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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 Nineteen: Recurrence

“Seeds in the ground, Water all around,  Stems growing tall, Rooted down where the worms crawl.”

Even mumbled, the snippet of song carried an uplifting melody. It came from a time and place far removed from Tarn. Long before Serony joined the Army of Liraehne and hacked her way through hundreds of trolls, cleansing them from the civilized lands. Mouths full of green fanged teeth and long black talons still occasionally haunted her nightmares, but not so much as the image of her mate charred from the power of that witch.

While he’d rushed off to join the throng of fools hunting the witch who’d sent her rotting servants after the town, Serony had been forced to stay with their boy. By far the better with a sword, she should have been the one to go, and then Rovi would still have two guardians.

Digging her long golden fingers into the soil, the elfen pulled a weed by the roots.

“And just like that, you’re plucked from the world.”

Dropping it into a pail with the many others she’d pulled from the ground, Serony rubbed the dirt away from her hands and pushed herself up. If gardens grew vegetables half as good as they grew weeds, she’d be able to keep the two of them fed and still have plenty for trade.

Hearing the clip-clop of the horse long before it rounded the edge of the Kantin Grove, she started towards the faded white fence that ran along the path. Rhist had finished building it two days before—

“Rovi and I will whitewash it next week,” she mumbled to herself, pushing the memory away.

Realizing that her gardening had been unusually peaceful, she wandered in a slow circle, her bright lilac-colored eyes roving among the surrounding fields.

“Serony!”

The voice belonged to Amyna Burkhard, the extremely competent Sheriff of Tarn. The corners of her mouth turning up, the elfen offered a friendly wave. “Off to the Kettle?” she asked, nodding to the horse and referring to the Cracked Kettle Tavern overlooking the north fields. Far from the markets and hovels surrounding the square, many of Tarn’s less scrupulous denizens tended to gather there.

“Talk of bandits on the old trade road. I’m taking a few volunteers to look around.”

“Shouldn’t Onvical’s protectors be handling that?” Her usually melodious tone rang flat. The Magis may have killed the witch, but he’d also been the one to lead the townsfolk to slaughter at her hands.

“They left town a few days ago.”

“They’re probably the bandits you’re hearing about.”

Her grin breaking into a laugh, Sheriff Burkhard nodded. “Wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest.” Leaning down, the grin fell away. “Do you know where Rovi is?”

“I was just wondering that myself. Probably down at Queen’s Creek because he’s not supposed to go there by himself.”

“Kasilla’s new stable marshal says he saw a golden skin boy on Old Mine Road, walking with a pale redheaded girl.”

“No. Rovi knows better than that.”

“There ain’t many Fanaal children around—”

“Wait, a girl with red hair?”

“That’s what he said, and I’d be inclined to believe him. Anyway, I wanted to ride by here and let you know. After what happened with Delwin—well, I’m just feeling an abundance of caution.”

*              *              *

“Rovi! What are you doing out here?” The words came out more scream than question, the pitch so high as to be almost unintelligible. Heart racing and lungs burning, Serony stared at her son, knees deep in the green pond, but saw more.

The bare ground to the right, where she had passed the smoldering ruins of the witch’s hut. A foul haze had hung in the air, smelling of turned milk, rotting eggs, and cooked meat. Beyond it, a burned-out path led to a cave that belched fire and black smoke. Charred bodies lay everywhere, but most were gathered on the rise that led up to that cave. It had been there, at the bank of that rise, that she’d found Rhist, identifiable only by the melted remnants of her father’s ring still on his finger.

Running along Old Mine Road, calling for her son until her throat ached, she had somehow known that he’d be here. The questions about Alcom’s Wonderland. Wanting to know if any place like it really existed. She should have talked to him about it and explained that these abandoned gnomun gardens could be found throughout Liraehne – that they served as the inspiration for the fairy tale. But she couldn’t bear the thought of coming back here. No matter how much time had passed, this would be the place where—”

“Come out of there, Rovi!”

Watching him turn and address his imaginary friend – the scarlet-haired elfen girl with pale skin – Serony felt her golden skin go cold and prickle. Amyna hadn’t been wrong when she said there weren’t many Fanaal children around – with the exception of the occasional caravan visitor, Rovi had no others of his kind to play with. Shy around other children his age, it made sense that he’d create an imaginary friend. In time, she assumed, he would make a connection with a real friend, and the imaginary one would fade away. At the moment, though, that friend didn’t feel so imaginary.

Moving forward, she didn’t stop at the edge of the pond. Serony waded in without hesitation, marched directly to her son, and lifted him out of the muck. Putting him on her hip, feeling something he held dig into her ribs, she pressed her cheek against his. Feeling his wet tears, she shushed the stuttered apologies. “It’s okay. I have you. We’re going home.”

Behind them, Cinia’s face darkened, flesh pulling back against her skull as she put her head back and screamed.  

*              *              *

Getting as far as Old Mine Road before shaking arms and pain in her back forced Serony to set her son down. Dropping to one knee, she began to check him over. With the mud on his arms and legs starting to dry, she could find no wounds, and he did not wince as she poked and prodded.

“What’s this?” she asked, pulling the arm that held onto the rectangular box away from his chest.

“I-it’s Cinia’s.”

When she tried to take it from him, he pulled it back to his chest and twisted away.

“Cinia says not to let you see it cause it will hurt you.”

“I will be fine. Let me see it.”

“B-but she’s getting mean. She wasn’t like that before.”

Turning him back, Serony again pulled his arm away from his chest. Much of the mud had been wiped onto his clothes from the top of the box. Composed of carved ivory, she could see symbols carved into it. “That looks like Nallis.”

“Whose Nallis?” the elfin boy asked, looking down at the box.

“Not who,” she corrected softly, “it’s an old language from before the Fanaal and Mer split.”

“What does it say?”

“That’s not my area of expertise, but this looks like a name. Those symbols haven’t changed much.” Using her thumb, she wiped the area clean. Cinia-Grig Tualla.”

Feeling her heart beginning to thump in her chest, her golden features dulling as darkness began to creep along the edges of her eyes, Serony gulped at the air. Somewhere in the haze of fear threatening to consume her, she heard her son’s voice.

“So it does belong to Cinia.”

Breathing through that haze, she knew for sure that the scarlet-haired girl was not imaginary, and to free Rovi from her ghostly influence, she would need the help of the only Magis in town. The man who led Rhist to a grisly death against the same presence.

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