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The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 7

Callindra struggled to control her breathing and focus but the pain of her injuries was bleeding through her initial anger.  This was one of the Taken.  But it was talking.

“Allow me to extend the courtesy that I did to those two you just slaughtered.”  It continued, giving the two corpses a cursory glance.  “Lure in more of the living and you shall be spared.  As you have deprived us of our current servants you must take their place.”

“You should have brought an army.”  Callindra said, tightening her grip on Shadowsliver until she could feel her knuckles creaking.  “I’ll never serve your kind.”

“A pity.”  It said in that same emotionless voice and pointed a finger at her.  Emerald flames shot from the finger and she only barely dodged to one side.  The bolt turned the iron bars of the cage she’d been in into powder.  She swung her chain at it but the Taken ducked her strike easily, moving with boneless grace.

Callindra used the moment it had taken to dodge to close with it, running forward and sliding under another blast of green fire that singed her skin with the heat of its passage.  Shadowsliver bit deeply into its leg as her slide brought her to within striking distance but to her horror his blade stuck fast.

“One of the others will agree.”  It said, “Your time is finished.”  The green light began to glow from its finger again but a heavy chain with manacles attached smashed into the arm and the shot flew wide.  A gangling man with a touch of grey in his dark hair picked up another set of chains and began to spin them in a whirling arc.

Ripping her blade free, Callindra swung with all her might and buried Shadowsliver’s forked tip into the thing’s skull.  It leered at her and reached a hand that burned with flickering green flames toward her, but her unknown comrade flung his second chain.  His throw wrapped around the Taken man’s arm and pulled it down with a snap of breaking bone.

With a burst of will, Callindra forced arcane power through her sword and a blast of air made the flames within rage uncontrollably.  Its head exploded into a thousand fragments.

“Thanks for the assist.”  She rasped, all the energy draining from her limbs.  “I am Callindra Sol’Estin.”

“Holt.”  The man said, giving her a professional nod.  “You’re really something with that sword.  Think you could cut these cuffs?”

Callindra took a deep breath before shaking her head.  “No.  I wouldn’t want to risk him when it’s not absolutely necessary.  There’s a perfectly good anvil and tools here.”

Between the two of them, it was a matter of a few minutes to gather a hammer and chisel and break the manacles off his wrists.  They then set about waking the other prisoners and repeating the process.  Callindra searched the chained people for her brothers, nearly sobbing in relief when she found them safe and relatively unharmed.

“We need to find where they stashed our gear.”  Cronos said, his voice tense.  “Without my blades and armor I won’t be much use out there.”

“Nonsense.”  Said Vilhylm, “You still have your magic.  But I agree we should find our things and depart this place as swiftly as possible.”

They spread out along with the other prisoners and found to their relief that everyone’s possessions had been taken to a common storage room and tossed inside ostensibly for sorting after they had been given to the Taken.  The dazed captives gathered their things and looked around blearily; many of them still fighting off the effects of the drugs.

Callindra explained about the Taken, how it had been talking and making deals with their former captors.  Her brothers listened with serious expressions on their faces as they girded themselves with armor and weapons again.

“What do we do now?”  One of the others asked giving Callindra a confused look.

“I’m not your mother.”  She said tersely, “We will be getting the hells out of this cursed place as fast as possible.  What you decide is your own business.  There isn’t anything left here to provide evidence to a Magistrate even if there was such a thing around still.”

“This was the only place that still seemed to be untouched by the Wasting.”  Holt said, pulling leather armor and a cloak of mottled browns and greens over his lanky frame.  He picked up an exquisitely crafted bow and a pair of quivers along with a travel stained leather pack.  “Now we can see why it was spared.”

“There are other places.”  Cronos said, “Not many, but there are places where mortal kind still stands fast against the Abyss.”

“Are you going to one such place?”  Holt asked, appearing to address Callindra instead of her brother. “If so, would you allow me to accompany you?”

“I owe you for distracting that Taken.”  Callindra said with a toss of her head.  Instead of getting her unevenly shorn hair out of her eyes, it instead fell further forward, obscuring half of her face and sticking out at awkward angles along the side of her head.  “If you’re as good with that bow as you are with a thrown set of manacles then you’d be useful to have along.”

Cronos goggled at her and Vilhylm eyed Holt with mild suspicion clouding his dark eyes.  Callindra didn’t seem to notice.

“Holt, these are my brothers Vilhylm and Cronos.  He threw a chain at the Taken who was coming for us.  If he hadn’t been there I doubt I would have been able to last more than another moment or two.  He thinks quickly on his feet and made good use of his surroundings.”  She extended a hand to Holt and he clasped her forearm with a warrior’s greeting.

“Thank you for your assistance Holt.”  Vilhylm said with a considering look.  Cronos grunted and adjusted the hilts of his weapons over his shoulders.

“We’re heading for Starvale.”  Cronos said, “It’s a long and dangerous trip and we aren’t exactly the most pleasant or merry company.

“I would join you as well.”  A strong baritone voice said.  They turned to see a man with a shock of greenish hair cut in a mohawk.  He had jutting tusks that suggested he had orcish blood in his heritage.  “The Goddess spoke to me of travelers headed to the Vale of Stars.  She told me their need would be dire.  That they had lost their way when one of their number fell to the darkness.”

The three turned to look at him in unison, their eyes blazing.

“Which goddess?”  Callindra asked, her voice all but breaking with hope.

“Who are you?”  Cronos demanded, reaching for the hilts of his blades.

“Do not speak of Tryst.”  Vilhylm said, his voice dark with rage they had rarely heard before.  “Not even in metaphor.  Not even indirectly.  Not ever.”

Gravelox and Gearslayer

I liked the names… so I re-used them for this character intro.  With the end of one Dungeons and Dragons campaign comes the start of another.  This should be an interesting one.

“Here’s the workshop.”  Lexai said smiling his usual smile as he opened a wide pair of doors to a large room with a mixture of modern and ancient equipment, shelving, cabinets and a ten foot tall statue of a suit of armor in the corner.  “Outfitted with standard blacksmithing tools, a forge and the newer alchemy supplies you requested as well as a bit of the modern magitech.”

Gravelox looked around and smiled.  This place would be perfect.  He could barely afford the monthly payments, it didn’t have any Passages in it to disrupt his work and the combination of the captive fire elemental for a forge and the alchemy tools were exactly what he was looking for.  There was even a small office space he could convert into a living space.

“Who owns it now?”  He asked his realtor, mentally going over his finances to make sure he had enough for a downpayment.

“I keep my clients confidential.”  Lexai said in a flat, businesslike tone.  His smile stayed fixed as though plastered on.  “That’s not a problem is it?”

“Of course not.”  Gravelox replied, too distracted by the workshop to think clearly.  “Just idle curiosity.  Now, about the terms you had mentioned?”

“The offer stands.  The owners are willing to sell it to you contract for deed.”  Lexai said, his smile ratcheting up a notch.  It was really almost mechanical.  “And at a low fixed interest rate of ten percent.”

Gravelox tried not to swallow his tongue.  “What?  You said it would be five percent!”

“Well, inflation and all that.”  Lexai waved a hand vaguely, “I have three other clients interested.  None of them need financing.”

Swiftly calculating in his head, Gravelox decided that as long as he met his projected sales potential he could make it work.  Barely.  Provided he didn’t run into any unexpected difficulties.  He shook the Kobold’s hand.  “Done.”

Something wasn’t right.  Gravelox had only been living here for a month and it seemed as though things kept going slightly wrong; just wrong enough that many of his creations failed.  He stared at the tiny bit of powder in frustration, watching as the reaction failed to produce the violent reaction intended and instead slowly smoldered and let off sullen red sparks.

It was time for drastic measures.  Opening the scroll case at his waist he withdrew one of the few remaining scrolls within and incanted the spell on the thick vellum.  His eyes glowed violet and he looked about the room, searching for magical anomalies.

At first glance, nothing was wrong.  Of course his forge had a hazy outline showing that it had runes that contained and compelled the elemental within with conjuration, evocation and enchantment.  There were protections on the walls that kept outsiders safe should any untoward alchemical event occur with abjuration magic.  The chamber even had some transmutation magics built into the walls that deadened sounds and helped control the temperature.

A more careful scan showed that the rusting metal statue that served as one of the support pillars radiated subtle power.  To his surprise, both of the statue’s hands radiated a hint of conjuration, but the rest of it seemed almost to be a dead zone.  It almost appeared to be absorbing ambient weave and redirecting it for some unknown purpose.  He also noted that there was a small bit of the statue in the direct center that seemed to be damaged now that he was inspecting it closely.

Removing an old friend from his equipment case, he leveled a wand of mechanical repair at the imperfection and activated it.  The statue twitched, sagged and fell over with a resounding crash.  Gravelox watched in horror as the wall it had been supporting collapsed.  When the roof truss smashed into him he was too surprised to shout.  All he could think of was that if he couldn’t make the payments he was dead.

Something was very wrong.  Gearslayer’s systems were gradually activating, one after another.  The first were the large muscle groups; the cables and cantilevers flexing and going through their startup tests.  A blockage of its shoulder joints impeded mobility so it first tried to lift, then allowed its knees to bend and slump.  Rust made it impossible for Gearslayer to fully articulate its knee joints, and it lost its balance and fell.

Many other things fell as well, and when Gearslayer’s ocular inputs came back online it found itself to be prone in a pile of rubble.  A shriek of protesting joints and pulleys that were long overdue for oiling accompanied its movements as it sat up, easily moving large wooden beams aside.  A fire seemed to be starting and there were multiple code, health and safety violations in effect.

More urgently, there seemed to be a Citizen bleeding and unconscious beneath a section of roofing.  Protocol suggested rescuing the citizen had priority.  Ignoring the warnings about joint malfunction and improperly lubricated equipment, Gearslayer bent and tried to move the section of roof.  When it refused to budge, it extended a hand and a pure white glittering scythe appeared in its hand.

With a perfectly calculated slices, Gearslayer chopped the sections of rubble that pinned the Citizen to the ground.  Dragging the boards off the Citizen, it lifted him to safety.

“Citizen.”  Gearslayer said, as its vocal systems finally coming back online.  “Your building is the subject of several health and safety violations.  I also believe it to be on fire.  My channels of communication with local authorities seem to be very outdated.  Do you have the ability to contact them?”

The Citizen did not respond.  Gearslayer attempted to recall how to check for vital signs but found that program to be corrupt.  It attempted to recall how to restore consciousness but found that program had been removed at the request of one Officer Durand.

A passerby was goggling at the destruction and Gearslayer approached her.  “Attention Citizen.  I require assistance contacting the local constabulary.  It would appear that this building has been destroyed and is in danger of setting fire to the surrounding neighborhood.  Can you assist?”

The Citizen burst out laughing, “You some freak baby, I ain’t no firefighter.  Ain’t no damn cops out here honey.”  She walked off, still chuckling.  “Crazy ass machine, don’t know where he be.”

Coughing behind it made Gearslayer turn back to the Citizen it had rescued from the building.  “You destroyed my shop.”  The Citizen gasped.

Gearslayer paused to consider this statement.  “I do not recall doing so Citizen.”

“What is your name, designation and what year is your commission?”  The Citizen asked, coughing and spitting blood out of his mouth.

Gearslayer paused again, sorting through its protocols.  “My name is Gearslayer, I am designated a Defending Bailiff and sentence executor. I am unsure as to the year of my commission Citizen.  It appears that some of my records are damaged, or possibly modified.”

“Your worthless carcass was holding up one of the walls of my shop.”  The Citizen said, “My name is Gravelox.  Your lawless destruction of my property puts you legally in my debt.”

Gearslayer considered this statement.  Likely he did indeed at least partially owe this Citizen something in return for what had happened; even if it wasn’t intentional.  “What is the amount needed to cover the damage done Citizen Gravelox?  I do not seem to have mention of funds in my name in any of my databanks.”

“Eighty thousand gold.”  Gravelox said, “And that’s just for the building, not counting all the equipment and materials lost.”

“That is a substantial sum Citizen Gravelox.”  Gearslayer said, “I fear it will take some time to assess my capability to assist in the reconstruction.”

“Time is something I don’t have.”  Gravelox said, running his hands through his hair.  “We’d better get the hell out of here.”

“Why would we leave Citizen?”  Gearslayer asked, “Should we not attempt to salvage-“ He was cut off by a small explosion from the ruins of the building.

“There’s dangerous stuff in there.  We need to run – ah – to get the proper authorities.”  Gravelox said.

“That is a valid point Citizen.”  Gearslayer said, “Lead on to the nearest constabulary.  I believe it is six blocks west and fourteen blocks east.”

“Sure.”  Gravelox said, “Come on.”

Lexai frowned, looking about at the destruction.  He’d been counting on the gunsmith to make him some real coin.  Now he was out the lucrative trade of firearms dealing to the less savory elements of this particular quarter as well as being out a building, the mortgage payment and even worse, his Minder wouldn’t be happy about losing the interest on the loan, the regular payments or the property.

“By the Portals what went on here?”  He wondered aloud.  Gesturing to his followers, he looked around the streets.  “Find out what happened.  Bring me witnesses.  Bring them alive, or at least capable of being brought back for questioning.”

The Shadows glided into deeper darkness, the winged folk took to the sky, the other assorted toughs and monsters trudged off into the maze of streets.  When he found Gravelox, there would be a reckoning.

One of the Shadows returned almost immediately, depositing a sealed envelope at Lexai’s feet.  Inside, he found a note from his missing gunsmith.

‘Lexai, please excuse my absence.  I know you will be displeased by the events that have unfolded, however I do plan on paying you back in full.  With proper interest.  It will merely take me more time.  I apologize for the inconvenience.  You have my word that I will compensate you in full once I am able.  Payments will be forwarded regularly.”

“I’ll have his skin for scroll vellum if he so much as misses a single payment.”  Lexai hissed, and the note immolated in his hand.  “If the Minders believe me to be getting soft, they will end my contract.”  He shuddred, ending a contract with his Minders wasn’t fatal.  But he would likely wish it was.

 

Shirasiau Sai’Li: Epilogue

It’s the end of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign… and I had some loose ends to wrap up.  Hope you enjoy!

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Shirasiau Sai’Li sat on the tall chair that was the seat of power of the Jade Merchant.  It was her chair now, by right of combat.  There were some that had said as it was not by right of single combat it was invalid, but they did not speak very loudly after the first to question her position had vanished without a trace.

Of course, the transition of the title of Jade Merchant was publicly acknowledged in a far different manner.  It was the end of a week of celebrations, feasting, dancing and displays of acrobatics of all kinds, barring combat.  As the new Jade Merchant demanded; the martial arts were not to be shown.  To be completely accurate, she had mentioned that displays of grace and beauty were pleasing to her eye.  As she had never been seen to hold anything more substantial than a silken fan or paper parasol, the planners of the event had reacted accordingly.

She had to admit, the performances were quite pleasing and the dancers lovely.  Three in particular had caught her eye and one of them slept exhausted in her chambers.  The other two were kneeling close by, one holding tea, the other her kiseru and tobacco.

Sai’Li put out her left hand and the attendant placed the elegantly carved jade and silver pipe into it.  When she put it between her delicately tinted lips the same attendant held a coal over the bowl, allowing her to draw the scented smoke into her lungs.  Leaning back, she allowed smoke to trickle out her nostrils as she surveyed the room through lidded eyes.

The seventeen women kneeling before her sat motionless, waiting for her to speak.  She dropped the pipe and her attendant plucked it from the air without hesitation.  After taking a sip of her tea, the most powerful woman in Chen Yun snapped her fan in front of her face and leaned forward slightly.

“My dears.”  Her voice was resonant and pitched perfectly to carry but still sounded like a caress. “We are now at the dawning of a new era for the House of the Jade Merchant and for the Shirasiau family.”  At her words, the curtains parted, and the sun shone into the room, bright and cheerful.

Screams erupted from four of the women and they began to writhe as smoke burst from their skin.  They sprang to their feet, trying to escape from the punishing light, but Sai’Li vanished from her seat, stepping from the shadow of the nearest.  Black metal spiders the size of house cats were streaming from her sleeves as she slashed a fan with razor edges across the throat of her first victim.

“We shall not be tolerating the infiltration of the full breeds.  Only a select few of the males will be retained for the purpose of maintaining our strength of numbers.”  The spiders swarmed over the dying vampires as she spoke, holding them in the sunlight until they were burned to ashes.

Sai’Li sighed as the metal arachnids climbed back up her flawless obi and into her sleeves.  “I really do abhor having to resort to violence my dears.  It is a crude, crass way of dealing with problems and death truly is bad for business.  I have plans lovelies.  Won’t you join me for a nice cup of tea?”

The remaining thirteen women looked up.  They hadn’t moved from their positions as the others had died horribly around them.  Sai’Li flicked the blood off her fan before snapping it open before her face to hide her smile.  These women would be the future of the clan.  They had the discipline, the skill and the drive to perform.  Now if they only had the fortitude to survive bearing the next generation.

She needed daughters raised to respect the old ways.  Cunning but worthy of trust, ambitious but respectful, deadly but wise.  Her policy would be to reward rather than punish.  To encourage and nurture, to take the ideas she had learned during her time trading amongst the mortals and use them to create a family that would truly be legendary.

With a swarm of spiders still swarming behind her like a train, Sai’Li strode into the most important room in her house.  The battleground where she had fought and won most of the battles of her life.  In the tea room, she would court the mothers of her daughters.  She would earn their loyalty.

“Great Mistress.”  Keiko was bowing low, her white hair perfectly coiffed in the latest fashion.  The gray, blue and seafoam green of her kimono had koi swimming over the sleeves and across the back.

“Please Keiko.”  Sai’Li said, rising and taking her longtime partner by the hands.  “I have asked you only to address me formally when we are not alone.”

“Mistress of the Jade Chair, Brightly Blooming One, Flower That Opens in the Moonlight, One Who Stands in Daylight; emissaries from The Necropolis are requesting an audience.”  Keiko was still bowed low, “They are waiting in the antechamber.  I apologize Terrible Star, Princess of Spiders, Hand of Shadow Threads.  I do not yet know how they managed to enter unnoticed.”

“Find out.”  Sai’Li said, straightening her Obi and changing it to a formal affair of beautiful rippling metallic colors with a ripple of magic.  “Send them in.  Bring tea in ten minutes.”  She smiled behind her fan, “The black, flavored with jasmine and saffron.”

Keiko backed out of the circle of obsidian stones that surrounded the dais before straightening and turning to go.  In a few moments three figures dressed in folds of shadow and funerary wrappings entered.  They did not walk, but merely moved along the floor in utter silence.  Sai’Li stood gracefully and returned their slight bows with an inclination of her head.

“I extend greetings honored guests.”  She said, her voice warm as the sunlight that shone in through the high windows on both sides of the room.  “If I had but known of your visit I would have prepared for it.”

“We know.”  The foremost said, very obviously not flinching from the sunlight in a way that said clearly it wished to.  “This is why we have come unannounced.  It has come to our attention that you have been breeding.  We take exception to this.”

“The half dead are but a byproduct.  We do not appreciate your presumptions of superiority.”  The second rasped.

“Your beast has hunted an ancient bloodline nearly to extinction.”  The third whispered, its voice dry as ancient parchment.”

“Nearly to extinction?”  Sai’Li asked, arching a perfect eyebrow.  “I cannot imagine that my dearest Tiger missed any of my father’s spawn?”  She spat the word without honorific.

“You are the last.”  The foremost said.  “Centuries of knowledge and research has been lost and you are merely a half dead.”

“I assure you dear guests, I am not merely an anything.”  Sai’Li said, snapping her fan open to hide her annoyed expression.  “You stand in my chamber.  I require civility lest I become displeased.”

The door opened behind her and the aroma of jasmine blossoms and saffron stamen filled the room.  It was the scent of spring, of life and it cleansed the graveyard scent of her visitors from her nostrils.  Keiko carried a tray with delicate porcelain cups and a centuries old teapot that had belonged to her mother.

Chisara Yi’Tan was the first Empress of Chen’Yun.  Her reign had been a brief one; overthrown by one who had been stricken from the records; every evidence of her burned and all her descendants killed to the last.  Still, Yi’Tan had not been a virgin when she took the throne although her daughter was unknown to all save one.  Sai’Li had devoured the knowledge her father’s extensive diaries had held of her Honored Mother.

The three turned to glare at Keiko and in that moment Sai’Li extended a hand.  Black metal spiders flowed from her sleeves and the hem of her Obi and skittered into the center of the group.  Each one held a tiny sliver of brilliant glimmering light in their mandibles.  Sourcing Sunstones had been rather difficult, but they were most handy tools and her connections with prominent worshipers of Pelor ensured these were legitimate.

“Won’t you join me for some tea?”  She asked sweetly, descending the stairs to her dais with deliberate steps.  “Perhaps we might discuss this in a properly civilized manner.”  Unperturbed by the displays of hostility, rage and fear by the visitors, Keiko unfolded a lacquered table and began pouring the tea.

“Why are there so many cups?  Is your servant joining us?”  One of the emissaries spat, narrowing its eyes against the gleaming beams of bright light.

“No.”  A deeply resonant voice said in Draconic.  “You are not the only undead with an interest here.  I greatly appreciate the gesture dear Keiko.  My sincerest apologies for interrupting you Daughter of the Lost.”

“Coalbraizer, you honor my humble house with your presence.”  Sai’Li said, bowing as a form of swirling smoke stepped into the room, flickers that suggested a skeleton of a dragon that would fill half the room seeming to appear at the edges before vanishing and coalescing into an ethereally featured man dressed in a copper colored Obi.

“You three are not worthy of drinking this tea.”  Another voice, flat as the sound of a coffin nail being driven home.  A woman who would be quite stunning if she had not been so obviously deceased stepped from the shadows thrown by the glimmering Sunstones and they all dimmed to mere moonlight.

“Stileen!”  Sai’Li was barely able to keep the pleasure from tinging her voice, grateful for the fan to cover her smile.  “It is so good to see you again.”  A mental nudge brought her spiders back to their mistress.  She did not want to anger these last two; she knew and respected them.

“You three claim to represent the Necropolis.”  Stileen said, not yet acknowledging Sai’Li.  “Perhaps the three of you could explain which faction?”  Her voice was flat and dangerous.

“We represent the Black Quarter of the city of Argus.”  One of the three said.

“Quiet fool!”  The foremost said, “This is the Lady of Coastwood Mausoleum.”

“Coastwood?  That tiny seaside berg?”  The other replied with disdain in its voice.

“Coastwood is the gateway to the Bay of Souls.”  The foremost hissed, swinging its fist in a vicious arc that sent the other sprawling to the perfectly polished marble floor.  “My apologies Lady Stileen.  That one is less educated than it should be.”

“Please take tea with me and we can discuss any and all issues that Argus may have with me and my Family.”  Sai’Li said, gesturing to Keiko with the tip of the little finger on her left hand.  Keiko retreated to kneel on the floor, awaiting her mistress’s summons.

“It is only proper for us to be introduced formally beforehand.”  She said, giving the bow to visiting dignitaries within a hair’s breadth of the proper level.  “I am Shirasiau Sai’Li, known as The Jade Merchant.”

“I am Revnar, I hold the title of Justicar of Argus Below.”  The foremost, “It is the use of the half dead and their elevation to equal status that is at issue here.”

They sat, ignoring the still twitching form of the third emissary and tactfully not noticing that the second emissary remained standing behind Revnar.  Sai’Li folded herself gracefully to her knees, noting in satisfaction that the others couldn’t match her grace, although Stileen was close.

After they had all taken their first sip of tea, Sai’Li delicately wiped her upper lip and fixed Revnar with a significant look over the edge of her fan.  “Honored Justicar of Argus Below, is the issue at hand that you believe the half dead are undeserving of equal status?”

“Of course.”  He said immediately, not appearing to notice.  “Although technically immortal, they are inferior in every other aspect.”

“Do you believe that I am inferior?”  She asked, her voice not betraying one single iota of anger or discomfort.

“Ah, of course it was not my intention to give insult.”  He said, finally noticing that her cheeks had become slightly more sunken and her eyes had begun to fill with black.

“Nonetheless you have offered insult to me and my daughters beneath my own roof.”  She said quietly.  “You may have your choice of opponents and your choice of champion if you do not wish to fight yourself.  But there will be a duel to satisfy honor.”

She continued sipping her tea in contentment, watching the expression on the faces of the others at the table.  Those too ancient and set in their ways were far too simple to manipulate in such situations.  Now he had to fight and choose the opponent who would be considered to be the strongest or else be deemed weak.  It was almost too easy.

“Of course I will satisfy the needs of honor.”  Revnar said stiffly, “I will face any opponent of your choosing at a time and place of your choosing.”

“You shall face me.”  She said, standing with perfect grace.  “Now.  Here.”

No fool, he attacked without warning but there were suddenly five of her seeming to flicker in and out of existence and his deadly bolt of black energy passed harmlessly through one of them.  It blew him a kiss and vanished.  One of the figures behind him struck with a razor-edged fan and decades old blood splattered to the floor.

“You should not be able to cut me.”  He hissed in anger, striking out with a dagger made of the tooth of some long forgotten animal.  The blow struck another image and it flickered out of existence.

“Perhaps you should have brought your scythe if you came to give insult to ME or MINE!”  Sai’Li said, anger bleeding through her normally calm mask.  “If we were not at least equal to those of you trapped in the shadow we would have long since ceased to exist.  After all it is YOUR kind who create us and it seems as though it is YOUR minds that are susceptible to the madness of the world blending.”

She feinted left and cut horizontally across his face, following up with a downward slash that left a ragged tear that cut his chest to the bone from collar bone to bottom rib.

Revnar had been waiting for her next attack so he could identify which of her shadows was real.   With a snarl of triumph, he put a hand on her arm and threads of black shadows ran from his fingers to flow up and toward her face.

“Die half dead scum!” He shouted in triumph as his attack struck, filling Sai’Li’s eyes, nose and mouth.

Her body convulsed with a spasm of pain at the invading power but she didn’t fight it.  Revnar’s eyes widened as a delicate hand tightened on his wrist and the flow of his power increased.  He realized with shock that his opponent was intentionally draining him.

“What are you doing?”  Revnar screamed as he could feel his limbs weakening.  Sai’Li seemed to be taking one long, deep breath and her diminutive hand held his arm with bone crushing force.

Sai’Li tossed the withered corpse aside with contempt.  Flickers of darkness still hovered about her, looking more like black forks of lightning than shadows.  She licked her lips and turned to fix black eyes on the last remaining being from Argus.

“Are there any other opinions about whether I am your equal?”  She put just enough hunger and anticipation into her voice and saw a quiver of fear travel through its body.  A flick of her wrist closed her fan and cleared the ichor from it.  “Return and tell your Masters that I am not to be trifled with.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 6

Callindra burst out laughing and she reached into a belt pouch, placing a sapphire the size of her thumbnail on the bar.  “Drinks are on me.”  She declared with a smile and the bar erupted into cheers.  The barkeep’s eyes bulged at the sight of the gemstone and he began pouring drinks for the rowdy crowd who began swarming the bar.

The bar crowd began to get louder and more raucous, but a troupe of musicians began playing and the groups of patrons split up to their own tables, laughing and singing along to their favorite verses.  The night wore on and Holt found himself at the bar next to the trio.  The girl was well in her cups and seemed to be attempting to tell a story that involved a daring rescue of a group of villagers from a cave of goblins led by a group of nefarious humans.  He couldn’t be sure if she was one of the villagers or one of the rescuers or if it was just a tale she’d heard.

Glancing around, Holt saw that half the patrons were asleep on their tables.  Everyone hadn’t drunk that much.  He hadn’t drunk enough for his head to be this fuzzy either.  The last thing he thought before he lost consciousness was how stupid he had been for dropping his guard because of a pair of pretty eyes.

Callindra awoke with a blinding headache to the sound of shouting voices.  It took her a moment to realize that the voices weren’t shouting at all, but were talking in a normal tone; it was only that her headache was causing the perceived increase in volume.

“I’m telling you Shen, we can’t break the god rotting thing.”  Said a low rumbling voice she vaguely recognized.  “It shattered my axe and broke that chisel and the hammer besides.  I tried cutting the chain with the blade and it shocked me.  Near as burned my hand to the bone.”

“Well we can’t very well send her off with a weapon, now can we?”  This one was higher.  Callindra knew this one; it was the bartender from last night.  “Either we kill her and miss out on a hefty payday or we figure this out.  We can’t shelter anyone, if we do they void the contact.”

She pried her eyes open and turned her head to look in the direction of the voices.  Her sword’s chain was pulled tight against her wrist and led out through the bars of a cell to a crude smithy setup.  Hundreds of iron manacles hung on the walls and dozens of folk she vaguely remembered from the bar the night before were slumped against the wall.  With rising horror, Callindra could see their hands had been shackled together, pins forged into the manacles.

Adrenaline surged through her and she pulled on the chain with all her strength.  Shadowsliver leaped off the anvil, sliced deeply into Torver’s arm and spun through the air towards the cell.  Torver screamed in pain and Shen dove to one side to avoid the razor-sharp blade as it spun past his face.  The sword cut halfway through one of the thick iron bars of her cell and stood there quivering.

Callindra struggled to her feet and pulled her sword free.  “You should have killed me.  When you had the chance.”  She panted, “Because now it’s too late.”  With a two-handed swing, Shadowsliver hacked completely through the tops of three of the bars.  Her backswing took cleaved through the bottoms of those same bars and they clattered to the stone floor at the same time as Shen pointed a hand at her.

Five bolts of sickly green light lanced out from his fingers and burned into her body, but Callindra stepped through the bars and deliberately stalked toward him with death in her eyes through the smoke of burning clothes and smoking flesh.  Torver threw a heavy forge hammer and her sword blurred, cutting it out of the air.

“Time to pay my bar tab.”  She snarled and spun her sword in a fast arc by the chain before letting go and sending him arrowing across the room and through Shen’s torso.  A crackle of electricity leaped down the chain and blasted him across the room to land with his arm in the forge fire.

Torver stepped on the chain and reached for it, but Callindra sprinted around him with the speed of a gale, whipping the chain around his injured arm and pulling hard.  The big man grunted in pain but took hold of the chain with his other hand and began to reel her in.

Callindra laughed and sent another jolt of electricity through the chain he held so tightly.  The magic she wielded charred his hand to the bone.  His body twisted in agony and the chain burned into his arm with a sickening sizzling sound.  Torver fell to the stone floor twitching and jerking in his death throes.

With a practiced tug on the chain, Callindra shattered the charred bones of her foe’s arm and brought Shadowsliver back to her waiting hand.  The initial adrenaline rush was wearing off and she was beginning to feel the effects of her night of drinking along with whatever drug they had used to sedate her.  The door on the other side of the room opened and a man with burning green eyes strode into the room.

“Ah.  It appears we have a lively one.”  He said in a dead voice, his lips hardly moving.  “How interesting.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 5

A man of indeterminate middle years walked into the crowded common room of the Fox and Pullet.  Straightening his hat, he hung his cloak and bow on the hooks inside the door reserved for weapons.  The inn was tucked away in a small valley that seemed to be prospering despite the area that surrounded it being desolated by the fires and plagues that had affected so much of the world.

Just as the door closed behind him, Holt was startled as it was slammed open once again.  A travel worn trio entered, cloaks pulled tight against the rising wind.  The first was a slight figure with a long sword hilt protruding above her left shoulder.  She was closely followed by a young man in chainmaile armor with twin swords strapped to his back and a tall figure in a swirling dark cloak.

“Gods and Demons you’d better have something to drink in this place!”  The leader said, “I’m so dry I’d drink purple hippogriff!”

The hunter’s eyes widened as he took in her appearance.  The skin of her arms had a latticework of healed scars; most of them faded until they were barely visible lines.  The two and a half hand hilt of the sword was far too large to fit the size of the slender four foot long blade.  A delicate looking silver chain ran from the faceted pommel of the sword to a gleaming bracelet on her right wrist.

It was her eyes that caught and held him though.  Tempestuous seafoam green with a glitter of mischief and humor, although there were grief lines around them.  Far too many lines for one as young as she seemed to be.  The world wasn’t as kind as it had been when Holt was her age he supposed.

The innkeeper waved at the large man leaning casually against the wall and he stepped forward.  “Have to leave your weapons at the door.”  Torver said in his mild baritone, “Inn policy.  Makes for much more polite company.”

“As much as I would love to comply, as you can clearly see that isn’t an option for me.”  The girl said with a smile, lifting her right hand and shaking it.  The chain tinkled merrily.  “We are a little attached to one another.”

“I can fix that easily enough.”  Torver said, patting his wide bladed axe with a smile, “If you’d like me to I could take care of that problem for you.”

“Oh really?”  Her eyes glittered with amusement and a tinge of malice.  “A big strong man like you would help out a poor weak girl like myself?”

“I don’t wanna be responsible for damaging your weapon little one.”  He said, narrowing his eyes.  “I’ve seen this game before.”

“Let everyone witness!  If this gargantuan lump of muscles damages my Shadowsliver’s chain I will not hold him accountable for damages any more than he would hold me accountable if it was his axe instead that was broken.”  The girl said, her poorly cut reddish brown hair bristling like an angry cat’s as she addressed the bar.  The patrons were all paying attention; this was the first bit of sport they’d had in days.

Torver laughed, a booming roar of amusement.  “Done, and if I can’t cut the chain, I guess we have no choice but to allow you entry.”

The girl didn’t draw her sword, but instead laid her wrist on the bench, a heavy thing made of an oak log split lengthwise.  Torver’s laugh died and his mouth stayed open in astonishment.  “You’re not gonna put the blade down there?  What if I miss?”

“You think I’m going to risk damaging the wire wrap on the hilt?  You think I’m putting HIM in danger because of YOUR stupid rules?”  Her voice was genuinely indignant, “Or is it your own skill you doubt?”

“Callindra.”  The figure in the black cloak said in a low bass voice, “Keep a leash on your temper.  The man is just doing his job.”

“Or maybe it’s your skill with that ungainly monstrosity you doubt?”  Callindra continued, still glaring at Torver.

With a speed belied by his huge frame, Torver swung his axe in a whistling arc.  It slammed into the chain with a musical tinkling sound and tiny pieces of metal flew about the room, bouncing off walls and clattering against tankards.  Most of the people in the room burst out laughing and went back to their drinks.

“I hope that chain wasn’t important.”  The bouncer said with a sympathetic look and wrenched his axe out of the bench.  Half of the blade stayed embedded in the oak, a neat crack running from where it split over the tiny chain.  The room went from raucous laughter to stunned silence.

Callindra pulled the chain free from the crack in the wood and winced.  “Sorry.  I probably shouldn’t have goaded you into that.  I get unreasonable when I don’t have a bath or a drink for a week.”

Torver just stared at his broken weapon in disbelief.  “Gods and demons.  Who in the nine hells are you?”

“Thirsty.  We’re thirsty.”  Callindra said firmly, and moved past him towards the bar.  “Barkeep, if it makes you feel better you can keep him behind the bar.  But don’t you dare try and touch him.”  She withdrew the sword from where it was thrust beneath her armor with a practiced motion and wiped off the black steel with a practiced motion before setting the weapon carefully behind the bar with a rattle of chain.

“Wouldn’t dream of it.”  The barkeep said faintly, placing a tankard, a bottle of wine and a jug of spirits on the bar.  “I didn’t know what your preference was Mistress.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 4

“Good alewife do be bringing Felix a tankard.”  Durrak said, “It do be many a moon since I have shared a cup with another Dwarf.”

Felix slapped him on the back hard enough to nearly knock him from his seat. “That is indeed most kind Durrak Caverstorm.  Perhaps I can offer something in return?”

“May I be imposing on you for one of those cigars?”  Durrak asked, “They do be smelling of home.”

“That may be inadvisable my friend.”  Said Felix, but he produced one anyway and handed it over.  “They don’t often seem to be the same.”

Durrak took the cigar and smelled it.  The scent was of brimstone and iron.  The smell of the Adamantine Forge itself, the tip was glowing sullenly, already lit.  “This do smell even more of home.”  He said, drawing on it to light it properly.  It took a bit of puffing but when the cigar lit, the smoke was an acrid yellow and diffused very quickly.  Angry red sparks shot out and split as very high quality steel would.

“You are a smith.”  Felix said; a statement not a question.  “You are from Farenholm itself.  I know that accent and the smoke does not often lead me astray.”

The alewife brought a pair of foaming tankards and set them before the pair with a smile.  “Roast is near done.  Would your friend like a meal as well?”

“My dear, I would be forever grateful for a meal.”  Felix said.

“I do be accounting for his meal also.”  Durrak said at the same time, putting another handful of gold on the bar and waving away Felix’s protest.  “It do be a pleasure to share the company of a kinsman.  I do be insisting Felix.”

The cigar, for all its strange scent and odd behavior, brought a tingle to Durrak’s tongue and a pleasant thrill to his senses.  The smoke was harsh, but he found it was much like working at the forge, something he had always enjoyed.

“I take such kindness to heart and insist on returning it in kind.”  Felix said gravely, “What would you have me trade?”

“The cigar and the companionship do be more than sufficient.”  Durrak said.  “Did you be knowing Farenholm?  Did you be walking the ancient halls of my ancestors?  Do you be knowing of Cerioth the Black, Bane of Ignitium?”

“Certainly I once walked the halls of Farenholm.”  Felix said with a wistful smile, “Her tall arches and endless caverns are a bright spot in my long memories.  The splendor and grandeur of the King’s front hall has stayed in my mind as one of the triumphs of mortal engineering and craftsmanship.

“As for your other question; I heard a report that she was seen near Hellgate keep.” Felix said, “But I didn’t see that myself so I can’t speak for the accuracy of that particular rumor.  Have a care speaking that name aloud my friend.  Ill luck comes to those who invoke the names of those fell things who have made compacts with dark forces for power.”

“When?”  Durrak asked, his voice sounding harsher than it had before.

“I heard the rumor a month ago.”  Said Felix, “The man I spoke to said he’d seen the dragon fly out of a swirling cloud of black smoke that rained emerald green rain down on the ground.  He didn’t stay to watch, even abandoned his herd and ran until his horse was blown.  I don’t know more than that.”

“I do be going there.”  Durrak said flatly, “If I no did need to resupply I no would delay one moment.”

“Now I see the resemblance.”  Felix said, “You father-“

“Did be a fool.”  Durrak interrupted.  “He did embark on a mission knowing it did be the undoing of my people.”

“Perhaps.  However, I seem to remember the Moragainnag stating that the doom would be worse if he did not set forth.”  Felix said, pausing to take another lit cigar from his pouch and flick the stub of his first into the fire.  “I was there when the doom of Farenholm was pronounced.  Unlike most of your folk I had the wisdom to leave.  If I’d thought for a moment they’d disregard her words I’d have tried harder to convince them.  I am sorry.”

The pewter mug in Durrak’s hand shrieked in protest as his hand tightened on it, mashing the thick metal into an hourglass shape.  The dwarf blinked in surprise and unclenched his fist.  “I do be sorry Alewife, I do be paying for the damage.”

She swiftly replaced the mug with a fresh one full of ale.  “Not to worry master Dwarf.”  She said, looking at the mug with wide eyes.  “These things happen ye ken?”

“I do be insisting.”  Durrak placed a platinum piece in her free hand.  “I no do wish to be an unwelcome guest.  I did simply lose control, it no do be anything.  Please do be thinking nothing of it.”

She took his gold without further comment and retreated behind the bar, setting the mug carefully on a shelf behind the bar.  Filling a fresh tankard with beer, she returned and set it in front of him without meeting his eyes and left without speaking.

“I do be spreading fear.”  Durrak said sadly, “I no do wish to be a harbinger of fear and despair.”

“None of us do.”  Felix said, “Doesn’t change that what we know changes how we influence the world.”

Durrak drained his tankard in a single long pull.  “Aye.  Our desires no do mean a bedamned thing.”

Felix put his hand on Durrak’s shoulder and squeezed.  “That tale requires something in return.”  He said solemnly and placed the cigar pouch on the counter.  “The wizard who traded this to me warned me not to keep it too long.  I find the results got more interesting when I began adding other things to it.”

Durrak made as if to protest, but Felix smiled broadly.  “Keep it my friend.  Keep it and remember this day as I fear pleasant memories will be few and far between in days to come.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 3

Durrak Caverstorm; Battlemaster of the Drakanda style and sole survivor of Farenholm trudged down the road at a mile eating pace.  It didn’t look like he was moving very quickly, but his short legs moved steadily, not slowing when going up a steep incline or indeed at all until the sun reached its zenith.  He might not have stopped even then, but a roadside inn and rest hove into view and he decided it was worth a look.

The prodigious bag of provisions he had been carrying had shrunk drastically over the last few weeks and if these folk had anything to spare he would buy it and damn the cost.  Shifting the straps of his pack he transferred his Gisarme to slant across his right shoulder as he approached The Ox and Cart.  Smelling the scent of cooking meat made his mouth water as he rapped smartly on the door with the butt of his polearm.

It had been a year since he’d won his title and the world had changed substantially during that time.  Folk were less trusting and he had discovered seeing an obviously capable traveler who was alone sometimes made them more nervous so it paid to be up front.

“Hello the Inn!”  He said in a voice that would carry but hopefully not inspire fear.

“Who’s that then?”  A woman said from within, “No need to rattle the door off the hinges; come on in if you can pay and bugger off it you can’t!”

This was a pleasant surprise; many of the people he’d found didn’t take coin anymore.  “I do be able to pay alewife; what do that delicious scent be?”  He pushed the door open and strode inside; his Dwarven eyes piercing the slight gloom with ease.

The room was set in a familiar pattern low tables with benches instead of chairs and a small bar at one end next to a hearth where a haunch of meat was turning on a spit.  The woman who regarded him with a jaded eye as he entered was shockingly young; perhaps fifteen summers, although she took in his appearance with ease that suggested she had grown up in a tavern.

“Let’s see the coin and you can have what you want.”  She said, touching a crossbow that was cocked and loaded sitting over the taps.  “We don’t have prejudice against Dwarves or adventurers as long as your coin is good.”

Durrak grinned, setting his pack and polearm down on a rack by the doorway before walking up to the bar and plunking down a half dozen gold.  “Lady, please do be letting me know when this runs out.  I do be famished and parched from many long days on the road.”

She brightened a bit at the sight of the gold and even further when she scratched them with a wicked looking belt knife and revealed them to be pure.  Pulling him a large wooden tankard of frothy ale, she set it down on the bar.  “This will help with the thirst master Dwarf.  That roast won’t be done for another hour, but I got some cheese and bread, maybe some leftover sausages.”

“I do gladly be sampling your ale and nibbles until the roast do be ready.”  Durrak said, drinking deeply and smacking his lips.  The ale was a bit light for his taste, but it was quite refreshing.

As Durrak ate and drank, several more folk entered chatting amicably and ordering drinks and inquiring about the roast.  They took him in without comment, a few nodding politely and some staring but not in an aggressive manner.  All of them had also put a weapon of some sort aside as they entered even though they were obviously villagers, not adventuring types.

Thunder rumbled outside, but no rain fell.  It hadn’t rained for ages and the land was parched and dry.  The winds seemed to be blowing erratically of late, not bringing the moisture from the sea to nourish the soil.  All signs of bad times and possibly worse to come.

The door opened to admit another traveler, his cloak black and ragged at the ends.  Setting an immense pack down next to Durrak’s with a heavy thump he grinned and rubbed at his huge red beard.  A fellow Dwarf; a rarity in these parts.  He stumped up to the bar and sat next to Durrak.

“How’s the ale?”  He asked in Dwarven, giving him a grin.

“Light, but quite potable in quantity.” Durrak said in the same language, returning the grin.  “From where do you hail?”

“I am a traveler.  Felix is my name.” The other replied, offering a hand thick with calluses.

“My name is Durrak Caverstorm.”  Durrak said, shaking the offered hand.

“Caverstorm?”  Felix asked, “Have you the title from the Drakanda school?  Never did I think to see the Mistress of that school fall from aught but old age.”

“I took her title.”  Durrak said, feeling the sadness of that memory even now.  “Took it by fair trial of combat.  One of many regrets I carry on my shoulders.”

“Ah.” Felix said, reaching into a pouch and removing a smoldering cigar.  He puffed it alight to a small explosion of purple sparks.  The smoke he exhaled was bright blue and sank to the floor instead of rising.  The smoke had the scent of a meadow high in the mountains in the dead of winter.

“I have been traveling for some time and have not seen another of our kind.”  Durrak ventured, “Do you know how our people fare elsewhere?”

“Farenholm has fallen.  Vanterholm stood last I saw, although it was beset by hordes of goblins.”  Felix replied, “I do not stay in one place long.”

Durrak saw the looks the others were giving them and continued in the common tongue, “Perhaps we do be doing better to converse in a language the others do be knowing?  I no do want to cause suspicion.”

“Yes, perhaps that would be best.”  Felix said in unaccented common, “It has merely been so long since I spoke to a fellow Dwarf in my native language.  My apologies to our gracious host.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 2

“Callindra stop picking on the locals.” Cronos’s voice came from the doorway.  Even though he was younger than her, he had grown a lot in the last year and looked several years her senior.  He wasn’t wearing his twin bastard swords and looked strange without them.

“What can I get for you sir?” The barkeep was bravely attempting to do his job, and Cronos looked slightly more normal.  Especially since the sleeves of his shirt covered the tattoos that proclaimed him a powerful mage.

“Fruit juice, or water if you don’t have juice and some bread.  Callindra isn’t it a little early for the hard stuff?  Why not just have an ale, save the falling off your chair for later.”  His voice sounded harsh, but she could hear the concern.

“You must be Cronos?”  One of the strangers was still standing uncertainly, holding his glass of whisky and looking at him with a confused expression on his face.

“These gentlemen are looking for The Brotherhood of Steel.” Vilhylm said, “I have invited them to return on the morrow to discuss whatever business they wish.”

“I’ve told them they have to drink to the memory of things lost.”  Said Callindra.  She pulled a withered and dried crown of woven plant stems from her hair.  It did not come loose easily, but she disregarded the pain, tearing hair from her scalp without flinching.

“I waited a for her.”  Tears began coursing down her cheeks, “I wanted so badly to believe that a Goddess was truly immortal.  She showed me the power of putting others before yourself and inspired me like only one other has.  Then she died.  Because of me.  Just like Glarian did.  Just like Tryst did.  Because I’m too weak.”

“Stop the whining, since when did my sister become a sniveling little girl?”  Cronos said, “I don’t remember you asking anyone for help.  You are cheapening the sacrifices of those who CHOSE to make them because THEY believed you would pick up the torch of their cause.”

“This has gone on long enough Callindra.” Vilhylm said, “It’s time to let go of your sorrow and move forward.  There is work to be done.”

“I don’t care.”  She said, picking up her glass again.  Vilhylm knocked it from her hand with a lightning fast maneuver that she hadn’t anticipated.

“I’m not going to let you do this to yourself anymore.  It has been months since I saw you practice.”  He towered over her, rage burning behind his eyes.  “You’re less than useless like this, you disgrace the memory of your master!”

“You want to trust me?”  Callindra’s voice rose, “You want to rely on ME?  After what’s happened you want ME watching your back?”  Unnoticed by her, the winds began to blow about the room for the first time in a year.  “I am not strong enough to watch your back brother, find someone else.”

“There is no one else.”  Vilhylm looked at the floor, a grimace on his face.  “Even if there was, I they couldn’t replace you.”

“What are you going to do?  Beat it out of me?”  She grabbed the bottle and took a drink.

“If I must.”  Vilhylm took her by surprise, grabbing her by the shirt and bodily throwing her out the door of the tavern.  Shadowsliver’s chain rattled after, finally reaching its limit and jerking the sword through the air toward her.

Callindra tumbled into the street, staggering to her feet just in time for Shadowsliver’s edge to cut deep into her shoulder.  A whirlwind began to form around her as the pent-up rage at her loved ones for dying, at her inability to do anything to stop it and the world for allowing her to survive was released in an uncontrolled torrent as she pulled the sword from the deep wound it had carved into her body.

“What do you want from me?”  She shouted at the sky, at the world, “WHAT MORE CAN YOU ASK OF ME?” Thunder rumbled in the distance, her hair began to stand on end from the static charge in the air.  “What more can I POSSIBLY give to you?”

The hair that once had Brightstar flowers twining through it showing the blessings of Jorda now tangled around her as the wind began to pick up.  “Gods curse it!”  Callindra had been so proud of that hair, but now like everything else it was getting in her way.  She held her hair in a lose bundle with one hand and cut it off with one smooth stroke of her sword.

Outside of town, coruscating bolts of lightning struck the earth and overhead dark clouds billowed.  Wind whirled around her, rattling the shutters of nearby buildings and picking up plumes of dust.  Cronos stepped outside, Vilhylm close behind him.

“Callindra you need to stop this, it’s dangerous!” Cronos said, looking nervously at the sky.

“YOU are the ones who wanted this.  YOU trusted me, this is on YOUR heads!”  Callindra said, “I wanted to GIVE UP but you are forcing me, FORCING ME back into the world.  You want me to use the power again?”  She raised Shadowsliver above her head.  “FINE I’ll turn it loose.”

A bolt of incandescent electricity lanced from the heavens, slammed into the tip of her sword and ran through her into the ground.  The crack of thunder shattered windows and knocked her brothers off their feet.  Callindra stood in the center of the madness, lightning swarming around her like a mass of serpents while a whirlwind kicked up dust and debris.

“You want to trust THIS to watch your back?”  She shouted in a voice that made the lightning strike sound like a whisper.

Vilhylm had picked himself up and walked unsteadily through the chaos towards her.  Without hesitation, he folded his sister into a crushing embrace, disregarding the electricity that scorched his flesh.    “Callindra, I’ve already lost one of my brothers.  I refuse to lose my sister too.  Yes.  More than anything else I want you to be by my side for this fight.”

The lightning scattered and she burst into tears, leaning on his shoulder and crying like a child who had lost everything.  With those tears, rain began to fall.  The first rain that had fallen here in almost a year.  Even after the storm had passed, breezes once again began to blow.  Something had changed.  It was something small, but nothing comes into the world large.

On the outskirts of town, a dry brittle circlet of vines fell from the whirling winds above.  A seed pod fell, the rain beating it into the soil.  A bright green sprout sprang up as though it had been waiting for this moment.  Curiously enough, the plant that began to grow looked more like a tree than a vine; its small trefoil leaves waved defiantly against the wind.  Despite all the destruction that had been visited on the land, life refused to be defeated.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 1

The winds struggled against stagnant heat.  Great rents in the ground spouted acrid smoke that stopped the natural flow of the air.  Wind from the Abyss wasn’t wind at all; it brought with it the charnel reek of fresh blood mixed with brimstone and rotting flesh.  Anything it touched died.  Worse than that, when the things died, they were animated by the Abyss and so the infection spread.  Some seemed to be resistant to the plague, and they set up as much resistance as they could, living in small enclaves or fighting building to building in large cities.

Rumors abounded.  All the gods were dead.  Jorda was dead.  The Grandfather Tree was burning.  Luftin had lost his mind.  Ild had sided with his treacherous brother at long last and they were conspiring to burn the world.  The only living people who knew the truth weren’t likely to tell it.

A dry sulfurous wind blew through the nearly empty streets of a once prosperous trading town.  Although it was near Hellgate Keep and between that cursed edifice and the High Forest where a haze of smoke still clung to the tree tops, Varild had somehow managed to survive.

The ones who had been taken by the Abyss had answered some strange summons and left as a group.  The others who had been living for almost a year on stored provisions, rain water and the occasional wild game that still eked out a living in the lost land around them.

Other than the obvious problems of a land cursed by the infection of the Abyss, Varild was in a lot better shape than other places.  The storehouses had more than enough food for the surviving townsfolk and the well was still good.

A pair of figures wearing dark cloaks with the hoods pulled low approached the front gate.  Finding it barred, they hammered on it with the butts of their daggers.  “Hello the Town!”  One shouted.

“Keep your skirt on.”  The guard on the wall grumbled.  He’d had a long night and had drawn the short straw, meaning he had first watch as well.  “None may enter hooded.  Throw back your hoods and show me your eyes or you will not be allowed inside.

“A wise precaution.”  The taller of the two said, pushing his hood back to reveal blonde hair in a cluster of braids.  The other likewise uncovered his face to reveal a face with dark skin and a bald pate.  A latticework of scars covered his head and the guard could see it was in an intentional pattern.  He shuddered involuntarily.

“What’s your business?”  He demanded.

“We seek some folk.  Rumor has led us here.”  The shorter man said.  “The ones we seek were last purported to be seen around this area.  We have our own provisions and carry our own water.  We will not be a burden upon your settlement.”

“No need to skimp here strangers.”  The guard said, “Survivors are welcome, and news of the world is as valuable as clean water here.”  He climbed down, inspected their eyes through a slot in the gate and then opened a small steel door to one side, barely large enough for them to squeeze through.

“You think that’s her?”  Callindra heard the voice from across the tavern and intentionally paid it no mind.

“Barkeep.”  Her voice rasped in her own ears, “Where’s that bottle I ordered?”

“You wanted…?” The man behind the expanse of the oak bar asked, nervously dry-washing his hands.

“Whisky.  You know damn well what I asked for.”

“I just thought…  It’s only nine bells…”

“Gods be damned, I care not for the cursed time of day!”

“Pardon, but are you Callindra Sol’Estin?” The man didn’t look like a warrior or a mage, but she had long since learned that looks could be deceptive.

“What.  Do you want?”  She turned a baleful eye towards the two men standing a few feet away.  “If you are from The Order, Glarian is dead.  My Master is dead.”  Her voice sounded flat and dead, even in her own ears.  In her mind she whispered, ‘Luftin, God of Wind is dead.’

“Here’s your whiskey lass.  Your sword, could you sheath it please?”  The barkeep glanced nervously at Shadowsliver lying flat on the bar, his chain piled on the floor next to her before stretching back to the Mithril cuff on her right wrist.

“He doesn’t want to be sheathed, so he doesn’t have one.”  Callindra said, pouring some of the dark amber liquid into the glass he had provided.

“Ah…” The two men were nervously standing on her left.

“You’re still here?”  Callindra drained the glass in one long swallow, “What in the nine hells do you WANT?”

“We aren’t from … we’re here to ask … are you Callindra?”  The man cleared his throat, “We are looking for The Brotherhood of Steel.”

“The brotherhood is broken.”  Her voice fell to a whisper, “Leave me here with my sorrow and my memories.  You’ve chosen an ill day to mention brothers.”

The door to the common room opened wide and Vilhylm strode into the room.  “Barkeep, ale and meat!”  He paused when he saw Callindra sitting at the bar, “You’re still here sister?”

“Nay, they made me leave for a few hours.  You’re up early brother.”  She poured another glass of whisky.

“It is a day we should be observing together Callindra, and one we should be marginally sober for.”

“Sir, are you Vilhylm the Just?” One of the men asked.

“I am Vilhylm.” He said, “What can I do for you?”

“They are looking for the Brotherhood of Steel.”  Callindra said, looking at him out of the corner of her eye.

“I fear good sirs that this is an inauspicious day to bring up that name.” Vil said, “Perhaps you could come back tomorrow.”

“But Sir, we have traveled for moons to beg your assistance.”

“We aren’t in the hero business anymore, especially not today.”  Vilhylm said, looking at the man with a suspicious eye.

“Listen.  If you want to talk you have to drink.”  Callindra gestured to the barkeep and he handed her another pair of glasses.  She filled them with whisky and topped off her own.  “To Tryst.  May his soul rest in peace until the end of days.”

“I apologize I did not realize we were interrupting- “ One of the men began.

“Shut up and drink!” Callindra said, putting her left hand on Shadowsliver’s hilt.  “You had the impertinence to come and find us on this day, I fear that means you share in our remembrance of the death of my brother.”

The men exchanged glances and picked up the glasses.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Prologue

Callindra could not believe it.  The battle that raged around her was nearly beyond comprehension.  Glarian; no Luftin danced the Korumn with Sakar a living extension of his limbs.  The winds themselves answered his call.  Storms sang his fury.  Lightning struck where he pointed.  His siblings were no less amazing as they commanded the very elements to destroy their enemies.

What was unbelievable is that it was not enough.  It was nowhere near enough.  The hordes of Abyssal spawn seemed unending and worse yet, the great Black Dragon seemed impervious to all their attacks.  The green fog that dripped from its mouth corroded anything it touched, whether that be flesh or stone or the Weave itself.

Despite everything, Callindra laughed in exultation.  She was fighting by her Master’s side at last and they moved perfectly together.  When he struck a sweeping blow, she knew exactly how far to lower her head and her follow up thrust would inevitably finish off the dying monster before it could counterattack.  They leaped and spun, twisted and slid only to spring back to their feet borne by the lightness of the winds themselves.

When they had carved a space for themselves on the battlefield, Callindra paused to look for her brothers.  Vil was doing surprisingly well paired with Ild and Cronos seemed to be watching Vandis’s back.  The sting of a dozen or more cuts made her wince, she hadn’t noticed them while the fight was raging.

“Callindra, you fight well.”  Luftin said with a madcap grin.  “I’m afraid you can’t follow me this time though.  I have an old score to settle and that bedamned beast is too much even for your new talents.”

“You can’t be trying to face it on your own?”  She panted, looking high above where the Black Dragon still circled.  It seemed to be waiting for them to be worn down by legions of Spawn before it attacked.

“No, Ild and Vandis will give me a head start.”  He said, “You get out of here, I’ll catch you up.”

“I won’t leave you!”  She said fiercely, reaching out for him.  “I searched for so long.  I lost so much.”

He wasn’t paying attention to her. Crouching low, he summoned a spell from Sakar and sprang into the sky.  As he rose, ice began raining down in jagged shards, cutting into the dragon’s wings while a wave of flame roared up from below, obscuring him until the last minute.  His sword hacked into the dragon’s throat and black blood poured from the wound.

Callindra’s shout of victory died in her throat as the monster swiped Luftin out of the air with a clawed hand and swallowed him whole.  The Dragon roared in triumph and breathed acidic fog down upon them.  While Ild and Vandis were momentarily distracted deflecting the caustic substance with a wave of flame and a deluge of water the Dragon traced a series of runes in the air.  The symbols flashed, and Cerioth the Black, Destroyer of Farenholm, Bane of Ignitum dove through the portal that opened between them.