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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

Part Three: Good Intentions

“Sometimes, the line between virtue and villainy is intention,” Finney stated, tossing a small rock in the air and igniting it into a brilliant light.

Neither the man nor the dwarv standing in front of the sorcerer reacted to the magic.

“No one likes to be in the dark, but when the light draws a monster—” the old man continued as a whirling shadow rose from the ground consuming the light, causing the stone to fall back to the dirt with a thud. “Do you blame the light?”

Although Onvical didn’t understand the phrase the Rylin spat, he could hear contempt in his tone.

“We didn’t come to you for illusions or philosophy,” the man standing in front of Finney stated, crossing armored arms over his chest. One pauldron had been painted a bright blue and looked to be of a slightly different design than the other plates. “We were told you could provide us information about this witch.”

After a moment of silence, the old man called for his abecedarian. “Boy.”

Balling one hand into a fist, Onvical stepped away from the shadow of the cottage. He’d hoped his presence would be forgotten after the two mercenaries unexpectedly arrived at their door.

Turning to make eye contact with him, the old man stated, “Go to the well, retrieve two pails of water.”

Expecting the dismissal didn’t make it less frustrating—his curiosity wanted to hear about the witch very much. Nodding to his master, Onvical drifted to the corner of the cottage. Dragging his feet, he full well knew that the old man would not continue until after he’d gone. After turning it, he leaned back against the wall and strained to listen.

“Tualla is not a witch,” the old man finally stated. Onvical noted that his tone had darkened considerably. “She had been a life warden—”

“I’m not interested in what she was,” the man interrupted. “I want to know what she is.”

“She’s an elfen witch!” the Rylin added with the gusto so common to the stout race, his mountainous accent stressing the L and rolling the W. “And a Mer atop it. That’s reason enough to end her.”

“As I was saying,” Finney continued, ignoring the interruptions, “Tualla had been a life warden during the war, using her magic to heal. I doubt you could possibly imagine the toll of staunching the flow of so much—”

“Do you have any useful information, old man?”

“Leave him. Let’s hunt,” the dwarv snapped, his footsteps stomping away.

“Well?” the man prodded.

“I’ll tell you what I’ve told Kantin and anyone else who’s come to me. Don’t. Don’t pursue her and don’t follow that Rylin’s hate. Tualla was broken by the war—the path she pursues is self-destructive.”

“You mean, she’s dangerous.”

“Only to herself…and those who draw her attention.”

“That’s not how the people here feel, and they’re willing to pay us to draw a lot more than her attention.”

Finney’s voice sounded further away. “What you draw will be much, much worse.”

*              *              *

“You were right about that, old man,” Onvical mumbled to himself, keeping a wary distance from the two figures standing prone just inside the one-room hut. “This is much worse.”

“Much worse than what,” the Mer elfen asked, stepping from shadows next to him.

A yelp slipped past the boy’s lips, causing her to cackle. A moment before, she’d been in the far corner near a sleeping pallet, and he’d turned to get a good look at the dead mercenaries. “I, um, Finney. When they came to ask about you, he warned them against trying.”

“Your master may be more clever than I thought. He may require closer attention.”

Something in the tone of that last word caused his stomach to churn, and not for the first time that day, he had regrets.

While following Tualla deeper towards the mountains, with the two walking corpses trailing them, he’d tried to ask her where they were going—once. The look she’d flashed caused his mouth to snap shut, and he didn’t open it again until after they’d arrived.

Moving out of the forest in silence, they’d rounded a gully and come to something different. Hidden between hillocks sat a small plain filled with high grasses and flowers as tall as small trees. It brought to Onvical’s mind the silly story of Alcom’s Wonderland. All stories, Finney had said, no matter how unbelievable, contain an element of truth.

“Unbelievable,” he muttered to himself, studying the giant petals with his mouth turned up in a grin as they continued.

Away in the back of the plain, hidden by one of the rising hillocks, sat her hut. Little more than a simple square structure built from thick stalks lashed together, with a grass pitched roof, it sat next to an algae-filled pond. After she’d disappeared inside, he’d felt a moment of hesitation, wondering if he’d made a mistake in following her. Not that the two dead mercenaries closing in on him from behind had left him a choice.

“Now, let us see what we can do to get you into that study,” the elfen muttered, having wandered back across the room. Aside from embers glowing in a firepit dug at the center of the hut, the only light came from a hole in the roof to let smoke out. One chair, two small tables, and the aforementioned sleeping pallet in the corner rounded out the totality of her furniture. Hunched over the only other item in the room, she carefully dug through an old chest that may have once been painted green. Moving things around inside, she never took anything out that he could see.

Holding up a pouch, she turned to him.

“What’s that?” he asked.

Cocking her head right, Onvical could feel her eyes roaming over him. “A shortcut.”

“Into the study?”

“Yes. But it would not teach you anything.” Enough light fell on her face that he could see the contemplative expression—it was like looking at a different person. She was a life warden, the old man had said. “And I feel like you’re a boy who intends to learn.”

Turning back around, she set the pouch back into the chest and closed the lid.

“Did Finney explain to you—” she began, standing across the room, but finished the statement stepping out of a shadow next to him, “—the backlands?”

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