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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
Ambyr Valry
Cariss Mesila
Torgin
Elis Rhees
Elis Rhees

Part Nine: The Forge

“This is further out than I expected.”

Several steps ahead, Ambyr stopped and turned. Although the corners of her mouth were turned up pleasantly, she did not wear the same friendly smile as earlier. “Some of the better crafters prefer to work away from the crowded markets,” she explained, stepping back towards him. Elis caught her eyes flick briefly to his chest. “And I expect that you’re happier away from the crowds as well.”

Struggling to keep his left hand from snaking up to grasp the pendant, he tapped the coin purse on his hip with the right. “I’ve been expecting your band of robbers around each corner.”

“I’m no robber,” she laughed melodically. He expected more outrage in her tone, and the laugh seemed genuine enough. That might have been enough to keep him following until she added, “I’m just trying to help.”

“No Fanaal just helps.”

“Maybe you don’t know us as well as you think.”

A far more harsh and less believable laugh slipped past his lips. Taking a step back, he started away, being sure not to leave himself exposed from behind.

“Wait.” When he stopped, the elfen continued. “Because she doesn’t have a shop in the market, Melle pays me to bring her customers who can pay. I promise you, her wares are worth your time. And the barn is right there.”

His eyes found the barn to which she pointed. Half of it had been reconstructed into a forge, a common enough sight in the Anthrinic. “Try again.”

“What?”

“You said dwarv back in the market, yet continue to refer to her.”

“As if you can tell their genders apart.”

Breathing out a sigh, he continued. “Not that it matters, because that’s not a dwarven forge. What are you up to?”

All trace of pleasantness fell from her countenance as she shook her head. Without a word, she turned and whistled a series of musical notes towards the barn – a long-distance method of communication used back in her forest home. “You’re about to find out,” she muttered, keeping her back to him.

Too late, he turned to leave, realizing that his left hand held the pendant. A figure stepped up out of his shadow on the road, and Elis felt the air being drawn from his lungs.

“Now, now. I’ve gone to a great deal of trouble to get you here,” the dark-robed figure whispered, leaning in close. Eyes dropping to the hand holding the pendant, he continued. “Let’s go talk about…that.”

*              *              *

Garreg watched the Magis lead the other man towards the forge from his chair on the porch. His wooden movements were identical to the way the trolls moved when the Gaeldurs led them through camp. Trailing, the Fanaal seemed jaunty, her step bouncing with each stride.

They’re trying to find weaknesses in the trolls, he had been told. And the secret of their fast healing.

While he might not have known precisely what the Gaeldurs were doing, he knew that the trolls were alive for most of it.

Inside the house, something dropped to the floor, and the Braidon shouted an apology. Pushing himself up, the old man stepped off the porch and moved towards the barn. “I’ll not have a man slaughtered in my forge,” he muttered.

As the laughter inside his house fell away, Garreg listened for sounds from inside the barn. Decades of pounding and shaping metal had taken some of his hearing, but far from all. Looping around to approach from the storage side, he quietly pulled the door open. There were three wheelbarrows inside – one stood empty, with ore and coal stacked high in the other two.

“The pendant evaded my touch,” the elfen stated, her melodic voice clear inside.

“As expected.” Recognizing that voice as belonging to Onvical, his mouth turned down in a frown that creased his face. Something about that boy felt wrong back when Finney first took him in, and it got worse as he grew into a man.

Noticing that Melle hadn’t filled the woodbox, he moved that way. Although the interior door stood closed, he could see the forge and a shirtless man standing rigid before it through the wall slats. Up close, he recognized him as the dark-haired man who had been taken to Naris to get his face stitched up. Elis, I think.

“Why didn’t you tell me it would do that?” the elfen muttered, walking through the old man’s view.

Appearing next to the forge, Onvical reached out a hand toward the pendant on Elis’ chest. Seeing the hand blur as it rotated, Garreg recognized the use of magic.

“I wanted to see if it would repel you?”

“What do you mean repel?”

“Quiet!” The power of that word shook the tools on the wall and forced Garreg to take a step back. “I feel—”

Moving back to the wall in time to see the pendant emitting a glow, he watched as the form growing from it pushed against Elis, forcing his head and shoulders back awkwardly. One shoulder popped, and then the other. The sound set the hair on his arms on end.

Muttering in her own language, the elfen again passed through his line of sight.

“Caraklin.” Onvical exhaled the name and leaned in closer. “He holds an artifact of—”

All light fled from the room, and out of the darkness came a translucent green and gold hand. It grasped the form emanating from the pendant and closed. A sound like shattering glass exploded outward, followed by a rushing wind that threw dirt and straw into the air and rattled not just the items on the walls but the walls themselves.

When Garreg opened his eyes, Elis sat on one knee with the Magis standing over him, his hood pushed back. For just a moment, half of Onvical’s face appeared skeletal, with a golden point of light in place of that one eye, but the visage disappeared between blinks.

“What in the blackened-blight was that?” the Fanaal shouted. The local curse sounded odd coming from her, and she said it wrong.

“Blighted-black?” Onvical corrected.

“Shut up.”

Standing suddenly, arms snaking forward, Elis reached for the other’s throat.

His hands closed on wisps of shadow.

The creak of a drawn bowstring drew the man’s attention. Leaning forward, Garreg saw the elfen ready to release an arrow.

The man had just begun to duck left when his body convulsed, shoulders rolling back awkwardly.

“You are quick,” Onvical noted, sliding through the old man’s line of sight. Waves of heat rolled off the forge as the fire inside intensified. “But sadly not quick enough. I want that pendant, but I know you can’t give it to me while you yet live, so—”

A chill wind puffed through Garreg’s gray hair in that moment of hesitation, followed by an involuntary exhale that pulled the air from his lungs. Unable to draw a breath, his heart beat in his ears.

“I guess we’ll have to find another way,” the Magis finished. “Come, Ambyr.”

Whatever the elfen began to say immediately trailed off.

Pulling in a breath of air, the old man felt the heat in the room retreat.

After a few deep breaths, Garreg stepped away from the woodbox and pushed open the interior door into the forge. Elis lay on the floor, his back badly singed.

When the outer barn door banged closed, Garreg sat down on a stool and put his face in his hands.

Maps
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