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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
Finney
Kantin
Tualla

Part Two: The Witch

“The mercenaries have not returned. I’m not certain what more we can do?” Kantin stated and offered an awkward shrug. Breathing through his mouth, he could taste the scent of blood in the air.

Sitting with her fingers clasped together at the small table, newly appointed Mayor-Select Iola Vani closed her eyes and nodded. “Did we pay them anything upfront?” Seeing the Sheriff shake his head, she continued. “Then, at least these didn’t run off with our coin.”

“Not this time.”

“You still disagree.”

Glancing at the bone saw hanging on the wall behind her, Kantin’s hand went to his shoulder. A fragmented memory of a similar implement used to remove the ruin of his arm on the battlefield flashed through his mind. His face did not betray the shudder running up his spine. “I see these efforts to find her as inviting trouble.”

“You’ve been talking to Gaeldur Finney, again.”

“Magis.”

“What?”

“He prefers the title Magis. Since the army disbanded, there are no more Gaeldurs.”

“I don’t care what title he uses.”

“Well, he does. And if we want his help—”

“I don’t want his help,” Iola interrupted, pounding a fist on the table and rattling the cleavers hanging off the side. “We may take in any who come our way, but I’d rather not have those magickers here in Tarn.”

“Begging your pardon, ma’am, but had you served with them, I don’t think you’d feel that way.”

“Ah, so being a lowly butcher who’s lived all her life at this outpost has limited my views?”

“That’s not—”

Pushing herself up, the Mayor-Select moved around the table. “These magickers all look out for one another. We can’t trust that Finney will do what is best for Tarn.” Though more than a head shorter than Kantin, the woman carried a formidable bearing. Not for the first time, he wondered what kind of soldier she would make.

Putting aside those thoughts, he shook his head. “After what happened over at Kasilla’s place, Magis Finney put an end to the orphan boy’s training, choosing to do what is best for Tarn.”

Glancing away, the woman pushed a stray strand of dark hair behind her ear. Wearing it tied back with twine, a few others were floating free. “Did you ask his advice?”

The corner of Kantin’s face turned up in a grin as he nodded.

*              *              *

“Who—”

“Quiet boy,” the lithe figure stated, moving towards him.

Noting that her footfalls made no noise in the brush, Onvical felt his stomach clench as his legs continued to shake. Raising a foot to step back, he peered at the figure, but the details of her face blurred, much as his hands had moments before.

“If you move from that spot, it will be the last painless thing you do in this life…or the next.”

Setting his foot back down, the sensation in his stomach sent bile up the back of his throat.

“You look human, but I smell Mer blood.”

“N-n-n-n—” his mouth refused to form words. Finney had told him of the purifiers that hunted down his parents. As he understood it, an authoritarian regiment of Mer had risen to power as the trolls were driven towards the Frontier. They opposed the alliance that made up the Army of Liraehne and held an ardent belief in the purity of their race. As the child of a Mer elfin and human woman himself, Onvical’s father had been purified—murdered because of his split heritage.

Intent on ending the line, they’d pursued Onvical and his mother.

“I know what I smell,” she stated, stopping a short distance away.

All at once, her form came into focus.

Though hidden beneath a long dark robe, he would have recognized the lithe form without seeing the platinum-colored flesh of her face, framed by long crimson hair.

Tualla.

“Not strong enough to be a halfbreed,” the Mer elfen stated, angling her head forward to sniff the air. “I imagine the purifiers might have overlooked you.” Her mouth opened in a grin of ugly yellowed teeth that nearly caused his bladder to let go. “How delicious.”

Swallowing down the bile, Onvical met her gaze, but his lower lip trembled. “Are you one of them? A purifier.”

Cocking her head to the right, showing the tip of a pointed ear poking through her hair, the elfen’s lips closed over her teeth, but the grin remained. “Why are you out here, boy?” When he opened his mouth, she continued. “And if you do not speak the truth, I will know, and the work of the purifiers will be done for them…eventually.”

Looking down, he felt his shoulders slump. “I disobeyed my master, and now he refuses to teach me. If I can get into his study and get my books, I can teach myself, but—” Turning back to her, he realized that the words had just tumbled out of his mouth. Taking a deep breath, he forced himself to slow down. “I was trying to think of a way to get past his barrier, but I—I can’t.”

Her wide grin returned.

A crunch of footsteps in the brush sounded from his left. And then his right. Turning his head in both directions, he saw two figures. Recognizing the blue pauldron worn by the man on the left, he should have felt relieved. The man had been at the cottage to speak with Finney five or six days before, along with a Rylin—obviously, the shorter and far more stout figure to the right.

They’d been looking for information on a witch.

Turning back to the elfen, he didn’t see alarm in her expression. If anything, she looked amused.

“I think they’re looking for you,” he offered, deciding that it would be best to stay off her bad side, if at all possible.

“They were,” she replied through that grin.

As the two mercenaries drew closer, Onvical could see them moving with an odd gait that didn’t quite match the slope of the land. When the Rylin stepped around the tree, exposing the left side of his face, he saw the eyeball hanging from the socket. Taking a step back, he noted that both figures turned to face him.

That same cackle he’d heard earlier sounded from the elfen. “Oh, my dear little dwarf,” she said, stepping over to the Rylin.

Wincing at the insult, Onvical half expected the dwarven to explode. Having spent the last four years in a town that welcomed everyone, regardless of race, he knew full well to refer to males as dwarv and females as dwarfan. And to never, ever call any of them little.

“Still having trouble with that eye. Perhaps we should just,” with a sharp tug on the nerve and soft pop, it came free in her hand. “There. Isn’t that much better?”

When the Rylin still didn’t react, Onvical’s confusion and mild revulsion tempered into a morbid curiosity. “Um, are they—”

“My servants now? Why, yes, they are.” Resting an elbow on the Rylin’s shoulder, she leaned her weight against him as one would against a doorjamb. “Do you still feel the desire to get into Finney’s study, boy?”

“That depends,” he replied, eyes darting back and forth between the two mercenaries. “Would you teach me to do that?”

As her cackle echoed through the woods, the corner of Onvical’s mouth turned up in a grin.

Maps
Dead Rising Story List
Author Chuck Sperati Writing Distracted Logo

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