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

27Mar/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0039

The Master of Assassins was happy to see Jasper Tims return, “Ah, then your mission is complete.”

Jasper nodded, “Things went quite well. No one saw me, but the effects of my aid was noticed by our client. He is a rather sharp one.”

The other man returned the nod, “From what I have learned of this Enzi, I am not surprised. Have you seen the Quiet Knife?”

“I saw her slip into the laboratory unnoticed. I would have thought she would have completed the job and been back by now.”

“As would I.”

“Should I return and make sure that job is complete?” Jasper asked.

“No need,” the master replied, “In the morning our spy for the Rinn Institute will return to work. She will learn what happened this night and report back to us. We can make a plan then based on the new information.”

“Then I shall retire for the night. I have a rather important part to play in the next production and I could use the rest.”

The Master of Assassins smiled, “As always, you do good work.”

“I hope someday for a challenge. Something amazing. Until then, I think I will stick to acting.”

***

Enzi spent most of his time avoiding magical blasts from the deep well of power that Zindaro seemed to have. Then he saw movement. The tawny hides that swept across the ground, slunk low and fast towards the carnage. Enzi knew what it was only a moment before the first leapt on one of the bodies on the ground. Powerful jaws delved into the body's cavity with a terrible crunch. The Feergrus man leapt back as one barreled towards him.

“Blood cats!” Enzi yelled in Nuvro, “Gather together and defend!”

A pair of Zindaro's men were swept off their feet by the pack of ravening beasts. Zindaro himself saw the battle was not going to be won with such distractions. The Ravaleian wizard stomped on the ground as he wove an enormously powerful spell. This one was enough to drain some of the wizard's reserves. A huge stone wall erupted out of the ground. It cut off many routes that people could take and gave Zindaro a clear path for himself. No one could get to him and he could walk away unscathed.

“This is not over,” Zindaro yelled, “Fate is on your side this day, but I will have my prize one day.”

Enzi's form shifted back to human. He could not hold the hybrid form any longer. The Feergrus man was exhausted from the fight and the strain of the magical form he had taken. The Blood Cats had entered into a feeding frenzy. Enzi motioned the Irregulars back towards the doors. The feline monstrosities mostly ignored them as they were too busy devouring the dead.

“We need to make sure they don't get inside the door,” Enzi said.

Mayitso growled and put himself between the rest of the group and the large cats. As some of them finished their meals and started looking for more, a pair looked towards Enzi's Irregulars. The two trotted towards the group, their eyes barely comprehending anything as their noses smelled flesh. Mayitso drew in a great breath and let out a bone-chilling howl. That seemed to awaken the two nearing Blood Cats. Mayitso growled at them and raised his hackles. The two beasts turned and fled in the other direction, looking for other prey.

“Good job,” Enzi said, “Now I just need some rest.”

He sat down by the door. The lycanthrope trotted over by the door, then stopped in his tracks. His ears perked up. He tilted his head as if straining to hear. His attention was focused on the door, then he whimpered. Enzi noticed it too. No sound was coming from the laboratory. It was too quiet.

“Ritter, Aldebaran, Kava,” Enzi said, “Go check out what is going on inside. The rest of us will make sure the Blood Cats don't get inside.”

The Halz, Minotaur, and Vodyanoi slipped inside the building to investigate the odd silence. The dead silence of the hallway did nothing to reassure the mercenaries. Entering the laboratories was like entering a nightmare. The torches that normally lit the area were dark. Only the flickering light from the torch in the hallway lit the room. This mattered less to Aldebaran and Ritter who could see even in the deepest darkness. However, even Kava could tell things were terribly wrong.

The light showed the walls smeared with a viscous red liquid. It could be only one thing. It was blood. Pieces of flesh could be seen as well. Something had gone horribly awry. The three saw something move in the shadows. It was hard to process the image. It was terrifying and monstrous, even to the eyes of monsters. A gigantic collection of bones stood up and turned to look at the three mercenaries. The bones were splattered with the blood of its victims. There was obvious damage where it had been stuck with acid, but the bone golem was still in good shape.

The skull that served as its head opened its jaw as if to scream but no noise came out. To Ritter's eyes, it appeared to be in pain. Perhaps he was merely anthropomorphizing it. Perhaps it was rage. There were no expressions on bone. Only the dim violet glow that shone from the empty eye sockets gave it any kind of appearance beyond a regular skull. Ritter saw little chance of Rukiya having survived this from the mess he saw, but he knew the three had to search for her. The golem then charged at the three, seeking combat. The Halz knew they had to beat it, but they were in a poor position to do so.

“Move!” he yelled as he dove in the room.

The massive golem stepped over the dwarf as it charged. Kava rolled out of the way. The collection of bones crashed into the door frame and ripped through it like paper. Aldebaran was on the other side, his blade ready. He swung with all his might as the Bone Golem charged. The blade struck hard and the minotaur felt the impact reverberate through the weapon. There was a snapping sound and a small chunk of bone flew from the mighty construct.

However, this did nothing to stop its rampage. It swung out its arm and grabbed Aldebaran by his left horn. The golem then wrenched the minotaur off his feet and swung him through the air with ease. The golem charged back into the laboratory chasing after Ritter and Kava while smashing the minotaur into the wall. There was a sick ripping noise as the golem entered the room and Aldebaran did not pass through the solid wall. The golem flung something hard and bloody at Ritter but the Halz deflected it with his shield. As it skittered across the floor, the dwarf saw that it was a bloodied bovine horn.

He had no time to worry about that. The Bone Golem was on a rampage. Kava rolled to its side and hacked at it with her hatchets. They barely scratched the powerful construct. It swung one of its mighty arms towards the Halz. Ritter deflected it with his shield, but felt the shock of the blow through his arm. He didn't think he could pull that off too many times. He slammed his warhammer against his foe and heard the suddenly satisfying sound of cracking bones.

His weapon was specifically designed to smash through armor. While Aldebaran cleaved through tough foes with the sheer brute force he wielded with his two handed blade, the warhammer was designed to allow a similar level of force with a one handed weapon. Certainly the minotaur could do a lot more damage with his weapon by rending a foe in half or ripping off limbs, but the bludgeon had its own distinct advantages. With Aldebaran on the floor bleeding, it was up to Ritter to defeat this foe. Kava could not easily penetrate her foe's armor. Her style was suited more for lightly armored or unarmored foes.

An arm slammed down towards Ritter and the Halz danced to the side. It crashed into the floor and shattered the stone. The construct was tremendously strong. Yet the dwarf realized this fight was familiar to him. This was like fighting a giant. It was larger and stronger, but slower. It had little intellect and seemed to be nothing more than unleashed rage. Ritter could work with that. Now more confident the Halz brought his warhammer down once, twice, three times.

The Bone Golem was looking in fairly poor shape after that. Yet it did not stop. It did not feel pain. It did not tire. Kava did her best to distract the thing while Ritter moved in for the kill. The Halz climbed on the one last table that remained standing within the wreckage that the golem had wrought. He leapt with a mad yell and brought down his warhammer with all the force he could muster. The skull of the mighty golem shattered and the dim glow of its life seeped away.

The bones collapsed in a heap. The golem would threaten no one again. Instantly the vodyanoi rushed to the side of the fallen minotaur. It was rare of her to show that she cared, but Ritter had learned that the two had a bond as warriors, friends, and the last of their respective races. There was perhaps more there, but Kava certainly would never admit to that. Ritter panted as he made his way towards the pair. His shield arm was going to be sore from the blow earlier. Yet that was no comparison to the damage done to the minotaur.

Aldebaran's head was a bloody mess. His left horn had been torn from his head, but the Halz had no idea what he was looking at. He stumbled past, muttering that he would get help. Kava merely nodded, cradling the head of the massive minotaur in her arms. Soon Eurysa and Enzi were at the side of the fallen warrior. The gorgon looked him over and patted the vodyanoi on the head.

“He will live,” Eurysa hissed, “Though that has got to hurt. It is like exposing a raw nerve at this point. We need to get him to a medical professional. Although someone that knows animals might be better.”

***

The flurry of activity around the Rinn Institute was unusual. The man aiding Enzi's Irregulars often took care of the surgical needs for many of the scientists. He was familiar with medical procedures as well as animal dissection. He had looked over Aldebaran's wound. The minotaur was awake and is some pain. Being slammed into the wall had hurt him worse than having his horn ripped off, but the horn pain was a constant annoyance.

“Well, I only see one solution,” the medical professional said in Rava, “We have to cut out the damage here. Otherwise what little is left of this will try to regrow a horn. What happens won't be pretty and is likely to curve back on you. We call this partial horn a scur. It will be an annoyance at best and a danger to you at worst.”

After that was translated to Aldebaran, he grunted, “Then do what has to be done.”

“I imagine this will be painful, but I will do things as quickly as I can,” the Ravaleian replied as he began preparing his utensils, including a red hot knife.

Aldebaran nodded as he learned of the upcoming pain. He sat at a table and gripped it, ready for what was to come. The hot knife moved in, ready to slice nerves off and destroy the matrix that built up the horn. There was a loud sizzling as the hot knife met flesh. The roar of pain from the minotaur chilled the bones of the many gathered there to assess the damage. It was done. Aldebaran would now have only one horn.

20Mar/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0038

Delays had frustrated Zindaro Plam. The Ravaleian man had finally decided to take care of everything himself. He would have to hire some more competent lackeys in the future. Nearby, Jasper Tims watched from the shadows. Things were progressing as he expected. He knew that he could only delay the assault by the Ravaleian. It was enough, however. All of the resources sent by the Assassin's Guild were in place. They could not afford to delay any longer.

Soon Zindaro was waddling off towards the Rinn Institute with over a dozen henchmen at his back. Jasper followed behind them, ready to make his move when the time came. He wore a mask to hide his face, one that resembled the felines that he took his name from. He was not going to be one of the main combatants, but it paid to be careful. He wanted no one to see his face that didn't need to. If nothing went wrong, no one would see him at all.

The assassin who was set to take care of Rukiya Bora was known as the Quiet Knife. She knew the layout of the Rinn Institute well. The assassin who worked at the institute had given her all the information she needed. The Quiet Knife would be alone inside the institute. The insider had left. It would not do for them to be implicated in any way, and therefore the insider had gone home for the night with a nice sweet alibi. All was set for the big confrontation.

Enzi and the Irregulars paced around the doors to the laboratory where Rukiya was hard at work. Mayitso's ears kept a careful watch on what was going on inside while Eurysa's sharp eyes looked for approaching trouble. It was not hard for her to notice the approaching fat man and his flunkies. Zindaro was making no attempt to hide. He was coming for his prize and had no reason in his mind to fear them. That raw confidence worried Enzi more than anything. The former general saw that the portly Ravaleian had a large number of his carnival men with him.

Normally these numbers would not be a threat. Enzi wondered at their training. He hoped that Zindaro was merely overconfident of his chances. Enzi also wondered about the support for the Assassin's Guild. That was almost certainly not something that the circus master was expecting. Enzi would not allow his mercenaries to be imprisoned as part of a sideshow, nor would he let them die. He also had a job to protect Rukiya Bora. This would not be an easy encounter, but he hoped that it would go smoothly.

Zindaro's men moved to surround the Irregulars as best they could. Jasper kept out of sight, looking at the layout of the land for cover. He slipped behind one of Zindaro's men and with a quick move the assassin made the man disappear behind a bush. It was the first move and no one had caught the act. It was obvious to Jasper that Zindaro was no military professional. He did not keep enough track of his men and their numbers to notice they were one man down. Jasper did notice that Enzi gave an odd second glance at the battlefield. The Feergrus man might have noticed a slight change in the enemy force.

“Zindaro Plam,” Enzi said in Rava, “I expect you are here for my decision.”

“Of course,” Zindaro said, “I would prefer this without hostilities or my new attractions being harmed.”

“You don't have any new attraction and you will not be getting any. You have vastly underestimated us.”

“Oh I think it is you that underestimates me,” Zindaro replied, “We have some silver weapons for your lycanthrope friend and I can easily neutralize your archer's ability to strike at range. Beyond that we simply have superior numbers.”

Enzi noted that the numbers seemed less. He thought that he had miscounted at first, but now a second foe had vanished without a trace. Doubtless the Assassin's Guild was doing its job. In the outbreak of violence, the job would be easier, but Enzi had no problem distracting Zindaro.

“Superior numbers versus superior skill,” Enzi said, “You need more men than you have just to match us, let alone complete your objectives.”

“All of these men are well trained,” Zindaro replied, “And I expect I am nearly a match for you and your allies by myself. I was not so foolish as to test this theory so I brought more than enough manpower to make sure that I get what I want.”

Zindaro motioned at his small horde of men then paused with an odd look. It seemed he was three men short of what he started with. At the dawning realization Enzi smiled and gave the word to the Irregulars. They burst into action. An arrow streaked towards Zindaro but it burst into flame as it neared him and was incinerated before it could harm him. The pudgy Ravaleian rubbed the small tome he wore at his side and grinned. The battle was soon engaged.

Silver weapons kept Mayitso at bay but the soft metal was little match for the rage of the minotaur and the armor of the Halz. Kava was enjoying herself, her hatchets chopping at enemies as she croaked in glee. Eurysa's arrows were useless, so she turned to her other powers. She turned her gaze to one of the men approaching her. He collapsed to the ground as his legs stopped moving as the forward momentum he had built up could not simply vanish. As Jasper made his fourth target disappear he watched for the Quiet Knife. With the battle in full swing, it was the perfect time for the assassin to enter the laboratory.

The man known as the Blood Cat moved into position to take on a fifth foe when he spotted his fellow assassin. She slipped silently and unnoticed into the building. As all was going well, Jasper Tims returned to his bloody work. He was only slightly surprised at a flash of something large flipping through the air. Zindaro Plam was a wizard. A powerful wizard from the looks of things. A blast of rocky splinters erupted towards Enzi as the Feergrus man leapt over the blast. He had transformed into his hybrid form, using his feline strength and speed to engage Zindaro.

Ritter found his foes quite skilled. It was understandable that Zindaro had confidence. His henchmen were competent. They did not match the skill of any of the Irregulars one on one, but the had the superiority of numbers. However, the dwarf quickly noticed that those numbers seemed fewer than he remembered. The work of the minotaur and the vodyanoi helped, as well as the gaze of the gorgon. Yet the foes were disappearing too fast. Ritter felt his hammer connect solidly with the man he was engaged with. That warrior hit the ground vomiting from the blow to his midsection. He would not be aiding the fight again anytime soon.

The fight seemed to be going for the Irregulars, although Enzi's fight with Zindaro was going far less well. Despite being overweight, Zindaro proved a dangerous foe. His talent for wizardry gave him a great many advantages. His blue eyes seemed to sparkle with fire each time he used one of his spells. Most of his magic seemed to be based on using earth and stone, but he had a few fire spells as well. Supposedly magic could easily drain a person, especially powerful magic. Zindaro seemed to be handling himself quite well. He showed no sign of exhaustion despite the power of his spells.

Jasper watched the fight as it continued on. He could not directly interfere any longer without someone spotting him. He decided to be an observer unless something turned the fight against Enzi's Irregulars. The longer the fight lasted, the better for the assassin inside the laboratory. Jasper had not seen the Quiet Knife leave the laboratory yet, but he had been distracted by the battle. It was long enough that Jasper assumed she had finished by now and had escaped. However, letting the battle drag on as long as it could would give her more time in case something had gone wrong.

Jasper's cold brown eyes analyzed the area and the situation. The scent of blood wafted through the air. The battle was taking place outside the main city walls, although this was a well populated area. Still, this much scent of blood in the air made Jasper wonder if he would get to see his namesake. The Blood Cats of Ravalei were vicious beasts. Most people referred to them as land sharks. They could smell blood from miles away and when easting they entered a feeding frenzy. It was a terrible sight to behold.

Jasper had earned his title from his youth. He had been cornered once and had to fight his way out. Much like the powerful feline of the northern woods, he went into a killing frenzy and slashed his way out of danger. Then he did not stop. He was an assassin. There could be no witnesses. His killing spree did not end until the area was clear. The Master of Assassins at the time had dubbed Jasper the Blood Cat. It was meant as an insult. He was too reckless and only through raw violence had he remained an assassin in good standing.

Over the years, Jasper had improved. He planned ahead. He avoided detection. He used subtlety wherever he could. His dark eyes mixed with a healthy tan meant that he could pass as an Agonish man with ease. While the Ravaleians and the Agonish were not as closely related now as they had once been, both races still came from the same ancestors. Unlike the Nuvroc, the Feergrus, and the pale races, the Ravaleians were close kin to the Agonish. The Kurrot shared a similar legacy.

That had allowed Jasper to disguise himself in a great many ways. One of his greatest talent had become acting. However nothing was a challenge any longer. He was too old to do much anymore, but he hoped for one last great challenge. Something worthy of his skills. This battle and the events that led to it had been fun, but quite easy. Jasper did have to admit that knowing that, he still would have chosen to do this assignment. Annoying Zindaro had been its own reward. Jasper had quite amused himself with annoyances at the circus to delay the fat man.

Then Jasper saw them. Silent and swift. The light brown fur, the vicious fangs, and the never ceasing hunger betrayed their presence as they flitted towards the battle. A pack of Blood Cats had come. The elderly assassin made his escape. He had been paid to stop Zindaro, not the land sharks. Zindaro was losing and the Blood Cats would force his hand. Soon the battle scene was behind him and he was on his way back to the theater to report of his success.

***

The hall way to the main lab was silent as the Quiet Knife slid down it. Unlike Jasper Tims, she had no real name. She had been taken in as an orphan and raised as an assassin. She had earned a reputation for her silence. She never spoke. Some believed her mute. Her skills with a dagger had quickly became her second most well known attribute. Her title was her only name now, though she had been called a great many names over the years.

She entered the laboratory room where Rukiya was without alerting the two people inside. Rukiya was concentrating her magic on a collection of bones while a Ravaleian man was reading through some notes. Both had their backs to the doorway. It was bad form, but they were civilians, the Quiet Knife expected no more from them. She crept slowly behind the Ravaleian scientist to eliminate him as a witness.

“Do you really think these two magics will work together?” Rukiya asked suddenly, making the Quiet Knife pause and hide.

“All our tests have gone well so far, but we can not afford to delay any longer. The war needs this. We have to try.”

Rukiya nodded, “As long as nothing interrupts the ritual, all will be fine.”

There were two problems with the conversation. The first was that it became obvious to the Quiet Knife that the two scientists had not noticed her. The second was that the two spoke in Infernus, a language that the assassin did not understand. As Rukiya and the Ravaleian began their final spells, the Quiet Knife slipped up behind the Ravaleian and slit his throat.

13Mar/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0037

Rukiya looked over the pile of bones in the corner of the workshop, “Wherever did you get this odd collection?”

That Ravaleian in the laboratory with her answered, “We dug them up from a graveyard.”

“A graveyard?” the tiny Feergrus girl asked, “What is that?”

“It is where we bury our dead.”

“Bury?” Rukiya asked, “Do you not have enough necromancers you need to store them?”

“Store them?” The Ravaleian scientist asked, “Necromancers? No, we don't use the bodies of the dead like Feergrus.”

“That seems a waste of resources,” Rukiya said.

The scientist nodded, “Agreed, though not all would agree. That is part of why you are here.”

“So what exactly did you need someone with necromancy and enchantment for?” Rukiya asked.

“You know some of Ravalei and its magics. Our main defense is in our mighty golems. I myself am one of the gearwork masters who crafts such juggernauts. The problem is that they take significant time and resources to craft. From what I know of your undead, they are equally as mindless as our golems but can be created quickly and in great numbers. However, they are far more frail. The project I wish to work on is to see if we can find a way to mix our magics. Can we create something as powerful as a golem that is also easy and fast to craft?”

“Interesting,” Rukiya replied, “It is something to work on.”

The gearwork master nodded, “With the war now upon us, we need this more than ever.”

“Then let us get to work on finding a solution,” Rukiya replied with a grin.

***

Guard detail had been quite boring. Trying to keep a bored Vodyanoi from going completely crazy had been consuming much of Enzi's time. The Feergrus man was glad that Captain Koto had kept his word. The group had not been bothered by the local authorities. Even the locals had not bothered them. He was aware that rumor of them had begun to spread. He expected the good luck to end far too soon. A plump Ravaleian man approached, almost as if on cue.

“Ah good day,” the rotund man said in Rava, “You must be the infamous Enzi.”

“You know my name?” Enzi asked.

“I have known of you for quite a long time. Your exploits reached my ears. Mostly because I am interested in the unique and different in the world.”

“I am not sure I like the direction this conversation is going,” Enzi said, sensing something about the Ravaleian that seemed less than pleasant.

“You should not think that way,” the portly man replied, “I know you have a great many problems. I know quite a lot about you and your mercenaries. The dwarf and the lycanthrope are interesting but not that rare. Not like the others. The last vodyanoi, the last gorgon, and the last minotaur. It will not be long before people put the puzzle pieces together and realize that Aldebaran is the same minotaur that cut a swath of terror through the country many years before. I have a proposal to help keep them safe.”

“Oh?” Enzi asked, “Why would you help us?”

“For my own benefit, of course,” the Ravaleian said with a smirk, “As I see it, you simply have no other choice if you want them to live.”

“Ah, now we get to the threat,” Enzi said, “I knew something seemed off. I am not sure how you expect to pull this off by yourself.

“Oh, I'm not alone. I'm giving you a choice of your friends remaining alive or dead. I would rather they are alive. They will bring in far more customers that way.”

“Customers?”

“Of course, they will make excellent exhibits in my circus. I would hate to have to only have them stuffed for view. But one way or another, they will be mine. Remember, it is your choice.”

“I am thinking alive and out of your hands,” Enzi replied, “I am certain I can make that happen.”

“You can try, but the cost in innocent lives will be great,” the Ravaleian said, “I'll give you some time to think about it. But don't wait too long. My patience is limited.”

Enzi fumed. The fat Ravaleian man was far too confident. To the former general that meant that the man had all the allies he needed to survive an encounter. Enzi could tell this opponent had a sharp mind. He knew too much about the Irregulars. He likely knew their weaknesses as well. While Enzi was currently at a disadvantage, he was no slacker when it came to planning and manipulation. He knew what he needed to do.

Enzi sighed, “And when I make a decision? Just who are you? How do I contact you?”

“I am Zindaro Plam, of the Plam Circus,” the obese Ravaleian said as he waddled away, “I will contact you, do not worry. Although my circus is at the far edge of town if you wish to visit. Your friends won't be the first I have kept safe from those who wish harm upon those who are different. It would be far too easy for the local populace to get all riled up, don't you think?”

As Zindaro strode away, Enzi sighed. This was just one more problem to deal with. He began to make his plan. He hoped he could call in a favor or two as well.

***

Captain Aurari Koto was rather surprised to find a short and heavily armored man arrive to speak to him. Ritter was one of the least likely to draw attention to himself in the city. Enzi had just had to wager that someone would be able to translate as the Halz did not speak Rava. The confusion soon started as Aurari spoke only Rava. Luckily, the large number of travelers in the Rava Coast Trading Company meant that an interpreter soon was found.

“Zindaro Plam?” Aurari asked, “Hmm, that is quite an enemy to have. He has a surprising amount of pull with the authorities. He even has ties with our company, as we have hauled a great many rare and exotic animals for his circus. He has allies in many places. Yet someone with that much money and power also gathers enemies. While the Rava Coast Trading Company will not allow me to aid you directly, I think I can offer you some alternative aid.”

Ritter nodded, “We knew from his confidence that this would not be easy. Any attack he brings will be trouble for many innocents and we would rather not bring trouble to your people.”

“He would not end his chase now, and you have people to protect. Leaving them would be as bad as staying. I understand it had to be a tough decision.”

Ritter chuckled upon hearing the translation, “Enzi made it immediately. He would find a way to save everyone if he could. There was no way he would leave Rukiya unprotected. Hopefully your information will aid us in this endeavor.”

Aurari nodded, “If anyone can stop this, it will be the guild. Strictly speaking they are not legal, but the authorities do nothing to stop them and they serve a greater purpose. I will have a representative contact Enzi as soon as possible.”

***

The master of assassins smiled. Information had come to him that Zindaro Plam would be distracting the guards for Rukiya Bora. It was an opportunity his assassins could not miss. It was then that the greatest gift he could be given arrived. A representative from the Rava Coast Trading Company had arrived. After a quick discussion with the man, the master of assassins felt as if nothing could ruin his day. He was to send someone to meet with Enzi and discuss what they could do for him in the upcoming battle with Zindaro Plam.

With one stroke, the assassins could set the terms of their engagement. They would have intimate details of the guards beyond any that a spy could give. They could also get paid for being given what they wanted. It might require a few more deaths, but Zindaro was a prime target. If he could be given a little paranoia, the master of assassins thought that some very lucrative deals could be crafted in the future. It would require careful planning, but the master had not become the leader of the assassin's guild without a deft hand at such things.

Having the chance to manipulate things to go his way made things both much easier and more complex. He had a lot to work on and a short time to put it together. Luckily an old pro was in town. His talent for acting would be perfect for this job. He would be the distraction that kept Enzi busy and dealt with the fat nuisance Zindaro Plam. The master of assassins would call on the man known as the Blood Cat.

***

Enzi found Jasper Tims a rather unassuming gentleman. He was perhaps seventy five years old, nearly twenty years older than Enzi. Jasper was a Ravaleian man just shy of six feet tall. For his age he was surprisingly well built. Enzi was less comfortable with who he was representing. He knew of the Assassin's Guild in Ravalei, but had never thought of it as an ally. The Ravaleians were independent, proclaiming themselves a true democracy. Since that meant that every vote counted, that usually meant that no one agreed on anything and nothing got done. Real action was taken by the various organizations in the land.

If you wanted something done, you went to someone like the Rava Coast Trading Company. You went to the Rinn Institute. You went to the Assassin's Guild. Depending on what you needed, groups had formed to take care of business. Enzi was not sure how it had not all devolved into anarchy. Enzi supposed that the Ravaleian Assassin's Guild did have a code of honor. They did what they were paid to do. You could count on them to follow through, no matter what. Once they accepted a job and payment, they would finish it.

“I will go and investigate the circus directly,” Jasper said in fluent Infernus, “I will see if I can determine when they will come and if I can delay it. Word will come back with any important information. Do not worry, we will keep you as safe as we can.”

Jasper walked away smiling. Enzi had no idea that Jasper was known as the Blood Cat. He had been one of the best assassins in Ravalei for a long time. He was getting old, but that did not matter. He could get close to any target and eliminate them with subtlety. Someone like Zindaro Plam would be easy for him to manipulate. Such an ego had to be stroked in just the right way. Jasper had a lot of experience in dealing with people. He had mostly retired to be an actor in the theater that acted as a front for his guild. On stage he had honed his skills, wearing various disguises and becoming what seemed like entirely different people.

The bright lights and vividly colored tents of the Plam Circus were expected. Jasper had been to this circus before the last time it had stopped near Calal. There were several people walking about taking in the attractions. Jasper seamlessly melded with the crowd, examining everything he could and quickly identifying Zindaro's location. His stealth allowed him to spy on all that was going on with practiced ease.

“So what do we have left to take care of before we deal with Enzi and acquire our new exhibits?” Zindaro asked one of his henchmen.

“Gathering up the men will be easy enough, boss. We have the rumor sheets ready for delivery. Once people read them, this whole city will explode.”

Unlike most of the continent, Ravalei had an excellent system of education. Nearly everyone could read. Spreading pamphlets would be the obvious choice to confuse outsiders who would not realize the significance. A mob would quickly form to deal with the inhuman monsters. It would be simple for Jasper to destroy the sheets of paper and delay the plans. It was a start. The professional assassin looked forward to throwing a few more monkey wrenches into the gearworks of Zindaro's plans. This was shaping up to be a fun assignment.

6Mar/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0036

The Ravaleian port city of Calal was also the country's capital. It sprawled along the best harbor of the Rava Coast. Over a dozen vessels sat at the docks. Most were small coastal vessels, little more than barges. They could sail down the two major coastal rivers of Doulairen in order to bring trade inland. The Tranumea River marked the eastern border of Ravalei and split around the Siren Swamp and into Lake Hargis and Singer Lake. The Ago River helped define the borders of Agon, especially as it was split into dozens of rivers inland, although only a few were major enough to send a barge down.

Ritter stood on the deck on the latest vessel to enter the harbor. His stomach had mostly made its peace with the sway of the vessel, but the Halz would certainly be glad to get on solid ground again. The dwarf noticed the seemingly every ship in the port had the symbol of the blue waves on them. They were all vessels of the Rava Coast Trading Company. All except one. That one vessel was also perhaps the largest ship in the harbor. Something about it looked ancient. The wood also was extremely dark.

Enzi followed Ritter's gaze, “Ah, the Black Ship. The last independent vessel of any significance. She travels back and forth between Calal and the isle of Casea. The only vessel that does so now. Aspiring adventurers pay to be taken to the isle so they can attempt to grab some of the forgotten treasures of the isle. Few ever return, and those that do usually return empty handed. The ship has its own reasons for going to the isle. They harvest a massive load of a rare mold that grows on the isle and transport it back. Taking adventurers is merely a chance for a little extra coin for them.”

“I imagine they take a good tax out of anyone bringing loot back too.”

Enzi shook his head, “No, they always offer free rides back to the mainland. Anyone that has survived the isle gains their respect. Even if they gained nothing more than the humility of defeat.”

The ship shuddered to a halt at a dock. A flurry of activity erupted. Ropes moored the great vessel as workers began to transfer cargo out of the ship to make room for new cargo. Rukiya made her way down the gangplank with the Irregulars at her back. A powerfully built young man walked up to them. He wore a mail hauberk of a familiar greenish black metal. Ritter's eyes were shocked to see halzium armor worn by a human. However, Ritter could tell that while the armor was expertly crafted by human standards, it was nowhere near as good as that crafted by the Halz.

The man gave a suspicious glance at the Irregulars with his glare remaining longest on the minotaur then spoke in Rava, “I am Captain Aurari Koto. I am the head of the mercenaries of the Rava Coast Trading Company.”

“Captain Koto!” a voice said from the ship.

It was the delegate from the Rava Coast Trading Company, “We have arrived mostly safely, and only thanks to this mercenary company.”

The mercenary captain raised an eyebrow, “You must tell me the details later. For now what is the plan?”

Enzi spoke up with a grim determination, “We get Rukiya to her destination and keep her safe. I don't thin this is over.”

Aurari sighed, “It seems you have been of great aid to our concerns. I will see what I can do to make your life easier in town. People have low opinions of creatures like your allies. Especially a minotaur. There are a great many myths and legends about them and none of them are pleasant. I would suggest wearing them cloaks to hide their appearances as well. No offense meant, it just seems prudent for their safety.”

Enzi chuckled, “They won't take offense. Not that any of them speak your language. Their appearance isn't popular much of anywhere, until people learn of their good deeds. Even then, people are often leery.”

“I am more worried about people causing trouble. We are extremely short handed. Most of the best warriors in town have headed off to war.”

“War?” Enzi asked, “What war?”

“The goblinoids have struck out in all directions. They took down a pair of our border golems a couple weeks ago. I sent all the mercenaries we could spare. I am afraid people will take advantage, but I would rather see that than to have people slaughtered by the nose-less fiends.”

“I am surprised you are still here if things are that serious.”

“I am sure I will go to war before the end of it comes,” Aurari answered, “Few have taken it seriously yet. They think merely to replace the golems and wait it out like it is a small flare up. Rumor says that Agon has mobilized its army and that even the Kurrot are organizing.”

“Well then, I will leave you to your duties. I need to take care of my own mission for now. Your sense of responsibility makes me feel better already,” Enzi replied.

Aurari nodded in response, heading off to take care of business. Enzi quickly explained that a touch of disguise would likely aid their movement through the city. He provided cloaks for all the group. Mayitso whined at that.

“Yes, even you,” Enzi said, “The Ravaleians have a good relationship with the Tarvoni, so the pale skin of your human form will not be out of place.”

The lycanthrope grudgingly transformed into his humanoid shape. He slipped the cloak over his otherwise naked form. The motley crew trudged along with Rukiya as she made her way through the city of Calal. The streets were long and winding. It was easy to get lost as the roads would often come to dead ends or turn off into a useless direction. The freewheeling design of Ravaleian towns was enough to drive some outsiders quite mad. Enzi had been to Calal before and kept the group from getting lost.

It was helpful, at least, that each building was entirely unique. They each made their own artistic statement and each served as a landmark. The group was headed to the edge of town to a place called the Rinn Institute. It was a place of science. Rukiya would be working on a project and furthering her studies there. Enzi still wondered what that project was. It had to be something very interesting indeed to draw the attention of the Ahk Separatists.

The Rinn Institute was where all the cutting edge research was done. It was made up of several different buildings, each with its own project. If something went terribly wrong, it would only affect the one building and therefore the one project. There was also a central building for records and administration. That was the building that the group needed to stop at first. From there, Enzi was not sure what to do next. The threat of war worried him, but it also meant that a great many countries would become vulnerable as their soldiers marched off to battle. To Enzi that also meant that Rukiya would be much easier pickings for her enemies.

The group entered the administration building for the Rinn Institute. A bored Ravaleian woman sat at the front desk playing with some of her jewelery. Like most Ravaleians, she had numerous piercings and tattoos across her body. She barely acknowledged the group, which surprised Enzi. Even with their cloaks the group had to stand out.

“What'cha lookin' for?” the Ravaleian said with a flat tone.

The small Feergrus girl spoke forcefully in Rava, “I am Rukiya Bora. Your institute was to expect my coming.”

“Oh that is nice dear,” the woman said, “Lemme see what we got on the schedule.”

Kava scowled at the woman, though it could not be seen beneath the cloak's hood. Enzi could feel the patience of several people in the room being drained. Enzi sighed and prayed that things did not get worse.

***

The actors on the stage were performing to their fullest. It made for a perfect distraction as the cloaked ghoul slipped into one of the balcony boxes. The Ravaleian theater could not see what was going on in the darkness above, but the ghoul's eyes could see just fine. The Ravaleian man in the box had a weapon in hand, ready to protect himself. The ghoul was an expert in stealth, he had ridden the vessel with Rukiya all the way north and had stayed hidden during the attack by his fellows. He was there to enact a backup plan. Despite the ghoul's skill in stealth he had not been able to surprise the Ravaleian man.

“Do you think you could slay me so easily, undead monster?” the Ravaleian hissed.

“I had hoped not,” the ghoul replied, “We wish to hire the best. If you were not good enough, you would have never known I was here.”

“Hire?” the man asked, “Why would you hire a mere patron of the arts?”

“You have a great many arts in Ravalei. The art I seek is assassination. I am no fool and neither are you. You can drop the charade.”

“Admittedly no law enforcement would use the undead,” the man replied, “Though most of our actions are technically legal under Ravaleian law. As long as we don't get caught.”

“It would seem that would apply to anything. Not getting caught could make anything legal,” the ghoul replied.

“Yes, but there is an air of legitimacy to our organization. The authorities let us do our work as long as we do not cause too much trouble. Being discrete is one of our specialties.”

“I care little about how discrete you are,” the ghoul growled, “I care only to end one life. She has escaped our attempts and is protected by most ferocious guardians. I can give you detailed information on them. Currently we believe she is at the Rinn Institute. She must be slain before she can complete her work there.”

“Then all we need to do is discuss our fees,” the man replied.

The ghoul pulled out two bars of solid gold and grinned, “Is this satisfactory?”

The man nodded, “Your target will be eliminated.”

The undead monster gave all the details on his target and their protectors that he could. The ghoul left, feeling satisfied. The assassins had been paid. He knew that they would finish the job. No matter what it took, they would not quit until Rukiya Bora was dead. Nothing would stop them, especially not Enzi Cala and a ragtag band of inhuman mercenaries.

The assassin grinned as he took the two bars of gold and left the box seat. He made his way through the theater, disappearing into the shadows. He slipped through a secret door and delved into the depths of the basement. Several of the actors in the play were assassins. The theater made an excellent place to train someone to not be noticed. The man looked over the roster of his assassins. Infiltrating the Rinn Institute would take some skill. Getting past Enzi's Irregulars would take mastery.

The master of assassins picked out two of his most promising minions. He began planning. One of them would scout out the situation from the inside. She already had a job at the institute and could provide the information he needed. The other would do the actual job. To him it sounded like easy money. Certainly the outsider mercenaries would have some weaknesses to exploit. A simple distraction or two would be all his assassin needed.

Some would think that the Ravaleian man would feel some guilt over planning the death of such a young girl. However, he had taken far worse jobs. He did have to consider the conscience of the assassins he sent. He picked someone perfectly suited for this job. She had been subjected to several tortures in the hands of the Feergrus, having been a drugged slave for the Temple of Rakar. Her motive of revenge was strong. She always loved the chance to end the life of a Feergrus. He imagined ending a child's life would please her more with her strange views on life and revenge. After all, it was a life cut far shorter than normal. What better revenge could there be?