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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-Six: Alibace

Padding down the short hall, a big man with a bigger belly maneuvered slowly around the one floorboard that would give him away. Just ahead stood his goal, a slightly ajar door painted green, for good luck and good health. Such superstitions may have seemed silly before the trolls came, but no more. Green doors could be found all over the village of Bragin – likely all through the Anthrinic.

It had happened in his lifetime, at an age when he could do no more than watch as vicious teeth and claws tore through his family, leaving him an orphan. When the trolls reached Bragin, many still labored under the false belief that their bloodthirsty numbers were exaggerated.

Far more blood flowed than needed, much of it innocent.

Bravery and fortunate timing saved him from a horrid death in a troll’s maw and provided a new family. The neighbor who took him in taught him to use a sword. While he’d hadn’t the opportunity to take the fight to the monsters that took his family, he’d defended his adopted family many times.

And now, he defended their children.

Reaching the green door, the big man glanced back.

The hovel remained quiet.

One corner of his mouth turning up in a grin, he quietly pushed it open and stepped inside.

“Uncle Tadek?” a young voice said as the big man slowly shut it.

“Shhh…Cariss. If your mother knew I were here, she’d hit me with something.”

“Probably her mace,” a boy’s voice added from the pallet on the floor of the darkened room.

The big man laughed, covering his mouth to stifle the noise. “Probably, Kadig.” Feeling along the wall, he found the chair and eased his bulk down in it. A creak sounded, loud enough to make all three of them hold their breath and look to the door. When no one burst through, Tadek continued. “Would you kids like a story?”

In the dim light of the room, the two children scooted to the edge of their pallet, squealing with excitement. A young girl with broad shoulders and long brown hair and her older brother, already taller and more robust than his friends, but still a little clumsy. As if he hadn’t yet grown into his bulk.

“Away out east at the base of Tovar Ridge—”

“Oooh, it’s gonna be a scary story,” Kadig interrupted.

“Shhhh,” his sister hissed, nudging him.

Any other time, he would have pushed Cariss down and pinched her nose until she cried, but not in front of Uncle Tadek. “Can I continue now?” the big man asked. Kadig laid back, and Cariss leaned forward, both of them nodding in the dark.

“As I was saying. Away out east at the base of Tovar Ridge was a city named Guul. Founded by men, it housed many a Rylin. You might think this is because of the Guul iron mines, but it’s a fallacy to believe that all dwarven are miners or crafters who live deep beneath the land. They live not-so-different lives from us. Sure, their citadel’s are architectural wonders that house many, but far fewer than you’d think.”

“No, the Rylin came to Guul to hunt Alibace. You see, the men of Guul dug deep into Tovar Ridge, greedily stripping it of iron, but the mountains hid a secret deep in their bowels. And when greed finally led them to it, the mountains unleashed the Alibace. Immense yellowish worms, bigger than five of these hovels put together, with tentacles that could pluck you up and drop you into a mouth the size of two of your bedroom doors.” Tadek mimed the action of picking people up and tossing them into the back of his throat, followed by an exaggerated swallow. “All gone.”

“But if they ate people,” Cariss began, pushing her lips together to make a line across her youthful face, “how do the Rylin hunt them?”

“And why?” Kadig asked.

“Because among the dwarven, Alibace is good eating.”

“Eww,” the kids offered in unison.

“I’m serious. I once saw a dwarv lie down a pouch of silver coins for a single cut of Alibace steak.”

“You’re making that up,” Kadig announced.

“I would never,” Tadek scoffed. His mouth turned up in a grin. “Something interesting though, when you cook Alibace over a fire, slime comes to the surface and begins to sizzles.”

“Eww!”

“The Rylin say it makes for a great gravy.” While the kids made gagging noises, he continued. “It helps the meat to slide right off your tongue.”

“That’s enough.” All three of them turned to see a woman standing in the doorway, solid corded arms crossed over her chest.

“But Mom, I want to know how the dwarves hunt the Abbylace.”

“Alibace,” the big man corrected.

“Tadek, out now! You two, get to sleep!”

Cariss would not find out how the Rylin hunt the giant worms until much later – and not from Uncle Tadek.

*              *              *

“Do you think it can swallow Torgin whole?” Onvical asked, cocking his head left and crossing his arms over his chest.

Looking between the Magis and the worm, her mouth hanging open, Cariss waited.

When that cockeyed half-grin raised on his face, she stepped towards him. “Do you know what that is?”

“Maybe.”

“It’s an Alibace.”

“I’d read that the Rylins hunted them to extinction.”

“Aren’t you going to do something?”

“Ambyr’s over there, I think. Unless it swallowed her as it came up out of the ground. I’m sure she’ll be firing arrows into that tentacle holding him any moment now.”

They watched.

“Yeah, any moment,” he repeated.

“Bracken-blight!” Cariss cursed, turned, and charged the beast. The ache in her leg turned the motion into more of an awkward lope. A clamor erupted from the worm as it moved, sounding like boulders grinding together – punctuated by the heavy rasping and squelching of its maw opening and closing. Knowing she needed it to roll to expose the underside of its thorax heart ring, the warrior woman set her feet and drove the blade forward.

The point skittered across the surface of its flesh.

“And that’s why you need to get to the underside,” she muttered to herself, moving left to avoid a tentacle.

Above her, his legs wrapped tightly, Torgin had somehow managed to grab onto a lower section of the tentacle, biting into it as the worm flung him from side to side. Glancing up, she saw him spit a bit of the pale flesh as he wiped a yellowish ichor from his mouth.

“There’s the gravy.”

Retreating back a few steps, Cariss moved away from a pair of tentacles that snaked towards her, slicing the end off one of them. A long squelch rang out as the worm shifted its head towards her, the rumble of its movement drowning out all other sound. Knowing there were many more tentacles around the mouth, she moved with it and stepped over an arrow. Above the hump that breached the ground, she saw an arrow fly past, and then another hit the tentacle low to the body and drop away.

The sight both thrilled and frustrated her. By grabbing onto the tentacle, Torgin made it near impossible for Ambyr to hit the more vulnerable flesh. But at least it hadn’t eaten the elfen as it came up out of the ground.

Needing to get it to roll, she shouted, “Onvical!”

“Yes,” he replied, his cold breath hitting her ear and sending chills down her spine.

“Will you stop doing that!” Jumping back from a tentacle coming out of the ground, she half expected to knock him down. Trying to compensate for it, when she did not hit him, it forced her to painfully step sideways on her sore leg.

“That sounded like it hurt.” Again, she could feel his cold breath.

“I need it to roll. Can you do something useful for a change?”

“I can.”

Ducking another tentacle and strafing away as it continued to turn towards her, she waited another few heartbeats. “You blighted fool! Will you do something?” Having no idea if he could hear her over the rumble, she backed away from two more tentacles, one still oozing that yellow ichor.

While she watched, the tentacles went suddenly rigid, and the whole of it convulsed as gashes opened in the flesh. Yellow ichor flowed from them as the maw squelched open, seeming to almost hiccup. Stepping forward, Cariss plunged her sword into one of the gashes and pushed down, opening it wider. When it rolled, it came towards her, forcing her to withdraw the blade and back away.

Tentacles wrapped around her legs and one arm, pulling her down into the soft dirt.

Feeling her blade slip from her grasp as her head dropped below the surface, she remembered what the old Rylin hunter had said. Don’t you be fooled. These beasties are clever – Alibace pull their prey down into the dirt. Don’t matter if it’s water or dirt. When it gets in your lungs, you drown.

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