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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
Cariss Mesila
Torgin

Part Thirty-Two: Promises

Standing over Ambyr’s covered body, one hand reflexively balling into a fist, Cariss took a deep breath, trying to slow the beat of her heart. Over by the boulder, Onvical backed away as Torgin raged at him, but she could hear none of the Braidon’s shouts over the sound of blood rushing in her ears.

“How can I let him do this?”

Walking away from the Magis, a giggle had slipped through her lips. It sounded strained and humorless to her ears, closer to madness than joy. At the mention of using Ambyr’s body as a – what did the black-hearted fool call it – a surrogate, she’d drawn her blade with every intention of taking off his head. Kadig’s voice reminded her, use your mind to think and your emotions to strike; doing it backward will only get you dead.

The memory of her brother’s words somehow allowed her to channel the scream welling inside into that giggle.

Although they’d trained together, fighting one another many times, she and Kadig never fought together. Located off the major trade route in Joniir, merchants and farmers from her home village of Bragin made weekly trips to a trading post during the Choth and Baint seasons. Before the trolls, wagons commonly moved along the roads between the rise of the first sun and the setting of the second. In the time since, fewer, much more tightly scheduled armed caravans grouped closely together made those same journeys.

Don’t worry, sis, the Troll War’s over. It’s safe. I promise.

Some dangers can’t be anticipated, and some promises can’t be kept.

During the Troll War, people fled from the Shattered Kingdoms into Joniir and from towns and villages into the forests to hide. That, in turn, had lured trolls into the forests. Every now and again, a small pack of trolls or groups of forest nomads would wander out. It had been the latter, survivalists constantly on the move who saw an opportunity to seize food and supplies from the caravan and attacked it. Although they’d been repelled, Kadig had taken an arrow to his chest that punctured a lung.

Although he’d lived, his aspirations to be as great a fighter as their mother died that day. An infection caused by the wound eventually took his life, but not before it ate away at him.

Uncle Tadek had blamed himself.

Cariss blamed nomads.

The group of warriors she’d gathered to slaughter those survivalists later journeyed with her to the ruins of Maneluuk. If not for the betrayal and falling out that followed, she likely wouldn’t have met Ambyr. In her, Cariss found the sister she never had and—

“A surrogate for the brother I lost.”

Feeling tears form in her eyes, she blinked them away.

After the fight with the alibace, she and Ambyr had each gone to search the area, leaving the camp from different directions and meeting up on the path they’d come in. They’d talked about abandoning the Magis and searching for Elis themselves but didn’t want to leave Torgin behind. In that discussion, Cariss had made a request. “If I die because of him,” referring to Onvical, “please, kill him for me.”

The elfen had promised and made a request of her own. “If I die, just don’t let him turn me into a mindless servant.” They both thought of the undead Rylin he kept in the cellar.

Staring down at the elfen’s covered form, Cariss felt the breath hitch in her chest. “I know I promised, but it won’t be you,” she whispered. Saying that, she knew, meant taking the Magis at his word. And as much as she wanted to blame Onvical for Ambyr’s death, it had been the trolls that killed her. Glancing over her shoulder at the open mouth of the dead troll, its teeth kicked in and face stomped into a puddle of black and green mush, one corner of her mouth turned up in a snarl.

“I did get the trolls for you.”

Just like I got those nomads for my brother.

“But don’t you worry, you will get a traditional Fanaal funeral pyre.” The snarl relaxed into a grin that touched the corners of her mouth. “And after I get enough of the Wizard’s treasure to help your family, I’ll kill him for what he’s going to do. This promise, I will keep.”

Squeezing her hand into a fist, she closed her eyes and took another deep breath.

“I thought you were going to start cutting trolls open looking for the—” from behind her, Onvical’s voice trailed off. “What did you do?”

Looking down at her troll gore-covered boots, she felt that grin grow into a smile.

*              *              *

Sticking his hands into the troll’s sliced open stomach and feeling about, Onvical went about the task displaying as much conviction as possible. However, other thoughts occupied his mind.

Torgin had been far less reasonable about animating Ambyr’s corpse than had Cariss. From all he read on the subject, Braidon were known to leave their dead on the field of battle to be picked over by scavengers and carrion birds. Much of the Mer Crusades against the Braidon had revolved around bringing them the word of Tiratti and dogma of Caime – the philosophical circle of life and death. But as he understood it, the barbarians had never accepted the funeral rituals.

Then again, it might just be the necromancy of it. Of the many things Torgin excelled at, clearly expressing himself could not be counted among them.

Thinking back on it, Onvical could not recall whether or not the Braidon had ever met his Rylin servant. The ladies had—he’d made sure of that. It impressed him that neither had so much as blinked when the corpse stepped out of the cellar and began climbing the steps. Ambyr cooing at the Rylin and asking for his name had all but sealed their partnership.

Had it not been a Rylin, she might have reacted differently, but he didn’t think so. Something about that elfen was just…off.

Turning to gaze up at the kicked-in teeth and crushed skull, his eyes flicked over to Cariss. Kneeling over a nearby troll, her arm up to the elbow in its guts, the question he’d been asking himself played more intensely on his mind.

Why had Cariss been so reasonable?

Stubborn, cantankerous, and headstrong were words that suited her much better than reasonable. Of course, based on the damage she’d done to the troll’s face, he could see that Cariss blamed them for Ambyr’s death. Had she turned that rage on him, he’d have been hard-pressed to hold her off.

At least, not without killing her.

“Ugh. These look like vertebra,” Cariss moaned.

“Trolls aren’t picky about who or what they eat,” Onvical replied, returning his focus to the troll guts sliding between his fingers.

“Yeah, and some of this meat smells rotted.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, it’s like they ate someone that’s been dead a while.”

The Magis looked over to find the warrior woman staring at him. “I did say they aren’t picky about what they eat.”

“Uh-huh.”

Once again, that question played intensely on his mind. Why is she okay with all of this? Between the two of them, Cariss appeared more uncomfortable with his magic and seemed genuinely unsettled when he’d used it to intimidate her. Further reaffirming his feeling about Ambyr’s oddity, considering how particular the Fanaal regarded the dead.

For the moment, though, he needed to draw the warrior woman’s attention away from any suspicions that Elis might have been animate dead when the trolls ate him. With his hands deep in the troll’s innards, he reached into the sleeve of his robe and grabbed the pendant he’d stashed there.

Swirling the pendant around a bit, he pulled it out and held it up.

“Got it.”

“Look at that. It just happened to be eaten by that particular troll.”

Turning to her, one corner of his mouth turned up in a grin. “Guess I got lucky.”

“Uh-huh.”

Setting the pendant down next to Elis’ skull, Onvical met her gaze. “I might suggest that you go join Torgin at the mouth of the cave.” His eyes flicked to Ambyr’s body lying under the blanket. “Animating the dead isn’t the most pleasant of things to witness.”

Cariss held his gaze a moment before pushing herself up and shaking the troll gore off her hands. Without a word, she strode away.

“I think I would rather she argue with me,” he mumbled, picking up the pendant and skull. “At least that would make sense.”

Maps
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