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?”

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