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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

Part Four: The Backlands

“It’s more than talent,” Finney explained as a series of colorful birds leaped from his hands and flew off into the room before dissipating into bright sparkles, “you channel the realm and then learn to shape it.”

Eyes wide, the skinny little boy didn’t watch the birds or see the sparkles. Instead, he stared intently at the multicolored hues surrounding the old man’s fingers. Forged in a bloody war that saw too much needless death, the old man’s cynical side expected his recently orphaned ward to follow the pretty lights and miss the point of the lesson. Although he’d picked up hints of brilliance from the boy, that degree of focus surprised him.

Especially considering the still-fresh wound of his mother’s loss.

She’d left him at the cottage near the end of the growing season—Choth—with only rushed promises to return. Harvest passed, only the boy’s eighth, and after several weeks of hunkering down against the Rains, the tension between them had finally begun to ease as the truth of the situation started to take hold.

For Finney, it had been accepting the reality of the responsibility the boy represented. As daunting as that prospect seemed, it paled next to the loss his ward faced. Being left behind had been difficult for him to understand, but not so much as the constant reminders. Vivid nightmares depicting his mother’s death continued to haunt him, having begun only days after she’d left him.

Making it worse, so many had lost family to the trolls that it overshadowed the significance, turning naturally sympathetic people apathetic to his situation.

“What’s a realm?” Onvical asked, never looking away from the shifting hues.

“The realms are places connected to our world, influencing much of what we experience. They guide us when we aren’t watching and may protect us when we’re unknowing. They are everything from the feeling that tells you to turn left instead of right to the blowing storm that takes you to a new place. But they are also what brings the monster to your path in the woods. We see pieces of them and feel their effects, but the realms are not visible to us. Long ago, the elfin named these places the backlands. Those few of us sensitive to them can channel aspects of these backlands to affect our world. It is what people call magic. Different backlands produce different effects.”

A simplified explanation, but one that should allow Onvical to grasp some of the concepts he’d already begun to experience. Those nightmares had been Finney’s first clue to the boy’s strong connection to the backlands. Being provided such vivid visions after seeing so few Harvests could be attributed to the bond Onvical shared with his mother, except there were other indicators. Things he missed because he had not been looking for them.

“How many realms are there?”


“That many?” When the boy looked up, Finney could see the inquisitiveness in his face and hunger to learn in his eyes. “What ones can you channel?”

“I can channel just one, as is the case with almost all of us,” he replied with a grin and then nodded his head to the left. “Though I suppose because it touches them all, you could count the Shadow, but that pathway can be dangerous.”


“You have been taught not to wander in the woods. Why?”

“Because there are things in there that would kill me and eat me.”

“Exactly. And there are things in some realms that would do the same.”

Looking towards the study window, currently being pounded by rain, Finney watched as the boy’s features hardened. In that moment, the crinkle of his brow and tightness of his mouth reminded him of the boy’s mother. He certainly has her resolve, but there is a depth to him she did not possess.

And something else.

“Could I do it?” he asked, an almost pleading tone in his voice.

“I think you could,” Finney replied, purposely keeping the grin off his face, nodding towards the shelf on the wall behind them. “But this is no small commitment. You must be willing to learn, practice, and listen.”

*              *              *

Standing outside the window of the study, Onvical’s gaze locked on that shelf. The first time he’d run his fingers over the leatherbound books housed there, he felt something.

The old man called it imagination.

These books contain knowledge in the form of words, he had said. Words have power, but they must be read in order for you to feel it.

Four Harvests had passed since that first lesson. Finney’s teachings progressed much too slowly, but he drunk every drop of knowledge—learning, practicing, and listening. Impatience caused him to come back to that shelf between lessons, whether before the day’s chores or long after he should have returned to his bed. And each time Onvical touched those books, he felt something.

Attempts to explain it fell on deaf ears, and so he stopped trying.

Back in Tualla’s hut, with the two dead mercenaries hovering behind, he’d put his hand out to take a folded piece of parchment from her. The touch of it caused the hair on his arm to stand on end. The same sensation he’d gotten from the books, but stronger.

“You feel it,” she had stated.

His mouth fell open, but words refused to form. After so long of being alone, he’d found another who understood.

This witch.

Seeing her lips spread in a grin that showed ugly yellowed teeth terrified him the first time he saw it.

This time his own grin grew in response as he nodded.

“It is your elfin blood,” she stated, running a long finger over his forearm, that sent chills up his spine. “There may not be much of it in you, but these words touch the backlands, and your blood connects you to the realms.”

“This touches a different realm, doesn’t it?” he asked, nodding at the parchment. “That’s why it feels different than the books in the study.”

Stepping back, she allowed that ugly grin to be her answer.

A fat, bulbous spider crawled up the pane of glass in front of him. With both moons low in the sky behind him, the spider seemed to move up his face in the reflection. That sparked an idea, but one that would have to wait.

“When you learned to open yourself to the backlands, you were taught to concentrate on one sensation and pull it into your shoulders,” Tualla explained, her upper arms beginning to blur as she pushed the magic down them. “But the first time you tried, there were other sensations. Your master directed you to the one he wanted. He described it in words. Bright. Golden. Earnest. And that is how you think of it now.”

“Warm,” he replied, drawing the sensation into his shoulders.

“Go back. Feel for the others. The one you want is dim, gray, gloomy. It feels like discouragement.”

“Finney says there are dangers in the Shadow Realm.”

“You know it by sense.”

“I know it from his books.”

“Finney is right. It is not a place to linger, but it does allow for a most interesting use.”

Closing his eyes, Onvical thought of his mother, drawing the grief of her loss into his shoulders. Instead of pushing it into his hands, he let it fill him—from the bottom of his feet to the top of his head. When his eyes opened, he stared at two worlds. One an oblivion of dark, gloomy clouds, the other the cottage he had come to call home.

Stepping forward, he passed through the window and wall to stand in the study. Allowing his grief to fall away, his mouth turned up in a grin as his gaze once again locked on that shelf.

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