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Despite the devastation wrought after 196 years of battling trolls – killing two-thirds of the Commonwealth – the united army of Liraehne cleared the lands. The great Fanaal Emperor Tian’Tal pushed the trolls to the edge of the Frontier, making a stand at the outpost of Tarn, but it was the leadership of Queen Kalynn Wytestarr who led the final victory within the Crax. Of those who went to war, many would never return home, some not because death claimed them but because their wounds made travel impossible, and the outpost swelled into a city.

As Tarn grew, with farmers and families restoring a sense of normal after so much loss, the great heroes and leaders began to pass into legend and new powers began to arise to fill the voids left behind. 

This is the story of one of them.

Author Chuck Sperati Writing Distracted Logo
Onvical
Ambyr Valry
Cariss Mesila
Torgin
Elis Rhees
Elis Rhees

Part Twelve: Retribution

Holding his soaked woolen pants up with one hand and pulling the wet linen cloth from his torso with the other, Jodo stomped forward, his feet squishing inside tawed leather boots. Droplets bounced off his head with every heavy footfall on the hard-packed path.

That squelch sound kept setting off laughter from behind.

“I knew he couldn’t make that jump,” Rowen proclaimed, his smoothly handsome face bright red from long guffaws. The only one of the four young friends to have managed a kiss, from the beautiful Enmeri Falithrone no less, where he went, the other three typically followed.

It had been his idea to go down to the crick before an afternoon of toil at the stables.

And he had been the first to jump over it.

Far more athletically gifted—and competitive—than the rest, Faelan made the leap at a wider point.

Always the more practical of the group, Delwin declined to try.

Wanting to show up them all, Jodo took a longer runup, slipped on the bank, and went rear first into the cold water. For one moment, as he pushed himself to his feet, they all stood in shocked silence. Then his waterlogged woolen pants slipped off his hips and splashed into the water at his feet.

The laughter hadn’t stopped since.

As they drew near Kasilla’s stables, a gutturally pitched screech caused them all to stop and turn.

“What was that?” Jodo asked.

“A heifer,” Delwin replied, looking away from the sound. “It ain’t being killed right.” As the son of the town’s butcher, that lesson had been fuel for nightmares.

“No one ought to be killin’ a heifer in the back fields,” Rowen stated.

Moving off the path, Jodo began stomping in the direction of the sound.

“It might be a poacher,” Rowan whisper-shouted after him.

“Or a troll,” Faelan added.

“There ain’t any trolls around here,” Rowan replied. “They all got pushed back into the Frontier. My mother said so.”

“Jodo ain’t stopping,” Delwin noted, starting after him.

After a moment’s hesitation, the other two followed.

“You get back here, orphan boy!”

The three friends stepped through the treeline in time to see a skinny boy running away from Jodo, who struggled to give chase while holding up his pants. Behind them, a heifer trembled on the ground—its forehead caved in with shards of skull pushed into the brain.

Rowan and Faelan joined the chase.

Staring at the heifer, a part of Delwin knew that wasn’t right. Its head had been turned inside out, not caved in. Hearing the shouts behind, he tried to pull his gaze away but couldn’t. In a moment, the three boys would trap the orphan near the stables, and Jodo would start swinging a lit torch at him. If he could stop it, the orphan wouldn’t use his magic to burn his friends and set the stable on fire.

Except that he couldn’t look away.

A person lay on the ground in front of him, her forehead caved-in, dead eyes staring up at him.

“Mom?”

Screams erupted behind him amidst the sound of burning flesh and a mad cackle.

Waking with a start, Delwin sat straight up. Heart hammering in his chest.

Onvical did that, the warrior woman had told him. It was supposed to kick her in the head.

*              *              *

“This is a terrible idea.”

Ignoring him, Delwin strode along the path that led to the far southern edge of Tarn. Carrying several of the kindling bundles that his mom collected for the stove pot, he hoped it would be enough. Rowan carried a sling filled with branch pieces, as well as a hooded lantern. He’d planned to get Faelan as well, but the fool had gotten himself locked up in Amyna’s jail.

Kantin’s successor had far less patience for drunkards.

“We don’t have enough to pile around the cottage, and even if it catches, he’s going to have plenty of time to get out.”

“I ain’t gonna pile it around. I’m gonna start it from under.”

“Huh?”

Before my Dad died, Finney used to buy carcasses from him.”

“Why?”

“Do you really want to know that?”

After a moment, Rowan shook his head and grunted that he didn’t.

“I sometimes went when they got delivered. Finney had us put them in a vegetable cellar.” Slowing as they left the last of the houses behind, he turned to his friend. “When the floor catches, he ain’t gonna have no place to go.”

Feeling the scarred flesh itch under his curly black beard, Rowan rubbed his face against his shoulder. “I hope he dies in his bed screaming.”

High up in the night sky, the gray moon had only begun its first crescent, leaving the green nearly full. Had it been the other way around, there would have had enough light to move through the woods. Instead, they moved cautiously up the path and circled around the edge of the surrounding grove.

Darkness seemed to flow from the cottage, casting long shadows on all sides.

“I don’t like this,” Rowan whispered through trembling lips.

Seeing the image of the caved-in forehead in his mind and hearing the words, Onvical did that, pushed aside any fear Delwin may have felt. Glancing at his friend, he no longer saw the handsome leader who once managed to steal a kiss from Enmeri Falithrone. The scars he wore from being burned by the orphan—Onvical—had taken his confidence, leaving only a frightened shell, willing to talk but unwilling to act.

Someone needed to put an end to the Magis for all their sakes.

Without a word, Delwin set the kindling down and started forward. The cellar door, he remembered, had been on the same side of the house as the well—a door on the ground that hid a set of stone steps. It took him longer than he would have liked to figure out that someone had covered the door in dirt and set logs around it to look like a garden plot. Turning to signal to Rowan, he saw the sling and lantern sitting on the ground next to the bundles he’d brought.

“Fine,” he mumbled, “I’ll do it myself.”

The words felt confident, but the resolve behind them had begun to temper.

Plunging his hands into the soil, he found one of the metal rings used to pull open the door. The sound of something moving among the trees drew his attention, but he saw only darkness.

It was supposed to kick her in the head.

Taking a deep breath, he stood and pulled, slowly lifting the door up out of the ground. If the old hinges squealed, he’d have to run. They didn’t. The door opened smoothly and quietly, leading into a blackness darker than any pitch.

Grateful that Rowan had at least left the lantern, he ran back to get it. Picking up everything, with the lantern painfully hanging off two fingers, he scurried back, carefully setting it all down. A sound drew his attention to the darkened steps. Looking down, he found himself staring into the face of a dwarv, its skin withered and falling away in places, one eye socket empty.

The scream welling from his belly caught in his throat as something pulled the air from his lungs.

As the horror below began to climb the stairs, from behind, a cold voice whispered, “It seems we have an uninvited visitor?”

Maps
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