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

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.

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