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The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 19

A year ago, these words would have sent Callindra through the door in a fury.  Her losses and experience had taught her to bank the fires of her rage however, and she waited patiently instead.  The exertion of flying to the top of this place had drained her, but she needed an edge if she was going to survive and escape with Holt.  Closing her eyes, she touched Shadowsliver’s hilt and incanted a spell.

“You touch her.  You die.”  Holt’s voice reached her ears, sounding harsh as though he’d screamed it raw.  She was shocked by the level of anger in it to the point she almost lost her grip on the spell she was casting.

“Listen to the old grandfather, still feeling protective of the whelp.”  The honey sweet voice purred.  The sound was followed by the crack of kiln dried wood hitting flesh.  Callindra lost her temper and released her spell.

Everything seemed to slow as she borrowed the speed and fury of Njordi, the Great North Wind.  The door swung open with enough force that it shattered against the wall and she was through and halfway across the room before her targets had turned their heads.  Shadowsliver reached out in a perfect lunge, punching cleanly through the skull of a thin man clad only in a leather loincloth who stood beside a brazier filled with glowing coals and a variety of metal bits.

The impact hurt.  Callindra’s left hand felt as though she had punched a stone wall and she nearly lost her grip on his leather-bound hilt.  Gritting her teeth, she managed to maintain her concentration on the spell and ripped the blade free with a twist, breaking the man’s skull in twain.  With a practiced motion, she turned and hurled her sword at the wide woman who seemed to be made all of slabs of muscle.  She turned from bringing her hand back to deliver another blow with the wooden staff in her hand surprise turning to glee on her face.

It could have been the pain of impact, the speed of her motion or her horror at seeing Holt in the cell beyond the woman, bound in shackles.  It might have just been bad luck.  Whatever the reason, she saw her blade fly past her opponent’s neck, inflicting only a shallow cut.

Cursing, she tried to pull the blade back, but he had already passed through the bars and the sudden motion caused his chain to wrap around the bars of the cage.  Although she was moving much faster than the other woman, Callindra saw her smile as she turned and began to swing her staff.

In a reckless, desperate move she saw that the huge woman was trying to strike her feet so Callindra did the only thing she could think of.   Wrapping the chain around her left hand, she leaped into the air, turning a neat flip over the striking staff and the woman’s head while letting the chain loop around her neck at the same time.  With a wrench of her hips, she twisted in the air one and a half times before the chain jerked taunt and nearly tore her arms from their sockets.

The chain cut halfway through the woman’s throat, spraying blood into the chamber as Callindra bore her to the ground, screaming in pain and rage.  The spell fled as her concentration broke, but she kept the tension on the chain for another count of ten just to make sure the bitch was dead.

With a shake, she forced herself to let go of the chain.  She realized she was still snarling an unending string of curses in a low harsh language.  More of Kain’s native tongue had rubbed off on her than she’d thought; Orc was an excellent language to swear in.

“Callindra?”  Holt’s voice shook slightly, “By all the Gods and Demons how did you…  What did you… are you all right?”

“I’m fine.”  She snapped, before looking down at herself; clad in black and splattered with blood and knew her face was still set in a grimace of pain and rage.  “I’m fine.”  She said in a calmer tone of voice, “Let’s get you out.”

Her left hand throbbed and the fingers didn’t work the way they should as she untangled Shadowsliver’s chain from the bars and fumbled a ring of keys from the dead man’s belt.  Her hand twinged when she tried to turn the key in the lock and she had to use her right hand instead.  Once inside she began unlocking Holt’s bonds.  He watched her with hooded eyes.

“What happened there?”  He asked, his voice still hoarse.  “You were different.  I almost didn’t recognize you.”

“I lost my temper.  Bad things happen when I lose my temper.”  She said, fighting to keep the dregs of her anger from building on itself.  The keys fell from the numb fingers of her left hand and she bit back an orcish oath.  If only she had a god rotting sheath for her sword instead of having to carry him.

That thought made her freeze.  She did not want to put Shadowsliver, her life, her soul her companion down.  Taking a deep breath, Callindra picked up the keys with her right hand and unlocked the rest of Holt’s shackles.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 18

As soon as she got back into the room, she shut and bolted the door.  Her brothers in arms were all waiting for her, fully dressed and girded for battle.  She wasn’t sure she wanted all of them to be involved; but she also didn’t think she could get any of them to stay behind.

“Reed snuck into the women’s bath to chide me for my slothful ways.”  She said by way of greeting.  “The rascal said he’d be waiting behind in the alley for when we finally got our wits about us.  He seemed to think the law would burn this inn to the ground if that’s what it took to put me in my place.”

“We all got not so subtle warnings about curfew and how strict the town guard is from the serving girls.” Cronos said with a bemused look on his face.  “They all seem quite taken with your brash and bold self sister.”

“I’m sure your scarred and roguish face is appealing as well brother mine.”  She said, allowing a smile to turn up one corner of her mouth.  “But now we need to move quickly so that we can get him out and safe before they even suspect he’s gone.”

They tied ropes to the bed posts and dropped them down to the side street.  No watch patrols seemed to be making rounds inside the city, but they had been tipped off about their existence and so progressed carefully.

Reed was waiting for them in the shadows of a doorway and gave them a stern look when they arrived.  “You tryin to bring the entire guard down on us?”  He said in a low voice.  “I heard catfights what made less noise.”

“Lead on.”  Callindra said in the same low tone, knowing whispers tended to carry further but only remembering because he had done it first.  “I thought you wanted us to hurry.”

He glared at her, but slipped off down the dark street, moving from shadow to shadow with barely a sound.  She had to admit that at very least Reed made far less noise than her brothers did.  The little urchin wasn’t quieter than she was though.  Not much.

After a few tense minutes, they stopped at Reed’s raised hand.  He came back to them with obvious frustration on his face. As he did, Callindra noticed a lot of light coming from an alley ahead and got a sinking feeling in her stomach.

“The building they use for a jail’s in the middle of the square ahead.” He said grimly, “They got torches lit everywhere an a couple dozen guards.  We ain’t getting in.”

“Maybe you aren’t.”  Callindra said calmly, “But I am.  Once I have him free I’ll signal for a diversion, then we can escape.”

Before they could stop her, she slid a hand down Shadowsliver’s blade and drew upon the power of the Weave.  Stepping lightly off the cobblestones she began to run into the air.  It was a difficult working and she was sweating by the time she had gained enough altitude to be out of sight of the guards down in the torchlit square.

She landed on the roof silently and released the spell.  As she had hoped, this wasn’t really a proper jail, just a house made of stone.  The windows weren’t barred, and she was easily able to wedge one of them open and slip inside.  A strange sweet smell met her as she gently slid the window closed behind her.  She didn’t know what it was, but for some reason it made her skin crawl.

After looking around briefly, she opened the door and snuck down a hallway and a set of stairs.  The sound of the guards marching outside the building was almost loud enough to drown out the conversation happening just on the other side of the door.

“Just gut him and throw him in the pit.  I don’t care what that fatass mayor says.  This one is too damn much trouble.”  A sweet and beguiling voice said.  “His friends aren’t coming for him.  We won’t trap them so easily.”

“I will crush that little wench into paste.”  A low voice rumbled.  “Putting on airs, carrying a sword.  BONDING a weapon.  She will die.”

A year ago, these words would have sent Callindra through the door in a fury.  Her losses and experience had taught her to bank the fires of her rage however, and she waited patiently instead.  The exertion of flying to the top of this place had drained her, but she needed an edge if she was going to survive and escape with Holt.  Closing her eyes, she touched Shadowsliver’s hilt and incanted a spell.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 17

They followed him through the crowds to a large building with a wide open porch that stretched across the entire side that faced the street.  A number of people sat at tables lingering over drinks and plates of food.  Callindra strictly reminded herself that she needed a bath first.

“Show me to the baths first if you please Master Castille.”  She said, offering him a small stack of gold coins.

“Your coin isn’t necessary Callindra.”  He said, “If you truly have a healer his services are what I require for a night’s lodging.”

Kain stepped forward with a compassionate smile on his face.  “I will do what I can Innkeep.  Please show me to the one who requires healing.”

Thadrick gave him a surprised look, obviously not expecting the hulking half orc to be the healer.  He led them through doors and down hallways to a room with a heavy locked door.  Taking a key from where it hung around his neck he opened the door and opened it.

The scene beyond was one of horror.  A young person sat in the center of the room clad in torn rags rocking back and forth.  The figure did not look up as they entered, but kept the rhythmic motion, hands occasionally clawing at the clothing and the skin beneath.

“She has been thus ever since her mother died.”  Thadrick said softly, “My poor Lillian is the one who saw her change.  Imagine seeing the love in a mother’s face turn to murderous rage.”

“I fear there may be little I can do for her sir, but I will try.”  Kain went to sit across from the girl, folding his muscular bulk into a sitting position across from her.  She ignored him, but after a few moments of sitting silently a gentle white light began to shine around him and a low rumbling chant rolled from his lips.

Callindra was surprised to hear him speaking in his native Orcish and had no idea what the words were but they had a marked effect on the girl.  Her rocking slowed and stopped, then she raised her head to look at him through a curtain of stringy hair.  Kain reached out a huge clawed hand and she tentatively rested hers on his palm.

The light began to creep from his hand to hers, gradually flowing over her until it surrounded them both.  Kain didn’t stop chanting, but the tone became lower and slower.  After a few minutes Lillian’s eyes closed and the strain and fear on her face slowly faded.  By the time Kain’s chant finished she was sleeping peacefully, stretched out on the floor.  The scratches on her skin were healed over and she breathed easily.

“Illimin has granted me the grace to take her pain.”  He said in a weary voice.  “I do not know if it will last sir, nor do I know if taking those memories will give her peace, but I have done what I can.”

There were tears streaming down Thadrick’s face and he wordlessly took Kain’s hand in both of his.  After taking several deep breaths he wiped his face, “You are welcome to stay beneath my roof as long as you desire.”  He choked out.  “I’ll ask my boys to have a lookout for your friend.”

He picked up his daughter and gently put her in a bed on the far side of the room.  She only made the slightest sound of sleepy protest as he did so.

“Much appreciated Thadrick.”  Callindra said, drawing attention away from Kain who was obviously uncomfortable with the man’s thanks.  “If you would be so kind as to tell me where I might find the baths?”

The innkeeper carefully closed the door on his sleeping daughter and moved back up the corridor.  He opened a door to a large room with an iron key on his belt and gestured them inside.  “Ring the bell for anything you need.”  He said, “My staff will provide you with the best we have to offer.”

The others ordered food while Callindra asked to be shown the baths.  She was soaking in luxury with a tumbler of ale on the stone ledge next to her when a figure slipped in nearly silently.  If it hadn’t been for the light breeze from the outside that accompanied his entrance she might never have noticed.

“Reed.”  She said in a conversational tone of voice.  “Didn’t see you at the gate.”

“What in th bleeding hells are you doin in here?”  Reed hissed, “Takin a bath?  You getting all girly and stuff while they’re out there plotting ta kill you an yer mates?  Startin with th one what’s rotting inna cell?”

“What I’m doing is keeping up appearances.”  She said calmly, taking a deep swallow of ale.  “This is what they expect.  Once the sun goes down, we’ll go and retrieve Holt.  When we find him the next morning they won’t have anything to say about it since they specifically told me they hadn’t seen him or imprisoned him.  In front of half a city’s worth of witnesses.”

“As if they cares a rats balls for witness.”  Reed said, “They does what they wants and nobody says boo cause if they do they’re next.  You gotta get him and scram afore they burn down th god rotting inn.”

“They won’t burn down the inn Reed.”  She said calmly rinsing the last of the soap out of her raggedly cut hair.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 16

Callindra strode toward the gate, her armor freshly cleaned, her short hair held in place with wooden pins and Shadowsliver’s jet black length settled across her forearm in a nonthreatening posture.  She was flanked by her brothers; Cronos’s sword hilts bristling over his back and his ragged cloak swaying as he walked and Vilhylm shrouded by the rippling folds of his black cloak strode confidently on the other side.  The hulking form of Kain loomed behind her; his shock of green hair standing in its usual unruly bristle and his scimitar swinging easily at his side.

They must have made an imposing sight because the soldiers at the gate began to swing it shut.  Callindra twisted Shadowsliver through a set of complex motions and when she spoke her voice carried like thunder.

“Do not close the gate.  We come in peace, merely searching for our brother in arms.”  Instead of stopping, this only seemed to make them move faster.

With a curse, she called upon the Weave again, this time drawing the winds from inside the city in a sudden burst that tore the gates free of their grip and flung them wide.  The soldiers began scrambling for weapons and shouting for backup.  By the time they arrived at the gate they faced a forest of spear points.

“There is no need for this.”  Callindra said, disdain in her voice.  “If I wanted you dead you’d be dead.  I have no desire to fight against the living.  My quarrel is with the Taken.”

“Disarm and you will be allowed entrance.”  An imperious voice said from behind the soldiers.  “We do not allow hostile strangers to enter under arms.”

Callindra flipped Shadowsliver back to rest his blade against her left forearm, cradling his hilt in her hand and gesturing with her right to show the chain.  “I cannot put my weapon down.  I am bonded to him and he is tied to me.  Answer me this; has my brother Holt been captured by your guards?”

“I know of no person named Holt.”  The voice said, still sounding peevish.  “We have no extra for freebooting vagabonds, if that is all you wanted then move along before I have my men move you.”

“If you have wounded we have a healer.”  Callindra said easily as though she hadn’t heard his insults.  “If you still take gold or jewels in exchange for trade goods or services we would like to resupply before continuing on our journey.  Also, a night under a proper roof would be welcome as would a bath.  No establishment that we stay in need fear attack; we have fought many times and left only the rotting corpses of our enemies behind.”

At the mention of the healer, whispers rippled through the assembled guards and out past them to the small crowd that was beginning to gather behind them.  The more she talked, the more uneasy the guards became.

“You’re welcome to stay at my Inn lady.”  A jovial voice called from behind the rank of soldiers.  “We don’t have much extra, but we’ll spare what we can for one what can pay and give protection.”

“I am no Lady.”  Callindra said with a derisive snort.  “I will take you up on that offer innkeep.”  Without waiting for the soldiers to move, she began striding toward their spear points.  When the first she encountered was too shocked to down his spear she brushed it aside with an open-handed smack.  To her profound relief the others parted and allowed her to pass.

The man who faced her had clearly been much heavier at some point but now his extra skin sagged where it had once been supported by fat.  Nonetheless he appeared healthy enough and gave her a wide grin.

“Thadrick Castille at your service.”  He said, extending a hand.

“Callindra.”  She said, leaving off the rest of her name but taking his hand in a firm grip.  “I thank you for the offer of hospitality Master Castille.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 15

Once Lorin had gathered the shafts he could, they made their way through the quiet streets, barely pausing to check at intersections before moving forward.  After a half candlemark, Lorin knocked on a nondescript door set in the side of a nondescript wall and there was slight motion in an upstairs window.  The door slid silently open a few moments later and they slid inside.

A beautiful young human boy waited just inside the door with a bowl of water.  Lorin took some and splashed it on his face.  After a moment, Durrak did the same, feeling the blood of the Abyssal creatures he’d slain boil off his skin as though burned with a torch.

“Holy water?  Where do you be getting holy water?”  He asked, slightly shocked.  “I no do be seeing such a thing for ages.”

“I am a vessel that fills with the Light.”  The boy said in a solemn voice.  “The Light always shines brightest in the darkness.  I am glad that you have come Master Caverstorm.”

“No do be calling me by that name boy.”  Durrak frowned.  “We have no been introduced and I no do be taking truck with gods.”

“My apologies.”  The boy said, “I am called Kris.  Your reluctance to face your fate has but small impact on that fate.  Meaning no disrespect sir.”

“We have had a tiring few days Kris.  Please let us in and to the baths.”  Lorin said, pushing the boy gently aside.  “I have little desire to watch you and this meat grinder of a Dwarf engage in a theological fencing match in the hall’s entryway.”

Durrak gave the boy a level look but followed Lorin through a passageway and down a flight of stairs to a large communal bath.  After undressing and sluicing as much of the gore and grime first off his armor and then off his body, he scrubbed his with harsh lye soap.  It burned as it came in contact with the myriad of cuts he had earned in the fight; it was a good feeling.   He rinsed again before wading into the steaming water of the pool to soak.

“You certainly managed to make a rapid impression.”  Lorin said, giving him a quizzical look.  “What was all that about?”

“I no do wish to talk about it.”  Durrak said, laying back against the wall of the bath and reaching for his cigar pouch.  He withdrew one and took a drag on it, reveling in the harsh bite of the bright blue smoke.  “Be asking the brat if you wish.”

“Has something to do with that dragon and your clan eh?”  Lorin asked.  “I shouldn’t have asked.  Pass me a cigar?”

Durrak grunted and took a strangely twisted cheroot from the pouch that immediately burst into a copper colored flame and passed it to the Elf.  Lorin gave the cigar a dubious look but took it anyway.

“Where do those come from?”  He asked, smelling the slightly acrid smoke suspiciously.  “Why are they always lit when you take them out?”

“The do be coming from inside the pouch.”  Durrak said with a wry grin, “They do be lit because it do be a magic pouch.”

“I saw you putting things in there though.”  The Elf persisted, “Why do you do that?”

“Nothing do come from nothing.”  He said with a shrug, “The Dwarf who I did trade tales for it did be saying putting things in did be making it interesting.”

Lorin took a drag and his eyebrows rose in surprise.  “It tastes … like the heartblood of the first deer I stalked and took myself and like honey and … memories.”

Durrak lay back against the wall of the bath and tried to relax.  First he needed to find Cerioth the Black.  Then if he couldn’t kill her he would die trying and after that it would be time to settle up with Thraingaar.  Either way he would be reunited with his family soon.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 14

Durrak followed Lorin down a path that led to a sheer cliff that overlooked Starvale.  The city stretched out below them, much of it burned or smashed to rubble, but a surprising amount of it was intact.  The spheres floated serenely in the air, unmoved by the strong breeze blowing from the sea.

“There is a path down here.”  Lorin said, pointing.

“You do be pointing out a stair carved in stone to a Dwarf?”  Durrak said with a chuckle, “I am seeing it, despite the disrepair it do look safe enough.  Do this not be a bit exposed?”

“If there were defenders interested in killing us they would have little trouble.”  Lorin agreed, “However the Abyss doesn’t seem to have taken much notice of this stair and has made no attempt to defend the city from this angle.  I suspect if there were more of us using it with more frequency that would change.”

They made their way down the precariously narrow path carved into the cliff face, one with an Elf’s lightness of foot and the other with the surefootedness of a Dwarf treading stone.  As Lorin had predicted, the only danger came from the possibility of a misstep and not from an attack.

“We aren’t close to my lodging, however there are many ways to approach unnoticed by the Abyss.”  Lorin slid from shadow to shadow with a dancer’s grace.

Durrak didn’t have any trouble following him, but was noticeably less stealthy.  The things that noticed gave no warning before pouring out of the side streets and leaping from buildings.

If he hadn’t spent the last few years learning to respond instantly to attacks from unseen angles they likely would have overrun him.  If he hadn’t clad himself in Bonecrusher’s Brace so that the spikes and overlapping steel plates covered his body many of the misshapen creatures would likely still have landed debilitating blows.  Instead he roared a battle cry and hurled himself into combat.

His forward rush smashed three of the monsters into the wall of a building, killing two and sending the third stumbling away only to meet the hooked bill of his gisarme coming back the other direction.  As neatly as a child picking flowers, Durrak sliced the thing’s head off in a shower of greenish ichor.  Spinning in place, he cut cleanly through two more and halfway into the thigh of another.

When the last one pulled back with surprising strength he nearly lost his grip on his weapon.  An arrow fletched with brown feathers sprouted in the thing’s left eye and it fell to the cobblestones with limp finality.  Durrak allowed the momentum of the falling monster to give him an extra boost of speed and he wrenched his gisarme free with a twist of his body as he passed to crash into another group, sending some sprawling and others to meet with the nearby stone buildings with bone shattering force.

The fight was over as suddenly as it had begun, only the bodies of the strange humanoid spawn littered the street.  Lorin was carefully attempting to recover his arrows from them, cursing under his breath at a broken shaft or loose fletching.

“We do need to be moving.”  Durrak said, looking around at the empty streets.  “A fight of this do be attracting attention.”

“They don’t coordinate very well.”  Lorin said, “Once we kill them all in that size of an area it takes them at least a day to show up again and sometimes longer.”

Durrak kept up his vigil regardless but didn’t see anything moving.  It was eerily silent, especially after the shouts and clash of combat.  There wasn’t a single living thing in the city other than themselves, even the grass that might have grown in the cracks between cobblestones was dead and withered.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 13

“You thought you’d help him?”  She asked, quirking an eyebrow.  “Why would you do that?”

“Hey, just cause I ain’t growed yet don’t mean I don’t see what’s going on.  Somma them are doin a lot better than others.  There ain’t no reason to beat up an old man neither.”

“They’re right to be suspicious, but they have no right to attack and imprison someone without giving them the chance to prove their innocence.”  Callindra said.  “We will rest until the sun begins to set and arrive at the gates just before they close for the night.  They do close the gates at night, don’t they?”

Reed nodded, “Yeah, but they close ‘em about an hour before dark.  Really the main gate ain’t open at all during the day either, but there’s a smaller one to one side they leave open during the day.  Don’t get there too late, they burn anything what comes close after dark.”

“You’re going back now?”  Although she was asking the question she knew the answer.

“Yeah.  They won’t notice me gone for a couple hours but if I come with you they’ll know it was me told you.”  Despite the short time and their conversation the bread and water were gone.  “I’ll try and be around if you need me.”

Callindra carefully kept her face neutral.  She didn’t want to offend the boy and she was sure he was at least capable of handling himself to some degree or else he never would have survived.  “Travel carefully Reed.  Thanks for the help.”

He turned to go but paused and looked at her.  “Ain’t you gonna ask what Holt promised me in payment?”

“You are welcome to accompany us when we leave Reed.”  She said, “Although it will not be safe.  More often than not we go to bed nursing injuries and more often than that hungry.  We’re fighting the Abyss most days and they play for keeps.  I’ve seen more piles of bodies than I can count.”

Reed’s eyes widened when she guessed his payment, but they quickly narrowed when she was describing the dangers.  “I ain’t no cherry.  I seen more death before the world went mad than most seen after it.  Of course most are dead so that don’t mean nothing, but I ain’t no damn kid.  I take care of myself.”

“The second you don’t you’ll likely die.”  She said simply, “But we’ve managed to keep one another alive this far.  Mostly.  Maybe my brother dying for us all changed something.  Maybe his sacrifice gave us an edge or some kind of favor from the Gods.”

“The gods.”  Reed said, still scornful.  “If they exist why would they let THIS happen?  For that matter why would they have let all that happen to me and me mates before the Abyss came?”

“I’ve seen at least one of them Reed.”  Callindra ran her fingers through stray locks of hair, the absence of the Brightstar flowers still fresh in her mind.  “She died to save my family.  I owe her something for that and I intend to make good on my debt to Jorda.”

“That’s on you.”  Reed shook his head, “I ain’t taking on your fool’s errands.”

“If you travel with us Reed you will be expected to fight when we fight and run when we run.  You don’t have to believe in it but you must do it.”  She shook her head, remembering.  “I didn’t believe in them either at first.  After fighting beside them though, it became a little difficult to ignore.  Gods and demons I learned to sword fight from one of them.”

“You don’t move like no god touched.”  He said, giving her a dismissive look.  “I’ll fight if I gotta and I run like the wind.  How you think I survived to be thirteen?”

“It took me much longer to learn that lesson.”  Callindra said, “You’d better get moving Reed, look for us two candlemarks before sunset.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 12

She had closed her eyes for only a few moments but when she awoke to a gentle touch on her right shoulder that told her an attack wasn’t imminent the sun had moved halfway to the horizon.  Cronos gave her a moment to awaken before rolling over into his cloak and falling asleep almost immediately.

Callindra stood up slowly, working the kinks out of her shoulders and back before working through a pair of Korumn that served to awaken her body and mind.  They weren’t a substitute for strong tea, but they would have to do.  After half a candlemark on watch, she began to let her worries get the better of her and was working through it by studying the map briefly to calculate how far they still had to travel when something caught her eye.

A slight motion at the edge of their small camp got her attention but she didn’t turn to look.  Instead, she kept looking at the map and allowed her awareness of the intruder to grow.  It wasn’t Holt, of that she was certain.

For one thing the old man had this annoying habit of sneaking up on her just to show her he could; she was certain she never would have seen him coming.  This figure was also much smaller; probably half his height.  Although Holt could have just been crawling she doubted it.  He’d never had to do so before.

Another barely perceptible motion sent her spinning into action.  Shadowsliver swept into a wide arc as she leaped forward twirling her entire body in a circle as she let his chain slip through her fingers to give her fifteen feet of extra range.  A startled squeak came from the dead bush as her blade cut cleanly through it only a hand and a half above the ground.

She whipped Shadowsliver back and snatched him out of the air, still running toward the intruder and a boy of perhaps ten summers rolled out showing empty hands.  He had a panicked expression on his face that seemed a little too earnest to be totally believable.  The jet-black blade whistled down toward him and stopped a finger from the tip of his nose; his twin tips humming menacingly.

“Wait, don’t chop me up or blast me lady!”  He said, “I’m coming to warn you, your friend got caught and they’re holding him in the tower of pain, but he managed to slip me a message for you.”

The words came out in a tumbled rush, but it almost seemed rehearsed.  Callindra’s eyes narrowed as she considered him.  “What is my name?”  She demanded, not moving the sword.

“He told me it was Callindra, but that flowery of a name don’t seem like it fits a warrior.”  The boy said, his voice not nearly as fearful as it had been a few moments earlier.

She had a sneaking suspicion that his change in tone was deliberate.  Very slowly lowered Shadowsliver and reversed the blade so that it lay up her forearm in was would look like a much less threatening gesture.  Not that it would impede her ability to strike all that much.

“Come over and sit.  I have water if you’re thirsty, and we have plenty of hardtack if you’re hungry.”  He nodded and followed her over to where the others rested.  She saw all of them move slightly as though settling back to sleep and knew they’d seen what she was facing and decided she could handle it.

Callindra rummaged through her pack, deliberately turning her back on him and kept her senses alert.  Removing a water skin and half a flat biscuit she turned to see him standing in the same spot he had been.  She handed them over without comment.

“I ain’t starving, but only a fool turns down food.”  He said, “My name’s Reed.  Yours is really Callindra?”

“It is.  Tell me what happened to Holt.”

“You gonna sheath that blade Callindra?  Naked steel makes me nervous and I swear I ain’t no threat.”  He took a drink of water and nibbled at the bread.

“He doesn’t have a sheath.”  She said shortly, “Answer the question.”

“Oh, uh the townsfolk found him skulking around and didn’t believe him that he wasn’t sick.  There’s rumors of greeneyes what don’t actually have green eyes and look like people.”  Reed said, his eyes focusing on Shadowsliver’s forked blade.  “They said if he wasn’t no greeneyes why would he be sneaking around and he tried to tell them there wasn’t no way to know if THEY was … Taken was what he called them and then the guards they’d had sneaking up behind him all tackled him.

“He put up a good scrap, but there ain’t a lot any one single person’s gonna do against ten.”  Reed’s mouth tightened into a hard line and he glared at the hardtack in his hand for a moment.  “I thought maybe I’d be able to help him out, so I snuck up when they wasn’t looking and whispered through his cell window.  He told me to come and see you, but only after he made me say I wasn’t just trying to find you so I could rat you out.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 11

Callindra waved her brothers back with a gesture of impatience.  “I am the best at being quiet.”  She insisted, “I’m the obvious choice to go and investigate this town.”

They were a couple of miles from a small walled settlement that appeared to be mostly intact.  “If approaching unseen is your goal I am uniquely equipped to handle such an endeavor.”  Holt said, speaking for the first time since they had begun their argument.

They all turned and looked at him in surprise.  “I am trained in the arts of stealth and hunting.  If I can stalk and kill a deer with a dagger, I should be easily able to investigate a town of people without any trouble at all.  I’m also more expendable than our leader.”  He said, looking at Callindra significantly.

She flushed, looking down.  She didn’t feel like her skin was worth any more than any of the rest of them, but she remembered the books she’d read what seemed like a century ago.  Having been bed bound while recovering from a shattered leg she’d taken refuge in books.  Some of those books had followed famed generals and war leaders.  Holt was right, if they were to be trusted anyway.

“Fine.”  Callindra grumbled, biting back a caustic comment.  “We’ll send Holt, but if he doesn’t report back before sundown we’re all going in together.”

Holt grinned and gave her a wink, “I’ll be back before you know it.”

“Take care grandfather.”  She said, finally unable to keep a sharp retort from her lips.

The older man adopted an expression of mock injury, “Grandfather?  Why I’m barely a handful of years older than you are Callindra.”

“Father?  Uncle?”  She suggested sweetly, “Go on now, you’re running out of daylight.”

Holt bowed and slipped into the dead undergrowth, not making so much as a leaf rustle as he headed toward the town.  Callindra watched him go with a frown on her face for a few moments until she lost sight of his lean and weathered form in the underbrush.

“Set up a camp, no fire.  We should eat and sleep in shifts just in case there’s trouble.”  She said, looking at her companions.  Cronos stared at her with folded arms and a disgruntled expression on his face.  Vilhylm was looking between her and the retreating form of Holt with a raised eyebrow.

Kain merely set his pack down, settled his weapon harness so he could sit easily and began unpacking a package of rations.  His expression was mild and satisfied as he performed the simple task, from what Callindra had learned from their brief conversations he had been a slave from youth.  The hulking half orc took joy from the simple acts of everyday life that didn’t revolve around fighting for survival.

His calm was almost a palpable thing, spreading to the others and allowing them to relax.  Callindra finally realized how tightly wound her nerves had been and accepted a flask of cold tea and a hardtack biscuit from Kain with a nod of thanks.

“He will be fine mistress.”  He said, seeing the look on her face.  “I have a feeling he has survived worse.”

“I wasn’t worrying about that old fossil.”  She grumbled around a mouthful of rock hard biscuit.  She had to be careful not to break a tooth.  “I’m worried about what he’s going to find in that town, or what he’s not going to find.  We need to find a safe haven, if it hadn’t been for most of the people we’ve come across being dead the shortage of wildlife to scavenge would have starved us out a long time ago.”

“That last farmstead gave us a good supply of rations.”  Kain said calmly, “I believe we’ve gotten through the worst of it Callindra.  It can only get better from here on out.”

“I wish I believed that.”  She said, taking a drink of tea to wash down the crumbs.  “We still haven’t found anyone who can tell us anything about the rest of the world.  Kain, we watched the goddess of nature die and now the wilderness is following her.”

“All things move in circles.”  He said in that infuriatingly calm voice.

Instead of replying, Callindra unlaced her armor enough that it didn’t chafe anymore and pulled Shadowsliver from where he lay next to her skin.  She winced slightly at the small cuts his razor-sharp edge had left on her back, but lay him across her knees and leaned back against her pack.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 10

“There do be folk living inside that?”  Durrak said, disbelief clear in his voice.  His hand reached into his belt pouch and he withdrew a cigar despite how ill advised it might be.  As always, it came out lit and he took a deep drag.  The smoke was vibrant purple in color and seemed to disperse rather more quickly than normal.

“A great many of us live there still, and there are also those who are trapped in the protective barriers.  We haven’t figured out how to get inside them yet and have no idea what kind of conditions they must be enduring.  The smaller ones especially, unless they have magical means they’re like as not all dead.”

“To be finding any survivors at all do be more than I was thinking to find after seeing the standing ranks and the destruction of the battlefield.”  Durrak mused, “There did be twenty million or more living within Starvale’s walls.  How many do be living still?”

“No way of knowing.”  Lorin said shortly, “There are perhaps two hundred of us living in a collection of fortified manor houses.  I believe there are more beneath the city, but none of the emissaries we sent below have returned.  I know of at least three other such defended locations with similar numbers.  Most of the city has fallen as you can plainly see, I expect less than one in a thousand survived.”

“Gods and demons.”  Durrak swore, “I did be expecting it to be bad, but that do be a slaughter.”

“Yes.”  Lorin agreed, running his hands through his long straight hair.  “It was terrible.  The only upside is that with so many dead there hasn’t been much of a shortage of food and supplies.  We can’t last for long though.  Without being able to replenish our supplies we can’t survive for more than another month or two.  That, of course, also begs the question of why the Spawn haven’t just wiped us out.”

“I do be thinking it do involve those.”  Durrak gestured with the stub of his cigar at the top of one of the largest floating spheres that could be seen over the hill.  “Until they do find a way to enter the spheres they do be conserving their resources.  It only do be good tactics.”

Lorin grunted, “That makes a certain amount of sense.  I didn’t consider the fact that they might be smart enough to use tactics.  They’ve never shown any inclination of the sort before.”

“The do be led by Cerioth The Black.  She do have a mind devious and strong will.”  He thrust the still burning end of the cigar back into his belt pouch an added a handful of dead leaves from a nearby tree.

Lorin raised an eyebrow, looking at the belt pouch with interest.  “You know of the dragon?”

“Aye.  My father did be slaying her mate.  Her vengeance did be destroying the halls of my ancestors.”  Durrak took a deep breath, “I do be intending to be returning the favor.”

“Forgive my impertinence sir Dwarf, as we have only recently met, but are you certain you are entirely sane?”  Lorin’s voice was carefully neutral.

“After what I do be seeing in the last year.  No.”

Lorin barked a short laugh.  “Good.  At least you’re realistic and honest.