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

24Apr/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0043

The hearts of Enzi's Irregulars all dropped. They remembered the last Magehunter they had encountered. It was possible that history could repeat itself. Beren looked to the group with eyes that said he had seen much more than a man of his age should have seen. While he was no more than twenty five years old, it was obvious he had been through several harrowing adventures already. He scanned the inhuman monsters and their Feergrus leader without a noticeable reaction.

“Good to have more people to aid us,” Beren said in a soothing baritone voice, “I just arrived not too long myself and I have seen how understaffed this front currently is. I had originally planned to join the rest of the Agonish troops at the southern front when I learned of the war, but there was no way I could leave this side of the war until we get fully manned.”

Enzi was surprised at the calm and relaxed manner of the Magehunter, then Beren continued, “You have run into another magehunter before.”

Enzi nodded, “Yes. The last magehunter that ran into my mercenaries had issues with the inherent power of a non-human creature.”

Beren nodded, “I could see that. Some Magehunters are more zealous than others. There are many that can not travel to Ravalei as they would slay the wizards there without regard to Ravaleian law. The more even tempered we are, the more likely to find us traveling far afield. In some places, like the Disputed Lands, it really turns into a case of anything goes.”

“That is unusual. Most military training I have seen involves getting everyone to follow one set goal and keep them all moving towards that goal in much the same way,” Enzi replied.

“Training to be a magehunter is very different,” Beren stated, “They search long and hard for the candidates for the training. Only a rare few have the talent to be able to detect magic. Even then, the ability varies greatly. While I can see magic by looking, some can only smell it or hear it. Since there are not a lot of people that can be Magehunters, the training focuses on skills instead of discipline. They attempt to hone our ability to perceive magic and our combat ability. No one walks out of Hadrarius unless they are a very dangerous warrior.”

“That is certainly true,” Eurysa hissed, absentmindedly rubbing the snake that had its head lopped off by a Magehunter.

“Even then, fighting mages and their allies alone is a dangerous business. Most of us don't survive long. Those that do survive for at least a year in the field are called on to do greater and greater deeds. The survivors are honed into deadlier and deadlier weapons.”

“Until you find a foe who's armor you can not breach,” Enzi stated at the realization of the grim life of a Magehunter.

Beren nodded, “This war will be a test of the Magehunters. I have survived on my own for over five years now. I fear the dangers of this war will be my ending. The Tarvoni that have allied themselves with the goblinoids need to be stopped. Without their beasts, it is simply a war against the goblinoids. That may be tough enough on its own, but at the moment it seems more like an impossible task.”

“Until we get reinforcements, the whole northern front will be rough,” Enzi replied, “Especially with this monster that is killing people.”

Beren nodded his head in agreement, “I've searched the area around the slayings. Whatever it is, it does not have a magical signature. The only magic in the area are the spells that power the two golems over there. I think the Ravaleians are worried that I'm going to destroy their toys.”

“The last golem we dealt with left me a couple pounds lighter,” Aldebaran grunted as he rubbed the empty area where his left horn used to be, “Although it was an experiment for the war effort that did not work right.”

“Too bad,” Beren said, “As long as the golems do what they are supposed to, I'm not worried about them. If I had a problem with Ravaleians doing magic, I would have never made it through their country to take the black ship to Casea.”

“Yes, I noticed your blade,” Enzi said.

Beren sighed, “If I knew what I would encounter to get it, I would have never gone to the isle.”

“I've heard tales of the isle, but I've never visited it myself.”

“Don't,” Beren said simply, “There is little left there now, and what is left is in the most terrible places. I arrived at what they call Adventurer's Port with little to worry me. I explored the ruins of what had once been a great port, supposedly the capital of the country. The floods had done some damage, time had done more, but the greatest damage had been the visitors. The rubble had been picked clean. The people from the black ship were busy collecting their mold. I busied myself heading inland.”

“Ah, the rare mold you mentioned to me,” Ritter said towards Enzi.

“It funds their trips to the isle,” Beren said, “Though I can not think of any legal uses for that stuff.”

“Crime often pays more,” Enzi stated, “They sell it to the Ravaleian assassins, which while not legal, they are socially accepted.”

“Ravalei calls itself a pure democracy,” Beren said, “But sometimes it feels more like anarchy. It is still more civilized than what I found on Casea. I searched further and further inland, finding everything picked over by other scavengers. Dangerous creatures walked the ruins. Mostly the enormous ants.”

“I've heard tale of the Casean Ants,” Kava said, “If they are as large as I have heard, then they should not exist. Insects can not grow that large, they are not designed to handle that.”

“I imagine magic is to blame,” Beren said, “Though the Razor Mantis found in Kurrot are of similar size.”

“The trenchers we dealt with were foul enough,” Kava stated, “I worry when so many creatures are of proportions that do not make sense. Next thing you know, someone will tell me that the dragons from the legends told by the troglodytes are real.”

“I don't know about dragons,” Beren said, “But there is something far worse lurking in Casea. I approached a city that had once been known as Lorica. It was the center of scientific achievement and magical research for Casea. Just seeing it in the distance made me think of turning back. Great clouds swirled above the city in a constant maelstrom.”

“I hate to think what the damage to the isle might have done with all that magic and science,” Enzi said, “From what you are saying, you found something terrible.”

“Beyond terrible,” Beren replied, “It was confirmation of something I was not sure I believed. I felt I had little to fear, so I entered the city. I searched around despite a sense of foreboding and pure evil. A great many treasures sat unclaimed. It seemed too easy. I saw the blade I hold now and took it in my hand. It saved my life that day. The blade was remarkable when I cleaned it off. It gleamed so well that I saw movement behind me in the mirrored metal. I spun and saw a terrible beast. I had been taught of this creature and others like it in Hadrarius. They were the monstrosities that many Tarvoni make deals with to increase their power.”

“A demon?” Enzi asked with a twinge in his voice.

Beren nodded, “It was massive and shrouded in shadows. I could feel its malevolence as it came towards me. The dread I had felt in the city had been its very presence. I thought that my end had come. My feet seemed rooted in place. I broke through the fear and fled through the city, hoping to use the buildings as obstacles to escape the creature. Then I saw why the city remained filled with artifacts. I stumbled across a mighty ziggurat covered in the skulls of the dead. The maelstrom was centered above it. I had run straight to the very home of the demon.”

Beren took a deep breath, “Even with all my skill and a Casean blade at my side, I saw no way I could defeat such a foe. I fled the city, though the demon was hot on my tail a few times. I lost him and made my way back towards the Adventurer's Port. The black ship had certainly left by then. I was worried that the fiend would track me down but he never came. Eventually the ship came back and I took passage back to Ravalei. If I ever return to Casea it will be with an army of allies to defeat that monstrosity. The Tarvoni supposedly make deals with the demons and even summon small fiends to their service, but the demons do not stay here long. This fiend is actually permanently in our world.”

“A worthy threat to take down someday,” Enzi replied, “Hopefully whatever allowed it to enter this world also prevents it from leaving that city. I can not imagine many other reasons why such a powerful creature would not simply have followed you and ended your career short.”

Suddenly a great commotion interrupted the conversation. The group moved to see what all the fuss was about. A corpse was dragged into the camp. It was one of the rangers who had been on patrol. His head and spine were missing. The Beast that Takes Trophies had taken another skull for his collection. Immediately a party was put together to investigate.

“Take us to where you found him,” Enzi said, “We will see what Mayitso can sniff out.”

***

The goblin sat in a tree cleaning his new trophy as his listened to the humans in the camp not far from his position. He watched the party sent out to find him with great interest. The monstrous members intrigued him. He had never seen a gorgon, vodyanoi, or minotaur before. He had to resist an urge to spit at the dwarf. The Halz had long been a bane to his people. Seeing one above ground and away from his people seemed like a unique opportunity. A dwarf skull would make an exquisite trophy.

The Feergrus man worried the goblin. From his limited knowledge, they were mages. Defeating him would be a challenge. The large wolf also worried him. Such a creature had very sharp senses. He would have to be extra careful in his travels. Stealth was his ally. If the wolf could remove that advantage, the goblin would be greatly outmatched. The goblin decided to follow them and watch. Perhaps the opportunity to eliminate one would come. They seemed to be in too tight a group, but observation would allow the goblin to learn more about them.

***

Kasamir sighed as he watched Lunaris fire another wayward arrow from her bow. The only reason she was practicing at all was because the elder ranger was hovering over her. She had no urge to learn to fight. He was not even sure why she was being trained as a ranger. Being one of the Nuvroci Rangers was an honor. They were an elite force, using stealth and the wilderness to their advantage. He wondered if her entrance had been because of her family. He did not know the Justis family, he wondered if they were rich enough to get their daughter into an elite program.

When motivated, she learned things quite well. Her skills in stealth and knowledge of nature were second to none. She had learned them because it allowed her to find the best places to disappear so she could sleep. Kasamir wondered if there was anything he could do with such a lazy and unmotivated wretch. If she could apply her motivation to other things, it was possible that she could become a truly great ranger. As it was, Kasamir expected she would find herself in a bad situation someday. It would lead to her death.

He was not entirely sure how he felt about that. In a way it would be his fault as a failure of his teachings. Yet he also could not feel sorry for her. It was her own choice to act as she did. Perhaps if he was a better teacher he would know how to motivate her. Yet he had never chosen to be a teacher. He was a Nuvroci Ranger. That was what he was good at. The responsibility for Lunaris had been thrust upon him. As another arrow widely missed its mark, Kasamir merely sighed again. It was going to be a long day.

17Apr/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0042

The base camp was swarming with activity. Humans of several countries were there, though it was mostly Nuvroci and Ravaleians. Enzi suddenly had second thoughts about bringing the Irregulars to the front. Could such a diverse group of humans work with an even more diverse group of monsters? It was too late now, the group had been spotted by the sentries. It would be up to the word of Kasamir and Enzi's own persuasive skills to make this work.

Kasamir and Ritter led the way as Enzi hung back slightly. Lunaris was at the rear, looking exhausted. The encampment itself was interesting. Simple walls had been built between trees to make a basic fortification. It was well camouflaged. The walls were covered with various underbrush. Vines from Siren Swamp helped hold much of it together. It was enough to keep the base camp relatively safe from passing eyes unless they got too close.

Kasamir called out softly to the camp guard in Nuvro, “Allies incoming.”

A pathway opened through the greenery and Kasamir led the Irregulars inside. Many eyes were on the odd new arrivals. One man stepped forward. He was a Nuvroci wearing plate armor. He was perhaps twenty-five years old but his brown eyes told a tale of having seen rough times. He had shaved his head and it was obvious that somehow this young man was in charge.

“This is an interesting group you have brought us Kasamir,” the large Nuvroci man said with a respectful voice.

“Yes general,” the Nuvroci ranger replied, “A mercenary group of some fame here to aid us against the goblinoid threat.”

“Then welcome to the northern front. I am acting general Cassius Tessium of the Nuvroci army.”

“Acting general?” Enzi asked.

Cassius nodded, “I was the second in command until the last general was slain by a monster.”

“And now you get thrust into command,” Ritter said, “It is never a pleasant experience.”

“Ah, one of the mountain folk,” the general said with obvious relief, “I know you have little love for the mouth breathers.”

“Yes. My hammer could stand to crush quite a few more of their skulls. With their eyesight in the dark, they often encroach on my people's lands under the mountain. Our history tells us plenty of times where the goblinoids brought havoc to the world. By my count this would be the Fifth Goblinoid War after all.”

“Not sure how comfortable some of the foreigners will be with your allies, but we need all the help we can get,” Cassius said, “We have been losing good people here thanks to some sort of invisible monster. It got one of the most experienced rangers last time. Now our best are Kasamir and Medeus. Which is why I am glad you are back Kasamir. We need your skills to stop this monster.”

“Perhaps we can help,” Ritter said, “I believe we have proven we have some useful skills in detection.”

Kasamir nodded, “The nose of your friend there is sharper than my skills of perception, that is certain.”

“If it can stop our best people from being taken out we will take whatever help we can get,” the acting general looked around, “With that in mind, I guess I should introduce you around. Better we be up front about things and avoid confusion.”

The general led the group over to a stocky Nuvroci man. He was a solid four inches under six feet tall and looked to be in his early twenties. Like Lunaris he had a Nuvroci style bow and a mace strapped to his belt. However, he wore a buckler on his arm for extra protection. Normally Enzi would imagine such a weight would be a drag on the archer's aim, but this man had serious muscle. Enzi imagined this man would be just as deadly with his mace as with his bow.

“We have over a dozen rangers here, but only two masters. You have already met Kasamir. This is Medeus Tarim.”

“Greetings,” the stout Nuvroci said gruffly, followed by introductions of the Irregulars.

“While most of the Kurrot are dealing with the western front, we actually have one of the Bladestorms here,” Cassius said as they approached a man who was not much taller than Medeus but was at least twenty pounds lighter.

He was all lean muscle and his ice blue eyes told of some past Ravaleian ties. If he was even eighteen years old however, Enzi would have been surprised. He wore a pair of short blades. Paired weapons was a signature of the elite Bladestorms. His tabard was green with a white eight pointed star on it, the symbol of Kurrot. It was rare to see a Bladestorm that young by himself at the very least, more so that he was on the northern front. Enzi imagined there was a story there.

“This is Syrian Dow,” the general said before he proceeded to introduce the Irregulars.

The Kurrot nodded, “Nice to meet you. Hopefully all of you together can keep up with the number of goblinoids I hope to stop.”

“Ooh, I like this one,” Kava croaked, “A killer after my own heart.”

“Next up we have our small Ravaleian contingent,” Cassius said, “They have a few warriors but their main muscle is in the form of a couple of mechanics and the golems they keep in working order.”

The powerful Nuvroci made introductions as the Irregulars shuddered at the thought of the power of golems. The encounter with the Bone Golem had been a harrowing experience. The two golems here were both made of hardened wood and likely had been pulled from the golem wall that protected Ravalei after they had been replaced by more powerful golems.

As a small contingent of soldiers passed by and were quickly introduced the acting general spoke, “While we have several dozen Nuvroci soldiers here, I am the only Steel Warrior and the only one who had joined the order of the Myrmidon. The former general was a Steel Warrior as well, but he is gone now. There is one other person I think you should meet. Other than you, he is our newest arrival. He came to us after an adventure on the isle of Casea of all things.”

They saw the man at first from behind. He was powerfully built with hair that was a surprisingly light brown for an Agonish man. He was wearing a shirt of mail armor and had a buckler on his arm. On his belt was a blade of astonishing quality. It had to be a Casean blade. As the nearly six foot man turned towards the Irregulars, they all felt a moment of fear and worry. White paint marked the man's dark face up from his nose, across his eyes, then down his cheeks. It was the Agonish letter M. The only people that wore such makeup were the Agonish Magehunters.

“This is Beren Gendar, Magehunter of Agon.”

***

“Sir, all is in readiness,” the Agonish soldier said.

“Good, then we wait,” his commander replied.

“We aren't attacking?”

“Of course not. This is the southern front. Like the western front, if we push forward we dive directly into the marshy areas. We would be at a serious disadvantage. No, we are here to held the line. To protect the innocents. Even if we were to push, it would only drive the goblinoids into the wilds of the northern front. There may be some missions into the Goblinoid Lands from here, but our job is to but stand and wait. The goblinoids will come to us. The northern front is where all the action is.”

“But they are undermanned up there, it will be a slaughter,” the soldier answered.

“It may be rough at first, but more men will arrive there each day. The skills of over a dozen of their rangers are there to stymie our foes until we can secure the border. The Ravaleians are even sending golems. Once things are solid, the real push will begin. The goblinoids will be driven into our lines. They won't stand a chance.

***

The wizened goblin spat on the ground. Burn marks covered most of his body and one of his hands was missing. He walked with the aid of a staff. The young and powerful hobgoblin in front of him looked rather disappointed.

“Have the humans driven such fear in you with what they did to you Ranum?” the hobgoblin asked, “I would have thought you would be the first to call for this war and support a leader with vision.”

“It is not fear,” the elderly goblin replied, “It is knowledge. You follow the plans of the humans, these pale mages. You think with their power you will be able to crush the other humans.”

“They have more power than just their magic,” the hobgoblin stated.

“Yes, I have seen their beasts. I even know of the young dragon they prepare as their ultimate weapon. You may succeed for a while, but in the end you are missing the key components to win. Your impatience will be your downfall.”

“If we follow your way, we will never see victory. Your hopes rest on your young protege. His military tactics are quite impressive, we could use him in the war.”

“He is not ready to lead yet,” Ranum replied coldly.

“Not the whole army, no, but he could gain some glory in control of a smaller group. We could use your shaman powers as well.”

“This path is folly. I have every reason to hate the humans, as you know. This alliance with the scum will only bring pain and suffering.”

“It is only a means to an end, but I see your hate runs too deep to deal with them. I can not argue this. It burns me to deal with them, but if they are willing to fight the other humans I am all for them slaughtering each other.”

“They can do that without us,” Ranum said wearily, “We are not yet prepared for what it will take to win this war. The dragon is young. It may be powerful but it is still vulnerable. If we press this attack now, we will lose. It will delay our revenge for a great many years. Until we have shored up our resources, this war is mere foolishness.”

“I am sad that you and your followers will not join us in the glorious conquest. I am sure you will change your minds when we unleash the great beast and sweep into Agon, laying waste to the horse lands and eliminating their steeds. We will no longer cower in fear of their cavalry charges and the dreadful music of their heralds. They have nothing that can withstand such a creature. Acquiring the egg so many years ago and hatching it as part of our army was brilliant. It now serves us rather than itself.”

“What of the mother of the beast?” Ranum asked.

The hobgoblin snorted, “There are no such creatures left in this world or we would have heard more tale of them. This is the last remnant of their once great power. A trinket taken from the lizardfolk who had no vision and merely kept the egg safe and unused.”

“I can't imagine an egg that lasts for so long, only to hatch when it is convenient,” Ranum said, “This whole situation stinks of treachery.”

“We will see,” the hobgoblin said firmly, “But we control the dragon now. It is too late for treachery on behalf of the monster. I shall leave you know to contemplate things. I hope to see you on the war front some day soon.”

As the hobgoblin left a much younger hobgoblin appeared from a back room, “What will this mean for your plans?”

“Nothing,” Ranum said, “If we can find the old artifacts we will have what we need to stand against any foe. The Three Brothers are said to be weapons beyond all reckoning. Weapons that have slain even dragons. We must find a way to minimize goblin casualties in this war. We will need our armies for the real war later. Go and use your mind. It is your greatest weapon. Find answers to this riddle. I shall seek answers of my own as well.”

10Apr/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0041

The forest in the north of Nuvroc was known as the Halcyon Wood. It was meant to be a place of hope, a frontier land full of promise. Now it was a major front in the Fifth Goblinoid War. Through this forest walked five odd mercenaries and their leader. The leader was a man from Feergrus. He was far from his native land this far north. He was Enzi Cala, once a general in the armies of his homeland and now merely the commander of his unique mercenary band, Enzi's Irregulars.

With Enzi were the gorgon archer Eurysa Thulea Medenos, the minotaur warrior Aldebaran Celeno, the vicious vodyanoi Kava Roukami, the shapeshifting lycanthrope Mayitso Hastine, and the newest member was the Halz known as Ritter Earthbreaker. His original clan name had been Platinum instead of Earthbreaker, but he had discarded that name when he came to the surface to find possible answers for the woes of his people. Now this ragtag group was headed to aid the war effort.

The Halcyon Wood was a not as dense as the Tarvo Forest but was far less populated. Most of the Nuvroci town were fishing villages on the shore at the edge of the forest. The only other town was Brixia, a mining town on the Nuvro Range. The hills near there had trees but near the town the forest quickly waned. It was the town closest to the Goblinoid Lands and had an extensive military presence there to protect it. The northern front was south of there closer to the border.

Unlike the rigid border of Ravalei, the border between Nuvroc and the goblinoids was porous. As this was a wild frontier, the only protection in the Halcyon Wood had long been the Nuvroci Rangers. Enzi was unsurprised when one of them challenged the group. He was surprised that no one had noticed them before, but the focus was certainly more for the goblinoids in the far south. This ranger, however, looked as if something had been pestering him.

“Who goes there?” the stout ranger called out in Nuvro.

“Warriors to fight the goblinoid menace,” Enzi replied in the same language.

“You seem to have a unique collection with you,” the ranger said, “How do I know you are telling the truth?”

Ritter barked out, “Are you trying to deny a Halz a chance to bash some nose-less skulls in?”

“Admittedly the Tarvoni have summoned some odd monsters to their bidding, but I can't imagine a Halz working with them. Especially with their alliance with the goblinoids.”

“The Tarvoni have allied with the goblinoids?” Enzi asked.

“Just the Abyss Cult from what we have seen, but that is dangerous enough. They have their mages working to summon monstrosities to aid the goblinoids in their war effort. Such creatures are skilled in the forest and negate a lot of the advantage the Nuvroci Rangers have here.”

“We are here to give you a new advantage then,” Enzi replied, “Our skills will hopefully help turn the tide of the northern front back completely in your favor.”

“We need it,” the ranger replied with a sigh, “I will escort you to base camp as soon as I find my blasted apprentice. She has gone to ground to take a nap again.”

Mayitso snorted the air and the ranger laughed, “Good luck with that. She masks her scent well.”

Eurysa hissed, “She might at that, but the senses of our friend are quite excellent.”

The lycanthrope snuffled around then began circling around. Suddenly he growled at what appeared to be nothing. It seemed to be nothing but underbrush but as they neared the group could her the distinct sound of soft snoring. The ranger jumped down and sneaked up to the underbrush thinking to surprise his apprentice. As he neared however, there was a glint of metal. An arrowhead poked up from the underbrush.

“Lunaris Justis!” the Ranger yelled, “It is time to get a move on.”

A small stout Nuvroci teen snorted and seemed to appear out of nothingness as she emerged from the underbrush yawning. Like most Nuvroci she was broadly built with a yellowish skin tone. Unlike most Nuvroci she was covered with bits of foliage. Twigs and leaves had become embedded in her long tangled dark brown hair. Bits of dirt acted as natural camouflage. Her main weapon was a Nuvroci bow. They were built to fire heavy arrows and do considerable damage to unarmored or lightly armored foes. They were less likely to penetrate heavy armor.

This often led to a Nuvroci tactic of shooting into the midst of their own front line soldiers. The front line was mostly made up of what were known as the Steel Warriors. These brave soldiers not only wore heavy armor but even had steel plates fused onto their own skin. Not every Nuvroci could handle the process, so every person that could was recruited into the force. It did not matter if the person was the son of the rich and privileged. The Steel Warriors were largely considered to be nearly invulnerable. Enzi was certain it was not true, but such armor and their reputation both worked to their advantage on the battlefield.

Lunaris was certainly no Steel Warrior. Enzi imagined she was almost the same age as his sister's granddaughter. Lunaris might be slightly older, but Enzi was not entirely sure of how old his own great niece was as he had no contact with his family for a great many years. It reminded Enzi of what he had lost but he was not sad. His great niece might never know him but she was safe from his reputation and safe from the war. As she was learning of the healing arts, Enzi suspected she would never see the front line of combat. Lunaris, however, was learning to be one of the Nuvroci Rangers.

Enzi was not sure how seriously she was taking it. She had skill with her bow and with stealth. Yet she had used her stealth merely to avoid her teacher and get more sleep. It was obvious that the elder ranger had found frustration in dealing with the young woman. Enzi could not imagine how anyone could seem as calm as the young Lunaris. The southern part of the Halcyon Wood was dangerous. He could understand why her teacher was having problems. Such an attitude likely meant he would be returning without an apprentice.

“I am Enzi,” the Feergrus man said to break the silence, “These are the rest of my force. We call ourselves Enzi's Irregulars.”

Lunaris snorted slightly at that as her teacher nodded, “I am Kasamir Contego, ranger of the Halcyon Wood. This is my young apprentice Lunaris Justis.”

Enzi nodded and introduced the Irregulars and Kasamir led the group southwards through the forest. As they moved further south Kava seemed more and more spry. The air was getting moist. The Siren Swamp dominated a lot of the area and most of the goblinoid lands were marshlands as well. Clouds that hit the Nuvro range dumped their payload on this side. It was one reason Nuvroc was so dry. The drainage eventually led to the sea at the Rava Coast, but the swamps and Lake Hargis held a lot of the moisture.

Further south were the dryer lands of Agon A lot of the land there was similar in composition to the badlands of Feergrus, but the constant moisture from the rains caused by the mountain range kept it green. It certainly has not the best farmland, those rolling plains instead housed Agon's mighty horses. The Disputed Lands had soil similar to the fertile soil of Agon's river basin but did not have the moisture to support crops except near the Tarvo Forest. That was a dangerous place however, thanks to the Hirkans and the Tarvoni.

After several hours of walking, the day turned towards dusk. The group settled down to camp. It was still at least another day to the base camp. Most of the group was leery of having Lunaris alone on watch and Kasamir still did not fully trust the Irregulars. He did show some trust to Ritter, so Kasamir and Mayitso took first watch and Ritter and Lunaris were to take second watch. It was certain to be a long night.

***

The goblin sharpened his knife. Like most goblins, he was short and wiry. Unlike most goblins, his weapon was of the very highest quality. It was an iron blade of nearly the finest human make. The finest crafters of Nuvroc could make a sturdier blade with the quality of a dwarven weapon. The experts of Tarvon could make a sharper blade with quality equal to elven make. The Caseans had learned to master both of these disciplines in order to make their superior weaponry. Yet this weapon was still far deadlier than would be expected in the hands of a goblinoid.

The greenish gray skin of the goblin was marked with lines of mud as camouflage. Grime caked the masterfully crafted knife to hide its metallic gleam. The dextrous fingers of the creature delicately traced the line of a human skull on a shelf beside him. It was one of dozens. The entire place reeked of blood and death. It was strong enough that even the goblin could experience the scent as he breathed through his mouth. Like all goblinoids he had no nose and smelled with mouth. It was his weakest sense.

His strongest sense was his sight. The eyes of a goblinoid were large. They could see in the dark with ease, even where no light seemed to reach. Their hearing was excellent as well, their large ears aided them with that. A poor sense of smell had allowed the goblins to deal with the stench of the bogs and the filth they lived in. It was said that disease had once run rampant among the goblinoids, but now they were nearly immune to such things. At least those that survived were, a lot of goblinoid children died.

This goblin had lived. He had seen the suffering of his people. Their living conditions were horrible. The humans had driven them into the lands that the humans did not want. When he had learned of the push for war, this goblin had been the first to join the cause. He had long hunted the humans when he could, always narrowly avoiding retaliation. Now that the war was on he had a great many new skulls to add to his collection. He expected to add a great many more.

He no longer had a name. He had given it up. His old name had told of ancient tribal affiliations and therefore held all the rivalry that came with that. This goblin had decided that the rivalry between tribes was petty. He had even decided that the rivalry between the four different goblinoid races was petty. Each had their place. The raw muscle of the orc, the tactics of the hobgoblin, the aquatic surprises of the bugbear, and the stealth and agility of the goblin.

Now the goblin was nothing more than a shadow. The humans had many names for him. Some called him the Hunter of Man. Some called him the Beast that Takes Trophies. They called him a monster. Perhaps he was. He did not care. He had been made into a monster by the humans. He would show them what a true monster was. It was time for another hunting trip into what the humans called the Halcyon Wood. He hoped for an actual challenge this time.

He moved silently from the small hidden home he had made at the edge of the Siren Swamp. He had honed his skills to be sharper than his blade. Even the wildlife did not seem to notice him. For many years his worst foes had been the Nuvroci Rangers. He had finally taken the first of ranger trophy in his last trip out. His skills had finally come to a point where he could match them. Finally he would have his revenge on the human race. There were none who could stop him now.

3Apr/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0040

“Odd that a man who is considered untrained to work on humans has all the right knowledge to be exactly what we need,” Eurysa hissed.

“Yeah, its kinda ironic,” Kava croaked.

“He probably knows more than a lot of doctors,” Enzi stated, “His history of working on farms and then his time doing autopsies here mean a lot of knowledge of bodies and how they work.”

The Feergrus man looked to the minotaur, “Get some rest. We will probably need to move out soon.”

Captain Aurari Koto soon approached the group, “It seems the local authorities need my help to sort out all that happened here. I was expecting some violence from the situation you were in, but this golem thing was unexpected. It is a good thing you were here to stop it before it rampaged across the countryside.”

“Yes, that thing was a menace,” Enzi replied in Rava, “I am saddened by the loss of the people in the laboratory however.”

“Nothing you could have done,” Aurari replied, “Golem creation is a touchy business. If this had worked out, we could have mass produced several units to aid the front line in the war. Obviously this was a dead end for such research. The golem did not even leave much of its victims behind, we can't identify what was what. The experts looked at the research and determined everything looked good, so it is obviously a major incompatibility in our two different magics. It is yet another failed project while we move on to the next one. It seems the war will have to drag on for a while.”

Enzi nodded, “I figure we should leave before someone finds a reason to blame us for this. Zindaro Plam would have a field day using this to turn people against us. We are mercenaries after all, perhaps we can help on the northern front.”

“You have two choices then,”Head south into Kurrot and deal with incursion the cross Lake Hargis or come out of the Siren Swamp. Not a major front, but still important. The other is to head east into Nuvroc and deal with the goblins encroaching through the forests there. The Nuvroci rangers need a lot of aid. There is a significant amount of territory to cover there. Most of our support has gone there.”

Enzi frowned, “I wish this could have gone better. There were no winners today.”

Aurari replied, “That is often the way of the world. I wish you good luck. You have done what you could/ That is far more than what most people can claim.”

***

The man who helped Aldebaran returned to his office. Another Ravaleian was there. This new Ravaleian was in his early eighties.

“You have what I want?” the elderly Ravaleian asked.

“Yes doctor,” the younger Ravaleian said as he placed the horn of the minotaur on the table as well as the material he had sliced off of Aldebaran's head.

“Excellent. I had feared I would not get the chance to study one of these creatures in any way. Now I am one step closer to achieving a greater success with alchemy than even the finest minds of the Caseans.”

“I can't imagine that is easy. They are planning to lock down the Alchemist's Stone after today's incident. Too many people around and not enough security.”

“No one can stop Doctor Calind Vega. Come with me and you can be among the first to reap the benefits of my research. It is time to liberate the stone and use it to its full potential. Already I can feel my age begin to turn me towards my final days. I can not afford the luxury of patience.”

***

Zindaro Plam sighed unhappily, “So the minotaur was damaged? That is unfortunate. There is too much trouble to deal with them at the moment, especially as I have lost so many trusted men.”

“You can't let them make us look like fools, right boss?” a henchman asked.

“That is not a worry. They will pay a price for what happened. I want word sent to every mercenary and bounty hunter in this land. I want the minotaur and gorgon. Dead or alive.”

“We will have to make quite an offer. The war is certain to keep mercenaries busy and well paid.”

Zindaro nodded, “That is not a problem. I have more than enough gold. I want it done. Make it happen.”

***

The woman had left work for the day and stopped by the theater. It had been an interesting day at the Rinn Institute. She dropped off a note behind one seat as she moved on to her own seat to watch the show. The note almost seemed to magically vanish as someone stealthily appropriated it and delivered it up to one of the private boxes. The Master of Assassins was there and he read the note carefully.

It told him of the incident with the Bone Golem and the suspected death of Rukiya Bora and her Ravaleian partner. The terrible conditions meant that it could not be confirmed who it was, but the project was certainly ended. That would be enough. The Master of Assassins assumed that the Quiet Death had been lost as well. The destruction of the bodies meant that her presence was unsuspected at least. The spy was an excellent tracker and had noted no sign of an escape by Rukiya or the Quiet Death, although the massive number of people that had been through the area muddled things. At this point the Master of Assassins did not care about such things. The mission was complete and the reputation of the assassins was secured,

***

The eastward road was long but Enzi's Irregulars made a good pace as they traveled. They traveled southeast so that no one could tell which part of the northern front they were headed for. They stayed out of the cities and avoided contact, keeping their cloaks on for anonymity. As they were nearing the Kurrot border, cloaks would not be unexpected. Southeast of the town of Levine, the group turned east and entered the forest known as the Barrier Vale. It separated the lush farmlands around Singer Lake and Singer River from the northern plains. It also made for excellent cover.

It took nearly two weeks of walking though the forest before the group finally had to exit it. At that point they had nearly two days of travel through the fertile lands east of the forest until they reached to town of Tranum on the Tranumea River. It was a mighty river at that point, fed by over flow from Siren Swamp and the Singer River. There were other tributaries further south, but as those all flowed through the swamp, they were part of its effect on the Tranumea.

Tranum was one of two places where one could easily cross into Nuvroc. The other was the town of Northbridge, much further to the north where it sat on the Rava Coast. One could certainly take a boat to some of the fishing villages in Nuvroc, but that also requires a much more northerly tack. The Irregulars needed to reach the south part of the area Nuvroc controlled. It was there most of the battles were being fought. Enzi figured they could do some good while staying out of more civilized areas.

For now the mercenaries enjoyed a walk through the farmlands west of the Tranumea. A calm and peaceful breeze blew through the fields. It was summer now, the harvest was still several months away, but the breeze made things feel almost like fall already. However, that meant something else entirely to Enzi.

“A storm is coming,” the Feergrus man said.

Those words sent a chill down Enzi's back as soon as he said them. Wars were never a pleasant thing. Now the goblinoids had begun a new conflict. The Fifth Goblinoid War as it was sure to be called. The first two of the great goblinoid wars were legend only, based on tales and myths of times before the Revolution of Ago. The First Goblinoid War was supposedly one fought against by the dwarves and the elves. Talks with Ritter had confirmed that the Halz told tales of these times.

The Second Goblinoid war had come several centuries later and greatly weakened the elves and the Halz. That war had ended when the giants came down from the mountain to crush all resistance and rule the world of Doulairen. That myth had proven at least some of its truth, even if Ritter had not confirmed it. The Revolution of Ago had begun under the heartless rule of the giants. It had taken fifty six years to overthrow the giants and had taken a toll on the great hero Ago. King Ago the First died a mere three years later, though by then a calendar had been set by the birth of the nation three years earlier.

The Third Goblinoid War had begun in the year two hundred and thirteen. They had won, seizing the Throne of Kings in the city of Agonor. The goblinoids ruled for a brutal twenty two years, finally ending when the nation of Nuvroc discovered the western nations and came to their aid. A time of rebuilding came for many hundreds of years until the great flood came and weakened all the nations of the land. Luckily the goblinoids did not take the opportunity to attack then. It was likely that they had suffered a great many casualties during this time as well. Their lands were already low lying and swampy for the most part.

The Fourth Goblinoid War finally did come. It had happened in the year thirteen hundred and sixty four. This was well known to Enzi. He had studied the battles during his training. It was during this time that Feergrus had proved itself to the northern kingdoms. Most encounters before the war had been with the followers of Ahk. They had made sure that people had a low view of the dark skinned people of the badlands. However, the northerners were more than familiar with rival cultures and civil wars and quickly came to grasp with the truth of the situation. It had been a long time since then, as the year was now nineteen hundred and ninety seven.

The assassination of King Ago the Second in the sixth year of the great nation by a Casean arrow had launched a great war against the king's younger brother, the man who had founded the island kingdom to the north, King Casea himself. That civil war had ended five years later with the death of King Casea. Casea had no heirs while King Ago the Third was too young to rule. With no leader, the Caseans retreated to their island. A siege would have been impossible.

Enzi wondered what all had happened to keep the peace after that. The flood had destroyed a great many records, most history before it happened were either relics that had somehow survived or oral tales passed down by the bards of Agon. That was certainly a biased source and Enzi found it hard to entirely trust the words of only one side. His thoughts were broken by the feeling of rain pouring down upon his face. The cool droplets felt quite refreshing. It was almost as if it was washing away all his worries.

***

“Now comes the fun part,” Enzi said, “Passing through the town of Tranum and over the bridge into Nuvroc. The last roadblock before we find ourselves diving into massive conflict.”

“Can't we just go around?” Ritter asked.

Enzi chuckled, “Not without a boat or trying our luck at the town of Northbridge. Today you will get to see why Ravalei is generally considered the safest country when it comes to defense.”

Kava nodded, “The great golem wall.”

“What, a wall that is a golem?” the Halz asked.

Kava laughed with a mighty croak.

Eurysa hissed, “No, it is a great number of golems that stand shoulder to shoulder. They guard the border of Ravalei. You can only exit or enter Ravalei at a few cities along the border or by traveling around the wall with a ship.”

“And the Rava Coast Trading Company controls the world's largest and most powerful navy,” Ritter said, “Yes, I can see where this would make the Ravaleians a formidable foe. The sheer number of golems however. That boggles my mind.”

Enzi nodded, “It was not always like that. It started with a few weak golems guarding the most dangerous areas. As more golems were created, they slowly filled in the gaps.”

“That is why there is a whole section of the populace devoted to the creation of golems. They call them the leaders the Gearwork Masters,” Eurysa added.

The motley mercenaries meandered into the town, their cloaks doing little to mask their oddness now that they were no longer at a distance from civilization. Enzi led the Irregulars down the winding roads as quickly as he could. Most of the townsfolk were too busy to pay much attention, but a small crowd was slowly gathering. Soon they reached the bridge across the Tranumea River. Several guards stood near the bridge and Ritter gaped at the mighty golems that blocked any passage into or out of Ravalei.

Here at dangerous border into Nuvroc the golems were made of iron. They were huge and powerful looking. They made the Bone Golem look weak and pitiful by comparison. However the Halz knew that the iron golems had to have been a major undertaking. As the group approached the bridge the guard gave them an odd look.

“Halt, what is your business here?” one asked in Rava.

“We are mercenaries headed out to the northern front to aid the war.” Enzi answered.

The guard raised an eyebrow, “Why should we let you through?”

“Would you rather we stay inside your borders to distract your people and cause problems by our mere presence? Or should we go try to do some good by killing as many goblinoids as we can?”

The guard snorted, “True enough. You do seem like trouble and I would rather not have any trouble inside my country. You can go bother the Nuvroci for all I care.”

The guard turned to the golems and gave an order. Two of the mighty golem shifted and moved. They opened up a path into Nuvroc. Enzi nodded to the guard as he passed by. The group hurried onto the bridge as many of the townsfolk of Tranum watched them scuttle by.

Enzi smiled as he looked over his Irregulars, “And now we charge head first into the coming storm.”

Kava gave one of her creepily too wide smiles, “The first good news I've heard in a long time.”