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

30Oct/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0070

Keeping away from civilization in Kurrot was an easy task. That was not the same as keeping away from people. Small homesteads could be seen in the distance more than once. Great herds of animals moved through the vast plains, directed by the Kurrot who ran along with them. For what was often thought of as vast empty plains, the land of Kurrot was surprisingly well populated with life and activity. The Kurrot were generally a solitary people, so the Irregulars were left alone for nearly two weeks.

Devis Lane led the five inhuman mercenaries southwest towards Agon as a huge line of herd animals was passing on their eastern flank. However, the herd had taken a sharp right turn ahead, crossing in the path of Enzi's Irregulars. Devis would either have to push through the line of herd animals or make his westward tack much heavier than expected. The Rakshasa had little taste for delays. He was half tempted to just cut through the herd with violence.

As the approached the line of animals one of the Kurrot herders slowed and turned to face the group suspiciously, “Who... Or what are you?”

“Enzi's Irregulars,” Devis answered in Kurro, “Headed back to Feergrus. Your herd seems to now be in our way.”

“Not much I can do about that,” the tall, thin Kurrot replied, “Just take a listen on the breeze.”

Listening to the calm quiet of the fields might have been soothing to some, especially with the rhythmic tromping of hooves upon the ground. As the breeze picked up, Devis heard another sound. It sounded suspiciously like wind chimes. The metallic sound was out of place in a vast open plain of tall grasses. The Rakshasa noticed a sense of fear of the noise from the herd. A quick brush of the surface thoughts told him everything else he needed to know.

“You hear that jingling?” the Kurrot asked, “That is razor grass. You try walking through that, you gonna have your skin carved up real good. Stuff is sharper than most blades and tough as iron. Most annoying stuff around, you just can't seem to get rid of it.”

The disguised Rakshasa nodded, able to see the truth in the man's mind, “Then we must go around. It will delay us, but far less of a delay than having our skin carved off as you so delicately put it.”

Devis had little fear of razor grass and assumed most of the Irregulars would be resistant as well, but it paid to appear more human and vulnerable. From reading the Kurrot man's surface thoughts, Devis knew that the only reason the herders had not attacked was that they had seen odder things in the plains. As long as it did not attack the herd, they were willing to let almost anything pass by without a fight. They had better things to do than just pick a fight with everything that moved.

The herders still regarded the inhuman mercenaries and their foreign leader with great suspicion. Devis could not blame them. His own motives were decidedly against the success of Kurrot unless it joined Feergrus. His patriotism was without bounds. Devis would see that Feergrus succeeded, no matter what it took. For the moment, that mean turning westward and walking beside a great herd of animals. Eventually the Kurrot and the herds outran Enzi's Irregulars.

Devis saw where they turned southwards and followed the path that had been forged. The disguised Rakshasa led the way towards Agon. He continued to head southwest, though he turned their direction mouth southwards than he had before. They had moved eastwards for nearly the whole day to avoid the massive patch of razor grass. The group traveled for eight more days before reaching the border of Agon. The border between Kurrot and Agon was not patrolled. There was no fence or anything to stop border crossings.

At this point in the border, what separated Agon from Kurrot was civilization. Towns dotted the border. Heavily traveled roads existed between the towns. Devis hoped to cross through Agon with as little contact with the natives as possible. It would be impossible to avoid them. They would need their aid to cross the rivers, but Devis was skilled at negotiation. He expected to be able to smooth over nearly any problem, even with five monsters following him.

Using any of his magic would be the biggest problem. He would have to rely on his cunning and physical strengths to survive this trip. In these regards, the Rakshasa was still far superior to any human he knew. The group crossed the border of Agon between the cities of Parevius and Seligkint. Devis planned to take the group due south through the farmlands of Agon until they reached the city of Eurarmis. They could take a ferry across the Capital River there.

The trick would be the four day walk through the farmlands. Hopefully they would not have to deal with any of the farmers, but Devis did not hold out much hope for that. His only hope was that they could keep them calm long enough to escape Agon and enter Feergrus. Failing that, delaying a chase by soldiers would be good enough. Devis did not want to start a fight in Agon. He would rather spend his time on more important things. Plus he was not sure how well he could hide his identity in a fight.

In regular things he could fool people into believing he was Enzi Cala. Even the Irregulars had not yet begun to suspect the Rakshasa. However, Devis had his own fighting style. He had fought Enzi and might be able to emulate it, but the Rakshasa's instincts would certainly betray him. His skill in battle far exceeded Enzi's meager talents. He had to rely on diplomacy. Luckily, Devis was also remarkably skilled at talking his way out of trouble. Being able to read minds helped with that skill quite a bit.

The first day went well. They crossed the road without seeing anyone traveling between cities. Growing season had begun long enough ago that the fields provided visual cover. Harvest was still many months away thankfully. It gave Enzi's Irregulars a way to evade detection. Not that it completely worked, however, as the swaying of tall stalks gave away movement when there was no wind. Such movement brought suspicion. That was why during the second day a voice yelled out in Agonori.

“Who goes there?”

It was a standard hail to determine friend or foe. Animals or criminals might flee. Only a friend or the devious would reply. Devis was nothing if not devious, but he also currently had no reason to be anything but a friend. The Rakshasa could read the fear on the surface thoughts of the farmer. Like nearly all Agonish men, the farmer had been through militia training in his youth. His skill with weapons would be higher than just any person, but Devis could tell this was a man who had never been in an actual fight.

Devis spoke in Agonori, “Greetings. We are merely passing through on our way to Feergrus, my homeland.”

Still disguised as the Feergrus man Enzi Cala, the Rakshasa stepped to where the Agonish farmer could see him, “Ah, yes. Would not the road be easier?”

“Time is of the essence,” Devis said, attempting to allay the farmer's suspicions, “We decided to take a rather direct route to reach Eurarmis.”

“It would be a lot easier to cross the rivers at the capital. They meet near there.”

“We had hoped not to be seen too much. My companions draw a lot of attention. With limited time, I thought it best to avoid civilization as much as possible. If you see my allies, you might understand.”

Devis swept aside some of the stalks so that the farmer could catch a glimpse of the inhuman mercenaries.”

The farmer's eyes widened like giant saucers, “What kind of unholy monsters are those things?”

“In the battles ahead there are many dangerous monsters we will have to face. There are few things in this world more effective to fight a monster than another monster. You understand why we might want to keep things quiet, yes?”

“I... I can see. Just hurry up and get away from here. I don't want to see anything like that ever again.”

The farmer shuffled off quickly. Devis could feel the man's fear. Even without his ability to read a person's surface thoughts, the fear was palpable. With his ability, he could see that the man would be too frightened to leave his home for some time, hoping that the mercenaries would be long gone before he would exit again. It would give Enzi's Irregulars plenty of time to escape the area before the farmer might think to inform anyone of what he had seen.

The group pushed hard for the river. The hard part would be getting passage across the mighty capital river. One could not just ford it. Devis hoped to be able to find a quiet way across, but anything could happen once they reached the city. The five inhuman mercenaries could remain outside the town while Devis found a method to get across. Crossing the Ago River would be much easier. All he had to do was reach the Agonish town of Mocelare.

An agent of Feergrus lived there and would make sure the rest of the trip went well. The group just had to make it across the Capital River and another two day's worth of travel across farmlands. Then they would be home free. The group had no more delays in their trip to Eurarmis. Still disguised as the Feergrus man known as Enzi Cala, Devis spoke to the Irregulars. He told them to make their way around the town to the river as quietly as possible and to remain unseen.

With that, the Rakshasa left them. Eurysa led the way and the group hid near the road that led into the small city. Ritter, as the one with the most human appearance, at least from a distance, peered down the road in both directions. The goal was to wait until the road was clear. At that point the group would rush across and make their way to the riverbank. However, it seemed like there was a constant stream of traffic flowing into and out of the town.

Finally things settled down and the five monstrous warriors made their way across the road. They came to the riverbank and watched as the mighty river flowed westwards towards the sea. The river was large, though not as large as the Ago River that it eventually flowed into. It was the Ago River that reached the ocean, carrying the water of at least a half dozen tributaries. The capital River carried water from three tributaries itself, the Florisica River, the Videnthal River, and the Kelmbach River.

Those rivers all met at the Agonish city of Wevner, often known as the City of Bridges. That city was far to the east however, and of no use to the travelers and their current predicament. A nice bridge would have been quite helpful where they were. The river was wide enough that it was difficult to see where the opposite bank was. Small waves showed the strong current. Aldebaran looked at the water and grunted while Kava was already busy dipping her one remaining hand into the cool water to refresh herself.

“Worried about getting sea sick?” the vodyanoi croaked at the minotaur.

Aldebaran snorted, “More worried how they are going to fit your ego on a boat.”

“I'll just swim. I can breathe underwater after all. This little boat thing is for all of you. Once again, proving my superiority. Breathing only air is for wimps.”

“You should try not breathing at all.”

“Then I could not add my insightful commentary. Whatever would you do then?”

“Probably be happy.”

“Not while I'm around. You are more amusing when you are grumpy anyway.”

23Oct/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0069

The sound continued to move as Devis' cunning mind pondered a dozen different solutions to the problem. It would help him if he knew what the actual problem was. A mobile Orn Baer Agar was the worst possibility. Prey that mimicked it would be the easiest, but Devis doubted mere prey would venture so close to the Irregulars unless it had to. Devis was rather surprised when he finally saw the foe. He grinned, for while unlikely, it was the kind of foe Devis dealt with most easily.

A man walked out from behind a tree, spinning a weird piece of wood. As he did so, it unleashed the siren's song. It was a neat trick. Timing it with the breeze would have been the hardest part, but it did not have to be exact. The way sound traveled was funny sometimes. The person that stepped out was obviously a Kurrot, though his appearance was bedraggled. This was a man who lived in the swamps, likely a hermit of some sort. To survive, he had learned all the tricks of the marsh.

Devis spoke in perfect Kurro, “Greetings stranger. It appears you have frightened off the goblinoids.”

“Lots of things move around here now,” the Kurrot replied, “Your war has made this a dangerous place.”

“Our war?” Devis asked.

“A Feergrus and some creatures out of myth and legend. You are Enzi's Irregulars.”

“How do you know of us?”

“I may avoid the so called civilized folk, but I keep up on the news when I can. I am a little surprised to see you here, however. Shouldn't you be over making war on the northern front?”

“Not anymore. We are making our way to Feergrus. Trying to save a few innocent lives.”

The swamp man snorted, “There are no innocent lives.”

“I can see why you would remove yourself to live here then.”

“Don't get me wrong, some people are decent enough, but the vast majority are enough to drive a man insane. I mean, what else would you call someone willing to come live in a swamp? Still, anything is better than those damn goblinoids. So I help out travelers from time to time and see what news they can give me of the outside world.”

“I can not imagine a lot of travelers come this way.”

“There are always people stupid enough to foolishly come here. Rarely they are more competent like you. People driven by need. Most are just hoping to make a name for themselves in the swamp. If the goblinoids don't get them, one of the trees might. Those blood sucking fiends are always waiting to charm someone close to them.”

Devis nodded, “We are familiar with the Orn Baer Agar in Feergrus. They haunt the Marsh of Vashim as well.”

“That sounds like an awful fancy name for killer trees,” the Kurrot grumbled.

“It is a pretty old name,” Devis stated, “As for new of the outside world, there is little new to tell you. The war continues. It will keep continuing for quite some time yet. I suspect the goblinoids will break eventually. The time is not yet ripe for their defeat. It will come, but the number of people who shall fall is left yet uncounted.”

“I'll be glad when it is over. Goblinoid critters come in droves now. Ruins the peace and quiet. Well, I will let you get on your way then. I have a few goblinoids to scare. If you come back through, be sure to stop by and tell me the news.”

“Yes, if we ever come this way again, perhaps we will chat again. Your aid is most appreciated.”

The hermit danced off to scare off the goblinoids while the disguised Devis looked to the mercenaries, “Well, he should buy us some relatively quiet nights until we get out of this place. Perhaps we will make it out of the swamp without incident after all.”

***

The hermit made his way through the Siren Swamp. He had his whistling rod at the ready. He had worked a long time on the carving of the instrument. Matching the sounds of the sirens of the swamp had been difficult. He quite enjoyed using it to scare the goblinoids. It was a necessary tool for his survival in the marsh. As he was using it to drive the goblinoids away from Enzi's Irregulars, he was quite shocked to see a Feergrus man appear in front of him.

“Enzi! What are you doing out here?” the hermit asked.

The disguised Rakshasa leapt forward and grabbed the hermit as he unleashed a spell. The hermit fell coughing. Blood poured from a hole in his side. He looked up in confusion as Devis Lane. The face of Enzi Cala smiled down at the hermit.

“Your toy will come in quite useful someday. I am taking it for study. There is an added bonus that you will not be able to help any other travelers through the swamp. Any other casualties of these foreigners will help me in the long run. Survivors of goblinoid ambushes will have killed off some of the goblinoids. No matter who dies, I win. These are the kind of situations I love most when I can create them. A situation where I can not lose.”

The hermit gurgled as he twitched on the ground, “Don't worry. Your hard work will make Feergrus a stronger country. In the end, that is all that is important. For love of my gods and country, you had to die. I am sorry, but your usefulness had ended.”

Devis Lane took the instrument that could mimic an Orn Baer Agar from the grasp of the corpse and hid it in his pack. He returned to camp silently and swiftly. The watch never even noticed he was gone. The mercenaries of Enzi's Irregulars were highly skilled, but they were little match for Devis Lane. The Rakshasa had thousands of years of experience in these things. Disguised as the once great Feergrus general named Enzi Cala, the Rakshasa closed his eyes and rested, waiting for morning.

***

The rest of the night passed without any further distractions. The next two days of travel put them past the area most likely to be heavily infested with goblinoids. They spent a quiet night in the middle of the Siren Swamp. The next day brought some hope to the group. By the end of the day, the ground had grown much firmer. Finally after another few days, the woods began to rapidly thin until Enzi's Irregulars stepped out onto the Blood Plains. To the southeast they could see the idyllic Lake Hargis.

To the south, they could see the farmlands of the Kurrot and the reddish grass that helped give the Blood Plains their name. The myth said that when a great combat occurred on this part of the Plains of Kur, it was so terrible that it stained the grass and the ground. The ground was saturated with red clay. While the myths were not entirely true, a great battle had occurred on the Blood Plains during the Second Goblinoid War. The humans had little information on this as they had been little more than small wandering tribes that avoided the area at that time in history.

Legends and myths had a way of remaining, even if the truth was long gone. Lake Hargis had been named after a human warlord. Legend told of him and his two daughters. One ended up as a mate to the equally famous warlord named Kur. The daughters gave their name to rivers, Liandris and Marnea. The Kurrot city-state that called itself Two Daughters was a nod to these legends. Devis could have certainly shed some light on the truth of the humans of that time, but saw little reason to tell people of their history of brutality.

It was easier to give them hope. To allow them belief in an innate nobility, even in a savage. In Devis Lane's eyes, the humans were easy to manipulate. It made them the perfect tool for the empire that the Rakshasa planned to create. There would be no more wars. Even then, Devis would still be needed however. Those who were not content would need to be ferreted out. Devis was the perfect spy and assassin. He would help the empire to be formed, then he would help it to last forever. A perfect utopia with the Rakshasa as leaders and the humans as their servants. It would take time, but the Rakshasa did not age. They had all the time in the world.

The group continued southwards. On the shore of the lake they could see one of the powerful city-states of Kurrot. This one had the unimaginative name of Lake Town. It was the first defense against goblinoid strikes from the Siren Swamp. It had nearly as many soldiers as it did fisherman. The freshwater fish of the lake were well loved across the island as something different from the ocean fish hauled in by the cities on the shore. As the Kurrot economy was mainly built on their export of salt, salted meats had become a major export as well.

Keeping fish fresh enough to be edible over long distances was difficult. Using salt to cure meat often meant it could last for weeks or months. The distance meant that cured freshwater fish was a delicacy in most lands. It was possible to catch them in the river east of Ravalei, but it was rare. That brought the fish too close to the briny ocean waters and the dangerous predators that lurked within. The fish found in the Ago River and its tributaries were freshwater fish as well, although of a very different variety.

Fish were not the only meat export. While Kurrot had significant farms for vegetables on the Blood Plains, its largest farming community were the shepherds of the plains. It was not just sheep, however. Oxen and goats were commonly herded in the Plains of Kur. While the kingdom of Agon was a dominant force in the farming of plants, Kurrot ruled the farming of most animals. Agon spent its skills in animal husbandry on horses. The land that might be used by farm animals was instead used to raise their mighty steeds.

It had allowed the two countries to come to an equitable trade balance. Agon constantly worked to find better deals for itself, dealing with each of the separate city-states of Kurrot. Each city-state was independent, allowing for some interesting trade negotiations. While the city-states of Kurrot were supposed to be allied, there was often competition between them. This was something that could easily be used against them, as long as you were careful. It was never advisable to piss off a Kurrot.

With that though in his head, Devis Lane led Enzi's Irregulars southwards. His plan was to avoid the cities and civilization. It seemed the most prudent thing to do. They would press forward, trying to reach Feergrus as quickly as possible. The wide open plains of Kurrot seemed a good place to make up some lost time. Civilization was sparse and most Kurrot would want nothing to do with travelers. The hermit in the swamp had not been much of an exception to the people of Kurrot.

It would be a solid three week walk to the Agonish border if the group headed straight south. Devis wanted to cut westward some. He wanted to minimize the time spent in Agon. The kingdom was widest in the east and thinnest in the west. Devis hoped to cross the border, then the Capital River, followed by the Ago River. While he could travel down the Capital River to reach the Ago River, that would take the group past the capital of the kingdom.

Devis did not want the inhuman mercenaries anywhere near the city of Agonor. It was too well policed. The criminal organizations there were quite powerful as well. Enzi's Irregulars had few fans in the southern countries anymore. A bounty rested on their heads for events long ago. Devis was sure the group had not been responsible, but that mattered little to him other than how it affected his plan. When the Irregulars had taken care of his problem with the lizardfolk, he could send them off to die. They would no longer be of any use to him.

16Oct/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0068

As the Feergrus man stepped across the ground of the base Kava croaked, “That limp is getting worse old man.”

The disguised Devis Lane scanned the surface thoughts of the vodyanoi to aid his reply, “Not so old that I can not still thump you in a fight.”

“Ha!” Kava cackled, “You still have fire left I see.”

“It will be needed. It is time for us to leave this place.”

“I thought that wasn't for another month?”

“Things have changed, we have another threat to deal with. I think you will like this one. Let's get the others.”

Kava rushed ahead as Devis changed the magnitude of his fake limp slightly. Soon all five inhuman mercenaries stood before the Rakshasa. They had been Enzi's Irregulars. Now they were a perfect weapon. Devis just need to get them south to start a war. None seemed to suspect him yet. The true test was yet to come. He looked over the five monsters and listened to their surface thoughts. He was as prepared as he could be for the act of a lifetime.

“We have a situation. Thousands of innocent lives are on the line. We can not wait here. We can not take safe routes. Time is no longer on our side. The lizardfolk are on the move in unimaginable numbers. We need to blunt their assault. I believe I know a way, but we have a long way to go. We must leave immediately.”

“A chance to chop up some slimy troglodytes?” Kava croaked, “This is too good to be true.”

“We are prepared,” Eurysa hissed, “It would be easier if we still had transportation.”

“We will make do,” the fake Enzi stated, “Perhaps the fates will aid us. This will be a dangerous trip. We have to cut through the Siren Swamp, Kurrot, and Agon. None of these places will be prepared for us. They will not have high regard for such monsters as we. We will do what we must. For the good of the people of the world. Come now, let us begin our journey.”

The group moved towards the gate and headed out. Upon hearing the news of their departure and what little had been overheard, a surprised General Cassius Tessium looked across the base camp. The northern front was now his alone to lead. The Nuvroci man took a deep breath. This was a true test for him. He wondered if he would pass. Devis Lane, on the other hand, was pleased with the reactions he had seen to his act thus far. The surface thoughts of the Irregulars showed no suspicion.

It was merely a start, but at least the first step was on solid ground. That would quickly become less likely to happen in the physical world. Traveling into the Siren Swamp was a moist affair. Finding solid footing was difficult. Slogging through the marsh took time and effort, but it was the fastest way. Technically the marsh of the Goblinoid Areas and the marsh known as the Siren Swamp were separate with about a four day walk between them.

In deed that area had far more solid ground. The Juranem River had solid definition as it flowed northwards out of Lake Hargis and towards the north coast. The river marked the edge of the Siren Swamp. The Tranumea River also flowed out of Lake Hargis and met up with the Juranem River. It was difficult to find much definition in that river while within the swamp. The Singer River marked another border of the Siren Swamp. Like the siren it was named after, the Tranumea River was a great danger within the marsh.

It was a deeper area within the march and had a powerful current. It could easily sweep one away never to be seen again. Yet it hid within the swamp nearly invisible to the naked eye unless you knew what to look for. It was only one of the dangers down the path Devis Lane led the Irregulars. It took nearly four days to reach the Juranem River from the military encampment. They ran into one of the Nuvroci Rangers who was out on patrol but otherwise that part of the trip went remarkably smoothly.

Crossing the Juranem River was the first challenge. It was not an easy river to ford. The group locked arms and moved into the water carefully. They moved at an angle, headed downstream as they moved across. The current caused a few minor problems, but the team eventually did make it to the other side safely. That meant the danger had only begun. It was only about two days of travel to reach the Tranumea River's current hidden within the Siren Swamp.

The other danger were the denizens of the marsh. It was very likely that goblinoids would be found in the Siren Swamp. They used crude boats to ferry their warriors past the rivers, so it was unlikely that any such foes would be found until the Irregulars crossed the Tranumea River. The ground tried to grasp at the feet of the Irregulars that had such appendages. The marshy ground made terrible sounds as the group tried to find drier ground. Eurysa had it easier in many ways. Her lower body as a snake gave her enough surface area to slide across the marshy ground without too much trouble.

The next day the group found a watery area. It was certain to be the Tranumea River. It was impossible to tell where the deadly currents might be. Devis used a stack to try to feel out where the deeper areas might be. The javelins, however, were a surprise. On what had to be the far side of the river, several goblinoids leapt up from the vegetation to make an ambush. Their javelins did not hit any marks luckily. Eurysa's bow answered the attack, felling one of the goblinoids.

The rest fled, but it was obvious that the goblinoids were watching the river. Crossing it seemed impossible. It was dangerous enough without being harassed by attackers. Devis glanced around the area. He did not have time to go around the long way. He quickly formulated a few plans. The resources of the Irregulars would have to be enough. Devis could certainly make the crossing much easier with his abilities, but he did not dare expose himself yet.

“Aldebaran, Kava. That tree there. It is close to the edge of the river,” Devis pointed, “Why don't you two do a little damage and we will see if we can not make a temporary bridge. Then Eurysa can cover us while we cross and secure the other side.”

The minotaur and the vodyanoi set to work. Aldebaran hit the tree with his two handed elven blade. Kava hacked at it with her two hatchets. Ritter watched and kept his shield at the ready for incoming projectiles. His warhammer would be of little use in chopping at a tree. Mayitso paced back and forth, wanting to find the goblinoids on the other side of the river and slay them for daring to attack his friends, the people he now considered to be his family. Eurysa merely watched for foes with an arrow nocked in her bow.

Devis Lane watched the Irregulars work. He smiled as the tree crashed to the ground, splashing into the water and muck. The current of the Tranumea River could be seen as it crashed against the tree. Devis doubted the bridge would last long against the power of water. It would last long enough for his purposes. Already Mayitso leapt on top of the temporary bridge and charged across the river. Aldebaran, Kava, and Ritter followed after the lycanthrope.

Eurysa got a pair of shots at foes, but the goblinoids quickly fled from combat. Devis and Eurysa made their way across the fallen tree. Aldebaran hacked at the tree a few times. Minus a few branches, the tree was beginning to strain against the flow of water. Devis suspected that a regular crossing would have never worked. Soon enough, the tree was ripped from its position and it tumbled downstream. Soon the tree disappeared from sight to the north.

It mattered little to Enzi's Irregulars. The mercenary group had already began its trek deeper into the Siren Swamp. They knew for sure that they were not alone. A good watch for the night would be imperative. The first night, however, was surprisingly quiet. Devis was not sure if that meant the goblinoids had truly been frightened away or if they were merely planning something. The next morning the mercenaries made their way deep into the marsh.

Keeping to firmer ground drove them further north than Devis preferred. However, they also saw more signs of the goblinoids in the south. The bugbears certainly loved the water and ambushes. Devis did not want to have to fight through all of them. It cost less time to simply avoid the area of greatest danger. The gambit paid off as the group did not run into any ambushes. The sharp sense of smell that Mayitso lent the group certainly helped with that luck.

As the group set up camp for the night, they took extra precautions once again. This was one of the best chances the goblinoids had to strike against the mercenaries. It was during Ritter's watch that the movement began. The Halz woke the others quietly. Whatever was moving crept in from the south. Then the group heard a haunting noise. Somewhere to the north a voice seemed to sing. It sounded like a lilting female voice. The movement to the south suddenly stopped at that sound.

The song became louder, the voice unleashing notes that seemed to tell a tale of sadness. Whatever was to the south of the camp turned tail and fled. They made no effort to conceal themselves. It was obvious the odd music had spooked them. Thoughts rushed through the heads of the mercenaries. The myth of the sirens now seemed less like a mere legend. The possibility of such a creature existing could not entirely be ruled out. Tales spoke of the song and of people disappearing, but only the Casean explorer Juranem had claimed to see a siren.

Now the mercenaries could hear the song. It almost sounded like a woman crying for help through music. The ethereal quality of the tune was haunting. It seemed to coincide with the slight breeze that whistled through the marsh. However, the way it was getting louder meant that it was moving closer. The mix of signs that it might be natural and might be a mythical monster drove the curiosity of most of the Irregulars. Devis Lane, however, wanted nothing to do with it.

The disguised Rakshasa had a pretty good idea what was causing the sound. The goblinoids had good reason to flee if he was right. It was what the elves had called the Orn Baer Agar. Baer was the elven term for consumption. It was suspected that the creatures called bears in the far south took their name from this term. It was likely that the term had been used by the elves talking about ravenous bears coming out of hibernation. The Hirkans had merely assumed that this term was a name for the creature.

However, an Orn Baer Agar was no bear. Agar was the elven term for blood. Orn was their term for a tree. The Orn Baer Agar was a large tree that could call prey to it with a magical ability to charm. That did not account for the sound getting closer. The trees could not move. They could merely call out. If such a thing could become fully ambulatory, it would be dangerous indeed. However, Devis reasoned that the sound, while strikingly similar to an Orn Baer Agar, was likely caused by something else.

The disguised Rakshasa wondered if a creature of the swamp used that call to scare off predators. Those who had not gotten too close to the blood drinking trees would learn to avoid the music. Those who did wander too close had a chance to fall under its spell. Hopefully it was just prey that had adapted a predator's call. If not, the group would need fire. A lot of fire.

9Oct/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0067

Devis Lane had found Enzi's Irregulars. Devis had come to chat with the man who had once been one of the greatest generals of his nation. Enzi Cala, a member of one of the great families of Feergrus, although his dishonor had humbled the family slightly. Now Devis needed the talents of his team to save Feergrus from becoming embroiled in a costly war with the lizardfolk from the Marsh of Vashim. He looked over the motley band of monstrosities that the Feergrus man had assembled.

Aldebaran Celeno was the largest of the mercenary monsters. He was a minotaur. To the eyes of Devis Lane, he was all muscle and rage. Aldebaran had lost his left horn at some point since the shapechanger had last seen him. The brute was good for killing things, but little else. Surprisingly, Devis thought much the same way of the team's smallest member. She was the vodyanoi known as Kava Roukami. Her right hand had been lopped off along with some of the forearm. She wore a prosthetic on the mangled arm. It was a brutal hatchet arm now. She held a regular hatchet in her other hand.

The third was the dwarf known as Ritter Earthbreaker. A walking tank in his armor, he wielded a heavy warhammer and a thick shield. His skills with engineering were useful, but he also did not matter much to Devis. The fourth was the gorgon named Eurysa Medenos Thulea. She was the most dangerous one in the group other than Enzi. It was her sharp mind that worried Devis. She knew Enzi the best and was the most likely to spoil the plans of the cunning shapechanger.

The final member was the most important one as far as Devis was concerned. It was the lycanthrope named Mayitso Hastine. Devis was surprised to see the nasty jagged scar across the great wolf's face. The lycanthrope had lost an eye. Devis hoped the damage would not cause issues with the plan to save Feergrus. That would not stop Devis Lane. He was one of the last of his kind. He would find a way to succeed. As a Rakshasa, he had the power to shift into various humanoid shapes as he pleased. His natural shape was of a feline humanoid. He also had the ability to read the surface thoughts of those around him.

Devis had disguised himself as a Nuvroci soldier. He blended in well with the growing military encampment. Devis approached Enzi that evening as most people settled down to sleep. Some of the guards moved off to take their shift on watch. It was a quiet time, but Devis knew there was great danger and risk in the plan he had devised. He hoped that Enzi would work willingly with him, but he assumed the Feergrus man would want nothing to do with a plan that would only benefit Feergrus and its standing in the world.

“Good evening, Enzi,” the disguised Devis said calmly.

“Good evening,” Enzi asked quizzically, not recognizing the apparently Nuvroci soldier.

“We need to talk in private, I fear it is important but I fear prying eyes and ears more,” Devis said.

“Why would you trust me with this? General Cassius Tessium is an honorable man.”

“Yes, but I fear I can only trust you with this. Anyone else who learns of this puts their life in danger,” Devis said truthfully.

“Would that not place my life in danger as well?” Enzi asked.

“Yes,” Devis admitted, “But I feel you are the only one who can handle the task at hand.”

“Then I shall listen,” Enzi stated, “But do not waste my time. There are important things yet to do. I will let Ritter know I will be right back.”

Devis nodded, such a warning to friends would change nothing. Enzi could tell the man was telling the truth. The Feergrus man had sharp senses when it came to that. That had been part of the problem with his service to the theocracy. The pair moved off to a secluded corner of the base camp. The way it had been expanded had been in a ramshackle manner. It led to several such blind corners until they were cleared out. It was not perfect, but it would have to do. In the hidden corner Devis changed into the form of a Feergrus man. It was the form that most knew as Devis Lane.

“You!” Enzi said.

“Yes,” Devis replied, “It seems this war has brought a great evil to the borders of Feergrus.”

“You speak of the lizardfolk?” Enzi asked.

“You know of how terrible the situation has become?”

“I suspected after what we have learned here.”

“We need you to help save Feergrus,” Devis stated firmly, “Or more specifically we need the aid of the lycanthropes. There may not be a large number of them left in this world, but their strengths make them worth several lizardfolk in a fight.”

“You would have them die rather than your own people?” Enzi asked, “You have the soldiers to easily turn back this invasion.”

“Yes, but that would weaken our position in the world.”

“That matters little to me now,” Enzi replied coldly, “There is a far greater danger to the world than a small horde of lizardfolk. Though oddly enough the two are related.”

“I see you speak the truth,” Devis said, “Tell me more of this. Perhaps I can help. We may not get along, but we both wish for an end to this war as well as the sound defeat of the Tarvoni aiding the goblinoids.”

“There is a reason the lizardfolk are on the warpath,” Enzi said, “The Tarvoni stole a precious relic from them and placed the blame on the Feergrus. This relic was a dragon egg. They hatched and nurtured the beast and will soon unleash it. This beast will make the war terrible indeed.”

“It is in the Goblinoid Lands?” Devis asked.

Enzi nodded, “Since it was a Tarvoni plot, they will unleash it on Agon first.”

“Their army will end such a beast. Eventually,” Devis replied.

“Yes, but at an astronomical cost. The backlash against the goblinoids will be worse. There are many who do not want this war.”

“Yes, the hatred from such a devastating attack will make the pot boil over,” Devis said, “The goblinoids will be obliterated. The northern countries will be drastically weakened. This outcome greatly favors Feergrus.”

Enzi's voice chilled again,“But not the world. You know I think bigger than just our one little country.”

“We think bigger as well,” Devis replied.

“Bigger as in ruling all the world!” Enzi growled.

“Yes, Lord Glanar Dale is the most capable creature alive. If he wasn't I would have taken over leadership myself,” Devis said, “Eventually all of Doulairen will be under our control.”

“If the people of Feergrus knew what you were really like, they would rise up and destroy you.”

“Yes, I find that humans rarely have the intellect to add one and one together, let alone see the plans in the minds of their betters,” Devis said.

“Well then. You can deal with your own problem,” Enzi said, “The dragon is a more important foe. Even the rest of the Irregulars know of it. They won't be stopped.”

“I don't plan to stop them,” Devis said, “It is possible that the Agonish army will fail to stop the goblinoids and the dragon. The chance is remote, but a monster or two to slow the dragon won't hurt. Especially since at least one of your beasts will be busy with the lizardfolk situation.”

“You don't understand, we are not helping you at all. We need all the manpower we have to stop the dragon.”

“Exactly. So I don't want you to have all of your manpower,” Devis said.

Enzi furious tone grew, “You have all the manpower you need to stop the lizardfolk. Leave us alone. We will not help you. That is the end of the story.”

“I am afraid you are correct, Enzi Cala,” Devis Lane replied with a smirk, “I suspected you would be resistant. I did not expect the news you brought. For that I thank you. However, there is a matter that we need to settle. You violated several laws of Feergrus. The punishment decided for those crimes was death. Your execution was delayed as long as you were useful.”

Enzi merely gurgled. Devis' hand was on the soldier's chest. Blood had splattered across the wall behind Enzi. The aging Feergrus man slumped to the ground.

“Sorry to kill you in the middle of my speech,” Devis replied softly, “But I expect once you realized what my plan was, you might have resisted or rose the alarm.”

“What... What are you?” Enzi gasped weakly.

“I am a monster, like your precious Irregulars. Karrum, Glanar, and I are the last three. The fourth set sail across the ocean before we knew how foolish a notion that was. We have been here the whole of the Sixth Age. We barely survived the ending of the Fifth Age.”

“Sixth Age?”

“Yes,” Devis replied quietly, “The Sixth Age of Doulairen. This world is far older than most know. I have revealed a few of its minor secrets to you now. Think of this knowledge as a gift for the work you have done. Now you will serve me in death, as is the way of all natives of Feergrus. Only your service will not be as one of the undead.”

Enzi sputtered trying to talk but Devis shushed him. Thanks to the magic of the Ravaleians, Devis was not worried about his spells catching the eye of the Magehunter. With a few spells, Devis completely eliminated the body of the once great general. With naught but dust left of the once great man, Devis sighed. The Rakshasa shifted his shape to look exactly like Enzi, then put on clothes that matched what the general normally wore. This would be the greatest role Devis had yet played.

He had to fool the intellect of the gorgon. He had to fool the nose of the lycanthrope. These were the challenges that Devis looked forward to. He worried less about the other monsters. It would be good practice for the Rakshasa's skills. He knew a lot about Enzi Cala. He had read the surface thoughts of the man for many years, and had done so again before killing him. He believed he could pull off this one great con. If he failed, he merely had to slay them all and move on to his next plan.

If there was one thing Devis always had, it was a backup plan. His machinations sometimes failed. He had honed his skills in deception to a sharp edge. His plans had the backing of over four thousand years of experience. However, circumstances could change at a moment's notice. Things did not always go as expected. He had assassinated kings, created conflict between nations, and helped to create a religion. The very shape of the world as it now sat was because of his actions.

He had ended the war between Casea and Agon. He had started the hatred between elves and the Halz. That little subterfuge had not taken much work. Acting as the messenger for each group, he had relayed false information. Both sides preferred isolation. Giving them a reason to trust outsiders had solidified both races as marginal players. As an allied force, they could have been a thorn in the side of the Rakshasa's plans. Now it was too late. Both races were dying.

Yet such things were in the distant past. Now Devis Lane had a new future to forge. He could foresee a greatly weakened Agon needing the aid of Feergrus in its darkest hour. Even if things did not go that direction, Devis already had plans in the works to have influence over the next ruler of the kingdom. He always tried to have multiple plans in motion. For the moment, he concentrated on his current plan. He would need to become someone else.

The powerful and ancient monster took a deep breath and his new disguise spoke its first words, “I am Enzi Cala.”

2Oct/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0066

Aldebaran grunted, “Burn it. Nothing good can come of it.”

“Very well,” the gorgon hissed, “Hopefully cleansing it by fire well prevent the spread.”

“Even if we did study it,” Ritter stated, “It would not tell us where it came from. The source is beyond our reach. Better to be safe than to have it spread to the humans.”

“Although,” Kava croaked, “Mayitso did have it in his mouth. Hopefully that won't cause it to infect him too.”

“Maybe that Ravaleian has some more stuff to flush out toxins,” Kava said, “I don't know if I wanna trust him with a sample of this goo. It seems too tempting for all the weird alchemy he might do. Who else would even be able to examine it properly?”

Soon flames licked at the immense rock falcon. The pyre would erase the beast and hopefully whatever had corrupted it. It was one more danger removed, but the fact that such things occurred haunted the five inhuman mercenaries. The cause behind it could be many things. If it was a new trick from the Tarvoni mages of the Abyss Cult, then it was potentially an extreme threat. There was little they could do. They returned to the encampment to inform the people there of their findings.

General Cassius Tessium nodded on hearing the information, “A tough choice you had to make, but I approve. The safety of all our people is paramount. You should have the wolf checked out. We don't want him getting sick too.”

Enzi led the lycanthrope to the Ravaleian. Jenner Gann would be able to do quite a lot. He was able to weave spells without the need of a formula. It was common among the Tarvoni to find such sorcerers. In Ravalei, it was more common to find wizards that used spellbooks. Each had their own advantages and disadvantages. For a sorcerer like Jenner, the advantage was in flexibility. He would be able to cast the spells needed to detect any odd disease that Mayitso might have contracted. Healing such things, however, was far more difficult.

“We need some help,” Enzi stated.

Jenner looked up at the Feergrus man from his seat, “Of course. What can I do for you?”

“Mayitso here recently came into contact with a creature infected with some sort of disease or something that we did not recognize. As we do not even know how the infection spreads, we thought it best to get him checked out as he had his jaws on the tainted creature.”

“I'll gladly do what I can,” the Ravaleian replied, “If I do find something, we may want to check all of your team. If it is airborne it could be extremely dangerous.”

Jenner wove spell after spell over the lycanthrope, “Well, I do not detect anything odd as far as I can tell. I am not an expert on medical advice however.”

“I would trust magic to find things that are less obvious to our naked eyes. Thank you for helping.”

“Aiding others is something I do quite often,” Jenner smiled, “My limited mobility since the accident with my leg means I often arrive last to places. It gives me time to think and be calm about my decisions. The practice at that has helped many times in my career. These few things I do here are but minor aids.”

***

Voltagh rested comfortably. His best orcs now hid deep within the mountains. Many goblins that were allies to Ranum now served them, bringing supplies. Their disappearance had been explained as them setting up for the major assault. Supposedly the forces would be unleashed to harry the northern front when the drake was finally released. Another group would be sent through the swamp and across the lake to fight on the western front. Ranum had already siphoned off a lot of the support for that attack.

The commander most loyal to the leaders of the dragon assault would all be joining the main thrust to the south. Ranum expected that most of them would die. Those who were smart enough to retreat would find very different leadership when they returned. Those who did not fall into line would be eliminated. The remaining goblinoids would be the strongest of the survivors. The weakest had been sent out to show the current leadership that they were doing something. The cull would make the race stronger.

Then the goblinoids would grow again. Ranum had already been working on the breeding program. The current crop of children were born of the best stock. The only thing left was to procure the artifacts that lay buried in the mountain. With them, no foe would be able to stand in their way. A flurry of activity caught the attention of Voltagh and Ranum. A goblin carrying something rushed up to the ancient goblin Ranum.

“We found something!” the goblin chirped.

Ranum looked at what the goblin had dug up. It was a sword, still with hardened rock and lava covering much of it. However, it was unmistakable. It was one of the Three Brothers. The blade was made of orichalcum and the dwarven runes on it talked of the power of the storms. It was the Eye of the Maelstrom. The goblin that brought it had every right to chirp happily. Ranum felt his own spirits lift. The first of the artifacts had been uncovered.

“Most excellent,” the goblin wizard replied finally, “The other blades should be near.”

“Yeah,” the much younger goblin said, “Although we have had to deal with fresh magma. It has made things slow. We will continue now that we know we must be near.”

The goblin ran off as Ranum looked to Voltagh, “Things are looking up. Now we just need to find the other two blades. We need the Heart of the Tempest and more importantly the Spirit of the Cataclysm. With all three we will be able to defeat any foe, no matter how powerful.”

Voltagh looked at the blade, his eyes filling with greed, “It... It is beautiful. I can feel the power, even from here.”

“Yes, we must be careful. It can overwhelm a user with its sheer power.”

“It did not overwhelm the messenger.”

“These blades are unlike any other. They will only allow the powerful to wield them. They would want someone like you, a skilled warrior. Yet their power would dominate your mind. I have worked with Navras all of his life to train his mind for the responsibility of wielding these weapons. Even with all my training, I worry that the blades will win. Now that I have one to study, perhaps I can better prepare one to wield them.”

Voltagh had trouble lifting his eye from the majestic blade. The orc suddenly pondered how long he should wait until he made his move. Ranum was an excellent tactician, but the Orc knew that someday he absolutely had to hold that sword in his own hands. It was meant for someone greater than some young hobgoblin. Voltagh would become the most powerful warrior in the world. The time was not ripe yet. It would come soon. It had to come soon.

***

A new batch of supplies and fresh soldiers had arrived at the encampment. The first of the golems had arrived as well. A pair of stone golems would now aid the northern front, Jenner had won over many of the people in the camp. His frank and helpful manner had helped. Tales of his times in the factory crafting golems as well as other tales of life in Ravalei had shown the people of the encampment what the country was really like.

The power of the Rava Coast Trading Company had been in its freedom. It had mercenaries to spare when the rest of Ravalei was busy crafting golems and other weapons for war. The greed of the company had grown rampant while the country had been busy with other concerns. The war had enabled the evil that had occurred. It was a sad testament to human failings.

Ritter sat thinking about his adventure in the land of the open sky. The Halz had spent much of his life in the tunnels beneath the Nuvro Range. Humans had been odd creatures that lived without the comfort of rock all around them. They were growing rapidly, however. That was a trait that the Halz did not possess. Ritter's kin were shrinking in number from year to year. The dwindling numbers had driven many of the Halz to look for other solutions.

Some of those had decided that their culture was to blame. They decided it was time to study the other cultures of the world. What was it that made the humans grow so fast? Was it merely physical? Was there more to it? The Halz certainly had many problems other than merely a low birth rate. The seven surviving clans had separated. They did not get along well anymore. It was rare to marry outside ones clan. That often meant that there were few choices for marriage unless you were willing to marry close relatives.

The Halz knew that such marriages would not work. Ritter had heard of abnormalities in human lines that were inbred, but in a Halz family it was far more obvious. Perhaps the Halz were already too closely related. Inbreeding only created monstrosities that could not survive for long. The seven clans had to be reunited. It was the only way that Ritter could see to solving the problem. He had hoped that he could learn how to make that possible by studying the humans.

Instead he had found the humans separated into several different clans of their own. Each country had its own character and goals. These often conflicted with the other countries. The incidents with the Ahk Separatists in Feergrus and dealing with the Rava Coast Trading company showed that factions inside each country also caused problems. Ritter had seen much of human nature within the past eighteen months. Each new fact he learned made him wonder if humans could be the answer to anything.

He was not sure how the humans did not end up destroying themselves. Even in the face of a war against the goblinoids, the humans had trouble working together. Ritter hoped that if ever such a threat turned against the Halz, then his dwarven brethren would work together against such an evil without any backstabbing. However, he had seen one of his own kind show a lack of honor. Gierig Silveraxe had proven that the Halz had deep flaws as well.

“You look deep in thought,” Eurysa hissed as the gorgon slithered near.

“Just pondering the future,” Ritter sighed.

“Live in the moment. It is all we have. We can't change the past. The future comes whether we want it or not. We can only do whatever is right with the time that fate has granted us.”

“You know why I came into the human lands.”

“To save your people. I know. You may not ever find the answers you seek. I have seen the decline of many races. The end of the gorgons, minotaurs, and vodyanoi as well. The lycanthropes retreat further into the woods and there are less sightings of them. You rarely hear talk of the elves anymore, even from the Tarvoni who once dealt with them. The giants rarely leave their homes on top of the mountains. Only those of the mountains deal with them at all.”

Ritter nodded, “Even the Halz rarely encounter them anymore. Still it is not safe to try to wind through mountain passes. Even the humans go around Nuvro Range. No one who tries to cross them directly ever survives. I can not say if it is giants or if there are other dangers. My people only come to the surface to repair the aqueduct systems. We need to keep water flowing to our homes.”

“It seems the only races that grow are the humans and the goblinoids.”

“The goblinoids breed like rats, their culture drives them to near slaughter. Only their sheer numbers keep them alive. I expect their future is dim. If the humans continue to grow in numbers and power, they will simply overwhelm the goblinoids.”

Eurysa hissed, “Perhaps our time here is done.”

Ritter narrowed his eyes, “I am not ready to surrender yet. My people were strong once. I will see them prosper again. Enzi has shown that humans have a good nature as well. I will follow him for now. Perhaps I will glean something useful from his nobility, if nothing else.”