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WolfSinger Publications

Don't Write What You Know;

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Tree of Bones
- Verna McKinnon

Two Curses

A Curse of Darkness... Deep within the Thill forest, stands a tree made of human bones, crowned in black leaves and red thorns.

A Curse of Light... Beneath the Wastelands of Skarros, a crystal imprisons a dark, immortal queen.

The Sorceress, Runa, is tormented by horrific images of this tree of  bones in a distant, lifeless forest. Even as the visions debilitate her,  Mellypip, her beloved familiar, also experiences these sinister dreams,  bound by the same dream seer magic as his mistress. The tree of bones  summons Runa, and she must risk madness and death as obsession drives  her on. What she finds reveals a devastating truth.

Koll the Sorcerer awaits trial for his crimes. His familiar, Xabral,  searches for allies to free him. Driven by his own dreams of dark  prophecy, Koll seeks to free Obsydia, the Bloodstone Queen, from her  prison. Determined to let nothing stop him, Koll will commit any evil to  achieve his goal.

Runa and Mellypip’s newest journey reveals truths behind ancient  secrets, as Koll’s obsessive hunt for a fallen queen threatens to doom  the world forever. Runa and Koll, bound by opposing magical destinies of  Light and Dark, will ultimately face frightening revelations and  unimagined consequences.


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Chapter One

Runa  huddled in her cloak against the night’s chill, her sleepless vigil  broken by glimpses of a wily fox or a shy deer rushing past in the  gloom. Beams of moonlight filtered through twisted ghost-pale birch  trees and the wind touched leaves whispered a night song. She craved  sleep, but sinister dreams plagued her the last few nights, snatching  precious slumber away. The crackling fire dimmed. Runa ignited the  flames with a spark of magic. Warmth restored, she sighed and returned  to her empty bedroll a few feet away. Mellypip had been sleeping there  only moments ago.

Concerned, Runa called through the bonding, Melly, where are you?

I’m over here, Runa! Mellypip replied, poking his head up from behind the food packs.

What are you doing? Runa asked.

Searching for yummy treats! The furry wampu scratched his enor­mous round ears, and then resumed his hunt for a snack.

Don’t wander off like that, she scolded.

But we’re surrounded by mighty sorcerers and warriors, Mellypip pro­tested, sniffing a bruised apple. The apples are pulpy. Not magnificent at all! He discarded it to hunt for more succulent goodies.

Our mighty band is asleep, except for those guarding Koll, Runa reminded him.

Mellypip chose a slice of round flat bread from the food sacks. He offered her some bread, but Runa shook her head.

“I’m not hungry, but thanks,” she whispered.

“You’re  not sleeping again?” Mellypip asked, joining her and nestling next to  her for warmth. “Need sleep to make magnificent magic.”

“How come you’re awake so early?” Runa asked.

“Hard to sleep when my sorceress is troubled.”

“I’m not troubled,” Runa insisted. “It’s just that my dreams are filled with weird images.”

“You  cannot fib to your familiar. Perhaps it was something you ate,”  Mellypip suggested. “Our food stores are dull. We don’t even have  cookies or drobba.” Mellypip sighed and looked at his bland piece of  bread. “I miss drobba. And jam. Bread is boring without jam. Do they  make drobba jam? That would be magnificent!” Mellypip nodded, his furry  cheeks puffed out as he chewed. “We’re dream bonded. That’s what Belwyn  calls it. I see your dreams. They’re strange, but all I remember is  fragments. Then I wake up so hungry! I thought if I had some nibbles, I  would get drowsy again.”

Runa  opened her silver locket and gazed at the tiny portraits of her mother  and grandmother. Mellypip waddled over to her and rested his head on her  arm. The firelight cast amber shadows on the tiny pictures of Runa’s  mother and grandmother. “They were so pretty. You look a lot like them  too, Runa, well except for the lack of pointy ears. Yllia and Rualla!  They had magnificent names too!”

“Magnificent  is quite a big word you’re fond of lately,” Runa observed with  suspicion, scratching Melly’s head. “What is going on?”

“Belwyn  gives me a new word every day for my vocabulary les­sons. Yesterday it  was ‘magnificent.’ I haven’t received a new one yet, so I am making good  use of it now. I never escape the schoolroom, even in the wilderness.”

Caliste stirred and stretched. “Runa, why are you up so early?”

“I’m sorry I woke you,” Runa apologized. “Go back to sleep.”

Caliste  draped her blanket around her shoulders and sat down next to Runa by  the fire. “You didn’t, really. The rocky ground is a misery. At least  we’re out of that damned desert. I’m still brushing sand out of my  hair.” Runa’s locket glowed in the light of the campfire. Caliste’s eyes  misted when she looked at the pictures, her voice wistful with memory.  “I remember when they had those por­traits painted as a special gift for  Cathal’s birthday. They wanted to include me, but I thought it would be  nice for Cathal to have a special portrait of just them.”

“Which birthday was it?” Runa asked with a grin.

“He  never confessed. You know, I was about your age when Cathal and Belwyn  told Rualla and me of their adventures during the Bloodstone Age. Cathal  was scarcely older than you are now,” Caliste whispered. “Cathal and  Yllia had some very exciting adventures. Belwyn is especially good at  relating their tales into thrilling stories.”

“We haven’t had much time for stories since my birthday,” Runa said.

Caliste brushed back a wisp of Runa’s short hair, and smiled, “We’ve been quite busy, haven’t we, sweetheart?”

Runa grinned. “Battling evil mages and scary wraiths is very time consuming.”

“Don’t forget Opaline turning the slimy mage Gorvanus into a troll,” Mellypip added.

“I wish I could have seen it,” Caliste said, grinning.

“It’s  a marvelous tale,” Mellypip agreed with a vigorous nod. “I’ll write it  all down when I can spell better. I wish we were home. The journey is  taking so long because we have to—” Mellypip paused, looked around then  whispered, “keep the nasty one chained up.”

Runa cuddled Mellypip in her arms. “I know it’s terrible having Koll here.”

“We’ll be rid of him soon,” Caliste assured him. “That’s why we came to Thill.”

Runa  glanced over her shoulder at the sleeping figures of Iona and Panthara.  “I still can’t accept Panthara is my half-sister. Yet, I cannot deny we  share the same blood though my father.”

Runa  leaned against Caliste’s shoulder. She gently stroked Runa’s short  hair. “I know it’s hard. I suspect Panthara received little love growing  up, judging by what we witnessed of her mad mother. Koll certainly  wasn’t a good influence. To her credit, Panthara chose to stop the  ritual.”

“At least Iona and Amun will look after her,” Runa said. “And her familiar, Azmadu, is still devoted to her.”

“That bond will never break,” Caliste affirmed.

On  silent wings, Belwyn landed next to the fire; irate, golden eyes  chastised Runa. “Humans must sleep, else they go mad, you know.”

“So do sarcastic owls,” Runa replied. “Can’t you rest either?”

“No—well,  at least I’m supposed to be nocturnal,” Belwyn replied. “Also, dragging  Koll across the continent is making me twitchy.”

“Koll makes everyone twitch,” Runa agreed.

Runa  looked at the end of the camp where Koll sat cross-legged in the  constrictive iron-barred cage. Hands and feet bound with chains to  prevent his escape through mortal means and a collar of sorcerer bane  locked around his neck to prohibit magical escape. She sensed Koll’s  stare as he sat stony-eyed.

Belwyn  looked at him suspiciously. “Koll hasn’t spoken since we captured him.  He just sits there and stares like the village idiot, except I know how  dangerous his mind is. He refuses food and drink yet hasn’t had the  courtesy to die from it. His slimy familiar, Xabral, is still free.  It  all reeks, I say. Just a question of time before Koll attempts something  vile. I feel it in my bones.”

Sanura, Caliste’s bronze-colored cat, lifted her head. “It’s not even sunrise, please keep it down to a purr,” she groused.

“Sorry, my sweet,” Caliste apologized.

“Why did Grandfather choose to take Koll to Thill? I thought we were supposed to deliver Koll to Tarsicius?” Runa asked.

Belwyn  shook his head. “Thill is closer for one, plus we have old friends  there. We lived here for a long time. It’s too dangerous with Koll in  tow to risk the long journey across the bloody continent. Koll has too  many dark allies who would attempt to free him. There’s strife in the  Ivory Kingdoms now that Levandius is in exile. I also detest the way  Tarsicius treated poor Opaline after she risked every­thing to save his  pompous life. The Emperor can go rot! Many nations have a bounty on  Koll, but Thill has a strong and legitimate claim. The evil bugger  slaughtered thousands in Thill with dark magic during the Sorcerer War.  Time to pay with his bloody wicked head, I say!”

Runa  clutched the locket in her hand. “Koll’s soul is black with the murder.  My father, mother, grandmother, and even Striker, my mother’s familiar,  are dead because of Koll. If Striker had not res­cued me, I would be  dead too. The seed of our all my family’s misery is Koll!”

A  grey and white owl flew down by Runa’s feet. The owl shim­mered into  Cathal, his flinty grey eyes stern. “Young lady, why aren’t you asleep?”

“Sorry Grandpa. What about you? Where did you go?”

“With  Koll in our midst, sleeping is a dangerous luxury. We have guests  coming to relieve that torment,” Cathal assured her. “King Caladynn of  Thill is meeting us here. I met him down the road. Caladynn is bringing  an escort of soldiers to welcome us—and take him into custody.”

“Can’t wait to unload the annoying dark mage?” Belwyn asked.

“You know me so well, Belwyn,” Cathal replied.

“They can take Koll with my blessings,” Belwyn said. “I’m sick of babysitting the evil one.”

“Perhaps we wake everyone up, so we can properly greet them,” Cathal suggested.

“Quite a magnificent occasion,” Mellypip agreed.

Cathal raised an eyebrow. “Vocabulary exercises again, Belwyn?”

Belwyn chuckled. “Sorry. I must confer to Furball the sin of repetition.”

Cathal grimaced. “Pick another word, Belwyn. He’s used magnifi­cent hundreds of times since yesterday. Even Dabiro’s belching was magnificent!”

Belwyn chuckled. “Well, the old badger is pretty vocal.”

“I heard that, you musty old feather duster!” Dabiro grunted as he waddled by.

“Your manners aren’t exactly resplendent, you mangy flea-ridden rodent!” Belwyn retorted.

Dabiro responded with a thunderous belch, and then resumed waddling to the shallow stream.

“Well isn’t that bloody charming!” Belwyn called after him.

News  of the king coming roused the camp. Broda and Talwyn brewed fresh  coffee. Runa longed for cream and sugar, but drank down the strong,  bitter coffee to combat her fatigue. Mellypip clung to Runa’s shoulder  to avoid getting trampled in the early morning hubbub as they crowded  around Broda and Talwyn for the precious coffee. Runa grabbed a bucket  in one hand and Mellypip in the other to walk to the stream to fetch  water.

“Fair morning, Runa,” Ryen said when she joined him at the water’s edge. “Girl, you look tired.”

“Morning,  Ryen. I think everyone’s spent,” Runa commented and filled a bucket  with fresh water. Mellypip jumped down and drank his fill.

“Runa! Runa!” Rono the gryphon cried out happily, bobbing back and forth.

“I have fresh water for you. Hungry?” Runa asked, smiling.

The  gentle black gryphon had been adopted by everyone. Runa was glad the  perytons helped look after the gryphon, who though loving, was often  confused.

“After breakfast, then we fly?” Rono asked with bright and eager eyes.

“Maybe  later,” Runa said with a laugh, rubbing his head. After feeding him,  they went back to the group, Mellypip following with a drippy muzzle and  soaked paws.

Everyone  was rushing to prepare for King Caladynn’s arrival, except Jiana. She  and her tiger hare, Jasper, refused to wake up and remained snuggled in  her sleeping bag until they smelled Hinkleburr toasting bread.

Only  Panthara was silent. Azmadu, her crill lizard familiar, whimpered for  her to play with him. She was a placid statue as Iona combed out her  beautiful black hair.

Overwhelmed by a surge of pity, Runa was tempted to go to Panthara; but the pain was still too tender yet. Runa turned away.

Then Jadon walked by with Darkleaf, his peryton. “Morning, Runa,” he said with a grin.

Runa smiled but lost the capacity to speak in his presence.

“Perhaps you need some vocabulary lessons,’ Mellypip sug­gested after Jadon had walked by.

Sirah  and her white wolf familiar, Arial, were warming them­selves by the  fire. Opaline yawned as she joined them and leaned against her mother  for support.

“Good morning, sleepyhead!” Sirah said with a laugh, putting her arm around Opaline.

“If  it’s morning, where’s the sun?” Opaline moaned, rubbing her eyes. “And  it’s so damn cold. I almost miss the desert, except for the sunburn.”

Myrsalian joined them, his elf owl, Felisia, perched on his shoulder, both looking tired.

“Morning.” Sirah nodded. “You two didn’t sleep well either?”

“No,” Felisia replied, sharp and cranky.

“I don’t think anyone has lately,” Myrsalian replied.

Broda  and Talwyn passed out cups of coffee to everyone. Opaline accepted hers  and sipped it, eyes half-closed. Liat and Dabiro took their turn to  watch Koll, relieving Darcus for some much-needed rest. Ulan handed  Darcus a tin cup of black coffee, which he downed in one gulp. Only Riva  and his sloth familiar, Buzzy, were calm, floating in the air for their  morning meditation.

Runa  accepted another cup and drank it, hoping it would revive her. Dawn’s  light brightened the sky, and the fresh feel of morning felt good on her  skin.

The  thunder of iron-shod hooves beating the earth proclaimed the coming of  the Thill King. Everyone’s attention was on the fifty green cloaked  warriors riding into their camp. The horse’s flared nostrils issued  steamy breath as they stomped the earth in triumph and circled them.  These warhorses were immense, indeed giants among the equine clans.

“I’ve never seen horses so big!” Mellypip gulped.

“The Thills are famous for their warhorses,” Runa whispered back. “Now I know why. Pictures in books do them no justice.”

The  massive warhorses were larger than the sleek steeds of Tarsicius’  stables in the west. Thill horses had powerful, thick bodies; silky hair  fringed the large hooves; long manes and tails trailed almost to the  ground. The horses pawed the earth with giant hooves and shook their  heavy manes with pride.

The  King of Thill urged his mount forward and dismounted. Dressed in the  royal red leather armor, tall and broad; his girth was more muscle than  fat. He removed his polished golden helmet to reveal a vital middle-aged  man; long earthy brown hair streamed down his back and his short beard  was flecked with gray. He was the essence of potent manhood. He needed  no crown. Each powerful stride proclaimed his kingship.

Cathal bowed. “Welcome, King Caladynn.”

Caladynn marched toward Cathal with open arms. “Cathal, you old mage, I’ve missed you! Welcome to Thill.”

“A magnificent king,” Mellypip commented.

“Find a new word, Melly,” Runa suggested in a pained voice.

“But I like magnificent!” Mellypip protested.

“Get over it,” Belwyn snapped.

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