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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
Ambyr Valry
Cariss Mesila
Elis Rhees
Elis Rhees

Part Twenty-Seven: Turning

Ambyr strode into the clearing to inspect the abandoned caravan, trying not to be frustrated with Cariss. The woman had grown more sullen and suspicious since the encounter with Terykx near the Topos Pass. Indeed, the wound she suffered had played a part in it, but her bigger problem seemed to be with Onvical.

How do I deal with that?

She could forgive the grave robbing and her pretending to respect the dead – denying it until her greed was exposed. Had forgiven it, in fact. After all, these were things she’d been taught to expect from humans. But Onvical could finally lead them to Caraklin’s lair. With the riches inside, she would begin to salvage the political missteps that sullied her family name in the Empire.

And if I can acquire some of his power for myself, all the better, she thought, rubbing her hands together.

“People gone!” Torgin shouted.

Blinking away the barbarian’s loudness, she smiled and nodded. Turning in a slow circle, Ambyr brought her focus back to the present, studying the scene. Carts and carriages stretched along the trail ahead of them, but not in the line one would expect. All of them looked to have been…turned.

In response to a threat? she wondered.

“Ground soft!” the Braidon bellowed, though she barely heard him.

Her gaze focused on the yoke tongue of the nearest wagon. It dropped into the ground at far too steep an angle. I think it’s broken. With her thoughts recently on the Terykx, she glanced up into the clear sky. Only a wisp of cloud here and there, no place for them to hide. Although typically staying to the high mountains, she’d heard plenty of stories of the creatures hunting on surrounding grasslands.

The buzz of insects intensified around her as tiny creatures sprung, skittered, and flew away.

Eyes wide, she shouted, “Torgin, move!”

A patch of pale flesh breached the ground in much the same way she’d seen giant turtle shells rise to the surface of the Keroterel Sea. Though from the high cliffs near Harthen Haven, the far-away creatures felt small.

This beast rivaled the size of any three houses in Tarn, altogether.

I need to get further away.

Passing a wagon, Ambyr glanced back towards the Braidon, only at that moment realizing he hadn’t followed. A sound like collapsing stone filled the air, along with an occasional wet squelch that caused the golden flesh on her arms to pucker. Taking a few steps back, she could feel her heart beating in her ears. Only near mountains could such a thing exist. As much as the sheer size of the beast, the flailing tentacles radiating from its body left her staring, arms at her sides and mouth hanging open.

“What nightmare conjured that?” she mumbled to herself. Cariss talks to herself like this, she thought in mild disgust, blowing out a breath. Thinking about the woman brought her attention back to the moment, and her gaze went up to Torgin. Suspended above the creature, it swung him back and forth towards the mouth.

Lifting her bow and drawing an arrow, she took aim at the base of the tentacle that held him. Before the bowstring finished vibrating, she’d nocked another, her eyes following the first’s trajectory.

Seeing it deflect off the beast’s hide, one corner of her lip turned up in a snarl.

Let’s see how well armored the flexible part is? She purposely did not give voice to that thought.

Aiming a little higher, her fingers flexed to release when the Braidon grabbed onto that part of the tentacle and set about biting it. Lowering her bow, she blew out the breath she always held before firing.

It’s deliberate. They’re all actually trying to make my life more difficult.

Climbing onto the wagon, the elfen observed that the yoke tongue had indeed been broken, and she had an idea as to how. Seeing the way the worm flung Torgin around, she had no doubt that it could tear a horse or ox away from the wagon with ease. Though she’d never heard of such a creature – I bet Cariss knows what it is and how to kill it.

Taking a solid stance, Ambyr fired arrow after arrow at the worm, trying to find a weak spot.

She always knows what to do, the elfen thought, and is far more observant than most of her kind.

Every shot deflected off or over the beast.

With the sound of a rockslide, it began to turn, not towards but away from her.

I’ve trusted Cariss at every turn and have been better off for it.

“Why not about the Magis?”

Over the sound of clashing stone and long, drawn-out, and very moist squelch, she heard herself ask the question aloud. As much as she tried to pretend that she didn’t know the answer, her mind kept turning back to his cockeyed half-grin and the promise of wealth and power he offered.

Flaming flesh.

All at once, the tentacles went rigid, and the body began to roll.

Pale flesh gave way to pink.

Well below the mouth, but who knew how far along the body as much of it likely remained underground, she could see pulsating gold beneath the pink flesh. Two. Three. Four. All lined up. If those are organs—

Taking aim and accounting for its movement, Ambyr held her breath and fired.

This time the arrow stuck. Yellow ichor streamed around the arrowhead, running down the pink flesh. Golden lips curling into a grin, Ambyr fired all the arrows remaining in her quiver into those golden organs.

*              *              *

Drowning in dirt. This is not how I thought it would end.

As hard as she’d denied it to her mother, it had been Uncle Tadek’s stories that sent her out into the world. The promise her mom had made, to bash in Tadek’s skull if exploring the world got her daughter killed, always sat in the back of her mind. No matter how bad things got, she felt that she owed it to the man to stay alive.

It had been more than a decade since she’d returned to Bragin, and so didn’t know if any of them were still alive. Lying awake at night sometimes, she pretended they were. Her parents still selling the goods her father made in his forge from the old striped tent while Tadek protected them patrolling for the local militia. Perhaps Mom had finally replaced that old, patched canvas, and they’d promoted Uncle Tadek to Captain.

Feeling the dirt compressing her chest, pushing the remaining air out of her lungs, Cariss hoped they would never find out. Let them go on believing that I’m seeing new things, meeting new people, and hearing new stories.

As a creeping darkness seeped over her vision, Cariss felt something touch her face.

Though cold and most certainly unpleasant, the touch felt human.

“Oh no you don’t,” a familiar voice whispered. “You don’t get to die until I’m done with you.”

Light appeared behind her closed eyelids as those hands began to pull her out of the ground.

*              *              *

Much later, Ambyr and Cariss sat away from the fire.

While the Braidon busied himself cooking up worm meat, Onvical had begun going through the carriages, sorting through personal possessions. In the fading light of the second sun, they watched the Magis exit one carriage – his sack a little heavier than it had been when he entered – and start for the next.

“I get it now,” Cariss whispered. When Ambyr glanced over, she continued. “About respecting the dead enough not to take their possessions. I may not have really gotten it before, but I want you to know that didn’t pick up anything in that pass.”

“I know you didn’t.”

Nodding towards Onvical, the warrior woman asked, “What do we do now?”

“We find Caraklin’s Lair,” she replied without hesitation. A moment later, she added, “But we watch out for one another, and we don’t trust him.”

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Part Twenty-eight is Now Available
Part Twenty-eight is Now Available

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