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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-Four: And the Key

“It’s up to you, my friend. Lead the way.”

Torgin stood in front of the Magis, looking down, his brow furled but with the hint of a grin at the corners of his mouth. Lifting one hand holding the leather cord, the braidon brought the pendant to eye level and nodded. “I lead.”

The shout resonated off the ridge and over the shallow valley filled with tree-sized grasses and enormous flowers, echoing back clearly. And for the second time that afternoon, Cariss struggled to make sense of the events conspiring around her.

Earlier in the day, she stood before Ambyr’s pyre with the two of them, Onvical off to one side by himself and Torgin behind her and a step to the left. Holding her hand in front, palm up, she faced the pyre while the Braidon held the Fanaal funeral candle at the ready. Traditionally made from tree leaves common to their homeland and shaped into a sphere, one member of the elfin’s family would hold the oily wax candle while another lit it. Together they would place the funeral candle within the pyre. Each layer of wax burned hotter than the previous, producing flames that began as an almost white yellow and ranged towards blue. Due to the heat of it, Fanaal pyres required very little wood.

Not quite the same quality, the candle Torgin held represented the best they could do in the wilds – a roughly spherical-shaped fatty wax candle dipped in lamp oil. The Magis had promised a traditional pyre for Ambyr, but between the poor excuse for a candle and large pile of wood under her corpse, it felt like anything but a traditional pyre.

At least I can sing the death sonnet for her.

Ambyr had taught it to Cariss during the first Rains they spent together. Ten weeks stuck in a small hunting village, whose name escaped her, while heavy rain and hail relentlessly pummeled the mountainside.

She’d been rehearsing the sonnet in her head before her mind wandered to thoughts of Tody the grasshopper and his big yellow flower. And then the Magis came along with his ridiculous talk of a single overgrown path being the key to a garden-sized lock.

Ridiculous.

“Time to sing,” Torgin had prompted, his tone softer than usual and not quite as loud.

Opening her mouth and drawing in a breath, the warrior woman hesitated. The words had fled her mind. Feeling her mouth silently working, Cariss struggled to find the first word, knowing that if she could just get that, the rest would come.

With her stomach clenching, the sound of blood rushing in her ears, and her fingers going cold, Cariss glanced helplessly up at the Braidon. Softly, the words of the sonnet began to flow around her, but they hadn’t come from her or Torgin.

Still standing off to one side, Onvical sang the words.

What he lacked in melody, he made up for with a clear pronunciation that rivaled Ambyr’s own.

In that moment, had Torgin let go of the candle after setting it in her hand, she’d have dropped it. Somehow, she and the Braidon had managed to get the pyre lit without catching themselves, with the sonnet ending exactly as the flames engulfed her corpse. Even as they descended from the ridge towards the garden, she had trouble putting that moment into context with the Magis she knew.

And now he’s giving Torgin the pendant to lead the way.

Watching the Braidon stride ahead, his cold voice whispered in her ear, causing the flesh on her neck and down her arm to pucker. “You seem pensive?”

Drawing a dagger, Cariss stabbed in the direction of the voice.

“There’s a brutal elegance to your actions.”

Glancing in the opposite direction of the stab, she watched the Magis walk parallel to her. “And bewilderment in yours?”

Cocking his head, eyebrows cinching, Onvical stared at her a moment, and then one corner of his mouth turned up in a grin. “You don’t understand why I gave the pendant to Torgin.”

Rolling her eyes and turning the dagger over in her hand, she strode forward.

“Have you ever wondered why the Mer led their crusades against the Braidon?”

“They’re zealots. So many died during the Troll War, yet they’ve been hunting down and killing members of their own people who mate with outsiders.” Noticing the Magis glance away, she continued. “How could they resist pushing their religion on a whole civilization of heathens?”

“I think calling the Braidon civilized is generous, at best. However, it seems that history does agree with you, but that raises another important question. Who writes history?”

“Generally the winner?”

Onvical’s grin widened. “Generally, but with this particular event, much of the information we have comes from the Fanaal.”

“So?”

“Have you noticed how much of Braidon culture revolves around sight? Not only can it be found in their rituals, artifacts, and contests, but their leaders are often the ones who can see the furthest or observe the most. You would think that in these violent tribes, the biggest and strongest would rule. No, most tribes are led by younger females because they see better. Elders with good eyesight are often considered to be divinely touched.”

Stepping closer as they walked, he continued. “Being as familiar as you are with the Fanaal, I’m sure you’ve heard of Sechallinoh’s prophecies.”

“I have.”

“According to the writings, at the start of each Choth season, Sechallinoh would venture to the mountains. And upon returning in Baint, he would bring prophecies. Some foretold the success of the harvests in that season or the severity of the coming rains. Others were far more grandiose, such as foretelling doom for the Fanaal people.”

“The Krigzehr.”

“My, but you are well-read.”

“No, I just like stories.”

Taking another step closer, the Magis lowered his voice. “Then consider this story. History shows that the prophesies Sechallinoh returned with were uncannily accurate. It makes you wonder where he went to find this information. Had he gone to the mountains in the east, the elfin would have encountered Rylin, who are known to treat trespassers harshly. But in the mountains to the north, he would have encountered the Braidon – a people to whom sight is so important that they base their culture around it. Suppose you consider the prophecies to be a kind of foresight. In that case, this opens the possibility that the Braidon possess what might well be a natural ability in magic. With that in mind, recontextualize the reason for the Mer crusades.”

Drawing her lips together in concentration, Cariss considered his words. Guesswork aside, she could see how someone could reach this type of conclusion, but—“I don’t see the relevance between all this and giving Torgin the pendant.”

“A shame,” the Magis said, his next step carrying him just out of reach. “While it will take me some time to work out the path that takes us to the entrance, I believe that Torgin’s natural abilities will take us there more quickly.”

“And you’re basing this off a theory about an ancient elfin philosopher.”

“I am.”   

“Well, you’re just full of elfin surprises today.”

Grinning, Onvical took another step away as they moved forward. “Yes, the death song. In truth, most Fanaal sonnets lean a little too heavily on the fourteen-line sequence for my taste. The rhyme scheme can feel a little forced at times, but their death song is different. I believe the added complexity of reciting it in Nallis gives it a more natural sound.”

“How is it that you even know their death sonnet?”

One corner of his mouth turned up in a grin. “To control it, I must understand it in all its forms.”

Feeling the weight of the dagger in her hand, she flipped it to grasp the tip of the blade. In one fluid action, she could bring the dagger across the body, snapping her wrist – from this distance, it would tumble one and a half times before plunging into his neck. After the spray of blood from that artery, her grinning face would be the last thing he saw. Instead, she sheathed the dagger. “You might be able to manipulate dark magics to make yourself seem powerful, but death ends us all. No one can control it, least of all you.”

Staring into her eyes, that half grin spread across his face to show all his teeth. “Look, a big yellow flower,” the Magis stated, without breaking eye contact.

Glancing around, she realized that they’d moved into the garden. Tree sized grasses sprouted on either side of the path, and just off it stood a giant yellow flower, one petal large enough to shade two or three people.

“Look close, and maybe you’ll see Tody.”

“How did you—” she started, turning back to him, only to watch his form dissipate into shadow. Thinking about his words caused a shiver to run up her spine. “No, Onvical,” she stated firmly to herself. “You might think you do, but you don’t understand me.”

*              *              *

Glancing around, Cariss could see how this type of garden could inspire stories. Even she felt like an insect walking between the giant grasses and under the shade of vast flowers. The whole of it almost took her mind off the conversations she’d had with the Magis.

Almost.

He’s either mad or brilliant.

“I better figure out which before he gets me killed.”

Moving under a red flower with an almost sickly sweet odor, she saw that the trail turned towards the ridgeline. A dozen more steps carried her to a small clearing where her companions stood staring at a stone facing on the short cliff.

“What are you—” That’s when she saw it. “Is that a passageway?”

Turning with that cocky, half-grin on his face, the Magis opened his mouth, but the Braidon’s voice drowned out anything he might have tried to say.

“Found it!”

Maps
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