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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
Cariss Mesila

Part Thirty-Six: Iridescence

Standing across from the recessed wall with her arms crossed, Cariss watched Torgin carry a torch fashioned from a flower petal rolled tightly around dead foliage into the wind tunnel. “I gotta give him credit,” she mumbled into the shadows to her left, “that one lasted five or six heartbeats longer.”

Opening his mouth in a roar that carried away down the corridor, the Braidon threw the extinguished torch down, stamping on it repeatedly.

“I feel ridiculous,” Onvical stated, stepping away from the wall. He wore a makeshift patch over his right eye, made from cloth torn from an inner pocket of his robe and twine that Cariss had in her pack.

“If it helps, you look ridiculous.” She tried to mimic his cocky one-sided grin but didn’t like the way it felt on her face. “Listen, my Uncle Tadek said that bandits would do this when attacking larger caravans at night. People in general, unlike you, don’t like the dark, so they have torches, lamps, and cooking fires all around caravan stops. The bandits wore a patch over their right eye before the attack, so that eye would stay used to the dark. If they needed to retreat or chase someone down, they’d switch the patch to the other eye, and then they had the advantage.”

“You’re just a wealth of knowledge,” the Magis drolled.

“It’s also why bandits typically attack from the right,” she added, ignoring his sarcasm.

Stomping past them, hunched over slightly to keep from knocking his head against stone, Torgin went back out into the garden.

“So this Uncle of yours was a bandit.”

“No,” Cariss snapped, “he’s—uh, a guard captain. Probably.”

“Interesting,” Onvical mused.

“What’s interesting?”

“That your Uncle, that you speak of with a degree of reverence, is a guard captain—probably—and you—are a bandit. I bet he’s proud.”

Punching towards the Magis, her fist impacted only air. “I’m not a bandit!”

The laugh echoing around her caused the flesh on her neck to prickle. “What do you call taking weapons away from caravan guards and requiring a tithing to get them back?”

“Enforcing local law.”

“I doubt they would agree.”

“It doesn’t matter if they agree. The decree came from the Mayor Select of Tarn.”

Again that laugh came from all sides at once. The discomfort of it caused an involuntary roll of her shoulders.

“Don’t be absurd. That decree came from me.”

Leaning against the stone, Cariss again crossed her arms, mumbling, “I hate you.”

Appearing out of the murky darkness in front of her, Onvical wore his half-grin. “Good.” After holding her gaze until one corner of her mouth turned up in a sneer, he pointed to the eye patch. “This works. Get Torgin. There’s a hidden path around the pit.”

Pushing herself off the wall, she hesitated, glancing over at the Magis. When they were younger, her brother Kadig would sometimes push her away or call her weak or too small when they went exploring, often right after she got them past an obstacle. Circling a deep stream, finding an easier climb up a hillside, using a fruit rind to keep a latch from locking, they were always her ideas, and he always seemed to take that out on her. He doesn’t like that you’re smarter than him, Tadeg had explained. You just keep being you and don’t let him get to you.

Putting her head down, a snicker slipped past her lips, growing into a full guffaw by the time she reached the garden.

*              *              *

Getting around the pit proved an exceedingly simple task once they found the hidden path. Passing the soft purple lichen, the three of them crossed into an open area so large they could feel its breadth. Glowing lichens dotted the walls and disappeared into passages without actually lighting the area. From ahead in the looming darkness, they could see the floor drop off and hear their movements being echoed back.

Blowing out a breath, Cariss shook her head, keeping her voice low. “I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this.”

“Deep!” Torgin shouted from the edge of the path, his voice echoing so loudly at first that any attempt at a conversation had to wait to not be drowned out.

With remnants of that echo still reaching back from the shaft an annoyingly long time later, Onvical stepped up to the Braidon. “How about you not do that again,” he stated in a decidedly quieter tone that still managed to carry force and a hint of threat. The bigger man put his head down and moved away from the ledge.

She had never heard the Magis use that tone with Torgin before, and his reaction surprised her.

“What do you mean?” Onvical asked, moving closer to the warrior woman.

“I spent some time in the ruins of Guul. Before the trolls came, a clan of Rylin had taken over some of the old mines and started building a citadel. This is a bailey shaft. It is the entry point for—everything. We have no idea how many tunnels, rooms, or even caverns are down here and no clue where to start.”

Brow furrowing, the Magis scanned the area, looking up, down, and around, seeming to study it.

“We could easily get lost down—”

“Shush.” The word seethed through his lips.

They stood a little more than a step from the edge. It would take nothing to grab the Magis and toss him into the void. Unless there’s an outcropping or rise path below us.

Scratching at the stubble on his chin, Onvical turned back to her. “This isn’t his lair.”

“What?” The thought that they might have made their way all the way here—lost Ambyr—for nothing caused her pulse to quicken and face to flush. Balling her hands into fists, it suddenly didn’t matter if something below them broke his fall, so long as she had the opportunity to toss him into that darkness.

“Look around,” he gestured with his arms. “This is empty, pointless space.”

While waiting for his echo to die down enough to ask for his point, Cariss took a couple steps back the way they had come. Passing Torgin, she could see him staring at his feet, a contemplative look on his usually ferine features lit by the soft purple lichen.

Turning back, she scanned the walls, up as high as she could see. Not finding it, she moved to the ledge and looked down the shaft, seeking out each shred of glowing lichen light.

“All green and blue!” Torgin stated from behind, making an effort to keep his voice low.

Despite his effort, the shaft took that gravelly sound and drowned out the Magis, renewing the echoes, but it didn’t matter. Drawing her dagger, Cariss went back to that wall of purple lichen, dragging the blade over it as she went. When it slipped off the wall and into open air, a laugh slipped from her mouth.

Stepping into the recessed wall, she found a flight of stairs going up, each of meticulously carved stone. Glancing back, she saw that the Magis stood behind her, below Torgin’s big head looming around the edge of the false wall.

“After you,” Onvical offered, gesturing towards the stairs.

*              *              *

Seven flights and four switchbacks later, Cariss stepped off the landing and into a lighted open corridor. Up until this point, they’d followed the light of the lichens and climbed two flights using hands and feet in an unnerving darkness. While the walls in the lighted corridor seemed the same dark color as those at the entry, a brickwork pattern had been carved into it. It gave an impression of structure, but without the mortar or stacked irregularities one would expect.

Tapestries and paintings hung along the walls going both directions, lined with statues, small tables, and suits of armor, each ending at a closed door. The decor reminded Cariss of a nobles house she had visited in Gamesly—opulent for the sake of show. Although it should be expected from a wizard reputed to have such wealth, she found it oddly disappointing.

“What the–?”

Turning to the Magis, she tried to remember a time when he made an incomplete statement of surprise. Finding the look on his face further baffling, she turned to follow his gaze. It seemed focused on a marble statue, though she found nothing particularly noteworthy about it—at first.

“Is that statue—falling apart?” she asked.

“I rather think it’s falling back together,” Onvical replied. “I’m not sure we should touch anything.”

Already reaching for a candelabra on a nearby table, Torgin jerked. A moment later, an unseen bowl smashed on the floor, spraying everything in the vicinity with a yellow liquid. As the drops began to drip, they jumped back to the point of impact, stopping in a frozen splash within the partially reformed bowl.

“I am late in my task to save the world from trolls,” a deep voice boomed from behind. Turning, they saw a man approaching from the rightmost door. At least, a man from the waist up, below that were only colorful wisps of smoke moving like legs. Garbed in loose-fitting red and black clothes hiding a wiry thin form, with a bit of white flecking his dark hair and smoothly-shaven cheeks, he appeared more merchant than wizard or wraith, except for the eyes. Surrounded by deep lines with dark bags underneath, his eyes shone with a crazed light all their own.

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Part Thirty-Seven is Now Available
Part Thirty-Seven is Now Available

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