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The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 46

“We are not going to get by that.”  Vilhylm said, staring down at the valley that was teeming with some kind of Taken industry.  Caravans of wagons loaded with some cargo led toward a pit carved out of stone on the near side of a lake.  The lake hadn’t been there the last time they had traveled this road; the river had been dammed up by huge blocks of stone presumably carved from the nearby cliffside.

“We need to free the river.”  Callindra said, not knowing exactly why, but understanding that this dam was a problem.  “It’s in the way and we need to get down to the ocean if we’re going to make our way to Starvale anyway.  I feel like it would do Jorda’s spirit good to know this river flowed free to the sea without this … whatever this is making it filthy.”

“I appreciate the sentiment.”  Connor said, fiddling with his goggles, “However, I suggest caution.  There are many Taken down there and they seem to be doing something with all those corpses.  I don’t see how we could get through with a frontal assault, but I also don’t see any way to get by without them seeing us.”

“Corpses?”  Callindra asked, “What corpses?”

“That’s what they’re carrying in those wagons.”  He said, gesturing at the caravan.

“Can you see what’s pulling them?  Who is driving them?” She asked, squinting and wishing she had a far-seeing glass.

Holt shaded his eyes and shook his head, “I can’t see very well here but it seems as though they’re being pulled by oxen.  I don’t see any drivers.”

Connor flipped a pair of lenses over the eyes of his goggles and started cursing.  “The god rotting Taken are doing something new. I hate it when the bastards start to get creative.  Nobody is driving the wagons; those oxen are Taken and seem to be obeying orders.”

“What use could they have for dead bodies?”  Callindra mused.

“It doesn’t matter.”  Vilhylm said firmly, “If they want them for something we should be planning to deny it of them.”

“I agree.”  Callindra said, “But we should know what they are doing before we get too deeply involved.  It’s bound to be dangerous and we have no idea what’s waiting down in that lake.”

“I have an idea on how to get in.”  Connor said, “But none of you are going to like it, especially after you find out what’s in the lake.”

They all gave him an expectant look as he removed the lenses from his goggles that must have allowed him to see the wagons in closer detail.  He sighed, finally giving them his attention. “All we must do is crawl in amongst the carrion. They’ll bring us right into their midst and once inside we should have some time to figure out how to deal with the dragon turtle that’s in that disgusting lake of filth.”

“I have read Tershan Fesrik’s account ‘At Peril to Thy Vitality’ which is the only tome of arcane knowledge about dragons I am aware of, and even if he exaggerates the danger twofold, I’m afraid a dragon of any kind is likely more than we can handle.”  Callindra said, feeling a touch of fear shiver down her spine.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 45

“I’m Ritt.”  The girl said, “Who’r you?”

“I’m Callindra.  Go get your blade and come meet my friends.  Bring anyone you think you need to.”  She said, as she gestured for Reed to follow her and walked past Ritt to leave the trees.  “Get any food we can spare ready.”  She said quietly to her friends.

Alanna tried to fuss over Reed’s injuries but he brushed her off.  “Later.  We gotta look strong for the damn kids.”

She looked up as the group of ragged urchins hesitantly emerged from the trees clutching weapons and giving them suspicious glares.  Something changed in her demeanor and she stood away from him with determination in her expression.

“I am Callindra Sol’Estin.  It is no small feat to lead a group through the last few years Ritt.”  She nodded in respect.  “I have more experience with this than I want to.   We have all lost friends and family.”

“She’s the strongest person I’ve ever met.”  Alanna interrupted, stepping forward with her hands open.

“So what?”  Ritt asked, “You wanna take over?  You wanna take us out?  What you got to make us?”

“I don’t want to take over.”  Callindra said, trying to keep her voice from betraying her discomfort at the thought.  “I have things of my own to accomplish and I can’t have an entire village with me.  Staying here will eventually mean you’ll all die Ritt.  I think your talents could be put to use somewhere else.  Just a few days away is an entire city of people who could use your unique ability to set traps.”

“I’ll take you there.”  Alanna said, giving Callindra a look challenging her to say no.

“Are you sure you can handle it?”  Callindra asked, arching an eyebrow.  “This is a huge responsibility.”

“We just went through that area.  The presence of the Taken should be much diminished and we’re only a fortnight out.”  Alanna said.  “I can do this.”

“Very well.”  Callindra said, carefully concealing her relief.  “I charge you with this quest.  Bring these children to safety.”

“I will prove that I am worthy!”  Alanna said with a defiant look.

“I trust that you will.”  She said.  “In fact I’m relying on it.  These kids are as well, and that should be your main focus.”

“Hey.  We ain’t agreed to nothing.”  Ritt said, interrupting their conversation.  “Who says I’m goin with this bint?”

“You will go.”  Callindra said calmly, “You will go because you don’t want to die and you want to eat hot meals every day.”

She turned and walked past Ritt.  The girl’s eyes followed her as she strode away.  “They gonna give us food?”

“We need to supply Alanna with as much as we can spare.”  Callindra told the others, “She’s going to have enough trouble as it is.”  Within a quarter candlemark they had gathered the supplies they were able to spare for Alanna and the children who had agreed to accompany her.

“You have my respect for taking this on Alanna.”  Callindra said, giving her a firm handshake.  “You’ve grown from the person you were when you first joined us.  I think you have the potential to be a great leader if you rise to the challenge.”

“I will do my best.”  She said simply, “When I see you again I will be ready to fight.”  Her eyes were focused over Callindra’s shoulder and she knew without looking that Reed was standing there.

“Good.  We will need you.”  Callindra said, releasing her hand and turning to go without a backward glance.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 44

Callindra spun Shadowsliver and lifted a spell from his length.  Her feet lifted from the ground and she simply strode after him, keeping her eyes alert for the trip lines the Winds had shown her.  Reed was darting from tree to tree, keeping off the main trails.

Movement above caught her attention, but she didn’t have the chance to warn him before a pair of small figures threw a weighted net down on top of him.  Instinct made her leap sideways in the air and slash above her, cutting through the trailing edge of a second net meant for her.

The figures were running along narrow catwalks and tightropes, making much faster progress than she had anticipated.  Although she wanted to give chase, Reed was the priority.  The winds blasted her down to her imprisoned friend.  Two swift swipes of Shadowsliver parted the thick rope of the net and Reed sat up cursing under his breath.  His first act was to pull a pair of daggers and scan the trees.

“Did you see where they went?”  He asked, running his tongue over a swollen lip.  “Ain’t gonna fall for that shit again but they got more tricks or I’m a bald halfling.”

“We’re going.”  Callindra said, looking around at the trees.  “We don’t need to get more involved here.”

“What?  I thought you were all about finding out if this was survivors or what?”  Reed frowned, “I got bruises fer nothing?”

“They have things well in hand it seems.”  She said, “As much as I’d like to offer assistance, I don’t think we can help them without causing more harm than good.”

As she spoke, Callindra watched the branches above out of her peripheral vision, noting the leaves moving against the wind.  Keeping the smile off her face she continued, “They likely don’t need the food and protection we could offer, it seems as though they’re quite able to defend themselves from the hordes of Taken all on their own.”

Reed opened his mouth to reply but saw her eyes move from the trees to him and give a sly wink.  “Yeah.  Obviously they don’t need our help.” He said, giving her a considering look.

They turned to go and followed the path Reed had taken on the way in, both of them taking special care not to look around.  Callindra exchanged a glance with the boy next to her, knowing she shouldn’t be surprised that he had picked up on her plan so swiftly.  He gave her a wink that was only slightly spoiled by the bruise forming with alarming swiftness on his cheek.

Neither of them were surprised when a shape dropped from above and landed with a flourish of a wickedly sharp looking short sword.  “You ain’t deadmen so we ain’t killin ya but but you ain’t leavin.”  The girl said with a grin.  “We needs more blood.  You got good blood.”

She signaled and a full dozen small shapes revealed themselves in the trees above, more than Callindra had thought were there but not as many as she feared might be.  Standing tall, she gave Reed an almost imperceptible shake of her head before giving her full attention to the youngster in front of her.

“I do not wish to harm you or your friends, but we will not be staying.”  Callindra said, casually flipping Shadowsliver so that his length lay up her own arm instead of pointing at the girl.  “We have business elsewhere.  We could possibly point you in the direction of a settlement that could shelter you from the Taken though.  That’s what we call what you refer to as ‘deadmen’ I think.”

“You ain’t goin nowhere.”  The girl said, the tip of her sword not wavering a finger width.

“I do not wish to hurt you.”  Callindra said, “But I will if I must.”  Shadowsliver moved like a living thing in her hand, lashing out in a complicated series of twists that sent her opponent’s blade flying from her hand and ended with his razor sharp edge laying against the girl’s neck.

“How’d you do that?”  The girl asked, her eyes wide.  “You a witch?”

“I do use the Weave, but that was only my skill as a swordswoman.”  Callindra said with a vulpine grin.  She took her blade from the other’s skin.  “Now go and retrieve your blade.  I have people for you to meet.  But first tell me your name.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 43

“Everyone up!”  Connor was yelling, “Up and out!  It’s almost run out!”

“What?”  Callindra had sprung to her feet in her smallclothes and was looking around with her naked sword in her hand.

“When the spell stops this is going to become a wooden model again.”  He explained as though to an infant, “I would have thought that would be perfectly obvious.”

“Oh god’s balls.”  Reed gulped, grabbing his things and running toward the door.

The others were slower to respond, Vilhylm pausing to grab the last loaf of bread off the table and Alanna trying to pull on her clothes.  Callindra had already exited the front door when Alanna was ejected forcibly, obviously having been thrown out half clothed and Connor was running on her heels.  The instant he left the door, the structure seemed to twist around itself in an unsettling way and was abruptly the crude wooden model in the center of a perfectly round area of cleanly swept ground.

“That was too close.”  Connor mused, scratching at a healing burn scar on his forehead.

“Connor.”  Callindra said calmly, ignoring Alanna’s furious shouts as she tried to pull her skirts down from where they were tangled about her body.  “Next time you should tell us all the details before something like this.  We could have been killed when that spell ended.”

“Oh.”  He blinked a few times and adjusted his strange glasses on his nose.  “Right.  I should have thought of that.”  He took a few steps around the perimeter of their camp, inspecting the line and making notes.

Callindra performed an abbreviated Korumn to stretch her muscles and shake off the last of her lethargy while the others set about getting a brief breakfast.  She was dimly aware that Vilhylm was complaining about the bread having vanished the moment he had walked out of the magical inn.  Her body and mind were in tune with the winds that gently moved through the grass and around the small copse of trees nearby.

She could feel the eddies as they swirled about the tree trunks, through the branches and over small pits that were covered with thin twigs and leaves.  The breezes found ropes tied like giant rabbit snares, logs suspended in place with small sticks as triggers.

Her eyes snapped open and she called to the others, “This entire grove is full of traps and snares.”  She said quietly, “Although this is dangerous, it’s also a sign that there are living people here.  Taken don’t make traps.”

“If we set them all off getting through won’t we make them vulnerable?”  Reed asked as they walked up to one of the crude traps.  Despite its rough construction, when he peered through the thin wooden poles that covered the pit there were several bodies of Taken on the bottom impaled on thick wooden spikes.

“Looks like they’re certainly needed.”  Vilhylm said wryly.  “Reed, can you make it through without setting them off?”

“He’s not going alone.”  Alanna said just as Callindra was opening her mouth to say the same thing.

“You can’t come with.”  Reed said.

“I’m coming.”  Callindra said, in a voice that brooked no argument. “The rest of you stay here and guard our backs.  Signal if you see anything coming.”

“No offense, but you’ll only slow me down.”  Reed said slipping around the pit trap and into the trees.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 42

After three grueling days of travel, Callindra was finally able to slow down.  The hordes of Taken that had responded to their brief and explosive battle had been whittled down to a manageable number and finally been wiped out.  She had seen the last of them fall under Shadowsliver and they had backtracked for three hours to make sure there weren’t any stragglers on their trail.

“I’ll take the first watch.”  She said, in a voice that brooked no argument.  “Holt you have second watch.  Vilhylm can take third and Reed the fourth since you’re always up early.”

Connor gave her a questioning look and cleared his throat awkwardly.  At her nod he made a small bow that she was now used to as his sign of deference.  “I have been working on something that might assist us in our rest.  Now that we have the time to try it without interruption I thought perhaps I would attempt it.  By your leave.”

Callindra was wary of this; Connor’s experiments did not have the best track record.  He noticed her hesitance and laughed, “No, this won’t be like the last time, I put more effort into this one and I found the bones of it in an actual book of magic.  I had to fill in some of the blanks of course since the book was damaged by fire but I am quite sure this one will work.”

“You can try it by yourself.  Away from camp.”  She said, still remembering how narrowly they’d escaped his attempt to create a meal out of thin air two days ago.

“No everyone needs to be close or they won’t be able to get inside.”  He insisted, “I’ve tried it already once on a small scale.  I’m confident it will work when done bigger.  It will give us a save place to rest.  We can all rest.”

Although she was sure she would regret it, Callindra called everyone in.  “Connor has a spell to keep us safe for the night, but it’s a new spell so I can’t make any guarantees.  If it works we all get to sleep without posting a guard.”

“If it doesn’t work we’ll all sleep forever.”  Reed grumbled.  “Surely you don’t want to risk another mishap.”

“I’m too tired Reed.”  She said gently, “We’re all too tired.  If we try to post watches and fall asleep instead of being vigilant it won’t be much better.”

“Wait you fool!”  Reed squeaked, and they all realized that Connor had begun his spell already.

The strange little man took a small crudely made wooden house from his pocket, set it on the ground and grabbed the corners of the roof as he finished his spell.  With a grand flourish, he finished the spell and straightened, flinging his arms up and out.  The shelter responded to his gesture, growing nearly to the size of an inn, complete with swept courtyard, windows and smoke coming from the chimney.

Connor laughed and gave them all a crazed grin.  “It worked!  IT WORKED!”  He was all but jumping up and down.

“What good is a wooden house?”  Reed objected, “They’ll tear it apart.”

“He has a point Connor.”  Vilhylm said, staring at the structure with a dubious expression on his face.

“Hold my hand and back up.”  Connor said, still smiling a madcap smile.

Vilhylm frowned but did as requested and gasped in astonishment when his feet passed the clean area of the courtyard.  He was shaking his head as he came back within the circle.  “I couldn’t see it.  My arm vanished into nothing.”

Connor laughed again and danced a little step in place.  “Come inside.  It’ll only last for about six hours, but we will be totally invisible from anything outside.  Keep in mind if you actually leave you won’t be able to get back in.  The magic makes things avoid it.”

“This is incredible.”  Callindra said, “Amazing.  I can’t believe it.”

“That’s not even the best part!”  He said opening the door.  A table was spread with food and there were neat bedrolls along one wall and by all the gods and demons there was a big copper tub in front of the fire.

The food didn’t quite taste right, but the fresh fruits and vegetables that the unmistakable feel of fresh fruits and vegetables even if they were unfamiliar flavors.  The bread was almost sweet and the meat seemed like venison but it was prepared in strange spices but none of these things kept everyone from eating their fill and more.

Callindra had passed by the food other than to grab something that looked like an apple with golden skin in favor of immediately stripping and bathing.  The strange fruit tasted sweeter than anything she had ever eaten and shocked her by being slightly intoxicating.

After everyone had eaten, they all retired to the clean bedrolls.  Despite his misgivings, Reed was the first to drop off into sleep.  Alanna stayed awake, staring at the door with wide eyes until Callindra told her to get some rest.  It took her longer than she hoped but not as long as she feared to sleep.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 41

“A remarkably charming man for all that you’re as blunt as a tree trunk.  I am willing to wait, and I’m sure you’re eager for me to produce the promised results.”  She cocked an eyebrow at him, “You have a plan to kill her I assume?”

“Of course.”  Durrak took a satisfying drag on his cigar, waiting until she she grew frustrated enough that her left eyelid twitched.  “I do be going to cut her filthy head off.”

“With that?”  She indicated his Gisarme with an elegantly painted fingernail.

“Indeed.”  He was starting to feel slightly apprehensive at her look of honest concern.  “Femurslicer do be quite efficient at removing stubborn problems.”

“May I?”  Ellen Eth reached out a hand and Durrak shrugged and flipped the weapon easily into the air, catching it just under the blade.  The flat smacked into the plate steel that cased his forearm and he held the heavy counterweighted end out towards her.

She gestured absently, and the weapon leaped from his hand, shedding its coating of dried viscera as it flew toward her.  It stopped inches from her hand, lifted to point at the ceiling and began to slowly pivot.  Her eyes began to glow a vivid purple and she shouted a word that shuddered with power.  Violet light streamed from her mouth as she mouthed a long incantation that seemed to be all one long word.

The blade began to chime like a struck bell and the entire shaft quivered in response.  Runes of Power reluctantly faded into view, climbing the haft in twin spirals that eventually blossomed into an intricate latticework on both sides of the blade.

“It may do.”  Ellen Eth said, sounding as though she was surprised and grudgingly respectful.  “Cerioth has grown in power over these last few decades though.  I will do my best to make sure you are not simply throwing your life away.”

When she fluttered her hands at his weapon as though shooing away an annoying fly, it streaked back toward him, spinning through the air with blurring speed as though it was in a rush to escape the embrace of her arcane Power.  If he hadn’t been ready for something like this, Durrak knew he would have suffered serious injuries.  He caught it only using the thumb and forefinger of his right hand.  Just because he could.

Ellen Eth beamed at him.  “Yes, you will fit right in here.”

Damn.  He hadn’t meant to show off, but her display of magic had been more intimidating than he thought it would be.  She was better than he’d anticipated too, and he’d known she must be powerful to be able to maintain her leadership over these people under these circumstances.  He had underestimated her.  He bowed slightly from the waist, politely returning her acknowledgement of his earlier point in their mental fencing match.

“I do be out of practice.”  Durrak said, dropping the still smoldering cigar butt back into his belt pouch.  “Also I never did be the most skilled at court games.”

“It has been a fascinating evening Lord Caverstorm.”  Her eyes twinkled, “Thank you for the entertainment.”

“I do be thanking you for your kind hospitality Lady Ellen Eth.”  He said carefully, “By your leave, we do be departing.”

She nodded graciously and both he and Lorin bowed, backing away three steps before they straightened and turned to leave the room.

“Durrak.”  Ellen Eth’s voice cut through the room with a snap of command that his training couldn’t ignore.  He stopped and turned to look back at her.  “I will hold you to your word.  Do not think you can take from me without giving my price.”

He shuddered, feeling icy fingers crawl down his spine.  If ever there was a question about keeping his bargain, he knew he had his answer.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 40

“I have many capable men and women to defend my borders, but the two of you are unique.”  She fixed Durrak with a piercing look, “The last scion of the last great House of Farenholm who is also the Battlemaster of the nearly unrivaled Drakanda style would be a jewel to shine in any ruler’s retinue.”  She twirled her goblet and it sent rainbows dancing about the room.

“Of course, the Prince of the Blackthorn Wood is a prize nearly as fetching.”  She gestured and wine poured itself into a pair of golden goblets and floated toward them as though carried by invisible hands.  Durrak took his and drained it.  Lorin brought the cup near his lips but didn’t bother making much of a pretense about drinking.

“So.  You do be a collector of nobility?”  Durrak asked, simply letting go of the goblet and watching with interest as it was deftly snared out of the air once again.  “How interesting, who else do be in your menagerie?”

“Most of my warriors are boring, if competent.”  She said, smiling as he took a drag on his cigar.  The tip flared an astonishingly bright turquoise and when he exhaled smoke, it was black from his left nostril and yellow from the right.  “You are not only dangerous, you are interesting.  Such strange and complex pasts.  Such diverse reasons for becoming the beings you are now.”

“I do be having a single purpose and being a bauble dangling from a Lady’s necklace no do be part of it.”  He looked at her steadily.  “It no do be my wish to be an ungrateful guest, but I no will be staying.”

“What is this purpose pray tell?”  She purred.  At a gesture his glass floated back to his hand refilled.

“The idiot wants to try and kill a dragon.”  Lorin snapped.  He put his hand out in a familiar gesture and Durrak snorted in amusement, handing him a smoldering cigar plucked from his belt pouch.  The Elf took a drag on it and blew a sparking cloud of green smoke into the air.  “But not just ANY dragon.  Not just any run of the mill dragon will do for Durrak Caverstorm.”

“Revenge.”  Ellen Eth said, her voice a caress.  “You seek the death of Certioth the Black?”

“That do be my first goal.”  Durrak said, surprised at her depth of intuition.

“Then we can make a deal after all.”  She sat back with a predatory smile.  “I can give you the chance to kill her as long as you agree to be part of my household guard in return.  If you join me, swear fealty to me and promise to obey my orders I can give her to you.”

“If you do be providing this you do be having my oath.”  Durrak said, “But I will no give anything until you do be fulfilling your promise.”

Lorin gave him a stricken look, but Durrak continued smoothly.  “We do be able to be working out details once you do be fulfilling your promise.”

Ellen Eth was staring at him with a small smile curling up the corners of her mouth.  It made her look less amused and more like a vixen who had just seen the mouse slip into a small hole but knew it could wait outside longer than the mouse could hide.

“You have not let your Courtly wit wane over the years Master Dwarf.”  She said, sounding mildly annoyed, a tone he knew was precisely calculated to make him nervous.

“I do be but a humble warrior Lady.”  He said, bowing low to the creak of his war harness and the soft pattering of dried blood raining down on the pristine marble.  “I no do be knowing of the ways of nobility.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 39

As it turned out, Ellen Eth kept them waiting for a half candlemark.  Refreshments were brought, and although wine wasn’t really his preference Durrak sampled it.  One didn’t just waste alcohol.  It was dry and a little sour but had overtones of plumbs and hints of some kind of spice he couldn’t quite recognize.  It went quite well with the sharp cheese and freshly sliced apples that came alongside on the platter.  Lorin didn’t drink or eat anything.

When the door finally opened, it revealed a room with a polished marble floor that gradually widened and rose to a tiered dais.  A wide wooden chair with plump crimson cushions rested there and a stunningly beautiful human woman lounged on it.  Raven black hair was arranged in a way that was likely intended to look careless and she was holding a crystal goblet with a golden base negligently in her left hand.

The clothing she wore was obviously perfectly tailored to her, a long flowing gown of dark green with so much golden thread embroidery that the color was difficult to see along the sleeves and the neckline.  A choker of woven gold held a string of large rubies that shone with inner light and rings adorned every finger.

Durrak noted that none of the guards or attendants were permitted entry.  It was either an overconfident boast or a sign of power and control.  Noteworthy either way.

“So, you are the fabled warriors who are leading the daring evacuation of Starvale Above.”  She purred, “It is an honor to have you visit my humble hall.”

“I do be hearing that declining an invitation from your august self do be hazardous to one’s health.”  Durrak said, allowing cigar smoke to curl from his nostrils as he spoke.  “What do be the purpose of wanting to meet us?”

“Ah, a blunt Dwarf.  What a cliché.”  A touch of mischief twinkled at the corners of her mouth, but her eyes stayed cold and calculating.  “I have brought you here my dear Battlemaster Caverstorm of the Drakanda style because I intend to attempt to recruit you.”

Lorin’s breath hissed in through his teeth involuntarily and the Lady’s attention switched to him.  “My dear Elven Lord, I have not forgotten about you.”  She said, the slightest edge creeping into her voice.  “When you left without hearing my offer last time I was most put out.  It really was rude Lorin.”

“What do you be recruiting for and what do you be offering in return?”  Durrak asked, casually leaning on Femurslicer.  The ichor that clung to his armor had mostly dried and now was flaking off onto the perfect surface of the floor.  Durrak supposed he should feel sorry for the servants who would be required to clean it up, but that wasn’t the point right now.

Ellen Eth focused on him again and smiled in a way that once would have made his heart ache for his lost family.  Now all he could feel was contempt for the poor attempt to appeal to a base nature he had cut out of himself.

“The world above is no longer habitable for mortals.  We must take refuge in the few hidden places that still exist and defend them against any and all comers.”  She gestured with her wine glass and the red liquid inside sloshed over the rim.  Before it could soil the thick rug or even stain her pale white skin she frowned slightly in concentration and it reversed course, returning back to the glass.

It was a minor, but very obvious and casual display of arcane power.  Here was a woman who could afford to waste Weave on household tasks, even when alone in a room with a pair of very dangerous and accomplished warriors.  Her reaction time was also quite admirable, even if it was likely contrived.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 38

“Oh thank the gods!”  Alanna started to collapse, but caught herself.  She wiped and sheathed her knife carefully before bending to check on Reed.

Callindra watched her, trying to keep herself from shoving the girl aside and tending to Reed herself.  She’d have been almost as likely to kill him as to help.  It was better to wait for Kain.

Tears pattered onto Reed’s bloody face, leaving runnels in the blood.  “He was so brave.”  She said, her hands slipping as she tried to staunch the flow of blood from a wound.  “They just came out of nowhere and he didn’t even have a proper weapon but he killed one with the kitchen knife.  Just when the others were about to catch us he did something and this light blasted holes in three of them but there were so many.”

Kain walked calmly out of the bushes and knelt next to them.  “He will live child.”  He said, passing his hands over Reed with practiced motions.  “I have not arrived too late.  Reed is young and has not lost too much blood yet.  It was a near thing, but the spark of his life is strong.”

Alanna sat down hard, still shaking with emotion but looking less desperate.  She watched with wide eyes as Kain coaxed the power of the goddess of nature he revered to stitch together the many wounds on Reed’s body.  The rigid tension of pain relaxed from his face and his breathing steadied.

“This is what it means to be out here.”  Callindra said in a flat voice.  “You did fairly well for your first fight.”

“I didn’t do anything.”  Alanna said miserably, “I just stabbed one of them after Reed … fell.”

“You didn’t die.  That’s more than most people can say about their first fight.”  She pointed to a long shallow gash on the girl’s arm.  “You should let Kain see to that.”

With a squeak of surprise, Alanna’s eyes rolled back in her head and she slumped gracefully over on her side in a dead faint.

“We don’t have time to send her home.”  Callindra muttered to herself, “But she’s not going to last long here and now she knows it.”

Kain put a foul smelling ointment on Alanna’s arm and bound it with a clean bandage.  “This is superficial.  She will have a scar of course, but I can’t waste the energy on vanity.”

Callindra turned her gaze to Reed, eyeing his face that looked so much more like the boy he was when he was sleeping.  “Idiot.  Thirteen years old and thinking he can take on the world.”  By all the gods and demons how was she going to live with herself when she led them all to their deaths.

“Let me see to your wounds as well.”  Kain said, a touch of wary empathy in his voice.  “Some of these are quite serious.”

Callindra blinked, remembering that she had only barely survived the last battle herself.  “Right.  Thank you.”

“Remarkable.”  Connor said.  He had flipped down his goggles and his eyes were magnified and seemed to swirl.  “I have heard stories, but I’ve never actually seen someone wielding that kind of power before.”

As always, she was utterly exhausted and ravenously hungry after Kain’s healing magic, but she forced herself to focus.  “We are heading out.”  She said looking at the assembled companions.  “This is Connor, he’s not a Taken and that’s good enough for me for right now.  I want to be miles away from here before the sun is above the treeline.”

“You are hardly in any condition to travel.”  Vilhylm said, sounding halfhearted in his resistance.

“I am leaving whether or not you have the sense to come.”  Callindra snapped, “The amount of noise we made and the level of magic we expended here will have drawn the attention of every Taken for a ten mile radius or more.  I want to be gone in the next ten minutes.”

“I will carry Reed.”  Alanna said, her eyes daring them to deny her.

“If you can’t keep up, pass him off to someone stronger.”  Callindra said without rancor.

With that she began to strike her tent and pack her bedroll.  If she didn’t keep moving she knew she’d fall asleep.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 37

“Your hair is still on fire.”  She commented, looking at Connor.  “What happened to your wand?  What’s wrong with it?  I’ve never seen something like that happen before.”

“I didn’t have the proper fireheart wood for the shaft and had to substitute a garnet for the ruby core.”  He said with a shrug, pulling up a leather hood that glistened wetly over his head to snuff the embers in his hair. “Sometimes it ah, misbehaves.”

Callindra stared at him in mute horror for a few moments.  What he’d just said wasn’t possible.  There were some things that just couldn’t be done.  “You can’t substitute things in an arcane creation.  That’s insane at best.  You’re lucky it didn’t explode and destroy the entire hilltop!”

“I can.  You can’t.”  Connor looked significantly at the mass destruction, obliterated bodies and some places where even the sand was melted into glass.

“Point taken.”  She said ruefully, “Seems to work, but it doesn’t seem to give you much control.”

“I only use this one when control isn’t necessary.”  He said, his honesty a bit shocking to her.  “I thought you were dead and everyone else was down.  Figured it was better to destroy everything rather than deal with the fallout.”

“Well, as long as you don’t do anything like that to me or mine again you’re welcome to travel with us.”  Callindra paused to give him a real once over, noting the travel worn but well maintained clothing he wore and the slightly too large pack on his back.  She got an unsettling feeling that he had managed to figure out a lot more about her than she had about him.

“I would welcome a bit of respite before I decide what direction to go next.  We were heading to Woodfordshire because someone heard a rumor that it was still free.”  Connor pushed up his goggles and raised a scorched eyebrow in question.

“It’s Cronosholt now.”  She said, unable to keep the pain of the memory from making her voice raw.  “We fought off a horde of Taken.  Most of us lived.  Some of the townsfolk did too, they’re rebuilding now.  I’m sure they would appreciate assistance from a traveling inventor.”

“I’m not interested in staying in a city that the Abyss broke its teeth on.”  He said, shaking his head.  “They’re not the type to just give in easily.  The only way to really survive is to avoid their notice.  Best way to do that is to kill any of them that see you and move before whatever is controlling them notices.”

“We’re moving, but we’re heading to Starvale.”  Callindra said in a flat voice.  “Our next destination is Daggerford though.  Did you pass through there?”

Connor’s face closed.  “I would prefer not to speak of it if at all possible.  I recommend against going there at all costs.  It is a place of death and despair.”

“You probably won’t want to travel with us then.”  Holt’s voice came from one side, and he stood from a depression that looked too small to hide a rabbit.  Connor started ever so slightly and had a wand in each hand before he’d begun to turn.

Callindra put a hand out to stop either of them from doing anything rash, but the tinkling of Shadowsliver’s chain caught Connor’s attention and he stood between the two, training a wand on each.  When neither of them made a threatening gesture, he shook his head and the wands vanished back up his sleeves.  She caught a glimpse of odd looking bracers with several wands latched onto each.

“Sorry.  Just edgy.”  He gave Holt a respectful nod, “Nobody has managed to sneak up on me in years.”

“Come to the fire and get something to eat.” Vilhylm said, but then gave Callindra a questioning look. “Unless you want to leave immediately?”

“Oh god and demons, the fire!  Reed!”  Callindra broke into a run, her injuries and fatigue evaporating in the heat of adrenaline.

When she broke through the bushes surrounding the low cook fire she almost ran onto the point of Alanna’s knife.  The girl was white and shaking and standing over Reed’s bleeding body.  Four Taken were weakly thrashing around her and despite her obvious fear and terror, the firm set of her jaw showed more determination and grit than Callindra would have given her credit for.