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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-Nine: Improvising

Passing through the wall and into the locked room, the blurred figure looked down at the sleeping figure. As the magic fell away, one corner of his mouth turned up in a cocky grin. “This time,” Onvical whispered, “no one will interrupt us.”

Most people could sleep securely in a room with no windows and a heavy bar in the door, but not Elis Rhees. A lifetime of remaining aware to stay alive could not be undone with only a barred door. The presence had awakened him, though he remained still. The whispered words sounded clearly in the quiet darkness, and Elis closed his hand around the hilt of the short blade with which he always slept.

Stepping around to the foot of the bed, Onvical gazed around the room.

This will be easier if he takes the pendant off at night.

With his companions still four days out of Tarn and moving slowly, mostly due to the injury Cariss sustained against the Terykx up in that pass, the Magis had been forced to move through the realm of shadow. After years spent studying, pouring through the information he’d acquired from Finney and Tualla, Onvical still understood little of the place. In truth, he’d learned more from getting Jodo addicted to the dark weed than all of the knowledge his mentors had collected. He knew, for example, that he could step into the realm in one place and out in another to avoid obstacles, such as walls and locked doors. From Jodo, he discovered that it could also be used to avoid distance.

To move from one place to almost any other without traversing the distance would be a fantastic power, but for the need to navigate the realm.

After observing the still form under the covers for a time, he moved away from the bed to continue his search. Glancing over the few objects on the table, he found nothing of interest. Turning in a small circle, he found the small room to be almost disturbingly sparse. As he understood it, Ellis arrived in town with nothing but the pendant, not even clothing, but, surely, a Stable Marshal would have acquired more by now.

Tualla’s empty hut felt cluttered compared to this.

It had been that witch who told him of the dark weed, which had a name in the ancient language of Nallis he could not pronounce. The plant manifested in the shadow realm but grew in the physical world, and those who consumed it gained that same duality. That also carried an addiction – the more of it the person consumed, the better aligned they became to the realm, gaining an innate understanding, but at great cost. Even as they consumed the dark weed, the shadow slowly consumed them, physically and mentally.

Witnessing this first hand, he had no desire to try any himself.

Turning back to the bed, Onvical pulled open the door of the simple wardrobe while watching the figure beneath the covers. One of the hinges creaked, but the figure didn’t react.

He’s faking sleep.

Because he needed to deal with Ellis before his companions returned and could not navigate such a distance on his own, he’d been forced to rely on Jodo to lead him through the realm to get back to Tarn. Shoveling manure would likely have been the highest he could ever aspire had Onvical not exposed him to the dark weed. And still, his decline had been shocking.

For just a small pouch of the stuff, Jodo turned on his former friends without hesitation, trapping the Vani boy in his cellar and chasing the other into the wilds. That bit of vengeance aside, he still had business with them for tormenting him as a child. I’ll finish it before we depart.

But first, I need that pendant.

Taking a step closer to the bed, Onvical drew on the realm of magic, feeling it flow down his shoulders and into his hands. As they began to blur, he reached one towards the figure in the bed, intent on stealing the air from the man’s lungs—

Feeling the touch of magic, Elis reacted.

The blanket shifted in response to his magic, as the Magis expected, but the blur of motion caught him by surprise. Although he’d seen combatants, facing off against a few, none had ever moved so fast.

It took a few heartbeats before Onvical realized that he’d been stabbed.

Dropping his gaze, his eyes blinking rapidly as he struggled with the realization, he stared down at the blade. It had stabbed cleanly through the blanket and into his abdomen. Had he been a step closer or it any longer, the steel would have run him through. Under the tutelage of Tualla, Onvical had experienced pain.

“To know death magic, you must know pain.” One of Tualla’s favorite mantras. No matter how often she claimed not to take pleasure in making him hurt, Onvical knew better. Each time she picked up an implement of torture and turned to him, he saw that gleam of excitement in her eye, and he hated her for it.

But that had been a long time ago.

As the initial punch of the impact began to fade, the first lance of pain hit. Much of the training with the witch involved holding onto the magic and channeling his pain into it. The blur over his hands extended up his forearm, covering the elbow.

Sitting up in the bed, the blanket bunched around his waist, Elis exhaled in a spasm. His hand opened, releasing the blade as the magic crushed his lungs. A blade thrust through the front of his throat, sending out a wide spray of blood, cut short the slow, painful death that should have followed.

Onvical saw it happen. He felt the hot spray of blood on his hands, and when Elis dropped back into the bed, he saw why. Jodo stood there, unnaturally cloaked in shadow, with a bloody dagger in hand.

“You fool,” the Magis barked. “I needed him alive.”

“But he stabbed you.”

“I know that.” Grasping the blade, Onvical pulled it out of his abdomen, immediately applying pressure to the wound. As Jodo’s only source for the dark weed, he’d become overly protective of the Magis. Not knowing what to expect from Elis, he’d told Jodo to be ready but hadn’t offered more explanation than that. This is what happens when he thinks for himself.

Things couldn’t have gone much worse. He needed to act fast to trap Elis’ spirit, keeping it linked with the pendant, and find some way to explain his wound to my companions.

The pain helped him to focus.

“Listen closely, Jodo,” he stated at last. “I want you to set a trap at my front door – a spike trap would be best. Use the Vani boy in my cellar to make certain the wound looks like this.” Opening his robe and lifting his shirt, he released the pressure on the wound. Blood streamed out, puddling onto the floor. “I don’t care if your tests kill him – just make sure it looks right.”

Okay, I need to animate Elis to give Torgon a trail to chase…and a reason to chase him.

“In fact, set a trap for each of us. Dangerous, but not lethal.” Thinking about it, though, This might be a good chance to get rid of Cariss. Closing the robe and putting pressure back on the wound, he shook his head. That would be something he took great pleasure in doing himself – after she’s fulfilled her usefulness.

“Get Elis and me to my cabin. We have a lot to do, and I need to be back on the trail by morning.”

*              *              *

Hovering in that troll cave, looking down at the remains, Onvical did his best to concentrate.

All that work for nothing.

The traps Jodo had set for the others proved yet again that he should not be permitted to think for himself. Cariss could have been crippled, Ambyr might have died, and anything could have happened with Torgon in that drugged state.

Somehow that had all worked out, but not without raising questions.

Cariss is too clever for her own good.

Losing blood and barely able to think, he’d managed to animate Elis, binding his spirit and maintaining the link between it and the pendant. And under his direction, the corpse began the long journey back to Caracklin’s Lair. They avoided towns to keep anyone from coming across the walking corpse, and most creatures would avoid the odor of it.

Except trolls.

Their taste for flesh did not end with death, undeath, or decay.

Maybe I can put enough of him back together to—

Glancing around at the broken shards of bone put an end to that thought.

Okay then, the only chance is to use his remains like a compass. So we are going to have to kill this thing and recover the skull.

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Part Thirty is Now Available

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