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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

Part Thirty: The Troll Cave

“You’re joking!” Cariss blurted, her features contorted into something between humor and disbelief.

His back to her, the Magis took a deep breath, allowing his gaze to wander upward as he slowly breathed it out. The golden sun had just crested the horizon with the scarlet orb still sitting below, making a deep crimson line across the southern sky. Many superstitious sayings surrounded that particular effect, but soldiers during the Troll War referred to it as the Blood Line. A grim tiding, it supposedly presaged great loss for the coming day.

I can think of one person it’s time to lose, Onvical thought to himself, turning towards the warrior woman. “If only I were.”

“And you know for certain he’s been killed by trolls?” Ambyr asked, a deeper tone in her sing-song voice indicating suspicion.

Nodding, he opened his mouth to begin the lie about a vision he saw while meditating on the realm of magic. While he had no doubt the two ladies would be overly skeptical, if not outright disbelieve him, he really only needed to convince one member of their group.

“Where Eye of Cemlan!” Torgin shouted.

Hiding the grin he felt, Onvical turned back to him. “My guess is that it’s in the cave with the trolls.”

“We go!”

“Wait. Torgin!” Ambyr shouted, starting after him.

Watching the Braidon stride off, one corner of his mouth turned up in a grin. That was easier than I expected. Shrugging, he glanced back at Cariss. “I guess we go.”

The woman widened her stance and crossed powerful arms over her chest. “Not this time.”

“I do believe the Braidon has spoken.”

“Because you told him what he wanted to hear.”

“It’s a logical inference.”

“Nope.”

“No, what?”

Setting her jaw, Cariss leaned forward. “You’re not using fancy words to slip this past us. How do you know Elis is dead?”

“I started meditating on—” the Magis started, his voice trailing off at the expression on her face. “We lost his trail, so last night, I cast my spirit into the shadow to search for him.”

“You what?”

Stepping forward, his brow dropping and one corner of his mouth rising in a sneer, he moved into her personal space. “You heard me. I left my body here and sent my spirit searching for him and that damn pendant.”

Her involuntary step back pleased him almost as much as the expression of horror she wore.

“That’s insane. A fiend could have taken you and killed us all while we slept. You could be being influenced right now!”

I should have known she’d be familiar with the elfin fables. The Fanaal seemed to relish filling overly dramatic tales with ludicrous warnings, especially regarding death and spiritual corruption. Holding on to his false anger to keep from laughing in her face, Onvical took another step towards her. “Would you prefer wandering in circles, losing our chance to find Caraklin’s Lair?”

“If Ambyr finds out about this—”

This time the Magis did laugh. “So what if she does?”

“She won’t continue. You don’t know anything about the Fanaal, do you?”

“Oh please, Cariss, educate me.”

“For them, The Circle isn’t just about completing the journey from womb to tomb – it’s finding your way to spiritual peace in the warring chaos of life. She will not be able to accept you recklessly throwing your spirit into the shadow for any reason.”

One corner of his mouth turned up in a grin. “I think you overestimate that elfen’s virtues.”

“I think I know Ambyr better than you.”

“Do you, now?”

Having been briefly taken off-guard, she resumed the stoic stance with arms crossed. “Yes.”

“During Ambyr’s lifetime, the Valry family sat on the Circle of Seven. An ancient and influential line who once helped to shape the Fanaal Empire, they’ve been all but banished. She naively believes that wealth can restore it all, and there is no rumored wealth greater than that acquired by Caraklin. Nothing you say will stop her from following me to his lair.”

“How do you know this?”

That lopsided grin spread across his face. “She talks in her sleep.”

*              *              *

It took them most of the day to make their way to the troll cave. The Magis had no trouble backtracking them along the base of the mountains, but locating that one cave amongst rough terrain turned out to be far more of a challenge.

Torgin’s impatience didn’t make it any easier.

Glancing over at the elfen, Cariss again tried to resolve Onvical’s statement with the person she knew. He must have been creeping over her bed, watching. She wouldn’t—the thought of them together turned her stomach.

Valry’s on the Circle of Seven? Ambyr didn’t like to talk about her family and only ever mentioned political missteps. If what he said, that they’d been all but banished, were true – well, Cariss knew enough about the Fanaal to understand what that meant. All mention of them would be dropped from the oral traditions. It would be like the family never existed.

“Cariss!” Hearing her name, the warrior woman looked up. Seeing Onvical and Torgin huddled behind a boulder up ahead, she guessed that they had finally found the cave. Taking a deep breath, she quietly pulled her sword from its sheath.

I hate fighting trolls, she thought to herself. The ultimate predator, they moved with stealth, came at you in unpredictable ways, and seemed to lack any sense of self-preservation. An attacking troll did not stop until it or its prey were dead. And once it got its talons and teeth into something, nothing could be done to stem the loss of life. It’s a wonder we managed to push them back into the Frontier.

“Are you sure he’s right about this?”

Jumping at the sing-song voice, Cariss turned a glare on her friend, lowering her blade. “Why do you people insist on sneaking up on me. One of these days I’m going to—”

“You’re the one who said we can’t trust him.”

Gazing into those purplish eyes within golden features, the warrior woman nodded. “I know, but this time—” Words failed her. For the first time since meeting him, she found truth in Onvical’s words. Telling Ambyr about how he found Elis would only make her uncomfortable, and the fact that he seemed to know more about the elfen’s family bothered her. So much so that she’s found herself avoiding her friend. “Listen, I regret ever meeting Onvical, let alone agreeing to work for him, but he wants to find Caraklin’s Lair just as badly as we do. This time…I—”

“You trust him.”

“Let’s not go that far.”

Her friend’s mouth turned up in a slight grin. “For a moment there, I thought you might have fallen under his influence.”

“Cariss,” Onvical hissed, motioning for her, while the Braidon repeatedly shifted his weight from one foot to the other.

“Go, before Torgin charges the cave alone.”

Grinning, Cariss started for the boulder while Ambyr moved to find a clear line of sight at the cave opening.

A gurgling growl from behind brought Cariss to a sliding stop, pushing a wave of small pebbles ahead. Pivoting, she turned in time to see the elfin diving to her right to avoid a troll leaping out of the bush.

“No.” The whispered word fell from the warrior woman’s mouth.

Hitting the ground and rolling, Ambyr brought her bow up, her hand a blur as it pulled and nocked the arrow from her quiver. She never saw the second troll.

Claws and teeth sank into flesh.

Blood sprayed the bowstring as the arrow released.

“Ambyr!”

Maps
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