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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.

Writing Distracted Dead Rising story blog title image.
Author Chuck Sperati Writing Distracted Logo
Onvical
Cariss Mesila
Torgin

Part Thirty-Nine: Don't Touch

Cariss pushed the door inward, hastily stepping back as a dark-haired man stepped through.

“Elis?”

The figure did not hesitate or acknowledge his name, passing through the warrior woman and starting down the hall at a run. Much like the image of Caraklin they’d seen earlier, this phantom appeared only from the waist up, below which were blurring wisps of colorful smoke moving like legs. This Elis, however, wore fitted black leathers with dark painted metal plates and a thick mail covering vulnerable areas. In one hand, he carried an arming sword – its blade scarred in many places but with a finely honed edge; in the other, he carried the pendant he wore when they met.

“Why do they keep moving through me?” Cariss shouted, twisting her head and rotating her shoulders in an effort to shake away the feeling of it.

Onvical did not hear the question. His eyes went first to the pendant, its exaggerated silver octagon and single green jewel within a silverwork labyrinthine pattern perfectly matching the one he carried in his pocket, and then to the man’s face. The Magis knew fear in its many forms, feeling it in the presence of Tualla and wielding it to manipulate the people of Tarn as well as his current companions. In all that time, he’d only witnessed irrational terror a handful of times – those few knew death stood before them but could not grasp design.

Witnessing firsthand the manner and posture Elis held in facing death, he found this expression unsettling.

“Cariss!”

The Braidon’s shout pulled Onvical’s attention away from the fleeing figure in time to see Torgin grab the warrior woman by the shoulder plate and rip her backward. As she crashed into a table, sending a golden candelabra into a wall and alternating colored waxy sticks flying in all directions, a translucent green light exploded through the door. That burst of light opened into a glowing green hand that hit the fleeing man when something unexpected occurred.

An afterimage of a young blonde woman intercepted the magic with a sound like shattering glass.

While the scene dissolved before him, Cariss shouted at the Braidon behind.

Having seen an echo of that hand back in Melle’s smithy when he’d tried to take the pendant from Elis, he’d believed Caraklin had cursed the man. It made sense considering the magic signature but did not necessarily explain why Elis had been permitted to continue living or how his spirit had been bound to—

“It’s an Iuuran Stone,” the Magis whispered to himself and reached into the pocket that held the pendant. Tualla had been obsessed with their lore, sharing it with him often. Forged to link to the Realm of Death, allowing the wielder to explore its boundaries and interact with its denizens from the physical world, only six of the nine original stones remained. And all six had become lost, their caretakers mysteriously killed.

Glancing back at the open door through which Elis had emerged, one corner of his mouth turned up in a grin.

“—save you!” Torgin shouted.

Standing bent above the warrior woman in the middle of the hallway, his muscular arms held in front and hands balled into fists, the two of them shouted at one another.

“I don’t need you to save me!” Although her sword point faced the floor, her posture pointed up at the Braidon, free hand balled into a fist.

“Green magic!”

“Nothing in this hall is really here! None of it means anything.”

Next to them, the golden candelabra returned to a standing position. Shifting to silver, blooms opened around the nozzles forming delicate drip pans. As the sticks returned, the whole of it again slammed into the wall.

“You’re wrong,” Onvical stated, crossing his arms over his chest as they turned to him. “It’s all here and much more relevant to our goal than you think.”

“What do you mean, our goal,” Cariss growled. “Since when do you care about what we want?”

“You’re here for wealth to buy yourself a comfortable life you think you want. Any of the items in this hall could buy you that life for a time, but these are not the treasures Caraklin hoards. The stories have it wrong.”

“Wrong?” The Braidon asked, straightening up, his expression falling to one of utter disappointment.

“Oh, my friend,” the half-grin the Magis wore stretched across his face, “you are close to retrieving that piece of your heritage. If I’m correct, it’s right through that door, but we must—”

Without hesitation, Torgin pushed past Cariss, causing her to bump into a marble pedestal holding a detailed bronze bust. Reaching a hand out to steady it, the imagery of the bust changed at her touch, becoming a skeletal visage carved in polished obsidian.

With the grin dropping from his face, Onvical rushed to follow the Braidon into the room. “No. Wait. Torgin, don’t touch anything.”

While the Magis rush past, Cariss stared into the bust. The height of the pedestal put its face at exactly her eye level. In the light that reflected off it, she should be able to see herself, but only a death mask with its eternal ivory grin stared back. Except that something seemed to glow from inside the skull, its light shining behind the empty eye sockets. Turning her head to get a better look at the object, the bust seemed to mirror the action and turned with her.

“I’m done with this place,” she muttered, glancing back the way they had come. A dozen steps would take her back to the stairway down, allowing her to escape this creepy hall and get away from that cursed Magis.

“Torgin, don’t touch it.” Onvical’s voice cried from inside the room.

“I take it back!”

“No. Remember what happened in the hall.”

“Different.”

With a series of oddly echoing pings, she watched the Rylin suit of armor down the hall put itself back together – the suit that Torgin had struck out of frustration.

“No, it’s the same. We have to – wait!” Hearing the fear in Onvical’s voice, she took a breath and blew it out, knowing full well that she couldn’t leave the Braidon in there with Onvical. Besides, she’d made a promise to Ambyr and would not be leaving this place without the wealth to aid the elfen’s family.

Turning back to the room, noting that the bust had returned to its original bronze imagery, Cariss strode through the door and into the adjoining room.

“Blighted black,” she muttered, trying to comprehend the scene unfolding in front of her.

Ahead, a frozen form garbed in red and black robes stood upon a raised marble stone dais, arms stretched out wide and a look of gratified consternation on his face. He looked like the ghostly figure Onvical described as Caraklin, though perhaps a little older and a lot more crazy. The spherical iron framework behind him pulsated with a light similar to that of the curtain in the other room. Around the dais were eight iron wrought stone pedestals, each with objects that radiated a specific color of light that stretched back to the figure on the dais in soft rays – that is, all but one.

On the pedestal closest to her sat five similarly colored jewels, each within a silverwork setting.

The outer edge of the ray coming off them looked jagged.

“Torgin, stop!”

Those jewels looked to be about the same shape and size as the object inside the skull. With an effort, Cariss pulled her eyes away from them and found the voice on the far side of the dais but could see only blurred figures behind the spherical iron framework. Keeping her distance from the pedestals, she moved around the dais. Onvical stood away from the pedestals facing the Braidon but positioned to keep the figure on the dais in view, with both hands stretched outward as if pleading.

Torgin stood before one of the pedestals, his hands on either side of a skull carved with symbols. Bone overgrew one eyesocket with the symbols circling it alternating between sky blue and gray in color. Those colors, blue atop gray, made up the ray that stretched back to the dais. “I take back,” the Braidon stated, his tone determined, and for one of the few times since she’d known him, the words were not shouted.

“You will, I promise, but—”

Closing his hands on the skull, Torgin picked it up off the pedestal. The ray connecting it to Caraklin silently shattered like glass and dissipated into dust. The sound followed a moment later. Deafening in its retort, it took Onvical and Cariss off their feet and carried them into the surrounding shadows, where they struck cloaked stone walls.

Sitting up, Cariss watched Torgin approach. His orange eyes blazed with an unnatural light, carrying the skull in one hand, the other balled in a fist.

“You lied,” he stated. Those eyes bored into the Magis, who had yet to find enough purchase with his hands to push himself up. “Took Braidon heads from Topos Pass and made Eye of Cemlan to fool Torgin.”

Getting into a seated position, Onvical looked up at the approaching figure. “No, I—well, yes. Yes, I did.”

“Are you out of your mind?” Cariss began and scooted away from the Magis. “Why would you admit that? He’s gonna tear you apart.”

“He sees it through the artifact,” Onvical replied, maintaining eye contact with the barbarian. “Lying about it won’t do any good. But he also sees why I did it.”

“So we follow Elis here.”

“Yes. Exactly.” The Magis pushed himself to his feet, putting one hand behind his back, but did not retreat from the approaching Braidon. Not that he had anywhere to go. “I needed all of you to get here so you could retrieve Brom’s Eye.”

Seeing Onvical put one hand behind his back and knowing better than to trust him, Cariss glanced that way. Back in Tarn, when they approached caravans to collect tolls and weapons, he often used hand signals to direct them to scouts or guards who were away from the main wagons. You never want to let yourself get flanked, especially when it came to merchant guards who took that type of extortion poorly.

Reading the signal, Cariss turned to the raised dais and stepped back toward her companions.

The frozen figure of Caraklin had turned, a sneer on his face and his arms blurring in multiple colors through a series of gestures. Reaching a hand out to Onvical, she saw a rainbow of magic leap away from Caraklin and race at the barbarian.

Taking one of his blurring hands, she saw Onvical reach out with the other and touch Torgin.

The three of them vanished as the rainbow of magic struck the wall, shearing away the top of the mountain.

Maps
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