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

26Jun/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0052

Rumors had begun to flit through the base camp. First Medeus had not returned and now a second scout had disappeared. Fears of a second Beast that Takes Trophies flitted through the camp. The men had suddenly grown to respect the power of the goblinoids. Fear drove many of their decisions. Severe solutions were being fielded. Someone even suggested cutting out a swath of trees and then lighting the goblinoid side of the forest on fire.

The southern forest quickly became wetlands however. It was far too likely, even with an area cut and burnt out to keep the flames under control, that any fire would instead burn northwards into human lands. That such an attempt at genocide was even seriously discussed brought the words of Ranum to Enzi's mind. If the humans learned to fear the goblinoids too much, they would slaughter them all. Defeating the young dragon was needed for the sake of innocent human lives as well as the very survival of the four goblinoid races.

For now, the mercenaries needed to find out what was happening to the scouts before their disappearance brought on a panic. With Mayitso down for the count, the team' had lost their best tracker. Eurysa, Aldebaran, Kava, and Enzi headed out to see what they could find. Hopefully the problem would present itself to them. They began to search the patrol area, although the process was slow. The first day was fruitless, as were the next two. The fourth day, however, finally provided a clue.

Kava practically tripped over a crossbow hidden in the weeds. It had to be the weapon of the ranger that had gone missing. The clue did not bode well. Enzi could not imagine the ranger leaving his weapon behind. Even if he had lost it, he would have returned to the base camp to secure another. Enough rangers had fallen that spare equipment was available. There was no other sign of the ranger. Morale at the base camp continued to slip while the group searched for more clues.

***

Medeus watched the creatures wander around outside the base camp. Only one of them was a demonic goblinoid. Medeus could not understand why the minotaur, gorgon, and vodyanoi now aided the enemy. He wondered if it had something to do with the missing Halz and lycanthrope. Medeus knew that the Halz were usually a noble race. Perhaps the monsters had finally betrayed him and joined the side of evil. It mattered little at the moment, they were too powerful for Medeus to take on alone.

He could be patient and pick off his foes one by one. He was a ranger of Nuvroc. He had been trained to survive in the forest. He was perhaps one of the best at his job. He sat and waited, keeping an eye on the base camp and waiting for an opportunity to strike. He hoped that human reinforcements came soon. He had to warn them of the danger. With their help they could stop the invasion of demonic goblinoids and their monstrous allies. He positioned himself north of the base, hoping to intercept the next group approaching the base camp. That group would be coming soon.

Soon the ranger was rewarded with the sound of travelers. However, he was shocked at what he saw. It was more of the demonic goblinoids. They traveled heavily laden with supplies. Medeus assumed that they had stolen the supplies from the reinforcements. There were not many of them and they appeared to be lightly armed. The ranger knew that he had to strike. The knife had to taste blood again. Yet Medeus knew that it could not slay all of the foes. He had to stop as many as possible with his bow before the melee began. His first shot struck true. The ranger watched as the panic began below him.

His bow found another target, but the goblinoids had spotted him. Medeus leapt into battle. He could not let any escape to warn the goblinoid camp. The knife almost seemed to sing as it tore through the flesh of the demonic goblinoids. One after another fell to the ranger. Finally one tried to run for the former human base camp. Medeus grabbed his bow and fired a shot. It did not kill the goblinoid but it did hit them in the leg. The ranger quickly caught up to the wounded monster. It was mewling and whimpering like a coward.

“Only now do you seek for life,” Medeus said in Nuvro, “Perhaps you should not have slain the humans and stolen their supplies.”

The knife did its dirty work. The goblinoid screamed and squealed. Medeus would leave a message with this monster. After he was done, he gathered what supplies he could. Then he burned the rest. The smoke would warn his foes. Medeus knew he had to flee. He hoped that the blow he had struck would weaken the demonic goblinoids.

***

Enzi and the Irregulars had returned to the base camp. They were resting when smoke rose on the horizon. There should not be any smoke to the north of the base camp. Several rangers immediately made their way in that direction. Enzi followed, hoping to find some clues into the loss of two rangers. The scene of slaughter that the group found, however, shocked the Feergrus man. The arrows of an archer had slain several people, and a cruel knife had killed the others.

One, however, had been dealt with in a most horrific fashion. The knife had cut deep gashes in the body. It was as if the person had been filleted. The body had been hung up in the trees. It was a gruesome sight as flaps of meat dangled from the bones and blood dripped to the ground. Enzi wondered what kind of creature would do such a thing. Then he suddenly noticed the Vodyanoi nearby. She was an expert in weapons and wounds.

“I recognize this,” Kava said, “These cuts and wounds. This was not made with a normal weapon. This was made by the same dagger that goblin used to kill people earlier.”

“Medeus had that dagger earlier,” Enzi said, “The foe must have taken it from him. I guess that confirms he is lost as well.”

“And now we have some new foe out there causing problems,” Kava said, “I can't wait for him to meet my hatchets.”

“I can not find a reason to disagree with that statement,” Enzi replied coldly, “We need to find this new enemy and deal with them. This scene should be enough that the base camp will let us borrow a ranger or two for tracking.”

After burying what was left of the dead, the group returned to the base camp. After the soldiers reported to the general, Cassius immediately ordered a pair of rangers to begin tracking the new enemy. The next morning the rangers set out with Enzi, Kava, Eurysa, and Aldebaran at their side. By the end of the day the group had returned to the camp disheartened. It was obvious that this foe was skilled in the art of hiding their trail. With Mayitso still badly wounded, the group needed a new solution to finding an enemy that could not be found.

“You need a different set of senses,” a female voice said as the group discussed their possible plans.

Enzi looked up to see the young girl known as the Storm Queen. She had been the one that had wounded Mayitso with her over the top display of magic. Her skill was undeniable. It was quite possible that she had ways of finding people with her magic. It was worth a try, although Enzi worried not only about the girl's ability to control herself but also what her reason for joining the expedition was.

“I missed being able to stop the terror the first time,” the Storm Queen stated, “This time I will end it. Plus I feel bad about getting rid of our best tracker. I am sure he might forgive me if he knew what it was like to channel lightning. It is a feeling like no other. You feel unstoppable. Which is pretty close to the truth.”

Enzi sighed. The young mage was arrogant. She had a huge amount of power and would likely become a terror all her own as time passed. The Feergrus man hoped she would learn to tame her passions. However the glint in the girl's eyes reminded him of Kava's blood-lust. It once again reminded him that not all monsters were inhuman. The words of Ranum once again crossed Enzi's mind. A thought occurred to the man. Perhaps humans were the monsters in this world. It was a frightening thought. It was definitely a sobering thought when it came to the inhuman creatures of the world.

As another morning came, Ritter had begun moving around. He was still sore, but ready for a fight. Enzi left him at the base camp, wanting to be sure they were protected from whatever the new threat was. Mayitso was healing well, but there would be a permanent jagged scar on his face from the lightning strike. The loss of one eye would be disconcerting as well. It would take quite some time before the lycanthrope was back to full fighting form.

The small group of irregulars, along with two rangers and the Storm Queen, headed out. They searched the area of the attacked supply convoy first. The Ravaleian mage wove a spell of significant power. Enzi could see it had been a drain on her endurance. After it was complete, she looked around the area and shook her head. The rangers saw nothing either. The Storm Queen kept flitting around oddly, glancing from one side to another.

“Can we help you?” Enzi asked.

“I can see living creatures currently. Unfortunately, if someone is hidden completely behind something, like say a wall, I can not see the glow of their life energy. So if I move a little here and there, I might catch a glimpse of something. So far all I can see are squirrels and birds. Nothing larger.”

“Let us move on then,” Enzi said, “How long will that spell last?”

“I put a lot of power into it, it should last for several hours,” the Ravaleian girl stated.

The group then moved for the area where Kava had found the dropped crossbow. As dusk began to settle on the area, the group finally decided to give up for the day. That was when the Ravaleian mage suddenly stopped dead in her tracks. She narrowed her eyes and then raised both her hands. Stones tore themselves off the ground and pelted an area. A yell of pain told the group that she had hit the mark. None of them were prepared for the sight they beheld.

“Damn demonic goblinoids!” Medeus Tarim yelled as he leapt from his hiding spot with the brutal knife in his hand, “If this is my last battle, I will take as many of you with me as I can!”

The Storm Queen raised one eyebrow at that but it was Eurysa who saved the day. She hissed at the ranger and met his gaze. Medeus stopped moving as the gorgon's power crept into his very pores. The Ravaleian approached the frozen man and nodded appreciatively. She wove a quick spell and looked over him again. Her gaze lingered for quite some time on the knife in the ranger's hand.

“A great many interesting things,” the young Ravaleian cooed, “I like your power creature. It is deadlier than any similar spell I have seen. This man, however, is under no other spell. He has fallen to something far worse.”

“Some sort of insanity?” Enzi asked.

“No. It was this blade. Look at the slimy growths on it. I have seen this before. This blade has grown in power. It has a power that is not magical and requires a strong will to resist. We call it an item's legacy. This one was soaked in blood. It caused this ranger to seek the blood of its foes.”

“That blade was used to kill humans,” Kava said, “And now it wants more? That is my kind of bloodthirsty weapon!”

“It is rare for a legacy to come to a non-magical item, but not unheard of. A legacy makes an item powerful, but it also drives its user. The few items that gain such a thing are used by tremendous heroes or villains. Their deeds forever mark the items they loved and used.”

“Can he be cured?” Enzi asked.

“He will forever desire this knife. It is an addiction. Only the destruction of the blade or the death of the user will end it.”

19Jun/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0051

Each day of travel was full of tension. The group could sometimes detect the goblinoid scouts that were following them. The scouts kept their distance from Enzi and his mercenaries. Each day the Irregulars neared the base camp where they would have the support of the troops. Enzi expected the goblinoids would have to make their move soon if they wanted to take advantage of the isolation of the group. However around noon on the next day, Enzi saw the shape of the human base camp hiding in the Halcyon Wood. The watch on the walls quickly spotted Enzi's Irregulars and waved a greeting.

Enzi heard a great noise from the trampling of a great many feet. He then realized the enemy's ruse. They were going to use the Irregulars as a shield. The rangers of Nuvroc were deadly with their bows and crossbows. If they wanted to storm the base camp, it would be much easier if their foes did not want to fire into their allies. While the Nuvroci were used to firing their regular bows into melee with Steel Warriors, their crossbows were saved for foes with heavy armor. Both weapons could potentially be deadly to Enzi and his mercenaries.

The horde of goblinoids charged past the Irregulars as the mercenaries leapt into the fray. The tactic had worked. The archers at the base were afraid to fire and hesitated. Then Enzi heard the rumble of thunder in the air and felt the crackle of lightning. It suddenly occurred to him that there was one person in the base camp who did not care if any ally was in the line of fire. It was the young Ravaleian mage they called the Storm Queen. Enzi then saw exactly how she earned that nickname.

Electricity arced across the field striking foes indiscriminately. Enzi felt one bolt of lightning come far too close for his liking. All the hairs on his body now stood at attention. The Irregulars were trying to scatter, as were the goblinoids. The assault had been broken with a single powerful spell. Dozens of goblinoids lie dead, but more and more arcs of lightning descended on the area as the young Ravaleian girl unleashed her power with reckless abandon. Enzi was almost certain he could hear her cackling with glee at the destruction.

He ducked for cover, it was all he could do. He hoped that none of his mercenaries would get hurt, but it was out of his hands now. He worried most for Ritter. His heavy metal armor had to have been something the electricity would be attracted to. The sounds of the thunder and lightning slowly died off. Then all that could be heard were the whines, whimpers, and moans of the wounded. Smoke rolled off of both them and the dead. The goblinoid assault had been halted, but Enzi wondered at what cost.

Eurysa slithered out from behind a tree, untouched by the lightning much like Enzi. Surprisingly the enormous minotaur Aldebaran had come out of the battle with little more than a few patches of singed hair. Kava had escaped completely unscathed. Then Enzi saw a glint of metal in the grass. He rushed over and found Ritter. The Halz groaned in pain but he was alive. His metal armor had channeled most of the electricity into the ground, but the hardy dwarf had still been given the shock of his life.

Enzi began to relax. Ritter would be fine. As the Irregulars gathered, Enzi saw that one was missing. He had seen no sign of Mayitso. The lycanthrope had no more protection against such powerful magic than anyone else. Suddenly the Feergrus man began to worry. Aldebaran lugged the groaning dwarf back to the base camp while Eurysa, Kava, and Enzi searched the battlefield for any sign of the lycanthrope. Enzi was the first to see a large lump of fur that was not one of the fallen wargs. He lifted the head of the lycanthrope and gasped.

“Oh Mayitso...”

***

The Cleanser stood with his stark white robes over the corpse of another monster. The color of white was a symbol. It was the color of evil. It was nearly impossible to keep clean. Both of these things were symbolic of the role of the Cleanser. Naphar Bura had his hands full trying to stop the influx of monsters pouring out of the Goblinoid Lands. The Tarvoni Summoners had made his job difficult. He had not forgotten about the abominations that hid within the mercenary group known as Enzi's Irregulars.

He hoped they were not causing too much trouble. He had too many other foes to slay at the moment to be able to chase them down. They had escaped him in Feergrus on a Ravaleian boat. They were likely halfway across the continent. For now, Naphar needed to aid the southern front of the Fifth Goblinoid War. His weapons were soaked with blood. He expected that they would unleash yet more blood that day.

“Naphar!” one of the Agonish soldiers said, “It is good to see you.”

The Kurrot man merely nodded in response.

“You have saved the day once more. My unit stands ready to serve you as needed.”

“To serve... Me?”

The Agonish soldier nodded, “Our commander was slain by a monster creeping in the night. You have saved us from a similar fate more than once. As the highest ranking soldier in my unit, I have decided we will do what we can to aid your noble battle and give you support.”

“I appreciate it,” Naphar replied, “I will have need of many allies before this war is done. There are many monsters yet to slay. There are some even I fear to face alone. I will need the strength of your men to defeat such powerful foes.”

“We will do what is needed to stop these monsters from harming any more of our people.”

“Good, good,” Naphar said.

The Cleanser smiled as he cleaned his weapons. With such allies he might be able to finally destroy the minotaur, gorgon, lycanthrope, and vodyanoi. All he needed now was the opportunity. He would meet the monsters again. This time it would be their end.

***

The soldiers in the base camp looked with pity as the Irregulars carried two of their members inside. A few gave dirty looks towards the Storm Queen, but many also thought that perhaps she had taken an action that needed to be done. In the end, if the Irregulars were hurt or died, what did it matter? They were not human. They were monsters. Could their lives be measured as equal? Many heavy questions now weighed upon the humans of the base camp.

The camp medics immediately got to work on the two wounded monsters. They could not expect any magical healing, the Storm Queen had exhausted herself with her massive display of power. Aldebaran used his muscle to help move the dwarf around so that the medics could remove his heavy armor. Scorch marks now pocked the body of the Halz. The medics applied balms to the wounds and left Ritter to rest and heal. The medics working on Mayitso had an uglier wound to deal with.

The smell of burnt hair and flesh along with the sight of the ugly wound caused one of the medics to retch. Cleaning it out was a terrible task. The lightning bolt had sheared across the lycanthrope's head. The medics had to be careful so that they did not cause further harm. It was certainly going to leave a nasty mark. Beyond that, it had completely obliterated Mayitso's left eye. He would require serious downtime to rest and recover from such a serious wound.

Cassius approached Enzi, “I am sorry for what happened. I am not sure how needed her assault was, but the questions already float through the camp.”

“She saw clearly, if poorly,” Enzi replied, “The goblinoids planned to use our compassion to shield them. They had to be struck down. The force that was used might have been excessive, but force was warranted.”

“I am surprised we were not warned of their coming. Medeus was scouting that direction. He is the sharpest ranger we have left.”

“There is a lot of territory,” Enzi replied, “Even he could have missed us. I am just sorry I did not realize the actual intentions of the goblinoids following us sooner. We knew a scout was following us, but the size of this force and their devious assult were both beyond any prediction I had. The tactician who thought of this was not only sharp, he had to be thinking on his feet to put this together so quickly.”

Cassius nodded, “I suspect you have more to tell me. Syrian arrived before you but only told me a few things.”

Enzi sighed, “Yes, there are a great many things to discuss. We should talk in private. This may take a while.”

“For now, it appears we have plenty of time.”

The two great leaders made their way to the general's quarters. Inside, they sat and discussed what Ranum had told Enzi. They discussed many possibilities, including treachery. In the end, they came to the conclusion that they could not ignore the warnings of the grizzled old goblin. They also came to the conclusion that little would be done that they did not do themselves.

“It looks like you and your team will be needed on the southern front for this beast when it comes.”

Enzi nodded, “I worry. Bounties were placed on our heads by those who hate monsters. Most of the mercenaries that would claim it now fight on the southern front.”

“I do not know about most, as there are still plenty of conflicts in the Disputed Lands, but you are right that a great many will still be there as a possible problem. I will send a messenger to that front with news and questions. We have enough time that we can hopefully sort out a solution.”

“It will take some time for our wounded to recover anyway. When we are ready, we will begin the trek south.”

“You may run into many thing to take care of along the way if you go around to the west. Although the western front in Kurrot would be full of Cleansers.”

Enzi nodded, “We have time. For now. Blunting that last goblinoid attack may give us an extended peace here on the northern front. At least I hope so. It would make the sacrifice seem worth it. It would be nice not to have to deal with trouble any longer.”

***

Medeus Tarim watched the base camp from a distance. The dagger he had taken from the murderous goblin known as the Hunter of Man was in his hand. It had seen the blood of a few foes during the ranger's travel through the woods. As he looked upon the base camp, all the ranger could see were what looked like demonic goblinoids. He felt that the dagger needed to be sank into each and every single one.

Yet these monsters had to be dangerous. Medeus would have to be careful. He would use stealth and try to take down each foe one by one. One of the odd demons came out to scout the area. Medeus waited until the demon was far from the camp. He would make them pay for all the human friends the creatures must have slain. Medeus leapt out to confront the demon.

The demon yelped in surprise, “Medeus! What are you doing?”

Medeus was surprised that the demons had heard of him, but assumed they must have tortured the people of the base camp to learn information about the forces in the area. Medeus sank his knife deep into his foe. It felt so right. This was exactly the kind of foe the blade wished to slay. This was what it had been made for. Joy washed over Medeus. One demon was slain. It was a start.

As the ranger walked away the last life gurgled away from his foe. To unclouded eyes the corpse was that of a ranger. The human had died, his life taken by the new Hunter of Man.

12Jun/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0050

The voice had come from a horrifically scarred goblin. He had been burned at some point in his life and one of his hands had been replaced with a hook. The other hand held a walking stick for balance. There were a few sparse hairs here and there on the sections of skin that did not have burn scars. All of those hairs were quite white. This goblin had to be ancient. Enzi could not imagine that many goblinoids survived to old age, and especially not a goblin.

“Expecting us?” Enzi asked.

The goblin nodded, “It took a lot of work to clear your path. Now let us get somewhere private for a chat. You may be the solution to a serious problem.”

“What kind of problem?” Enzi queried.

“This war,” the elderly goblin answered.

“You are the leader that is looking to end this conflict then?”

“Yes,” the goblin replied, “Come and I will explain more where it is safe.”

Enzi and the Irregulars followed the wizened goblinoid. The goblin led them into a hidden cave as the irregulars kept their eyes out for danger. It was far too likely that this was a trap. However, the ancient goblin had a cozy set up with seats of all sizes and shapes for his odd guests. The amount of knowledge needed for such specific accommodations worried Enzi, but he was a naturally suspicious person after all he had been through in his life.

The goblin spoke, “I am called Ranum. Among my people I have long been known for my wisdom. You are Enzi's Irregulars. Tales of your actions have filtered through my spies to reach my ears. One traveled with the group chasing the human that fled. He witnessed your destruction of the goblinoids and reported on your movements to me. I had a path made for you to reach this place.”

“The Kurrot woman who fled talked of overhearing many interesting things,” Enzi stated.

Ranum nodded, “I did my best to allow her to escape with this knowledge. Too many knew of her actions for me to talk to her directly, but if I could start a dialogue with the right people, I knew that this foolish war could be ended.”

“I had never thought a goblinoid would seek peace,” Enzi replied.

“Then you know little of our culture,” Ranum said, “Peace is all we ever wanted. Instead we rot here in these swamps, slaughtered by the worst rulers this world has ever known.”

“Worst?” Enzi asked, “Surely that can not be true. The giants were terrible rulers that enslaved our people as well as yours. Even the time when goblinoids ruled the land was brutal.”

“You see things through the view of a human,” Ranum sighed, “Perhaps I can enlighten you. For even the giants were better rulers than you and more peaceful. Certainly the giants were harsh. They would indiscriminately slaughter some of our people and your people for food. Yet even that is better than the humans. Your people would have none of us survive. They would end our race if they could. You work with these creatures that are not human. They know it as well as you do. If given a chance, the humans would kill them all.”

Aldebaran, Eurysa, Kava, Mayitso, and Ritter shared awkward glances to each other. All had seen the bigotry of the humans. It was only the intercession of Enzi that had kept them all alive. Even the Halz had seen the hatred of the people outside of Nuvroc. The Nuvroci had long ties with Ritter's people. It was the only reason they respected him at all there. What the goblin had said rang true, a sad truth of human nature.

“It is hard to argue that,” Enzi said, “Though most humans would rather die than be slaves.”

“My people do not believe in slavery either,” Ranum replied.

“Tales told of a great many forced to do work by your people,” Enzi replied, “And we have seen the goblins driven before the larger goblinoids.”

“That is not slavery,” Ranum replied, “If those goblins and humans did not wish a low position, then they must fight for the right to have a better one. Anyone can become great in our society. It just requires work. Your people believe in elevating those by their birth. Hereditary leadership is foolish. Only the best should lead. Even then, your people can not agree. You fight among yourselves tooth and claw.”

“Did not your many clans war with each other?” Enzi asked.

“Indeed,” Ranum replied, “Even my people are not perfect. Entire clans fought with each other to prove which was strongest and best for leadership. This was a mistake. Like humans, the clan wars sought to elevate a group, and not the individuals. This infighting cost us our leadership of this world. The humans united against us. It was the unity that won the day. We learned much since that fateful day. Now clans are remembered as things of the past. Some are quite proud of the deeds of their clans, but few now fight over a difference in what clan they are descended from.”

“Yet now you are not united,” Enzi said.

“You see straight to the heart of the issue,” Ranum said with a sad tone, “A new group has formed. The pale humans came with an offer of great power. It swayed a great many of my people. It was a symbol to rally around. It was a weapon so devastating that my people saw the hope for a great success in the war to come. This view is short sighted. Their new weapon is powerful indeed and it could cause great harm to the humans. Yet we goblinoids have lived for generation without being seen as a great threat.”

“You believe this attack will cause such great harm that the humans will be forced to exterminate your people for their own safety,” Ritter stated.

Ranum nodded, “My people have little love for yours. You are hated nearly as much as we hate the humans. Yet we respect your strength and skill. Each person has their place, although who you are born to still holds great sway in your culture. Your minds hold great ingenuity. As a people of engineers, I had hoped you could see the simplicity of my problem.”

Ritter nodded, “If you become a threat that has to be ended rather than to be seen as a pest, then all your people could be slain.”

“Yes,” Ranum said, “But many of my people are too enthralled by the words of the pale humans. They claim the weapon can not be beaten. They promise a world where the pale humans and the goblinoids would rule side by side. An obvious upgrade from our current station. Yet I know better than this. These Tarvoni as they call themselves do not plan to share any power. They seek to use us as a weapon to weaken the other humans. Our destruction means nothing to them.”

“So what exactly is this weapon?” Kava asked, getting impatient with the conversation.

“An egg was brought to us a great many years ago. Now the creature has grown in power that it has been shown off to our people. It is a great winged lizard that spits a fluid that dissolves all it touches.”

“A dragon!” Enzi replied.

“Yes, that is the word the pale humans used.”

The greenish flesh of the vodyanoi noticeably paled, “This explains a great deal if it is true. The lizardfolk were moving to war because an egg had been stolen from them long ago. Only now did information come to them on who did it. They blame the Feergrus.”

Enzi nodded, “The Tarvoni planned this out long ago. They seek to bring war on all of their enemies, then sit back and watch. The goblinoids will strike against the north while the lizardfolk strike against the south. Luckily the Feergrus already know of the threat, but this is still bad news.”

Ranum looked to those gathered in the room, “This situation must be ended. My people are not yet prepared to rule this world again. More preparation is needed before we can succeed. We may disagree on many things but I know you have a vested stake in ending this conflict the same as I. I have access to a piece of information that will allow you to stop this plot before it can go too far. I know exactly when the dragon will be unleashed. I know where as well. With this information you can prepare for it and destroy it before it threatens the lives of my people.”

The date that the goblin gave was far off. It was to take place nearly two years after the war had started. A great many lives had already been lost and a great many more would people would fall. Yet the young dragon would be protected by the Tarvoni of the Abyss Cult and the most loyal of goblinoids to their cause until it was ready to strike out. It would take a serious military strike beyond anything Enzi could hope to gather to even get close. They would have to wait until the drake came out into the open. Only then would the nightmare end.

“Now you know,” Ranum stated, “I used what power I had to clear a path in, but I expect the way out will not be as easy. I am sorry I can not do more for your safety. I may not like humans or dwarves, but you are the last hope for my race. I know I can trust you.”

“You have given me some hope that someday there will be no more war. Although I do not currently see how the values of our cultures can ever exist together peacefully, perhaps things will change one day. Already our two peoples have changed. Perhaps when my people learn to live with each other in peace, we will finally be able to live in peace with other races as well,” Enzi said with a smile.

“Now that we both have hope, flee while you can,” Ranum said, “The forces will be returning soon. I will have to join them in seeking your destruction if you are spotted near here.”

“I understand,” Enzi replied, “While it would be nice to meet again in a friendly situation, I expect that will never happen. Fare well and let us hope we can save the world.”

Enzi and the Irregulars slipped out of the cave. It was well hidden. The inside had obviously been worked and dug out. Ritter wondered how many other goblinoid warrens were hidden within the hills near the Nuvro Range, high enough to be out of the wet of the marsh. There was little time for thinking, however. Eurysa's eyes spotted movement in the distance. For now the goblinoids were too far to recognize anything but movement. Enzi hoped they would not expect anyone this deep in their territory, although the attack by the Bladestorms likely heightened the awareness of the goblinoids.

It would not be long however, so the mercenaries pushed as hard as they could towards the base camp. As dusk came, they found a place to camp. They had not yet been discovered, but it was only a matter of time. They got what rest they could and pushed onwards in the morning. Mayitso was the first to notice it. A chance breeze brought a scent to his nose. The group was being followed. Oddly over the next several days of travel they were never attacked and the goblinoids were never directly seen. Only Mayitso's sharp nose and a few odd sounds gave away the pursuit.

“What are they waiting for?” Ritter asked, “The further we get from the goblinoid lands, the less their advantage will be. This does not make sense.”

“While I can think of a few strategic possibilities,” Enzi replied, “None of them make a lot of sense to me either. However, some of the goblinoid generals are incredibly good with tactics. We need to keep our eyes and ears open. Hopefully we can figure out what they are up to before they spring the trap.”

5Jun/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0049

Enzi's Irregulars trudged towards the southeast. Syrian had gone to make sure his mother would escape the swamp. Her wounds were serious but likely not life threatening as long as they did not get infected. Enzi and Ritter stayed towards the rear. The goblinoids would be more likely to attack a human or dwarf than any of the others. They had a chance of being cautious around a more monstrous creature.

The marsh had other dangers than the goblinoids. Tales told of the Siren Swamp say that explorers headed down the great rivers would disappear, tempted by songs by a feminine voice. This was the mythical siren herself, Tranumea. The Tranumea River was named after this legend, as well as the Singer River, the town of Tranum, Singer Lake, and of course the Siren Swamp itself. This tale was told by the sailor Juranem, one who escaped to tell of the siren's capture and slaughter of his fellow sailors. He had a river named after him as well.

Enzi had seen a lot of strange things in his time. He wondered if the siren of the legend had been real. It could just as easily been something else entirely. Yet Enzi knew that sometimes the myths were real. He had a gorgon, a minotaur, and a vodyanoi on his team to prove that. Even a lycanthrope like Mayitso was rarely seen outside of the Tarvo Forest. The Halz were quickly becoming more like legend as well as fewer left their homes beneath the Nuvro Range.

***

Medeus Tarim looked at the dagger he had taken from the Hunter of Man. He had a hard time imagining that a blade as encrusted in filth as it was could have killed so many men. Yet the edge was sharp. It was a far more dangerous weapon than it seemed. The ranger should have given the weapon over to the general as a sign of the defeat of the Beast that Takes Trophies. Yet he could not stand to part with it yet. He had so many questions. There was vegetation on the blade and its handle, part of the camouflage.

Yet this vegetation had turned black. It had an odd shine to it, a luster that was unexpected in a plant. The Nuvroci Ranger stared at the blade and its oddities for a while longer before he heard motion. Someone was moving through the base camp. Morning had come and it was time to begin the daily duties again. Medeus quickly hid the blade in his gear. As he made his patrol he would absentmindedly touch where he had placed it. He was distracted as he continued to ponder the blade's mysteries.

***

Syrian and Jaeris struggled through the swamp headed westwards towards Kurrot and hopefully more solid ground. Finally the found an island of firm soil in the midst of the marsh. Syrian used the water from the skin he wore to clean out his mother's wounds. He wrapped them up as best as possible. It looked like she would make it, but it was too late to continue on that night. She needed her rest.

“Was it worth it?” Syrian asked, “So many dead in that ambush.”

Jaeris smiled, “It was a gambit and we found more enemies than we could have imagined. They sent their best against us. The griffin riders were their most elite. Their skills were exquisite and the largest thorn in our side in that battle. Yet we nearly won. We crushed most of their forces. In the end there were only two left and things looked bad. I got the attention of the goblinoids and led them away. The few that remained would be no match for any of the Bladestorms I brought with me.”

“Yes, but that move nearly ended your own life. If you had not fled north and found us, I do not know what might have happened.”

The Master of Blades chuckled, “I had led them on a merry chase through the swamp. I nearly lost them several times and was able to eliminate a few here and there. Unfortunately I got a bit too cocky and was wounded in my last spar with them. After that they were hot on my heels until I ran into you and your friends.”

Jaeris settled down to rest while Syrian kept guard. He did not wake her during the night, letting her rest fully. When she awoke she gave him a dirty look, although it was obvious the rest had done her a lot of good.

“And now you will be the exhausted one, though I think it is time to part,” Jaeris said.

Syrian nodded, “You look healthy enough now and the rest of the way should be easier. I should return to the northern front. They need all the help they can get.”

“We will win this war,” Jaeris said, “No matter what weapon the goblinoids may have. They may triumph for a day, but we will win in the end. I hope your friends can blunt this attack. Such a victory may end this war early.”

“Good luck to you, I will see you when this is over.”

“Farewell my son. May the training I gave you keep you safe.”

“Goodbye mother, when next we meet I will call you naught but the Master of Blades once more.”

Jaeris smiled, “Someday that will no longer be true. Already I think I have inspired more women to come forward and challenge the old ways. It is but a small step, but I will take what little I can get for now. A full revolution might be needed to solve the inequality, but I hope it does not come to that.”

The two parted ways. As Syrian headed northeast, Jaeris continued westwards. As the days passed she finally felt the land beneath her feet change. She was nearly home.

***

Tuvaar Lat was a Kurrot. He had survived the Battle of Lake Hargis. He had seen Jaeris Hyn flee the scene of the combat chased by a dozen goblinoids. The Master of Blades had led them into the disastrous battle. The group had been the best Bladestorms in all of Kurrot, now only Tuvaar had escaped. He blamed the deaths on the leadership of a woman, a mere female who had chosen to flee and leave him behind. Yet Tuvaar had won against his foes, most had decided to chase Jaeris.

That seemed like Karma to the warrior. Yet he was sure she would find a way to survive them. She had been wounded and the chase would leave her tired, but she would find a way back to Kurrot to lead another disastrous attack on the goblinoids. Tuvaar believed it was time for such random attacks to end. He foresaw a Kurrot that was no longer chaotic. It was a land of order. He could see a mighty army under his command. He would grow the Bladestorms into a mighty force that would not be wasted on an impossible strike behind enemy lines.

There was only one obstacle left in his way. The old leader had to fall. It was tradition that the greatest warrior would lead the Bladestorms. Tuvaar set out to track down the Master of Blades. It was time to end her life and take his position as the new Master of Blades. She was wounded, tired, and a woman. Tuvaar thought all women were weak. He would make sure that women were relegated to positions he saw more fitting when he took control. The ascension of Jaeris to Master of Blades had empowered a great many women to strive for greater things. Tuvaar planned to undo all that and tell the world of the failure of a woman as leader.

He trudged through the Goblinoid Lands and into the Siren Swamp. Following the path of the Master of Blades was easy enough. The goblinoids had left quite a trail. Tuvaar tracked his prey day after day. He found the goblinoids that Jaeris had slain once in a while. He passed Enzi's Irregulars unknowingly one day, their paths missing each others by virtue that they mercenaries had decided not to follow Jaeris' path back to the goblinoids.

Tuvaar found where the female Kurrot had been seriously wounded and then entirely missed the slain goblinoid party as he followed the trail of her blood. As he followed the trail of the Master of Blades he marveled that the goblinoids did not seem to still be on her path. To his mind, Jaeris had finally lost her pursuers. Tuvaar did not notice that two people traveled together. He had little talent for tracking, but the two Kurrot had left enough of a trail between them that Tuvaar could follow them.

Soon he came to where Jaeris had her wounds cleansed and dressed. Tuvaar was worried that this meant that he would lose her trail. However he knew she had to be headed west towards Kurrot. He hurried through the Siren Swamp, worried that he had lost his advantage in speed now that she had tended to her wounds and was no longer being chased by goblinoids. That also meant that she might slow her pace if she felt safe, but Tuvaar took no chances. He could not be too far behind her, he put all of his stamina into continuing after her.

As the trees began to thin in the days ahead and the ground grew more firm, Tuvaar began to lose hope. Then finally as light shined through the trees he saw the silhouette of a human form. Whoever it was had stopped to bask in the sunlight. Its welcoming warmth would certainly be tempting to any who had traveled the marsh for too long. The vegetation grew thick and even Tuvaar had begun to despair because of it. The target had to be what he was looking for.

The Bladestorm crept forward and confirmed his target. Around him the birds sang and the day seemed brighter than any he had ever known. His future was now in his hands. He gripped his twin blades and drove them both into the back of the Master of Blades. As Jaeris stood enjoying the sunlight she felt the pain of the blades. She looked down to see the protruding metal as it erupted from her chest. She slumped to her knees and then saw the face of Tuvaar Lat, the man she had saved.

“Why?” she gurgled.

“You are unworthy,” Tuvaar replied, “I am the Master of Blades now.”

With a smooth motion Tuvaar wrenched the blades out of Jaeris and spun towards her. His swords cleanly severed her head. The woman collapsed into the slightly marshy ground. Tuvaar dragged her back into the swamp a short ways, dumping her corpse into a small watery depression. There he left her to rot. The scavengers of the marsh would find her body and destroy any evidence. Tuvaar was now the lone survivor of the Battle of Lake Hargis. He could make up any story he chose. He sheathed his blades, smiled, and strode out into the sunlight.

***

It was hard to tell where the Siren Swamp ended and the Goblinoid Lands begun. The goblinoids lived in such a dire place in great numbers, but Enzi knew that the more powerful would live in the hills by the mountains where the rockier ground left things drier. The problem would be getting there alive. The group slipped deeper and further into the Goblinoid Lands, finally finding fry land. They had seen many abandoned camps and homes along the way. Certainly more had been hidden in the thick vegetation.

Even with the thought that the goblinoids might be gathering their forces, it struck Enzi odd that they had seen no signs of their foe. The lack of resistance worried him greatly. As the vegetation began to grow less dense and the hills began to rise his suspicions grew. Each passing hour increased his apprehension. As another day passed by without incident, his anxiety had grown into a near frenzy. His senses on edge he nearly yelled out when he heard a voice speak out in rough Nuvro.

“Ah, finally you have arrived. I have been expecting you.”