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

28Aug/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0061

Kava rolled easily beneath the mighty blade, “Is that all you got?'

Aldebaran grumbled. The minotaur's spars with the much smaller vodyanoi had grown to the point where the two had trouble winning a battle. Kava was too fast to hit. The minotaur had learned how to avoid the smaller and more nimble foe. They had reached a point where neither could learn more from the other until they figured out a new trick.

“I do not see you making a strike,” the minotaur finally growled.

Kava snorted, “We could play for real. Pulling blows makes this harder for both of us.”

“You just want to see blood.”

“No, no no. I want to see other people's blood,” the vodyanoi croaked, “I've seen enough of my own. I want the new and different experiences.”

The two continued to spar as a giant wolf padded by. It was the lycanthrope Mayitso. The jagged scar on the left side of his head showed where the mighty creature had lost an eye. The fur would never entirely heal there, it was a mark he would carry for the rest of his life. He had learned to compensate for its loss, although it was a permanent blow to his senses. He had to rely on his other senses much more. Luckily, his sense of smell and hearing were exceptionally sharp.

He sniffed the air. Nothing caught his attention. He trotted over towards Eurysa. The gorgon had curled her tail around a barrel. She was using it as a seat while she was making sure her bow and arrows were in good condition. Mayitso curled up beside her, keeping his ears listening for danger. Eurysa looked down at the lycanthrope and sighed.

“One more day of rest,” Eurysa hissed, “This quiet can not last forever. I can feel the tension growing. I know you do as well. You prowl more often now.”

Mayitso let out as soft whine.

“Yes, I think even the patience of Enzi and Ritter are being tested,” Eurysa said as her green eyes glistened, “I know that staying sedentary is getting to me.”

Her eyes narrowed with vertical pupils like a serpent. She moved with a flash and launched an arrow. She had struck the target dummy exactly where she had wanted. The dwarf that sat not far away did not even notice. He was busy with his own equipment maintenance. Ritter's equipment had taken quite a beating since he left his home in the mountains. He was no blacksmith, but he did what he could. The Halz had made his equipment well, all he needed to do was take care of it.

Finished with needed repairs, Ritter began to put his armor on. While he did, Enzi stepped out of a nearby tent. The Feergrus man had been chatting with the general again. Enzi looked to be in a good mood. The quiet appealed to him, although he knew it could not last. Enzi began to make his rounds to chat with his Irregulars. He started with the one that was physically closest to him, the dwarf named Ritter.

“Anything to report?” Enzi asked.

“Not much,” the Halz replied, “We have had a few cases of sponge foot.”

“It is the damp atmosphere. Most Nuvroci are used to a drier clime. They should change out their footwear more often and try to keep their feet dry.”

Ritter nodded and headed off to talk to the Nuvroci. They had a great deal of trust in the Halz. Tales of the dwarves and their engineering skills were rife throughout Nuvroc. Occasionally one of the Halz would come down from the mountain and into the human lands. Even so, it was rare for anyone to have met a dwarf, even in Nuvroc. His presence with the Irregulars had greatly helped the mercenaries. The Nuvroci were much friendlier to the monsters of the team than most thanks to their trust in the Halz.

Enzi stroke up to Eurysa and Mayitso, “Scouts have noticed odd things in the swamp. I think the wait may be over. It is hard to say what is coming. Be prepared.”

“I am always prepared,” Eurysa hissed, the snakes on her head moving about.

Mayitso made no noise, but his ears swiveled to listen to the sounds of the forest. For the moment there was little more than the chatter of the birds and the rustling of the leaves. The expectation of coming violence had at first increased tensions inside the encampment. Now that there was news of the scouts sighting signs of the enemy, the mood had lightened. It was no longer a mystery as to when the goblinoids would attack. The scouts would warn the base camp, then the battle would happen.

When things became clear like that, things felt more predictable and under control. It was all an illusion, but it did not matter if it aided morale. Morale itself was nothing more than an illusion. People's emotions were important in war. The Feergrus knew this well, their religion was well trained on feelings. Enzi had learned a lot about the psychology of war in the temples of Chasar. A soldier with hope and drive fought much harder than one who was disillusioned.

Aldebaran and Kava had both taken a seat to rest after their spar. Enzi was impressed with how well Kava had adapted to the loss of her right arm. The prosthetic she wore was quite simple and deadly at the same time. It allowed her to continue using that arm in combat. It was not useful for much more than that, however. Still, it was difficult to disarm her now, as that prosthetic axe was strapped onto the stump of her arm. Kava poured water over her head as she sat.

Kava was amphibious. It also meant she needed more water than most to survive. She kept herself moist as much as possible. The nearby Siren Swamp was similar to her own home far to the south. The vodyanoi hailed from the Marsh of Vashim. That swamp should have been much cooler, as it was so far south. Volcanic activity heated Vashim. This filled the Marsh of Vashim with several unusual dangers, like the fumaroles that spewed heated gasses. The smell of sulfur was often thick in the air. It was an unpleasant place for outsiders.

“Rest up you two,” Enzi said, “I suspect the coming fight will be a large one.”

“Excellent,” Kava croaked, “I have not gotten to kill nearly enough things lately.”

Aldebaran snorted at the smaller creature's blood-lust. He had enough trouble handling his own rage. His life had been a hard one, though no worse that the other monsters of the Irregulars. He had led a life of destruction and now sought to lead a life where he was helpful. His indiscriminate rage against any and all humans had caused trouble in the lives of many innocents. He might not admit it out loud, but the opportunity to vent his anger on some goblinoids was very appealing.

The Nuvroci scouts returned that evening with little new information. Animal patterns suggested that trouble was coming from the Goblinoids Lands. It was impossible to know how soon until the enemy force itself was spotted. The human encampment was prepared for battle. The only known resource they were missing was Beren Gendar. The Magehunter from Agon was on the hunt for the Tarvoni that had allied themselves with the goblinoids.

The dusk settled in around the camp as the light from Feras was hidden by the mountains to the east. Sticking close to the west side of the Nuvro Range meant that darkness came early. This was of great advantage to the goblinoids. Their eyesight in the dark was far greater than any human. The goblinoids had enormous eyes, but also had no nose. They breathed through their mouths and had a limited sense of smell. Considering the foul places they lived, this was also of great advantage to them.

As darkness crept across the land, a massive force of orcs began their charge northwards once again. They had no illusion of stealth. They knew the humans would expect them. It did not matter to them. They were strong in number. They planned to swarm the human encampment. They made their way through the Halcyon Wood. The dry ground was a relief to them, helping their speed. They may have lived long near the swamps, but the orcs were no faster in marshy ground than a human.

The burly goblinoids saw the lights of the human encampment with three hours to spare before dawn. The base camp that the humans had built was too large and active to hide from prying eyes. It might have once survived with camouflage, but it never would again. The orcs planned to make sure that naught would be left of it but debris. The humans had cleared part of the forest to make sure no one could make their way to the encampment by stealth. The orc horde stopped near the edge to rest and prepare for the battle.

The morning would come soon enough, but the orcs wanted to recover their stamina before they attacked. A short rest would be more than enough for them to catch their breath. It did not take long for the excitement to build. The orcs planned to crush the humans in the north once and for all. Most of the orcs would die, but they would ensure the survival of their race in the future. Plus they would get to kill humans. These were the thoughts that motivated the orcs. Survival and revenge were powerful motivators indeed.

The orcs put one foot in front of another. Then they did it again. Faster and faster. The charge had begun. As the humans spotted them the orcs screamed out. Their bloodcurdling roars were sure to wake any that the warnings of the human guards did not. It did not matter to the orcs. They came like an unrelenting wave to crash upon the walls of the base camp. Arrows and bolts flew as the Nuvroci rangers manned the walls. The young Lunaris stood on the walls.

The teen girl took a deep breath. She loosed her arrow. An orc fell. She nocked the next projectile. Her form with the bow had been sharpened with time and experience. Each arrow seemed to find its mark. It was not enough. There were too many orcs. Each orc was a mass of muscle. Some had a few rare patches of mangy fur, but they were mostly hairless. They surged up over the walls. Lunaris thought it was over as an orc vaulted over the edge of the wall towards her.

Time seemed to slow for her. There was nowhere to go, she merely unleashed her last arrow at her foe. It pierced the bare chest of the orc. He was dead, but that did not stop his momentum. He collided with Lunaris and the two fell from the wall to the inside of the encampment. The ground rushed up to meet the teen girl. The weight of the orc on top of her did not help her to absorb the impact. As her head struck the ground, all she knew was darkness.

Dead rangers fell beside her and the vicious weapons of the orcs cut down the defenders on the walls. A line of Nuvroci soldiers rushed to the battle. The Storm Brigade was impressive. They quickly asserted control of the battle. Nuvroc's thirty-seventh legion was trained for war. The orcs had energy for the beginning of the surge, but as time passed they quickly tired. The long run to the north had taken its toll. As the adrenaline wore off, the Nuvroci made gains.

These orcs were undisciplined warriors. Their savagery had given them initiative in the battle, but their gains were slowly being taken back. The archers had fallen back behind the infantry. The arrows cut deep into the back ranks of the orcs. Six thousand stalwart men of Nuvroc stood against nearly twenty thousand orcs that night just before dawn. One third of the Storm Brigade did not live to see the rising of the sun. The orcs, however, had been crushed.

General Cassius Tessium surveyed the scene as dawn's light illuminated the camp, “How did our scouts miss this many orcs?”

21Aug/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0060

One of the Ravaleian mercenaries smiled at the cornered prey, “Charge!”

He jerked forward oddly, his head tilting at an odd angle. Enzi quickly saw why. The head of an arrow pierced out the front of the man's throat. He fell to the ground as a hail of arrows fell upon the Ravaleians. Reinforcements had arrived. The Nuvroci rangers had returned, including Lunaris Justis.

“It will take more than a few archers to stop us,” a Ravaleian soldier growled.

The front gate was open. Syrian Dow had escaped through there earlier. Now coming through the gate were several Nuvroci soldiers in heavy armor. The metal was a dark green that was nearly black. Ritter recognized the metal immediately. It was Halzium. These were not just any soldiers. These were elite troops. A silver lightning bolt was emblazoned on their shields and tabards. They had weapons crafted from Halzium.

The troops charged into battle. Enzi's Irregulars and General Cassius' beleaguered troops rallied with the new aid. The stone golem turned to face the new foes. The Halzium weapons cut through the golems like a hot knife through butter. It was obvious that whatever magical toughness the constructs had was no use against the rare metal. The three golems were little more than scrap after the first minute of the battle. The rest of the Ravaleian forces folded quickly without the heavy support.

It was no victory. The northern front was severely weakened. They now had elite soldiers from Nuvroc, but they could not possibly be enough to hold against an amassed force of goblinoids. The Storm Queen was unconscious and even if she was awake she was unreliable. Things looked grim. The loss of the golems hurt as well. The Feergrus wondered once more what had happened to the mechanics that controlled them. He had thought that they would at least stay neutral. Something had to have changed their minds.

“General Cassius Tessium!” one of the Nuvroci soldiers in Halzium armor barked, “Commander Nuida of The Thirty-seventh legion reporting, sir!”

“Legion?” Enzi asked.

“Yes, six thousand soldiers ready to serve. They call us the Storm Brigade. We are the vanguard. The rest of the unit along with our support will arrive shortly. Your rangers alerted us to the trouble so we rushed to your aid. They spotted us as we approached and were aiding us on our travel.”

Suddenly their fortunes looked better. Enzi relaxed slightly, then excused himself. He had things to investigate. The rest of the Irregulars set off to rest except Eurysa. The gorgon began collecting arrows to refill her quiver. Enzi soon arrived at where he had last seen the mechanics. The scene that unfolded before his eyes was horrific. One of the mercenaries had obviously found them and forced them to send out the golems. Three of the mechanics remained, the others had been brutally slain. It looked like they had been tortured before their deaths. Enzi could not blame such non-combatants from folding under such pressure. What the rest of the encampment might think was a whole different issue.

Within an hour the rest of the Storm Brigade had arrived. The wounded were being tended to by Nuvroci combat medics. The general had quickly gotten things organized. He had been thrust into leadership. He had now faced his first big hurdle. He had stumbled, but Enzi wondered if he could learn from the experience. If Cassius did, then he might become a truly great general in the future. He had a firm grasp of tactics. Now he had a taste of politics.

Enzi remembered his days as the highest ranking general in the country of Feergrus. He had never cared for the politics. Back room deals had hindered his forces more than once. Enemies of his family had maneuvered things to try to make Enzi look bad on the field. It had been hard enough to outmaneuver his enemies on the battlefield. He had also had to out-think his own allies. In many ways, Enzi's exodus from Feergrus had been the best thing that could have happened to him.

Now he could offer some advice to the young general. Enzi was in no mood to do more than that. His time of dealing with politics was done. It was not a game he wanted to delve into again. A few tips and pointers would not hurt, Enzi assumed. As long as the general relied on himself and not on Enzi, all would be fine. Now he had a whole legion of troops from Nuvroc. Only the vanguard had the halzium equipment, but all of the legion was elite.

Lunaris was hanging out with the archers, picking up tips. The support staff was incredible. Those who were not tending to the wounded had gone to work improving the defenses of the encampment. Enzi saw Ritter talking with some of the soldiers with the Halzium gear. The Nuvroci quickly took to the dwarf. Even for the Nuvroci, it was rare to meet one of the Halz. The hustle and bustle about the encampment brought an odd sense of peace and calmness to it. How long that would last was the question on everyone's mind.

***

It had been one year since the war had started. One year until the dragon would be unleashed. The trip to the southern front would take time. Enzi had already begun calculations on when the group would need to leave. He padded the time, as unexpected situations might impede their progress. They would also need to have time to get the southern front to allow them into position. A letter of recommendation from General Cassius Tessium would help. The information on the tactical threat would not hurt either.

That still left the Irregulars with at least six months to serve on the northern front, assuming they would take the long path around the mountains and through Nuvroc. Enzi did not want to chance going the shorter route through Agon and Kurrot. Especially as that meant either going through the Siren Swamp or going back through Ravalei. Neither of those prospects sounded appealing. Enzi thought the safe route was the smartest route.

The camp had changed since they arrived. It was much larger now. The Storm Queen had disappeared long ago. The golem mechanics had been sent back to Ravalei. It was difficult to trust them, despite their hardships. The betrayal of the Ravaleians had cut deep. The greed of the Rava Coast Trading Company had been the source of the problem. There were a lot of good people in Ravalei, but Enzi had seen the country's dark underbelly. The other countries of Doulairen could not claim to be any less corrupt however.

The goblinoids had been rather quiet for a while. Some thought that perhaps the threat had ended. Cooler minds knew that it was the calm before the storm. It seemed too early to consolidate their forces to follow the lead of the dragon. Enzi imagined it was instead the signs of a major offensive. The question became where the goblinoids would strike. Would it be one of the three war fronts, two of them, or all three at once? Whatever it was, it was still only a prelude to the planned final strike.

For now, the peaceful moments meant a time to rebuild. That did not just mean the damage to structures. Relationships had been damaged. General Cassius Tessium had a great deal of work to do. Even the Irregulars had seen little time to rest. The team needed time to bond once more. Constant tension was bad for morale. The new order had made everyone's life easier. Now they only needed to focus on the war.

***

The Ravaleian raised his eyebrow at the tale the mechanics had told him. He had never suspected that the Rava Coast Trading Company would stoop so low. However, he had heard that new leadership had recently taken over the company. He hoped that meant some reform of their bad practices. However, the northern front still needed Ravaleian help. It needed help that was not under the sway of a ruthless business. He knew the exact person to send. A knock interrupted his thoughts.

“Please, enter,” the Ravaleian said.

The man who entered was a middle aged Ravaleian, no more than thirty-five years of age. He was of average height for a Ravaleian male, three inches short of six feet tall. He had dark hair and dark eyes, his lineage had a strong tie to Casea. His family, however, had split long ago. One ancestor had married into the Tarvoni before the family shortened its name. The Ravaleian blood in the Tarvoni Gannel family had mostly been bred away over the generations.

This man, however, was Jenner Gann. He was a gearwork master. He leaned on a staff for support. He was no warrior. Despite his relative youth, he had several scars from incidents in his past that left him in need of his staff. Jenner was considered one of the more intelligent golem creators, but his real skill was with people. He had a calming presence about him. People liked him. At least the people that worked with him.

The Ravaleian man that had called Jenner to his office was much older. He was a grizzled veteran as far as office work was concerned. Yet now he had to restore the confidence of foreigners in the trustworthiness of Ravaleians. He hoped that Jenner could do the job. He did not know if Jenner's charisma would work on the foreigners, but it was worth a try.

“Jenner,” the elder Ravaleian sighed, “We have need of you in these desperate times.”

Jenner smiled affably, “As you wish. However can I be of assistance?”

“We need to replace our golem assistance at the northern front. You need to repair our relationship. Let me tell you the tale of what happened there.”

***

Scars streaked across the orc's face. His body was laced with such tissue. It had begun to limit his mobility, but that mattered little to him. He did not fight on the front lines any longer. He was too old for that. His uncanny knack for survival had turned him into a leader. He looked over his assembled forces. He had gathered together a force solely of orcs. He did not trust hobgoblins. They were too smart for their own good. The bugbears had better uses as ambushers. The goblins were too weak.

“Many of you know who I am,' the scarred orc yelled out, “The rest of you are useless idiots. But even idiots have their place. You can act as a living shield for the more useful members of this force. For those who are too stupid to know, I am Voltagh, survivor of a thousand battles. You sad lot are here to break the human resistance in the north. I don't expect a single one of you sluggards to survive this. You are too weak. Prove me wrong if you can. Crush these humans and return as true warriors.”

The assemblage growled and grunted. They turned and began to storm northwards. There were nearly twenty thousand orcs in the horde. They would overwhelm the humans. The losses would be tremendous, but Voltagh did not care. They were his own people, but they would die in a glorious battle. He had not chosen the best orc warriors. They would remain behind for when the final strike began. It also meant that since many of the greatest orc warriors remained, they would be able to help breed for the next generation.

Voltagh smiled toothily, “The humans will finally fall. I will enjoy crushing them beneath my feet. I will see every last one of them die. Slowly if I can help it. Painfully is a must.”

“You never were one for talking,” an elderly voice stated.

“Ah, Ranum,” Voltagh groaned, “What foul wind brings you to me?”

“A wind of change. One to save our race from extinction.”

Voltagh snorted, “I am listening little old one. This had best be good.”

14Aug/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0059

The battle at the base camp raged on as Enzi dashed towards the mechanic's station. A lot of potential allies were missing. Many of the Nuvroci Rangers were out on patrol, including Lunaris Justis. Medeus Tarim was still in the encampment and was fighting to save Cassius. He still did not have everyone's full trust after the incident with the corrupt artifact, but hopefully this battle would prove that the elimination of the dagger had cured his psychosis.

The person Enzi missed most in this battle was the Agonish Magehunter, Beren Gendar. He had gone off alone to investigate some strange magical occurrences, though the Feergrus did not know that. Enzi merely had to deal with the fact that Beren was not there to aid the general. Lightning streaked past Enzi's right ear. It was too close for comfort. The Storm Queen was lashing out in all directions, cackling with mad glee. It was a frightening sight.

The Feergrus man wove and dodged his way over to where the base camp's three golems sat. The Ravaleian mechanics were huddled in a corner where one of the mercenaries from the Rava Coast Trading Company was busy yelling at them. The mercenary was trying to cow the mechanics into serving the mercenaries as if it was for the good of Ravalei. Enzi's fist ended the conversation as it connected with the surprised soldier.

“Sorry for the violence,” Enzi said, “I would hide out of the way if I were you. Death flies through the air today.”

The golem mechanics scurried off out of the fray as an arrow from Eurysa helped clear their path. The gorgon was harp-eyed. Her support fire for Enzi had saved his life more than once as he had made his way to the mechanics. Only now, looking back over the path he had taken, did he see the bodies of those who had tried to stop him. The Feergrus man also saw the brilliant coordination of the Nuvroci troops led by General Cassius Tessium.

They had quickly gathered and formed battle lines against the far more chaotic lines of the Ravaleians. Syrian Dow had disappeared. Enzi hoped he had escaped, though he missed having the extra manpower for this fight. He was still an officially wanted man now, that would have caused the general a great many problems down the road. The encampment obviously had enough problems for the moment. The biggest, however, might be the Storm Queen.

Electricity crackled across the young Ravaleian girl's whole body. The teen unleashed blast after blast like an unstoppable fountain of energy. Everything Enzi knew about magic told him that this went far beyond what any mage should be doing with magic. As she tapped further and further into her reserves, the chances of a catastrophic failure increased rapidly. Enzi immediately began looking to see what was near her location. If her spells failed, she could easily obliterate everything around herself.

Assessing the situation, Enzi dove back into the fray. He saw one Ravaleian leap at the Storm Queen from behind. Before the Feergrus could yell out a warning the man stopped dead in his tracks as he hit a wall of magical force surrounding the teen girl. Electricity coursed through the man's body and he dropped like a sack of lead. The girl was smart enough to protect herself from harm. Enzi wondered if perhaps she meant to go all out until her spells backfired. The Storm Queen was certainly moving towards the largest concentration of foes. Her spells were fired off to the sides, away from what Enzi assumed was her main target.

It was a bold move, but also a desperate one. It showed Enzi the depths that the young teen was willing to go to in order to avoid being controlled. He imagined it was the start of a fierce independence. That was something that could easily be taken too far. She already had the potential to become a monster. He hoped that this was not the catalyst to cement her path. The dark road was a terrible one to tread down. Few that walked that path survived. Those that did were well known for the great evils they inflicted. Even those that died often left a wake of death and destruction behind them that would not soon be forgotten.

***

Dellin Garm floated into the vast city of Calal. The ghost returned to the manor that had once been his own in life. The custodian kept the place clean and knew about Dellin's spirit form. That caretaker would be quite surprised at what happened this night. The caretaker was an aged Ravaleian. He was not the ideal host, but he would do for the moment. The spirit passed into the old man's body. Dellin used his new-found power and seized control.

With control of the body, he began to write letters. He needed to find a youthful body to inhabit. Then he would make sure the company fell into that man's hands. Being able to write would make this much easier. While no one would listen to a mere caretaker, these notes were written with the secret knowledge that Dellin held. Very soon he would gather allies to himself He would make the Rava Coast Trading Company extremely powerful, growing it beyond anything anyone could have imagined.

Yet he had a few issues to take care of first. The mercenaries that attacked needed to be dealt with. The Storm Queen also needed to be eliminated. Now he could set his plans in motion. If something should happen to whatever body he was inhabiting, he would always have a backup. If it got old or weak, he could move on. It was far better than what he had expected. The world now sat in the palm of his hands, just waiting for him to grasp its riches.

***

Gharaf Targata's profits had suffered at first when the war began. No one came to Center Point. However, he knew the smell of opportunity. With the resources of Unity behind him, he had begun to supply the troops on the southern front. He and his allies had begun their work to convert key players to their cause. Having a general or a rising star as a proponent of Unity was a big deal. They did not want word of their organization to spread too far. Those in power would see it as a threat. Those who learned of its ties to the criminal underworld might find their presence undesirable.

It was not an easy balance to find. One of the key points was the emphasis on the benefits. A secret society that could help make sure that only the right people came to power. The kind of people that would work to unite the countries under one cause. They had made significant progress in their goals. The new agents that Gharaf cultivated would help slowly spread the influence of Unity throughout Doulairen. As they grew, secrecy would be harder to maintain.

Already there were several loose ends that needed to be dealt with. Enzi's Irregulars still survived. Gharaf had heard of their deeds in the north. He had made sure that information about them fell into the hands of the Cleanser known as Naphar Bura. He had not made any moves yet, the war had his full attention. Gharaf knew that the war could not last forever. When it finally ended, Naphar would make his move. Assuming that Enzi would even survive that long. Terrible things happened in a war.

***

The Ravaleian mercenaries had finally began to muster their forces. The loss of their commander had been a mighty blow. However just as they gathered, the Storm Queen swooped in on their position and her power flared. The explosion was tremendous. It knocked most people off their feet. A lot of the warriors closest to it were torn to shreds. That act seemed to have finally crushed the Ravaleians until Enzi saw a terrible sight. The ground rumbled as huge figures emerged from the smoke.

It was the golems. The mechanics had been swayed after all. Enzi wondered how the Rava Coast Trading Company had pulled that off. There would be time for questions later, assuming anyone survived. The Ravaleians quickly rallied with their new allies. The Nuvroci along with the Irregulars might have been able to take down the two wooden golems. They might have been able to take down the stone golem. The three golems together along with the Ravaleian mercenaries seemed an insurmountable foe.

The Ravaleians seemed to be in mood to negotiate now that they had the upper hand. Things were going to get ugly. Enzi sighed. He had not used his hybrid form in front of the soldiers, but he knew he would not have any choice but to go all out for this battle. As the smoke cleared, Enzi saw the Storm Queen laying on the ground. Miraculously she was still in one piece. Enzi wondered what kind of protections it took to survive such a blast. It did not matter, however. She was obviously unconscious and no longer of any help.

Aldebaran grunted as he saw the new foes enter the fray. His fur was already matted with blood and sweat. Usually bovine did not noticeably sweat, but obviously something in the creation of the minotaur gave him a more human reaction to severe exertion. Eurysa had run out of arrows. Any potential supplies were far out of reach. It was time for her to use her abilities, much the same as Enzi's need now that the situation was dire. Ritter was engaged in a hard battle with some of the more heavily armored Ravaleians.

His hammer was quite effective against them. The Halz deflected many blows with his shield. He did not tire as easily as the rest of the group, but even he saw that it was only a matter of time. He remembered the last battle with a golem. The minotaur remembered it in a very different way. He had missed much of that battle, but only because of how badly the golems had wounded him. Mayitso dashed through the ranks of the enemy, avoiding the golems. The lycanthrope would have trouble harming the constructs, but Mayitso's natural toughness might be one of the few things to save the group.

Kava, of course, was the only person in the area enjoying herself. The vodyanoi was prancing through the battlefield, leaping from foe to foe while hacking with her hatchets. The smell of blood filled the air as did the wailing of the wounded. It was the kind of thing that made Kava grin widely. With a maw like hers, such a grin was rather disconcerting. She reveled in the fear of her foes. She was not match for a golem, however. She was deadly against unarmored foes, using her precision to damage them in the most horrendous of ways.

All of this talent meant nothing against the forces arrayed before them. Eurysa's gaze was useless against golems. Only Ritter and Aldebaran had a chance of damaging them. The Ravaleians knew they had an advantage and they pressed it. General Cassius Tessium made them pay for each inch that the Nuvroci gave up. The golem advance pushed the front line further and further back. Soon the soldiers and the Irregulars neared the back wall.

It was time for the final battle. The skill of the general had meant that few troops had been lost as they pulled back, but no amount of tactical skill would prevent the slaughter to come. They had been backed into a corner. They would bare their teeth like a wild animal. They would fight for a chance to survive. Enzi did not see any chance to survive, but he could not stand to just let someone else win. As the Ravaleians and the golems advanced he took a deep breath. He worried about the dragon. Who would stop such a foe once those that knew of it were slain?

7Aug/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0058

Yells and shouts marked the argument in the camp. Enzi rushed for the gate as the light of Feras tried to bring dawn to the world. Enzi tried to piece together what was happening from a few fragments he heard. By the time he got through the gate and made his way to the arguing men, he knew two things. One was that a Ravaleian had been murdered. The other was that the form of a Kurrot had clearly been witnessed at the scene.

There were only two Kurrot in the camp. Syrian Dow was the one the Ravaleians called out as a suspect. Enzi felt more confident. A man had been watching Syrian just for this situation. General Cassius called on that man to step forward and tell the Ravaleians exactly what the Kurrot had been up to. Cassius explained that Syrian had been under watch to prevent any misunderstandings.

“Yes, I had been watching Syrian,” the soldier stated, “Unfortunately I am only one man. This murder happened while I was asleep. I can not confirm Syrian's whereabouts.”

“Yes, perhaps a smarter general would have had two people watching this Kurrot,” a Ravaleian man said with a growl.

This Ravaleian wore the symbol of the Rava Coast Trading Company. He was obviously the head of the mercenary force at the camp. Scars ran across the man's arms. It was obvious this was a career warrior. His brown eyes had a fiery intellect behind them. This was not a man to take lightly. Now Cassius had to match wits with the man. Enzi could not imagine that this would be easy.

“You are making assumptions when there are multiple suspects,” Cassius stated.

“Where was Syrian when you awoke soldier? Was he still in his bed?” the Ravaleian asked.

“No, he had awoken before I did,” the Nuvroci soldier said, then turned to Cassius, “I am sorry, my general.”

“Now to the other Kurrot,” the Ravaleian mercenary said, “Where is he. Let us solve this crime here and now.”

The other Kurrot stumbled out, obviously drunk and the Ravaleian spoke, “What do you have to say for yourself?”

The Kurrot collapsed as another soldier spoke, “We were up most of the night celebrating. He was in no condition to do anything last night. He still has not slept it off as you can see.”

“Then we know our guilty party,” the Ravaleian stated, “I call for the immediate execution of Syrian Dow.”

“On what evidence,” Syrian said, “I certainly did not kill anyone. If this witness can be trusted, there are more than enough with a thin build here.”

“Not a witness,” the Ravaleian said, “Three witnesses. Two of our men and one Nuvroci soldier. All of them described a tall thin man in the greens you like to wear. Someone who moved fast and with uncanny grace. There are not many who meet that kind of description here. One of them is drunk off his ass. You are already a known murderer.”

“I have never murdered anyone,” Syrian said, “Here or at home. The false talk of murders in my homeland did not begin until your men arrived.”

“Perhaps.” the Ravaleian leader said, “It is odd that word of it has not arrived here. Your name was plastered all over the border in Ravalei. Maybe your general friend is just hiding something.”

“Or maybe you are lying,” Syrian growled.

A short yell for identification at the gate showed that the base camp had a visitor. The man that stepped inside was a Kurrot. It caused the whole conversation to pause. It was the possibility of a new suspect. Yet it was also the possibility of news from afar. The encampment had not seen any messenger for several weeks. The silence in the base camp spooked the Kurrot. He looked around skittishly. It certainly did not help his possible appearance of guilt. Syrian could easily have passed off the blame on the man, but he did not. The Bladestorm would not stoop so low.

“I brought a message. We had not heard back from any of our other messengers. We assumed something happened to them or to you,” the new Kurrot said nervously.

The Ravaleian leader snorted, “We have been without a message for some time.”

“Yes, I was instructed to bring again the messages the last two messengers were to bring, as neither has been heard from.”

“Then let us see them,” the Ravaleian said, “Show us you are who you say you are.”

The messenger opened up the bag he had and gave out several missives. General Cassius Tessium took control of the letters with the Ravaleian trying to peer over his shoulder. Most were battle updates. However, there was one other message that caught the eyes of the scheming company man from Ravalei. It was obviously a message of a more dire nature. It was marked to be opened immediately as important but not private. Such public news was unusual. Even the general wondered what news could be so important that it needed to be read even with prying eyes watching.

Cassius read it aloud, “This message is all the more important if it did not arrive with the last two messengers. We have received news that a murderer has escaped justice in Kurrot to come to your base camp. He is responsible for the murder of Deshi Wan.”

Syrian gasped at that name as Cassius continued, “This known murderer goes by the name of Syrian Dow.”

***

Tuvaar Lat looked over the great walled city of Rheamoor. He knew that the message about the murder of Deshi Wan should have reached the northern front. Deshi had been a long time companion of Syrian. Tuvaar wanted anyone who might become a spokesman for Syrian to be eliminated. Finding Deshi had been difficult. He had disappeared as soon as the war started. In some ways this was advantageous. It meant that the long disappearance could be blamed on murder.

The real reason had been far more interesting. Despite showing considerable skill in combat training, the man was a pacifist. He wanted to be as far from the battles and conflict as possible. He had headed off to visit the city-state of Tempest. Like all the city-states of Kurrot, it had its own distinct flavor. While most knew it for its fishing, it was home to a monastery run by a man known as Li Neu Ven. There they taught a unique form of unarmed combat, meant to emulate the very elemental power of the world.

It was a quiet place far from war, but one where Deshi could have had an outlet for his physical prowess that would not lead to actual conflict. He had planned to relinquish his name and become an anonymous trainee of the martial arts. This wish to disappear had played easily into the hands of the Master of Blades. Now he made a perfect martyr. A man who wished for peace and would not kill, murdered by a soulless killer. It played quite well to the crowd.

He was a well known associate of Syrian Dow. The two had argued often about the role of combat. Some had even called Syrian bloodthirsty. This was not unusual for a Bladestorm. Such traits were often encouraged in the past. These facts gave Tuvaar ammunition for his call to bring more order to Kurrot. The country had been a group of independent city-states for too long. The people had nothing to rally behind. Tuvaar would give them a symbol to follow. He planned to be that symbol. He planned to be the man to lead Kurrot into a new future with him as the undisputed leader of the whole country.

The only loose end was Syrian Dow. Now that Syrian was wanted for murder, Tuvaar expected that the Bladestorm would likely be executed. Even if he survived and escaped, he would be a pariah. He was no longer a threat. While Tuvaar would prefer Syrian to be dead, his reach was still limited. The Master of Blades did not have the power he wanted yet. When he did, he expected nothing would stand in his way. Especially not some young kid. Especially when everyone would want the kid taken down for murder.

***

“Murderer!” the Ravaleian commander yelled out, “Surrender for justice now!”

Syrian took a step back and growled, “I do not have time for that now. I am no murderer.”

“We all saw how you reacted to that name,” the Ravaleian snarled coldly, “Your guilt is without question and now you try to weasel away. There can be no mercy for your kind.”

With a mere nod from the Ravaleian leader several mercenaries drew their blades and leapt at Syrian. The amazing reflexes of the Kurrot surprised many. It was almost as if his weapons suddenly appeared in his hands. He parried the incoming attacks and narrowed his eyes.

“Someone has killed my best friend and called me his murderer. I do not have time for your petty games,” Syrian snapped, “It seems it is time for me to go back home and find out what is really going on.”

“You are not leaving here alive after having slain my our soldiers,” the Ravaleian said with a slight smirk.

“Stop this immediately!” General Cassius Tessium commanded.

The Ravaleian commander turned towards the general with a sneer, “Your command is over. You have aided a murderer against all common sense. You failed to protect your men. I am taking command of this encampment as of right now. The Rava Coast Trading Company is now in charge.”

A crack of thunder broke the brief silence as a bolt of lightning struck the Ravaleian commander down. His smoking, quivering corpse hit the ground as shocked faces looked on. A glow emanated from the small Ravaleian girl nearby. Her eyes appeared to be little more than glowing balls of green light. Her hair floated in the air as the power of static electricity charged the atmosphere.

A lilting voice came from the mage, “You seek control? No one will control me ever again. Now I shall show you the power of thunder and lightning!”

One of the mercenaries yelled out, “Kill the witch! Kill the murderer! Kill the corrupt general! Take the camp!”

With those simple words, war erupted in the military base. The Storm Queen cackled as she unleashed raw electricity into anyone her demented eyes picked out as a foe. Enzi moved to protect Cassius. The mercenaries for the Rava Coast Trading Company traded blows with the Nuvroci soldiers. The chaos was insane. They had a war with the goblinoids to deal with. Now the Ravaleians had made a power play. The strong reaction from the unpredictable Storm Queen had now set off a storm that would not stop until everything was settled.

Syrian Dow fought to defend himself but steadily made his way towards the exit of the encampment. The letter had been damning evidence, but the actions of the Ravaleians had drawn the suspicion of Enzi and Cassius to them. They had little wish to stop Syrian. He had proven to be a great warrior. His secret life as son of Jaeris Hyn would give plenty of reason to frame him for murder. Having known him for many months, Enzi was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.

Enzi saw what had to be done. General Cassius Tessium needed allies. While the mechanics for the golems were Ravaleian, they were not from the Rava Coast Trading Company. The Feergrus knew that he could not allow them to join the other Ravaleians in the uprising. The golems could overwhelm almost anyone. Even the power of the Storm Queen would be of little use. Even if Enzi could only convince them to stay neutral, that would be enough. Otherwise he foresaw a massacre.

“Protect the general,” Enzi said towards the Irregulars, “There is something I have to do.”