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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 Twenty: Mousetrap

For Cariss, the journey back to Tarn held embarrassment and frustration in equal measure. Between the cold touch of the cursed Magis who stitched up the wound on her thigh, followed by his chivalric insistence to give up his horse to let her ride, and Ambyr’s refusal to speak to her, it had been a long eight days. Two days longer than it took them all to get to the pass in the first place. Onvical had changed the wrap over the wound eleven times, putting him intimately close due to the wound’s location.

When the drying balm didn’t make it itch, the thought of his touch made her shudder.

While the golden sun had set, the crimson sun remained on the horizon as they finally reached Old Mine Road on the northern edge of Tarn.

“As much as I hate this town,” she muttered to Torgin, who’d spent much of the return journey protectively beside her, “I’m happy to be back.”

“Can’t wait to show Melle!” he shouted in reply, holding up the skull and grinning broadly.

“I’m sure she’ll be excited,” Cariss replied, not believing it. “I’m looking forward to getting some sleep, having Neris remove these stitches, and drinking away this cursed excursion at the Kettle.” Somewhere in those words, it occurred to her that Tarn had somehow come to feel like home, but before she could ruminate on it further, the Braidon grumbled and strode away.

“Very nice,” Ambyr noted, urging her steed to pass. “I don’t approve of grave robbing, but I can still acknowledge that he just recovered an item his people revere.”

“I—”

“Save your excuses for someone who cares.” Spurring her horse, the elfen rode ahead.

“You just keep pushing people away.”

Turning, she saw Onvical walking near her steed’s rear haunch. “Just not the one I want to push away,” she stated, turning away to face forward.

His laugh tried to draw her eyes back, but she resisted. So, when she heard his voice whisper in her ear, the shock of it nearly unseated her. “If it would help to ease your tension, I don’t require either of them to be breathing to serve me.”

“No—” she croaked, turning to find the Magis still walking next to the horse. His lopsided grin mocked her as he released the straps holding his pack on the horse.

“I’ll be by in the morning to collect my steed.” Shadows seemed to rise up around him, and his form folded into blackness while she watched. The unsettling sight shattered that sensation of home, making Tarn feel more like a cage from which none of them would ever escape.

*              *              *

Having the three cabins that Onvical acquired for them all in the same area had made things awfully convenient. They could take their meals and train without having to coordinate any more than knocking on neighboring doors, but at the moment, Cariss wished for seclusion.

Between Torgin offering to help her off the steed and Ambyr volunteering to unpack and brush both horses, the two of them had shown that while angry with her, they were still companions. They still cared, even though she’d—

“What?” she asked herself to the dark cabin. “What did I do? I didn’t take anything from the pass, and drawing the attention of that Terykx was more than just bad luck. It could have killed us all.”

Hobbling towards the table where she’d left the lamp, she fumed.

“It was that Magis. It had to be. I bet he put that pouch of valuables in my pack, and it was him that told Ambyr to sacrifice one of the horses. Bracken-blight, he probably lured that creature to—”

Because lifting her leg pulled on the stitches, Cariss brushed her left foot across the ground as she moved. When the toe of her boot hit something heavy, she stopped. With her anger momentarily forgotten, she tried to remember what she might have left on the floor.

Leaning forward, grunting through the pain of the act, she felt for the lamp and sulfur sticks, regretting her decision to leave the window shuttered. From that angle, it took a couple of tries, but she managed to light the simple lamp, which cast just enough light for her to see the saw-toothed ring of steel with a pressure plate in the center.

“What the—”

Turning, she saw four more of them. One on each side of the bed, another near the closet, and the last in front of the window. Set back away from the line of the door, none of them could be seen upon entry. She’d been a single step from an excruciating break, at best.

Whoever laid them did so skillfully and strategically. But who and why—

Ambyr’s scream interrupted that train of thought.

Shuffling in a straight line back to the door, she tried not to think about what would have happened had she unpacked the horse and carried her gear inside. Praying to a being she didn’t believe that similar traps had not been set for the elfen, she made it to the door and started for the neighboring cabin. The stitches pulled in her thigh with each step, but she did her best to ignore the spikes of pain, forgetting them entirely when Ambyr tumbled backward out of the door.

It seemed that the elfen wore a black bag over her head and one shoulder.

A bag that glinted waxy in the moonslight.

Sitting up, Ambyr tugged at the bag. It stretched like a carpenter’s glue.

“That’s a tar slime,” she muttered, hurrying forward. Standing over the elfen, she let herself drop onto her knees to straddle her, screaming as the stitches ripped free. Knowing that salt would be better, she pushed down the pain and grabbed dirt from the surrounding area with both hands, throwing it onto the slime. With a decent coating, she began to pull at it. Because the slime couldn’t adhere to itself through the dirt, she could use its malleability against it, gathering it into a waggling ball as it tried to defend against the new threat.

Pulling it back, she heard Ambyr inhale deeply.

A man’s scream filled the air, causing her to look up. Still only a short time after full dusk, the noise had begun to draw curious onlookers. Holding one of them off the ground, Torgin bellowed something garbled and meaningless. Wobbling, he shouted again and released the man, dropping to one knee.

–Riss,” the elfen croaked, her usually melodic voice completely flat. “It was in a bucket over the door.”

Pulling at the tar slime, the warrior woman leaned over and slammed it into the dirt. Twisting like a worm, it struggled to escape. Letting it go, Cariss watched it wiggle away for a moment and then turned back to her friend. In the moonslight, she could see that Ambyr’s golden flesh had gone a splotchy white in places but otherwise seemed okay.

Feeling blood streaming down her leg, the pain returned ten-fold as she allowed herself to drop to the ground. Rolling onto her back, she heard Torgin bellow again. Putting her head back so that the world looked upsidedown, she watched him rush headlong at a tree, looking as if he were going to try to tear it out of the ground.

“What’s wrong with him?” Ambyr asked.

Wondering the same thing, blackness engulfed her vision as Cariss marveled at Braidon’s absolutely frenzied actions.

*              *              *

“It was him!” Torgin shouted again as the three of them made their way of Onvical’s cabin along the dark trail. “He took the Eye to Caraklin!”

“Torgin, I don’t know what was on those thorns in your bed,” Ambyr started, using an exaggerated sing-song tone to calm the Braidon, “but you were hallucinating.”

“Know what I saw!”

“It kind of makes sense,” Cariss added from the back of the horse. They’d got the bleeding stopped, but the wound still ached far too much for her to walk all the way out there.

“No, it doesn’t,” Ambyr disagreed. “Why would he set traps for us and take the Eye? If anything, he already proved that we’re no match for him.”

“Know what I saw!” Torgin bellowed again.

Arriving at the clearing where the Magis lived. Ambyr put her hands up—the splotchy white had faded some on her arms, leaving long smudges in the golden flesh. “Okay, okay, we’ll figure this out and get the Eye back.”

“I kill him!”

As the echo of that statement faded, Ambyr glanced up at the shadowy form of the warrior woman on the horse.

Cariss offered only a shrug and wince in return.

Coming around the corner of the cabin, they saw Onvical’s robes fluttering from inside the front door.

“Hey,” Ambyr started, “we have a problem.”

Cariss urged the steed forward. “Something’s wrong.”

Getting to the front door, they found the Magis slumped over pole lined with spikes. A breeze caught his robes, causing them to flutter again. Beneath him, a pool of blood shimmered in the moonslight.

“Told you!” Torgin shouted at the elfen and pointed at Onvical. “Elis got him too!”

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