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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-Two: Which Hunt

“We go now!”

With both arms extended over her head, tying her hair up, Cariss stopped and turned, looking up at the Braidon. “Yeah. We know you want to go now, but if Elis is really taking that ugly one-eyed skull back to Caraklin’s lair, we need to get supplied first.”

“Getting away!” Torgin shouted, his hands balled into tight fists as he paced back and forth.

Sitting on a poorly cared-for bench, the warrior woman had just finished rewrapping the bandage on her leg in anticipation of riding. The tighter binding wouldn’t be comfortable but should keep the wound from reopening. Although it would be easier to sit inside the cabin and tend to it, the air inside reminded her of the royal crypt in Maneluuk that she and some former companions had robbed. One of them had run off with most of the jewelry they’d taken off the corpses after a drunken night of celebration. That betrayal had led to infighting and long-time friends going their separate ways.

Her brother once told her that true friendship was reserved only for children as everyone grew up to put their self-interests above all others. For as hard as she fought against that pessimistic view, losing those companions – those friends – had shattered her belief in people.

After more dark years than she cared to remember where trust came slowly, if ever, along came Ambyr and Torgin. Between her tendency to waver over decisions regardless of ethical or moral considerations, with certain exceptions, and his naive view of the world, she found something with them that her brother told her did not exist.

Trust.

“I said go now!”

“Don’t worry, my friend,” the Magis said, stepping through the door carrying a pack that looked heavy with books, “we’ll catch Elis and get your relic back.”

And then came Onvical.

The three of them had been doing well for themselves, taking various jobs while looking for information about Caraklin’s lair. Coming to Tarn was an accident of following lousy information. The opportunities he promised seemed too good to be true, and to his credit, the Magis delivered. Of course, none of them anticipated the cost, and it appeared that Ambyr and Torgin still didn’t see it.

Whether for his own reasons or malicious pleasure, Onvical seemed to continually turn the three of them against one another. Usually, right when they’d decide to move on from him and Tarn. Almost as if he were constantly eavesdropping on them. It wouldn’t surprise her at all to find out that he’d set the traps for each of them, impaling himself just to sell the illusion.

Except for that voice – the one that told her not to trust him – belonged to her brother.

“How can you be so sure?” she asked, without looking up.

“Excuse me?”

Raising her eyes to meet his, she repeated, “How can you be so sure? You know, that we’ll catch Elis. He’s obviously skilled and has a head start on us.” Watching his mouth turn up into that half-grin, she could practically hear her brother screaming not to trust him.

“Back in Melle’s smithy, I touched the magic of that amulet. It doesn’t matter where he goes or how far he runs. I’ll find him.”

“Good friend, Onvical!” Torgin shouted, clapping the Magis on the back – the impact forced him to stumble forward. “We catch Elis soon!”

“Yes, soon. And it will be sooner if you go help Ambyr pack the horses,” he replied, holding up the heavy pack of books.

Taking the pack, the Braidon jogged over to the small stable on the property.

“That skull means a lot to him and his people, I hope—” Cariss began, intending to reinforce the importance of keeping that promise, but Onvical’s sudden presence, sitting next to her on the bench, stoppered the remaining words in her throat.

Leaning in, he whispered, “I promise you that no one gets away from me until I’m done with them.”

*              *              *

Sitting at the table Rhist had grown for them, hands rubbing at her temples, Serony stared down at the ivory box. Lack of sleep left a bright pink blight around her eyes, and her golden skin dulled. The empty pit of her stomach complained, as did her dry tongue.

“Mom.”

“What?” she croaked, feeling the dryness in her throat. A pitcher of water sat on the table, as did the plate of vegetables that her son had picked through, eating only those he liked best. Resolving her hunger and thirst should be easy, but she couldn’t. To her, green pond water stood in the pitcher, and rotting vegetables covered in maggots sat on the plate.

Thankfully, Rovi didn’t see these things.

“Cinia says that everything you need to expose him as a fraud is in his cellar.”

Hearing those words, Cinia says, grated on her, causing her shoulders to involuntarily rollback. Serony hated those two words more than anything she’d experienced in this life. Picturing herself throwing a backhand at her son, forbidding him from ever saying those two words again, caused her mouth to turn up in a grin. Guilt followed closely after, causing her head to throb and her throat to tighten. She needed to find a way to get rid of Cinia, but the one person who should be able to help her—

What? Unable to concentrate on the question, she didn’t know why Onvical couldn’t or wouldn’t help her, but she felt certain of it. As certain that she should not, under any circumstances, open this box.

“Mom.”

Pushing herself back, allowing her arms to fall into her lap, Serony turned to her son. “I don’t want to hear what Cinia says.”

“But—”

“I said,” she interrupted, “I don’t want to hear it.”

The sound of evening insects filled the silence that had shortly ago belonged to chirping birds. As the suns began to drop below the horizon, first the golden and then the red, long shadows began to grow around them. Unable to take her eyes off the ivory box, Serony thought about taking it back to the pond, but that place scared her. Not least because Rhist was murdered there. In truth, she could bury it anywhere, but that wouldn’t solve her problem. It wouldn’t free her son from Cinia.

“Mom.”

“Rovi, I don’t—”

“She says that if you go to that cellar and get the proof that he’s a fraud, she’ll leave me alone.”

Forcing her eyes away from the box, she turned towards her son. Blinking the dryness out of her eyes, she focused on him. The muddied shirt, tangled hair, and dirt-streaked cheeks raised a new kind of guilt within her. “What did you say?”

Tears spilled from his eyes, leaving golden streaks where they cut through the dirt. “Mom, she promises to leave me alone if you’ll go. Please, mom, will you go?”

Feeling hope well in her, Serony nodded. “I will go,” she said, adding to herself, but not alone.

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