The Whispers – Chapter Nine

Hello there!  Thank you for joining me for another chapter of Tellest’s newest feature, the “interactive” story, The Whispers—a story which you and readers like you are helping me tell.  For ease of navigation, I’m going to have little mini tables of contents on these posts, so feel free to use them to jump around and discover how The Whispers works, how you can help steer the direction of the main character’s choices, and, of course, read the story.  I hope you enjoy taking part in this interesting new Tellest adventure!

 

The Whispers Concept

The Whispers – Chapter Nine

Voting Instructions

 

The Whispers Concept

The Whispers is a story that takes place within the Tellest universe.  It’s a story that is written by Michael DeAngelo, but it’s told with help from the readers.  The Whispers follows Declan, a young man who was recently evicted from the temple where he grew up.  When he was younger, he used to hear voices, and the clergy interpreted those voices in ways that they thought brought them closer to divinity.  But with the whispers growing quiet, Declan was no longer needed at the temple, and he was instead shipped off to a nearby adventurers’ guild.  The voices have recently returned in his time of need, and have offered him advice on what to do in order to survive.

If you haven’t already figured it out, you are one of those potential whispers!  At the end of every chapter, Declan is given a choice.  Every reader has the chance to vote and influence Declan’s decision, as long as you’re a member of the Tellest newsletter.  Every time you vote, your voice holds more sway as well.  Everyone who casts their vote in earlier chapters will now have a stronger voice, and Declan will hear them a little clearer.  So for your voice to be heard best, you should get in on this story early.  There is another way to gain additional voting power, but that will be described in the voting instructions at the end of this post.

First thing is first: you’ve got to read the story (starting with chapter one, if you prefer).  Then if you’re not already a member of the newsletter, go ahead and sign up!  Tellest has awesome freebies that we give out right away at sign-up, and more that come along every few weeks.

Without much further adieu, let’s continue our tale, and find out the most recent choice Declan made with the help of our Council of Whispers…

 

 

Chapter Nine:
Chasing Shadows

Declan kept his eyes closed as he listened to the voices compete for prominence in his mind.  His wish seemed to be coming true, for a volley of whispers joined the one that warned a cautious approach.  None seemed to join in suggesting a race to the front doors of the temple, and Declan reached forward before long.

Draping one hand on Gorik’s shoulder, Declan gestured away from their destination with the other.  “Let’s get off the road,” he told the goblin.  “If they see us coming, we’ve lost the element of surprise.”

As he spoke the word of advice, another feminine cry echoed out from the temple, prompting a cringe to appear on the man’s face.

“Good on ye, lad,” Tornig said as they steered onto the grass before the crossroads.  “These trees will keep us hidden.  And as callous as this’ll sound, if they’re still screaming in there, they’re still alive.”

“But no one can tell how long that will continue on,” Ilayeth spoke, taking a quiet hop out of the back of the wagon.  “This way.  We didn’t come this far to linger just out of reach of helping those in need.

As the half-elf finished speaking, she moved through the copse as though she was familiar with it.  While the others joined her on the ground, hunched low, and moved quickly, Ilayeth seemed to float across the ground, placing a gentle hand on the trees as she passed them.

The light of the temple cast out through the opened doors onto the finely hewn stone path leading toward the road.  Any extra scatterings from the windows faintly illuminated the grass on the outer courtyard.

Though it was dark beyond that, the shadows did not obscure everything outside the reach of the building’s torchlight.  Ilayeth held up her hand as she reached the last tree before the roadside.

Declan was the first to reach her, and despite the tremendous beating of his heart, he retained enough calm to halt beside her.  Though his eyes were not as sharp as hers, he noticed what had caught her attention then as well.

Waiting alongside the grass on the opposite side of the road, a huge cart that diminished the size of the one they had traveled in blocked some of the light through the tall, wide doors of the temple.  The guildmates spotted the silhouette of someone leaning against it, every few moments lifting their head to consider the terrible noises erupting from inside the building.

“What is that?” Declan whispered to his companion.  “It’s like no carriage I’ve ever seen.”

True to his words, the vehicle seemed unnaturally large.  A third wheel was fastened to the vehicle, and the bed stretched on until it was nearly twice the length of the cart they had liberated from the highwaymen.  A team of horses stamped against the road and snorted, as though they knew they were being studied.

“I’m not certain,” Ilayeth returned.  “But I’m also not sure if that’s the part I’m worried about.”  When she caught Declan’s sideways glance, she pointed at the person waiting with her chin.  “That’s not a gnoll or goblin—that’s a man, listening while his people are being tortured inside.”

Before Declan could think of a response, their other two companions arrived behind them.  Gorik dropped to a knee while Tornig huddled up against the same tree Ilayeth hid behind.

“Friend of yours?” Declan asked Gorik then.

In the darkness, the goblin couldn’t make much out, but when Ilayeth looked at him and whispered the word ‘human’, he arched his eyebrow in confusion.

“That’s not Tanissa,” he said.  “If it was, we’d be seeing flames or lightning or some other foul magic lighting up the sky.”

“What about the carriage?” Declan wondered.

Gorik shook his head.  “She must have had some other ally that she called up on.  She never mentioned anything like that when I was around.”

“Bah,” Tornig said, a little too loud for his companions’ comfort.  “All that matters is that he’s standing atween us n’ the temple.  If he raises the alarm, all this sneaking is for nothing.”

While he finished speaking, a loud ringing filled the air.  The massive bell atop the temple’s parapet began chiming a pleading melody.  The clerics of Fespar temple must have been desperate to play such a chorus at that dark, early morning hour.

“What do yer whispers say about this situation?” Tornig asked.  “Are we ta go up there and clock him, or try to sneak by?”

Declan furrowed his brow as he tried to concentrate.  As silent as the world was outside, the temple was a flurry of noise and energy.  He couldn’t hear himself think enough to invite any of the whispers into his mind.

“There’s no time,” he said, stepping out from the trees.  Though Ilayeth reached for him to stop his assertive approach, she couldn’t hold him back, her fingers fluttering through the creases of his shirt.

No longer did Declan skulk in the shadows.  He crossed the road and came up along the huge cart, surveying the watchman as he stamped on the grass and muttered to himself.  As the lad stepped forth, better hearing the scared inhabitants of the temple between bell tolls, his emotions intensified.  The heat on his brow brought about a sheen of perspiration, and he sensed sweat on his palms as well.  He clenched his fingers around the staff and shuddered as the magic within swelled.  Any moment, a blast of wind would be ready to shoot forth from the circular headpiece.  But as Declan thought of all the people he cared about in the temple—even those who might not care about him—he grew angrier.  The darkness flickered away every few seconds as a light seemed to spark to life within the staff’s magical influence.  Declan looked up and saw the crackle of electricity and hesitated a step, surprised by what he was summoning from the aether.

The fellow guarding the cart looked to the opened doors of the temple, and up at the windows alternately.  He knew that some flicker of light was there but couldn’t place it.

All Declan needed to do was reach him before he…

The mule which the Adventurers of Eladia left with the cart whinnied, his nicker sounding like a large, out-of-tune trumpet.  The bell must have left it uneasy, but whatever the cause, its sound was not lost to the watchman.  He turned about, and his eyes went wide at the sight of Declan and his illuminated staff.

His failed prowl apparent, Declan pushed his magical implement forward, but even the wind from the staff head collapsed into a mere puff of air.

“Who the blazes are—”

Another figure pushed past Declan on his right, rising into the air.  Tornig used one of the spokes of a carriage wheel for a lift, and as he launched himself off the ground, a resounding crack reported a break under the dwarf’s weight.  It mattered not, for he was already airborne, swinging across with a balled fist.

Before the guard could complete his sentence, he tasted blood filling his mouth from when he gnashed through his tongue.  Tornig’s punch was fierce, and it sent him to the ground like a sack of discarded potatoes.  Though he stood upon a thick patch of grass, his head still landed with a thud.

Though he loitered on the precipice of unconsciousness, Tornig landed atop his chest with his knee, and struck him again while he gasped for air.  That second blow caught him in the crown, and at once he was caught somewhere in oblivion, his breath cut short.

“Ye can’t hesitate,” Tornig snapped as he looked back to his guild mate.

Declan parted his lips to offer up some form of protest, but he couldn’t produce anything meaningful.  His heightening magical power took him by surprise as much as it did the watchman, and he couldn’t shake that knowledge.

The dwarf didn’t offer up any other words of wisdom or encouragement.  Rather, he ducked low, scurrying through the grass to reach the wall of the temple.  Gorik walked by him as well, tapping him on the shoulder as he went.

Ilayeth was the only one who stopped beside him.  “I know you’re new to it,” she said.  “Without proper studies, this is a difficult path ahead of you.  But you’ve also been able to learn new spells without any assistance from a mentor—only the staff.  You have tremendous potential, Declan.  Don’t shy away from your power.”

“I’ll try not to,” he said.  Before she could walk away, he reached out to her.  “Ilayeth, after we stop them, will you be my mentor?  I know that we haven’t had time to really consider any of what’s happening, but if anyone can teach me, it’s you.”

The half-elf maiden shot him a weary grin.  “It would be my honor.  Assuming we survive this night.”

Declan nodded emphatically.  Tornig’s words rang in his mind as surely as the bell’s loud, deep chime did, and he wasted no further time lingering by the carriage.

The four recent arrivals to the temple peered inside the building, scanning the carnage.  Candelabras had been overturned, tapestries of the gods and of the country of Novistrus lay charred on the ground, or doggedly clinging to the walls in scraps, and old artifacts had toppled from their plinths, shattered to pieces.  Bodies were strewn on the ground, though it was unclear who was clinging to life, and who was beyond salvation.

A tall, green-skinned fellow walked across the floor, surveying those who had fallen.  Long black hair fell and rested on his shoulders, his pointed ears protruding through the greasy strands.  Every few moments, as he scrutinized the clerics and patrons of Fespar Temple, the rings in his ears caught the glimmer of a nearby sconce or candelabra.  The flames reflected in his broadsword too, which he kept face down in one hand, ready to strike out at any who dared to challenge him.  Even from that distance, Declan could see the rounded scales upon his moss-colored skin.  He had never seen a troll before, but he’d heard of their scaly appearance.  Descended from dragons, they liked to claim—and from where Declan was standing, he wasn’t sure if the tales were untrue.

He hid back behind the outer stone walls of the temple façade once more.  “That’s Jarayas, isn’t it?  He’s the leader of your pack?” he asked the goblin.

Gorik squared his jaw and nodded.  “And he’s not alone.  Further back there’s two others,” he whispered.

Together, they leaned around the corner, and peered deeper into the temple.

Sure enough, there were two others there.  One, a broad and tall fellow was posted at the rear of the temple, standing sentinel with his back toward the statues of the gods that seemed to look on from a dais a few steps higher.  It was another being that Declan had only heard of in stories, though he had of course never doubted their existence.  The lagano—a lizardman, they were sometimes called—wore a tremendous shield on one arm, and he clung tight to a thin, steel javelin in the other—taller than even he.  His scaled skin was a paler color green than the troll’s, except for the orange crest that protruded from the top of his head and ran back to where his neck met his torso.  He studied the pacing troll, but kept his position, standing like a statue—perhaps why Declan had missed sight of him at first.

The other member of Gorik’s pack, and hidden in plain sight almost as well, sat perched atop the stone beam that ran across the temple, separating the main foyer and the dais.  With her wings draped across before her, she looked like she had been fashioned out of stone to guard the patrons of the temple, not to attack them.

She moved about more than her grounded ally.  From her post, she cast her gaze from one fallen congregant to the next, and if she saw one move, she screeched out to the troll.

“You could help a little here, Skren,” Jarayas suddenly bellowed, his voice sounding deeper than Declan was expecting.  “Whenever Queryn points out one of these worms trying to wriggle away, you could throw them into one of the other chambers and stand guard there instead of in front of those steps.”

The lagano grew rigid at that comment.  “I’ve already told you my stance on the matter.  This is sacrilegious, whether it’s to my gods, yours, or theirs.  I’m here to protect you and the enchantress.  I will see no harm done to these people beyond what you’ve inflicted, just as I would see no harm done to you.”

Jarayas growled, but pushed no further, knowing that the devout follower of the salamander god would be found unmoving.

That didn’t stop the harpy above from screeching in dismay.  “You’d better hope that no one sneaks to the belfry,” her squawk echoed out.  “If anything happens to Tanissa, it’ll be your head.”

Skren didn’t budge at the statement, though coming from the harpy’s lips it sounded more like a threat.  One thing was certain: whoever Tanissa was, she seemed to have a captivating grip on those she traveled with.

Declan pulled away from the open doors and looked again to Gorik.  “Is that all of your allies?”

Gorik shook his head.  “I don’t see any signs of Tanissa, or Deprak, or Melara, or Ig…” He shook his head as he recalled his friend left behind at the guild hall.  When he steadied himself, his newest companions could see the fatigue on his face.

“It’s alright,” Ilayeth said.  “We had a bit of a rest.  You didn’t.”

“What can you tell us about them?” Declan wondered.

Standing up straighter, Gorik nodded.  “The three in there are the ones who you might think of as warriors.  Jarayas is as strong as they come, and quick too.  But Queryn is as quick as a bolt of lightning.  She’s as deadly with her talons as she is her daggers.  Don’t take your eyes off her, or it might be the last thing you do.  Skren is sturdy and tough.  He might be stronger than Jarayas even, but it’s like he keeps it all inside of him.  And he’s the closest thing after me to a healer.  If he sees the others getting hurt, he might bring them back into the fight even stronger.”

“And the others you mentioned?” Tornig asked, forcing himself to speak quieter than normal.

“Deprak is another goblin, though Jarayas swears up and down that he’s got gremlin blood in him.  He’s small and wiry, but his mind is incredible.  He’s developed all kinds of gadgets in the past—if I had to guess, this massive cart might have even been his doing.  But if he’s with Tanissa, he’s important to her plans.  I’m just not sure why.

“Melara is the gnoll who…” he paused as he considered how to explain the dire actions that nearly tore the guild hall apart.  “She’s the one who concocted the firebombs that brought us so much bloodshed.  Tanissa has been growing fond of her for some time, and it’s for the best that she’s with the witch.  If she was out there with the rest of them, I don’t know that anyone would still be alive.

“And that leaves Tanissa,” the goblin said, a scowl fixed on his face for a moment as he thought of how she had changed the structure of their group.  “She’s as much a siren as a witch.  It’s her fault that Jarayas has come about with all these ambitions.  He would never have done such a thing before, and its her hold over people that should truly frighten you.  Wherever she is, she’s hatching some foul plan, I’m sure.”

“It sounds like she is in the tower,” Ilayeth reminded, having heard the harpy’s words better than anyone else.

“What’s she doing up there?” Tornig wondered.

“Whatever it is, she’s made our job a little easier,” Declan said.  An unfamiliar confidence seemed apparent in his voice, and he looked toward the doorway to the temple with determination.  “She’s left us with just the three of them in there.  We can take them.”

“Aye, lad,” Tornig said.  “I’ll take four to three odds any day.”

Even Ilayeth seemed eager for battle then, arcane energy flickering into existence between her fingers.

Declan saw the apprehension in Gorik’s gaze then, though.  Though he didn’t agree with them, the goblin had no desire to square up against his crew.  It was true that he and Tanissa didn’t see eye to eye, but he still felt indebted to Jarayas, even if he had been blinded by infatuation.

“Wait out here,” Declan said, easing his friend’s tension.  “We’ll take care of everything inside.”

Gorik said nothing further, but his eyes revealed his gratitude.

“Wait,” Ilayeth said before she and the other guild members crossed the threshold.  “Declan, do you think you can control your staff’s wind across the distance of the temple floor?”

He stood straighter at hearing that request.  “I don’t know.  I’ve never tried to focus it like that.”

“What are you thinking, lass?” Tornig wondered.

“If we extinguish the lights closest to us, we’ll gain an advantage.  I can distract them with flames of my own while you two keep to the shadows and surprise them.”

“As soon as I see a lick of fire upon yer fingers, my axe is going for a wee flight,” Tornig assured.

“Declan,” Ilayeth began, “if you see an opportunity to get innocent folk out of the building, leave the fighting to us.  They’re the reason we’re here, after all.”

An understanding nod was all the agreement Declan would give.  As he gripped his staff a little tighter, wisps of air could be seen flittering around the headpiece of his staff.

He was as ready as he would be, Ilayeth knew.  She took another step forward, and turned to her side, casting out her own magical spell then.  Like a raindrop shot forth from a longbow, it whistled through the air, slipping across the wicks of the lit and upright candelabras.  Ilayeth wove her hands as though she were solving some puzzle that only she could see, and the raindrop danced in the air at her behest.  The quiet sound of the flames extinguishing could barely be heard, but the trio of highwaymen inside turned their attention toward them anyway.

Declan moved forth as well, turning in the opposite direction as the half-elf had.  One after another, he blew gusts of wind toward the fallen candles on his side of the building.  Each time it sounded like a fretful sigh cutting through the circular crown of the staff.  More than one pair of eyes landed on the lad, as those who had been forced to the ground dared to look up.

Ilayeth was already in motion once more, choosing a sconce along that side of the building.  A large ball of ice seemed to take shape between her and the object, already gaining speed as she willed it into being.  It encased the sconce a moment later, dimming that part of the temple.

“What is that?” Jarayas demanded, his focus only on the sphere of ice and the trails of smoke that lifted into the air.

Almost as soon as he spoke, the bell reported above them, a loud, resonating sound of bronze on bronze ringing out into the building.

That worked well enough, Tornig reasoned, and he charged forth into the building.  His boots didn’t allow him the same quiet as his companions’ spells—neither did it help when one of the temple patrons cried out in shock when the dwarf accidentally strode across his back.  It mattered not.  By the time Jarayas turned again, Tornig knew that he had covered enough distance.  He gripped his axe in both hands and flung it forward as the bell above rattled again.

Jarayas’s agonizing scream was not lost beneath the deep ringing.  He teetered back a few steps while he pieced together what great pain had been inflicted.  Before he could bring his hand up to touch the axe, a set of stubby dwarven fingers wrapped around the handle, tearing it from the wound.

Upon seeing his enemy, Skren leaned forward into a fighting stance, his plated armor creaking as he fell into place.  Up above, Queryn sent her wings out wide, and she leapt off the crossbeam.  Her eyes locked onto Tornig, who ducked out of the way of a frantic swipe of the troll’s sword.

The harpy drew her wings back, diving toward the unexpected aggressor.

But as surprising as Tornig’s appearance had been, so too was the flame that ignited at the center of the floor.  Ilayeth’s palm cradled a lick of fire that grew larger and brighter with every passed moment, and with a twist of her wrist she flung it forth.  Her fiery arrow missed Queryn, but it distracted her enough to pull her attention from the dwarf.

Without the flame to illuminate her presence, the half-elf disappeared amidst the crowd once more.

Behind her, she could hear Declan’s words of encouragement.

“Go now, while they’re distracted,” he said.  “We’ll take care of them, but you need to get to safety.”

Even in the darkness, Ilayeth could see those closest to the opened doors rise from their prone position and run or skitter forth.

In the thick of battle, though, she knew she couldn’t focus on them for long.  When she turned back, Queryn was diving at a new target.  She heard Declan’s words as well and stretched her talons out toward him.

“Declan!” Ilayeth warned.

On reflex alone, the man swung out with his staff, catching Queryn in her stomach.  It was enough to sway her balance, and she twisted as she collided with Declan.  They fell apart then, both wincing and gasping at the sudden pain they both endured.  A cool sensation washed over Declan’s arm, and he knew even in the darkness that she had raked his arm as she’d fallen away.

Ilayeth’s quick, soft footsteps carried her there in an instant.  While the harpy struggled upright, a new flame came into being beside her.  She only had a moment to see it out of the corner of her eye before the fire dissipated, and a quiet rumble was heard instead.

The air erupted with a blistering explosion that sent Queryn flying against her will toward the northern wall of the temple.  With such force, the blast nearly knocked its caster from her feet as well, but Ilayeth held fast, gnashing her teeth against the sheer power of the magic.

“Enough of this,” Skren bellowed from near the stairs.  He gripped his spear, and smashed his balled hand against his shield, almost in cadence with the echo of the temple’s mighty bell.  As he pulled his weapon away, a bright sphere of light emerged from the hefty shield.  Once it was free of him, it floated into the air like a bubble filled with daylight, and he pushed it forth with his divine powers.  Higher and higher it rose, until the temple was illuminated once more.

He could see—as could his allies—that the patrons they had frightened into submission there could no longer be subdued.  The people nearest to Declan had made a mad dash toward the exit, and those who had surrounded them found the courage to move next.

Skren didn’t seem concerned with the fleeting people, but eager eyes did fall upon the dwarf who had found the injured troll’s attention.

Even against those odds, Tornig would have felt confident.  He’d already dealt a vicious blow to Jarayas, and he was itching for a fight with the towering, broad, armored lagano.

But as he awaited the approach of the lizardfolk paladin, he watched as Jarayas’s wound closed before his eyes, as though his axe had never penetrated his flesh.

“Queen’s beard,” Tornig muttered as Jarayas gnashed his teeth together in bloodhungry fervor.

He was fortunate to have the watchful eyes of his own companion studying the battlefield then.  Ilayeth turned toward him when the globe of radiance entered the air, and she saw the approach of the hulking lagano.  She saw, too, as Jarayas clenched his fingers around his sword’s hilt and rushed in.  Knowing that even Tornig couldn’t stand against those odds for long, she set to work, weaving another spell together.

The troll’s sword fell upon the dwarf, who brought up his axe in the nick of time.  Tornig’s weapon was miniscule compared to the troll-forged greatsword.  It was only through sheer determination that he caught the blow and didn’t succumb to it.  He cast the blade off to the side, and slid in toward Jarayas once more, scoring a slash against his leg that had him falling to his knee.

By reflex alone, Jarayas swept out with his blade toward the flash of pain.  Though it was only its broad side that struck against Tornig, it landed with such force that the dwarf went flying toward a shrine to a lesser god against the temple’s southern wall.  The statue within the wooden showcase tumbled forward and landed in Tornig’s lap.

The dwarf had earned no respite in those moments to pass, for Skren was upon him in an instant, and he swung the long spear out at him.  Tornig toppled to his side as the spearhead sliced across the already battered wooden shrine, still clutching the effigy in his hands.

As Skren adjusted his momentum, aid finally came to Tornig.  Ilayeth thrust her hand forward, a beam of light bursting from her palm.

No, not light, the others in the room soon realized.  As it extended forth, it took on a blue tincture, and those who suspected its power soon had their suspicious confirmed.  Before Skren could follow up on his attack, Ilayeth’s ray of frost struck him in his back.  His armor grew cold at once, but it spread fast as well, until his shoulders were locked into place.  The lagano paladin couldn’t bring his weapon to bear again, frozen in place.

His ally had no such difficulties.  Jarayas, the leader of the highwaymen, came charging like a maddened bull, a growl pushing through gnashed teeth.

He flew faster than he wanted then, for the other mage in the room made use of his arcane power as well.  Declan’s staff glowed with an otherworldly energy, crackling with magical electricity as other patrons and clergy climbed from the ground and raced from the building.

Like a bolt of lightning, that energy dispersed, hissing across the room like a stormy sky had forced its way into the temple.  It erupted against the floor, just behind Jarayas’s feet, sending him flying high into the air, and smashing against the wall behind Tornig.

Declan couldn’t believe it.  They were winning.

Above them, the bell rang out again, that time with an awkward cadence.  A loud explosion followed, shaking the building, and the young fellow’s attention was drawn to the ceiling.

There was yet one foe left in the lobby of the temple that had not been appropriately dealt with.  While Declan contemplated what foul deeds transpired above, Queryn scratched at the walls and climbed to her clawed feet.  She looked to the lad, rage about in her eyes, and dropped her knife into her waiting talons.

Tornig tossed the effigy off his lap as he sprang to his feet.  He ran past Skren as though he was a statue and hopped on the back of an unsuspecting patron who found the courage to begin rising to their feet.  Though he was far from his new companion, Tornig leapt ahead without a weapon in his hand, ready to do what was necessary to protect Declan.

Queryn shifted, turning to the rapidly approaching dwarf.  She had just entered Declan’s line of sight, and he watched as she cut across, tearing through the soft bits of the dwarf’s armor, and piercing his flesh beneath his shoulder.

Tornig cried out, but he grasped the harpy all the same.  Wrapping his hands around her bird-like legs, she couldn’t maneuver enough to attack him again.  And as she felt his heft about her, she changed her strategy altogether, dropping from the air like a bundle of stones.

When they landed upon the floor of the temple, the building trembled again.  It wasn’t from the combined weight of the two fallen combatants though.

None could have expected as huge pieces of the ceiling began falling from above.  Ilayeth cast out a desperate spell, an invisible shield falling into place above her head and the heads of those still too frightened to move.

The maiden couldn’t protect them all, and chunks of wood and stone fell as those terrified folks clambered to their feet.  More than one was struck, laying them low for the last time.

Fespar temple’s massive bronze bell fell from the gap in the ceiling then.  Ilayeth froze, knowing there was nothing she could do to stop its descent.

It froze nonetheless, mere feet from the ground, and would have landed upon the half-elf if she hadn’t crouched low.  Ilayeth rolled out of the way, knowing that whatever magic kept it aloft wouldn’t keep it there for long.  As she moved, the bell’s clapper smashed against the side of the bell, its loud report deafening everyone in the room, and even knocking back those who were unprepared for it.  Queryn and Tornig tumbled to the ground, rolling in opposite directions, Declan fell to a knee while he tried to press back against the force of that booming noise, and a scattering of frost lifted from Skren, still frozen looking in the opposite direction.

Deafened by the noise of the bell, it almost sounded as though silence had grown violent and angry.  Beneath it, Declan could hear his whispers struggling to be heard, but he couldn’t understand any of what they were saying.  They always seemed to offer advice or warnings though, and he took that to heed as he looked up, prepared for whatever had sent the bell racing toward the floor of the temple.

Unlike the bell, the witch who had planned the attack on Fespar Temple floated slowly down from the tower.  Her raven-black hair glided about as though she was descending into a pool of water, though it was highlighted by the green arcane energy that danced between her hands.  Her purple robe lifted as well, giving her a far larger appearance than her small frame would suggest.

Tanissa seemed not to care about the temple’s saviors.  Her grey eyes never landed on the trio who dared to put a stop to her plans.

But Declan studied her intently.  Tanissa looked powerful beyond meaning, and despite the vile deeds that transpired, she looked captivating.  It was no surprise that she was able to sway Jarayas to her cause.  Dark shadows surrounded her eyes, and a jeweled circlet kept her hair out of her face.  A collar of black feathers kept her robe in place as well, assuring that the skin she meant to show was on full display.

Though her appearance had been slow and deliberate, another of her troupe arrived with far less poise.

The lone remaining gnoll of their group, Melara, leapt from the hole in the ceiling, landing on the top of the bell, only grabbing the rope when she arrived to keep her steady.  A long, gnarled quarterstaff on her back struck the bell when she landed as well, sending a quieter report echoing through the building.

While Tanissa seemed unconcerned with any in attendance, Melara snarled at the sight of the interlopers, the golden fur upon her brow falling upon her eyes.

“Take care of them,” Tanissa spoke then, as though the task was beneath her.  She instead focused on the doorway before her, casting her emerald magic out toward it.

Melara moved at once, eager to prove herself to her mistress.  She leapt from the bell, pulling her staff out from behind her back.  Purple lines of warpaint drawn into her fur accentuated her movements.  Her pace was quick, for she desired battle more than anyone else.

As Tornig struggled to his feet, she came down upon him, striking out with her weapon.  The staff cracked against his helmet, as unsettling a sound as any that reported in the temple that night.  Dwarven-forged, the headwear did what it meant to, but still, her swing was strong, and Tornig wobbled back to his knees.  He struggled to stand again, but without a weapon at hand, any resistance would be meager indeed.  As Melara swung back again with the staff, Tornig brought up his stubby hands to try and protect his vulnerable bits.  He howled out in pain when his fingers and palms took the brunt of that attack, and he was too badly injured to put up any fight as she came forth, delivering a stunning kick to his unguarded midsection.

Tornig gasped as he spilled to the ground, and Melara paid him no further heed, even as he reached for her legs.  Unable to close his fingers into fists, he was of no worry to her.

She instead looked toward the man with the staff further away.  Declan thrust his staff into the ground as windy energy began circling about in the headpiece.  As soon as Queryn lifted off the ground, he cast out a gust of air that sent her spinning into the wall once more, eliciting a surprised and pained screech.  If he had let her lift much further, she might have flown right through one of the temple’s stained-glass windows.

On the other side of the room, Ilayeth thought to come to Declan’s aid as well.  She lay her hands atop each other, her palms facing up, and cradled a new flame there, hoping to bring enough arcane energy into being to stave off the stalking gnoll.

Ilayeth yelped when a troll’s heavy hands took a fierce grip upon her neck.  The mage had no time to contemplate what happened, and cast out her unstable spell, a wave of fire spinning about into the air.  Jarayas recoiled at the sight of the flames, but he kept hold of the maiden.  Lifting her off the ground, he slammed her into the bell, letting her fall to the ground.  Whether she was dead or merely unconscious, he cared not.

That resonating sound once again called out to Declan, and he looked to see his friend crumple to the ground.  The lone adventurer who still stood swallowed away his tension, watching as Tanissa’s companions marched toward him.  Jarayas once again held his greatsword, draping it over his back.  Declan heard what sounded like glass breaking, and a moment later, Skren was circling around the bell as well.  And far along the back of the temple, at the stairs leading up to the tower, Declan could even see the last of the bandits’ troupe, as the skittish looking Deprak hurried forth.  But it was Melara, the snarling gnoll, that had the man’s attention foremost.  She hungered for a fight, and held her staff in both hands, waiting to see what Declan would do.

He didn’t keep her waiting.  He turned about, pointing his staff toward her, summoning up an even stronger gale to push her back.  She fought against it, but she couldn’t hold her ground against the force of that magic.

Instead, she slid a hand off her staff, toward the amethyst-lined belt cinched around her waist.  A russet skirt had been sewn into place on the belt, but she reached instead for one of the leather-bound flasks hooked onto one of the belt’s buckles.  With a fierce tug, she pulled it away, her eyes going wide with excitement then.

She never found cause to use it, though, for someone else crept up behind Declan.  His fingers wrapped around a metal chain, and he let a tome at its end drape near the floor.  But with one mighty swing, the book slammed against the back of Declan’s head.  The lad’s vision went black, and he lost his grip on his staff as he tottered to the floor.  By luck alone, he managed to stretch his arms out and catch himself before his face struck the stone.

“Gorik?” Melara asked in surprise.  “What are you doing here?”

Before Declan could contemplate the goblin’s betrayal, a boot collided against his ribs, stealing his breath away.

“I’m helping.  What does it look like?”

“Where’s Ignark?” the gnoll asked, the first time an emotion other than rage presented itself from her.

Gorik remained silent, but a loud noise behind him echoed out as the temple’s doors feel from their hinges and collided into the ground outside.  The temples brickwork glowed in green then, and Tanissa cast out her hands, sending the hewn stone flying toward the crossroads.

“We are done here,” the witch insisted.  “Everyone: move to the carriage.  We need to tie this thing down.”

For a moment, Declan thought his anguish was over.  Raspy, uneven breaths entered his lungs, but it was the pain in his ribs that hurt worse than anything.

All hopes of a moment of respite soon ceased, as Gorik placed his boot on Declan’s side, and kicked him onto his back.

He looked up at the goblin, knowing that Gorik looked down at him.  But with tears in his eyes, his vision was blurred too far to see whether it was a look of disgust or sick satisfaction.

Gorik left with the rest of his troupe, their voices drowning out as the people within Fespar temple began to chatter and cry.  The hulking bell rang out as it was situated atop the carriage outside, it’s haunting sounds adding to the cacophony.

Amidst it all, Declan could hear the whispers, though they were fading fast.

“You can’t let them get away!” a snarling whisper insisted.

“You did all you could,” another voice chimed out.  “You could not hope to win that fight and pursuing another would only see you killed.

Whatever nefarious deeds they have planned need to be stopped!

You can make another attempt when you have more resources.  Take some time to rest.  You’ve earned it.

Fighting against pain and confusion, and knowing he and his allies had failed, there was not much left for Declan to do.

Lying on his back, he screamed toward the heavens, a roar of frustration and grief that he could not hold back.

 

 

Voting Instructions

Another new chapter means another new choice to make, which you can influence.  You have until the 30th of this month to safely join the Tellest Newsletter in time to cast your vote.  I’ll be sending out newsletter emails to my readers, with the two choices prepared for Declan.  Then, on July 1st, I’ll interpret the votes and see how the whispers influenced Declan.

Remember, there are two ways for you to accumulate voting power in The Whispers:

  • First, when you vote through the newsletter, you get an extra voting point for every chapter you’ve voted on.  If you voted in each of the previous chapters, your vote this month would be worth a whopping seven points!
  • Second—and this one is for the Tellest superfans—if you are a Tellest patron on Patreon, you get an additional voting point for every $1 you pledge per month.  And that is in addition to any of the other rewards you would receive at the specified pledge level.  So, if you pledged at the $3 level, you would get 3 votes on Patreon, in addition to your votes on the newsletter responses.  That’s a lot of sway over Declan!  But it’s another way for me to thank you for helping me keep the lights on.

 

That wraps up how to vote for this month.  Remember, sign up for the Tellest newsletter if you’re not a member already, and prepare for the follow-up poll later this month in order to cast your vote.  Then we’ll see next month what Declan does in his current situation!

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Michael DeAngelo

Michael DeAngelo

Michael is the creator of the Tellest brand of fantasy novels and stories. He is actively seeking to expand the world of Tellest to be accessible to everyone.
Michael DeAngelo

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