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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 Fourteen: Voices in the Dark

With the pouch clasped tightly in his hand, Jodo folded the light into shadow, leaving the cellar behind. Bursts of black and hints of motion surrounded him as he sat within the shadow, both hands now squeezing the pouch. An aroma of wildflowers in bloom just on the smoky edge of a newly started fire floated up to him from within it.

Closing his eyes and inhaling deeply, holding onto the odor until his lungs felt they would burst, Jodo Donni tried to push everything else out of his head. But the image of Delwin sitting in that pallet of straw, blood still dripping from one ear and soaking his chestnut hair, would not go away.

“It’s not my fault he’s there.”

Isn’t it?

That voice had been with him for as long as he could remember. It belonged to his great-grandfather, also his namesake, though he’d never met the man. Great-granddad Jodo died far away during the Troll War, but tales of his leadership, bravery, and heroics had made it back to Tarn. Intentional or not, that name carried a pressure to succeed, and the voice he attributed to the man constantly pushed him.

“I’ve stayed away so he wouldn’t go after them,” Jodo insisted.

Letting them go after him.

“They wouldn’t.”

Then how did Delwin end up in the cellar?

“I don’t know.”

You could have warned them.

“Leave me alone.” A pointless statement. If anything, great-grandad’s voice had become more persistent since—“No, I don’t want to think about this.”

Opening the pouch, he breathed deeply of the aroma, pushing the image of his bloody friend sitting in the pallet of straw out of his mind. Creputi Cane, the orphan boy had called it when Jodo sat in that straw, his left cheek – the side not burnt – swollen, with blood crusting on his lower lip. It’s a shortcut of a sort, opening the way to the backlands, a realm of shadow, for those not gifted with power.

He’d gone to the cottage with a finely edged sword bought from several seasons of extra work at the stables. The merchant who sold it to him promised that it could cleave the bones in the wrist with little effort. Excellent for punishing thieves, he’d stated with a grin, but Jodo intended to punish a Magis, reasoning that without hands, the orphan boy would not be able to throw magics.

Putting a shoulder into the front door, he’d pushed his way inside.

And dropped the sword at the sight of that rotting Rylin.

“Shut up.”

Your parents should have named your sister after me. She wouldn’t have wet her pants.

Around him, the dark seemed to shift. It didn’t because darkness doesn’t move. It’s the things within it that move.

Staring down into the pouch, he licked his lips. “Just a little taste.”

Delwin is your friend. Get him out of that cellar.

Pulling a single soft blackened stem out of the pouch, Jodo quickly shoved it into his mouth. Unlike the pleasing aroma, the bitter taste burned a trail beginning on his tongue that continued down his gullet to settle in his gut. It had been worse the first time. After what must have been days in the dark with no food or water, he had finally relented, chewing up a handful of the Creputi Cane. Tasting like salted radish dusted with sugar, the bitter flavor filled his mouth with a liquid that his parched throat involuntarily swallowed.

The effect had been immediate. All semblance of hunger and thirst left him, as did the angry despair of being in that cellar – of failing again. And the voice that haunted him went silent.

If the silence of this realm gave unwanted thoughts strength, a taste of the cane brought a serene clarity. “Sorry buddy, you’re on your own,” Jodo muttered. He would not return to that cellar to help Delwin because, without Onvical, there would be no more of the Creputi Cane.

*              *              *

Elis Rhees had awoken to a whispering voice, but no one had been in his room.

It told him that they would come for him, but he knew that wasn’t the case. They would come for the pendant. It didn’t matter who they were because anyone who came after him would come from the Magis—Onvical.

Blowing out a breath, he forced his left hand to open and felt the cool metal fall against his chest.

“Let him have it,” Garreg had said as they sat in the forge after his lone encounter with Onvical.

“I can’t.”

Shaking his head, the old man had leaned forward, forcing eye contact. “I know you’re new here, but bad things happen to those who oppose his will, and so long as Maiwenn is Mayor-Select, no one’s gonna do anything about it.”

“I don’t want it,” Elis had explained, “but I can’t. I just can’t.”

A moment of silence had passed between them before Garreg told him to leave. Not the forge, Tarn. He’d even offered some coin to help him on his way, but Elis had refused. It was more than not wanting charity—he’d gladly taken it from Kasilla in clothing, a place to stay, and a job. No, it was the thought of running away that he couldn’t make himself right with.

That’s probably why I think I hear voices.

Rolling off the pallet, he pushed himself to his feet. The space Kasilla had given him to stay consisted of a single room with only one door, which bolted from the inside, and no windows. Both the bolt and tin cup he’d balanced atop it were still in place.

Yep, definitely hearing voices.

Between Hern and the other stablehands giving him plenty of distance and no imminent threats to the horses, the quiet day had left him too much time to think. And all of his thoughts revolved around those whispered words.

They will come for you.

A long afternoon dragged into evening. By then, rumors about the missing butcher boy had made their way to the stables. Sheriff Burkhard had stopped by to get a horse, and he’d offered to help in the search after completing his last patrol.

That’s when they came for him.

As Stable Marshal, Elis watched over the horses in the field, which mostly involved walking around looking for predators. This far on the edge of Tarn, there were far too many potential threats for him to slack – he needed to see everywhere at once.

When the Braidon and the woman warrior, Cariss, as she introduced herself, approached him, those whispered words screamed at him. They acted friendly, but why wouldn’t they. With most of the town conveniently out searching for the butcher boy, they had only to get close, and no one would be around to help him, let alone witness their actions. They claimed friendship and asked for an alliance, but Elis was not yet off duty. He still looked for predators, and that’s when he saw her.

The elfen.

Ambyr.

Hiding among the trees.

Oh, they were definitely coming for him.

Neris had not been happy when he showed up at her cottage a short time later, but the surgeon had removed the arrow from his shoulder and stitched up all his wounds. Afterward, he advised her that there might be a few others coming her way and didn’t even try to hide the grin.

They would think twice before coming for him again.

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