirkans certainly had a great many other reasons that people considered them savages. They did not build towns for one thing. Their attitude towards possessions was another. Since they did not believe in owning things they could not carry with them, that led to a great many misunderstandings where they would take things that were laying around. They were often called thieves and scavengers.

Enzi soon returned to his mercenaries, “We have a job.”

“I hope we get to hurt something,” Kava croaked.

Mayitso snorted. He kept giving glances towards the forest. He was uncomfortable about something, but it was hard to tell what it exactly was. The lycanthrope's communication skills were poor, especially since in wolf form he could not even speak in a human tongue. Eurysa and Aldebaran calmly sat and listened. Eurysa's calm came naturally to her. The minotaur's calm was practiced. He breathed carefully and kept his focus. Aldebaran kept himself under control as much as he could. He made it a habit.

Ritter had heard many hints that the minotaur had a terrible past because of his anger issues. He wondered if he would ever get the chance to hear the story. For now, though his curiosity disappeared as Enzi began to describe the Hirkan job. It seemed they were having problems with the Vashimi for a change. They were used to dealing with the normal threats from the Disputed Lands and arguments with the Tarvoni, but the Vashimi usually stayed hidden in their swamps.

This was definitely a mission for Kava. She knew the Vashimi and their swamps. The Marsh of Vashim was her home. The five mercenaries soon trudged off into the woods as Enzi remained behind with the wagon and the Hirkan. Being this close to the Marsh of Vashim also meant the group was quite close to the borders of Feergrus. Ritter wondered what that land was like. What he had heard of it was that it was mostly dry and barren. This made for quite a contrast with the Marsh of Vashim. Obviously the whole country could not be that dry, it made no sense as it was bordered by the ocean, a river, and a marsh for three of its sides.

As the trees of the Tarvo forest shaded Ritter from the powerful star Feras, he felt the chill of the spring. Summer would come soon enough but the group was headed southwards. Until they neared the swamps, he expected the temperatures to continue to drop. The evergreen trees that made up the Tarvo Forest held the chill well. The group traveled for several days until Ritter noticed the trees begin to change. The warmth of the marsh allowed for very different breeds of trees to survive. Deciduous trees were the first clue they were nearing the swamp.

Kava took the lead. Her caution was a warning to the rest of the group. Ritter was used to her rushing into situations. Yet here the vodyanoi was peering at every leaf as if it might jump out and attack her. It seemed it was for good reason. Spears flew from multiple directions as Kava rolled out of their path. A dozen Vashimi leapt out of every hiding place imaginable. Some came down from the trees. Some came out of bushes. Others leapt through the ground, obviously out of pits they had dug and camouflaged.

The Vashimi were extraordinarily pale and gaunt. While some had mistaken Mayitso's human form as Vashimi, seeing the real thing up close left a very different impression on Ritter. He could clearly see their veins working beneath the surface of their nearly translucent skin. It was ghoulish. Mayitso's human form was certainly far more pale than a Tarvoni or Hirkan, but not to the same level as a Vashimi. The Shimese people were just unnerving. It did not help that their noses were flattened, giving the a resemblance to a pig.

As the Vashimi that attacked were usually from the cannibal tribes, that also meant they would be adorned with horrifying mementos of their victims. These Vashimi were no exception to that. As they screamed, Ritter could see that they had filed their teeth into murderous points. It made them look like monsters. Ritter felt a few thrown spears bounce off his armor as he charged into battle. His foes wore no armor and used primitive weapons. Metal was rare among the Shimese people, reserved for their leaders and greatest warriors. However, that meant this battle was wildly lopsided.

Kava, Aldebaran, and Ritter's weapons slaughtered their foes with ease as Eurysa picked off the Vashimi spear throwers with her perfectly placed arrows. Mayitso seemed to be in his element in the woods, much as Kava would be in the swamp. The lycanthrope's fangs tore apart the wiry Vashimi with startling efficiency. Soon the Vashimi were dead and Kava declared the area was safe.

“Odd, this is a bit out of their territory,” the vodyanoi croaked, “I expect some scouts, maybe a trap or two, but not an assault. This is unusual.”

Mayitso snorted and then sniffed at the corpses and the ground. He growled and then moved off. The rest of the mercenaries followed. The lycanthrope had the best senses of the group by far, at least in hearing and smell. Eurysa's eyes might be sharper, but it was hard to tell. Soon the group saw what the lycanthrope had sensed. There was a Shimese village being built outside the swamp.

“Oh this really isn't right at all,” Kava said, “They would not build here unless they had to. The Vashimi like to hide and the marsh is excellent for places to hide and camouflage. This part of the forest is too open for that.”

“You can speak their language, right?” Eurysa asked.

“Ugh,” Kava croaked, “I know several enemy languages, yes.”

“Then we should question them,” the gorgon replied.

“Oh that won't go well. This is a cannibal tribe. Though I suppose if we kill enough of their warriors, the others might be afraid enough to talk. If we can catch any before they all run away.”

“Wonderful,” Eurysa said, “Mayitso, do you think you can grab us a prisoner to have a chat with?”

The great wolf nodded.

“Get a female,” Kava said, “Especially if she has children nearby. The males won't talk but their breeding females will be skittish about our power to slaughter her children.”

The lycanthrope looked to Eurysa. The gorgon nodded as Ritter felt slightly ill to his stomach. At least the group was not actually going to hurt the children, but instilling that fear felt wrong to the Halz. Mayitso soon returned with an unconscious female Vashimi. She wasn't wearing any clothing and had no weapons of note. Her sharpened teeth were still dangerous, as was her ability to yell out. Kava sat on her chest and waited with an oversized grin. The vodyanoi's frog-like maw could be quite disturbing.

Eventually the Vashimi woke and Kava spoke in Shimese, “We need to talk.”

The woman started to scream but Kava croaked, “I would not do that if you want your children to live. We can grab them as easily as we grabbed you.”

The woman glared at Kava with pure disgust and hate, “What do you have to say, monster?”

Ritter could see the woman's reactions. He half wished that he could hear what the vodyanoi and Vashimi were saying. His rational side knew that he was better off not knowing what horrible things Kava was talking about. The language was nearly as abhorrent in sound as the Vashimi seemed to be in appearance. Eventually the conversation was complete.

“Well, this is an interesting problem,” Kava croaked in Nuvro with obvious glee.

“If Kava is happy about it, than this can't be good,” Eurysa sighed.

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