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

31Jul/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0057

Several people worked to strap the young, well-built Ravaleian man into the iron contraption on the hilltop. The man seemed genuinely ready for whatever was coming. He had been told that he would be given great power and that his mind would be enhanced. For a man of below average intelligence in a land of scientists, this was extremely appealing. He had not been told that the mind would not be his own. If he had known, he would certainly have objected.

His lack of protest made Enzi wonder who the man was and exactly what the contraption was supposed to do. The light dimmed over the hill. The Feergrus man looked up. The bright moon Cill was drifting lazily eastwards across the sky much like Feras did in the day, granting light to the evening. However, the dark moon Carn moved westwards and was about to pass exactly in front of the other moon. These lunar eclipses were uncommon, the two moon did not line up exactly every night, but they were not unheard of.

It was possible that the moon eclipse was needed for whatever ritual they were performing. Enzi was not familiar with such procedures, but he assumed such power could not hurt. The greatest scientists of Ravalei stated that no known physical law allowed for the opposite orbits of the two moons. Magic drove the orbs that circled Doulairen. There was little doubt about that. The night grew silent as the people on the hill switched their machine on.

There was a low hum from the contraption. As the moons converged, the ghost grew more distinct. The reason for waiting on the convergence seemed to become clearer. The spirit floated over to the man bound in the contraption and waited. The Storm Queen took her position and began summoning her inner power. Her green eyes began to sparkle as energy swam through her. To any viewing her eyes, they would almost look like a tempest of electricity in a green sea.

In her hands was the magestone. It began to shine with a soft luminescent glow. The color of the glow matched the color of the glow of the Storm Queen's eyes. Enzi imagined it was some sort of sympathetic resonance. She had been practicing with it all day. Now it was attuned to her power. Everything seemed to have come together. Enzi felt that he should stop the ritual, but if he leapt in and it was something innocent or helpful, he would never forgive himself. It was too late to ask now. All he could do was wait, watch, and be prepared.

As Carn came into position in front of Cill, the hilltop was cloaked in darkness. Only the glow of the Storm Queen's power gave any light to the proceedings. It was then that she lit up the hilltop more than Enzi could have ever imagined. Electricity poured from the tiny Ravaleian girl. It struck the contraption and poured through it. The man inside screamed in pain and fear. Enzi sent Mayitso back to get the team as he leapt forward.

Whatever deed the Rava Coast Trading Company was up to, it was not worth the suffering and pain of anyone. The spirit had seemingly vanished. Enzi yelled out to halt the ritual but no one listened. A few of the Ravaleian mercenaries nearby rushed to stop the Feergrus man. One vanished under a mass iof fur. Mayitso had returned. His speed was incredible. The fight on the hilltop had begun.

A terrible voice spoke from inside the contraption, “You must stop them. I can feel it working.”

It did not come from the man bound there, he was still whimpering, screaming, and moaning as the lightning coursed through his body. It had to have been the spirit. It finally had the ability to communicate in the real world. Enzi had several horrible thoughts about what that might mean. He wondered if they meant to trade the bound man's life for the life of the spirit. Such dark magic was unthinkable. Enzi knew what evils the Ahk Separatists delved into. To Enzi, an unnaturally extended life was an act of selfishness. Even more so if it cost the lives of others.

The Irregulars entered the scene and Enzi yelled to them, “Stop the machine and save that poor man!”

The fight began as Eurysa's arrows found their mark on one of the mercenaries. He dropped his blade and grabbed his wounded arm. Ritter clammed into one of the Ravaleians with his shield. The guy hit the ground like a ton of bricks. They did not want to kill anyone unless they had to. Kava, on the other hand, was looking for an excuse to draw blood. Aldebaran had a singular goal. His mighty strength and blade was likely the only thing that could break the contraption.

The Minotaur charged across the battlefield as Mayitso and Kava carved a path for him. His massive blade struck the thing the Ravaleians had built. Iron rang against iron. Electricity sparked down the blade and blew the massive minotaur backwards. A cascade of energy erupted across the machine. The flow of energy tried to arc back to the Storm Queen but she interrupted the stream of lightning she was pumping into the machine. It prevented a backlash to the young mage.

However, the machine failed catastrophically. Cracks appeared in several places as it shuddered, the largest where Aldebaran had struck it. The whole thing vibrated as the electricity spewed out from it wildly. Then the contraption shattered into dozens of pieces. Anyone who was still on their feet were knocked down by a powerful shockwave. Some of the machine was on fire, smoke obscured much of what was going on.

A human voice rose from the smoke, “What have you done?”

As the smoke cleared the human who had been strapped to the machine stood there and he spoke in the same voice that had just been heard, “Wait, I did not get smarter, but what is happening to me?”

The man jerked suddenly and spoke again, “You have ruined my plans. There is something wrong.”

The man jerked again, “Why am I talking other stuff?”

After another of the odd twitches, “This is most interesting. I wonder.”

There is a pause and then the spirit exits the body of the young man. The young man shakes his head, then the spirit suddenly dives back into the body and the man shudders and twitches. Then after a few moments it stops. The man looks up with cold eyes full of cruel intelligence. The machine had not worked as intended. However, Dellin Garm could now possess living creatures. He erupted from the body of the young man and flew into the captain of the mercenaries.

The captain stood and spoke with a cold voice, “Kill the intruders. Slay the witch as well, it is obvious she has betrayed us to her friends.”

The spirit flew back to the young body and possessed it again, “Yes. This is much better than planned. I can possess any body I need. If one fails, I can move to the next. This will work out perfectly.”

The young man looked around, “I guess I said that out loud. This will take some time to get used to. Eliminate the enemy!”

The mercenaries moved to slay Enzi's Irregulars and the Storm Queen. The young Ravaleian mage was exhausted from her spell. The mercenaries for the Rava Coast Trading company were well trained and well equipped. Luckily, several were already wounded from the fight and the disastrous explosion. Kava practically slavered at the opportunity to fight. The vodyanoi leapt into battle, chopping at her foes legs as she danced around near the ground.

Aldebaran used his great strength and wide swing to keep several foes at bay. Ritter pummeled his foe with hammer and shield. Eurysa's arrow sought weak spots in armor and often found yielding flesh. Enzi subdued several foes as well. The young man saw the direction of battle and growled at the incompetence of his men. It was merely five monsters, an old man, and an exhausted mage. He was disappointed in the direction of the battle.

“I will make all of you pay for this!” Dellin yelled through his puppet body.

The ghost evacuated the body, leaving it to fight and die in the battle. Most of his witnesses would be dead and gone. Only the Storm Queen's survival would be able to reveal anything. Luckily, he had thought of this as well. Expecting her potential betrayal, he had his mages place several interesting spells on the magestone she used. It would keep her from being a threat until she could be properly dealt with. The ghost fled into the darkness, headed back to Calal.

***

The battle was over. The foes had fallen. Of the participants, only the Storm Queen remained. She sat on the ground, dazed and confused. She had dropped the magestone at some point and it had rolled away into the remains of the machine. She had a blank look on her face. What once had been thunder and lightning now seemed as if the storm had passed. Enzi shook her a little ans the young Ravaleian girl shook her head. Clearing her mind some, she looked up at the Feergrus man.

“Where am I? What happened?” she asked, “How did I get here?”

“What do you last remember?” Enzi asked.

“Some people from the Rava Coast Trading Company said they wanted to meet with me to discuss some business arrangement,” she replied, “Now here I am. I feel terrible. What did they do to me?”

“They had you use your power in some sort of ritual to put a ghost in someone's body,” Enzi stated, “Do you know who that was?”

“I don't remember anything like that,” she said, “I am not a big fan of their company. I can not imagine agreeing to help them without some serious coercion.”

“Well, with the loss of memory, I imagine they did something to magically help that,” Enzi said.

The Storm Queen scowled, “I will make them pay for this.”

“It seems they planned to kill you as well,” Enzi said, quickly coming to the conclusion, “The ghost probably got away. It can possess people now, It may find a way to strike at you.”

“It would take powerful magic to overwhelm my mind,” the Storm Queen said, “But they have the resources for that. They are another servant of order. Trying to control everything. That they would dare try to control me. This is something I can not allow to stand. We should get back to the base camp. There are more of their people there. I hate to think what they are trying to do there.”

Enzi was not sure that he could trust the young girl. She had certainly proven flighty in the past. However, he had certainly seen fire in her eyes at the betrayal of the Rava Coast Trading Company. He had no idea how much of what she had done was of her own free will and how much was magical compulsion. The group left the hilltop and headed back towards the southern front. The magestone lay forgotten in the rubble. The spells upon it had kept the Storm Queen from remembering the potent artifact.

The group traveled despite the late hour. Adrenaline kept them awake, though that was certain to wear off soon. When it did, Enzi hoped to be somewhere safe. All of them could use some rest. In order not to alarm the guards, the group finally made camp outside of the military encampment. They could more easily enter in the morning, when no one would mistake them for evil creatures prowling in the darkness. Enzi expected a few hours of sleep would be enough. Unfortunately, they were all awakened by a rather loud commotion in the nearby base camp.

24Jul/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0056

The Kurrot gurgled as the blade sank into his lung. The hand over his mouth kept any other sounds from escaping. Within a few seconds, the man was dead. His killer slipped away quietly and efficiently. The body was left to rot in a quiet corner of the base camp. It was not discovered for several hours. The uproar was immediately noticeable. The first suspect was Medeus Tarim. However, the ranger had been kept under watch by order of the general.

While Medeus was not happy to learn that he was under constant surveillance, he could understand the reason why. He also appreciated that it meant that there was a witness that knew that he had not murdered anyone. The wound was not small, it had to have been done with at least a short sword. A few grumbles rose up that it was Syrian Dow. Talk of the accusations of murder back in Kurrot rose through the ranks. General Cassius Tessium soon took Syrian aside along with Enzi.

“Several people are really starting to wonder if it is you, Syrian,” Cassius said, “Talk of your reason for being here is flying through the camp.”

“Yeah,” Syrian replied, “I am not sure where the talk of murder came from. I was too young to serve under the Master of Blades, so I came north where I could put my skill in combat to use.”

Enzi could not help but notice that Syrian had left out the small detail that the Master of Blades was his mother. That likely had more to do with his shift to the northern front than his age. From what Enzi knew, Syrian could not allow anyone to learn of their relation or it would jeopardize the Master of Blades' position. Fighting on a different front certainly helped with that. Enzi was worried about the persistence of the rumors, however. Such things had a way of spiraling out of control.

“So the important question is how do we deal with this?” Enzi asked.

“Well, we could put someone with Syrian at all times as a witness, like Medeus,” Cassius replied.

Syrian nodded, “I am not a big fan of being watched, but I'll do whatever is needed.”

Enzi sighed, “I agree that it is unpleasant. However, I see several benefits to this. It shows that we are doing something to deal with the problem. It keeps Syrian safe from the killer by having back up. Plus we have a chance of getting rid of those nasty rumors once and for all.”

“They will disappear if death comes again,” Cassius said, “Which I wish I could prevent. Our men will be on guard against attack, but without knowing where it might come from, anything is possible. Do we even know where the rumor started?”

“No idea,” Enzi said, “I will keep an eye on things as best I can with my resources. Hopefully nothing else causes trouble for a while.”

***

The base camp remained quiet for nearly three weeks. A few goblinoid scouts had been spotted, but none had survived long. The tension was finally broken when a supply wagon from Ravalei made its way down the trail to the military encampment. It was from the Rava Coast Trading Company. They had come with supplies for their people. There were a few grumbles about none of it going to anywhere else it might be needed. Enzi heard the merchants try to convince the people that they might be able to bring more wares if the base was under better management.

To the Feergrus man's ears, it was an obvious ploy to try to sway hearts and minds to having General Cassius Tessium replaced. A few rumors also spread that the Nuvroci general was too friendly to the murderous Kurrot. It was hinted that Ravaleian leadership would have been better at dealing with the trouble-makers of the area. This made Enzi suspicious. He knew the two Kurrot who had come to the base camp seemed to be fans of Syrian, so the rumors had to come from somewhere else. The play by the Rava Coast Trading Company for control of the encampment made the Feergrus man wonder if they were behind the smear tactics.

Then Enzi noticed one of the merchants chatting with the Storm Queen. The young girl immediately began packing up her gear. Enzi was not sure if he should get involved in her business, especially with a murderer on the loose. The Feergrus man slipped off quietly to inform the general of all of his suspicions. They might be wrong, but the general might have information Enzi did not. Any small clue might help prevent whatever action might come.

After hearing what Enzi said, the Nuvroci general nodded, “Do you think the plot is related?”

Enzi's eyes widened as he thought of the possibility, “I suppose it could be. I would not have thought of the Storm Queen doing anything organized, but I am sure she could be manipulated. Although I would hate to be the person that does that if she realizes what is going on.”

“I agree with that,” Cassius replied, “She can be quite frightening.”

“Perhaps we should follow then, if only to disrupt any plans the Rava Coast Trading Company has to cause problems in the area. I hate to leave while a murderer is on the loose.”

“Whoever it is has not struck for quite a while. If your disappearance draws him out, then we will have him. Plus we will be able to rule out you and your team.”

The logic was sound enough. Enzi just wished he could be in two places at once. He did not dare to split up his team. It was too dangerous in a human world. Such monsters would be an easy target for accusations. That did not even begin to delve into people thinking of reason to kill them so that they would feel safer. It was difficult for people to accept inhuman creatures as equals. They barely saw humans of different countries as anything other than foes.

Enzi's Irregulars readied themselves for a trip. They were prepared quickly. They were used to having to be on the move quickly. Following the Storm Queen on her trek northwards was easy. She was not skilled at hiding her tracks and did not even try such subterfuge. The Irregulars kept their distance so that they would not be spotted. The Storm Queen traveled alone. Her overconfidence would likely be the death of her some day. As they were traveling north, away form the Goblinoid Lands, she was in a much safer area. That did not make it safe.

Wild animals filled the Halcyon Wood. Goblinoids could have slipped past the perimeter. The northern front was still quite porous. There were always other possibilities as well. Desperate criminals could engage in banditry. Some other criminals might be wandering about and kill anyone who spotted them. Stranger things had happened. It paid to be careful in the wilderness. One never knew what they might run into.

The Storm Queen made her way towards the hillier region closer to the mountains. The height of the mountains forced the rain to pour on this side. It was what made the Goblinoid Lands so swampy. It also had made for rather interesting mountains. On the other side, the mountains were craggy. On this side they were much smoother, worn down by water and wind. It was said that only a giant could climb on the west side, as only they had the reach to use the rare handholds.

Enzi suspected it had a lot more to do with the strength of the giants. They could easily create their own handholds in the rock. Human ingenuity had shown how it could be done. Using spikes and ropes, one could ascend on the western side. There was little reason to do so, however, especially with the threat that a giant might approach and knock you off the mountain. The giants were dangerous enough on the ground. It was lucky that they rarely left their mountain homes.

Soon Enzi saw some sort of structure on top of one of the hills. Any trees nearby had been cleared. The Feergrus man could see activity there, although it was too far to know exactly what he was dealing with. He was certain that this had to be where the Storm Queen was headed. Enzi wondered what odd sort of contraption had been set up by the Rava Coast Trading Company. They had resources to spare, so any crazy thing might be possible.

The Irregulars slowed as they neared, keeping to the forest. Enzi planned to go ahead alone as he was the only one that could understand the Ravaleian language. However, he quickly changed his mind and took Mayitso with him. The stealthy and fast lycanthrope would act as a messenger in case of trouble. Then the wait began. Enzi crept as close as he dared while the sun still shone. He saw the Storm Queen approach several Ravaleians wearing the crest of the Rava Coast Trading Company.

“You have arrived,” one of them said in a slimy voice that Enzi recognized.

“You have what I want?” the Storm Queen asked.

“Our illustrious leader spared no expense,” the man replied, “He found one of your stones and acquired it. With its power, you will have all the more capability to fulfill your mission.”

“One of the twelve magestones,” the Storm Queen said dreamily, “I am surprised. They are highly coveted and often thought to be a myth. I need to see it and practice small spells with it so I can be prepared for your little ritual.”

“Agreed,” the man replied, “We want nothing to go wrong with our plans for tonight. Do not think of betraying us. We know of your reputation.”

The Storm Queen chuckled, “You would expend a great deal of resources to even begin to stop me. However, someone who can give me such gifts as a magestone is worth having as an ally. Perhaps I can think of some other nice gifts later that he can give me.”

Soon enough, dusk began to fall on the area. Whatever the ritual was, it obviously was being held at night. The activity in the area increased greatly. A powerfully built Ravaleian man now sat in the middle of the iron contraption that sat on the hilltop. The contraption was unlike anything Enzi had ever seen. He did not know who the man in the seat was, but no one paid him much attention so Enzi assumed the Ravaleian in the chair was unimportant. The Storm Queen took a hold of a large stone, likely weighing at least one pound. She began to fire off some small spells designed not to drain her stamina while she waited.

As the darkness of night covered the hilltop, a new figure appeared out of a wagon. His form was humanoid, if barely. He was an apparition. Enzi had heard of spirits, but they were rare. Some were horrors beyond reckoning. Some were merely souls trapped and unable to move on. This ghost was nearly transparent, but it appeared to be an elderly Ravaleian man. Most of the Ravaleians showed the undead man great respect. The Storm Queen looked up from her practice with her new toy.

The dirt swirled at the feet of the mage. The apparition had created a message. Enzi could not see what it might say. He had to guess based on the actions and responses of the Storm Queen.

“Quite pleased,” the young Ravaleian girl said to the ghost, “You must be the actual power here, although your ties to this world seem thin.”

The dust swirled again and the mage nodded, “A stronger tie would mean you might even be able to speak. I can see why you picked this time. The magic is strong tonight. I imagine most can barely even notice you, especially in the light of day.”

The dirt moved for quite some time and finally the Storm Queen spoke one last time, “That is an interesting procedure. I can not wait to see if it works. This sounds fun. Shall we begin?”

17Jul/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0055

The flood of reinforcements was amazing in its scope. The reinforcements were gladly welcomed as they were much needed. A stone golem was the heavy muscle, along with six Ravaleians to support it and the two wood golems the camp had already. There were two dozen other Ravaleians, mostly wearing the livery of the Rava Coast Trading Company. Likely they were mercenaries that worked for the company and now came to aid the war. A dozen Nuvroci soldiers had also arrived, including two more Steel Warriors. Oddest of all were that a couple more Kurrot had joined with them.

Syrian had long been the sole Kurrot on the northern front. Now he had some competition. Neither one appeared to be a Bladestorm, but any aid was welcome against the goblinoids and their Tarvoni allies. Finding room for everyone and everything was difficult. Some felt odd putting new soldiers in the bunks of the dead so soon. The dead had been buried north of the base camp in an ever expanding graveyard. They were shallow graves covered with rocks from the nearby hills. The small cairns were slightly creepy to find in the middle of the wilderness.

The graveyard was a needed place, however. The northerners did not use dead bodies like the Feergrus. A small horde of mindless undead would have been useful in the war, but the necromancers were all in high demand down in Feergrus. Their skills kept them busy. People like Devis Lane made sure that the rewards were profitable enough that few necromancers left. Only those who grated at the rules against making intelligent undead ever left. The Ahk separatists had shown why making undead that retained any of their sapience was a terrible idea. It did not help that other cultures found the undead distasteful.

Every culture had its differences. The distaste for magic among the Agonish was well known. The Magehunters were supposed to be there to protect against the few Tarvoni mages that worked against the kingdom of Agon. In reality, many hunted down anyone with magical talent and slaughtered them as prevention. Some held that to only the Tarvoni unless another threatened the safety of their country and its people. Beren Gendar seemed to be one of the better of the batch. Enzi wondered what kind of severe training it took to make such fearsome warriors and instill such fervor in so many.

Certainly it had caused a few problems with Ravalei. The war against magic had started due to a betrayal by the Tarvoni against Agon. The pale sorcerers had once been close advisers to the kingdom. They attempted a coup and had failed. Murders and vicious attacks had made them enemies that the kingdom of Agon would not soon forget. There was no war with Ravalei, despite distant ties to Casea, but the distrust of magic had grown where Ravaleians with the talent were sometimes targeted. This raised tensions between the two countries. Usually the Agonish Magehunters avoided Ravalei, although any Ravaleian mages in the Disputed Lands were targets.

***

Laughter filled the air that night. The reinforcements had brought food and supplies in abundance. A grand bonfire had been made and fresh meat was cooked up to celebrate. Stories and tales were passed around. Rumors of Beren had been floating around the other battlefronts. It seemed that the number of mage kills he had was the highest among the Magehunters in the war. Many were impressed as the wild tales were confirmed one by one by those who had seen him return with the severed heads of Tarvoni.

Enzi also caught a darker whisper flit through the crowd. There was a rumor that Syrian had come to the north to dodge the repercussions of being a criminal. That would not be unusual for a Kurrot to exile themselves as the laws of the land were murky at best. Revenge was often the name of the game there. Fleeing was the best idea to avoid whatever the offended party might do. Syrian was a strong warrior and would likely avoid being killed except by surprise. He seemed young to have done much and Enzi passed it off as naught but a rumor due to his skill and choice to head to the northern front.

The tales of his heroics had encouraged the other two Kurrot to come north. Enzi noticed both of them thought the rumors were bunk as well. The Kurrot were often thought of as untrustworthy. Rumors of why one appeared or what one might be up to were not uncommon. Even inside their country they looked upon each other with distrust. The Feergrus did not think much more on the matter. Such rumors would wash away after seeing Syrian in combat, or at the very least by association with him.

Soon the small celebration died down. Morale was in high spirits. Having an extra golem helped, especially as it was a stone golem. It certainly did not have the power of an iron golem, but it was more than enough to crush almost any foe. It was still only one fighter. It could not be everywhere at once and was no faster than a human despite being larger. That made it seem ponderous and slow. It also only followed the programmed orders of the people controlling them. The mechanics had to be very careful with the orders as the golem had no intelligence to interpret the orders other than literally.

The handlers for a golem were very important and had to have a firm grasp of logic. The ones dealing with these golems were not warriors. During the last attack by the goblinoids, most of the handlers had hidden in a corner until the battle was done. The more courageous ones had worked to keep the wood golems in one piece. A badly damaged golem could go against its programming, as the damage might actually affect how it worked. The blend of magic and technology was amazing, but it had its limits. The terrifying golem that had wounded Aldebaran in Ravalei was proof enough of that.

The military camp slept well that night. The next few days were active as everyone tried to decide how the living arrangements would work. It did not take long for many of the Ravaleians that wore the livery of the Rava Coast Trading Company to begin their work at trying to take over leadership of the base camp. They had little respect for General Cassius Tessium. It might have been Nuvroci territory, but the Ravaleians now solidly outnumbered the Nuvroci. It was only a matter of time before the two factions would have to come to terms. Enzi hoped that it would not be violent.

***

The apparatus was finally complete. It had taken weeks to put together such a precision instrument. It was much harder as it had to be done away from civilization. All that it required now were the three participants. One of them was already there. He was a dim-witted boy, but physically in perfect shape. This Ravaleian had been chosen specifically for his physical traits. The relative lack of intelligence was a bonus. The thing they planned to do to the boy could possibly destroy his mind.

The second of the two participants was on his way. His name was Dellin Garm. He was the leader of the Rava Coast Trading Company. He had founded it over one hundred years earlier and was not about to let anyone run his company except him. His only problem was that he was dead. He had been dead for nearly fifty years. His body had long since rotted and decayed. It was no more than dust. Yet he still remained. He had haunted those who tried to take over his company. He had used his limited power as a ghost to divert control to more malleable hands.

Now he had manipulated things so that he might once more inhabit a body. The young Ravaleian man that was lacking mentally was a perfect candidate by all measures. They just needed the third person for the ritual to be complete. They needed a vast amount of electricity. They needed more than what even a simple lightning bolt might supply. The Storm Queen, however, had specialized in raw electrical power. She could focus all of her magic into the machine they had built.

Then Dellin Garm could live again. If it worked, then he would be immortal. He could just replace his body as needed. With his experience and knowledge, none would be able to stand in his way. It was sad that several lives would have to be ended, but the knowledge of his transcendence had to be kept only with those he absolutely trusted. As a businessman, he trusted no one. He already had a plan for cleansing the area of those he wished dead.

The final preparations were being made for the ritual. A message had been sent to the Storm Queen. It was too bad she would have to die after the ritual was complete, but Dellin could work on finding some loyal henchmen to deal with the ritual the next time. Being a patron to the college in Calal would be helpful in that endeavor. He planned to make a rather large endowment for the study of the magical arts. He could groom various young people to be trustworthy. He already had a few people that were happy to work with a ghost. He would evaluate which were worthy to keep and which might try to blackmail him and needed to be eliminated.

His limitations as a ghost would finally be gone. He had been able to fling objects around a little as a poltergeist, and could even possess an item. Possession of various things had been His best way to communicate. Objects could not talk, but he could find ways to make them write or otherwise leave messages. Having a human body again that could speak would be a major boon. He would be able to unleash his full business acumen upon the world once more.

***

Devis Lane smiled. If anyone had seen this smile, it was likely they would have run from the room as a stark raving lunatic. This was not a friendly smile. This was the kind of smile a predator might have upon finding that the most delicious prey had trapped itself in an easy to reach spot. Devis Lane was by all accounts a predator. As a Rakshasa, he and his kin had set up the theocracy of Feergrus in their feline form. As shapeshifters, no one knew that they were dealing with an inhuman monster until it was too late.

Devis had learned a great deal about the government of Agon and its future. He had seen an opportunity. Better yet, he knew exactly how best to exploit the opportunity. The prince of the nation had been afflicted with an unusual mind. Most considered him mentally challenged at best, and useless at worst. The way people coddled him had only made it worse. The king was disappointed in the tutors for his son. Devis knew exactly what he could do.

There was a man in Feergrus who would be perfect for the job. He could be easily manipulated and was good with the child-like mentality that he would find in dealing with the prince. Devis could not remember the man's name off the top of his head, but that did not stop him from drafting a letter to Lord Glanar Dale. Devis would make several suggestions to the locals about the wisdom of the Feergrus while the letter made its way home. Soon the new tutor could make his way northwards and Devis would find a way to have this agent take over the duties of instructing the prince.

It meant a slight delay of Devis' plan to stop the lizardfolk invasion, but he could not pass up such a juicy opportunity. He foresaw this as a way to become a major player in the royal succession of the throne of the Kingdom of Agon. If Feergrus could gain any kind of control over the next king of Agon, it was worth the loss of a few soldiers to the war. All of Devis' greatest hopes were beginning to seem possible. He sought out the fastest messenger the Feergrus had at their temple in Agonor. He hoped that the message flew on the wind. The faster this matter was settled, the faster Devis could meet up with his old friend, Enzi Cala.

10Jul/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0054

Using summoned beasts to drive the defenders off the wall had been a brilliant move. As the spell wore off, the beasts had disappeared and cleared a nice clean path to the empty walls of the base camp. The griffin riders could easily throw their javelins down to keep the guards at bay. As a horde of goblinoids surged over the south wall, it was obvious that a lot of planning and preparation had been made for this assault. Enzi wondered if they had waited for Beren and Syrian to leave as well.

His time thinking was cut short as he dove into a fight for his very life. Enzi ducked to the side as a shining metal weapon was thrust at his gut. The Feergrus man was surprised to see how well the goblinoids were armed and armored for this battle. Most goblinoids were lucky to have armor at all and their weapons were often of inferior make. Such disadvantages had made the humans feel confidence in fighting the goblinoid horde. The people of the base camp, however, still had an advantage in arms and armor.

That was made especially clear as the two wood golems stomped into battle. The metal weapons of the goblinoids hacked and chipped at the mighty constructs. They left great scars on the golems but the magical monstrosities felt no pain and kept trying to fulfill their commands. Without fear, the wounded golems charged through the goblinoids, smashing them with hefty fists. A great many of the foes were pummeled. Javelins rained down from above, but they were of little consequence to the clockwork machines. They blend of science and magic had made them extremely hardy.

Eurysa worked to deal with the aerial threat. Several rangers might have aided her if they were not busy with the threat on the ground. The gorgon did not aim for the mounts. They were far tougher than the hobgoblins that rode them. Without riders to guide them, the griffins were just beasts. They would flee a battle like this and look for easier prey. Hitting a rider on top of a griffin while on the ground was extremely difficult. Eurysa finally landed a shot, although a hail of javelins began to fly in her direction after that. She took cover as best she could while trying to shoot down another hobgoblin.

Ritter, Aldebaran, Kava, and Mayitso were in their element. Those four inhuman mercenaries were in the thick of the melee. The vodyanoi was enjoying the fight. She always felt good in a battle where she could let loose and really draw blood. She felt better if she could do it a lot. The sheer number of goblinoids meant that Kava had gotten her fondest desire. The others were merely slogging through their foes, hoping for a victory. Ritter had little love for goblinoids. The Halz often had to deal with incursions of the monsters underground.

Enzi had not seen any display of magical power from the Storm Queen. He was not sure if that was good or bad. The teenage girl was powerful, but had several issues. She could certainly bring down the griffin riders without hurting anyone. The aerial foes had Eurysa pinned down. Enzi moved to make sure that the goblinoids moving towards her position could not engage her. Mayitso quickly jumped in to help. That was when one of the hobgoblins fell from the sky.

An arrow had felled him, but it had not come from Eurysa. As yet another hobgoblin fell, Enzi tracked the arrow's flight back to its source. He saw a very different teenage girl this time. It was the young woman who had been a ranger's apprentice. It was Lunaris Justis, and she had finally learned how to use her bow. Her archery skills had greatly improved since Enzi had last seen her. It was obvious that a lot of practice had gone into her improvement. Enzi heard the hobgoblin leadership call out.

Ritter snorted, “They are calling for a retreat. Let us hurt them as much as possible on the way out. That way they will not want to ever return!”

“Now you're speaking my language!” Kava replied with a fierce grin on her overly wide mouth.

Many of the goblinoids trying to get over the wall were cut down. Many of those who did make it over wished they had not. As the Irregulars gave chase, they saw why the retreat had been called. Standing to the south were Beren Gendar and Syrian Dow, along with their forces. At Beren's side were the severed heads of three Tarvoni. Enzi imagined that those were the sorcerers responsible for the catoblepas stampede. Not many goblinoids made it to the safety of the trees, and only two griffin riders escaped.

A great many cheers rose in the base camp. They had won. However, the cheers died as it came to worst time of combat. It was time to clean up the bodies. It was bad enough to have to haul out rotting and festering goblinoids corpses and have them burned, but you also had to deal with those who had fallen. Each person that had died that day was a friend and ally. Enzi wondered what had happened to the Storm Queen. She was not his favorite person, but she was young and still had the chance to learn and amend her path. Lunaris had proved that a person could change and become better.

After thinking that, Enzi heard a snoring noise. It was Lunaris. She was leaning against one of the walls, dead asleep. He supposed she deserved it. It showed she was still the same person, if stronger than she was. Enzi hoped she would continue to persevere, to learn from her mistakes, and keep becoming a better person. Searching for the Storm Queen, however, was less fruitful. There was no sign of her anywhere in the base camp. That fact worried Enzi greatly. He quickly called on Mayitso to try to sniff her whereabouts out.

Trying to find the Storm Queen's scent among the smells of blood and death had to be terribly difficult. The lycanthrope circled the area until he found a trail. It lead northwest, away from the base camp. The Storm Queen was extremely independent and did not follow directions well and especially hated taking orders. It did not surprise Enzi that she would wander off to do her own thing. No matter how powerful she was, going alone was still extremely dangerous. Even the most powerful person could be caught in a surprise ambush.

The group continued onwards, looking for answers. Mayitso was in the lead, sniffing out the trail. Suddenly he stopped and his fur bristled. The stealthier members of the party moved forward. Of those few, only Enzi could understand what was being said. The people were speaking in Rava. The Feergrus man recognized one of the voices as the Storm Queen. She had not come out this way with someone, she must have come to meet up with these people. Enzi's curiosity was piqued.

“If you think offers of money will sway me, then you know little of me,” the Storm Queen stated coldly.

“Coin is but a means to an end. With enough, you can have access to anything,” a slimy male voice replied.

“Then if your master has so much coin and power, perhaps he can arrange something more worthy of me than mere monetary bribes,” the young Ravaleian girl responded sharply.

“If you are capable of providing the magical power that he needs, then I am sure he would find a way to reward you with whatever it is you actually want. All we need is your power and your silence.”

“I am surprised you did not go after someone more local,” the Storm Queen said with pretend innocence.

“There are several who might have the power we need,” the slimy voice replied, “But only a few that are willing to do something that can never be spoken of again.”

“Then we will see if your brave leader is really willing to do as he says,” the Storm Queen replied, “With his power, he needs to grant me a magestone.”

“I... I do not even know what that is,” the slimy voice said.

“Then you had best learn and see what your ally says to that. Then we can perform whatever odd little ritual he wants and I can pump whatever it is he needs full of magic. It will be even more powerful with access to a magestone. He may see that as all the more reason to track one down and acquire it.”

“I will see what he says,” the slimy male voice stated, “But you had best be as good as they say you are. Not only that, your ability to keep secrets must be perfect!”

“Why would I care about your august leader's predilections?” the Storm Queen asked, “All I care about is me. You make me happy, you can have the world. Anger me, and I will show you my wrath.”

“Then we will meet again soon,” the slimy voice said, “Be prepared. Our leader will come. The site is almost complete.”

“I will be there. You had best have all that I want.”

Enzi heard the noise of several people moving away. The sound of chain armor could clearly be heard. The Storm Queen then moved to return to the base camp. There was a brief panic. Enzi wondered what would happen when she discovered she had been followed. However, the Irregulars had moved out of the path while Enzi had listened. The Ravaleian girl paid absolutely no attention to the fresh tracks and did not even look around her for danger. She passed Enzi and the Irregulars without spotting them.

It would not have taken much for her to have seen them. Just a turn of the head or the use of a spell to detect life. Her nonchalant attitude was worrisome. It was especially worrisome considering that whoever she had talked to did not sound like the most noble of folk. Such meetings usually required more caution. The Storm Queen wandered back to the base camp and looked rather shocked as she saw it. Smoke started to billow upwards as the bodies of the goblinoids were burned. She did not rush back, she was instead disappointed that she had missed the carnage.

In the confusion of soldiers rushing about, Enzi's Irregulars easily melted into the crowd as they returned. Enzi was not sure what to do about the Ravaleian sorceress or even if anything needed to be done at all. It was her business. The problem was the possibility that it could negatively affect the war or the people of the area. The Feergrus man decided that the best course of action was to inform General Cassius Tessium. Perhaps he would have a better idea, or at least be prepared for whatever may come.

The Nuvroci general had little to say about the matter. He was as clueless as Enzi, but appreciated the heads up. More reinforcements were on the way, so things were going to get crazier than they already were. The losses from the recent attack would be filled, along with more warriors. The general was worried about how much control he could wield over growing assembly of motley soldiers. This would hold especially true if the incoming reinforcements were mostly Ravaleian. It would be a true test of his leadership.

Having turned back a major assault, however, hopefully gave the base camp plenty of time for repairs and to reorganize. The golem mechanics were already busy patching up the two wood golems. Instead of repairing the south walls, the damaged portions were being torn down. The new camp expansion would be to the south. The haphazard expansion of the base left a few nooks and crannies here and there. Sometimes it left a wall with extra protection as well.

3Jul/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0053

Prying the knife from the hands of the afflicted ranger was difficult. Breaking it was far less so. The knife was of high quality, but it was still just a normal knife. Enzi looked toward the Storm Queen as she studied the ranger and the broken knife.

“Probably safer if it is melted down or something,” the young girl said.

“Wish we had a forge at camp for that,” Enzi said, “Do you think magic can do the job?”

“Fire is not my specialty,” the fifteen year old Ravaleian replied, “But I believe with a little work, we can create a flame capable of melting steel.”

Soon the group had dug out a small pit and layered it with rocks to hold the heat. They placed the broken blade parts on the rocks and covered it up. Kava soon returned from the base camp with some lamp oil. They poured that on the bed of rocks and it soon filtered into the holes. Enzi piled some sticks on the stones and lit a fire. After the stones were warmed by the flames and the burning oil, the Storm Queen summoned all her magical energy.

An immense fireball erupted within and around the bed of rocks. Then not long after that, the Ravaleian blasted the area with a spell that produced severe cold. With the stones cooled, they were pried apart. The heat had warped the blade, but not melted it. Luckily, the cold had made it brittle. The hilt had been wood covered by the black slimy corrupted plant matter. It had been completely destroyed. A few times smashing the brittle blade with a hammer left naught but dust.

They left Medeus in the hands of the medics of the base camp, telling them that he had been afflicted by a terrible curse and would need help to recover. It was close enough to the truth. No one spoke of the deeds that had been done, but Enzi did make sure that the base camp knew that the enemy that had been hunting down people had been dealt with permanently. That was slightly more true than the tale about the curse. According to the Storm Queen, Medeus would recover eventually.

***

The northern front had been surprisingly quiet for nearly a month. The Agonish Magehunter Beren Gendar and the Kurrot Bladestorm Syrian Dow often led strike teams of soldiers southwards to hit the goblinoids and deal with the Tarvoni threat. Beren had already come back with the heads of three Tarvoni magi. Supplies and reinforcements had been pouring into the base. Several people were working to hastily expand the base camp's walls. The golems were doing most of the heavy lifting.

Steady communication had finally begun. The three fronts had been secured enough that messengers usually got through. The information they had could be nearly current, but was often dated. When the message stated that the Master of Blades had not yet returned from the Battle of Hargis, but one of her team had survived, no one thought twice. Syrian gave his own words for the messenger to take back. He told the fleet footed Kurrot messenger that he had seen the Master of Blades and had escorted her safely through the worst of the swamp. The messenger looked relieved at the news. He took what other news the base camp had and headed out.

Things were going well in the war. The goblinoids had not advanced beyond the line. There had only be a few skirmishes. Most of the battle were strikes deep behind enemy lines by people like Beren Gendar. Tales of the daring adventures of the northern front had begun to bring many would-be heroes to the area. Most did not survive their first foray into the Goblinoid Lands. Ravaleians had become the most populous of the warriors in the camp, barely outnumbering the Nuvroci.

Several of the Ravaleians did not appreciate being under the command of a Nuvroci general. They accepted it for the moment, especially as they were in Nuvroci territory, but Enzi saw it as a possible problem down the road. The Agonish were the majority of soldiers at the southern front, which was in Agonish territory. The Kurrot were the majority at the western front, which was in their territory. The Nuvroci, however, had split their forces. Some were at the northern front, but a larger percentage had gone to the southern front. That meant that the more resources the Ravaleians put into the war, the more the northern front would be dominated by them.

Enzi had his hands full with the retraining of Mayitso. Learning to fight with one eye had been a chore at first. The lycanthrope was getting better, but more practice would make perfect. The lull in goblinoid attacks had allowed Enzi's Irregulars to get back into fighting shape. They had all taken a few wounds along the way, but now they were healed up and ready for a real fight. Enzi watched as Beren and Syrian headed off for another trip into enemy territory. He thought about having his team follow them, but he was not ready to commit the team to that severe of a fight yet.

Mayitso was lucky that his sense of smell and hearing were keener than his sense of sight. It made losing an eye slightly more bearable. It still left him with a nasty blind spot on his left side, but he had quickly learned to compensate. The different fighting styles of the other Irregulars helped the lycanthrope to see what worked best for different situations. It also gave the team some much needed sparring practice and new ideas for teamwork. It was soon to be greatly needed.

***

The messenger rushed up to Tuvaar Lat with a big grin. Tuvaar had taken over command of the western front with the loss of Jaeris Hyn. Tuvaar wondered what news could have the messenger so happy. He quickly took the scout into his tent to learn what all news he brought. Most of it was on a scroll, but the messenger practically exploded with news about Jaeris Hyn being seen alive and well. Tuvaar was shocked. He wondered if it was possible she had run into someone before he had slain her. He figured it had to be impossible, but it was worth checking out.

“Tell me more of the sighting of the Master of Blades,” Tuvaar said, “Who saw her? Where and when?”

“It was Syrian Dow that told me,” the messenger said, “He saw her not long after the battle, having escaped it. Is that not great news?”

“It is indeed,” Tuvaar lied calmly, “Who else knows of this?”

“No one yet,” the messenger said, “I had to bring the scroll to you from the general.”

Tuvaar's blade flew from his scabbard with a swift, deadly, and silent draw. The messenger fell dead on the floor. The treacherous Kurrot cleaned his blade and sheathed it again. His tent was well away from the main encampment. Tuvaar led from behind, as a tactical and thinking general. It also gave him privacy. He took the time to clean up the body, and then began his preparations. He needed to turn Syrian Dow into an enemy of the state.

He would begin to spread rumors immediately. He had a few people that were good for that job. After the credibility of his foe was destroyed, then he could announce the official death of the old Master of Blades. He had hoped to do that soon, but now he needed to make sure that any rumors of her being alive came from an untrusted source. He wondered what angle this Syrian Dow had for claiming Jaeris was alive. Tuvaar had followed her trail. No one had seen her. They would have rescued her from that marsh if they had.

Even if Syrian was telling the truth somehow, Tuvaar knew that he had to learn who else he had told. He would send some spies to the northern front. They could help with the rumors as well. Tuvaar would become the Master of Blades. He would let no one get in his way. He was too close to his goal to let it slip through his fingers now. People already saw him as a hero of the Battle of Lake Hargis. The only thing that Tuvaar had heard of Syrian was that he was doing well in slaughtering goblinoids in the north. It had earned him some acclaim, but Tuvaar's new smear campaign would soon change that.

***

Mayitso sniffed the air and growled. Most of the base camp ignored the growl of the immense wolf, but the rest of the Irregulars immediately grabbed their gear. Eurysa slithered to the wall of the base camp and peered out one of the arrow slits. Aldebaran and Kava had their weapons ready and had climbed the walls to get a better view. Ritter was trying to don his armor as quickly as he could. As dusk had come, Enzi had worked on settling down for the night. He groaned as he saw the Irregulars preparing for war. He was feeling his age that night. He forced himself out of bed. He needed to get the rest of the base camp ready to defend themselves.

However, his instincts kicked in as he saw odd shadows in the dying light of Feras. He ducked under cover as a hail of javelins landed within the camp. The screams of the wounded awoke the camp faster than Enzi ever could. Eurysa was firing arrows almost in a panic. There was a loud crunch as several heavy things hit the wall of the camp. There was a terrible grunting noise, then a plume of gas exploded under and over the wall. The Irregulars at the wall jumped back and down away from the odd fumes. Kava rushed over to Enzi with a foul look in her giant orange eyes.

“Somehow they gathered up a huge number of catoblepas and herded them into the wall,” the vodyanoi said.

“Catoblepas?” the dark skinned man asked in surprise.

“Yeah, see them in the Marsh of Vashim all the time. Big, huge, dopey things. You would think they are an easy target, but they burp out poison gas. They also taste terrible. I would rather munch on gelatinous eels.”

Enzi made a face at the mention of the eels. The slimy things resided in the northern swamp as well. They were actually some kind of worm, crystal clear and slithering. They were not violent, but they could feed a person easily enough. Their taste, however, was incredibly foul. Anything that had a worse flavor than that made Enzi want to retch. Enzi knew what a catoblepas was, his surprise was that they were this far north. Obviously the Tarvoni summoners were behind their sudden appearance.

The catoblepas were a lumbering beast, with short, stubby legs. Their neck was long and they had a large head. Enzi had heard jokes that it was a blend of two extinct animals, the hippopotamus and the camel. The head did resemble a hippo, as did the short, stumpy legs. The body resembled a camel, with light, tawny fur and an extended neck. It had a tail like a camel as well, except much larger. The beasts had damaged the south wall and the gas had driven the defenders back.

It was suddenly quiet. The gas dissipated, followed by a tremendous sound as a massive horde of goblinoids poured over the walls. A few hobgoblins zipped by overhead, mounted on griffins. Enzi suddenly wished that Beren Gendar, Syrian Dow, and the few men which went south with them were back at the camp. This was a major assault and even Enzi's Irregulars could not hope to stave off the attack by themselves. Luckily they had a slew of warriors from Nuvroc and Ravalei, as well as General Cassius Tessium and a pair of wooden clockwork golems. Less luckily, they also had the Storm Queen.