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The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 58

That brought a laugh and the girl scampered out promising again to get everything she was sent for.  Callindra went to the common room, belting her tunic at the waist and deciding it was long enough for the demands of modesty.  She walked up to the bar, set Shadowsliver next to her and tossed a silver piece at the bartender.  He caught it and walked over.  She ordered an ale and a meal and gave him an extra gold piece to cover her meal.

She listened to the chatter in the room as she ate but didn’t learn anything new.  Eventually Cronos and Vilhylm entered as she was enjoying a pipe and an after dinner ale.  They were clean as was their clothing, which explained the duration of their absence.

“Little urchin brought us a meal while we waited for him to wash our gear.”  Vilhylm said with a grin, “Charged the moon for it but I say it was worth it.”

Cronos grumbled a bit but sat and ordered a mug of mead.  “Tryst went off to see about things.”  He said after his first sweet sip, “I’m guessing what we’re looking for is going to be in the keep but we didn’t want to sign up for this contest before being sure.”

“Weren’t you all just saying we should stick together?”  Callindra asked mock innocently, “Have we changed our minds?”

“Well, we had already sent our clothes off to be washed so we couldn’t go with him.”  Cronos said.

“The deadline to apply for the contests is tomorrow morning so we had to be sure before we committed to it.”  Vilhylm added.

“Ah.  Because we couldn’t just wait a candlemark because that would be too long?”  She asked, exhaling twin streams of smoke from her nostrils.  “I see.  At least I have the fortitude to admit when I’m wrong boys.  You should probably work on that.”

Tryst strode in a few moments later, a grim expression on his almost pretty face.  “We have trouble.”  He said in a low tone.  “Finish your drinks and we’ll discuss it in our room.”

“An ale for my brother.”  Callindra said, tossing the bartender another coin.  When he moved away to pull the pint, she gave him an admonishing look.  “You can’t just show up and then we leave like that Tryst, it’ll look suspicious.  Sit and have an ale with us before we retire.”

Callindra saw her would be laundress slip up the stairs with a bundle in her arms and excused herself.  Returning to their room, she dressed properly and thanked the girl sending her on her way with another silver coin.  The clothes were simple, yet well made and her armor was cleaned and polished perfectly.  She was smiling to herself and changing into a fresh tunic to sleep in when her brothers came in one by one.

When they were all together and the door was closed again they all say around the small table and Tryst took out the Hand.  He set it on the table and it pointed directly at the keep.  As it pointed it moved backward and forward ever so slightly as though tracking the movement of a pacing animal.

“I believe the next piece is in the Keep, but I also believe there may be more than one.”  He said, and as he spoke it abruptly pointed in a slightly different direction almost as if it was illustrating his point.  “At least one of the pieces appears to be on the Count’s person, or someone inside the keep.”

“So we have to enter this contest then?”  Callindra said, not really asking a question, and the others nodded.

“Yes, however this isn’t a city of refugees being led by a man only gifted because he has a silver tongue from the gods.”  Tryst said, his tone serious, “This is a man who has built a city that is a stronghold from the Abyss from all we have seen so far, and built it well.  From what I’ve seen thus far, there can’t be more than one or two pieces left and if the Count has two of them, we may be putting ourselves and our entire mission in danger.”

“There is also the fact that this place seems to be free of the Abyss.”  Vilhylm said, his voice low and sounding a bit worried.  “If we remove the things that are keeping it at bay what will happen to all these folk?”

“Can we afford to worry about one city when the fate of the world is at stake?”  Callindra asked, “I do not wish to visit the horrors we have seen on this city; however we have a mission we cannot afford to abandon.”

“I believe we must attempt to gain an audience with the Count of Adbar.”  Tryst said, “If he is a wise leader he will see the necessity of our quest.”

“If he isn’t we’ll be in serious trouble.”  Cronos said, before Callindra could voice the same thought.  “He has a city of devoted and capable warriors at his command.  Even if he is a wise leader, it is a rare man indeed who would trust a band of adventurers to take artifacts that keep his people safe from the terrible destruction that they will surely face once that protection is gone.”

“What is to stop him from seizing what we have gathered ourselves?”  Vilhylm asked, “We cannot afford to leave them here and to separate ourselves is folly.”

“We have to trust that we are the ones sent here to complete this task.”  Callindra said, feeling surprised by the conviction behind her words.  “Jorda herself sent us on this quest and we cannot and will not fail her.”  Her brothers looked at her, the grim determination she felt mirrored on their faces.

“In this, we are agreed.”  Tryst said.  “I have signed us up for this contest.  We will go there, meet Adbar’s challenge and gain an audience with him.  It is the only way we can complete the journey the gods themselves have set us to walk.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 57

They found the Brass Rose to be closer and have clean beds which was all they needed to hand over the rather steep cost of two gold each for a night in a shared room.  The bath was communal and Callindra got some strange looks when she walked in carrying an unsheathed sword.

“No blades in the bath.”  The attendant said, giving her a glare.  “You’re going to have to leave that out here.”

“Sorry, but he’s attached.”  Callindra said with a smile, shaking the Mithril chain and showing how it was attached to the cuff on her right wrist.

“At least get a sheath for it then.”  She grumbled, “Can’t have a bare blade in there.”

“I don’t have a sheath for him yet.”  Callindra said, “I’m still looking for the right leather.”

“Then you don’t come in.”  The attendant said, crossing her arms over her ample chest.

“Oh leave off Jendra.”  Someone said from inside the room, “It ain’t like that little chit is gonna be able to overpower us anyhow.”

“Look, the chain is pretty long, I’ll leave the blade over here.”  Callindra said, leaning Shadowsliver against the wooden bench.  “I can still reach the bath and I don’t want to get the leather on his hilt any wetter than necessary.”

The attendant grudgingly let her into the bathing chamber and Callindra stripped, a process made awkward by the chain and Shadowsliver’s razor sharp edges, then sat on a stool to sluice and scrub the dirt of the road away.  When the worst of it was gone, she slipped into the pool of steaming hot water with a sigh.  Her unbound hair floated out around her like a fan and the tendrils of Brightstar flowers released their gentle fragrance into the humid air.

“What’s with them flowers?”  A husky voice asked.

Callindra identified it as the same one who admonished the attendant Jendra to relax and grinned.  “Thanks for your help back there, being Bonded can be a challenge sometimes.”

“Bonded?  To your sword?”  The woman chuckled, “What kinda affliction led you to wanna do that?”

“It’s a long story.”  Callindra said with a matching chuckle, “I’m Callindra.”

“Tarinaotfsatalis.”  The other woman said, “But I go by Arina because that other monstrosity shouldn’t be visited on anyone.  You here for the contest?”

“Well, I guess.”  Callindra said, “Really we’ve just been on the road for a long time and finally arrived at civilization again.  Hasn’t the Abyss come to this place?  I’ve seen some horrible things, even in the most remote regions but here everything seems to be normal.”

“We’ve had some infected here, but they got handled right quick.”  Arina said, “Count Adbar don’t take no damn chances, that’s why we doing so good here.”

“Oh, I was wondering about that.”  Callindra said, running her hands through her long hair and working some tangles out.  “This place seems so much different from other large cities we were a little apprehensive at first.”

“What?  Why?  If we’re not showing any signs, why would you be wary?”  Arina asked, her brow furrowing.

“I guess we’re just a suspicious lot.”  Callindra said with a self-deprecating smile.  “When you’ve been through the things we’ve seen I guess it’s less of a reflection on any given area and more of a commentary on our experiences.  Gods and demons this bath is exactly what my road weary body needed.  Arina, do you know anything about the contests?”

The other woman grinned, “Well, not really.  But there’s said to be great prizes for the winners and Adbar has been solid so far.  His guards get the best of everything and entering their ranks is no easy task.  If this is something special beyond that it must be pretty amazing.”

Callindra finished her bath in silence, drying off before carefully collecting her sword from the bench and exiting to dress.  She looked at her dirty clothing with a disconsolate sigh and decided to simply shrug into her tunic instead of donning all her travel stained garments.

“I cn wash ‘em for ya mistress.”  A girl child with a clean if rather threadbare smock said hopefully.  “Have ‘em ready inna candlemark fer a silver.”

Callindra held out a gold piece, “If you can get me an extra set of trousers, another tunic and two breast bands as well as washing my gear and tending my armor this is yours.”  The girl’s hand flickered out to grab the coin, but Callindra rolled it across her knuckles and out of reach.  “I’ll be able to find you if you take it and run.”

“Oh mistress I ain’t no scapegrace.”  She protested, “They ain’t gonna lemme in if I were nickin from th custom.”

“Not unless you were very good at it.”  Callindra said with a grin, “I’ve seen lightfingers work before and if you aren’t one you certainly have the knack.”

“Jus means I’ll get ya th best deals don’t it mistress?”  The girl said with a gap toothed smile.

“Now that’s what I like to hear.”  Callindra said, “I’m on the second floor, first room on the right.”

“You wif all them boys?”  The girl goggled, “An you stayin inna room wif ‘em?”

“They’re my brothers.”  Callindra said, “It’s fine once you get past the smell.”

That brought a laugh and the girl scampered out promising again to get everything she was sent for.  Callindra went to the common room, belting her tunic at the waist and deciding it was long enough for the demands of modesty.  She walked up to the bar, set Shadowsliver next to her and tossed a silver piece at the bartender.  He caught it and walked over.  She ordered an ale and a meal and gave him an extra gold piece to cover her meal.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 56

“I’ll be right back.”  She said, heading toward the source of the smell.

“Hey, wait!”  Tryst said, “We’ll go together.  What’s going on?”

“I think I need to find someone.  It’s said only a select few smoke this blend and I think I can trust the one who I find.” She said, moving through the crowded streets.

She quickly found a small stand with pipes laid out on trays and approached the man sitting on a stool in front of it smoking a long stemmed pipe.  Walking right up to him she smiled and held out a hand.

“It takes a sophisticated palate to enjoy that tac.”  Callindra said, “Not many enjoy the Imperialis blend.”

The man gave her a considering look, “Even fewer sprouts barely young enough to be out of their mother’s skirts.” He observed with a sour expression.

Callindra bristled and the winds reacted to her temper, fluttering the awning over the stand and blowing dust and pipe smoke into a waist high cyclone that whirled briefly before fading away as she took a breath to calm herself.  “True, good thing there don’t seem to be any fragile young things about then.”

His face split into a grin, “I haven’t met anyone could recognize the scent in years.  Bit of a shock if you get my meaning.  You looking for just the tobacco?”

She grinned ruefully in return, “Nay, I need a pipe and case too.  Lost mine when I was swallowed whole by a monster in the northern glaciers.”

“Sounds like a tale.”  He said, blowing a plume of aromatic smoke into the air.  “I’m always interested in a good story.”

“I’m afraid my brothers are in a bit of a hurry.”  She said, glancing over her shoulder as they approached, pushing through the crowd that her slim agile form had navigated far easier.  “Perhaps I could simply pay in gold?”

His eyebrows rose slightly at the clink of coin when she patted her belt pouch, “Well now, gold does tell a tale with a sweet voice.  If you get the chance I wouldn’t mind”

“If I have the time, over a pint.”  She said with a grin.  After looking over his wares, she chose a long stemmed pipe carved of dark wood, a sealed case and striker.  “I’m not sure how long we are going to be here though.”

“Surely you’re not that pessimistic about your chances in the tournament?”  He asked, raising an eyebrow.  “You all look capable enough.”

“We’ve been traveling for a long time and just happened across this place actually.”  Callindra said, “What’s all this about a tournament anyway?  Is Adbar looking for warriors or something?”

“Everyone has a theory about why he’s putting on a tournament but nobody knows for sure.  The mystery is part of what has brought so many contestants in from all around, the Count has promised a fantastic prize for the winners though.”  He said, “I’m not competing myself, but I’m definitely going to be attending.”

“How does one sign up?” She asked, tamping the tac into her new pipe and lighting it from a splint the shopkeeper proffered.

“Just go up to the keep, give them your information and you’ll receive a chit for entry.”  He said, “Best of luck…”  He trailed off, looking at her expectantly.

“Callindra.”  She said absently, shaking his proffered hand.

Cronos was the first to arrive, looking suspiciously at the shopkeeper and then glaring at Callindra.  “Gods and demons; running off just to get that pipe weed?  We might have gotten separated.”

“Not if you’d just stayed put like I asked you to.”  She retorted with a grin.  “You’re acting like I’m some helpless damsel.”

“You’re far from that sister.”  Vilhylm said, “However this is an unfamiliar city and it would be wise for us to stick together.”

She knew she had let her enthusiasm get the better of her judgement and ducked her head.  “You’re right of course.”

Their eyebrows rose in surprise at her admission; normally this would be a time when she would say something brash in denial.  She shrugged, feeling almost as surprised as they looked.

“Can you recommend a decent Inn for us sir?”  Tryst asked.  “I do not believe there is a chapter house here that I could impose upon.”

“That’s for sure.  From what I gather there isn’t a lot of respect given to the religious orders hereabouts.”  The shopkeep said, spitting through his front teeth.  “You could try the Silver Mantle or the Brass Rose.  Either one is a decent enough place but not too expensive.”

“I really need a hot bath.”  Callindra said, “And a decent ale.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 55

“I don’t like this.”  Cronos muttered.

At the same time Callindra said, “This can’t be right.”

“See, it seems to be untouched.”  Vilhylm said just as Tryst smiled.

“Nothing to fear here.  Normal trade wouldn’t happen like this in a place where the Abyss held sway.”  Tryst said.

They all stopped and looked at each other.  The look on her brother’s faces was so comical, Callindra started to laugh.  The laughter felt good and the rest joined in, even Vilhylm gave a rare wry chuckle.

“I think I’ve just been on edge since I was kidnapped.”  She said, feeling a knot in her chest loosen.  She hadn’t talked about it with them, had avoided even thinking about it and it took a huge weight off her shoulders.  “I need to learn to let go every now and then.”

“No, I think you’re right to be worried.”  Cronos said, glaring thunderstorms at her for making him laugh.  “There’s something off about this place.  Only servants of the Abyss would thrive in a world where it was gaining a foothold.”

“The same could be said for a place that is a stronghold against that same enemy.”  Tryst said, “If the people here have been sheltered from its influence they’d be equally at ease.”

“We need to all forget our prejudices and walk into this place open to outcomes.”  Vilhylm said, “Our reactions from even this distance prove that.  At least we won’t need to worry about having to sneak in, it’s obvious that plenty of common folk are coming and going at will.”

With the wisdom of his words settled, they all made their way down to the trade road and toward the gate.  As they joined the stream of waggoneers, famers and assorted others they listened to the happy chatter and felt their suspicion fade.

“Are you here for the contests?”  One of the traveling peddlers asked, struggling under a pack twice his size.

“Contests?”  Callindra asked, “What contests?”

“Uh, Lord Adbar’s contests of course.”  The peddler said, glancing at their weapons and travel stained clothes.  “Why else would you have come all the way out here?  You obviously aren’t locals.”

“Oh, the fighting contests?”  Callindra shrugged, “Yeah, I guess I didn’t think about it as a contest since we’re obviously going to dominate whatever competition there might be.”

“That’s the spirit!”  The man said with a smile, “I love to see this kind of newcomers, it always brings out the best spectators and that means I’ll sell everything!  Makes the trip worth it ya know?”  He moved on ahead with renewed vigor, whistling a happy tune.

“What do you suppose that was all about?”  Callindra asked her brothers, watching as the peddler strode toward the gate.

“Sounds like some kind of festival.”  Vilhylm said, brow furrowing.  “I’m not sure but maybe Count Adbar is trying to raise some sort of a resistance against the Abyss?”

All the people streaming toward the fortress city of Adbar seemed to be perfectly happy, and the atmosphere did indeed seem to be a festive one, but Callindra felt her brothers moving together as they walked.  They were unconsciously keeping close just in case things weren’t as innocent as they seemed.

The gates were wide open and the guards weren’t stopping anyone from moving inside them.  As they passed beneath the walls, Callindra felt her breath catch in her throat.  The Citadel Adbar was a towering series of structures built into a massive mountain that thrust up from the base of a lush valley.  With space being limited due to the constraints of the peaks that rose on all sides, the people of the Citadel had built up instead.  Even smaller houses had at least three floors and some of the larger ones had dozens.

“Rumor has it Dwarves built this place, or helped at any rate.”  Tryst said, “We used to have a Chapter House here, but haven’t for several score years.  I read about it in the Temple Archives though, when studying the effects and outcomes of city warfare.  This place was designed to be a fortress that could stand against any invading force and has repelled throngs of Goblins more than once.”

Callindra could see how the streets were organized in a series of long corridors that ended in blind corners and how the buildings on the ends of those blind corners had balconies or flat roofs that looked out and down those straight sections.  A few archers on each could do considerable damage to anyone who was trying to make their way down those streets without putting themselves in danger of reprisal.

The keep itself was high up above the city proper, and was built into a sheer cliff face of basalt.  It didn’t escape their notice that the wide stone gates of the keep were shut, showing polished bronze bands that gleamed in the early morning sunlight.  Tryst began asking about inn rooms, but Callindra smelled a scent that made her head turn.  Someone was smoking Karalan Imperialis.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 54

“Gods and demons, I knew those bastards would be looking for me after Shojin saw me at the smithy but I had no idea they’d get the word out this fast.”  She shook the chain into a merry jingle. “I need a sheath for you, I’ll have to gather some appropriate materials before we leave here.”

She got a distinct sense that this new blade didn’t want to be sheathed.  Like some newborn babies she had seen, Shadowsliver wanted to be held.  Well, she’d have to work on that.  For now, Callindra was simply thrilled to have her partner and soulmate back.  She would take him however she could get him.

They had been following the Hand for days, following a grueling pace and still they had no idea how close they were to their destination.  Callindra was beginning to feel apprehension about their destination though.  When they consulted their maps, she looked along the line of their travel and the only place that was directly in their path was Citadel Adbar.

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but we seem to be aimed straight at a place we don’t want to visit.”  She said after yet another uneventful day of travel.

Vilhylm gave her a questioning look and she winced, remembering his connection to the Countess who they had failed to protect.  Tryst seemed to understand and opened his mouth to speak, but she was faster.

“The only city along our current line of travel is the one surrounding the Citadel Adbar.”  She said, “I can’t imagine that the Countess Adbar didn’t get infected with the Abyssal disease at random, not if there is a piece of our puzzle there.”

She almost regretted her words when she saw the ashen look on Vil’s face, but it needed to be spoken aloud.  “I don’t want us to walk into anything with our eyes closed.”  Callindra said, “I’m sorry Vil, but we need to look at this right in the face.  She was under the control of the Abyss and if her citadel is also, we are in serious trouble.”

Visibly shaking off his dark mood, Vilhylm nodded.  “It would be foolish to enter into the situation blind.  How would we know without going in though?  Her infection was so subtle we never even saw it.  Not even Tryst saw it.”

“We can try to form a plan once we get a good look at the place.”  Cronos said, “There’s no reason to panic before we see the lay of the land.  Let’s go in with our guard up but without any preconceived ideas about what we’ll find.  That way we’ll be more likely to see anything unusual.”

“Good idea Cronos.”  Tryst said, “There is no reason to judge the situation until we see it for ourselves.”

“Yeah.  Maybe.”  Callindra didn’t sound convinced.  “You all can keep an open mind.  I’m going to keep my guard up.”

“When are you going to make a sheath for that sword sister?”  Cronos asked, giving her a quizzical look.  “I don’t think that’s a very safe way of carrying it.”

“What’s wrong with it?”  Callindra reached up to touch Shadowsliver’s hilt over her right shoulder.  Just touching his hilt gave her a thrill of happiness that was only slightly spoiled by the tickle of his edges cutting into her skin.  Instead of a sheath, she had begun simply tucking her sword between her skin and her armor.  He seemed very pleased with the arrangement, but unfortunately she was acquiring an unsettling number of small cuts every time she moved.

“Isn’t it cutting you?”  He asked, “That edge makes my shaving razor look dull.”

“Yeah.  But it’s not a big deal.”  She said, “I just haven’t found the right leather yet and I like to keep him close.”

“You realize that sounds a little unbalanced right?”  He said, giving her a wry look.  “That thing is chained to your wrist.  It’s not like it can go anywhere.”

“I don’t think you’ll ever understand what it’s like Cronos.”  Callindra said, “This goes beyond the relationship you have with your blades.  He is my life.”

“Yeah, but why let ‘him’ cut you?  You’re crazy sister.”  He said with a grin.  “What the hell kind of relationship is that?”

They crested a small rise and saw a deep valley below with a wide trade road entering a fortified city.  Dozens of wagons were coming and going.  The scene was so completely normal that it put Cronos and Callindra on edge as much as it seemed to relax Tryst and Vilhylm.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 53

“I’m glad I didn’t get any closer.”  Karas said, standing just outside of the edge of the compass.  Callindra saw with surprise that the familiar pattern was actually cut into the floor instead of just blowing the dirt around.  “It looks like you could still use a little practice with that Stance though.”

Callindra glanced at a myriad of cuts on her arms and legs that were slowly starting to sprout flower buds and green shoots and shrugged.  “It’s how I know I’m pushing the limits.  That’s why I practice without my armor on; I don’t want to damage it.”  The woman gave her a steady look.

“OK and I’m still getting used to him too.”

Karas shrugged, “I’d offer to spar but I’ve got a couple feet of reach on you.”

“Actually I think the advantage would be mine.”  Callindra said with a feral grin, “I’m Callindra.”

“Yes, I remember from yesterday, well met Callindra.”  She readied her weapon, “Let’s see what you can do with that thing then.”

Callindra assumed the Heaven and Earth Stance, crouching with one hand nearly touching the ground, sword in the other fully extended towards the sky.  “I apologize if I cut you; my control is still slightly off.  This blade is a full hand longer than it was before.”  She held the Stance for a few moments and then leaped to attack.

Karas was an expert with her Halberd, deflecting and counter-attacking to keep Callindra at the end of the blade’s considerable reach.  Callindra used every conventional trick she had learned, but was still unable to get inside her opponent’s guard.  She took a half step forward and then flung her body into a backflip, swinging Shadowsliver in a tight arc and releasing him at the precise moment he was parallel to the ground.

The Mithril chain flew through her fingers and she tightened her grip just as the tip touched Karas’s flesh.  When the blade paused, she whirled the chain around the haft of the polearm and pulled.  As she did so, Karas shifted her grip and grounded the butt of her weapon.  Callindra nearly pulled herself off her own feet.

“Nice trick, but I can tell you haven’t used it against a stronger opponent.  Now you’re weaponless and I have you at the end of a string.”

“No, it’s just starting to get interesting!”  Callindra replied and ran forward.  When the blade of the Halberd came to meet her, she gathered her chain and pulled it off course, ducking and sliding under the strike.  She regained her feet and her hand found Shadowsliver’s hilt at the same moment.  As she brought the blade to bear she realized Karas had released the polearm entirely.  Her blade was touching Karas’s ribs but her opponent had a pair of daggers leveled at her throat.

“Well played, you managed to at least take me with you.” Karas said, “Something you Bonded types always forget is that most of us can use more than one weapon.  I prefer the Halberd because it keeps the fighting at a comfortable distance most of the time but I can easily defend myself in any number of other ways.”

“I can use more than one weapon.”  Callindra said, untangling her chain from the thick wooden shaft of the Halberd, “I just choose not to.  Shadowsliver is all I need.  All I want.”  The blade was still singing like a tuning fork.  “One more thing to keep in mind, had I not grabbed the chain when I did you would likely have died.  Your defense is good, but you can’t afford to rely on your weapon’s reach to keep you safe.”

Karas snorted, “Your defense is nonexistent.  I’d work on that if I were you.”

“It’s too late for me to change my style now.  My defense is a fast and effective offense.  Besides, if the muscle, leather, steel and weave fail me, the Goddess will always be there.”  A breeze rustled across the practice grounds and a small flock of butterflies settled on the Brightstar flowers blooming in her hair.

“Who are you?”  Karas asked, her eyes widening slightly.  “I thought you were just a runaway at first, but then I realized you were a girl, not a slight boy.  Your skills with that blade make me certain it belongs to you and is not stolen; it moves like a part of your body.  Those flowers… I thought you were silly, wearing them in your hair but Brightstar flowers aren’t in season for another three months.  The wind seems to obey your whim, to play at your feet like a puppy, I don’t know what to make of you girl.”

Callindra faced her, assuming the ready Stance, “I am Callindra Sol’Estin by Glarian Sol’Estin.  I am two and a half years old.”  The wind gusted sharply and the butterflies startled from her hair in an erratic cloud.  “The winds do not bow to my will just yet, but one day I shall be Master of the North Wind.”

“I have heard of ones like you; the Disciples of Weave and Steel.”  She hesitated, as though unsure if she should say any more.  “You don’t seem to be traveling with a sanctioned Master but you aren’t a Master yourself.  Be careful, they know you’re still alive and they won’t stop until they wring whatever information it is they want out of you.”

Karas grounded the tip of her polearm in salute then turned and walked off the rooftop practice floor.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 52

Callindra sighed and stood in one lithe movement, holding her sword in one hand.  The Mithril chain tinkled merrily as the ever-capricious winds whipped around her body, tugging at her hair and the Brightstar bramble tangling through it.  With a determined expression on her face, Callindra assumed the first Stance and began moving through the rest of the them at half speed.

She could feel the power building, releasing in fits and starts just as it had when she first started to learn how to harness it, only worse.  Thankfully she wasn’t hurting herself beyond a few cuts from the unexpectedly sharp edge or unfamiliar straight shape of the sword, but these practice sessions had deadly potential.  Callindra knew from experience what could result from a lack of focus.  Even this blade, specialized as it was, could shatter if she didn’t maintain control.

The sword began to tremble with Weave; she could see particles of it like glowing motes of dust gathering along the edges.  Without warning the Weave scattered and the blade sang in protest, the vibrations hurting her hands even through her gloves.

“God’s Balls!”  Callindra barely stopped herself from hurling the sword to the ground in sheer frustration.

“Having trouble?”  Callindra whirled, sword at the ready.  A woman with an impressive physique and even more impressive halberd stood just outside of the edge of the courtyard.  “Sorry, I didn’t know anyone else was up here.  I’m Karas.”

“Callindra.” She hefted her sword, “That damn Smith didn’t tell me that he was going to change this much when the blade was rebuilt.  He changed almost everything.  He just won’t listen to me anymore.”

“Bonded eh?  I’ve never seen a bond survive being re-forged before, you’re lucky to have found a smith talented enough to fix a broken blade.”

“That sonofabitch was the one who broke him so he’d damn well BETTER have been able to fix it.  Not that he really fixed the sword though.  Everything’s different.”  Callindra frowned at the pace long length of black metal.

“From my experience it’s impossible to remake a blade exactly the way it was; I’ve broken hundreds of them.  The balance is always a little off, the wind resistance changes, the edge cuts differently, it all changes.”  Karas gestured with her polearm, “I’ve discovered it’s actually easier to get used to a totally different weapon than one that has only changed slightly.”

“I can tell you haven’t ever been Bonded before.  It feels like being abandoned.”  Her voice dropped to a whisper, thinking about Glarian at the same time.  “I’m lost without him.”  Callindra didn’t know why she was able to speak like this with a stranger.

“I would imagine he feels the same way.  You say he’s not listening to you, are you listening to him?”  Karas asked.  “If you will be here tomorrow I will spar with you, provided you spend some time listening to your blade.”  With that she turned and strode from the rooftop courtyard.

“’The first Korumn is of the Breath.’” Callindra quoted, thinking of the beginning of Glarian’s instruction.  She moved to the center of the yard and sat, feeling the wind ruffling her hair.  Closing her eyes, Callindra allowed her body to relax using the breathing exercise her master had shown her.  The vagrant playful breezes stopped circling her; the air became still.

She could feel the ground beneath her, the weight of the sword across her thighs, only a thin layer of silk between the metal and her flesh and realized for the first time that even in this stillness the blade was singing with slight vibration.  Callindra listened to the music he was making, trying to hear a pattern.  Her awareness gradually went beyond hearing, what she felt was joy.

“Callindra!  It’s time to go!”  Vilhylm broke her concentration; he had been acting strangely of late.  Well stranger than usual.  His habit of issuing orders was annoying, even more so because the orders he gave were more often than not excellent choices, especially on the battlefield.

With a sigh she stood, “I could have used another few minutes Vil.”

“You’ve been up here for three candlemarks.  If you haven’t figured things out in three candlemarks I doubt another few minutes would make much of a difference.”

“I was just starting… never mind, you wouldn’t understand.”

‘Shadowsliver.’  She could feel it more than hear it.

Callindra smiled, “Shadowsliver then.  Let’s take this up a notch, to the nine hells with this slowed down shit.”  As they moved through all the Korumn she knew Shadowsliver ceased to be simply a piece of steel and instead became a part of her.  He filled in the parts that were missing, sealing the cracks of doubt and weakness with the strange jet black metal from which he was forged.

The final Korumn, Marking the Compass was finished and the small precise jets of air that always accompanied the last eight movements came as though they hadn’t been absent for the last fortnight.  She knew without looking that they had blown the dust that lay on the stone floor into a perfect compass rose.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 51

They stayed with Beliach only overnight.  Callindra stayed up late, drinking ale with the smith and talking about swordplay, his work at the forge, anything she could think of.  For his part, her host was more than happy to sit, swap tales and drink ale.

She told him of her training and some of their recent exploits.  In return he gave her what little information about The Order that he had.  Mostly he only had names and the last time he’d seen any given member, but she also gained subtle insights about their fighting styles based on the types of weapons they wielded.

Most of them hadn’t been by in years, but he had an encyclopedic memory when it came to weapons and every single one of the ranking members had a weapon forged by him.  Only the best of the best could afford one of his blades, which made her equal parts worried and awed that Glarian had managed to procure her one of his swords.  Now she had a second one.

Her brothers had retired candlemarks ago, but Callindra felt energized.  Her Brightfang was whole once again, although she couldn’t really call him Brightfang anymore.  He was still hers, but he was so different; stronger, faster, more balanced and more dangerous.  When Tryst came out of the room where the others had been sleeping, stretching and yawning she was surprised to see that she had spent the entire night chatting with the smith.

Following the Hand and consulting maps, they made their way out of the great glacier and down from the mountains.  After a few uneventful day’s travel, they found a medium sized village tucked into a high, verdant valley between a pair of peaks.  It was named Lanthodell on the map and seemed to be mostly comprised of craftsmen who had started their own town in order to gather others with crafting skills where they could explore the limits of their abilities and learn from one another.

They found an inn called Raven’s Roost and after they had stowed their gear and had a much needed bath, they sat in the common room for a meal.  The mutton stew had a heavy cream gravy and large chunks of potatoes and mushrooms floating in it and the bread had obviously been freshly baked that morning.  The ale was light and refreshing, making everyone think of spring.

After dinner, Callindra had gone to bed early, anticipating being in a real bed for once and slept hard through the night.  The troubling dreams faded as she awoke an candlemark before dawn, her sword hilt still in her hand and a few fresh cuts on her forearms.  She really needed to make a sheath for him, but she just hadn’t had the time.  She got the feeling that he didn’t want a sheath.

She made her way to the top of the inn, finding a flat rooftop with a low wall with herbs growing in tidy garden boxes along the sides where the sun gave the best coverage.  There was a clear flat stone space in the center and she sat in the exact center, settling with her re-forged sword across her knees, trying not to think about how different he was.

Despite her best efforts she kept running over the changes in her mind.  Perfectly straight instead of the gentle curve she knew and loved.  Two razor sharp edges instead of having one flat edge for her hand to safely rest on.  Gone were the runes proclaiming her the master of the blade.  The guards were even and facing forward instead of having one that curved back over the hand and one that followed the shape of the blade.  The slightly curved wire-wrapped hilt was replaced with a straight hilt wrapped in some strange two toned gray leather that she didn’t recognize.  Instead of being mirror-polished silver, he was now a dull light-drinking flat black.  A perfect pair of tips like a razor sharp tuning fork graced the business end of the blade replacing the slender curving point he’d had before.

The only things that remained the same were the pommel and the chain.  The pommel that held her power and the chain that kept him safe.  She hadn’t been strong enough to give it up.  She hoped it would make her stronger in the end.  It had to make her stronger.

“I’ll never let anyone take you away from me again.”  She muttered, feeling the Weave pulse through his length in recognition of her oath.  It wasn’t true though, that Smith had shown her differently.  Beliach told her a person just needed to know the trick of it and anyone could remove the chain but he was a crazy old bastard.  Not for the first time she wished for the pipe that had been destroyed when she had been swallowed by that monster.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 50

Callindra was awakened from her half slumber by a familiar sound; the jingling of her Mithril chain and sat up, suddenly fully awake and confused as to how she had forgotten. The curtain parted and Beliach stood there, holding a strange looking blade in his hands.

It was nearly five feet long from blade tip to pommel, perfectly straight and double edged whereas the Brightfang she knew had been single edged with a graceful curve. The tip of the blade was split, making the end into two razor sharp points. The steel was jet black, a flat color that light seemed to fall into and silver fire was fading gradually from an intricate set of runes that were scribed on the blade. This sword looked heavier and less refined than the delicate whisper of steel she was used to. Even the hilt was different; instead of a simple wire wrapping it was covered with intricately laced leather that seemed to have come from several different animals. Only the pommel remained the same.

Callindra approached and reached for the sword, hands trembling. Beliach slid the cuff back over her wrist and watched it shrink down to exactly the right size. It felt good to have it back on, but even the cuff had been changed. The one on her left wrist was tarnished and pitted in some spots where the original magic it contained had been forced out. A foot of chain still hung from it, she was unable to remove the cuff or the chain. The other now resembled a bracelet, it was delicately carved with twining vines being blown by strong winds.

She looked at her left wrist and then her right, “This is a reminder of what was. This is the promise of what will come. I will re-forge myself even as my weapon has been re-forged.”

The new blade was light and flexible despite being much larger than Brightfang. She walked out into the forge room and gave it an experimental swing; the balance was flawless. As it passed through the air the strange forked tip made a dangerous whistling sound. Callindra ran her hand down the polished blade and transformed a touch of Weave into a blast of wind that caused the forge fire to flare up. Once the spell was released she could hear the blade hum like a tuning fork.

“He sings!” She gave Bleach a smile.

“You are going to need to re-learn your Stances.” He was pointing to her right forearm which was bleeding from a deep cut. “This blade has two edges and they’re both sharp enough to shave with.”

“Sister, let’s spar so you can test out your new blade.” Cronos was hefting a bastard sword from Beliach’s huge rack of weapons, “You don’t mind if I use this do you?” The smith grunted and stumped back through the curtain to get himself a drink.

The siblings squared off and Callindra took the defensive Stance ‘Patient Avalanche’ and when Cronos began his attack she brought her blade circling around his ‘Cyclone Serpent’, attempting to wrench his sword away. Although he had anticipated this attack and jumped a quick half step backwards the chain attached to her wrist snaked out to wrap around the crosstrees of his sword. With a rapid motion Callindra pulled the loops tight and stepped down on the end of the chain, tearing the sword from his hand at the same time she brought the twin tips of her new blade to within a hair’s breadth of his chest.

“Pretty good chain work sis, but you really need to remember that you don’t have a flat edge anymore.” Once again she had managed to slice herself on the wicked edge that she was used to being blunted.

“Damn. This thing’s so sharp I didn’t even feel it.” She sighed, “This is going to take some getting used to. I can barely feel him at all. This isn’t Brightfang anymore I’m afraid, that Bond is gone forever.”

“I thought the Bond was permanent.” His brow furrowed, “Are you going to be OK?”

“Don’t worry, I won’t slow you down Cronos. Since the core of the power that connects us remains eventually we will become one body again. I just have to earn his trust and he has to learn some respect.” She flexed the blade in her hands, feeling the springy strength he contained and managed to cut herself yet again. “Ouch. See what I mean? No respect at all.”

“Well you’re certainly in a good mood all things considered.”

Callindra turned and fixed him with a rare bright eyed smile. “He said WHEN Cronos. WHEN I rescue Glarian, not IF.” Her eyes narrowed, “I will master and name this blade, then that bastard Dergeras had better be ready because I’m coming for him.”

“You wish to learn to fight?” Corrine Skystriker asked, leaning on his axe.

“No.  I do be wishing to show you how to fight.” Durrak replied.

“I am a disciple of Hammersmith Style.  What could you possibly show me?”

“I do be Durrak son of Storgar.  I will be showing you how to feel pain.”

Corrine threw back his head and laughed, “I’ve heard of you.  They say you’ve been going to every school on the range, challenging every master you come across.”

“That do be correct.” Durrak said, folding his arms across his chest. “Do you be hearing about the results of those challenges?”

The laughter cut short, “I’ve heard rumors.” Corrine said, fixing him with a skeptical but wary eye.

“They do be true.  Not one of those self-proclaimed ‘masters’ did be able to stand against me.”  He said with a feral smile, “You do be thinking you will fare better?”

“Corrine, is there a problem?” An ancient dwarf tottered out of the building, leaning on a shepherd’s crook. “Who is this gentleman?”

“Mistress Caverstorm, please.  I apologize for the disturbance, please go back to your tea.”

“But Corrine dear, who is this youngster?  A friend of yours?” She asked, looking askance at Durrak with a sly smile on her face.

“Please Mistress, go back inside.  I’ll take care of this.”  Corrine said, concern in his voice.

“Take care of it?” She asked, “What needs taking care of?”

“I do be here to defeat the master of the school mistress Caverstorm.” Durrak said, “No do be worrying, I be done shortly.”

“The master of the school?” She said, gesturing to a nearby bench. “Well then.  Corrine dear, why don’t you go sit down.”

“But Mistress-” He began.

“NOW!” she snapped, turning to point her crook at Durrak, “I am the master of this school.  I am The Master of the Drakranda style.”

“Drakranda? You do be the master of forge tongs?”  He asked with a chuckle.

“Yes.” She said and attacked without warning.  Her staff swung out, covering the ten feet between them in a blur and catching him behind the left ankle.  A swift tug was all it took to knock him flat on his back.  Before he could sit up, the end of her staff was at his throat.

“You did attack without the speaking of a challenge.”  Durrak said, anger heating his voice.

“If you expect your enemies to give you that courtesy you are a fool.”  She removed her staff from his neck and turned to walk back inside the building.  “You are welcome to come and learn here if you wish.  However, you should know we teach two styles here.  I am undisputed master of Drakranda and my counterpart teaches Korda.  Here you shall learn to be the tongs and the hammer.  Here we forge the destruction of our enemies.”

He watched her go and a smile began to creep across his face.  Durrak rose and strode into the building without even giving Corrine a second glance.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 49

“Oh come now. I know all about your little tricks. Knock it off.” With one hand he tapped her on the forehead and the Power fled.

Callindra fell to her knees, holding the hilt of her ruined companion in her hands. “No… no… this can’t be.” She stood up and looked him straight in the face. “You have to re-forge him. I’ll do anything if you re-forge him.”

Her brothers exchanged awkward glances.

“Nope, can’t be done. It was broken, can’t be fixed.”  He said, turning away.

“You HAVE to, he is my life.”  Her lower lip trembled, “He’s everything.  Beliach, please re-forge him for me. Please?”

“Fine, whaddya want to give me? Whaddya got to trade?”

“I told you I’d do whatever you want. I don’t have anything to give you, and even if I did anything I could offer would be an insult.” She was still holding her head high, looking him directly in the eyes in spite of the tears running down her face.

“Yeah. I do make one helluva blade don’t I?”  He said with a wide grin, “I’ll make you a new one if that’s what you want, but you have to promise me something.”

“Anything. Anything you ask!”

“Just promise me that when you go rescue Glarian from Hellgate keep you’ll stop by for a visit. I don’t get many visitors these days and when they do stop by they always want something from me. Come on over once you get that old bastard and tell him to bring some decent drink.”

“I swear it.”

He laughed, “No need to be so formal girl.  A word of warning though, when I re-forge this blade it won’t be anything like the old one.” She was taken aback by the sudden seriousness in his voice. “Especially if we leave this on there.” He plucked the chain from the hilt, disconnecting the charmed Mithril as though he wasn’t doing anything out of the ordinary. “You sure you want it back on there?”

“I need it but…” She hesitated. Did she need the chain? Was it really a sign of weakness? Why couldn’t she hold onto her sword, even in death? Did she just not trust him, or was it herself she didn’t trust? She had thought it would keep anyone from ever taking Brightfang away but Beliach had just pulled the chain off like he was picking a flower. Would having the chain just be a reminder of a painful memory?

“It’s your blade girl. I’ll put it back on there if you want it, I don’t care one way or the other but it makes a difference in the forging.”  He said, obviously thinking about different designs.

“At first I think it was a crutch. Something to keep my fear under control you know?” She said, coming to her decision. “But I’ve turned that weakness into a strength. I think I could even surprise Glarian with some of the new moves I’ve learned with it.”

“I don’t know about that but you’re going to need all the help you can get, especially if you’re facing off with The Order and Dergeras at the same time.” He reached out and deftly removed the Mithril cuff from her right wrist. “This chain is a weird one, I’ll give ya that. I’m not completely sure how it works, so be careful with it.”

He moved to one side of the room and pulled a curtain back, revealing a room with a lavish table set with almost every imaginable type of food. “Why don’t you all get a bite to eat while I work on this? Could be awhile.”

With that, he began sorting through lumps of metal next to his anvil.  Callindra watched him comparing them, tapping them with a hammer, filing pieces off with a large rasp and even touching them with his tongue.  After a few minutes, he selected a piece of metal that was covered in rough scales that flaked off as he tested it.

Walking to the anvil, he pulled a lever so massive that she had assumed it was a part of the structure of the forge.  The chains clanked and moved, pulling Megara’s head over toward the forge, while the forge itself rose to meet him.  The gentle exhalation of the massive demon’s breath instantly heated the piece of metal to an orange-red glow.

Once it came back down, Beliach began moving with inhuman speed.  Hammer and tongs were a blur as he began to work the steel, lengthening and widening the metal, re-heating and folding and drawing it out into the shape he desired.  She watched for a time, but the needs of her body eventually distracted her.

Despite her concern about the forging of her blade, Callindra was drawn into the room by the smell of roasting venison, mulled wine and freshly baked bread. She lost track of time, happily filling her stomach with rich food and drink. Finally after her hunger was sated she sat back, smoking a pipe of fine tobacco for the first time in weeks and feeling truly relaxed. Her shoulder nudged Vilhylm who was intent on some project or another and she murmured a sleepy apology.