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

21Aug/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0060

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Legion?” Enzi asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

“Please, enter,” the Ravaleian said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14Aug/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0059

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7Aug/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0058

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Or maybe you are lying,” Syrian growled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Stop this immediately!” General Cassius Tessium commanded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

31Jul/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0057

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

“What do you last remember?” Enzi asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24Jul/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0056

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17Jul/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0055

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

10Jul/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0054

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3Jul/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0053

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

26Jun/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0052

Rumors had begun to flit through the base camp. First Medeus had not returned and now a second scout had disappeared. Fears of a second Beast that Takes Trophies flitted through the camp. The men had suddenly grown to respect the power of the goblinoids. Fear drove many of their decisions. Severe solutions were being fielded. Someone even suggested cutting out a swath of trees and then lighting the goblinoid side of the forest on fire.

The southern forest quickly became wetlands however. It was far too likely, even with an area cut and burnt out to keep the flames under control, that any fire would instead burn northwards into human lands. That such an attempt at genocide was even seriously discussed brought the words of Ranum to Enzi's mind. If the humans learned to fear the goblinoids too much, they would slaughter them all. Defeating the young dragon was needed for the sake of innocent human lives as well as the very survival of the four goblinoid races.

For now, the mercenaries needed to find out what was happening to the scouts before their disappearance brought on a panic. With Mayitso down for the count, the team' had lost their best tracker. Eurysa, Aldebaran, Kava, and Enzi headed out to see what they could find. Hopefully the problem would present itself to them. They began to search the patrol area, although the process was slow. The first day was fruitless, as were the next two. The fourth day, however, finally provided a clue.

Kava practically tripped over a crossbow hidden in the weeds. It had to be the weapon of the ranger that had gone missing. The clue did not bode well. Enzi could not imagine the ranger leaving his weapon behind. Even if he had lost it, he would have returned to the base camp to secure another. Enough rangers had fallen that spare equipment was available. There was no other sign of the ranger. Morale at the base camp continued to slip while the group searched for more clues.

***

Medeus watched the creatures wander around outside the base camp. Only one of them was a demonic goblinoid. Medeus could not understand why the minotaur, gorgon, and vodyanoi now aided the enemy. He wondered if it had something to do with the missing Halz and lycanthrope. Medeus knew that the Halz were usually a noble race. Perhaps the monsters had finally betrayed him and joined the side of evil. It mattered little at the moment, they were too powerful for Medeus to take on alone.

He could be patient and pick off his foes one by one. He was a ranger of Nuvroc. He had been trained to survive in the forest. He was perhaps one of the best at his job. He sat and waited, keeping an eye on the base camp and waiting for an opportunity to strike. He hoped that human reinforcements came soon. He had to warn them of the danger. With their help they could stop the invasion of demonic goblinoids and their monstrous allies. He positioned himself north of the base, hoping to intercept the next group approaching the base camp. That group would be coming soon.

Soon the ranger was rewarded with the sound of travelers. However, he was shocked at what he saw. It was more of the demonic goblinoids. They traveled heavily laden with supplies. Medeus assumed that they had stolen the supplies from the reinforcements. There were not many of them and they appeared to be lightly armed. The ranger knew that he had to strike. The knife had to taste blood again. Yet Medeus knew that it could not slay all of the foes. He had to stop as many as possible with his bow before the melee began. His first shot struck true. The ranger watched as the panic began below him.

His bow found another target, but the goblinoids had spotted him. Medeus leapt into battle. He could not let any escape to warn the goblinoid camp. The knife almost seemed to sing as it tore through the flesh of the demonic goblinoids. One after another fell to the ranger. Finally one tried to run for the former human base camp. Medeus grabbed his bow and fired a shot. It did not kill the goblinoid but it did hit them in the leg. The ranger quickly caught up to the wounded monster. It was mewling and whimpering like a coward.

“Only now do you seek for life,” Medeus said in Nuvro, “Perhaps you should not have slain the humans and stolen their supplies.”

The knife did its dirty work. The goblinoid screamed and squealed. Medeus would leave a message with this monster. After he was done, he gathered what supplies he could. Then he burned the rest. The smoke would warn his foes. Medeus knew he had to flee. He hoped that the blow he had struck would weaken the demonic goblinoids.

***

Enzi and the Irregulars had returned to the base camp. They were resting when smoke rose on the horizon. There should not be any smoke to the north of the base camp. Several rangers immediately made their way in that direction. Enzi followed, hoping to find some clues into the loss of two rangers. The scene of slaughter that the group found, however, shocked the Feergrus man. The arrows of an archer had slain several people, and a cruel knife had killed the others.

One, however, had been dealt with in a most horrific fashion. The knife had cut deep gashes in the body. It was as if the person had been filleted. The body had been hung up in the trees. It was a gruesome sight as flaps of meat dangled from the bones and blood dripped to the ground. Enzi wondered what kind of creature would do such a thing. Then he suddenly noticed the Vodyanoi nearby. She was an expert in weapons and wounds.

“I recognize this,” Kava said, “These cuts and wounds. This was not made with a normal weapon. This was made by the same dagger that goblin used to kill people earlier.”

“Medeus had that dagger earlier,” Enzi said, “The foe must have taken it from him. I guess that confirms he is lost as well.”

“And now we have some new foe out there causing problems,” Kava said, “I can't wait for him to meet my hatchets.”

“I can not find a reason to disagree with that statement,” Enzi replied coldly, “We need to find this new enemy and deal with them. This scene should be enough that the base camp will let us borrow a ranger or two for tracking.”

After burying what was left of the dead, the group returned to the base camp. After the soldiers reported to the general, Cassius immediately ordered a pair of rangers to begin tracking the new enemy. The next morning the rangers set out with Enzi, Kava, Eurysa, and Aldebaran at their side. By the end of the day the group had returned to the camp disheartened. It was obvious that this foe was skilled in the art of hiding their trail. With Mayitso still badly wounded, the group needed a new solution to finding an enemy that could not be found.

“You need a different set of senses,” a female voice said as the group discussed their possible plans.

Enzi looked up to see the young girl known as the Storm Queen. She had been the one that had wounded Mayitso with her over the top display of magic. Her skill was undeniable. It was quite possible that she had ways of finding people with her magic. It was worth a try, although Enzi worried not only about the girl's ability to control herself but also what her reason for joining the expedition was.

“I missed being able to stop the terror the first time,” the Storm Queen stated, “This time I will end it. Plus I feel bad about getting rid of our best tracker. I am sure he might forgive me if he knew what it was like to channel lightning. It is a feeling like no other. You feel unstoppable. Which is pretty close to the truth.”

Enzi sighed. The young mage was arrogant. She had a huge amount of power and would likely become a terror all her own as time passed. The Feergrus man hoped she would learn to tame her passions. However the glint in the girl's eyes reminded him of Kava's blood-lust. It once again reminded him that not all monsters were inhuman. The words of Ranum once again crossed Enzi's mind. A thought occurred to the man. Perhaps humans were the monsters in this world. It was a frightening thought. It was definitely a sobering thought when it came to the inhuman creatures of the world.

As another morning came, Ritter had begun moving around. He was still sore, but ready for a fight. Enzi left him at the base camp, wanting to be sure they were protected from whatever the new threat was. Mayitso was healing well, but there would be a permanent jagged scar on his face from the lightning strike. The loss of one eye would be disconcerting as well. It would take quite some time before the lycanthrope was back to full fighting form.

The small group of irregulars, along with two rangers and the Storm Queen, headed out. They searched the area of the attacked supply convoy first. The Ravaleian mage wove a spell of significant power. Enzi could see it had been a drain on her endurance. After it was complete, she looked around the area and shook her head. The rangers saw nothing either. The Storm Queen kept flitting around oddly, glancing from one side to another.

“Can we help you?” Enzi asked.

“I can see living creatures currently. Unfortunately, if someone is hidden completely behind something, like say a wall, I can not see the glow of their life energy. So if I move a little here and there, I might catch a glimpse of something. So far all I can see are squirrels and birds. Nothing larger.”

“Let us move on then,” Enzi said, “How long will that spell last?”

“I put a lot of power into it, it should last for several hours,” the Ravaleian girl stated.

The group then moved for the area where Kava had found the dropped crossbow. As dusk began to settle on the area, the group finally decided to give up for the day. That was when the Ravaleian mage suddenly stopped dead in her tracks. She narrowed her eyes and then raised both her hands. Stones tore themselves off the ground and pelted an area. A yell of pain told the group that she had hit the mark. None of them were prepared for the sight they beheld.

“Damn demonic goblinoids!” Medeus Tarim yelled as he leapt from his hiding spot with the brutal knife in his hand, “If this is my last battle, I will take as many of you with me as I can!”

The Storm Queen raised one eyebrow at that but it was Eurysa who saved the day. She hissed at the ranger and met his gaze. Medeus stopped moving as the gorgon's power crept into his very pores. The Ravaleian approached the frozen man and nodded appreciatively. She wove a quick spell and looked over him again. Her gaze lingered for quite some time on the knife in the ranger's hand.

“A great many interesting things,” the young Ravaleian cooed, “I like your power creature. It is deadlier than any similar spell I have seen. This man, however, is under no other spell. He has fallen to something far worse.”

“Some sort of insanity?” Enzi asked.

“No. It was this blade. Look at the slimy growths on it. I have seen this before. This blade has grown in power. It has a power that is not magical and requires a strong will to resist. We call it an item's legacy. This one was soaked in blood. It caused this ranger to seek the blood of its foes.”

“That blade was used to kill humans,” Kava said, “And now it wants more? That is my kind of bloodthirsty weapon!”

“It is rare for a legacy to come to a non-magical item, but not unheard of. A legacy makes an item powerful, but it also drives its user. The few items that gain such a thing are used by tremendous heroes or villains. Their deeds forever mark the items they loved and used.”

“Can he be cured?” Enzi asked.

“He will forever desire this knife. It is an addiction. Only the destruction of the blade or the death of the user will end it.”

19Jun/13Off

Enzi’s Irregulars #0051

Each day of travel was full of tension. The group could sometimes detect the goblinoid scouts that were following them. The scouts kept their distance from Enzi and his mercenaries. Each day the Irregulars neared the base camp where they would have the support of the troops. Enzi expected the goblinoids would have to make their move soon if they wanted to take advantage of the isolation of the group. However around noon on the next day, Enzi saw the shape of the human base camp hiding in the Halcyon Wood. The watch on the walls quickly spotted Enzi's Irregulars and waved a greeting.

Enzi heard a great noise from the trampling of a great many feet. He then realized the enemy's ruse. They were going to use the Irregulars as a shield. The rangers of Nuvroc were deadly with their bows and crossbows. If they wanted to storm the base camp, it would be much easier if their foes did not want to fire into their allies. While the Nuvroci were used to firing their regular bows into melee with Steel Warriors, their crossbows were saved for foes with heavy armor. Both weapons could potentially be deadly to Enzi and his mercenaries.

The horde of goblinoids charged past the Irregulars as the mercenaries leapt into the fray. The tactic had worked. The archers at the base were afraid to fire and hesitated. Then Enzi heard the rumble of thunder in the air and felt the crackle of lightning. It suddenly occurred to him that there was one person in the base camp who did not care if any ally was in the line of fire. It was the young Ravaleian mage they called the Storm Queen. Enzi then saw exactly how she earned that nickname.

Electricity arced across the field striking foes indiscriminately. Enzi felt one bolt of lightning come far too close for his liking. All the hairs on his body now stood at attention. The Irregulars were trying to scatter, as were the goblinoids. The assault had been broken with a single powerful spell. Dozens of goblinoids lie dead, but more and more arcs of lightning descended on the area as the young Ravaleian girl unleashed her power with reckless abandon. Enzi was almost certain he could hear her cackling with glee at the destruction.

He ducked for cover, it was all he could do. He hoped that none of his mercenaries would get hurt, but it was out of his hands now. He worried most for Ritter. His heavy metal armor had to have been something the electricity would be attracted to. The sounds of the thunder and lightning slowly died off. Then all that could be heard were the whines, whimpers, and moans of the wounded. Smoke rolled off of both them and the dead. The goblinoid assault had been halted, but Enzi wondered at what cost.

Eurysa slithered out from behind a tree, untouched by the lightning much like Enzi. Surprisingly the enormous minotaur Aldebaran had come out of the battle with little more than a few patches of singed hair. Kava had escaped completely unscathed. Then Enzi saw a glint of metal in the grass. He rushed over and found Ritter. The Halz groaned in pain but he was alive. His metal armor had channeled most of the electricity into the ground, but the hardy dwarf had still been given the shock of his life.

Enzi began to relax. Ritter would be fine. As the Irregulars gathered, Enzi saw that one was missing. He had seen no sign of Mayitso. The lycanthrope had no more protection against such powerful magic than anyone else. Suddenly the Feergrus man began to worry. Aldebaran lugged the groaning dwarf back to the base camp while Eurysa, Kava, and Enzi searched the battlefield for any sign of the lycanthrope. Enzi was the first to see a large lump of fur that was not one of the fallen wargs. He lifted the head of the lycanthrope and gasped.

“Oh Mayitso...”

***

The Cleanser stood with his stark white robes over the corpse of another monster. The color of white was a symbol. It was the color of evil. It was nearly impossible to keep clean. Both of these things were symbolic of the role of the Cleanser. Naphar Bura had his hands full trying to stop the influx of monsters pouring out of the Goblinoid Lands. The Tarvoni Summoners had made his job difficult. He had not forgotten about the abominations that hid within the mercenary group known as Enzi's Irregulars.

He hoped they were not causing too much trouble. He had too many other foes to slay at the moment to be able to chase them down. They had escaped him in Feergrus on a Ravaleian boat. They were likely halfway across the continent. For now, Naphar needed to aid the southern front of the Fifth Goblinoid War. His weapons were soaked with blood. He expected that they would unleash yet more blood that day.

“Naphar!” one of the Agonish soldiers said, “It is good to see you.”

The Kurrot man merely nodded in response.

“You have saved the day once more. My unit stands ready to serve you as needed.”

“To serve... Me?”

The Agonish soldier nodded, “Our commander was slain by a monster creeping in the night. You have saved us from a similar fate more than once. As the highest ranking soldier in my unit, I have decided we will do what we can to aid your noble battle and give you support.”

“I appreciate it,” Naphar replied, “I will have need of many allies before this war is done. There are many monsters yet to slay. There are some even I fear to face alone. I will need the strength of your men to defeat such powerful foes.”

“We will do what is needed to stop these monsters from harming any more of our people.”

“Good, good,” Naphar said.

The Cleanser smiled as he cleaned his weapons. With such allies he might be able to finally destroy the minotaur, gorgon, lycanthrope, and vodyanoi. All he needed now was the opportunity. He would meet the monsters again. This time it would be their end.

***

The soldiers in the base camp looked with pity as the Irregulars carried two of their members inside. A few gave dirty looks towards the Storm Queen, but many also thought that perhaps she had taken an action that needed to be done. In the end, if the Irregulars were hurt or died, what did it matter? They were not human. They were monsters. Could their lives be measured as equal? Many heavy questions now weighed upon the humans of the base camp.

The camp medics immediately got to work on the two wounded monsters. They could not expect any magical healing, the Storm Queen had exhausted herself with her massive display of power. Aldebaran used his muscle to help move the dwarf around so that the medics could remove his heavy armor. Scorch marks now pocked the body of the Halz. The medics applied balms to the wounds and left Ritter to rest and heal. The medics working on Mayitso had an uglier wound to deal with.

The smell of burnt hair and flesh along with the sight of the ugly wound caused one of the medics to retch. Cleaning it out was a terrible task. The lightning bolt had sheared across the lycanthrope's head. The medics had to be careful so that they did not cause further harm. It was certainly going to leave a nasty mark. Beyond that, it had completely obliterated Mayitso's left eye. He would require serious downtime to rest and recover from such a serious wound.

Cassius approached Enzi, “I am sorry for what happened. I am not sure how needed her assault was, but the questions already float through the camp.”

“She saw clearly, if poorly,” Enzi replied, “The goblinoids planned to use our compassion to shield them. They had to be struck down. The force that was used might have been excessive, but force was warranted.”

“I am surprised we were not warned of their coming. Medeus was scouting that direction. He is the sharpest ranger we have left.”

“There is a lot of territory,” Enzi replied, “Even he could have missed us. I am just sorry I did not realize the actual intentions of the goblinoids following us sooner. We knew a scout was following us, but the size of this force and their devious assult were both beyond any prediction I had. The tactician who thought of this was not only sharp, he had to be thinking on his feet to put this together so quickly.”

Cassius nodded, “I suspect you have more to tell me. Syrian arrived before you but only told me a few things.”

Enzi sighed, “Yes, there are a great many things to discuss. We should talk in private. This may take a while.”

“For now, it appears we have plenty of time.”

The two great leaders made their way to the general's quarters. Inside, they sat and discussed what Ranum had told Enzi. They discussed many possibilities, including treachery. In the end, they came to the conclusion that they could not ignore the warnings of the grizzled old goblin. They also came to the conclusion that little would be done that they did not do themselves.

“It looks like you and your team will be needed on the southern front for this beast when it comes.”

Enzi nodded, “I worry. Bounties were placed on our heads by those who hate monsters. Most of the mercenaries that would claim it now fight on the southern front.”

“I do not know about most, as there are still plenty of conflicts in the Disputed Lands, but you are right that a great many will still be there as a possible problem. I will send a messenger to that front with news and questions. We have enough time that we can hopefully sort out a solution.”

“It will take some time for our wounded to recover anyway. When we are ready, we will begin the trek south.”

“You may run into many thing to take care of along the way if you go around to the west. Although the western front in Kurrot would be full of Cleansers.”

Enzi nodded, “We have time. For now. Blunting that last goblinoid attack may give us an extended peace here on the northern front. At least I hope so. It would make the sacrifice seem worth it. It would be nice not to have to deal with trouble any longer.”

***

Medeus Tarim watched the base camp from a distance. The dagger he had taken from the murderous goblin known as the Hunter of Man was in his hand. It had seen the blood of a few foes during the ranger's travel through the woods. As he looked upon the base camp, all the ranger could see were what looked like demonic goblinoids. He felt that the dagger needed to be sank into each and every single one.

Yet these monsters had to be dangerous. Medeus would have to be careful. He would use stealth and try to take down each foe one by one. One of the odd demons came out to scout the area. Medeus waited until the demon was far from the camp. He would make them pay for all the human friends the creatures must have slain. Medeus leapt out to confront the demon.

The demon yelped in surprise, “Medeus! What are you doing?”

Medeus was surprised that the demons had heard of him, but assumed they must have tortured the people of the base camp to learn information about the forces in the area. Medeus sank his knife deep into his foe. It felt so right. This was exactly the kind of foe the blade wished to slay. This was what it had been made for. Joy washed over Medeus. One demon was slain. It was a start.

As the ranger walked away the last life gurgled away from his foe. To unclouded eyes the corpse was that of a ranger. The human had died, his life taken by the new Hunter of Man.