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The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 62

Durrak faced his mentor across the sand floor of the formal arena, dressed in heavy plate armor with his gisarme held easily butt down in his right hand.  The dwarf was calmer and more centered than he had ever been since bandits had slaughtered his family.  This was what he had trained for, if he could not defeat the one who claimed she could teach him no more then she had lied to him and he would die for it.  If he could defeat her then he was ready for anything gods or men could put in his path.

“I ask one final time Durrak.  Lay this madness aside.”  She said, standing in rippling maile tunic with six feet of blackwood staff tipped with a foot long hook pointed blade that made his look crude held almost idly across her body.  “I will not allow your foolish vanity to bring us to dealing death if it can be avoided.”

“My mind is set Master.”  He said, bowing low to a creaking of leather straps and steel plating.  “You do say you no can teach me more.  This do be the only way I can know it for true.”

“If this is how it must be, then we shall see if my words are true.  We shall give them the test of blood.  It is ever the risk of the teacher to face a student who needs proof.”  She spun her weapon easily over the back of her hand and slammed the Mithril pommel into the floor.  “I have told you the truth of my heart.  Now you will see the truth of my blood.”

This time her attack was not one of trickery, it was straightforward deadly skill born of decades of training.  Only the skill she had taught him and the reflexes of youth saved him from losing his head within the first few seconds of the match as he threw himself into a backward roll, coming up with his own weapon in a blurring arc that slapped her following slash away.

Rather than trying to rise immediately, he swung his blade at her legs and used the momentary pause of her rush to thrust at her face while holding the polearm in one hand for the extra reach.  She simply tilted her body to one side and slapped the shaft of his weapon down, nearly trapping it under a stamping foot that would have had a good chance of breaking it or tearing it from his hand and spun the heavy counterweight towards his head.

Durrak allowed the momentum of her block to swing his blade in a wide arc that he followed with his body, diving back to the ground and spinning to strike at her knees.  His strike met with the Mithril bound blackwood shaft of her polearm as she grounded it to intercept the swing with jarring force.

He rolled backward onto his feet and charged forward, catching her by surprise as he slammed the spiked shoulder of his left pauldron into her chest, ripping rings of her maile free and drawing blood.  This close, the advantage was his and he pressed it ruthlessly, continuing to shove her back across the floor.  It was a tactic better suited to close quarters rather than the open arena, but it gave him time to plan his next move.

She jerked a short handled spiked ax from behind her belt and drove it into his side with enough force that it punctured the thick steel of his armor and lodged in a rib.  Durrak twisted away, wrenching the weapon from her hand and swinging his gisarme held halfway up the shaft.  She deftly parried, spinning her weapon with perfect timing to throw the blade off before it sliced her fingers off and would have broken his right shin with the counterweight if he hadn’t been wearing plate armor.

The follow up of her strike placed the hooked bill of her gisarme behind his left leg, severing the leather buckle and sending him sprawling onto his back.  Rolling to one side saved him from a finishing blow and instead caught him a glancing strike that slashed the spikes from his left shoulder in a shower of sparks.

A desperate thrust with the steel ball end of his weapon caught her square in the chest, although her anticipation of the blow and the awkward angle kept it from breaking ribs.  He had to keep rolling then as a stamping foot followed her strike and another blow, this time from the ball end, dented his breastplate and nearly stole the wind from his lungs.

A lance of pain reminded him of the ax still stuck in his side and Durrak wrenched it free, flinging it at her and feeling mildly surprised when it sank into her left shoulder.  He regained his feet and attacked in a series of swinging strikes that might have put her at a real disadvantage if he hadn’t been hampered by his dented armor and injured leg.

As it was, she nearly managed to sweep his legs out from under him twice even as she retreated from his advance.  He watched as the hook of her weapon reached for his leg again and allowed it to connect, dropping to one knee and trapping the razor sharp blade between the plates of his armor.  The force of her trying to pull him off his feet was arrested suddenly, throwing her forward directly onto the point of his weapon.

The assembled students were silent as she sank slowly to her knees and fell on her side, blood pouring from nose and mouth.  “Do … you … believe … me … now?”  She gasped.  “I die … I leave … a true … master behind.”

Durrak stared in horror, realizing that he had believed in some way that this would end with him bleeding out on the sand of the arena.  Thinking that this was suicide by combat.  She had taught him everything and he had not truly believed her words.

In spite of the protocol of a proclaimed death match he screamed for a healer, tears streaming down his face.  She looked at him with forgiveness in her eyes.

“You will do.”  She slurred, blood bubbling on her lips.  “Know … price of … victory…” Her hand left a bloody streak down the side of his face and her life fled.

“I do be sorry.”  Durrak said, looking at the assembled members of the Drakranda school.  “Though I do be The Caverstorm, I no do be worthy of it.  This did be a selfish act.  To be atoning for this act I do be leaving today.”

“You can’t leave, you’re the master of the school now!”  Corrine said.

“The reason I did be finding schools and killing their Masters no did be to teach them.”  Durrak said harshly, “I did be training myself.  For revenge.  It no do be honorable, but it do be true.  I no will be turning from this path.  To be doing honor to the memory your former master, I do be finding the god who did betray me.  And I do be killing him.”

Ignoring their horrified gasps, he turned and limped from the room.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 61

A group of warriors detached from the others, running at the hideous creature and shouting battle cries.  Their blades chopped into it and pieces flew off, forming their own separate creatures that swarmed over the hapless men.  The remaining men and women turned almost as one to glance at Tryst, seeming to hope the man with the gleaming shield daring to drive back the darkness would guide them.

“Do not cut it.”  Tryst cried, “Use any magics or blunt weapons but cutting it seems to have no effect!”

Callindra aborted a lunge and instead tried to find the winds.  Even in this dark, dank place she could feel them but they were sluggish, her call to them feeling weak and strained.  She focused on drawing what power she could into herself, but only a tiny spark of electricity glimmered between Shadowsliver’s twin tips.

Several of the others ran forward with hammers or flats of swords and began attacking the monster, but it focused on Tryst.  A massive hand descended on him and he stood resolute, offering the gleaming symbol of his faith in a response.  The fist crashed against his shield, black ichor spraying from the impact and driving him down to one knee.

“My GOD is my shield!”  He cried and silvery white light erupted from him, breaking the bonds that held the thing together.  Tryst rose as the creature recoiled and stepped forward, unlimbering his hammer.  “You do well to flee before me!”

Vilhylm placed a mask on his face, becoming brutish and strong, and another, growing living vines about himself and flanked his brother.  Callindra raised her sword, sweating with the effort and a crackle of lightning arced down the blade and into the chain.  Cronos leveled his twin swords at the creature and a wave of fire burst from between them to scorch its flank.

Callindra ran forward as the monster retreated, leaping off the back of an armored man in front of her and throwing Shadowsliver to one side.  The blade whistled through the air and she caught him by the hilt as she landed behind the creature, the electricity that the weave had gathered blazing into its body.

Cronos was on one side, flames lashing out between his swords and Vilhylm was on the other, mashing huge fists clad with growing vines into the thing’s gelatinous body.  She cried out in triumph, feeling the lightning coursing through her weapon ripping into her enemy and inflicting grievous wounds.

The monster stood tall, gathering the jellied corpses that made it up into a mass above them and let it fall, engulfing them in a bubble of rotting flesh and fluids from dead bodies.  Callindra struggled to keep her mouth and eyes closed against the pressure surrounding her but knew soon she would have to take a breath.  Pushing hard on the floor, she struggled to free herself and move forward, but it was impossible.  She had failed.  She was going to die here.

A white light cut through the gloom and she could see Tryst striding towards her, face tight in a grimace of concentration and pain.  Cronos and Vilhylm walked close on either side of him, looking worse for the wear even as Callindra was sure she did.

“I will hold it off and you must go.”  Tryst said, his tone resigned and firm.

“What?”  Callindra shouted, “I am NOT leaving you here to die for me!”

“You don’t have a choice.”  Tryst said sadly.  He incanted a spell, even as they all tried to reach him in time to stop it.  The ground below their feet rippled and changed, a huge pillar rising high into the air to smash through the side of the room and three more slender ones to raise them out of the creature’s fetid embrace.

The large pillar broke through the wall and the smaller ones threw them forward.  They tumbled to a stop, taking bruises and minor cuts along the way.  Behind them the Keep fell in upon itself and before them the city burned.

“Adbar was working for Dergeras.”  Callindra said, not knowing where the certainty in her voice was coming from.  “He took Tryst.  I’m going to Hellgate keep.  I’m going to kill the bastard.”


March Horoscopes

March Horoscopes.  Because why not.

Aries: Beating your head against that obsessive thing you do is leading you to dent the door.  Just open the fucking door, I know you’ve got a hard head but seriously, this opportunity has just been waiting for you.  The door hasn’t opened from your pounding yet and FFS remember that if you see hinges it opens toward you.  Protip: This one opens toward you.  Stubborn bastard.  And stop swearing at your kids, even though they think it’s funny.

Taurus: Nice poker face.  Now call them and say sorry.  Come on, you’re a lover not a fighter and life’s too short to stay mad.  You’ve got that outwardly cool thing going on but that internal turmoil is making you crave a cigarette and you quit years ago.  Trust me, it’ll be worth it.  If you don’t believe me ask your mom, she’s always been your touchstone anyway.  And she’d love to hear from you, even if it requires a seance.

Gemini: You’re laughing on the inside, but we love to see you laugh on the outside too.  It’s cool.  We won’t think you’re laughing at us.  Or at least the decent ones won’t.  You’ve been holding a lot of your shit in just because you’re worried about being judged for being too happy when things are bad or that if you’re down a little bit people will think you’re gonna snap.  You’re your own worst critic.  Nobody even noticed that one time you wore the same outfit two days in a row; they don’t have you under a microscope.  Relax.  Do you.

Cancer: Feeling extra outgoing this month, right?  That’s cool but remember not everyone wants a hug.  Ask first.  You won’t regret it, hugs are awesome and meeting new people is fun, especially when hugs are involved.  Oh, and don’t put that thing you’re planning on doing off like you always do because this time it’s important.

Leo: This month is your month off.  You’ve been trying to be compassionate and have come in like the Lion you are, but let that energy taper off.  Stay inside, read a good book and get some introvert time.  It’s been a long winter and you’ve been caring for everyone but yourself.  If you want proof just look at your book shelf and see the new books you haven’t had time to crack yet.  See?  Remember, only terrorists put the milk in the cup before the hot water when making tea.  Don’t make me come over there.

Virgo: It’s gotten to the point where nobody even knows if you’re being sarcastic or not.  Not even you.  I mean in some ways that’s a pretty funny inside joke that only the outsiders can get inside your outside, but that didn’t make sense and you gotta quit.  On a positive note, once you quit being such a dick there’s someone who will take notice of you and even though it won’t last more than a few months it’ll get you back in the swing of being personable again.  It’ll probably end well, as long as you’re open to outcomes and not attached to expectations.

Libra: Seriously.  Keep it up, even though you think you suck.  You’re right, currently you’re not doing nearly what you could be but damn it these things take practice.  Don’t just try and force it, get out there and experience it.  I mean hell, you’ve been struggling on your own for the last couple of months and that obviously hasn’t gotten you much more than frustrated.  Pick up the first thing you tried and abandoned when it didn’t go perfectly the first time and try it again.  Then get out there and connect with others trying the same thing.  Networking always inspires.

Scorpio: You might think people are distancing themselves from you because you’re too badass, but really they think you’re too shy and don’t want to scare you off.  You don’t really have resting bitch face like you think; it’s more like they can’t see your face because you keep your hood pulled too low and your face down all the time.  I’m not saying you have to smile and be the cheeriest fucker in the world.  Just be a tiny bit more accessible.  Yes, you should get that tattoo.

Sagittarius: I know you’re only trying to help but let’s be honest.  You’ve been giving shit advice lately.  Try listening instead of talking for a change, it’ll be as instructive for you as it will be for them.  I know that you’re already trying to interrupt me but since this is text you can’t.  Don’t be mad about it, quit being defensive and do a little introspection.  See?  Despite being crappy at giving advice, you’re good at listening and it will be appreciated.  I promise.

Capricorn: Almost everything is going well.  This doesn’t mean you can ignore the few things that aren’t going well.  At least one of them is going to attempt to bite you straight in the ass if you don’t pay attention to it.  If you know a Virgo, yes they were being sarcastic and no they didn’t get your even better and more twisted reply.  Don’t worry about it, you’ve got the less is more thing down and besides sarcasm is a personal pleasure, it’s no fun if you have to explain it.

Aquarius: You’re starting to thaw out, this is good… but beware the cold snaps.  It’s hard to break free of those things, we all know this.  Don’t be afraid that minor setbacks are ruining all the progress you’ve made so far.  Keep in mind that two steps forward and one step back is still forward motion.  Try doing something nice for someone.  Nothing warms the heart faster.  Also, quit posting while drunk.  Nothing good has ever come of that.

Pisces: Hey, you’ve discovered that organized religion isn’t for you!  Congratulations, we’ve been waiting for you to figure that one out.  This does NOT mean you need to fill a room with crystals though.  Just relax and let it happen.  The universe doesn’t need to come to you, it’s surrounding you all the time silly.  No nag champa.  NO.  Put that incense stick down.  Right.  Now.  Circle back to some old friends.  You might find they’re easier to get along with now.


The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 60

The room was full of rowdy folk, all drinking and eating with an appetite that Callindra had never seen before.  She had seen people engaging in excess before, but this was different.  They ate as though they were desperate or starving despite the jovial atmosphere.  They were offered any kind of food or drink, however for some reason she and her brothers felt disinclined to partake.

Eventually they made their way to a far corner of the room where other groups of capable looking adventurers sat at quiet tables.  They picked an empty table and sat.

“I think this is part of the test.” Tryst said in a low voice.

“Yeah, those guys must be the dead wood.”  Callindra said, packing her pipe with tac.  “We need to just wait until they all pass out and Adbar comes out.”

True to their prediction, after a few more minutes the louder side of the room subsided to a dull murmur of voices and one by one the men and women at the tables there slumped onto the tables.  A few seemed to experience a moment of panic before slumping onto the floor or into their cups of ale.

“I don’t like this.”  Cronos said, looking at them with a critical eye.  “They don’t look like they’re just sleeping.”

“Ladies, gentlemen and assorted other beings!”  A voice from the dais on the far side of the room rang out, “Congratulations on passing round one.  Now comes the time when you have the chance to prove your ability to fight!”

Attendants dressed in simple white robes came and dragged the bodies from the other tables out of the room.  They didn’t seem to be paying too much attention to keeping them from being bruised either.  The way the bodies flopped spoke of them being heavily drugged or, more likely dead.

“Take up your weapons and show me what you can do!”

Doors opened and misshapen creatures spilled in from all sides.  The few attendants who were too slow were literally torn to shreds and the bodies they had been dragging did no better.  The room erupted into chaos as they all drew steel and Weave.

Callindra spun Shadowsliver in a vicious arc, slashing one of the shambling creatures from gut to neck in a spray of ichor.  She was conscious of Tryst raising his shield to protect her from another as Vilhylm picked one up bodily and threw it into two others.  Cronos finished an incantation and blurred in her vision; making it difficult to see where he really stood.

Within a few moments, the strongest fighters had all backed to the center of the room, leaving a pile of corpses in their wake.  Callindra spun her blade and flung him, letting the fine Mithril chain fly through her fingers.  Shadowsliver slammed into the skull of another monster, felling it even as she yanked on the chain and brought her blade spinning back into her hand.

She spun and found herself back to back with Cronos, “Well, these things aren’t as bad as we thought they would be.”  Cronos said, “Hardly worth the effort.”

Several of the other warriors were down, clutching bleeding wounds but the monsters were all down and bleeding on the floor.  The other groups were eyeing one another warily but as of yet were not making any hostile movements.

“Well done!”  A man in beautiful silk robes walked down the dais and into the light applauding as he came.  “You have passed my first two tests and now it is time to change the game.”

“Game?”  A woman shouted, aiming a spear at him, “This is just a game to you?  Ledras is bleeding out on the floor because of your gods cursed game.”

A rumble of agreement came from the gathered warriors and the man held up his hands.  “Of course it’s a game.”  Adbar said with a benevolent smile, “What else is there but the game?  Why would you be here if you did not believe in the game yourselves?”

“I am here for one purpose and one purpose only!”  Tryst’s voice rang out in the room, cutting through the angry mutterings of the others.  “I have come for the pieces of the Artifact you have gathered.  I am here to beg you to give them to us that we may fulfill the mission given to us by the gods themselves!”

The room fell silent as the others all turned to look at them.  Adbar’s face grew dark and he pointed at them.  “These are ENEMIES!”  He shouted, “Kill them and the reward shall be yours!”

“Will you listen to him or to those who fought beside you?”  Callindra asked, lowering Shadowsliver to her side, the tinkling of Mithril as the chain landed on the floor a counterpoint to her words.  “We spilled our blood beside you to kill the things he sent against us.”  She leveled Brightfang’s dripping point at Adbar.

A few of the others looked between her and the Count, not certain where their loyalties would lie and Callindra took that hesitation as an advantage.  She ran forward and swung her sword in a deadly arc, releasing him at just the right moment so that the chain flew through her fingers and the razor edge reached for his flesh.  Count Adbar reached out a casual hand and caught Brightfang by the edge.

“She has made the decision for you!”  Adbar shouted, “To the Pit with all of you!”

The floor vanished and Adbar stood on air as they plummeted down into darkness.  A stench of rotting flesh and old bones assailed her nostrils and a moan of hunger and rage came from hundreds of unseen throats.

“Gods balls, what is THAT?”  One of the other fighters asked, invisible in the darkness.

“Gode, lend your light of truth that we may see!”  Tryst shouted and his shield began to shine with silver light.  It revealed a monstrosity that seemed to be composed of equal parts black ooze and pieces of dismembered bodies.

“Sometimes the things that hide in the darkness are worse than our imaginations can create.”  Callindra said, holding Brightfang in both hands.  “I almost wish you hadn’t shown this one to me.”


The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 59

Durrak sat in the smoothly swept courtyard, eyes closed and legs crossed, feeling the bones of the earth beneath him.  The weapon he had begun to wield as an extension of his own arms was on the stone before him.  It was twice his five feet in height with a razor sharpened bill and a broad point.  They called it a gisarme, and over the last six months he had trained with it relentlessly.

“I have never seen one as old as you as immersed and dedicated to the craft of destruction.”  He hadn’t heard the master of the school approach, but he did not move from where he sat.  “Your drive cannot be a healthy one.  A man of your age should be thinking of craft, croft and family.”

“No do be speaking to me of family Master Corrine.”  He said, his voice calm and as even as the edge of the blade on the stones before him.  “Twice now the gods do be choosing to give me a life beyond my fondest dream and twice they do tear it from these hands.”

“So you will instead choose to fight until there is nothing left?”  She asked, leaning on her cane.

“I do be intent on finding these gods.”  He said, breathing slowly and evenly.  “When I do find them I do be asking them why.  If the answer they do be giving no do be to my liking they do be answering to my blade.”

“Ah.”  She said.  “This is what I feared Durrak son of Storgar who was known as the Wyrmslayer.  You are turning away from the true path of the warrior; that which is to protect the weak and uphold the tenants of your god, lord or discipline.”

“If that do be the true path of the warrior then yes Master Corrine, I do be turned from it.  I did never tread upon it.”  Durrak rumbled, still calm and quiet.

“You were a craftsman once.”  Corrine said, “I can tell by the way you still admire work well done.

“With my own hands I did forge the weapon Storgar did use to slay the dragon and be dooming my people to destruction.”  He said, almost in a whisper.  “My skill as a craftsman of fine jewelry did be why thieves came to be burning my home and murdering my family.  I no will be touching the hammer or tongs ever again and I do be asking Thraingaar why he did curse me with such a skill when we do be meeting.”

As he was finishing the words, the sound of displaced air sent him smoothly rolling backward, right foot hooking out to spin the handle of his gisarme into his hand as Corrine’s stick flashed out at his head.  With a smile opened his eyes as he rolled to his feet, weapon in both hands.  She was standing just out of range of a strike with an answering smile on her own face.

“At very least we have taught you how to be an effective warrior, even if you do not share our reasons for fighting.”  She said, “There is little else I can teach you and I believe you will learn it eventually yourself.  Remember that wherever you tread you will be carrying the honor of our ancestors with you boy.  We have not taught these skills of battle to you in order for the fulfillment of selfish goals, but to make you a stronger, better and more honorable person.  I truly hope that in time you will come to accept this.”

“That do remain to be seen.”  Durrak said, the smile fading from his face.  “If I do be leaving this school, I do be taking the name with me.”

She looked at him with a flat stare.  “If you’re wishing to take the name of the school, then we’ll be meeting in the arena.  I suggest you bring more skill than I have ever seen you show in the squared circle.”

“I do apologize Master.”  Durrak said. “I do be taking your life this day.”  He bowed low and touched his hand to his heart, mouth and forehead.

“The contest does not have to be to the death Durrak.”  She said with a frown.

“I no do know any other way to fight with all of the strength I possess.  I do be killing you or dying in the attempt.”  He bowed again, “I do be sorry, it no do be my wish but it do be the only thing I am knowing how to do.”

“Well then.”  She said, “I will show you what it means to be a true master.”

“I do be looking forward to it Master.”  He said, bowing again.  “I will be learning a final lesson one way or the other.”

She turned and walked toward the dojo, leaning on her cane as she went. “Perhaps.  If you have the potential you will indeed learn a final lesson Durrak.”


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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