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The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 28

They all wrapped cloths damp from Kain’s rainstorm around their faces and followed Callindra as she led the way more cautiously through the streets.  The blessed water that had soaked into their clothes lessened the heat dramatically and more than once saved them from what would otherwise have been deadly burns.

In the next candlemark, they managed to find several knots of civilians trapped by Taken in blind alleys and after a brief fight send the people back to the river.  A few more soldiers began to follow them even though Callindra had suggested that they guard the people by the river instead.  It seemed these townsfolk didn’t trust outsiders very much.

“I just want to take one last look.”  Callindra said, frowning at the flames that had now nearly completely engulfed the city.  “We haven’t gone all the way to the north east side yet.  One of the soldiers told me there was a school there and I want to make sure no children are still waiting for someone to rescue them.”

Her companions looked as exhausted as she felt, but she wasn’t ready to stop.  “I don’t think it’s a good idea sister.”  Cronos said, echoing her thoughts. “You’re dead on your feet and so are we.”

“Just one more.”  She said, hearing the hard edge of command come into her voice.  Cronos’s eyes narrowed slightly at her tone, but he gave her a curt nod.

“One more.  Then I’m sitting on you if you try to drag us back in there.”  He said, folding his arms over his chest.

“Fine.”  She said, adjusting her armor and noting with surprise that there was a huge slash that cut all the way through one of her greaves, rendering it all but useless.  She shook her head in disgust and unbuckled it and put it in her pack just in case she could repair it later.

They went back through the streets, swiftly dispatching a few aimlessly roaming Taken along the way.  As they turned down a side street, Callindra could clearly hear children crying.  She passed her hand over Shadowsliver’s blade and commanded the Winds to bring the sound closer to her.  The sounds firmed a decision for her and she turned to her companions.

“Do you hear that?  I KNEW there were children in danger here!”  Without waiting for a response, she turned to run toward where she could hear the crying.

“Wait you impulsive fool!”  Cronos yelled after her, but instead of slowing she ran faster.

When she vaulted over a low wall into a courtyard the flames had not yet calmed she realized her mistake.  The wall was solidly at her back, but before her were a dozen misshapen monsters with long arms tipped with claws that resembled fish hooks.  A pitiful sobbing sound was coming from their throats.  She had been tricked.

Whirling Shadowsliver in a complex arc, she cut left and right, injuring the two monsters who were closest to her but knowing it was hopeless if she couldn’t escape.  Callindra tried to blast the three on her left with a spell, but when she began to summon the Weave, the creatures on her right attacked.  Although she managed to dodge most of their strikes, the pain of the injuries left by their terrible hooked claws ruined her concentration and the magic vanished in a harmless gust of wind that blew a plume of dust into the air.

Sweat and tears of pain threatened to blind her, but she grimly kept dodging, blocking and making ripostes when she could.  One such cut severed a tendon and felled an opponent, but there were still eleven of them and she was beginning to succumb to exhaustion.

With a shout, Cronos landed in the midst of her enemies like a thunderbolt.  When his boots hit the cobblestones, a deafening concussion radiated out from him, flinging the creatures to all sides.  The blast knocked Callindra backward, her head rebounding off the wooden wall behind her and momentarily stunning her.

All she could do was watch as Cronos fought like a steel dervish.  His blades were an extension of his arms and where they struck, they left great wounds and removed limbs.  Callindra tried to shake off her daze as her brother fought like she had never seen anyone fight before.

“Get OUT of here!”  He screamed in frustration and to her surprise, in fear.

The fear in her brother’s voice cleared the fog from her head and Callindra dove forward into the fight, dodging one attack and parrying another with a vicious cut that took the attackers paw off at the wrist.  Her back touched his and they fought together like only a brother and sister could.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 27

Breathing heavily, she raised her head just enough to look down the alley at the group of warriors.  “Apologies for the bad first impression.”  She said, “We’re here to send these things back to the Abyss where they belong.”

“Just.  Stay away.”  One of the men said, leveling his sword at her.  “We don’t want trouble.”

“Hey, we just saved your asses you ingrates!”  Reed shouted, “Show a little respect.”

“Respect is earned Reed.”  Callindra said, frowning at him.  “We may have killed these few Taken, but I very nearly…”  She shook her head, “We’re going to take these things apart.  I don’t need their adulation or respect to do it.  I’m doing it because it’s the right thing to do.”

A roar shook the buildings and Callindra didn’t hesitate.  Flourishing her jet-black blade and making his chain flash in concert with the whistle of his twin tips she ran towards the danger, rage still boiling in her veins.  When they rounded the corner the crackle and smell of burning buildings washed over them.  A humanoid perhaps eight feet tall had cornered a group of unarmed townsfolk, but it wasn’t the size that was intimidating.  It was wreathed in green and black flames that twisted about its entire body like a living thing.

“We have to take it down before it gets to them.”  Callindra panted, the head of the flames and her exertion making her breath come in short gasps.  “I’ll distract it and dodge out before it can hit me.  Holt, you hit it with arrows.  Cronos, if you have any water or ice to throw do it.  Kain, just be ready to heal me if it all goes to hell.  Vilhylm, if you can distract it or deflect it from turning directly on us do it.”

“I have something that could be helpful.”  Kain said, frowning in concentration.  “It will take me some time to prepare the working however.  If you can manage to keep it off them?”

Callindra ran forward, coaxing a spell from her blade and firing a single streak of bright blue lightning that lanced into the monster’s back.  She was afraid to use wind in case it fanned the flames hot enough to make approaching the creature at all impossible.

Arrows flashed over her shoulder only to burst into flame before touching the creature, the steel of their heads hitting with a splat of melting steel instead of punching through its hide.  A lance of ice came down from above, sublimating to steam without touching the monster.  They had its attention though, it turned and walked toward Callindra as though on a casual stroll.  The cobblestones beneath its feet began to bubble and melt as the heat around it grew more intense.

“Down!”  Vilhylm shouted and she leaped flat even though she had been running full speed forward.  A cobblestone sailed over her head, swiftly followed by another larger one.  The first missed the creature, but the second hit it squarely in the face.  The stone immediately began to melt and the thing stopped to scrape the molten rock out of its eyes before continuing to move towards Callindra.

She rolled backward to her feet, frantically trying to think of anything she could do to stop its advance.  The heat was so intense that she could feel her skin begin to blister.  Instinctively, she tapped the slightest bit of Weave and sent a blast of wind to blow the heat back.  The effect was immediate and devastating, the monster burst into white hot flame that immediately set the very stones beneath its feet on fire.

Callindra tried to scream, but the air was being torn from her lungs.  Behind the monster, the buildings exploded into ash and beyond them the flames spread.  The creature perished in its own flames and the city became a firestorm.

Kain stood from his meditation and held his palms to the sky.  The heat of the flames all around him seemed not to touch him.  Out of the cloudless sky rain began to fall in a relatively small area, only covering the small courtyard they were in, but it instantly snuffed the flames and cooled the burns on their skin.  Even the still smoldering remains of the Taken monster went out without so much as sputtering.

When the rain stopped after a few moments Kain looked drained and wan, but his ugly tusked face shone with beatific happiness.  “My Mistress shines with rightness and goodness.  Her light banishes the darkness.”

“Thank you.”  Callindra said, looking at the charred square with awe.  She swept a finger through the ashes and smudged some under each eye and pointed at the raging inferno that was burning through the town. “I am responsible for that.  My impulsive mistake is going to destroy hundreds of lives unless we help these folk escape.  Thanks to your goddess’s grace I have a chance to save some of them.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 26

Ahead of them, the town of Woodfordshire was burning.  Callindra could hear the screams of people and the clash of steel on steel and bone over the roar of the flames and a flame of rage had begun to burn within her breast.  She had seen enough of people being slaughtered.

“We are going to get in there, save as may of those people as we can and put an end to the Spawn of the Abyss that are causing this destruction.”  She pointed to a small beach on the river bank.  “Land there, we don’t want to risk the boat.”

With grim determination, they checked their weapons and armor once on shore.  Callindra hadn’t seen them this focused in a long time if ever.  They’d seen what the results of a town being overrun by Taken was a few days earlier.  None of them were soon to forget or forgive the destruction of so many, even though the townsfolk hadn’t all been friendly.

“Let’s make this fast and hard.  Hit anything Taken that’s in the way but focus on anything that is attacking humans.  I’m leading, Holt and Kain you flank, Reed you’re behind me as lookout.  Cronos, rear guard and damage control is on you, I’m counting on you to keep us from getting swarmed or pinned down by anything big.”

She looked at them all to see their nods of confirmation before calling on the Winds and Weave to speed her sword arm.  They moved through the outskirts of the town at a swift trot, keeping their eyes moving.

“Ware high.”  Reed said in a tense voice.  Two arrows flashed from Holt’s bow almost before Reed finished speaking, punching through the skulls of two Taken humans standing on rooftops.

They rounded a corner and saw a mob of Taken humans, animals and monsters attacking a group of warriors who were guarding the entrance to an alley.  Callindra broke into a run and slammed into the rear of the Taken, cutting two of them down with a slash to the left and right.  She was dimly aware of her companions attacking behind her but her focus was on the monsters ahead.

With a shout of anger, she swung Shadowsliver in a broad sweeping arc and released a raw blast of wind focused into tiny whirling blades that exploded into their midst.  Her spell severed limbs and carved great holes in flesh and she kept running, dodging a sword thrust.  The anger she felt at these THINGS for the atrocities they had committed against the living had reached a critical breaking point.

Three monsters that might have once been bears converged on her, reaching with wickedly curved claws.  She ducked one, parried a blow from another with a strike that split the creature’s paw to the wrist.  The third one caught her across the stomach, ripping through the tough leather of her armor and scoring the flesh beneath.

She snarled in fury, spinning to disembowel the one that hit her.  Her follow up strike took it up under the jaw as it slumped forward and punched through the top of its skull.  Callindra danced sideways, whipping Shadowsliver out of the falling monster.  The motion caused it to land in the path of the second, giving her time to dispatch the first with a slash that nearly removed its head from its body.

A rumble of thunder from above made everyone but her momentarily stop and look up.  She raised Shadowsliver over her head and a bolt of lightning lanced down into his twin tips.  She pointed five splayed fingers at the enemies on her right and scintillating bolts flashed out at her enemies, burning them to charred and smoldering flesh.

Callindra turned to the remaining foes, electricity crackling over her skin and making her hair stand on end.  They would pay for this.  She would send them back to the Abyss.  Lowering her blade, she prepared to unleash her fury on them but a ringing slap to her face made her blink in surprise.

She realized Vilhylm was shouting at her.  Looking around, she saw dead chopped and burned Taken all around them.  Her brother had narrowly stopped her from blasting the soldiers they’d been trying to protect into oblivion.  The Weave still seethed through her, demanding release.  With a curse she grounded Shadowsliver, the heat of the discharge turning the sand under her feet to glass for a pace in every direction.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 25

“Thraingaar’s BALLS lass what do you be doing here?”  Durrak thundered, shaking the girl’s arm.  “I did nearly be splitting you in half you little fool!”

“Easy Durrak.”  Lorin said, gently removing the Dwarf’s thickly calloused hand from its grip.  “You’re shaking the teeth out of her head man.”

Durrak’s anger faded and he stalked to the pile of rubble, tossing huge chunks of stone aside with ease until he managed to unearth the haft of his dropped gisarme.  With a grunt of effort, he pulled the weapon free and turned back to see the girl looking at him with wide eyes.  Something about her seemed too calculating, but he dismissed the thought with a shake of his head.

“I do be sorry little one.”  He said, kneeling and looking her in the eyes.  “I do be Durrak.  What do you be doing here?  It do be dangerous.  Do you be having family we could be helping you find?”

“You talk funny.”  She said, looking at him suspiciously.  “Why you talk like that?”

“Because he’s a weird person.”  Lorin said with a smile.  “Now who are you and what are you doing out here all alone?”

Durrak pulled a cigar from his pouch and watched the girl carefully as he exhaled jet black smoke that faded to red as it dissipated.  Something didn’t seem right here.  She wasn’t scared.

“I’m here from the Lady Ellen Eth Orien, Mistress of the Undercity.”  The girl gave a little curtsey, spreading the ragged ends of her tattered dress.  “If it please the gentlemen, she would like to visit with you.”

Lorin and Durrak exchanged a glance.  One or two of the refugees had mentioned rumors about someone who had set up some kind of enclave below the city, but they’d never found anyone who could corroborate them.

“I do be honored by the Lady’s invitation.”  Durrak said with a bow, “When do be a good time to visit the Lady?”

“She awaits your pleasure Lord Caverstorm.” The girl said, grinning and giving another deeper curtsey.  “Although I think she would appreciate you and Lord Lorin cleaning the ick off your armor before you present yourselves.”

“I think that can be arranged.”  Lorin said, looking at his friend over the girl’s head.  “Why don’t you come and refresh yourself as well?  We have food and water in plenty.”

“If it is not too much trouble it would be greatly appreciated.”  She said, standing next to Lorin with an expectant look on her face.  When he offered her his arm her face lit up and she tucked her arm into the crook of his elbow and let him lead her away toward one of their lesser safe houses.

Lorin was being cautious and that was good.  There was much more to this child than met the eye.  Durrak had noticed that humans were often like that.  He fought away memories that threatened to rise up as he followed, motioning for the others to take up the rear.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 24

Durrak flicked the gore from his Gisarme’s blade with an abrupt snapping motion of his wrists and brought it back to a guard position.  The last of the Taken in the square had once been an ogre and its legs were as thick as his torso.  There were two score arrows stuck in its thick hide but they hadn’t seemed to even inconvenience the monster.

“I do be getting bored of this one Lorin.”  He said laconically.  “It do be big enough to be falling hard.”

Lorin laughed, used to his friend’s dry humor by now and sent a veritable storm of arrows flying at the monster’s head.  At the same time Durrak put his head down and ran forward.  He hooked the bill of his polearm around the Ogre’s hindmost knee and jerked forward at the same time he slammed his shoulder into its thigh just above the knee.

The impact jarred him, even through Bonecrusher’s Brace, and the monster got one strike in with a fist fully half the size of the Dwarf.  He grunted in pain, but didn’t lose his grip on the haft of his weapon and used the force of the blow to rip most of the way through the joint of the knee before the blade tore free.

Landing with more grace than most would expect from his stocky form, Durrak took two swift strides and used his weapon as a lever to vault.  Hitting the Ogre in the chest with both feet was enough to make it stumble and the weakened leg crumpled beneath the weight.  The impact of it striking the cobblestones rattled windows of nearby buildings.  One swift strike with the blade side of his Gisarme made sure it didn’t rise again.

“You’re mad.”  Lorin said, laughing again.  “I swear Durrak, you have a death wish.”

“I do be wishing the death of my enemies.”  He replied, taking a cigar from his pouch and puffing on it in satisfaction.  Looking at the destruction around them his expression sobered.  “They do be seeming to be getting closer.”

“I don’t think it’s anything we need to worry about.  It’s a big city, but there are just so bedamned many of the things they’re bound to find us eventually.”  Lorin shrugged, “You always manage to make short work of them regardless.”

“My luck no do be lasting forever.”  Durrak said through a cloud of light blue smoke.  “We do be needing to get the rest of the living out before it do be too late.”

“As luck may have it, we moved the last of the refugees out just yesterday.”  Lorin said, “Unless we’re waiting to be able to get into those and see if anyone is still, alive inside.”  He pointed to the multicolored spheres of magic that floated high above the city.

“We do need to be thinking about them.”  Durrak said through a cloud of silver smoke with blue swirls in it.  “If they do be needing help we do be the only ones who may be offering it.”

“When are you going to quit pretending you’re some kind of philanthropist?” Lorin asked, “Why are you really here?”

“I did be telling you when we first met.”  Durrak said, dropping the still burning stub of his cigar back into his cigar pouch.  “I do be looking for Cerioth.”

A pair of warriors cleaned and sheathed their swords, giving Durrak a respectful bow.  “Lord Caverstorm, the last two have been slain.”

Durrak grunted, not comfortable or interested in any of this ‘Lord’ business but accepting it as an expedient way of getting and keeping respect without having to beat it out of them every day.  Something caught his eye and he went from leaning at his ease on the staff of his polearm to leaping halfway across the square in two huge bounds, bringing the wicked edge of his gisarme down fast enough that it clove the air with a sharp whistle.

When he saw the target was a child, he redirected the blow with a savage wrenching of his arms, burying the Adamantine blade in the stone wall of the building instead of the child’s head.  The stone was sheared in half with an ear-splitting crash and Durrak barely managed to scoop the child back out of the way before the entire wall of the house came tumbling down.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 23

“I might be able to manage something.”  Cronos said, frowning slightly.  “It’s not my specialty, but I could possibly reverse one of my spells and create cold instead of fire.”

“If you could freeze the surface of the river, we could just run to the boat.”  Reed said excitedly, “How long would it last?”

“I have no idea.”  Cronos said uncertainly, “I’ve never tried it before.”

“If it works though, it would also incapacitate the creatures in the water, keeping them from raising any kind of alarm until we are long gone with our river boat.”  Callindra said, smiling at the thought. “I think it’s a good idea.”

“Give me a minute to focus.”  Cronos said, clearly uncomfortable with such an important task being his direct responsibility.

“Take all the time you need.”  She said, giving him a quick, fierce hug.  “I know you can do it.”

They sat in the darkness, listening to Cronos chanting a barely audible mantra.  After a quarter candlemark, he stood slowly and stretched.  “I think I am ready.”  He said, leading the way toward the river.  When they arrived, he incanted a spell in a low voice and a tiny ball of blue light began to gather in his palm.

After it had swelled to the size of an apple, he exhaled sharply and tossed it into the water.  At first nothing seemed to happen, but then the water in a rough sphere twenty paces wide became ice with a shockingly loud report of cracking ice.

“Run!”  Callindra said, even though the others were already on the move.  They slipped and slid over the surface of the smooth surface that was already melting in the summer’s heat.

To her intense surprise and relief, they reached the side of the dock and clambered up a ladder without falling and without anything trying to stop them.  Once they had gained the dock, a howl of hunger and rage went up from the shore and dozens of Taken immediately began running down the dock with reckless speed towards them.

Arrows began whistling over her shoulder to hammer into their foes, sometimes hitting hard enough to pierce through two, but it wasn’t enough to stop the rush.  Callindra whirled Shadowsliver and prepared herself for a last stand, but Reed darted forward and hurled something down hard on the dock in front of them.

With a roar, a sheet of flame hot enough to hurt her face erupted, rapidly consuming the worm eaten planks of the dock.  He grabbed her arm and tugged hard.  “Quit staring and RUN!”

“How did you do that?”  She asked, grinning at him as they leaped into the ship.

“Alchemist’s fire.”  He said with a mournful look on his face.  “It was the only vial of it I managed to pilfer.  Better to lose it than die I suppose.”

Behind them the Taken had run into the fire and fallen through the weakened planking.  Some tried to leap over the gap and a few even succeeded but they had already deployed the oars and boat was making its way into the current and downstream.  It was a narrow escape, and that thought sobered her as the euphoria of the night wore off.

“God’s balls.” She swore, “I left almost all my gear back in the inn.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 22

“I see a sewer grate.”  She said, “If we’re lucky there is an entrance to the sewers in this building.  We can sneak underneath all these Taken and escape on that river boat.”

Cronos moved to the center of the warehouse and wrought a spell more subtle than Callindra would have thought him capable of.  A hole burned through the roof nearly silently as he summoned and spread a layer of acid across the roof tiles.  They slid down a rope Reed anchored to a chimney into the darkness of the warehouse.

“Follow me.”  Kain said, “I can see in the dark.  Everyone hold hands.”

They put their trust in him and moved through the building in complete darkness.  After what seemed forever, Kain stopped.  “I can see a grate.  I’m going to lift it and take a look.”

He was back in a few minutes, “I think it leads out to the water, I didn’t see anything in the way.”

Callindra went down first, stumbling slightly as Kain helped her descend to the tunnel below.  A faint glow of flickering firelight gave just enough illumination that she could see the rough stone of the sewer under her feet.  While the others climbed through the grate, she crept down the tunnel.  Something about the way the wind moved made her stop just before the sewer emptied into the river.

Something was slowly moving in the water of the river, making ripples that lapped at the edge of the tunnel.

She focused on the ripples in the water and the corresponding disturbances in the air and realized that something very large or a very large number of things were lurking just beneath the surface of the water.  If they entered the water here, it was likely to be nearly as much if not more difficult than braving the throngs of Taken above.

Behind her, Holt made just enough of a sound approaching that she was sure he’d done it on purpose to alert her of his presence.  The man had an uncanny ability to move without making a sound.  She held up a hand to signal him to stop and backed up slowly to where he waited.

“What is it?” He asked, his mouth close to her ear.

“Something is in the water.”  She said, turning her face to his ear in turn.  “Either one or two big things or many small things.  I can’t be sure.  There isn’t a way to get by without alerting them of our presence I don’t think.”

“One of the others may have an idea.  Perhaps there’s a spell that could be used.”  He said, his voice confident.

If only she wasn’t so exhausted she could probably have formed a wind bridge, or at very least she could have gotten herself there.  Maybe Holt was right though.  Maybe Cronos had a trick up his sleeve.  They retreated up the tunnel to the others and told them what they’d found.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 21

He nodded shortly, slung his bow over his back and climbed up the rope at a speed that belied his age and recent injuries.  Arrows began flying down in a steady rhythm the moment he had reached the rooftop.

“Kain.  My hand’s broken and I can’t climb with it like this.”  Callindra stepped in to take his place and he retreated as though they’d practiced the maneuver for years.  He really did have a talent for reading body language.

A hot flash of fire tore through her arm and down her hand as he slapped an ungentle spell into her.  It wasn’t much, but it repaired enough of the damage that she could swing Shadowsliver properly again.

“You get up there next Kain.”  She ordered, “Holt was tortured and I don’t know how much longer he can stay on his feet.”  He frowned, but nodded and obeyed.

“I can climb faster sister.”  Vilhylm said, “You go next.”  He was wearing his brutish mask, muscles bunching as he bashed a huge fist into a guard hard enough to dent his breastplate.

“You go.”  She snapped.  “I’m grabbing Cronos and jumping.”

He looked at her but glanced at their brother and headed for the rope.  She flung herself to where Cronos still moved through the steps of a lethal dance and flung Shadowsliver about his middle.  The chain of her sword wrapped underneath his armpits, slicing through three Taken as it flashed in front of him before the hilt slapped into her palm and she tore a spell from the Weave.

An explosion of wind blasted them into the air in a barely controlled tumble.  She was dimly aware of Taken being tossed aside like twigs from the force of the winds that bore them aloft, but it was hard to concentrate.  For some reason she knew she was supposed to be paying attention to something but whatever it was couldn’t be that important if she couldn’t remember it.

Her unconscious body tumbled to the rooftop and rolled to a stop at Reed’s feet.  He stared at her in shocked surprise.  “She’s insane.”

“Time to go.”  Cronos said, picking up his sister’s supine form and fumbling to keep from being cut by her sword.  Her hand still clutched it in a white knuckled grip.

They watched below as the Taken swarmed over the guards below, burying them in a wave of rotting limbs and emerald green ichor.  Behind where the horde had come from, the city burned.  Screams of terrified people came to them over the sound of combat and flames.

“We gotta get to the dock.”  Reed said, pointing over the rooftops.  “With a little luck we can get there sticking to the rooftops.”  He led the way over a zigzagging set of plank bridges and dizzying leaps from one building to another.

When they reached a warehouse near a run-down dock.  A few small craft were moored there, one of which was a small flat-bottomed river boat with oars and a square sail.  Perhaps a hundred Taken milled about aimlessly in the open are between them and the dock.

Cronos set Callindra down on the rooftop and turned to Kain.  “Can you revive her?  I can’t carry her and fight at the same time.”

The hulking half orc reached out and brushed fingers across Callindra’s forehead.  A few of her wounds stopped bleeding, but others still slowly leaked through scabs that hadn’t quite closed.  Kain slumped, breathing hard and shook his head.  “That’s all I can do.”

“It’s enough.”  Callindra rasped, her eyes flickering open.  “I just overdid.  Too much magic.”

“You had many deep cuts.”  Kain said, “I managed to stop most of the bleeding.”

She looked down at the slashes through her armor and into her side and legs.  When had she gotten cut?  “Where are we?  What is going on?  Is everyone all right?”

“We’re at the docks.”  Reed said in a low voice, “Keep your damn voice down, there’s a hundred or so of those things down there.  They haven’t seen us yet, but if you don’t shut up they will.”

Callindra looked over the edge of the roof and fought off despair.  There was no way they could get through all the Taken below without being seen and fighting them all wasn’t an option.  The light of the city burning behind them was throwing tall shadows across the dockside, but it was also illuminating the river.

Excerpts From the Memoirs of the End Times of Einn Boer

Hello to all my faithful subscribers, sorry to still be on break from The Callindra Chronicles.  I know I’m a right bastard for keeping you waiting for the next chapter, but I needed to dedicate some time to re-igniting my players for the upcoming reboot of my World Lost campaign.  I hope you enjoy!

~

“Things have changed mine Scion.”  Illimen’s voice rang in his ears.  “Thy story hath become perchance a nightmare to the enemies of the mortal realm.  Thy triumph o’er the forces of the Endless Night and those of the Descending Stair hath caused quite a stir.”

“My Goddess.”  Lirin said, not trusting himself to say more.  He was conscious of sitting cross legged but also of his spirit beyond the mortal realm.

“Be thee at peace.”  She said, reaching a hand made of purest incorruptible light to touch his forehead.  “I shall never allow them to harm you.  Allow mine light to shine through thee and naught shall stand in thy path. Be thou the light and the light shalt be thine sword and shield.”

Ecstasy and pain flowed through Lirin’s body, and he welcomed them equally.  When the sensation faded, he drew in a gasping breath.  “What would you have me do my Goddess?”

“Thou hast surpassed mine expectations Scion.  Thy dedication doth humble me.”  He caught a hint of hesitation in her presence, “I prithee gather more to the light of the flame of truth.  We shalt need the strength of the masses to oppose what doth lurk on the horizon.  Thou hast but seen a fraction of what lies outside the sanctuaries.”

When Lirin awoke and began his devotions he noticed something strange in his reflection.  One lock of his hair where Illimen had touched his head was white.

“Dem don’t knows nothing.”  The tiny bat winged shape declared, baring its fangs in a demonic smile.  “You not parts of da Everwar, but dem think dem safe cause of dat.”

“What is the everwar?”  Tabitha asked, feeding the creature a bit of dried meat.  She couldn’t imagine how she had managed to convince it to talk with her so openly.  It was probably that she was covered with fur with sharp fangs and claws.  Or maybe just that her feline magnetism knew no bounds.  Regardless, she had found it when prowling the parapets and spires of the outer wall and had finally gotten it to come and talk with her.

“It be’s da fight we be’s winning against da deads.”  It said, chomping up the meat.  “You gots to go see da fights by da tower.  Dem deads gettin crushed by da hundred a second.  Da Lords says we just gots to crush dem faster’n dey can come back.”

“The Lords?”  Tabitha prompted, her feline features artfully puzzled.

“You be’s lucky to be having me.”  The demon said, “You be’s so dumb.  How did you stay so dumb and being alive?  Everyone be’s knowing who da Lords be.”

“What are their names?”  She asked, voice carefully innocent.

The tiny demon looked at her aghast.  “We don’t be SAYING da names even if we be KNOWING dem.”

“Why wouldn’t you honor them with their names?”  She pressed, “Isn’t it giving them the respect they deserve?”

“Because we want to be staying LIVING.”  It said adamantly, “Do don’t be liking nobody to be knowing names.”  It seemed to be getting nervous, glancing around with apprehension as though expecting something to drag it off to hell.

“Oh, I’d heard there was something about Demons and names.”  Tabitha said in an offhanded tone.  “I thought it was just a rumor.”

“I doesn’t be like dey say it used to be.”  It said, “But da Lords be’s remembering.”

“Where is this Tower?”  She asked, changing the subject now that she’d gotten the information she wanted.  “I would like to visit it.”

“It be’s over dere.”  It pointed with a clawed finger.  “I be’s showing you if you wants.”

“How far over there?”  Tabitha asked, “How will I recognize it?”

“I fly maybe twenty times between sleeps to get dere.  You can’t missing it.  It be’s da huge ting surrounded by da armies of da Lords.”  It said, picking a piece of meat out of its teeth with a claw.  “You be coming?  Da Lords would be loving to know you.”

“Oh certainly.  Lead on!”  She said with her best smile.  When the small demon turned to leap into the air she grabbed him and popped him in her mouth.  He had a strange, almost spicy flavor and crunched quite nicely in her jaws.

SP was trying to meditate.  It wasn’t working.  The seemingly constant racket of the city wasn’t the problem, SP had managed to tune such things out out long ago; this was something different.  The necromancer straightened a fold of snow white robe and tried to allow the feeling to reveal its source.  Breathing slowly and deeply while thinking of the beautiful, perfectly clean white marble of the morgue where he used to reside and labor over the dead, SP was finally able to focus.

The answer was so simple that it almost went unnoticed.  Ever since they had left the safety and security of Einn Boer, he had felt on edge.  Something had always seemed to be just over his shoulder, watching, touching, pushing him forward but to what he couldn’t say.  It was power.

Not just power, but power that wasn’t just accessible to him but that practically demanded to be used.  Thus far he had not used it.  Not intentionally.  But this, he realized, was an offer and slightly more than an offer.  It was also an intrusion.

With curiosity, he reached out to brush the offered hand.  It was akin to what he imagined putting his hand on the sun would be like.  Pure unfettered energy coursed into his body and he watched in fascination as frost formed on his fingertips, gradually flowing up his hand.  When he exhaled his breath steamed in the early morning air.

Something noticed him.  NOTICED him.  Just for a moment.  That was enough for him.  SP tried to withdraw, but found that the ATTENTION of whatever it was held him fast.

“A. MORTAL.” It wasn’t a voice, it was a glacier in his mind, not speaking but scraping a place in his mind flat in order to insinuate itself. “HOW. CURIOUS.”

SP had stopped breathing.  His heart fluttered in his chest like a frightened bird.  It was all peripheral, the only focus was breaking contact with the PRESENCE.

“YOU. MUST. COME. TO. ME.” The ice was freezing his mind. A flickering vision of an ancient set of standing stones with an entrance in the center was followed by a series of runic symbols and a flash of blackness.  The vision changed to be from above, distorted as through the eye of some alien creature, but the features were obvious and indelibly imprinted on his mind.

“THE. BROKEN. CROWN.” The presence intoned.

“Why are you doing this?”  SP managed to ask.

“A. GIFT. FOR. A. TALENTED. SEEKER.”

“Who are you?” The Elf gasped.

“WE ARE ALL.  ALL ARE WE.  WE ARE LEGION AND WE ARE ONE.”

The grip on his mind was released and SP drew a ragged breath.  His right hand burned with incomparable pain.  To all outward appearances it was untouched, but he could feel the power raging like a river of frozen flame beneath the skin, begging to be used.  Demanding to be used.

Teelos wasn’t feeling well.  Something had disturbed the ebb and flow of arcane energies that he tapped from the Pact and he was getting strange surges in power that made him feel almost as though he had a virus after every time he tried to work even the smallest of arcane workings.

He tried to clear his mind, pushing a hand across his face and leaning back against the smoothly polished black bones of Legionnaire.  The construct had obligingly twisted itself into a chair for his comfort as he attempted to find what the problem was.

Focus is erratic.” The voice of the once living, now never dying construct said into his mind. “Not yours.  Another’s I think.  Things are not the way they were.”

“What does that mean?”  Teelos asked, his frustration giving way to curiosity.  “How do you know that and what do you mean by it?”

“I mean what I said and I know it because I can feel the patterns.” Legionnaire said, “It had not occurred to me that you did not feel it yourself, bound as you are to one of them.”

“I feel it, I just don’t understand it.”  Teelos said, feeling the tension coming back.  “What has changed?”

“Everything has changed.  The gods are moving again.  Belief is spreading again.  The Others that have existed here for so long now feel the presence of them.  And of you all.”  Legionnaire paused, “Was this not your intention?”

“What?  No!  We wished to avoid detection at all costs!”  Teelos protested, bringing his hands up to massage his temples.  “I thought that would have been obvious.”

“You have opened the sealed cities.  You have resurrected ancient warriors.  You have given the fallen gods hope.  You have defeated hundreds of our foes.  The City of Gears has erupted into a mountain of fire.  The blood of mortalkind has been spilled upon the thirsty sands.  I would have thought the result would be obvious.”

“I … I hadn’t thought of it that way.”  Teelos admitted, “So why is my magic resisting me?  Why has this change influenced things so much?”

“Because it is trying to see you.”  Legionnaire said, “Now that it knows you are what you are it wants to see how it can benefit.  I suggest continuing with caution.”

Boris waved his hand over the corpse of the fallen demon and it wavered and changed.  From where it had fallen the spiky growth of a cactus sprouted, growing with speed and vigor.  The plant was healthy and sturdy and would survive quite well in the arid environment.  He smiled in satisfaction, taking a drink from the skin of distillate and smacking his lips.

He knew this was a dream because he was outside the walls; something he never would have attempted while awake.  It was true that some of the best bits of these creatures spoiled quickly and upset him to waste such interesting components, but it wasn’t worth his life.

“Well done, although it is an empty gesture.”  The voice was conversational and sounded as though it came from someone standing next to him.  He started and looked around for the speaker.

“Who’s there?” He blurted, reaching for a weapon.

“It is I, Jorda.”  The voice said calmly, “I have been with you for some time now, although you reject my presence.”

“You are unnatural!”  He said, remembering how the people had been twisted in the city of Fyrl Logi.  “You changed those beings and forced them to be something different than they had been!  You kept them drugged and unaware of what was happening!”

“We all tell lies to children to keep them safe.”  Her voice was calm and sure.  “What lies are you telling this cactus?  The first demon or undead that finds it will destroy it utterly.  Have you told it that it can thrive and grow?  That its offspring will survive and have offspring of their own?  That will not happen.”

Boris considered this for a moment, unable to come up with an answer immediately.  “I haven’t given any promises.”  He said at last, “I merely give it the opportunity to live.”

“That is not enough in this era.”  Jorda said, “You are wasting resources that could be used in other ways unless you propose to destroy all of the enemies of this plane.”

“I’m not proposing anything.”  He protested, “I’m just giving opportunities for life to begin again.”

“You are making false promises.”  She said, her voice sad.  “If you intend to make a change you must conserve your energy for something that makes a much larger impact.”

“I made no promises damn it!  I get the impression you have something in mind.”  He said suspiciously, “I’m not listening to someone who treats mortals like you have, get out of my head!”

“The engine to protect all life is there.”  Jorda’s voice grew fainter, “I cannot maintain contact with you when your mind is closed.  You are on the path.  You must continue or all is lost.”

“What kind of cryptic garbage is that?”  He demanded.  There was no answer.  The cactus had grown and even sprouted flowers during the brief time he had been speaking with the goddess of nature.  He looked at it critically; noting that the production of seeds at this point in its life would likely mean it would expend all the energy it would need to survive.  How peculiar.

Duty.  Honor.  Steadfastness.  That’s what Trey supposed he was supposed to be thinking about.  That’s what they would have said at the orphanage anyway.  Probably.  It seemed like a lifetime ago when he’d been there, in Einn Boer.

The world outside was so much different than he’d ever imagined.  The folk out here didn’t all have magic.  Hellfire, almost none of them seemed to have magic compared to back home.  It must have been nice to grow up without being afraid of hurting people by accident.  Well, not that he’d have wanted to live with those necromancers.  Or those weird druids.  Maybe home wasn’t so bad all things considered.

It was a relief in some ways to have his strength be not just useful but necessary.  He was able, nay needed to fight to the absolute limits of his ability just to survive.  Now he knew why some of the stories of his Orcish ancestors spoke of them taking pride in their scars.  He was proud of his.

In his dream, Trey was sitting on the parapet of a massive fortress looking out over a battlefield strewn with the corpses of a decade’s long war.  “Life out in the wild eh?”  A voice from beside him said, “Must be nice to have that mobility, not that I mind being here defending the home front.”

Trey looked at the man who had sat next to him.  He was powerfully built to a degree that was almost disturbing.  He wore only a close-fitting pair of leather trousers and heavy boots.  A massive double-bladed battle ax was resting across his knees.  His long black hair was gray at the temples and bound with a heavy silver clasp at the nape of his neck.  He had patches of bright golden scales like lizard skin that seemed to be growing on his forearms and across his chest.

The glance at the man made him look back up at the vast citadel that rose above them; tier upon tier of city; each level with its own crenelated wall.  Huge war engines with their arms cocked and ready stood at each flat-topped parapet.  This place was at least as big as Einn Boer.

“Greetings.  My name is Trey D’Orc.  May I inquire as to your name?”

“I am Ravlen Thraine, Third Watch battle warden of the great city of Malm Hrid; the last true bulwark of mortality against the hordes.  Or so we thought.”  His hand touched the worn haft of the ax with a familiar gesture, nodding absently.  “I was getting to that.  Trey D’Orc you are a candidate whose fate might one day lead the Third Watch if you choose it.”

“I doubt that I would choose such if remaining here were a requirement.”  Trey said, “I did not know one was able to choose one’s fate.”

Ravlen laughed, a sound so loud that it actually startled his companion.  “Well spoken Trey!  The truth of the matter is that Cthrek Ra Chen is the one that actually gets to make that choice.  These great weapons are quite adept at ferreting out the warrior most compatible and molding them to the task.  You’re a little older than most candidates, but you also have more experience it would seem.”

“My companions need me.  I wouldn’t abandon them to defend strangers.”  Trey tried to keep his voice from betraying his anger at such an idea, but he was pretty sure he failed.

“Honest and true, I can see why she likes you.”  Ravlen said, slapping Trey on the back hard enough to move him slightly on his seat; no mean feat.  “You ought to give it a thought; life here is amazing for us warriors.  The best food, the most attractive and frolicsome bedmates, the most comfortable chambers and the best calling in the world.  The destruction of the Horde for the salvation of all!”

“You’re winning?”  Trey asked, looking at the vast number of slain demons and shattered skeletons on the killing field below.

“We’re holding our own Trey.  Where do you hail from and how is it that you’re in such fine battle form?  I’ve only met one Wanderer who managed to make our gates.”

“I come from Einn Boer.”  Trey said, “There I was an orphan, but we found a secret and have ventured forth…”  He stopped noting that Ravlen’s face had drained of color.

“It cannot be.  The End Times are here already?  I never thought I would see such in my lifetime.”  His eyes narrowed, “Or is this a plot?  Has the greatest of cities fallen?  Has the Horde stolen her secrets?”

“We killed some undead before we left.  I don’t think there were any more, Iln Rektros sent us forth.”  Trey frowned, “Ravlen, what do you mean by the End Times?”

Ravlen’s hand tightened on the haft of his ax.  “I will say no more until… things are settled.  I must go, the battle begins again.”

Trey looked out at the killing ground before the fortress and saw that to the north it was swarming with demons, some taller than houses.  To the south it teemed with undead, many with the towering forms of giants but with bonfires the size of horses burning in their chests.

Ravlen strode away, leaping from the parapet and landing on the wall three stories below without visible effort.  Trey watched him go, shaking his head.  Was this man’s battle his battle?  Well, they had a common enemy at least.

Shaena slept fitfully, flickering images of the battle with the horrible undead Eye Tyrant still fresh in her mind.  It had been so powerful, so deadly, it had nearly killed them all.  Would have if the city hadn’t opened the gates and sallied a force forth.  The scene replayed, the gates swinging wide and the warriors charging out.

The three in the lead were clearly a cut above the rest.  The man in front wore almost nothing and swung a massive ax.  The figure in full armor to his right carried a large shield shaped like a kite and a bastard sword held in the other.  The last was wearing flowing silk robes; her hair coiled into a battle braid and the beautifully lacquered quarterstaff she wielded was a blur in her hands.

They hit the ranks of the Dead like a fireball, bones flying in all directions and cut a path to their party.  From this perspective, Shaena could see that the three were laughing and trading jokes as they fought.  A great skeleton warrior loomed up before the woman as she watched, swinging a sword with dreadful strength at the slight form in front of it.  As she blocked the strike, her staff broke into two pieces.

Pivoting smoothly, the staff became a pair of Nunchaku spinning in a bewildering set of maneuvers as she literally ran up the monster’s body, each strike breaking pieces of bone off.  Her attack culminated as she stood on its right shoulder, the two weapons once again becoming a single staff that she swung in a two-handed blow that knocked the head from the body

She executed a perfect back flip off the falling pile of bones and landed leaning casually on her staff and staring Shaena directly in the eyes.

“Hiya.  What’s a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?”

Several skeletons employed a tactic she’d seen before, three rushing in while three more fired arrows at the other woman.  She grinned madly and moving so fast she seemed to be three places at once, she flicked her hand and redirected the incoming arrows to punch through the skulls of the charging warriors.

“Well.  I can’t disappoint all these boys who want to tango dear.  Come see me maybe when ya wake up.”

When she turned to weave and leap into combat again, Shaena thought she saw the suggestion of a long prehensile tail curling from the woman’s backside.  But this was a dream after all.  That thought brought her out of her uneasy slumber, sitting up in bed suddenly wide awake.

Of Actions and Consequences in the World of Einn Boer

Priming the pump for re-igniting an RPG after a slight hiatus.  The mortals have been stirring up trouble again.  There goes the neighborhood…

~

Drevlek Laksol’lkan could feel a shift.  The Voradakra, the Endless Army, was being thwarted in places where they should have had free reign.  Raising its hand, it plucked out its left eye and replaced it with one attuned to farseeing.  It found its sight was diminished in a way it was not except for around the Last Holding.

It sent a command and waited the necessary amount of time.  Time did not matter.

When the summoned portion of the One appeared, it carried a double handful of sand.  Drevlek placed half the sand in a crucible and it began to burn.  The smoke from the fire revealed a delicious truth.  Mortalkind were finally venturing from where they had cowered in their holes.  This sand had contained their blood.

With an effort of will, it brought one of its stored assets into being.  The creature was undead, but it was not one of the Voradakara.  It served Drevlek, but it was not part of the One.  The creature had the misguided idea that it needed to think for itself.  It was a faithful servant however, and it needed mortal vitae to survive which is why it had agreed to be suspended for a time.

“My Master.”  It hissed, bowing low, although its red eyes glimmered with hatred when it straightened. “You have summoned me?”

“The Harvest may begin once more.”  It said, gesturing with a hand.  The portion came forward and offered the remainder of the sand it had brought.  “Go forth and reap as you will.”

The asset leaned forward, tongue elongating to taste the sand.  “This is old Master, but it is fresh enough to be a possibility.”  Its eyes became vacant as it placed a clawed hand over the sand.  A single drop of liquid the color of old rusted iron lifted from it, trembling in the air.  “I can find them.  I will need certain protections and provisions.”

“You shall have them.” Drevlek answered.

“I will also need assistance.  Three of my Kind.”

“One shall suffice.  I know your ways.”

“Two.”

“Very well. Two.”

The asset smiled, revealing the elongated canine teeth.  “Excellent.” It said.

The Council of Seven Lords sat at the table, feasting and drinking.  Sher’Grath watched the others, swirling the blood in her cup.  These fools were content to pretend their latest setbacks were a fluke.  They believed this was just another trick from the admittedly resourceful mortals in Malm Hird.  She knew different; she had lost soldiers near the Geared City Megan Dugr.

“What say you Deceiver of Ages?”  The demon on her right asked, slurping down his beverage of choice which seemed to consist mainly of brains with maggots writhing through it.  “Will our next offensive be fruitful now that we know when the dead will assault them?”

“Coordinating our attacks is meaningless.”  She said, “The strength the mortals gain from wherever they gain it from and they will repel any attack we can throw at them.  As they always have.”

“No, if we can press the advantage their defenses will be overwhelmed.”  He insisted, licking his needle pointed teeth.  “The Oracle said if we were able to cooperate with the dead we’d win.”

“The Oracle.”  Sher’Gath spit to one side, hitting a servant bearing a tray and knocking it sprawling ten paces away.  “You trust that … thing?  You’re a fool Go’Reshk, it used to be mortal.  It hates us.”

“Ah but it has to answer truthfully.”  Go’Reshk said with a toothy grin.  “Which makes the readings all that much more satisfying.  Watching it squirm and try to weasel out of giving us answers.”

“And the worthless answers it gives have benefitted us when exactly?”  She said acidly, “The fucking Oracle said if we COOPERATE not if we COORDINATE you stupid shit.”

While Go’Reshk was spluttering in anger she rose, scales hissing on the marble flooring.  “Fellow Lords, I feel I must make a point.”  All idle chatter stopped, and even Go’Reshk stopped making choking sounds of indignation.

“I feel it is time for one of us to take direct action.  In light of current events, I feel stealth and subtlety are needed in this endeavor.”  She looked around the room, noting the calculating looks in their eyes. “To that end I nominate Ssariss, my second in command to venture forth and assess the danger this new group of mortals presents.”

“What possible danger could they present?”  Someone growled, “They have been hiding all this time.  Their impotent gods have clearly lost the ability to sustain them and now they come looking for a new place to call their own.”

“Where, may I ask, did they come from?”  She asked, gesturing with all six of her arms.  “They are not from the accursed Malm Hrid, and as far as we know the other cities starved ages ago.  So the question remains, what is their origin?

“I know you all trust your precious Oracle, but they are not to be trusted for anything more than to provide one disappointing meal of mortal flesh.”  She glared at them in challenge, “I don’t believe our generals on the ground understand the situation either.

“I lost an entire squad of skilled salvage crew in the Iron Ruins and there was no trace of who had killed them.  Less than a week later we see the entire City of Gears become a death trap that leads five thousand of our warriors to their deaths in battle and another three thousand when it becomes an inferno.

“You expect me to believe that the reports of a small group of elite mortal warriors is not related?  You think this should be trusted to the demented mutterings of your Oracle?”  She gave them a challenging look, coiling about her seat and waiting for a reply.

The Council stared at her in shock for a moment before erupting into a clamor of angry voices.  Each one seemed to be trying to override the others simply by volume.  This went on for a time, the very stones of the chamber beginning to shake, until another voice spoke.

It was not a loud voice but it cut through the chatter easily.  “Let my daughter go, or send her proxy.”

All fell silent and turned to the dais where, for the first time in centuries, a figure sat on the throne made of real, actual authentic mortal bones.  Graz’zt leaned his chin on his six fingered fist, “I find your lack of progress here to be unfortunate.  It is time for a change.  Go’Reshk has made her bid.  She is now responsible for it.”

“Dread Father.”  She said, slithering forward and prostrating herself, “You have my undying devotion and thanks for this chance to prove myself.”

“Spare me the theatrics Go.”  He said, reaching a hand down to stroke her hair.  “You always were so talented and capable.  Make me proud.”

She rose only after she felt his hand leave the back of her neck.  “Ssariss.  Bring your sisters to my chambers.  It is our time.  We will not fail our Lord.”