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

25Sep/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0065

The graveyard seemed somehow creepier than usual to the ranger. It was situated closer to the mountains, where rocks could be gathered to create cairns. The ranger patrolling the area felt like he was being watched. The distance was too great for him to see, but one of the rocks on the mountain seemed to move. The ranger continued on his patrol. The rock, however, suddenly leapt up off the mountain and took flight. It was a rock falcon.

The mighty birds blended in well with rocks, but often liked to sit on the walls of stone buildings as well. They were more obvious sitting on a building. They were ugly to the human eyes. Most called them gargoyles. They were foul tempered beasts, but they rarely attacked anything as large as a human. This gargoyle felt different. Pain had wracked its body for days. Something was growing on it. Something dark, oily, and it had the smell of rotted vegetation.

The creature had found itself larger and stronger. Yet now it was hungry. The humans now looked much smaller and weaker than they did before. The mighty bird flew above the forest, watching the Nuvroci Ranger below. As the ranger walked into a clearing, the falcon swooped down. The claws of the mighty bird felt the satisfying bite of its talons in soft flesh. The human yelled out in pain, but the cruel beak of the hideous gargoyle squelched that sound with a sickening crunch.

***

A few small goblinoid patrols had kept the base camp on its toes. The rangers were constantly on patrol. There had not been any major assault since the horde of orcs, but it seemed like it was only a matter of time. Beren Gendar was doing much better, the toxins had been mostly flushed from his body. He still was not in peak condition, but he was in no danger of succumbing to the assassin's poison. Things were going about as well as could be expected during wartime.

Enzi had been slowly preparing for a long trip. Eventually the Irregulars would have to move to the southern front. It was there that the dragon would strike. Since Enzi planned to take the long way there, he would need considerable lead time to reach the war front. They still had at least two months before they had to leave, but Enzi worked on being prepared just in case something changed. The Feergrus man was not sure that he could trust the goblin that had told him of the drake that would attack Agon.

However, Enzi could not take a chance. A strike in that direction would slaughter thousands of innocent people. The destruction would bring untold horror upon both the humans and then the goblinoids. General Cassius Tessium knew that the Irregulars could not stay forever. Enzi had informed the Nuvroci man about the drake, and the general had sent messages of about the dangers to the leader of the southern front. Hopefully all the information would make the entrance of the Irregulars less contentious.

Soon all of the rangers began to report in. They relayed what they had seen while scouting the area. However, one of the rangers did not return. Enzi sent the Irregulars out to search for the missing man. Mayitso's nose would come in handy for that job. Aldebaran, Eurysa, Kava, and Ritter would be able to handle almost any kind of problem. The aging Feergrus man remained behind. He had accompanied them directly on several of their recent adventures. His aching joints reminded him that he was not young anymore.

Mayitso led the rest of the inhuman mercenaries to the area where the ranger was supposed to patrol. The lycanthrope kept his nose to the ground, snorting out any clues he could find. Eventually he caught an odd scent wafting through the air. A few sniffs confirmed the direction and the immense wolf trotted towards the unusual odor. Another odor could be detected over the odd scent. The new scent was blood. This made Mayitso increase his pace.

What the group found was gruesome. Bones and torn flesh were all that was left. Ribs poked up out of the bloody mess. The vodyanoi gazed over the scene with her huge orange eyes. She had the most knowledge about wounds and what might cause them. Kava had studied anatomy for quite some time, using her knowledge to better slay her foes. Now it would be used to investigate the hideous remains for a cause of death.

“This looks like the work of a large animal, claws and beak.”

“A griffin?” Eurysa hissed.

“If it is, it is a small one,” Kava croaked, “I can't imagine a baby griffin would be brave enough to attack a human.”

“Maybe rock falcons?” Ritter asked, familiar with gargoyles.

“Not unless it is a gigantic one. Whatever did this was about the size of a horse.”

Ritter nodded, “Rock Falcons don't get much larger than a human.”

Eurysa also nodded, “Griffins do not come in such a small size unless they are but babies. This is a mystery.”

Mayitso was sniffing around the area. Something did not smell right. It was hard to tell what the scent was, the sharp tang of blood covered much of it. It reminded Mayitso of rotted vegetation. Whatever it was smelled wrong. His nose had never encountered such an odd smell. He was familiar with the sent of blood, of rotted flesh, of rotted plant matter. Whatever this was had to be something he had not encountered before. Whatever the Irregulars were dealing with, it was something deadly.

***

Feeding had been good for the rock vulture. The hunger pangs had diminished. Yet now other pains overtook them. The creature felt as if it was being torn apart. Growth like black oily vines spread through its body painfully. The creature grew larger. Its wings grew harder, the skin on the arms becoming tough as steel. The growth spurt was painful, but when it ended the creature felt its hunger return. The unnatural growth had sapped the calories it had consumed. It needed to feed again.

It took flight and soared near the mountains. It saw a lone griffin near its nest. The falcon suddenly realized that the griffin was not much larger than it anymore. Such a huge creature would be good eating. The griffin tried to fight back. Its beak did not pierce the toughness of the falcon's newly hardened skin. The falcon attacked with beak and claws, but also buffeted the griffin with its now immensely powerful wings. The mighty griffin was no match for the gargoyle.

The gargoyle feasted upon the griffin, ripping and tearing flesh in a desperate attempt to devour as much of it as it could, as quickly as it could. The hunger pangs drove the beast nearly to madness. Soon the griffin had been devoured and the hunger pangs dimmed once more. The creature rested. Then the pains of growth came again, enraging the beast. There was nothing it could strike out against to avenge its pain. Finally the rock falcon slipped into unconsciousness.

When it awoke it found itself nearly unable to fit where it had slept. It had grown again. Now it was every bit as large as the mighty griffin it had devoured, if not slightly larger. Pain still maddened the creature, but also hunger had once more taken hold of the monster. It took flight once more, looking for prey. Far below in the woods it spotted an eclectic collection of tasty looking morsels. Once each might have been threatening in size. Now these humanoid sized creatures looked so tiny and weak.

***

Mayitso's ears swiveled. They took in many sounds but even they could not catch the sound of an enormous rock falcon swooping down until it was too late. The gargoyle went after the creature that was easiest to see. Its talons scraped across the shiny metal armor of the Halz. Ritter grunted as he was lifted off the ground by the monstrous beast. The rest of the Irregulars let out sounds of surprise and shock.

“What is that thing?” Kava croaked wildly, “It looks like one of those damn gargoyles but something is seriously wrong with it!”

Eurysa brought her bow around and fired off an arrow at the beast as it tried to fly away with Ritter. The arrow struck the immense gargoyle. The ichor that flowed out smelled horrific. The dwarf nearly retched as the scent filled his nostrils. The ichor was not the only thing that smelled. The creature had a scent that reminded the dwarf of rotted vegetation. This close to it, the smell was almost overpowering. Ritter desperately swung his heavy warhammer at the flying monstrosity.

The warhammer hit the creature on the leg and it squawked. The pain the beast was in had inured it to other pains. Another arrow hit the beast, hitting it in the wing. The creature shuddered and turned its course. It swooped down at the ting that kept shooting painful barbs at it. Aldebaran and Kava were ready and waiting for the gargoyle as it swooped at Eurysa. Two hatchets and a two handed elven blade struck the creature hard. Mayitso placed himself between the creature and Eurysa to take any blows it might throw.

The gargoyle flailed wildly with its rock hard wing arms. Its talon tried to crush Ritter. Only his Armor saved his life. Even with that, the Halz could feel the pressure. He could hear the sound of the metal under great stress. The beak of the rock falcon shot out at Mayitso. The lycanthrope returned the favor, snapping at the gargoyle. As soon as his mouth touched the beast, however, Mayitso regretted it. He yelped and rolled on the ground, taking dirt and plants in his mouth.

He spit it all back out. However, even the taste of the forest sod was far superior to what the gargoyle tasted like. The scent of the creature also filled the lycanthrope's nose. The terrible scents and flavors overwhelmed the poor wolf. He would be of no further use in the fight. The minotaur and the vodyanoi hacked at the gargoyle. The creature screeched and attacked at random. The gorgon slithered back away from the melee and took aim with her bow.

The next arrow hit the maddened monster in the head, even as it knocked Kava and Aldebaran away with a pair of wing buffets. Ritter kept trying to force his way free by beating the creature with his warhammer. Another arrow to the head finally caused the beast to stop. The gargoyle collapsed to the ground, still shuddering and convulsing. Aldebaran used his muscle to help extract the Halz from underneath the heap. The group looked at the slain monstrosity.

“I have never seen such a rock falcon!” Ritter panted.

“Look at this,” Kava croaked, pointing out the black oily vines that were now part of the creature, “This looks almost like a plant.”

“Smells kind of like dead plant too,” the minotaur agreed.

“We have seen this before,” Eurysa hissed, “Only in a different way. The odd dagger that stole the mind of the ranger.”

“Yes, there was a black oily looking plant on that,” Ritter stated, “Do you think they are related?”

“Can we afford to take that chance?” the gorgon asked.

“I say we burn this smelly hulk. Cleanse it with fire,” Kava said with a leering grin.

“You just like destroying things,” Aldebaran sighed.

“And?” Kava asked as she tried to give puppy dog eyes towards the group.

“We probably should destroy this. Mayitso certainly didn't like the smell or taste of it. We might want to take a sample back to the encampment,” the Halz said.

“I am not sure if it is safe to handle any of this,” the gorgon hissed, “Especially if it is related to the dagger. I would rather none of us are driven mad. Our reputation as monsters puts us on shaky enough ground as it is. Still, I would also rather not see this spread. Rock falcons do not reach this size, nor this ferocity. I would have everyone's thoughts.”

Mayitso showed his thoughts wordlessly as he strode over toward the corpse. He lifted one leg and showed how little he wanted to ever deal with the creature again with a steaming stream of urine.

“Ugh. Mayitso!” Kava croaked, “Why do you think of all the good ideas first?”

18Sep/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0064

The assassin had left a trail of magic. His camouflage spell had been on himself, it had followed him for the entire duration. The Tarvoni expected the Magehunter to be able to follow it. The trail he had taken went across several traps. He only needed one trap, but it was possible to miss one or more of the traps by sheer luck. It was the only way to make sure they were concealed well enough that an experienced Magehunter would not spot them.

The Shadow Cult assassin circled around to watch his trail. He would watch how the Magehunter tracked him. He would see how Beren handled his traps. Then when the Agonish man least expected it, the assassin would strike. The Tarvoni watched and waited for his prey. He was prepared to end this quickly, but he knew that it was easy to disrupt a well laid plan. If his first attempt failed, he had a few backup plans. He was a professional. He was careful and took his time. It was why he was still alive.

He sat in wait, using only his natural skills in stealth and camouflage. His spell had long since worn off. From what he knew of the Magehunters, the magical trail would not lead to his current position. As time passed, he worried that the trail he had left would fade as well. He had seen Beren Gendar enter the encampment. He was surprised the Magehunter was not immediately out to track him down. Each hour that passed meant that the assassin's trail became harder to track. Finally the Tarvoni admitted defeat for the moment. He needed to learn what had kept his prey from following.

He slipped through the woods silently and swiftly. He soon arrived at the encampment and watched the walls from the forest edge. Things were moving normally. The assassin did not dare move closer. He might be spotted. Using magic while a Magehunter was near was certain to draw unwanted attention. He merely surveyed the situation, waiting to learn more. He hoped for an opportunity to learn more, but he knew how to be patient.

***

After a chat with Jenner Gann, Beren noticed that the magic aura was quickly fading. If it had not been woven by the Gearwork Master, the base needed checked. It was possible that a Tarvoni had slipped near and done something. The base quickly went on alert and searched for any signs of trouble. After making sure the base was secure, the trail had faded to a point where the Magehunter could not easily follow it. He was able to discern that it led into the woods. That certainly cleared the Ravaleian of doing anything.

Finding no sign of trouble worried Beren, but it may have just been a scout determining the defenses of the base before he struck. That was worrisome enough. Yet now Beren was around to hunt down the mage and discover his purpose. The Magehunter had found his purpose for the moment. There was no need to wander far to find a mage, one had now come to him. That did not make his job any easier, however. If the mage had any idea that a Magehunter was near, then hunting him down would be quite difficult.

Mayitso sniffed around. The scent of his enemy was muddled. Whoever it was knew how to disguise themselves in more than one way. The lycanthrope kept his nose and ears on alert for anything odd. Eurysa's sharp eyes found some use on top of the walls. Kava, Aldebaran, and Ritter rested for the moment, although the vodyanoi was itching for a fight. Enzi chatted with Cassius as the two discussed what the intrusion of a mage might mean.

The scream of pain broke the growing tension, only to replace it with a different tension. One of the guards fell from the wall. Beren could see the sharp electric blue of magic in the air. The Magehunter dashed past the fallen man as medics rushed to the hurt soldier's side. A blast of acid had struck the guard in the face. It was a brutal attack. Eurysa moved to that wall with her bow in hand looking towards the area the spell had come from. Beren dropped over the wall, sliding down it to land on the ground. It was not the softest landing, but he was unharmed.

Mayitso took a longer path towards the area, exiting the gate. With his four legged speed, he could eventually catch up to Beren. The rest of the Irregulars were left behind, much to Kava's disappointment. Eurysa remained on the wall, prepared to provide support with her archery skills if needed. It would not be much help if the mage had retreated deep into the woods, but it was all she could do for the moment. Eurysa trusted that Mayitso would be enough back up, especially as Beren was more than capable of defeating most mages.

Beren saw a trail of magic that led into the forest. The mage must have woven a spell on himself to leave such a blatant trail. The Magehunter thought it was his lucky day. The mage's scouting had come before Beren had arrived. Beren assumed the mage had not realized a Magehunter of Agon was near. Beren expected the mage to find cover and hide once he heard someone chasing him. He would not see what was chasing him until it was far too late.

Beren let his eyes wander, taking in the whole area around him. The trail of magic was still clear, although it was weak. Such a weak mage did not seem like much of a challenge. Even the weakest foe could strike a deadly blow if they caught you by surprise, however. This was why Beren tried to keep his focus wide, watching for trouble from any angle. That was why he suddenly tumbled forward. He rolled back to his feet, sword in hand, to face the foe he heard behind him. However it was only Mayitso.

The lycanthrope barreled past Beren, nose to the ground. He was tracking the foe by smell. The Magehunter followed Mayitso's lead. Beren kept his senses sharp, allowing Mayitso's inhuman senses aid as well. The massive wolf suddenly yelped. A trap snapped shut on one of the lycanthrope's legs. Beren's mind filled with possibilities at the discovery of such a trap. The assassin knew his time had come and pounced at the distracted Agonish warrior.

The poisoned blade of the assassin met the buckler on Beren's left arm. The distraction of the trap had not been enough to dull the Magehunter's reaction time. Beren slashed with his broad sword but the Tarvoni spun and almost seemed to flow past the blade. The assassin moved into position for a strike at Beren's now unprotected flank. However a kick from Mayitso kept the assassin off balance long enough for Beren to bring his guard up. The fight drifted slowly away from Mayitso.

The lycanthrope began to gnaw at the trap on his leg to try to free himself. It had not been able to actually harm the lycanthrope, but it was limiting his mobility. The assassin stabbed at Beren who parried the attack. The Tarvoni seemed to flow past the parried blade again, moving with uncanny grace. He was a professional warrior. The assassin might have been a match for Beren, especially with the poison on the blade. One cut would end the fight. It put Beren on the defensive. The Magehunter could see the gleam of the liquid on the blade as the sunlight filtered down through the trees.

Beren watched his foe as the assassin pushed the assault. The Tarvoni's acrobatic twists, spins, and rolls kept Beren on his guard. The Tarvoni rolled towards a bush and came up from behind it with a small crossbow. The bolt flew fast and true. Beren was able to catch it with his shield but the assassin used that opening to diver under the Magehunter's defenses. The Tarvoni's blade struck true, shredding the magehunter's tabard. However, the mail shirt that Beren wore kept the blade from doing any real damage.

Beren kept calm and pressed his foe, hoping to wear down the Tarvoni. The assassin was using a lot of energy in his acrobatic moves. Beren made a few conservative strikes, keeping his defense up. However, Beren saw the Tarvoni grin. The mage had not used up all of his tricks. With a leap the mage danced back from Beren, then unleashed a magical spell. It was a blast of acid, similar to what had burned the guard on the wall. It splashed on Beren's chest, burning his armor and his skin.

The Magehunter grunted as the pain swept over him. The assassin took advantage of the new opening, charging in for the kill. Beren fought through the pain and brought his buckler up to stop the blow. The assassin grabbed Beren's arm with his free hand and drove the blade home. Beren tried to avoid it as best he could but the blade still sank in the Magehunter's shoulder. The Tarvoni ripped the blade back out with a slight chuckle. The laugh was cut short as a mass of fur erupted up over Beren.

A snarling maw gnashed its fangs upon the surprised assassin's face. Blood flew as Mayitso tore the Tarvoni man apart. The lycanthrope shook himself off and turned to look at Beren. The Agonish man was laying on the ground, burnt by acid, bleeding, and twitching as the poison began to flow through his veins. The great wolf carefully nabbed Beren's clothing with his jaws and began to drag the man back towards the encampment. There was little else that Mayitso could do, he was not good at dealing with wounds.

Aid came quickly once Eurysa spotted the pair. Sweat rolled down's Beren's forehead as his body tried to fight the toxins coursing through it. The medics bound up his wounds but they had nothing to help against an unknown poison. It was very possible that the assassin had succeeded, even in death. There were few ways to aid a person with toxins in their blood. It was something that if it was solved was only done with the aid of magic. There was only one person with magic in the encampment, and none trusted him. That man sat in his tent, mostly unaware of the situation.

Enzi approached Jenner, “Do you know anything of poisons?”

“I am no expert. I do carry some Rava herbal tea to flush out toxins. Is there a problem? I saw the rush of people.”

“An attack by a Tarvoni mage. He killed one soldier with a blast of acid and has poisoned a second man.”

“Take the tea then,” Jenner said, “Our alchemists make it. It is slightly magical and will lower the toxicity in anyone who drinks it. It might not be enough to save your man, but it will certainly improve his chances.”

“Then come and administer it,” Enzi said.

“As you wish.”

The Ravaleian and the Feergrus man approached the convulsing body of Beren Gendar. The Ravaleian pulled out a vial of liquid. Enzi held the Magehunter's head up as Jenner poured the fluid in the Agonish man's mouth. One of the medics nearby used his knowledge to force Beren to swallow. The next few minutes were harrowing. The convulsions slowed but did not stop. Within an hour, however, Beren's condition seemed to improve.

Finally Beren coughed out, “Is everyone safe?”

“Thinking of others first?” Jenner asked, “Yes, the mage only killed the guard on the wall and hurt you. Everyone else is fine. The poison does not seem to have killed you, but I would take it easy for a while if I was you.”

“Thanks. That foe was not a normal Tarvoni mage. He was not trained in magic, his skills in that area were weak. This was someone who had spent his life learning to fight in melee.”

“An assassin then,” Jenner stated, “Not of the Abyss Cult then. They hired one of the Shadow Cult I would expect. They are incredibly deadly in combat.”

“I noticed,” Beren chuckled.

11Sep/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0063

Jenner Gann walked towards the human encampment the held the northern front. The front was quite large and the Ravaleian wondered how such an open border could ever be made secure. The war needed the aid of the Ravaleians. That much was obvious to Jenner. The sour relations were a major problem. Jenner had never had a high regard for the Rava Coast Trading Company. Now it was completely nonexistent. Jenner leaned hard on his staff.

He had lost a foot many years ago in an accident. Scars ran up that leg as well. It had happened where he had been working on a golem. A single wrong step. A stumble. Then his leg was caught in the gearwork of a mighty iron golem. The metal gears had done a lot of damage before the engineers could extricate Jenner. He now wear a prosthetic that allowed him to walk more easily, although the staff was a large help as well. It also made him seem less threatening. This would hopefully be a boon to his mission to bring peace between the Ravaleians and the Nuvroci.

He approached the gate as a voice yelled out in Nuvro, “Who goes there?”

Jenner replied in the same language, “A traveler with a message for General Cassius Tessium.”

The Nuvroci soldiers opened the gate, but watched the Ravaleian man with deep suspicion. Jenner could not blame them. Betrayals were hard to forgive. The hypocrisy was the tough rules that the Rava Coast Trading company had in case of mutiny upon their trading ships. Jenner's eyes flitted across the camp interior. He was no expert in military matters, but he was surprised upon seeing Enzi and his monstrous mercenaries. He had heard the tales, but they did not prepare him for their inhuman appearances.

Jenner ignored them for the moment and continued on towards the general's quarters while all eyes rested upon him. The mistrust was palpable. Jenner limped into Cassius' tent and disappeared from view. The Ravaleian quickly assessed the Nuvroci general. The stress of leading the war on the northern front had already begun to prematurely age Cassius. Grey hairs and wrinkles had begun to make their presence known. Grim determination seemed set in the Nuvroci man's eyes.

“Greetings general. I am Jenner Gann. I am one of the gearwork masters of Ravalei. We recently learned of the actions of the Rava Coast Trading Company. It was obviously a mistake to trust that they would do what is best for the good of all the people of Doulairen.”

“Do you think anyone would trust you more?” the general asked with a calm voice that did not betray what the Nuvroci man was feeling.

“Trust needs to be rebuilt, whether it is me or another. The northern front needs all of us to work together. Many of the most powerful people in Ravalei have taken notice after the betrayal here. The Rava Coast Trading Company ended up firing the head of their business and put a new man in charge. They lost a lot of trust at home as well as here. They will not be involved in the war on the northern front. They certainly have no influence over me. I was never their largest fan to begin with. Their public relations will be busy proving they have gotten rid of all of those that caused problems. I have my doubts, but it will at least keep them busy while those who wish to actually help can come to end this war.”

“I can not disagree that more aid will be needed to fully secure the north. I hate to think how many raiding parties have slipped past the rangers and headed deeper into Nuvroc. Most of the goblinoid attacks have focused directly upon us here. We make for a nice goal. The smarter move would be to avoid us using the massive forest area to go around us. We have lost many of our rangers, making circumvention far too easy.”

“Then I would imagine it has already happened. The goblinoids can be quite canny. My proposal is simple. Ravalei will be providing several wood golems for use in the war. I plan to place them at spots along the line we would like to hold. Your rangers can help with the most advantageous positioning. If it at least causes the goblinoids to alter their routes to more predictable areas then it would be a win. If the goblinoids are foolish enough to actually fight the golems, that is even better.”

“A wood golem will not stand up forever against the goblinoids.”

“No golem can last forever against a sustained assault. They can cause a lot of damage before they fall. Just the threat of their existence causes enemies to shift their plan to something easier. No one would invade Ravalei without first thinking about our border defenses. Even the most foolhardy goblinoid would think twice before making a blind assault.”

“I imagine you have not met some of the more foolhardy goblinoids.”

“There is a point where one stops being a fool and is merely insane.”

***

The Tarvoni assassin watched the base camp as best he could from a hidden position. The fact that the soldiers had cleared the forest around the base to give a clear line of sight meant that the assassin did not have the best view. That mattered little to him at the moment. His first goal was assessment of the outside defenses. He wanted to be sure of where the Magehunter was before he approached closer. With magic, he could certainly make his way to the base undetected.

The passage of the Ravaleian did not go unnoticed. It meant nothing to the Tarvoni, Jenner was not his target. The Tarvoni slowly circled the base, examining its walls, its weaknesses, and looking for patterns followed by the guards on the walls. The soldiers were professionals, but that made them prone to routine. It mattered little against most of the goblinoids. For an assassin, this was a deadly mistake. The Tarvoni smirked. He believed the residents of the encampment should feel lucky that he had only been hired to eliminate one Magehunter.

After watching for several hours, he determined the Magehunter was not there. It was time to get closer and leave a trail of breadcrumbs to follow. The assassin wove a spell to conceal his presence. It was a physical illusion that made him difficult to see. As long as he was careful, he was effectively invisible. It was a useful spell, but one that could easily be ruined. Using his illusory concealment, the assassin made his way to the wall of the military encampment.

His skills in climbing made sure that the wall itself was no obstacle. The assassin used stealth to slip past the guards on the wall. His magical camouflage gave him an advantage in that endeavor. The Tarvoni quickly found a vantage point from which to survey the inside of the encampment more closely. He took particular note of Enzi's Irregulars. The monsters were a unique blend of skills and talents. They might be dangerous. He observed the Ravaleian Jenner Gann leaving a central tent.

The mistrust of the residents of the encampment was obvious to the assassin. The Tarvoni filed that small fact away in case it became useful later. The assassin sat unobserved and listened. He was fluent in nearly every language on the continent. He hoped to learn more of his target's whereabouts. Any other interesting tidbits he might come across could be sold to any number of information brokers. The Tarvoni was not adverse to earning a few extra coins wherever possible.

***

For Beren, he had been away from the encampment for nearly a month. Time had caused hair to grow out on his face, giving him a grizzled look. His clothing was in rough shape and his armor could use a few minor repairs as well. It had been a rough trip into the Goblinoid Lands. However it had been fruitful. The heads of two Tarvoni sorcerers hung from his belt. They had both been from the Abyss Cult. Beren had to delve deep into enemy territory to reach them.

The mages had done their best to keep themselves insulated by hordes of goblinoids. The losses they had taken by the Magehunters had made the Tarvoni far more cautious. It made the jobs of the Magehunters far more dangerous. Several had died in attempts to knock out the Tarvoni power that fueled much of the Fifth Goblinoid War. For the moment, Beren needed to rest. His gear needed maintenance and he needed time to unwind. Time with other humans would be welcome as well.

Most welcome, however, would be a chance to clean up. His face paint that marked him as a Magehunter of Agon had been reapplied several times. It had dried and caked on his face. It had also mixed with the moisture and dirt of the Siren Swamp. Between that, the dirt from travel, and the blood from his kills, Beren felt quite foul. The cleansing might also help relax him after his harrowing trip. If nothing else, it would at least make him feel human again.

Approaching the encampment, the guards quickly let Beren inside. His face was well known. Even if it was not, the makeup he wore denoted what he was. Few were foolish enough to fake being a Magehunter. Too many of Beren's brethren had short tempers. Such fakery would be met violently and brutally. Few would stand against that for two good reasons. One reason was that no one liked being fooled. The other was that few dared stand against a Magehunter in combat.

“Ah, Beren!” Enzi said, “Good to see you have returned in one piece.”

Beren chuckled, “My gear took the brunt of the damage. I'm going to be sewing things up forever.”

“Better to sew fabric than to stitch wounds.”

“True enough. I'm going to turn in these heads then head off to the creek to wash up.”

Beren's eyes drifted over the northern part of the encampment as he turned towards the main tent. He immediately paused. The unmistakable electric blue aura of magic flitted along the corner of his eyes. The Magehunter approached the area as Enzi looked at Beren with curiosity. Beren swept the area. Magic had been used there recently. The Agonish man turned back to the Feergrus man.

“Did we get any new magic users recently?” Beren asked.

Enzi shrugged, “A Ravaleian came to talk with the general. I do not know if he uses any kind of magic.”

“Someone has been weaving some spells around here.”

“That probably is not good. We have had enough problems with the Ravaleians after the whole attempted coup debacle. If he is running around casting magic on things, I doubt that will go over well.”

“Then I will go have a chat with him,” Beren stated.

The Magehunter headed off to speak with Jenner and Enzi tagged along. He was curious as to what the newcomer was really up to. Jenner was busy mingling with some of the Nuvroci soldiers. Most of them were ignoring the Ravaleian. He was tolerated, but not yet accepted. The sting of betrayal faded slowly, if ever at all. Jenner looked over at Beren and Enzi as they approached. He gave a particularly wary eye towards Beren. The Magehunter noted that as a suspicious action.

“Ah, a new face,” Jenner smiled, “You must be Beren Gendar. I am Jenner Gann, gearwork master of Ravalei.”

“Then you have have magic power,” Beren said, “Those golems require enchantment.”

“Yes,” Jenner replied, “Will that be a problem?”

“I'm not too worried, but I do wonder what kind of spells you have been casting.”

“I have not woven any spells since I was last in Calal.”

It was certainly true that Beren could not see any trace of a magical aura on the Ravaleian. A Magehunter could only see the magic of a spell, however. They could not see the magic inside a person. Unless the mage wove a spell on themselves it was hard to tell much about their power. However, Beren had other skills. As long as he was calm, he could usually tell if someone was telling the truth or lying. Jenner seemed to be speaking the truth. That meant only one thing, there was another caster around and they had not announced themselves.

4Sep/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0062

Voltagh trudged through the goblinoid camp, “A bit of breathing room now.”

Ranum nodded, “Indeed. Certainly a lot less orcs.”

The massive orc general snorted, “They were the weakest of us. If any survive, they can come back. They are only to harass the humans and shave off their numbers.”

“Yes, I have seen the plans for the main assault to come. I have seen their new weapon.”

“Is it not glorious?”

“It is not glorious at all,” Ranum stated, “It is a deadly and capable creature, but it is not enough. The power they claim for it is vastly overstated. The high hopes for it winning the war will only lead us to overextend ourselves. We would certainly bring great harm to the humans, but we would awaken their true ire before we are strong enough to resist it. Once the dragon is dead, they will decide we are too dangerous to live.”

“Admittedly I am surprised the humans have not taken the opportunity to simply wipe us out. I have thought them weak.”

“They are weak. Like any animal that is backed into a corner, though, they can become extremely dangerous.”

“Hmm. That is something I had not considered.”

“Yes. Too many are blinded by the small possibility of winning they are willing to throw away everything.”

“The thought of finally returning to our rightful rule is tempting.”

Ranum sighed, “I have a plan to finally defeat the humans but it will take time and effort.”

“I may not like you or your kind, Ranum,” Voltagh growled, “But I know you are smart and want us to win. Tell me of your plan.”

“The humans have several advantages over us at the moment. Their access to resources is one of the biggest. We need a way to equalize our position. I found a way. However, to eventually pull off this plan we will need soldiers that survive this war.”

“Does your pet hobgoblin figure into this plan?”

“Of course,” Ranum replied, “I needed someone to train in the proper use of a true secret weapon. A goblin would be too small. An orc too impulsive. A bugbear too large. Only a hobgoblin would do. So I have made sure that from birth he has been given the best training. I taught him much of battle strategy myself.”

“I despise those hobgoblins and the way they act superior.”

“Yes,” Ranum sighed, “I have little patience for most of them as well. Navras I have tried to make the perfect goblinoid for the job. He may be a hobgoblin, but he sees the use of each of our breeds. Already my goblins are hard at work uncovering the artifacts we need to finish off the humans. We will need to survive this war with as many goblinoids as we can muster. Then we will need to rebuild what we have lost. Only this time we will be stronger. I will need your support when this foolish plan ends to oust the fools that started it.”

“Their failure will be their deaths, that much I can guarantee.”

“I also need to keep you from sending out your best soldiers. We have done enough damage to the humans. Let them think we are spent. I would rather not corner them.”

“I will see what I can do about that. If things look as dire as you say, there will be no reason to spend my best orcs against the humans yet. I would rather use them when we have a real chance at success.”

“That time will come,” Ranum smiled toothily, “The humans will not be expecting our line of attack. When Navras finally leads the goblinoids out of this fetid swamp, he will take all of us. He will be an unstoppable force. It will be glorious.”

“Now that sounds like a hobgoblin I would actually follow,” Voltagh replied.

***

The soldier stood solemnly over the graves. North of the base camp sat the graveyard for the soldiers who had fallen on the northern front. The graveyard had grown considerably with the last battle. The wounded were numerous as well. Lunaris had a cracked rib. She wasn't going to be doing any more fighting for a while. She was heading back into Nuvroc with several other soldiers. It was the soldiers who were hurt too bad to fight. Lunaris was young and would heal with care. Some of the others had taken far more severe wounds.

They would travel first to the small Nuvroci mining town of Brixia, where most would stay until they recovered enough for further travel. Lunaris would eventually need to return to the capital of Nuvroc, Cephas. The rangers had said she would get a new mentor there. She would likely be assigned to patrolling with the mentor at Nuvroc's southern border. Enzi hoped the best for her. She had changed significantly from her careless days. Few of the original warriors that Enzi had grown to know remained.

Medeus Tarim remained, staying close to General Cassius Tessium. The two Nuvroci soldiers had become friends. Medeus still worked to prove that he was free of the influence of an evil artifact that had claimed his mind, but he had shown no signs of regression since the foul knife had been destroyed. Beren Gendar also remained, although he was often on the hunt. The Tarvoni that were aiding the goblinoids had learned to keep themselves out of harm's way. The Agonish Magehunters had defeated many of the evil magic users and Beren had contributed significantly to that number.

Cleaning up the base encampment after the horde of orcs had not been easy. It was always difficult to see those you knew or fought beside when they were laying slain upon the cold, hard ground. The orcs were brutal. Cleaving and jagged blades made terrible wounds. Undisciplined strikes left few clean kills. The wounded had often been maimed. The dead had often died a slow and agonizing death. It had not been a pretty fight. Yet the humans had won. The orc horde had been slaughtered.

The thing that worried Enzi was that the orcs had fought to the death. They had shown no regard for their lives. It had been a reckless and wild assault. Of the goblinoid races, orcs had the reputation for brutality. These orcs had not shown even the slightest fear of death. Such fervor made for a deadly foe. It could also cause unpredictability. It made Enzi think about the future battles. The plans of the goblinoids were hard to fathom. He wondered what they would do next.

He knew of the secret weapon of the goblinoids. It was a drake, raised from an egg stolen from the lizardfolk in the Marsh of Vashim. It might not yet be as powerful as a fully grown adult dragon, but it would still be far beyond the power of any single person. It would likely even lay waste to entire armies. Bringing such a monster down would require other monsters. Luckily Enzi had recruited monsters for his Irregulars. The gorgon, minotaur, and vodyanoi were the last of their kind. The lycanthropes and Halz were rare and reclusive.

Enzi's Irregulars were a unique blend of talents. Enzi suspected that if they could not stop the drake then it would cause damage beyond reckoning before the young dragon was finally stopped. It would mean a war unlike any others. The humans would want revenge for the devastation. They had little love for the goblinoids. Revenge would give them a reason to hunt them down and slaughter every last one of them. The armies of the northern countries would win, but not without severe losses.

To retain the balance of the nations, Enzi needed to stop the drake. To save the lives of countless humans, as well as rescuing the goblinoids from extinction, Enzi had to slay the dragon. Most of all, only in stopping the mighty winged lizard would the plans of conquest by Feergrus be stopped. Enzi might still love his country and the people in it, but he no longer loved the government. The treacherous Devis Lane had seen to that. Enzi knew he could not allow Devis to unleash whatever evil plan he had in store upon the world of Doulairen.

As the funeral service for the fallen soldiers ended, General Cassius Tessium approached Enzi. The general had often gone to the Feergrus man for advice. The death of so many men had begun to wear on Cassius. He was a young man and the role of general had fallen upon him when the previous general had been slain. Yet already responsibility had begun to age the Nuvroci man. His skin was already rough tanks to the treatments and steel plates that had made him one of the Steel Warriors. The wrinkles would only make him look more grizzled.

“This attack was meant to do little more than harass us I expect,” Cassius stated.

Enzi nodded, “If they play a war of attrition, they will lose in the end. I see little strategy in this.”

“They have weakened the north, but we are still far stronger than where we once were. If we gain any other reinforcements, I expect that the north will be able to fend off almost any attack unless they throw all their forces here.”

Enzi's eyes widened, “They are going to make the north their target to draw reinforcements here. Then the final push will be south. Not the most brilliant of plans, but effective in its simplicity.”

“I will try to make sure that further Nuvroci reinforcements are sent south. If you are sure the final strike will be there, we will need as many soldiers there as possible to end it quickly and efficiently.”

Enzi nodded. This small group could hold the north. Even without the aid of Ravalei. The influence of the Rava Coast Trading Company had brought great trouble to the encampment. If Ravalei did eventually send more troops to the northern front, hopefully the Storm Brigade would dissuade them from trying to overthrow the leadership of General Cassius Tessium.

***

The Tarvoni that strode through the Goblinoid Lands did not wear the symbol of the Abyss Cult. His dirty blonde hair was darker than most Tarvoni and he wore leather armor instead of robes. There was no visible symbol of a cult anywhere, but he was heavily armed. Another Tarvoni came out to greet him. That Tarvoni did wear robes, and the spiral symbol of the Abyss Cult was prominent on them.

“I am Gree Vanier,” the robed Tarvoni said.

“What's the job?” the armored Tarvoni asked brusquely.

“A Magehunter. He works out of the northern front.”

“Interesting. You are talking about this Beren Gendar then. Two thousand gold coins.”

Gree nodded, “If you can do it, the gold is yours.”

The armored man turned and began walking north, “I will return with his head.”

Gree Vanier watched the armored man walk away. It was a Tarvoni from the Shadow Cult. They were professional assassins. If anyone could deal with the threat of a Magehunter, it was an assassin. The assassins in Ravalei had turned down the request by the Abyss Cult to eliminate the magehunter threat. Luckily, there were other options. The Shadow Cult were rarely seen, but they were professionals. They were experts with blades. Many were also mages.

The mages of the Shadow Cult might not be the most powerful among the Tarvoni, but that would be an advantage against a Magehunter. Beren Gendar had hurt the Tarvoni effort. The other Magehunters had not helped, but Beren was getting too close. Gree did not wish to have a Magehunter coming for his head. Two thousand gold coins was a considerable sum, but if it helped win the war than it was entirely worth it. Once Beren Gendar was dead, Gree could worry about the other Magehunters. They had not been as effective, hopefully they would be cheaper to eliminate.