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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 One: Desperate Ploy

Blowing out a breath, Ambyr stepped out into the early morning air. A small crowd had formed outside, including Mayor Select Maiwenn Guil, Sheriff Burkhard, the Rylin who owned the stables – Kasilla, and a handful of townies. All eyes turned to her as she stood on the porch, making the elfen very aware of the still mottled golden flesh on her face and arms.

“Uh, Neris says he’ll be okay.” Glancing around at faces that seemed to be waiting for more, she shrugged and stepped back. “I guess. Thank you for coming to check on him.”

It seemed that all of them began talking to one another at once, though it wasn’t immediately clear whether her news made them happy or sad.

Because there were often multiple people visiting at one time, a wrap-around porch had been constructed on the front of the local surgeon’s home. Also an alchemist, Neris had added a series of flower boxes to the front railing that always seemed overgrown with plants, many of which few in Tarn had the skill to identify. Cariss sat on a bench near one of the flowerboxes talking to a man wearing a stained tunic and torn pants, with at least one missing tooth on the left side.

The elfen didn’t need to approach to smell the foul air that surrounded him. “Where’s Torgin?” she asked, keeping her distance.

“He went off with Melle to get supplies,” the warrior woman replied.

“Supplies for what?”

“Uh, to chase down Elis.”

“That’s ridiculous. We don’t even know for sure if it was him.”

“About that,” she replied, motioning towards but not touching the man, “this is Hern. He worked with Elis at the stables.”

“Hiya,” the stablehand uttered, standing up. “I never talked to any Fanaal before. I like how yer—”

“Just stop there,” Ambyr stated, putting the back of her hand against her nose.

Shifting his weight back and forth, he glanced back at Cariss. “Oh yeah, the smell thing. I ain’t good at pounding the smell out,” he replied, turning back to the elfen and tugging at his tunic.

“Just tell her what you told me,” the warrior woman stated, shaking the coins in her hand.

“Oh yeah. Uh, before he went and run off, that Elis bragged all the time about being a trapper. Said he liked to hurt his prey. Make it scream.”

“What do you mean, run off. Wasn’t he a stable marshal?”

“He stopped showing up five or six days back and this morning stoled a horse.”

“Did you see him steal the horse?”

“Didn’t have to,” Hern shrugged. “Stable masters keys was used to open it up.”

“This just doesn’t make sense,” Ambyr replied, speaking more to herself than the others.

“Why?” Cariss asked, starting to stand but thinking better of it as pain lanced from the wound on her leg. “What is it about Elis that makes you think he’s above all this?”

Looking out over the small crowd, which seemed to grow in the last few moments, the elfen ran golden fingers through her silvery hair. “Just a feeling. I got him to talk a little when I led him out to Melle’s forge. And then when Onvical was questioning him – there was this sincerity about him. I don’t think he was necessarily a good person, but—”

“You can say that again.” The voice belonged to Sheriff Burkhard, who stepped forward, holding a small leather pouch in her closed fist. “Kasilla gave us the keys to his room. We found a pail with mud in it, a few empty vials, and this.” She held up her hand, showing them a coin purse.

“What’s that?” Ambyr asked, the words exaggerated in her sing-song tone.

“It belonged to Delwin Vani,” she sniped, rising one corner off her mouth in a snarl. “It seems that Elis tried out a couple of those traps he set for your people on that butcher boy. We didn’t get what made the punctures on his stomach at first, but it looks the same as those spikes that hit Onvical.”

“But why?”

“Rumor has it that your group had a run-in with Elis at Melle’s forge and again out in Kasilla’s field over that pendant he wore,” the Sheriff continued. “It wasn’t a secret around town that he was protective about it. He probably figured that when you got back, you’d be coming after it again. Better to get you first.”

“And if he just came after us, that would be one thing,” Onvical stated, stepping slowly out onto the porch. His ordinarily dark robes had been replaced with a white tunic that showed through a pair of bloodied bandages on his abdomen. The murmuring crowd went silent as all eyes turned towards the Magis standing on the surgeon’s porch. “Torturing Iola’s son, our beloved former Mayor Select is simply reprehensible.”

Shouts of agreement began in the crowd as Ambyr ducked out of the way. Skirting past Hern, she moved to the other side of the bench.

Despite the pain, Cariss pushed herself up to see over the flower boxes and stand next to the elfen.

“We will not let this act of cowardice go unpunished.”

Glancing at one another and then back to the crowd, Cariss and Ambyr watched as nods of agreement began in the front and working their way back. New and louder shouts of support filled the air.

“I swear this to the people of Tarn, to my friends and neighbors,” Onvical continued. “My companions and I will pursue this stranger – this outsider – and bring him back to face justice. No one attacks our children and gets away with it!”

A roar of applause rolled over that front porch while Ambyr and Cariss stood with their mouths open. Somehow they’d gone from the verge of being run out of town to applauded heroes.

*              *              *

Standing in the back of the crowd, her son Rovi holding one hand and the other gripping a carved ivory box, Serony Boeryn stared straight ahead, her expression stony. She hadn’t slept more than a few minutes at a time since returning from the gnomun garden. Each day, she’d gone out to the cabin on the edge of town to see if the Magis had yet returned – and each day had been disappointed.

 Rovi’s not so imaginary friend continued speaking to him. The things she told him growing ever more disturbing. It began with a narrative that cast the Hero of Tarn as an insidious master manipulator who turned the town against a harmless old woman. She then attributed all of the deaths that day, including her beloved Rhist, to the Magis.

Every piece of it felt outlandish.

But after eight days with little sleep—

“Mom, do you think what Cinia said is true?”

“Not now, Rovi.”

“Do you think he killed Delwin and is blaming it on—”

“I said, not now!” Serony whisper-shouted at Rovi, bending over to meet him face-to-face. The golden skin of her face paled as her lips pulled back from her teeth. “If these people hear you say that, they’ll run us out of town, at best.”

As chants of Onvical and Hero of Tarn went up from the crowd, Serony pulled her away.

“What are we going to do, Mom?”

“I don’t know.”

As they passed the market, the scarlet-haired girl fell into step beside Rovi.

“Tell her to open the box, and together we’ll expose this hero and avenge her beloved.”

Maps
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Part Twenty-two is Now Available
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Part Twenty-two is Now Available

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