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

29May/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0048

Syrian led the way southwards, usually as most of the rest of the group had trouble keeping up with the Kurrot. His people often learned to make long strides and to run across great distance with little rest. Only Mayitso seemed to have no problem with Syrian's pace. The Kurrot often had to take a moment to notice he was leaving the others behind. The lycanthrope would remind him by placing himself in front of the path, but it was obvious that Syrian's mind was elsewhere.

The further the group delved south, the more Enzi suspected there was more to this rescue than Syrian was telling them. Certainly helping the Master of Blades and a cadre of Bladestorms out of a rough situation was a worthy goal, but the Feergrus sensed an obsessive energy coming from the young Kurrot. He had trouble sleeping and he pushed the group as hard as he could to get to the destination quickly. Enzi worried that the young man would exhaust himself.

Like many Kurrot, he did not speak much. Their culture created loners. They often had little skill in dealing with others and little inclination to do so. Syrian had proven more sociable than most, the military style training of the Bladestorms had likely helped with that a little. Syrian's intense focus and growing weariness did not aid Enzi in his goal to get the Kurrot to open up and speak of the real issue. As the group trudged through the marsh filled lands in which the goblinoids dwelt, a new distraction arrived to delay any conversation.

“Goblinoids!” Eurysa hissed.

The group instantly went on the offensive. A small band of goblinoids were searching the area. Eurysa's sharp eyes counted three orcs, eight goblins, and a pair of hobgoblins. With the marsh all around it would be easy for some bugbears to be hiding, but Eurysa doubted it. This group was on the move. The gorgon nocked an arrow even as the goblinoids noticed their group. Syrian leapt through the vegetation, his two short blades out. Eurysa took a deep breath and steadied her aim.

Her arrow shot past the Kurrot and planted itself in the neck of one of the burly orcs. The muscled brute gurgled and hit the ground as Syrian swept in and cut down two of the lead goblins, one with each blade. Despite his youth, his skill was obvious. Someone had certainly trained him well. Mayitso sprung past the Bladestorm and ripped out the throat of one of the goblins. Aldebaran and Kava were rushing to join in the fight and the short legged Halz was hurrying to catch up as well. Enzi kept a slow pace, watching for other threats.

The five remaining goblins attacked Syrian and Mayitso. The Bladestorm deflected a pair of blows as the other three attacks bounced harmlessly off the hide of the lycanthrope. The two orcs that still stood moved for Aldebaran as the minotaur seemed like a threat made for them. The two hobgoblins surveyed the situation as they moved into battle. They worried Enzi the most. They had taken the time to observe their foes and that meant they might think of a good way to cause damage.

An arrow stopped the thoughts of one of the hobgoblins. Aldebaran cut down one of the orcs with his massive blade as Kava darted past him and sank her hatchets into the other orc. Three more goblins fell to Syrian and Mayitso as Ritter found himself engaged with the hobgoblin. Enzi paused while he looked around. Something was off. They were not the only ones there. He was not the only one that saw it. The hobgoblin spotted it and barked something in the language of his people. The goblinoid tongue was a foul collection of slang they had used to speak behind the back of their giant masters when they had been enslaved.

Whatever the hobgoblin said, it was obvious that Ritter understood. It distracted the Halz for the same moment as the hobgoblin was distracted. Neither gained an advantage and the hobgoblin took the chance to withdraw away from the dwarf and try to take cover. It was not enough. Eurysa's arrow ended the goblinoid as the rest of the enemy force was decimated by Syrian Dow and the rest of the Irregulars. Enzi looked to Ritter as the dwarf moved in an odd direction.

“They were chasing someone,” Ritter said, “And they just saw whoever it was over this way.”

The group moved on, leaving the goblinoids to rot in the swamplands. Quickly the group found someone's tracks as well as signs of blood. Whatever they were chasing, it was wounded. Mayitso picked up the trail easily enough with his sensitive nose and led the way. Soon they saw a figure on the run, stumbling through the vegetation. The gorgon tracked the creature with her sharp eyes.

“That isn't a goblinoid,” she hissed.

Syrian heard that and dashed ahead with Mayitso at his side. Whoever it was was quick. The lycanthrope used his full speed to outrun Syrian and the mysterious runner. He ran out in front of the escapee to slow them down while Syrian caught up. It did not take long for the chase to end. The runner spun and attacked but the blades were stopped by the Kurrot Bladestorm and the group heard a feminine voice speak out.

“Syrian?”

“Mother!” he responded jubilantly.

***

“The gathering of the lizards is starting to look dangerous,” the short dark man said.

“Yes Karrum,” Devis Lane replied, “I have returned from my time among them. I have learned of their goals and reasons. I have delayed them for quite some time but we will need action to protect Feergrus.”

“The army can take them, but this may set back our plans for quite some time if we take too many losses.”

“I have no doubt of your ability. The seeds of doubt I have sown amongst their people while disguised as one of them will keep them from pressing their full power for many months at the least. I have created confusion in the ranks as well as a small civil war. That will keep them busy while I find a way to push them back permanently. Be prepared to fight them back in case they solve things quickly. If I am right, I believe I know a way to fight them where we will not have to use our own resources.”

“I always enjoy your devious plans,” Karrum Tamb replied, “If we can keep our losses to a minimum we will come out of this war well. The losses suffered by the other nations will put all of us on nearly even ground.”

Devis nodded, “Even that will not be for long. We are working on a plan to make a closer alliance with Agon. When the next heir to the throne takes over, we want him loyal to us.”

“We may not have much time, the current king is getting quite old. Yet isn't his only son unable to rule from mental incompetence?”

“That is the rumor. Some of my best spies are looking into the situation so we can look over our options. I will likely be away dealing with this war problem when they return. I have already let Glanar know to watch for them, now I am telling you. I plan on stopping by to check on them on my trip but I may miss them. We need to work on their information as soon as possible.”

“Agreed, before the last king falls over from old age.”

Devis smiled, “Yes, it has been enough trouble over the past several centuries keeping the humans divided. Too many times one army might have dominated another and become too powerful for us to easily handle.”

“Yet you handled each war with equal skill. Your arrow killed Casea, son of Ago the First. Your manipulation destroyed the alliance between the elves and the dwarves. I fully expect you will hand us the leadership of Agon on a silver platter.”

“You flatter me. I quite enjoy that,” Devis Lane replied, “Eventually we will be the only rulers of this world.”

“It almost seems to be falling together faster these days. It may only be a few centuries more!”

“These poor mortals do not know what they are dealing with.”

Karrum Tamb nodded, “Those that learn do not live long.”

“Yes indeed,” Devis Lane said in a chilling voice, “There is one that I have let live that has been of great use. Perhaps I have let him live too long. Perhaps it is finally time to make my final use of the once great general known as Enzi Cala.”

“Ah, Enzi,” Karrum said, “I remember him. He had talent. He must be getting quite old as these mortals go.”

“He has lived long enough then, he would perhaps only live another decade or two at best. Barely worth sticking around. I need to take care of several things along the way including the Agon situation, but when I return the problem of the lizardfolk will no longer be our concern.”

***

The eight pointed white star on a green background was the symbol of Kurrot. The accoutrements of the woman showed she was a Bladestorm. This far out in the wilderness meant she had been with the group of elite Bladestorms that had fought in the Battle of Lake Hargis. With the gender inequality often shown in Kurrot, only one conclusion came to Enzi's mind. This wan not just any Bladestorm, this was the Master of Blades herself.

It struck Enzi that her family name was not Dow, like her son Syrian. Jaeris Hyn was the name of the Master of Blades, but this made sudden sense to the Feergrus. The gender discrimination against the combat skill of women was common in Kurrot so Jaeris had to prove herself. Yet a married woman with a child would not even have the opportunity. Her commitments to the family would have been held higher than her talents. It would not matter if she was the warrior and the husband was not. He would be considered her superior in all ways.

These thoughts made Enzi sigh. In Feergrus power went to those with the talent and skill. The only exception was those who were not loyal to the state or knew too much. Enzi had learned that lesson far too well. It made the aging man realize the world had a long way to go before all people were considered equal. He wondered if perhaps even the goblinoids could be reformed someday. Their enmity was deep and they had wasted many opportunities for peace in the past.

Jaeris spoke in Kurro meaning the only Irregular who could understand her was Enzi himself, “Syrian.”

“I heard of the battle and came to learn what had really happened. But that had to have been weeks ago,” Syrian said in a worried tone.

“Yes, I've led the goblinoids on a merry chase,” his mother replied, “I was only able to save one of my men. The goblinoids were too many. They swarmed us, overwhelmed us. They showed great tactics as well. Hobgoblins swooped down on us from the sky riding griffins. We saw great industry there. They were forging weapons and armor in great amounts. Yet I also saw hope.”

“What hope could you see in such terrifying news?” Syrian asked.

“Not all the goblinoids were in agreement with this new war. There seemed to be two large factions. There is some sort of new weapon that is driving this war. Only half trust in it so far. I overheard talk that one of the greatest of their leaders opposed the war and the weapon. If we could somehow inspire civil war or end the threat of this weapon, the war would be over.”

Enzi spoke up, “Then Master of Blades, tell me of this and perhaps I can learn more. My team is unusual but we can do many things that would be difficult for humans alone. Perhaps even convince a goblinoid to speak in peaceful terms where they would not trust a human.”

The Feergrus man had just thought of the possibility of peace. If this goblinoid leader did not want war, it was possible to move towards peace. Sometimes it almost seemed as if the universe was moving in the best direction it could. Unfortunately that was also the time when the floor would drop out from beneath you unexpectedly. Enzi would reserve judgment until the time came when he could make a difference.

22May/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0047

The group struggled the next day, exhausted from a night without sleep. As lunchtime passed, the group surrendered to their need for rest. As the dusk came, the goblin returned to survey his handiwork. The exhausted humans were mostly asleep and even the watch was drowsy. Mere harassment might not be enough to wake them as they seemed to be nearly dead asleep. The goblin began to work on a few tweaks on some of his traps.

As the light waned, the goblin launched his assault. He triggered several of the logs that he had repositioned then use his knife to cut the lines holding them. The momentum of the swing was retained as the logs flew through the air and crashed into the human camp. A scream of pain told the goblin that the immense missiles hit hit something. He had cannibalized several of his traps to create the unguided missiles but it was worth it. The goblin then looked to the small pile of rocks covered in weeds at his side.

He had left them out to dry several days ago and now they were ready for his next assault. A bit of flint used against the steel of his knife provided a spark. His sling lobbed the flaming stone through the air as he moved to the next pile of rocks and did it again. He kept moving between five piles he had made until he had finished unleashed a fiery hell upon the humans. The people in the camp scurried about trying to aid the injured and avoid the flames.

The goblin knew better than to push his luck. Once the stones were gone, he fled back towards his home. It was not a moment too soon as several arrows flew through the wood towards the five locations he had been firing from. For the moment, the Beast that Takes Trophies waited and watched. The furor in the camp slowly quieted down as everything was brought under control. Three of the rangers were wounded, one with a broken leg and the other two burnt and bruised.

Enzi looked to the group, “The goblin won't let us sleep at night then. He wants his advantage. I say it is time we gave him that advantage. We have those in our group that can see as well in the dark as any goblinoid, if not better. Most of you should return. He will pick off the unprepared too easily. Tomorrow we sleep during the day and then we head out at night to finish this.”

Medeus Tarim looked to the other rangers, “All of you go. I will stay and see this through. The base camp may need the rangers and we have lost too many as it is.”

The bulk of the rangers headed back north as Enzi's Irregulars and Medeus Tarim began to dismantle traps. The work on the traps was interspersed with multiple rest times. Finally daylight crept over the horizon. The group slept and rested. The goblin had returned to his home. The time for the final battle had come. He sharpened his knife to the finest edge he could. The goblin wondered how many foes he could fell before he was finally toppled.

That night the goblin watched as the enemy crept closer to his home. He did all he could to set off his traps but he did not have any left that could surprise the humans. The dwarf and the minotaur pointed out the goblin's location quietly and arrows sailed. The Hunter of Man fled to his house, surprised that he had been spotted. The Irregulars soon arrived at the squat abode. There was no way the larger people would fit inside. Ritter sighed and prepared himself to lead the way. Mayitso was ready to back him up. The lycanthrope could not see as well in the dark, but his sense of smell could pick out a goblin amidst the other foul smells of the area.

Ritter kicked in the door of the hovel, his shield raised in front of him. A crude axe trap shattered against the heavy shield. No light shone in the goblin's home, but that was no impediment to the Halz. More troubling was the sheer number of places to hide and the horrific stench. He saw the hundreds of skulls lining the walls and piled on the floor. Their foe could be hiding anywhere with all the available cover. Mayitso sniffed the air, fetid with the scent of the rotted bits of the trophies that had been discarded in one corner.

The goblin leapt at the back of the dwarf. Mayitso turned and snapped at the flying goblinoid but missed in the darkness. It was enough to warn Ritter. The Halz tried to turn towards the goblin. The knife missed its mark and did not penetrate Ritter's thick armor. The real fight was on. The Halz had fought several goblinoids before. He swung his heavy warhammer through the air and the goblin ducked under it and tried to keep behind Ritter. Mayitso backed off, giving the dwarf room to fight.

The warhammer smashed through a pile of skulls as Ritter missed again. The goblin was skilled at avoiding things. He had a great deal of experience in surviving, but his luck had to end. The goblin was not trained for extended combat with multiple foes. He was skilled in guerrilla warfare. Ritter positioned the goblin with a few expert swings. Then Mayitso leapt. The goblin avoided the lycanthrope's vicious jaws as he snapped wildly in the dark. Yet that was what the Halz had been expecting.

The warhammer connected firmly with the unarmored goblin's chest. The goblinoid skidded across the floor in pain. He rolled to his feet and leapt back into combat. Ritter landed another blow against the weakened goblin. This time the sound of breaking bone could be heard. The goblin fell to the ground, wheezing. A third blow finished the combat. The Hunter of Man would take no more trophies. Time passed quickly after that as news was brought outside. The area was soon alight with the flickering flames of torches.

The inside of the goblin's home was soon investigated. Medeus Tarim took the encrusted knife as proof that the deed was done. Beyond that, the group filled the squat building with whatever vegetation they could find. Then they set it aflame. The flames roared to life and consumed the dead. When the flames had finally died down Aldebaran used his immense strength to topple the stones and cause the home to collapse upon itself. It was a great deal of work and morning had come by the time the makeshift grave had been finished.

***

Arrival at the base camp led to several surprises. There were several new people there, the first wave of reinforcements had arrived. A great pile of slain enemies also laid outside the camp, burning. Enzi reported back to General Cassius Tessium while the rest of the group mingled with the base camp. He quickly learned that the attack had come shortly before the reinforcements. The battle had looked grim, but the rangers that had gone on the hunt returned and attacked the force from behind.

The reinforcements were mostly Ravaleian. A few Nuvroci warriors had arrived as well. The young ranger Lunaris had vanished. No one knew where she had gone off to. However, it appeared that she had been replaced. It looked like some young Ravaleian girl had followed the warriors to the camp. Enzi figured she could not be more than fifteen years old. What struck him the most about her, however, was the way the Ravaleians seemed afraid of her.

“I see you noticed that the more things change, the more they seem to stay the same,” the Nuvroci general said.

“Yes, Cassius. What happened to the other young one?” Enzi asked.

“Her aim greatly improved over a few days. I've never seen anyone concentrate like that. Once she figured out the trick, she was hitting the target constantly. She said she was going to go out to find tougher targets to hit by hunting small animals. I assume she will return at some point, likely with a large amount of meat once she figures out how to hit a small moving target.”

“I guess the extra supplies won't hurt,” Enzi stated, “Plus it keeps her out of trouble. What is with the new one?”

“She is a mage of some sort,” Cassius replied, “There has been less tension with the Magehunter than expected though. I am more worried about her attitude.”

“What is the problem?”

“She seems to be overconfident of her power. She intimidates the people around her. They have even taken to calling her the Storm Queen.”

Enzi shuffled over to find Beren. He was hard at work maintaining his gear. Beren also seemed to be keeping his distance from the Ravaleian mage.

“You don't look too much worse for wear,” the Feergrus man said.

Beren chuckled, “It has been an interesting few days. The goblinoids tore up my chain shirt pretty good. I have it patched up for now but a good blacksmith would be nice. Then there is the little Ravaleian girl. I know we need some magic against some of the foes the Tarvoni may summon, but that girl makes me wonder if perhaps magic is an evil force after all.”

“That bad?”

“To her the power makes her better than everyone else. It makes everyone else subhuman.”

“Hopefully having a Magehunter around will keep her in line.”

***

The quiet had been nearly maddening. The goblinoids had not made any moves for a while and were gathering their forces. An assault was expected at any time. A messenger finally came from Kurrot with a tale of what had blunted the goblinoid incursions. A team of the greatest Bladestorms of Kurrot had entered the Goblinoid Lands and led a great slaughter of their forces. The attack had been led by the Master of Blades herself, the powerful Jaeris Hyn.

It was being called the Battle of Lake Hargis. It had been a brutal battle that had ended poorly. The Kurrot had been badly outnumbered in the end. They had turned the goblinoids back but no one knew what had happened to the Bladestorms and their leader. This tale seemed to affect one person more than the others for obvious reasons. It was Syrian Dow, a Bladestorm of Kurrot. He immediately began to pack up for a trip.

“What do you think you are doing?” Cassius asked.

“What I have to do,” Syrian replied, “I need to find the survivors. No goblinoids would end them all. Jaeris would find a way to survive and she would save as many as she could.”

The Kurrot man rushed off as Enzi looked to Cassius, “Odd to think of a female Master of Blades. The last I had dealt with the Kurrot, they were not that egalitarian in their treatment of the genders.”

Cassius nodded, “They are not. A lot of the Kurrot do not believe she is worthy. She has not only had to be the best of the Bladestorms, She had to be the best by a huge margin.”

“I suppose we should help Syrian in this,” Enzi said.

“If those warriors did as much damage as they say, perhaps you can get in and out. Plus a chance to strike again won't hurt. If you think you can survive, go for it. Anything to give us time for more reinforcements.”

Enzi quickly gathered up the Irregulars and they chased after Syrian. The Kurrot smiled as they followed him southwards towards the Goblinoid Lands.

“I appreciate the aid,” Syrian said, “I have to know what happened to them.”

“It is possible that they are already back in Kurrot. Your messengers are fast but that note had to take time to get here.”

Syrian nodded, “Then we can follow their path of destruction and get rid of any goblinoids following them. That should keep the goblinoids bottled up for a while longer.”

15May/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0046

The arrival at the base camp brought some joy to those stationed there. However, the news of Kasamir's death weighed heavily on them as well. The Hunter of Man was still on the loose. The oddest sight for the returning heroes was the target that many had used to practice archery. Lunaris was there, awake, and hard at work practicing to fire her bow. Her aim was still terrible, but they were surprised to see her doing anything but sleeping.

Such things mattered little. There was a war that needed to be won and enemies that had to be stopped. Supplies and troops were on their way. The exact numbers and what the resources would be was unknown. Almost anything and anyone would be useful. Too many had been lost to the Beast that Takes Trophies. The small camp was understaffed as it was. Reinforcements would be more than welcome. Very little would be able to defeat the base camp itself with the two golems at its disposal, but the people were spread too thin to keep the goblinoids from incursions.

With the immediate known threat taken care of, scouts were sent out again to look for trouble. They went in pairs now to keep the Hunter of Man from easily slaying them. This also meant that much less territory could be covered. It was a terrible trade off but losing the scouts would hurt more than anything at this point. At the ned of the day, however, the worst was realized. One of the patrols did not return. However, this led to a very different action.

“This monster has to be stopped now,” Medeus said, “I am taking all the rangers and heading where the patrol went. We will track down whatever this creature is and end it.”

“It's a goblin,” Kava said.

“Impossible,” one of the rangers said.

A soft but determined female voice spoke out, “No, she is right. I saw it. A goblin that camouflaged itself, set traps, and came from the shadows like a ghost.”

It was the voice of Lunaris but the ranger that had spoken earlier laughed and spoke in a patronizing tone, “I question your eyes apprentice. Your aim shows to me that it can not be trusted. You told us your story before, but a ranger like Kasamir could not fall to the simple traps of a mere goblinoid, especially not a tiny little goblin. Whatever you saw shocked you I am certain. The adults will go out and deal with this menace. Perhaps you will recover in time.”

Kava rolled her orange eyes. She had little taste for willful ignorance but was used to humans underestimating inhuman creatures, especially if they were small. It gave the vodyanoi a great advantage in battle Kava looked to Enzi and motioned her head towards the leaving group of rangers. He nodded and the vodyanoi smiled with her frighteningly overlarge mouth.

“Don't worry kid,” Kava said to Lunaris, “I'll head out and kill the goblin. At least I'll know what to look for. Then we can both have a laugh at the rangers later.”

Enzi looked to the rest of the Irregulars, “Let us head out. It is time to end this menace once and for all.”

***

Two more skulls settled into their spots on the wall of trophies. The goblin had been prepared for a pair this time. He was not disappointed. He had never expected to survive this long or to make this many kills. He began to wonder how many more he could take before his time was up. He knew that the pairs had failed them. Would they do groups of three? The Hunter of Man sharpened his knife, reapplied his camouflage, then headed out the door of his home and trophy hall.

He slipped carefully past his traps. He had constructed a great many of them. It had started to protect his home and perhaps catch a meal. Now he used them to kill his human prey. He made his way towards the human camp and saw something both glorious and frightening. All of the remaining adult rangers of the camp were headed out as well as some inhuman creatures and a dark skinned man. The goblin's eyes settled on the dwarf. He wanted that one to die most of all.

He watched as the group approached the area where the last two rangers had been slain. The goblin smiled as he realized this whole group was out to hunt him. He decided it was time for his glorious end. He would lead these humans through pain and death before he would give up. No matter how many or few died now, it did not matter. He had slain a great many and had done his part. The goblin felt satisfied. Now it was merely time to see how much more he could do before it finally ended.

***

Mayitso sniffed the area as the rangers looked for evidence of the killer. They knew he often traveled by the trees but they were determined to find a trail, even if it meant searching for several days. The group had no idea they were being watched by their target. The goblin reached into his pouch and pulled out a small stone. It was time to get the adventure started. He took careful aim and flung the stone with all his might. It landed deeper in the woods.

Several of the people in the group heard the noise and slowly made their way in that direction. One of them suddenly disappeared as he fell into a hidden pit. Another ranger rushed forward to help. A yell of warning came too late. The pit trap had set off a second trap where a log swung in behind the blind spot of the man at the edge of the pit. He turned just in time to take the log to the side of his chest. If it had just hit his side it might have glanced off, but the turn had made things worse. The swinging log lifted the ranger off the ground and rammed him into a nearby tree.

The goblin grinned at the horrible crunching sound that come from that collision. Two rangers were certainly dead. The needles in the pit were coated with filth and poisons. After a careful search of the area, the two rangers were extracted from the traps. The one ranger's chest had been crushed. He was quite dead. The other was alive but bleeding. He was writing in pain from the toxins that now slid through his body. If the poison did not kill him, the infection from the filthy wounds almost certainly would.

The group used some of their clean water to clean out the wounds, but held out little hoped for the survivor. The rangers had heard the tales of a trap from Lunaris but they had not fully realized the situation until it happened before their very eyes. Kava merely shook her head at the growing realization among the overconfident Nuvroci that it might just be the goblinoids. The next several hours consisted of a sweep of the area for traps. The group quickly found over a dozen of the goblin's creations.

Finally dusk began to creep over the area and the group set up camp for the night. The fallen was buried outside the camp and the wounded man was laid by the fire to keep warm. He shivered despite the warm weather. The Hunter of Man watched the whole spectacle with glee. He had not expected his traps to hold up to someone looking for them. He was only one goblin after all. His crude creations had been born of haste. Most of his time had been spent in making sure they were concealed enough that only someone looking for them would find them.

“These traps are crude,” Medea said at the gathering of men and monsters, “We have to accept that this is the work of the goblinoids.”

“Perhaps it is true,” one of the rangers said, “But if it is, this is certainly not the work of just one little goblin. There must be dozens of the creatures working together to cause this much trouble.”

The discussions continued until it grew late. A pair of rangers kept watch as the rest of the group slept. The Beast that Takes Trophies slipped out of his hiding spot and crept forward towards the camp. He came first to the crude grave of the ranger with the crushed chest. He slowly and carefully dug into the dirt. He did not want to alert the humans. Finally he saw his prize. His dagger cut deeply into the ranger and removed the corpse's head.

He placed the severed head in a bag he had tied to himself. He then watched the two humans on watch. He waited patiently for a couple of hours to make sure the camp was asleep and the watch had become bored. Then the goblin slowly crept forward once more. The shivering ranger was still twitching near the fire and emitting a low moan. The goblin grinned toothily as he slipped past the two rangers on watch and neared the sick man. His knife plunged into the man's throat and ended his moans with a soft gurgle.

The goblin ripped the head from the body and let out a whoop as he leapt over the fire and dashed into the woods headed towards the swamp. The blood of the head left an obvious trail. The camp was soon awake and on his trail. They were hot on his heels, exactly as the goblin wanted. He kicked out at a hidden trigger, releasing a trap. He cackled loudly as he heard the scream behind him. He slid the severed head into his bag as he ran back towards his home. The pursuit had fallen behind thanks to the threat of the traps.

Enzi looked at the horrible spike that had been driven into one of the ranger's legs. The goblin had goaded them into following him. He was sharp. The raid into the camp had been daring, perhaps even too daring. This was a goblin with no fear of death. The Feergrus man could think of no foe more dangerous than one with no fear. However, it was a foe they could not afford to let survive. The group returned to camp and treated the wounded leg of the ranger.

The next morning most of the camp headed down the trail of their prey, carefully searching for traps. The wounded ranger limped back towards the base camp with another ranger as escort. The trip towards the goblin's home was treacherous. The group disarmed one trap after another. It made the progress quite slow. Soon they had to pause for the night. The watch was increased and at least one of the Irregulars was on watch for each shift.

The goblin knew he had an advantage in the dark. It was his time to take advantage of it. He could not allow his advantage to slip away. He gathered up several resources and began his new campaign. With a slingshot the goblin began lobbing objects towards the human camp. He was too far away to aim effectively. The distance was to keep the humans from targeting him as well. His goal was not to hurt any of the humans, although if that happened it would be an added bonus.

All night long the goblin pestered the humans and the Irregulars, moving from place to place and launching debris. He interrupted the sleep of the group. No one in the group dared to chase into the woods for fear of traps hidden in the darkness. As morning came the Hunter of Man slipped away back to his home to rest while the drowsy humans worked to disarm his traps. The Beast that Takes Trophies slept well. In the evening he prepared to harass his enemy once again. His goal was to keep them awake at night and force them to get their rest during the day. It did not hurt that being tired during their daily work to clear traps made them more likely to make a mistake.

8May/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0045

Everyone expected an attack at night. When morning broke without a trace of violence, the attack force felt quite relieved. At least for the moment the goblinoids would not have a major advantage. The rangers and Mayitso spread out from the core group, scouting for the enemy. The core group continued southwards into the marsh. The scouts returned, one ranger sooner than the others. He had spotted something moving in the swamp.

Mayitso dashed that direction to try to confirm while the rest of the group headed that direction at a more normal pace. The lycanthrope soon returned to the group and growled at the direction he had come from, leading the way. Surprisingly it led closer to the mountains where the rocky ground was more firm. Enzi was not sure what this might portend. Their small military force trudged slowly out of the soft marshy ground and soon found signs of a large group that had moved past. They were not too far ahead. Beren looked around and his eyes narrowed.

“There is definitely a mage in the group. Whoever the mage is wove a spell recently. We should hurry,” the magehunter said.

Beren rushed ahead with Mayitso quickly catching up. The rest moved quickly but the two leaders knew exactly where the foe was. Their senses far exceeded the others in the group, each in their own unique way. Beren and Mayitso emerged into lighter woods as they chased their foe and they could see what they were up against, but their foes also saw them. The magehunter counted nearly forty goblinoids, as well as a Tarvoni and a few wargs.

The enemy looked shocked, but none more so than the Tarvoni at the rear of the group. He quickly began to weave a spell. The goblinoids turned to engage the two foes. Mayitso thought that the Mage hunter would slow down and wait for the others, but Beren seemed to have no intention of slowing his pace. His eyes were set on the caster. The three wargs headed for Mayitso. They knew what he was more than the goblinoids did though wargs were not intelligent enough to communicate or realize how outmatched they were.

Wargs were a terrible creature. Their muscular forms and flat hairless faces made them almost look like humanoids running on all fours. Their faces resembled a goblinoid in many ways, as they did not have any nose. However the major difference was the mouth. Wargs had a massive maw full of deadly sharp teeth. The flat face meant that their mouths looked unnaturally wide. In that regard they slightly resembled Kava. The frog-like mouth of the vodyanoi was perhaps the closest relative to the warg's terrifying max. The vodyanoi did not have the same powerful jaw muscles or terrible teeth however. A warg's bite was no joke.

Beren noticed the wargs headed towards the lycanthrope and almost felt pity for the beasts as they did not realize what they were getting into. The Agonish people had a different name for the wargs. They called them barghests. Ancient myths said that they were able to take humanoid form. This had long since been disproven and Beren imagined someone had mixed up tales of the lycanthrope with the barghests. It was not the first time that two different creatures had been thought of as the same. Usually it was more likely that one creature had multiple different stories and names based on what witnesses had seen or exaggerated.

They were far larger than Mayitso and more muscular. Their torso reminded Beren of a large and powerful wolf, but all their power came to naught against the lycanthrope. Their jaws were powerful enough that if they found a good hold they might actually break the skin of the lycanthrope. None of the wargs were that lucky. Mayitso tore them limb from limb in a terrifying display. Beren had other things to worry about however. A crude javelin flew from one of the goblinoids.

The magehunter's buckler deflected the clumsy missile as Beren slashed at the first goblinoid in his path. His blade cut expertly and the creature fell as Beren spun past him. It was almost like watching an expertly choreographed dance as Beren avoided blows and enemies around him fell. Despite his skill, even he could be easily overwhelmed. He had only one goal in front of him. He had to stop the mage. The Tarvoni finished off a spell to summon something to fight for him.

It was no normal creature that rose from nothingness. A palpable sense of dread came over all the goblinoids. Mayitso felt the evil as well as the fur on his hackles raised. The monstrosity that stepped forth was a ten foot tall terror that reeked of ash with an acrid burn to it. It was a fiend from beyond the world, one of the demons that the Abyss Cult often dealt with. Beren remembered the immense creature from Casea. This foe was similar but was far weaker and smaller.

Mayitso leapt at the thing and bit at the monstrosity. His teeth did not even scratch the demon's hide. It laughed at the lycanthrope hanging on its arm and slashed with the claws on its other hand. Mayitso yelped as the claws sliced through his hide and drew blood. It was not a major wound but it was enough to make Mayitso take notice. Beren looked to the lycanthrope and sighed.

“Hold it off a moment, I'll stop the mage from summoning more,” the magehunter stated as he charged towards the mage.

The demon moved to intercept Beren but Mayitso leapt at it as the goblins slowly began to realize the demon was on their side. As one moved in to aid the fight an arrow pierced his throat. The rest of the human forces had arrived and a grand battle began. Beren saw the electric blue aura of magic around his foe as the Tarvoni rushed to weave another spell. The magehunter saw to look of fear in the porcelain skinned man's eyes. Then the pale skin and blue aura were little more than red as blood flowed. The Agonish man's sword had cleaved well.

Arrows flew and blades slashed. Kava found some amusement at fighting the goblins. It was unusual to fight a foe as small as she was. Of course, she though the larger goblinoids might have made a more satisfying thump sound when they hit the ground thanks to their extra mass. Aldebaran did not think of such things. He concentrated solely on the combat at hand. His mighty two handed sword cut swaths through the goblinoid forces. Syrian and the Rangers cut through several goblins as Enzi and Eurysa provided support.

Mayitso kept the demon well engaged. The demon had trouble seriously wounding the lycanthrope but it was obvious that Mayitso was losing. Several of the human forces took pot shots at the demon when they could, but it was far too tough for such unfocused strikes. Suddenly the demon roared as Beren slashed at it from behind. Even his fine Casean blade could not harm the creature. It would require magic the group did not have to kill such a beast.

However, Beren easily kept the demon busy while the rest of the group mopped up the goblinoids. After that the demon saw it was outnumbered and fled. It no longer had a master to command it. The group began to gave chase but Beren waved them off. The group looked at him oddly. Such a terrible creature certainly could not be allowed to roam freely.

“To conjure such a powerful creature takes a lot of power. The magic that allowed it entry will not last long. It can not do any harm with the little time it has left,” Beren said, “Never have I fought such a foe. Fighting it any longer would only give it a chance to harm us. We are lucky it chose to flee. I doubt it realizes how little time it has left here. It seems we have to find a way to beat demons as well if we are going to win this war.”

Enzi nodded, “Unfortunately I have some knowledge of that from my people's battles with the Tarvoni over the years. That was a particularly powerful one, but even it can be hurt by normal weapons if struck hard enough or with perfect precision at its weakest points. With the power of Aldebaran's swings, fleeing may have been smarter than you give the demon credit for. It is far easier to harm them with certain kinds of magical power however. Our priests would often summon vicious cold to freeze them.”

“We could use some priests here,” Syrian said, “Especially for the wounded. I see a few cuts and bruises on us. I would hate for them to become infected.”

Enzi nodded, “Let us move away from the marsh and wash out our wounds with some of our water. Hopefully that will keep the evil of the Siren Swamp from setting in.”

The group made their way to drier land and tried to clean up. After that they began their trip back towards base camp. The mission had been a success. There were no major wounds and no one had died. Enzi imagined such a victory would be a great boost to morale.

***

To be free of the void, even for a short time, felt glorious. The demon knew he did not have long in this world. He tasted the blood on his claws and grinned. He fled through the forest searching for prey. He killed what few animals he could catch and ate them. The warmth of flesh and blood soother his belly. The stench of death filled the creature's nostrils and it loved it. The experience was beautiful to it. All it had ever experienced was the great void. Like all its kind, it drifted helplessly in the void.

The void was empty. One could see nothing, feel nothing, taste nothing. The demons felt great rage at the creatures of Doulairen while being helpless to do anything. The actions of the creatures of this world had shattered their home. The demon was not sure how he knew that, he just did. It was their fault that he must now drift in the void. The demons drifted helpless with nothing but their rage. Was it any wonder that when summoned they were cruel and violent?

The demon felt his tenuous hold on the mortal world begin to loosen. The magic that had allowed him to roam was unraveling. The vibrant colors of the world vanished and the monster drifted through the void once more. He thought perhaps that the taste of the mortal world would be enough to satisfy him. However he noticed his hunger had only grown. Madness soon overtook the demon once more. It sought out contact with the mortal realm.

If it could perhaps have just one more taste of flesh, it thought that would make it feel better. As it tried to search for the mortal realm within the infinite void it thought it noticed something. It could feel the magic of the mortals, however faintly. Some of the Tarvoni used their magic to make deals with the demons of the void. The demons would grant power to the mortal for a gift from the human caster. The demon could sense the opportunity there.

He waited patiently for the next caster that needed his power. He already knew what he wanted in return for his aid. It was a simple request. All he wanted was a pound of flesh. To be able to enjoy the taste of human flesh and blood in the void would be an exquisite treat. Perhaps he would even get lucky and the caster would fail badly enough in his spell that the demon could claim something far greater. Perhaps the caster's own first born child. The thoughts of destroying such an innocent made the fiend drool. It would be a perfect revenge against the mortals. At least one small bit of revenge anyway.

1May/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0044

The patch of grass where the scout had fallen stilled showed the signs of his death. The smell of blood could still be detected by all the Irregulars. It was the more subtle scents that Mayitso was looking for. The lycanthrope sniffed the matted and blood stained grass. He detected a scent of something else hidden among the scents of blood and the natural scents of the Halcyon Wood. His nose led him directly to a tree. The immense wolf looked up into the branches.

“It seems whatever we are dealing with is a climber,” Enzi said.

Kava frowned. They had been talking of this hunter as some kind of monster. She had seen the wounds on the body. As far as she was concerned, this wasn't some supernatural beast. This was someone with a knife. The theatrics were an excellent way to strike fear in an enemy. That meant one thing to her. This was most likely a goblinoid. Something that could climb easily and was stealthy. The rest of the party took to watching the trees. They searched the area and found little else. However, they had some new clues. The next scouting party to leave the base camp would be better prepared.

***

The goblin sometimes known as the Hunter of Man watched the search from a safe distance. His enemy had learned of his travel through the trees. The goblin smiled. It was time to switch up his tactics. These new foes would be worthy trophies indeed. Even if it meant an end to his game. He had known this day would be coming. It was time to unleash the nastiest of his tricks. He would make the humans suffer before he fell. He would go down fighting.

He slipped stealthily through the forest back towards his home. He had a lot of work to do. He looked down as the skull and spine he had recently taken. He could add this last trophy to his hovel while he was there. It needed cleaned up anyway. The waters of Siren Swamp worked well to wash away the blood from bone and leave the bone gleaming. He liked his trophies to shine, When he passed, they would be his legacy to show how much damage he had caused before he finally fell.

***

Informing the base camp of their findings were simple. It might not do anything but if even the slightest information would lead to the end of the slayings, it was worth it. There was no easy way to track the killer. The trail had already been too old when they arrived. Only Mayitso's sensitive nose had given them the little information they found. It was obvious that his foe was intelligent. It had done what it could to dampen its scent.

Kava stated that it was a goblinoid, though a lot of people dismissed that as ludicrous. A single goblinoid could not possibly do so much damage. Especially not with just a knife. The wounds were too ragged for that. The vodyanoi was positive, however, pointing out that a particularly cruel and jagged knife could easily make such vicious wounds and would be a beloved tool of a creature of that sort. Most of the rangers agreed that it had to be some beast instead, one that had been given intellect through magic.

The vodyanoi snorted to Enzi, “So they would rather believe a magically enhanced monstrosity is doing this rather than a simple explanation?”

“Most people see the goblinoids as less than them in every way. Having one that equals them, even surpasses them in some ways is something they can not accept. Most of these rangers have been patrolling these woods for years and dealing with goblinoids from time to time. Sometimes it is hard for humans to look past their prejudices. Those who can are rare and wise.”

“Seems like a quick way to call yourself wise,” Kava croaked.

“If the title fits,” Enzi replied with a smirk.

Kava laughed at that. The base camp quickly settled back down for the night. Guards watched out for danger while the others slept. The morning came far too early for most though at least it had been a quiet night. New patrols were sent out to look for where trouble might be. Acting General Cassius Tessium cam to Enzi and his Irregulars. He look worried and tired beyond his years.

“I think I have need of you already,” the Nuvroci Steel Warrior and member of the Order of Myrmidon stated, “The goblinoids are sending an advance force our direction. A mage is with them, a summoner we believe. Beren is getting ready to take care of that problem. We are sending whatever we can to meet this threat.”

“Bad enough we are dealing with whatever it is that is slaying your people,” Enzi replied, “But we will do what we can to stop this new threat.”

Cassius nodded, “The dangers of this war will only grow. Hopefully it will not be more than we can handle.”

Soon a small detachment of warriors left the base camp. Beren Gendar led the way. Syrian Dow had joined as well as a half dozen rangers. Enzi gave a worrisome look to Syrian. The Kurrot was young. Normally a Bladestorm would be busy on the western front, but Enzi imagined the youth was not granted access to the front lines due to his age. Kurrot was not a place that held much for rules, so the boy had slipped away to fight the war on his own terms. It was the sort of thing that often got the Kurrot killed.

Along with Enzi and his Irregulars, this group led a mere dozen and a half regular soldiers. Most of them were Nuvroci infantry in heavy armor, but a few were Ravaleians. It was not a force that would inspire fear, but it would be enough for a small scouting force of goblinoids. If the enemy troops were stronger than expected, then things might become troublesome. The humans often spoke of the goblinoids as weak, but their only weakness was a lack of resources. With the same armor and weapons as a human, they would be an equal match. They would hopefully not be expecting such an eclectic mix of warriors to stand against them however. Unless Kava was right about the Beast that Takes Trophies, it might have noticed the group and warned its goblinoid brethren.

After a few hours of walking, Enzi noticed a change in the trees. Those that required more moisture were quickly becoming common. It was not long after that when the ground began to feel softer as it was filled with moisture. The heavier members of the force were making considerable footprints in the wet ground. Mayitso led the way, his nose in the air to attempt to detect any foes before the foes detected them. The enemy could appear at any time, depending on how fast they were moving since the scout spotted them.

As the ground grew swampier and harder to travel through, the sun began to sink in the east. The Nuvro range meant that sunset came early on the west side of the mountains. That was of great benefit to the goblinoids. Their superior night-vision made a darkened swamp a perfect hunting ground. It was in this hunting ground that the human forces set camp for the night. The Halz could see in the dark as well as any goblinoid as could the minotaur. Along with the nose of the lycanthrope Enzi felt confident that any night time surprises would be detected before it was too late.

***

The base camp felt empty with so many out to deal with the invading force. Kasamir took Lunaris with him to go on a long patrol. He hoped a second pair of eyes would help protect from the monster that was slaying so many, but he had few hopes for the young girl. It seemed more likely to him that the so called Hunter of Man would take Lunaris first. She would be an easy target. Kasamir hoped that the squad sent out to deal with the enemy would be back by the time the pair returned. Dealing with a hidden beast with few resources was not a good idea to Kasamir's mind.

The patrol took them two days out from the base camp. Lunaris dragged her feet the whole way, as Kasamir expected. It was frustrating. The elder Nuvroci Ranger had a job to do however. He would not let some young whelp of a girl cause problems that would result in the death of those at the base camp. The third day of the wide circle took them along the edge of the Siren Swamp. Things were quiet and Kasamir kept his eyes on the trees as well as the ground.

Unfortunately his foe knew that the trees would be watched. He had set up several diabolical traps in the swamp and even a few in the forest. The goblin had not used them, he had no need to waste them. Now he would finally start to make some use of his long toil. The large male ranger stepped into the range of one of the goblin's traps. The hidden creature tugged a vine and a log erupted out of the trees. Kasamir saw it and reacted immediately, stepping back and trying to duck and roll.

Of course, that was when he hit the real trap. The log was too cumbersome to be more than a distraction unless the target was particularly slow or stupid. Kasamir felt his leg suddenly sink into a hidden hole then a great pain as the trap inside snapped upon the limb. The goblin leapt from his hiding place to finish the kill. For all the things Lunaris could not do, she certainly had the ability not to be seen or noticed. The goblin saw her too late as he rushed Kasamir. At this point he could not pause, run, or escape. It would give Kasamir a chance to kill him.

The goblin assumed his day had finally come. He was happy with that. He would take out one last ranger before he left. Several others might find some of his traps and meet their end as well. It would have to be enough. The goblin drove his knife at Kasamir's neck while pushing himself at full speed. Lunaris drew an arrow to her bow and took aim. The arrow flew wide of the mark, as it always did. The goblin felt his knife sink deeply into the male ranger's neck.

The enormous eyes of the goblin soaked up the last glimmers of life in the human's much smaller eyes. He stood as another arrow fell well short of its target. He looked up at Lunaris and saw the young girl trembling. He stood still a moment, shocked that he was alive and watched motionless as she fired a third arrow. He was not a moving target yet she still missed. The goblin saw the pain in her eyes. Lunaris had failed her master and could not even kill his slayer.

The goblin could not resist the urge that filled him next. He began to laugh. Another arrow shot by as the shaken girl could not even begin to come close to hitting the goblin. The goblin thought that he could easily kill this young girl now, but grinned as he thought that leaving her helpless in the wood as a failure would be more fitting. He twisted his knife deep in Kasamir's neck as he tore the head and spine from the fallen body. The goblin slipped into the wilderness as arrow after arrow flew helplessly from the young crying ranger's apprentice. The mocking and cruel laughter of the goblin filled the Nuvroci youth.

Lunaris spent her quiver without a single strike before collapsing in tears. Kasamir was dead. She was alone in the forest. Being left alone was all she had ever wanted. Now she had failed him. His death was her fault. If she had taken her archery seriously she could have stopped the goblin. She could have stopped the Beast that Takes Trophies before he caused any more harm. She merely hugged the beheaded corpse of her mentor while bawling that she was sorry. Words, of course, would never be enough.