The Troll King: Chapter One

Howdy folks! I am blazing towards completion of this book and I am so close that I can taste it. This is an exciting part of the writing process for me. I love putting an ending together.

While I tie things together and start the final editing process, here is another chapter to get your minds going. This one is from Mellinda’s perspective and begins right where we left her in The Ogre Apprentice, moments after she is introduced to the Troll King.

If you haven’t read the Prologue yet, here’s a link.

Enjoy! As with the previous chapter posted, please understand that this is not the final edit. If you see any errors, let me know in the comments below!


Chapter One


“Perhaps I do have need of someone like you,” the Troll King said. He stood from his crumbling throne, leaving a thin slimy residue behind.

Mellinda, who had been leaning over him, was forced to take a step back to keep from being knocked over. The king’s muscular seven-foot frame towered over her and as he peered down at her with his mismatched eyes, she felt an electric thrill. To think that her work over a thousand years ago had led to this person.

The Troll King was a living dichotomy. Like all of the trollkin his body was part troll and part something else, but his deformations were quite distinct. The right side of his body was handsome and human, while his left side was frightening and trollish. His left eye glowed a dull red, the left side of his mouth was overly wide and filled with sharp teeth, and the fingers of his left hand were long and tipped with wicked black claws. Somewhere, he had found an ancient garment that hadn’t completely rotted away. It was made out of what had once been rich green silk and was draped over one shoulder and belted at his waist.

His voice was a raspy tenor only partially slurred by the deformation of his mouth. “Come with me, Snake Woman. I would take you to the Mother’s womb.”

Mellinda held back a retort. It was the third time he had referred to her as a snake. If the fool had any idea who she really was, he wouldn’t dare. He and his people should all be bowing and scraping to her.

Nevertheless, she forced a smile and gave him a bow of her own. “Of course, my king.” Mellinda meekly stood aside as the king walked towards the rear of his chamber.

He’s right, you know. You are a snake,” said another, unwelcome voice from within her mind. “At least he knows it before letting you in. I wish I would have known.”

Her reply to this second voice was mental, You should know by now that your insults mean nothing to me, Arcon.

I bet it’s the rings that help him see it,” Arcon observed. “You give away your true nature with every movement.”

The comment stung but Mellinda did not let her irritation show. It had been weeks since she had turned the power of the rings inward and she still didn’t quite have full control over her new body’s eccentricities. The rings had turned her limbs snakelike. Keeping them under control required a constant amount of concentration and Arcon did his best to undermine her efforts whenever possible.

You seek to distract me, but your voice is as a mere buzzing of a fly. Easily ignored, she replied.

In that case you won’t mind if I rattle off a list of other animals I could compare you to,” Arcon said with amusement. “Let’s see. Vulture, slug, muskrat, moonrat, mole, salamander, dog, wolf, goat . . .

Mellinda gritted her teeth. This was another of Arcon’s techniques to annoy her. When regular insults didn’t work, he fell back on chanting inane lists of words. Ridiculous. He should have learned by now that his prattle had no effect.

“You c-coming?” asked Murtha, the king’s part dwarf assistant. Her greenish lips were pulled back in a distrustful grimace, revealing a mouth filled with rows of sharp teeth.

Mellinda realized that she was still standing by the throne while the others were waiting at a doorway on the rear of the throne room. “Of course,” Mellinda said, her cheeks reddening with embarrassment.

“This way,” said the Troll King. “The Mother awaits.”

The king exited the throne room and Murtha gave Mellinda an assessing glare before following at his heels. Murtha wore a ragged dress made of animal skins. She was the only trollkin Mellinda had seen wearing a dress. Perhaps she saw herself as the king’s consort? Whatever she was, the half-dwarf held some importance to the king. Mellinda knew that if she couldn’t win the creature over sooner or later she would have to kill her.

Mellinda stepped out of the throne room and onto a crumbling stone balcony. She moved to the balcony’s edge, pausing for a moment to take in the view. The Troll King’s throne room was at the top of the Axis Palace, the tallest building in Malaroo. It was a pyramidal structure made of enormous rock slabs carved by Roo artisans and the home of generations of Roo High Priestesses. From this vantage point she could see the whole of KhanzaRoo as well as most of the swamps surrounding it.

KhanzaRoo had once been one of the greatest cities in the known lands. A marvel of engineering, it was built on top of unstable shifting swampland. Yet it had thrived. This was because Roo people had made a city that breathed with the swamp. The permanent structures had been made with foundations sunk deep into the earth below, while the smaller homes and businesses had been made out of wood and anchored to the grassy islands that shifted with the waters. It had all been linked together by rope bridges and rafts that floated on top of the water and could be moved and re-anchored when needed.

But those glory days were a thousand years gone. The wooden structures and rafts had long rotted away and been reclaimed by the swamp. Now only the crumbling remains of the most well-built stone buildings marked the location of the once prosperous city. The current state of KhanzaRoo would have left her with a mixture of sadness and satisfaction, had she not been filled with irritation at Arcon’s incessant droning.

Pig, tortoise, horse, cow, frog, rabbit, mountain cat, mist bronto . . .

“Is something troubling you, Mellinda?” asked the Troll King. The tall leader of the trollkin was waiting for her next to a staircase that descended from the far end of the balcony. His human eye was fixed on her with curiosity.

“I am well, my king,” Mellinda assured him. This king was perceptive. She was confident that she had let no hint of her frustration touch her face. “I simply feel a bit of sadness at KhanzaRoo’s current state.”

Her words were partially true. When Mellinda was a child, KhanzaRoo had been her favorite place to visit. Then again, when Mellinda had been a goddess, she had choked and overwhelmed the city with her armies of trolls.

Snake,” Arcon added, an accusatory note in his voice.

The king, unable to hear the snide comment of the human mage trapped inside of Mellinda’s mind, simply nodded in understanding. “Yes, my city is a shambles. But that will soon change. My people work hard to bring KhanzaRoo back to its glory. Already they have cleared most of the buildings of trees and vines. It will go faster as our numbers grow.”

“They have done admirably,” she said, bowing her head slightly. “And just how quickly are the trollkin growing?”

The right side of his face gave her a slight smile. “The Mother births more of us every day, but . . . you will see.”

Mellinda smiled and inclined her head again. From her short time among the trollkin, she estimated that they numbered no more than three hundred. For her army to be effective she would need more. A lot more.

The Troll King turned and descended the stairway that snaked down the palace’s terraced outer wall. As she followed the king and his assistant, Mellinda could see the result of the trollkin’s hard work. Though sections of the palace were still blanketed by vines, all of the sections in use had been completely scraped clean. The stairway, though cracked and weathered, was clear save for one place half way down where a tenacious swamp tree had grown out of the side of the palace. The trollkin had cut the offending tree down, leaving a flat stump. Its roots bored into the rock of the palace like spider legs.

They passed the stump and rounded the corner of the pyramid and Mellinda saw that the staircase continued all the way down to the base of the pyramid where a small courtyard butted up to the edge of a small lake. A distant memory entered Mellinda’s mind and she knew where they were headed.

“We are going to the High Priestess’ gardens?” she surmised pointing at the shoreline below. To call the shoreline of that lake within the swamp a garden now was a bit ridiculous. It was an overgrown tangle of vines. But once it had been full of exotic flowers and fruit trees.

The Troll King slowed his descent and looked back at her. “I do not know what this location was once called but that is where the Mother’s womb will greet us, yes.”

“Her womb is here?” Mellinda asked. She had expected it to be some distance away, further into the swamp.

“The Mother is everywhere. Her womb is wherever she wants it to be,” said Murtha, narrowing her eyes.

Chipmunk, ox, bear,” added Arcon.

“Murtha is correct,” the Troll King said. “Her womb was not always here, but she moved it once she had chosen this city for our people.”

“I see.” So she could move parts of her body great distances now? This was more evidence that the Troll Mother had changed greatly since Mellinda had last been here.

The Troll King continued walking down the stairs and Murtha let out a short hiss, before turning around and trailing after him. Mellinda caught herself chewing her lower lip. It was an old habit from her childhood that she had picked back up recently. It mainly happened when she was deep in thought and Arcon was droning on.

Pigeon, donkey, sparrow . . . uh, sock-.

Sock isn’t an animal, you idiot! Mellinda snapped and her knees buckled, causing her legs to bow out bonelessly. She nearly fell.

Arcon laughed. “It threw off your concentration though, didn’t it?”

Silence! she barked back at him mentally as she forced her legs back into proper form. You gain nothing with your annoyances!

Ah, but annoying you is the only true pleasure I have left,” Arcon replied. “Deer, pheasant, boar, snail, worm, mouse . . .

Mellinda growled under her breath and pushed his voice as far to the back of her mind as she could. Unfortunately, the body was his and her grasp on his mind was slippery. The mage had learned much in his time under her control and no matter how far away she shoved him, he always found a way to come back. Oh how she wished she could tear him from her thoughts and extinguish him altogether.

As she neared the base of the stairs, the air grew thicker with humidity and her nostrils were filled with the slightly chemical scent that was unique to the Troll Swamps. She breathed it in with satisfaction, reminding herself that this was all her doing. Whatever her current petty setbacks, she was still Mellinda, the Dark Goddess; the Troll Queen. The world had once trembled at her name and it was only a matter of time before her full glory was reattained.

Two trollkin waited for them at the bottom of the stairs. One had a mangled nose, protruding fangs and cat-like ears, while the other was incredibly thin and exuded a yellowish slime. They grinned at the Troll King’s arrival and called out to him. He smiled back at them and called them out by name, patting them on the shoulders as he strode by.

Mellinda raised one eyebrow at the familiarity in which the king addressed his subjects. This may be easier than I thought. They do not fear him.

Arcon paused in his litany long enough to respond, “Look at their eyes. They adore him. You put too much stock in fear.”

She let out a soft chuckle. You will see how easily their adoration for him fades when someone with true power comes along.

The Troll King noted her amusement. “Do you have something to say, Snake Woman?”

Her smile slid. “No, my king. I was just admiring the rapport you have with your subjects.”

His human eye twitched and he gestured at the two trollkin. “This is Omar and Trelsk. I pulled them from the Mother’s womb two days ago.”

“Two days?” she said. “Yet they speak and move like fully formed adults.”

The two new trollkin looked at each other and the one called Trelsk said, “Why would we not speak?”

Murtha frowned. “We are all born that way, snake-k. Not like-k you weak-k humans.”

“It is a gift from the Mother,” explained the Troll King. “She teaches us in the womb so that we awaken strong and aware.”

They are born as adults.” Arcon said in surprise.

Fantastic, isn’t it? They emerge able to communicate and understand orders. Her army would be so much greater than the regular troll army she had intended to build. She just needed to make sure that they would follow her.

“Omar?” she said and the trollkin with the cat-like ears looked down at her in curiosity. She pointed at his twisted lump of a nose. “You poor thing. Can you breathe?”

He blinked at her and she could tell that he was sensitive about his disfigurement. “I breathe.”

“Oh, but you will breathe so much better,” she purred and reached into him with her power, her fingers writhing bonelessly with the energy of the rings.

She had been using the rings for over a month now and she was still impressed by the complexity of Stardeon’s creation. The rings established a link between her mind and the body of the creature before her. This link was much like a bonding wizard had with his bonded, but it was linked with its physiology only. She couldn’t hear the creature’s thoughts or emotions, but she could feel and see within its body.

This trollkin didn’t just have a facial deformity. The very bone structure of his skull was twisted. This was why his fangs protruded from his mouth so strangely. This most likely also gave him chronic headaches; something else that he would be grateful to have relieved. Fixing these defects would be a delicate procedure, requiring her to move large blood vessels out of the way while she reconfigured the bone. Carefully, she poured her magic into the trollkin’s flesh-.

Fish, chicken, duck, goose!”

Arcon’s voice was as loud in her ears as if he were shouting right into them. Mellinda jerked in surprise and the trollkin screeched in pain. Blood erupted from one of Omar’s nostrils in several long spurts.

“Omar!” shouted the king.

Hurriedly, Mellinda shoved Arcon’s voice away and repaired the ruptured artery. She then moved on to his bone structure. Omar continued to screech as she worked and just as Mellinda put the finishing touches on the flesh of his face, she was tackled by the king’s assistant.

“What did you do to him?” Murtha demanded. Her weight pinned Mellinda to the ground and the long talons on her fingertips pierced deeply into the flesh of Mellinda’s arms.

Mellinda’s first instinct was to destroy her. It would have been so easy to use the rings’ power to explode the trollkin from within as Ewzad Vriil had done so many times in the past. If it weren’t for Arcon cheerfully egging her on, she might have done so. Instead, Mellinda ignored the pain of Murtha’s attack. Her voice was calm as she said, “I fixed him. Look for yourself.”

“My face!” Omar exclaimed. Touching his new features with trembling fingers. All traces of his former disfigurement were gone. He now had a proud human nose and his fangs no longer protruded oddly, but had been shortened and fit snuggly in the proper place in his mouth. “It’s different.”

“Murtha, let her go!” the king commanded.

“How many more of us will she change?” the half-dwarf replied, her grip tightening. Mellinda gasped with the pain.

“It is okay. It hurt but I-I am better,” said Omar, a smile touching his mouth. “Look at my face, Trelsk!”

“Let her up, Murtha,” the king said, placing a hand on his assistant’s shoulder.

Murtha glared at Mellinda but reluctantly released her and stood. She stomped several paces away and grumbled.

Mellinda groaned as the pressure was relieved. She climbed shakily to her feet, unused to being attacked in such a physical manner.

“How badly are you hurt, Snake Woman?” the king asked. “The wounds on your arms-.”

“I heal swiftly, my king. In that way I am not so different from your people,” she assured him. Fast healing was one of the benefits that had come from turning the power of the rings inward. She could feel the magic working. The wounds had already stopped bleeding and, though they were tender, they itched more than hurt.

“Good.” The king’s human arm shot out and his powerful fingers wrapped around Mellinda’s slender neck. “Then hear me, snake. You will not use your magic on any of my people without permission. Do you understand?”

His grip was firm, but not so tight that she couldn’t reply. “Of course, my king. I apologize. I meant no harm.”

The king glanced at Omar, who was still feeling his face in shocked amazement, and nodded. He released her from his grasp. “Come. Let us put this magic of yours to good use.”

He headed down a trail that curved along the outer edge of the swamp lake. Murtha hurried after him. Mellinda cleared her throat and followed, ignoring the lumbering forms of Omar and Trelsk that shadowed her.

What were you thinking, you fool? she demanded. That was very nearly a disaster!

Did I disrupt you?” Arcon replied, joyfully feigning surprise. “I thought that my voice was as a mere ‘buzzing of a fly’.

The trail led them to the north side of the lake. There they came upon the ruins of several small stone buildings that had become completely overgrown. Standing between the ruins was a single stone chair that faced the water. It was eroded and covered with moss, but there were just enough carvings on the chair’s surface that Mellinda’s memories were awakened.

They were standing in Solitude, the center of the gardens. It was a holy place, the one location in all of KhanzaRoo where the High Priestess had been able to find complete respite from the rigors of her position. When the High Priestess sat in the Lone Chair, no one was allowed to approach. None dared even speak until she stood to leave.

The last time Mellinda had been in Solitude, KhanzaRoo had been abandoned by its people. She, the Troll Queen; sole ruler of the swamplands of Malaroo, had sat in the Lone Chair herself. But unlike the Roo High Priestesses of old, she had found no peace there. The gardens had been dead, poisoned by the thick layer of troll slime that covered the surface of the water. The air had reeked from the stench of the bloated corpses of the ornamental fish that had once populated the lake and her magical control over her vast troll army had been the only thing keeping the place quiet.

Now, a thousand years later, life had found a way to re-enter the lake. Though a thin layer of slime still coated the waters and the flowers that bloomed were foreign and strange, it was lush and green. Solitude felt like a holy place once more.

The Troll King approached the Lone Chair and Mellinda began chewing her bottom lip again. As he sat in the chair there was a certain regal rightness about him that set her on edge. Despite the ragged condition of his raiment and the deformities that marked him, he belonged in this place.

It bothers you, doesn’t it?” Arcon observed, his voice smug. “You hate the thought of someone else ruling your old homeland.”

Mellinda smoothed her expression. It will be mine again soon enough.

There was a splash at the lake’s edge. A thin, lanky form climbed out of the water and rose to its feet. It was naked and sexless and at first glance Mellinda thought it a common troll. Then she noticed its very human mouth and eyes. It approached the king with easy strides, its clawed hands clasped together, and gave the king a reverent bow.

“The Mother’s womb stirs.” Its voice was raspy, with a distinctly aristocratic accent.

“Where are my cullers?” the king asked.

“They are at work in the city. It is an odd time of day for her to birth, is it not?” it asked.

The Troll King looked to Murtha. “Go and fetch them for me.”

The half dwarf glanced nervously in Mellinda’s direction, not wanting to leave him with her. “I c-can do it, k-king. I was your c-culler once.”

“Alone?” he asked.

“Omar and Trelsk-k c-can help me,” she suggested and the two bulky trollkin nodded happily at being offered such an honorable task.

“If I might ask, oh king,” said the troll with the human mouth. “Why does the Mother stir at this hour?”

“I have brought her a visitor,” the Troll King replied, gesturing towards Mellinda.

It looked at her and cocked its head, noticing her for the first time. “Ah! You have found the snake, I see.”

Mellinda ignored Arcon’s laughter and forced a sultry smile. “My name is Mellinda.” She extended her hand towards him, palm down. “I have known the Mother for a very long time.”

“Of course.” It took her proffered hand in the traditional manner of the Roo nobility, resting its forefinger just under the base of her fingers. “I am the First. The Mother has told me much about you.”

“Has she?” said Mellinda, arching an eyebrow. This creature was a mystery.

It makes you wonder just how much they know. Doesn’t it?” Arcon asked.

“Indeed,” said the First. He bent and gently kissed her knuckles just as one of the ruling house would greet a minor priestess.

Intriguing, she thought. How does a creature such as this know proper court etiquette?

Maybe his goddess taught it to him in the womb,” Arcon suggested. “Like the Troll King said.”

Not likely. What would she know of it? Mellinda replied. Aloud she said, “And what has the Mother said about me?”

The First opened his mouth to respond, but the Troll King grunted and he paused, changing what he was going to say. “She says that your power is to be respected.” He dropped her hand and turned back to the king. “She comes.”

As if in response, the ground rumbled beneath their feet. The calm waters of the lake rippled and shook as something moved in the depths. Slowly an enormous dark form rose towards the surface.

A dome of glistening greenish flesh rose from the slimy waters. It continued upwards until it was the size of a hill, the top of it twice the height of a troll. The width of it took up a large portion of the lake.

Mellinda’s eyes fell on a puckered spot in the side of the dome. As she watched, it twisted and opened up into a gaping cave-like hole. A musky odor rolled from the opening and a small flood of slime poured out, pooling on the grassy shoreline.

Mellinda stared with open fascination. So this was the mother’s womb. She took a step forward and peered into the darkness within. A chorus of pained screeches echoed from the opening and she flinched back. A large hand fell upon her shoulder and she looked up to see the Troll King standing beside her.

“They will start emerging soon. Are you ready to prove your worth?” he asked.

“Of course, my king,” she assured him. “What is it exactly that you want me to do?”

“Use this magic of yours. Fix those that need it,” he explained.

“This is why the Mother allowed you to approach us,” added the First.

“This snake can do that?” Murtha asked, and this time as she looked at Mellinda her distrust faded slightly, replaced with something akin to hope.

“You wish me to fix the newly born like I fixed the others?” Mellinda asked, a confident smile spreading across her face. “I would be happy to.”

The Troll King hesitated. “The issues you fixed so far were minor. These will likely need much more help. Less than half of the trollkin birthed are able to join our people.”

“They come out broken,” said Omar.

“How terrible,” Mellinda said, sudden concern welling up within her. If the Troll Mother was struggling to create her people it would be a blow to her plans. “What is wrong with them?”

As if in answer, a creature burst from the cave-like opening of the mother’s womb. It was tall and thin. The lower half of its body was covered with a coarse fur and its upper body was that of a troll, green and glistening. But its head was a misshapen lump, as if its flesh had been half-formed and then melted. Large sections of its skull were exposed to the air and one eye wasn’t even in its socket, but instead stared out of the side of its cheek.

Murtha moved quickly, running up to the side of the mound and pulling it onto the grass. With brute strength she pulled its arms behind its back and held it still. The newborn creature thrashed in her grip, screaming with pain and disorientation. Mellinda saw both troll and human teeth in its twisted mouth.

Mellinda swallowed. Repairing a creature this malformed was going to prove much more difficult than she had thought.

The Troll King approached and placed a palm on the creature’s chest. Somehow his touch calmed it. It stopped struggling and its screams turned to whispers.

He turned back to look at her, a grin on the human side of his face. “He recognizes me as his king. He can beat back the hunger. His is mind is good! Come, fix him!”

Oh, this will be fun,” Arcon said and Mellinda knew that he was already planning ways to distract her.

She hesitated, chewing her lip again.

“Is there something wrong, Mellinda?” asked the king.

“N-no, my king,” she said. “However, I must prepare myself mentally for this,” Mellinda continued, holding on to her composure. “It will take but a moment if you will bear with me.”

“Do as you must, but hurry,” the king said warily. “More will be born soon.”

Mellinda took a deep breath and closed her eyes. Arcon, I demand you desist your childish taunting immediately. I will need every last drop of concentration to succeed.

All the more reason for me to continue,” he replied gleefully. “I’ll start with listing ocean animals for now. Fish, whale, eel, oyster, crab, uh . . . fish-.”

Mellinda snarled inwardly. Fish again? That is all you could come up with? Not pike or bass or trout?

My parents were farmers, not fishermen,” Arcon explained with a mental shrug. “Types of fish weren’t in my field of study.”

Enough! These trollkin could kill us if I fail in this, she suggested.

Not likely,” replied Arcon. “They have no magic. With the power of the rings at your disposal you could simply paralyze them. They could not touch us.”

Even so, what good does it do you to ruin my plans? We share this body together. My pain is your pain. My success is your success.

Yeah, I don’t agree with that,” Arcon said. “We don’t share my body. You stole it from me. The only reason I’m still around is that you haven’t figured out a way to get rid of me.”

Mellinda didn’t bother to argue that point. You still cling to the hope that you can reclaim your body, do you not? Would you not want to be in the best situation possible if that were to happen?

Dear Mellinda,” Arcon replied mockingly. “I am fairly certain that the only way I could reclaim my body is if you intentionally gave the control back to me. We both know that isn’t going to happen.”

Then what good does your continued harassment . . ? She stopped herself. That line of manipulation wouldn’t get her anywhere with him. What she needed was a good threat. But in what way could she still hurt him? A slow smile spread across her face.

And what if I were to bed this King? Mellinda threatened. She turned back and opened her eyes letting her gaze linger on the muscles of the Troll King’s body.

Arcon didn’t reply for a moment and Mellinda knew she had hit a sore nerve. The mage had still not adjusted to the fact that she had changed his body. Inhabiting a female form was uncomfortable for him and she knew that the thought of experiencing this body used in such a way would be very disturbing for him.

Arcon gave her a mental snort. “Trolls do not have genitalia. Look at the First.”

These people aren’t mere trolls. Have you not paid attention? Each one of them is a unique mix of beasts and thus can be male or female. Many of them could reproduce in the manner of men. Why else do you think that they wear clothing?

Arcon did not have an answer for this.

She chuckled. I have already scanned the Troll King’s body with the rings just to be sure. I must say the Mother made him well.

If you go through with your threat, so be it!” Arcon snarled. “I will endure what I have to and in the meantime I will make your existence as miserable as possible.”

“Are you ready, Snake Woman?” The king asked impatiently.

“I will be shortly,” she assured him, trying to keep the frustration out of her voice.

Mellinda sighed. No threat was going to work. There was only one piece of leverage she had left. Very well. I see that there is no other way. I will make you a deal.

And what could you possibly offer me?”

I will return control of your body to you.

Arcon laughed. “Lies! You would never give up control, especially not over something so petty!

You are correct. I wouldn’t give your body back right away, she admitted. However, that isn’t what I am offering.

Then what is it?”

Partner with me. We worked together before. Help me take my revenge and I will give your body back.

Your revenge? On your old people?”

Yes! I would destroy the Roo! But not just them! I would slaughter those ancient elves who defied me and burn the Jharro Grove to the ground!

Riiight,” he said dubiously. “We do all that and then you’ll give my body back.”

Yes! She poured every ounce of sincerity she could summon into her words. Everything I have done, groveling to the Dark Prophet, even enslaving myself to Ewzad Vriil, it was all to get me here! And I am so close. I just need to raise this army. Arcon, help me get the revenge long denied me and I will have completed my purpose. I swear on my soul that I will return your body to your control.

And I have to help you do this?” From his tone, she knew that he didn’t believe that she actually thought she needed him. Which was true.

I merely ask that you cease your harassment completely, she said.

At that moment another chorus of screeches came from the Mother’s womb. Another creature, this one even more malformed than the one before it, tumbled out of the opening and hit the shoreline. It tried to stand on uneven legs and toppled over just as Omar and Trelsk grabbed it.

“Enough preparation!” the king snapped. “Prove yourself now, Snake Woman!”

“I am ready,” she said and strode over to Murtha, who was still holding the first creature. Do we have a deal, mage?

Can you fix these things even if I keep quiet?” Arcon asked.

I have the knowledge. I did far greater things in the past, she replied. But I’m using your brain, which isn’t as sharp as mine once was and . . . She raised her hands and looked at the gemstones of the Rings of Stardeon that glinted on the backs of her fingers. I’m still getting used to the way these powers work.

Very well. Prove yourself to them,” he said. “I will stay silent. For now. I was running out of animals anyway.”

Thank you, she said. Mellinda smiled with satisfaction as she went to work.


End of Chapter One

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