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Hello and welcome, this blog is dedicated to my work as an Independent Author.  New posts every Friday!

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Book One of Starvale Adventures ‘A Prelude to Darkness’ is now up on Kindle and Smashwords!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shirasiau Sai’Li Has Had Enough

Author’s Note.  It has been over a year since we last heard from Sai’Li and things have changed substantially.  This is a bit of fallout from a failed assassination attempt.

“I am disappointed.”  Sai’Li snapped her fan closed, and fixed Ignis with a glare.  He had never seen her express this much emotion outside of a nearly unhinged frenzy brought on by a battle where his mistress had expended her absolute utmost effort to literally and completely destroy her enemies.  It was mildly terrifying to see that barely restrained fury on her face while he was in a room alone with her.

“Your father did seem to act outside of the normal bounds of good faith.”  He said guardedly.  His great scythe sized claws carefully gripped the cask of whisky so as not to crush it and lifted it to take a drink.  Why did he still feel vulnerable in front of this tiny humanoid?  His true tiger form was ten times her size, but he had seen her let down the barriers of propriety that she wore like armor and what he had seen was what nightmares were made of.

“He insulted me.”  She all but hissed, “Summoning me here only to pretend I have gotten soft?  To threaten my followers?  To DARE to suggest he could use them against me?  As though my loyalty was in question?  As though I couldn’t defend what is MINE?”

Ignis noted that her canines were much more prominent than they had been moments before.  Instead of their usual seafoam green, her eyes seemed to be darkening to gray.  Instead of responding, he gathered his legs beneath him in a position more suited for a leap to one side or another and took another drink.

“If he dares to offer such an insult again we will END him my Tiger.”  She flicked her battle fan open and looked at him over the razor sharp tips that were almost concealed by the delicate looking silk.  A shiver ran through him; she had never given him a look that demanded such obedience.

“I tried to be what he wanted.  I built an empire.”  She continued, and Ignis noticed that the flowers on the table beside her had died.  “I am the trading mistress of an entire city in a kingdom that has never given any credence to an outsider before.  A sovereign nation in the very heart of one of the most exclusive and xenophobic kingdoms on the Prime.  I have left nothing behind but vanquished foes and loyal allies and he acts as though I am expendable.”

The potted plants in the room didn’t just wilt, they crumbled to dust.  Sai’Li noticed him looking at them and took a deep breath in.  She didn’t let it out.  Minutes passed before he set his cask down and nodded slowly.  This seemed to be what she was seeking.

When she let her breath out, he could smell graveyard soil.  “I do not doubt your loyalty my Tiger.  I know you began as my father’s hireling, but by this point you must realize he is not going to give you what he swore, what you need.”

This hadn’t occurred to Ignis, he narrowed his eyes but didn’t speak.  His Mistress knew him.  She saw his expression and she knew his mind.  He shuddered even as she smiled.

“I have seen thousands die.  I have killed dozens of members of my own family.  I have even murdered the innocent without the slightest hesitation.”  She inspected the nails of her right hand, taking out a tiny knife and trimming them until they were even.  “I am not a good person.  I am not, to be brutally honest, even a person at all my Tiger.  But I am an entity and I do wish to continue to live.  Do you wish to stay by my side?”

Ignis considered her for a few moments.  The more he looked, the more his instincts told him she was a true predator.  The awestruck way in which she had been referring to her father before had given him pause but this fierce defiance was what he had been waiting for.

“There will be none who can stand against us and live mistress.”

Sthax of Longtail Sharptooth

Sthrax leaned on his shield and searched the undergrowth with a critical eye.  Despite being separated from the others, this place was good hunting.  Watching one of the Older Brothers walk by.  He stood still, not seeing any reason to antagonize the beast.  There was no need to fight but no need to flee either; the massive shape moved off, leaving a trail of broken trees in its wake.

This jungle was different from his home jungle.  The smells were different.  The insects tasted different.  There were many more of the Older Brothers.  Islands surrounded by the salt water were strange places.  There was treasure here apparently.  The soft ones needed the shiny bits and the sparkle stones for status and power.

He fingered the multiple rings in his ears and the shiny studs in his frill.  They marked him as one of the successful and wealthy.  Or at least he had seen the soft ones do similar things to demark their status.  If nothing else, the red stones and golden rings glittered a fetching contrast to his scales with their mottled green, white and black patterns.

Sthrax wasn’t here for treasure though.  There were things here that needed to be destroyed.  Or there were rumors in the villages of the soft ones that there were ancient ruins that contained some of the things from the ancient evils he sought out.

“For the good of the tribe, This One goes forth to do the needful.”  He rumbled in his native tongue.  As they usually did, repeating these words sent him back to the first time he had heard them in that order.

“You think differently than we.” The Elders said in unison.  They had been sitting and speaking for so long that their voices blended together, their minds were the same.  “We have lived long and soon will depart.  We have decided the time has come to send One out to the lands of the soft ones.  This One must go forth and find The Accursed Thing.  This One may not return until it has found and destroyed The Accursed Thing.”

“Why?”  Sthrax asked, shocked into questioning them.  Nobody left for any extended time.  Hunting trips, trade missions where some of their folk went to exchange the hide and bone weapons and armor they created and the occasional forays against the Orc or Goblin kin that bordered their hunting ranges happened, but nobody left without a definite plan to return.

“Your mind is young and bends like reeds.  Ours is old and stiff as the oak.”  They answered, “A Darkness comes for the Longtail Fang people.  It will come after we end, This One must return to the tribe after we end to report to the Elders who have replaced us.  To let them know the way.”

“It has to be me?”  Sthrax was horrified.  He had never considered leaving the Tribe.

“A soft one who wears the shining skin will come.  You will help her.  She will show you the ways of the soft ones.”  The Elders said.  Sthrax noted that only two of the three were speaking now.  The third was staring off into the distance.

“She comes.”  The third whispered.  “This One is no longer of the Longtail Fang until This One finds The Accursed Thing of the Screaming Face and makes it into dust.”  As one, all three of the Elders turned their backs on Sthrax.

“For the good of the tribe, This One goes forth to do the needful.  This One must fight the greater evil.  This one must show no mercy for the wicked.  This one must prevail by any means necessary.  For This One to fail will mean the downfall of the Longtail Fang.”

He backed up in disbelief, walking backwards until he passed out of the tent, watching the three that he had based his entire life on act as though he no longer existed.  Outside, none of the others seemed to see him either.  The Longtail Fang as one had turned their tails towards him.

Sthrax ran blindly from the village, not even noticing when the branches tore at his tough hide.  When the fear had finally run itself out and he realized he was running from something that couldn’t possibly harm him and couldn’t be fought he stopped.  The pounding of his heart allowed him to hear the bright ringing of the weapons of the soft ones used and the cries of combat.

He unlimbered his sling from where it wrapped around his waist on instinct and dropped a stone into the pouch.  Rounding one of the Great Trees, he saw a figure made tiny by the contrast between it and one of the Two Heads that was swinging a club nearly as big as Sthrax himself.

It went against every instinct he had, but the words of the Elders held sway even if they had cast him out.  Sthrax whirled his sling over his head, releasing the stone with a shriek of reptilian challenge.  The stone struck the Two Heads on the arm with a sharp crack of splintering bone and the club swung wide, missing the soft one in the shining skin by a claw width.

A sweep of her large shining stick the soft one cut one of the Two Heads arms off.  Sthrax’s second stone landed squarely in the Two Heads chest, striking hard enough to break the skin.  The soft one used the moment of confusion to slice through its opponent’s belly.  As tough as Two Heads were, this was more than it could handle.  It took two ponderous steps backward before falling to the ground with a thud that he felt as well as heard even from this distance.

The soft one sank to one knee, the shining stick planted on the ground before it.  It began making the strange hooting noises that passed for its speech.  Sthrax knew some of the words but none of them seemed to make sense for the situation.  Was it thanking the Two Heads?  It was thanking someone.  Perhaps it was thanking him.

He strode down the side of the hill to see if it would share the flesh of its kill with him in the thanking ritual but before he reached it the soft one fell sideways and did not move.  The shining skin on its head fell off and a shock of black hair almost like a crest spilled out.  There was blood on the soft one’s face and leaking from its shining skin.

Hoping that it reacted to the same kind of herbs and remedies that his kind did, Sthrax set about finding the bindweed, thistle down and saproot that would help stop the bleeding and save its life.  Provided he could remove the shining skin of course.

In the end, he had been able to save Kinrik’s life and she had spent four years teaching him to fight with sword and shield as repayment.  Discovering that his shield could be used as a weapon changed everything about how he thought of combat.  Kinrik was stronger than he, but his advantage in speed eventually made the difference.

Gradually, he gained a better understanding of her language and during their travels Kinrik showed him how to navigate the outside world.  By far the most important thing she gave him was understanding though.  One evening while sitting around a campfire she had asked him why he had arrived when he did on the day he saved her from the Two Heads.

“This One was cast out.”  He said, still feeling the anguish of the rejection years later as he described the events in detail.

“You were not cast aside Sthrax.”  She said, working a chip out of her sword blade with a whetstone.  “You were given a task.  No other in the Longtail Fang could do what was needed, and although you were sent away you only need complete the quest before you are allowed to return.  Your people need you.  That’s something most cannot say.”

For the first time since he had run from the Elders, Sthrax felt the burden on his shoulders shift.  Instead of the punishing stone given to those who broke the tribe’s laws, it felt more like a kill he was bringing back to feed the hatchlings.  In that moment he felt the claws of the Great Old Ones fill him with Purpose.

Sthrax shook his head to clear it of the cobwebs of memory.  Far below a ribbon of water cut a deep valley into the mountainside.  It was time to find his way back to the others or back to the ocean.  Preferably without attracting the attention of any of the Older Brothers.

Where there was water, often there were people of one type or another.  Fanning his crest in decision, he made his way carefully down the slope.  This river would, he was sure, lead him to his goal.

A Girl Walks Into a Bar Part 3

Sergei turned and saw a man in an impeccable suit, a fedora, dark sunglasses and carrying a cane swaggered through the door.  The locked door.  Around him, shadows gathered and flickered as though there was a campfire burning on every side of him.

“I fear the young lady has misled you.”  His voice was smooth and urbane.  “What she has taken cannot be returned without proper recompense.”

“Excuse me friend, but the bar is closed.”  Sergei asked, feeling somehow less intimidated than he thought he would.

“Yes.  How fortunate for me that there will be nobody to see.  Nobody to stop what must be done.”  Ethad said, his voice still silky smooth and calm.

“You won it in a game correct?”  Sergei asked with a smile.  “Well then I challenge you.”

“What do you wager?”  Ethad asked, pulling out a chair and sitting at one of the tables.  He pulled a long thin cigar from an inner pocket and bit off the tip before lighting it with an old fashioned strike anywhere match.

“My bar.”  Sergei said, “It’s my life’s work.”

“That’s an interesting offer, however I don’t need real estate.”  Ethad said, blowing a smoke ring.  “I’m thinking of something a little more valuable.  After all, what the young lady has stolen is worth more than you can imagine.”

“What did she steal?”  He asked, “I never was clear on that.”

“It does not matter to you.”  Ethad said, “But if you must know, she stole knowledge.”

“What do you want me to bet then?”  Sergei asked, “And what game will we play?”

“To keep it interesting, we will play a game that matches your abilities.  Since you own a bar, we shall play a drinking game.”  Ethad took off his sunglasses and where his eyes should be was nothing but pits of utter darkness.  “You shall bet your immortal soul of course.”

Sergei swallowed hard, but a glance over his shoulder showed Corva’s large frightened eyes and his spine stiffened.  “Is that all?  I’m pretty sure that’s long gone to many a vice or broken promise.”  He moved to the bar and took the half full bottle of Laphroig down along with two glasses.

He sat down across from his opponent and poured them each a shot.  Something settled over him; a power with a force beyond his imagination.  The pact had been made.  The stage was set.  What had he gotten himself into?  Still, his blood boiled with excitement.  He had never felt so alive.

“The game is an old one.   It is called by many different names, but I call it Flip.”  Ethad smiled and withdrew an old belt dagger from a sheath beneath his suit coat.  The weapon was worn, but obviously well cared for.  The edge glittered wickedly.

Sergei raised an eyebrow and waited, amazed that he was feeling so calm and collected.  Perhaps it was the sheer absurdity of the situation.  Maybe it was Corva’s apparent dependence on him.  More likely he’d just lost his mind.

“The game is played by flipping the blade a certain way a certain number of times and having it end by sticking point down into the wood of the table.”  Ethad said.  “If you fail to stick the blade, you must take a drink.  Every five flips you must take a drink.  The game ends when you are incapacitated or bleed to death.”

“Bleed to death?”  Sergei asked, “Why would that be an issue?”

“Some of the flips later in the game require very good aim.”  Ethad said, “Shall we begin?”

The first few flips were simple.  Held in the hand, off the back of the hand, off the thumb, off the wrist.  The blade was very sharp and Sergei did accidentally cut himself more than once, although they were more of an annoyance than anything else.  After five flips, they each drank.

Now the challenges were more difficult, but Sergei found the balance of Ethad’s blade to his liking and the game was a fun and interesting one.  Five more flips and they each took another drink.  Sergei began to sweat as the moves became harder, but he managed to stick another five and they each drank again.

“You are showing more skill than I had anticipated.”  Ethad said, “It appears the bottle is almost empty.  It has been years, decades even since I have enjoyed myself this much.”

Sergei missed the next flip, recovered and made the next three and missed the fifth.  The bottle was empty and the alcohol was beginning to cloud his dexterity.  Ethad seemed to be unaffected and flicked the point of his knife into the tabletop with almost contemptuous ease.

“I’d better get another bottle.”  Sergei said, rising unsteadily.  “We both have to drink after that last move.”

He walked to the bar and took another bottle of Laphroig.  His fingers shook as he was unwrapping the foil.  Reaching into his apron pocket he took out a tissue and wiped the sweat off his forehead and tossed it into the trash.  Picking up the bottle and a new pair of glasses he walked back to the table where Ethad sat calmly.

Sergei poured them each a shot and couldn’t help but savor the whisky as he drank it.  Even if it was bringing him ever closer to being killed.  To being worse than killed.

Ethad had tossed back his drink and picked up his knife for the next move.  A strange look crossed his face and he lost his grip on the aged wooden handle.

“What did you do to me?”  He snarled, his voice a dangerous rasp.

Sergei blinked in surprise, noting that a red flush had begun to spread from the other man’s alabaster white neck.  Ethad began to make a choking sound, each breath becoming more of a struggle.  The realization of what must have happened struck him.

The tissue.  The wood sliver.  Corva had said it was hawthorn and it had hurt her.  She was somehow the same as Ethad.

“You left some of your hawthorn in her wound.”  Sergei said, feeling a sardonic grin slide over his face.  “It must have found its way into your drink somehow.  What a shame.”

Ethad stood, his clothes bleeding and changing into a cloak with a deep cowl.  His dagger lengthened and changed, shaping itself into a wickedly sharp scythe with a handle made of the same dark wood as the knife hilt, the butt end sharpened to a needle point.

“You have forced me to shuffle off that which allows me to tread on mortal earth once again Trickster.”  The moniker rang in Sergei’s head like a silver bell.  “Your accomplice can keep the knowledge of Fire she stole.  For now.”

Death faded from view, the gleaming silver of his scythe with its handle of hawthorn being the last thing to vanish.  Sergei spun to look at Corva, and instead of a wounded girl in layers of jackets a large raven perched on the back of the chair.  She cocked her head at him, one eye deliberately winking.

“You remembered your blood in the end.”  She said, her voice sounding no different for coming from a bird’s beak.

“Just lucky.”  Sergei said, “I didn’t remember anything.”

“Blood doesn’t forget, even if you don’t remember Trickster.”  Corva replied and flew up and out the door as it opened to admit Chelsea.

“Sergei?”  She said, surprise in her voice.  “What was that wind just now?”

“Never mind the wind.”  He said, sitting down hard, but feeling the sardonic smile come back.  “Come and have a drink with me.”

~fin

A Girl Walks Into a Bar Part 2

Sergei picked her up and carried her to one of the plush chairs in the small lounge area and set her down.  She weighed even less than it looked like she should.  Although she didn’t protest, she gave him an exasperated look.  He knew he should be asking more questions, that he should be doing something else, but the situation was so bizarre that he wasn’t sure what to do.  Where had she been hiding?

After depositing her to rest comfortably, Sergei returned to the bar to get his glass and his pipe.  It wasn’t responsible to smoke in the same room as a child, but he needed a pipe if he was going to be able to get through this.  When he returned, relit his pipe and took a drink of whisky he finally looked her in the eye.

“Corva.  Who is this man and why does he want you dead?”

“He calls himself Ethad, but I’m certain that’s not his real name.  Who he is and what his motives are do not matter.”  She saw the set of his jaw and sighed, wincing halfway through.  Reaching a hand under her layers of jackets, Corva removed a wadded handful of bloody rags and was about to throw it on the floor before he stopped her and got a waste basket for them instead.

“You’re going to let me look at that wound.”  He said firmly, “While I do you can tell me about why Ethad wants to kill you.”

She rolled her eyes and began taking off layers, dropping each jacket on the floor.  Sergei went to the bar and retrieved a first aid kit he kept there and by the time he got back, she had taken off three cashmere coats of consecutively smaller size, removed a pair of flannel shirts and unzipped a hooded sweatshirt.  When he approached Corva lifted her undershirt to show an angry looking puncture just above her waistline.

Sergei knelt to look, swabbing the wound with a cotton swab and peroxide.  As the wound fizzed and bubbled, he continued to swab it out.  After a few moments, he put the swabs aside, smeared some antibacterial ointment on it and taped a large pad of gauze over the top.  Before she pulled her shirt back down he could already see the blood seeping through.

He wrapped the soiled swabs up in a napkin, frowning at a small sliver of wood the size of a sewing needle sticking out of one of them.  Wondering what it was, he folded it into another napkin and tucked it into his apron pocket just in case it was evidence.  Chels would be proud.

Corva looked up and saw he was still waiting for an answer and twisted one of her dreadlocks around a finger.  “Long ago I stole something from someone.  That I only took some of it doesn’t matter any more than the fact that it made a large difference to my people.  The only way he can get it back is by taking it from me.”

“Why don’t you just give it back?”  He asked, blowing a plume of smoke to one side and taking a drink of whisky.  “Wouldn’t he leave you alone then?”

“Because he can’t get it back unless he TAKES it Sergei.”  She said, sounding frustrated.  He noticed that she had taken the glass from his hand without him noticing and had drained it in one long swallow.  “Can I give the whisky back?”

“No.  But I can’t take it back either.”  He countered.

“Well the one I stole it from originally couldn’t either, and he didn’t really care.  But last year Ethad won it in a bet.”  She shuddered, “Ethad differs from you both in that he does care and he can take it back.”

“Is he like you?”  Sergei asked, “You just walked out of nowhere Corva.  How am I supposed to be able to defend you against something like that?”

“You have something not many people do Sergei.”  She said with a smile that seemed to cut across her like a blade.

“What’s that?”  Sergei looked at his empty glass, thinking about getting another.

“I’ll tell you later.”  She said, smiling a mysterious smile.  “Are you going to help me?”

“I’ve helped you already.”  He said, “But I’m not killing anyone.”

“Then will you protect me?”  Corva pleaded.  He felt the intensity of her gaze and it touched something inside him.

“I will try.”  He said.

“Good.  Because he’s here.”

A Girl Walks Into a Bar Part 1

Hi all, I’m practicing writing short stories… I already failed since my goal was to tell a story in less than 1000 words, but hopefully I can keep it under 3000.  Knowing the way I write, it’ll probably end up being a novel. Hope you enjoy!

~~

Sergei wiped the bar top with a clean white rag, polishing the last bit of wax to a perfect shine.  He looked over the bar and smiled in satisfaction; everything was ready to go and he still had a half hour before it was time to open.  After all the things he’d been through and done, this pub was the only thing he was truly proud of.  The small silver bell over the door chimed and he frowned.  He didn’t think he’d forgotten to lock it.

“Serg.  Just checking in.”  A familiar voice preceded a familiar set of footsteps and Sergei grinned and pulled a pint of his own home brewed root beer for the early visitor.

“Officer Ordean, to what do I owe the pleasure?”  He asked placing a coaster on the counter and the root beer in the center.  Chelsea Ordean was a powerfully built woman who had earned her way in the force by equal parts skill, luck and brains.

“No time for drinks today Serg.  Just looking for some girl who supposedly got stabbed at the eighth street subway station.”  Her face was grim and despite her words, she slugged down half the root beer in one long gulp.  “You haven’t seen anyone in here have you?”

“Just me so far.”  He frowned, “I thought I’d locked the door though.  Maybe check the restrooms?”  The Rambler was his pub, but the layout wasn’t his design and the toilets were on either side of the entry door.

“The door was not locked.”  Chelsea said, unsnapping her pistol but not drawing it.  “Let’s go have a look.”

“If someone was stabbed wouldn’t there be blood?”  Sergei asked, following her up to the entry.  The bar itself was three wide steps below the entrance.  “Knife wounds bleed Chels.”

“She was apparently wearing a thick woolen jacket.  I’m just checking places that folks know they can get help.”  She said, giving him a sidelong glance.  They both knew he wouldn’t turn someone in need away; even though it was almost time to open.

They swiftly checked the bathrooms and found nothing.  “You need to check the rest of the place Chels?  I don’t think anyone came in while I was bringing up kegs but I thought I’d locked the door too.  You got the run of the place if you need it; you know where everything is.”

She nodded her thanks and moved through the pub, checking in the back office, the storage room and even the cold storage although that was the only place he’d have been able to miss someone coming in.  satisfied, she clapped him on the back and walked out.

Sergei dumped her root beer, cleaned the glass and straightened his apron before making his final pre-opening checks.  He hoped Chels would find the girl before she bled out.  Knife wounds were no laughing matter.

The usual ‘last call’ crowd were finally stumbling out to their taxi’s and fumbling for their subway passes.  Sergei smiled in satisfaction.  It had been a good night, his regulars had been joined by a decent crowd of businessmen attending some conference who apparently had gotten the green light to drink on the company tab.

He closed and firmly locked the door behind the last of his patrons and turned back to the bar.  There was just a bit of cleaning he needed to do before the he headed out himself.  The voice nearly startled him out of his skin.

“I heard some of them talking Sergei.  They all said that you used to do things before you came here.”  It was a girl’s voice.  Not a young woman, but a girl, likely only barely into her teens.  But he couldn’t see anyone.  “Is it true?”

“Show yourself please.”  He said calmly, walking back to the bar and taking down his bottle of Laphroig.  He always had a double shot of the smoky Islay single malt scotch after closing along with pipe of Molto Dolce tobacco.  “If I can assist you I will endeavor to do so.”

“I need you to kill someone Sergei.”  A tiny slip of a girl stepped out of the shadows.  Literally out of shadows, there was no room or place to hide.  She had the darkest skin he’d ever seen; a perfect rich dark chocolate and her hair was in twisted dreadlocks that stuck up from her head like ruffled feathers.  “I need you to kill him before he finds me and finishes the job he started.”

“I’m sorry girl, but I am not a killer for hire.”  He said, tamping the tobacco down in his pipe.  “I suggest allowing me to call my friend Chelsea Ordean.  She’s a very competent officer and can handle anything the wrong side of the law can throw at her.”

“I’m not a girl, I’m older than you are.”  She said with a glare, “As for your officer friend, I’ve taken her measure and she can’t handle this.”

Sergei barked out a laugh and snorted pipe smoke out his nose.  “You can’t be older than fourteen.”  He said, looking at her critically.  “If Chels can’t handle it I don’t want any part of it.”

“My age and appearance are irrelevant.”  She snapped, “She would follow procedure, and right now I’m going to bleed to death before procedure can be of any use to me.”

“You really have been stabbed?”  Sergei asked, setting his pipe and his glass down and moving to her side.  His years patching up wounds since he seemed to be the only one who had the knack tried to come to the surface, but he ruthlessly shoved them back down into the darkness.  That was the past.

“It’s nothing you can help with.”  She said, “He used hawthorn.”

“Is that a poison?”  He asked, pulling back her coat and finding another coat underneath it.  She had layer upon layer of clothing on.  “What is your name?  I can’t just keep calling you girl.”

“Stop that, you don’t need to look at the wound.”  She said, “You can call me Corva.”

“What good is killing this man going to be if you won’t let me stop the bleeding Corva?”  Sergei asked, “You said yourself that you don’t have time to wait.”

“If he is stopped I will be able to get proper help.  If he lives no place will be safe for me no matter what.”  She looked at him with eyes so dark gray they were almost black.  “I need your help and you’re the only one who can help me.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 65

The ground beneath their feet shuddered as Morde stood and stretched and they ran.  Callindra had thought herself dead, but once restored she knew only terror.  Cronos was still trying to incant a spell, but she and Vilhylm took him by the arms and dragged him bodily from the chamber and Morde’s laughter followed them as they fled.

Outside the remains of the Keep, all the Abyssal spawn were gathered rank upon rank.  Overhead the great black scaled dragon they had seen over Starvale slowly circled, emerald green vapor flowing from its fanged jaws.

“Gods and demons.” Callindra breathed, “How are we going to face this?”

“Together.”  Vilhylm and Cronos said at the same time.

Callindra looked around, trying to find an escape and saw a simple Greatsword thrust into the ground.  The moment she saw the blade she knew it.

“Master!”  She said, grabbing the hilt.  As she touched it, Callindra could feel Glarian’s presence.

“Callindra.  You need to break the sword.”  Glarian said, his voice perfectly calm.

“If I break your sword won’t it set your magic loose?”  She asked, “Won’t it make you unable to control it?”

“You’re half right.”  He said, “Now break it fool girl, before it’s too late.”

Callindra grabbed his sword with both hands and slammed it into a boulder.  The sword sliced cleanly through the stone without showing a single mark on its flawless edge.  Stabbing it into the ground again, she drew her own sword.  Running her hand down Shadowsliver, she released a spell, her hand vibrating in the same way Beliach’s had.  She flicked the flat of her master’s blade and whispered “Shatter.” It exploded into a cloud of steel shards.

Glarian stepped out of the explosion of metal with a grin on his narrow face and the hilt of his sword in his hand.  “You never do anything halfway apprentice.”

The dragon roared and Glarian laughed.  “Time for me to take care of this.”  He waved the hilt of his sword and the fragments of metal reformed into a perfect blade.

“How did you do that?”  Callindra asked, her own sword trembling in her hand.

“I need your help.”  Glarian said, “I need you to get your siblings out of here while mine handle these spawn of the abyss.”

“No.”  She said through clenched teeth.  “I’m not leaving your side.  Not ever again.  If I’m not good enough to fight with you then I’ll die here.”

“You need to stay close then.”  He said tersely.  “I cannot watch out for you once the real fighting begins and I would feel your loss more keenly than the stab of a blade to the gut.”

“Cronos!  Vilhylm!  Stay with me!”  She cried, watching as her Master wrought a spell, cutting a rent in the air with his huge sword.

A beautiful woman stepped lightly through the portal, carrying a gourd and wearing a gown made from coral.  A man with hair and beard made of fire walked beside her, eyes blazing like the sun.  They surveyed the scene with implacable faces.

“Our cousin has perished at the hands of the cursed one.”  The woman said, her voice like the crash of waves on a cliff.

“He must be chastised for his impudence.”  The man said, a forest fire crackling behind his words.

“Vandis.  Ild.  Glad you could join us.”  Glarian said, wiping sweat from his brow.

“Luftin, the ilk of the cursed one seems frisky.”  Ild said with a harsh laugh, “I believe we should join the dance.”  Flames licked out from his left hand and burned the entire first rank of Abyssal creatures to ashes.

“Things are always interesting when you call us brother.”  Vandis said, waving a hand and sending a scattering of water that turned to scalding steam as it passed through Ild’s flames and scoured the flesh from the bones of the next rank of monsters.

Callindra stared in disbelief at the gods who stood before her, calling her Master their brother.  “Luftin?”  She whispered, “You’re Luftin?  You’re a bloody GOD?”

“You two think too small.”  Luftin said, ignoring Callindra’s outburst.  “These tiny ones are hardly worth the effort.”  He raised his sword above his head, spinning it in a circle and a cyclone burst from the cloud covered sky, descending down on the vast black shape of the dragon that circled above.  “I have a mind to pick a fight with an old enemy.”

~fin~

Author’s note:
Thanks for following along, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed writing it.  Sorry for the cliff hanger… but hopefully it’ll make you itch to read the next book!  I’m 34 pages into Book 3; tentatively titled “A Fall of Stars” and I’ll begin posting more of this series as soon as I have the damn thing done!  See ya next time Space Cowboy,

-Ben

April Horoscopes

April Horoscopes; Drinks Edition

Aries: Stout.  You need sustenance to keep you warm while you’re waiting for the snow to melt and the weather to warm.  It’s springtime but you’re still hibernating.

Taurus: Whisky.  It’s always whisky for you.  You know it; don’t fight it.  Just don’t overdo it like you always do.

Gemini: Gin, but not just any gin.  You need a Velvet Crush this month.  I know, KoolAid and Gin isn’t classy but it’s your month to slum it.

Cancer: Bloody Mary.  The more extra’s the better.  Seriously, if you can find a way to put a pizza in there do it.

Leo: Tequila.  Doesn’t matter if it’s shots or margarita’s.  It’ll remind you of spring break and vacations in sunny climes.

Virgo:  Lite beer.  I don’t know what’s wrong with you that you’re to be subjected to lite beer but there it is.  Sorry.

Libra: Chartreuse.  I know right?  You’ve probably been wondering what the hell it tasted like.  If you can’t handle it straight try a Green Dragon which is Chartreuse mixed with champage.

Scorpio: Vodka martini.  But you’re not James Bond so stir it and make it dirty.  Three olives.

Sagittarius: Boilermaker.  You must hate yourself.  Well if you don’t now, you probably will at the end of the month.  Just take it easy and you’ll probably survive.

Capricorn: Cider.  Not that fake ass ‘malt beverage’ crap either.  Something good.  Probably something from England.  Make sure it’s cold.

Aquarius: Highball.  Use decent bourbon and brewed ginger ale damn it.  Don’t drink the cheap stuff.

Pisces: White Russian. Take it down a notch, chill with The Dude.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 64

While her brothers winced at her words, they also nodded in grim determination.  They had followed her here for the same reason she had led them here.  Tryst was dead, killed helping them escape from Count Adbar’s citadel and he had been working with Dergeras.  All the pieces had fallen into place; Adbar had been collecting the Artifacts of the Original as well.  He had been bent on thwarting them from the beginning and when he lured them in they had taken the bait.  It had cost them Tryst, their mission and likely the world.

If the world was going to burn anyway, at least she would take Dergeras down in the flames.  She set out at a steady trot, her brothers flanking her, and in a few minutes they had arrived at the back of the keep wall.  Here it was still mostly sound and reached nearly thirty feet into the air.  Callindra incanted another spell and leaped into the air with the Winds gathering beneath her.  Landing on the top of the wall in a crouch, she made certain she hadn’t been spotted and then took a rope from her pack and secured it to a crenellation that was still solid before tossing the other end down for them to climb.

They brought the rope up after them and tossed it down the inside of the wall, each scrape of boot on stone muffled by the spell Callindra had wrought around them.  Cronos pointed to a broken window in the crumbling keep and they crept through it without attracting the attention of any of the monsters outside.

The building was thick with dust and decay, but the sound of unceasing chanting came faintly to their ears as they made their way into the depths of the keep.  A feeling of foreboding settled over them a feeling accentuated the Winds fled as they got closer.  The sound of their footsteps began to echo off the moldering stone walls as Callindra’s magic faded, muffled only slightly by the dust that coated everything.

“This feels wrong.  Worse than I thought it would.  Worse than I thought possible.”  Callindra said, shivering.  “The air is dead here.”

“Everything feels dead here.”  Vilhylm said, looking at the dust choked walls and floor.

They found a doorway with stairs leading down.  More importantly, there were many tracks here.  The dust had been mashed nearly into nothing from the passage of many feet.  The chanting came from below.  It stopped the second Callindra’s foot touched the top stair.

“I don’t like this.”  She and Cronos said simultaneously.  For once they didn’t glare at each other.  Clutching their weapons, the three made their way down the stairs.  Callindra idly thought that being a leader unfortunately also meant going first into certain death.  Of course, she didn’t care if she died now, as long as she got her revenge.  As long as they got their revenge.

At the bottom of the stairs the hallway widened into a single large room.  Two dozen or more corpses lay on the floor, bloody knives in their hands.  Callindra shuddered in revulsion, they had killed themselves and spilled their lifeblood on symbols roughly carved on the floor in some dreadful ritual.

Stepping around the corpses they moved into the room itself and saw a dark figure cloaked in rags standing before an altar with a figure assembled from clay pieces laying upon it.  The mold of the original mortal.

“Dergeras!”  Callindra called out, her voice ringing throughout the room, “You have taken my brother from me, you have betrayed the living and made dark contracts with the Abyss.  You will die for your crimes here and now on my blade.”

She sprang forward, Shadowsliver a living extension of her arm and sank his twin tips into the figure’s heart, pinning him to the clay figure on the altar.  Dark blood flowed from his body and dripped onto the Mold.

“You have … completed.”  He gasped, a beatific smile on his face as his life flowed out onto the altar.

A rent tore in reality and something forced its way into the world using the Mold of the Original Mortal as its vessel.  It sat up, moving smoothly and easily; flexing limbs that shed the clay of the shell that allowed it to take mortal form.

“THIS IS A STRANGE WAY TO ENTER THE PRIME.” It said in a voice with the power of a glacier.  “I, MORDE FIND MYSELF FEELING BENEVOLENT.”

Callindra hacked at it with desperate force, her sword slicing through one of its arms at the wrist as it stretched and sat up.  Vilhylm thrust his spear through its torso and Cronos unleashed a torrent of flame that nearly blinded them all with its intensity.

It pointed at Cronos with a finger that flickered with blackness.  “DIE.” It said, and he fell to the ground motionless.

Callindra swung her sword in a vicious arc, hacking deep into the Morde’s chest but he simply grabbed the chain, pulled her forward and slammed her into a wall with bone shattering force.  She tumbled to the floor in a broken bleeding mass.

“Great Goddess of life I call upon thee in my time of need!  Jorda, I invoke the boon you bestowed upon us, come now and save us from this unholy monster!”

Vines and growing plants arose from the ground at his feet, some wrapped around Callindra and Cronos but most of them grew into the figure rising from the altar, ripping into its substance and pulling it apart; the work of a hundred years of growth happening in a few moments.

Jorda rose from the mass of vines, her eyes glinting in sunlit rage as she attacked, “You are not of this world!”  Her voice was the clarion call of the charging bull and the scream of a red tailed hawk.  “Your kind is not welcome here!”

“AND YET NEICE I AM HERE AND I SHALL NOT BE DENIED” Morde responded, the terrible grating of his words unmaking her where she stood.  “I WILL LEAVE YOUR PUNY MORTALS HERE TO BEAR WITNESS TO YOUR DESTRUCTION.”

Jorda looked at Vilhylm and her face contorted in pain as blackness ran up the vines that grew through the man shaped thing that stepped from the altar.  “Run.” She whispered, and her body burst into blisters of dissolving ash.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 63

Callindra looked up at the broken black walls of Hellgate Keep.  They had been pushing hard for days and finally were within reach of their goal.  Her goal really.  Her brothers had protested at first, but when she pointed out that their mission was completely destroyed because Tryst had the Hand as well as the rest of the pieces of the Mold they had shut up.

She felt bad about their expressions of defeat, but all she could feel was the burning desire to make Dergeras pay for all his crimes.  Everything else was going to burn anyway; the High Forest, the ravaged villages she had seen with burned bodies piled high, the greed of the swamp folk, the wanton destruction of the Abyss seemed unstoppable.  The only thing she cared about was killing the one responsible.  Dergeras would feel the black steel of Shadowsliver pierce his heart or she would die trying.

“We’re here.”  She said, looking at her brothers.  “You don’t have to come in with me.  I bullied and shamed you into this and I’m not proud of that.  This fight is one I cannot back away from.”

“I’m with you sister.”  Cronos said, lifting his tired face and looking at her with determination.  “I wouldn’t have let you talk me into this if I didn’t know it was the right thing to do.  You are convincing when you’re right.”

“The only way to stop this from happening seems to be to cut the diseased plant off at the root.”  Vilhylm said, “As we have traveled these last five days I have seen the wisdom of your words, even if they were spoken with pain and passion instead of reason.”

“We can’t win.”  She said, “But we might make him lose.”

“This is our only chance.”  Vilhylm said, looking at the unmanned, broken walls.  “They can’t possibly think we would be this reckless.”

“Our sister’s inclination to rush headlong into danger is finally working out to our advantage.” Cronos said with a sardonic smile.

Normally his teasing would have made her smile or at least respond with a jibe of her own.  Callindra couldn’t bring herself to do either.  Instead she focused all of her attention on the goal, looking at the defenses and possible threats.  This keep was ancient and crumbling, the walls barely offering resistance at all now that nature had been slowly defeating them over centuries.  Beyond the walls, fires were burning, greasy black smoke reaching skyward in tall pillars undisturbed by any breeze.

“I’m going to check it out.  You wait here for my signal.”  She said, treading lightly up the slope without waiting for their assent.  Once she had reached her target; a place where a large section of the wall had fallen down, she slipped between large square blocks of basalt to peer beyond.

There were thousands of humanoid forms standing in a parody of a military camp.  None of them moved, there were no apparent guards posted and from what she could see the smoke was merely from fissures in the ground.  Out of those gaping wounds in the earth more bipedal figures emerged, each one with glittering emerald fire shining from eyes and mouth.  If they alerted these creatures to their presence it would be mere moments before they were overwhelmed, even if the abyssal creatures were as weak as newborn kittens.  Beyond the throngs stood a tumbled down structure that likely had been a keep or a cathedral; its sole remaining tower tilted drunkenly to one side.

Cursing silently under her breath, Callindra returned to where her brothers had waited.  She felt a momentary surge of pride that she was leading and they were following.  It was akin to the books she had treasured reading in Glarian’s tiny house while recovering from her shattered leg.  These were times when heroes would be made or destroyed.  She had no intention of being destroyed.

“I think I know where he will be.”  She said, experience had taught her that a whisper carried much further than simply lowering her voice.  Quickly, she described the scene she had witnessed.  “Beyond a few thousand thralls in what I believe is the ruins of Hellgate Keep itself.  In this case we can’t just charge in, but I think if we skirt around to the far side we can get access to the place while avoiding their notice.  They haven’t even posted guards.”

“I think they may be relying on senses other than their sight then.”  Vilhylm said, his voice tired.  “Who knows what kind of fiends are crawling into this world or what their abilities might be?”

“If they were that powerful, Dergeras would just use them as an army and destroy everything.”  Cronos said.  “We should be careful but not panic.  Not yet.”

“I’m going to circle around and try to get in without them seeing me.”  Callindra said, “Once we’re inside, we can bar the door if there is one.”  She stopped and looked at her brothers, taking a deep breath and letting it out.  “I don’t expect to get out alive.  This isn’t about stopping them all.  It isn’t about our mission or saving the world.  For me this is only about revenge.  Dergeras took the ones I love from me and I will not allow that to go unpunished.”

Focusing her mind, she brought a spell from the flat black blade of Shadowsliver.  Around her sound became muffled and indistinct.  “This will keep them from hearing us.”  She said, “Possibly from smelling us too; I have asked the Winds here to do my bidding.  If you are with me, keep close.”