Welcome

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

I have updated my site format to have easily navigable menus that will make it much easier for new followers to catch up on old chapters.  Each of my books has a menu directly beneath the title image so that you can find all the episodes I have published so far nice and easy.  Welcome new followers, I hope you enjoy my writing!

I have finished and published Hard Times Call For Hardware and you can get your digital fingers on a copy on Smashwords and on Kindle!

So… irons in the fire right now are The Rise of Evil, the second book in The Callindra Chronicles and the second book of Starvale Adventures.  I hope you enjoy my work, feel free to leave me love/hate notes and like my page on Facebook!

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

If you are interested in reading my first book The After-Death and seeing just who this Hex person Ren has referred to in such glowing tones as she does, it’s on Amazon and  Smashwords.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 13

“By the four Winds that’s a welcome sight!”  Callindra said, removing Brightfang’s baldric from her back and beginning to unbuckle her armor.

“Greetins, I’m Tallie an you must be th young warrior lass what’s in need of a good soak an scrub.”  The maid said, favoring her with a dimple cheeked smile.  “Th wine is cold an th water’s hot.  I’ll wash yer back an help with gettin yer hair brushed out.  Jest get otta that sweat soaked mess an we’ll get ya sommat clean ta wear in th meantime.”

Callindra was already halfway out of her leathers, the pauldrons had been unbuckled and she was struggling with a strap on the breastplate.  “Can you get this strap for me Tallie?  I’ve been having trouble with it since taking an injury a few days ago.  Shoulder is bedamned stiff.”

“Sure an I’ll take th blade out ta be sharpened an oiled if ya like.”  The other woman came close, looking very light and sure on her feet in spite of her plump frame.  When Callindra snatched Brightfang’s sheath from the floor and clasped him to her chest, Tallie stepped back, her mouth in a surprised O.

“He stays with me.”  She said, more sharply than she intended.  Shaking her head, she sighed.  “I’m sorry, it’s just… I don’t like being parted from him and I don’t allow anyone else to sharpen or take care of him.  That’s an interesting accent, what part of the Realm are you from?”

Accepting the change of subject with aplomb, Tallie smiled.  “I’m from th Isles of Ravenshir Lady warrior.  Nae part a th Realm such as it is really.  For all we pay a bit a tribute ta th King now and again, we’re a fierce independent lot ye ken?”

“That’s off the coast in the Drakenmore Sea right?”  Callindra asked, letting Tallie unbuckle her armor and help her out of the sweat stained padding beneath.

“Oh aye, not so far from here by ship, but quite a distance nonetheless.  Where’d ya get fresh Brightstar flowers this time a year?”  Asked Tallie, tugging at the twining vines of the Tiara Jorda had given her.

“That’s a long story – ow!”  Callindra winced, “I should have explained, they don’t come out.  They’re… rooted in my scalp it’s –OW!  Curse it Tallie they don’t come out!  It’s magic.”

“Gods an Demons.”  Tallie breathed, her eyes wide. “Now that’s a sight sure an it is.  Where’d ya come by a thing like tha?”

“It was a gift.”  She said, stripping out of the rest of her clothes. “I don’t really want to talk about it.  It doesn’t get in the way of brushing, braiding or whatnot.”

“Not ta worry lass.  I’ll shut me gob an get ya clean.”  She helped Callindra scrub her body with hot soapy water while sitting on a stool before rinsing off and climbing into the tub with fresh herbs floating in it.

Callindra relaxed into water just barely cool enough to touch with a contented sigh, allowing Tallie to knead scented oils into her hair.  “You jest lay back an relax lass.”  She said, “Have a drink a chilled wine an I’ll be back with a robe fer ya afore th water gets cool.”

The wine was cold, and the bath was hot.  She had just had a wonderful scalp massage and in spite of the slight pinching of Jorda’s gift on her head, Callindra allowed herself to slip into a drowsy state of slumber.

A figure entered into her vision from the left side.  A man wearing black leather armor stared down at her.  “Is she out?”

“Oh aye.  Ain’t gonna be movin fer a few hours.”  Tallie said.

“Good.  You’ve earned your … pardon.  I’ll tell them.”  The man said, “You have done as you were told.”

The last thing Callindra could see before her eyelids became lead weights was the concerned face of her maid.  The young woman’s voice was tinged with worry, even though it was faint and distorted through her drugged haze.  “You ain’t gonna hurt her right?  That’s what ya said afore.  Just gonna ask her about th man what broke some laws right?”

“Yeah.”  The man’s voice dripped false sincerity.  “Sure, I ain’t gonna hurt the little bitch.  Run along to Vex and give him this.”  There was a clink as a bag of coins changed hands.

Trumpets blared and drums rumbled; the gates of Gauntlgrym opened to admit the triumphant return of Storgar and the warriors he’d led to stop the advance of Krrakathanak.  Some of the warriors had wanted to remove the beast’s head and their leader hadn’t been able to bring himself to deny them.  So many of their comrades had fallen in the fight.  Their grisly trophy was carried on a stretcher made of six tower shields lashed together and required eight of the strongest warriors to carry.

From his vantage high on the Shieldwall where he waited with his mother, Durrak could feel the very earth tremble with the roar of approval that went up from the assembled Dwarves.  Nearly the entire city had turned out into the square between the outer gate and the Shieldwall.  In spite of the noise, he could still hear Brenlena’s voice.

“I knew he would be victorious.  I knew it in my bones that he would come back to me.” She sounded fiercely proud, but he could also see tears glistening in her eyes.

Durrak himself had no compunction about expressing his joy and relief at seeing his father return.  He shouted as loud as the others assembled and tears streamed down his face into the beginnings of his adult beard.  Storgar had been gone for six months and there had been little or no word from his party.

As the war band drew closer, Durrak’s voice faded away.  He saw the way his father walked; as carefully as a mountain cat stalking prey.  His eyes were searching the crowd, never stopping for more than a moment anywhere and his right hand kept straying to the hilt of the massive blade strapped to his back.  Something was wrong with him.

“Mother.  Do you see that?”  Durrak asked.

“Your father’s triumphant return!  This is a day that will be written in the annals of the Caverstorm family.”  She said, her voice vibrating with pride.  “Nothing can spoil this moment.”

He quieted, deciding to allow her to enjoy the feeling.  He didn’t feel her elation or triumph though.  All he could feel was dread.  The memory of the Moragainnag’s arthritic finger pointing at him made Durrak shiver.  Something was happening and this homecoming was central to it.  He was central to it.

A blast of foul air raced up the valley, alarm bells tolling in its wake.  Vast black wings blotted out the sun and a roar of pure rage and hatred shook the very stones under his feet.

“To the walls!  Battle stations!  Secure the city!”  Brenlena shouted.

Storgar turned towards the vast dragon, massive Greatsword raised in both hands.  His battle standard flying above his head, snapping from the end of a war spear.  Behind him, the doors of their mountain fortress slammed closed.  The sound boomed, a death knell for the brave warriors outside as the dragon landed on the outer wall.

“YOU INSOLENT WORMS WILL PAY FOR YOUR TRANSGRESSION.” The dragon’s terrible voice drove Durrak to his knees, tears of sheer terror rolling down his cheeks and soaking into his beard.  “YOU DARE TO BRING MY LIFEMATE’S HEAD BACK LIKE A BATTLE TROPHY AFTER YOU MURDER HIM WHILE HE SLUMBERED.”

Durrak could not stay to listen.  The overwhelming force of the monster’s presence drove him deep into the mountain.  He ran without thought and when he came to himself it was because of the intense heat of the Adamantine Forge.  A thought exploded into the forefront of his mind.

“Maegera!”  He shouted, “We need you!”

“IS IT TIME AGAIN?”  The Demon of the forge rumbled.  “IS IT TIME FOR THE WAR AGAIN?”

“Yes!”  Durrak cried, “There’s a dragon outside the gates and it’s going to kill my father and –“

“TINY DISPUTES AND MEANINGLESS FIGHTS MEAN NOTHING LITTLE MAGGOT.”  Maegera interrupted him.  “YOU WILL KNOW WHEN THE WAR BEGINS, FOR THE WORLD WILL BURN.”

“No, you must help!”  Durrak said, fear making his voice shrill.

“I AM NOT YOURS TO COMMAND LITTLE MAGGOT!  YOU DO NOT SEND ME TO FIGHT YOUR ENEMIES.  FIGHT YOUR OWN BATTLES OR DIE TRYING.”  The massive demon tilted its head to one side as though listening, “SOMETHING CALLS…”

A swirl of black butterflies in a profusion of different sizes swirled around Maegera’s horned head, thousands of them dancing on the currents of superheated air that surrounded him.  One of them floated down and Durrak reached out to touch it, confused in spite of himself.  The butterfly’s wing cut his hand to the bone and he could see they were made of unimaginably thin sheets of metal.

“Maegera.  Bringer of fire and destruction.  I summon thee with the power granted me by thy father and thy mother.  I summon thee by the power of the blades I have forged.  I summon thee with the promise of rest until the War begins again.”  A voice boomed hollowly through the Adamantine Forge.

“YOU DARE REQUEST MY PRESENCE ONCE AGAIN?”  Maegera rumbled.  “I THOUGHT I HAD KILLED YOU THE LAST TIME YOU SUMMONED ME FORTH FROM A DWARVEN KINGDOM.”

“Belach, the greatest smith to put his hand on a hammer don’t get killed by his forge fire!  Felix is still bitching about me stealing you last time ain’t he?”  The voice asked, barking a laugh.  “This ain’t a request or a theft anyway.  It’s a gods damned summoning.”

Twin loops of chain made from something that looked like ice exploded from the swarming cloud of butterflies, one catching around each of Maegera’s huge black horns.  He leaned back, almost seeming to gather himself to strike out, his wings mantling like a hawk about to take flight and with a flash and flurry of razor sharp black winged butterflies he simply disappeared.

“FIGHT YOUR OWN BATTLES LITTLE MAGGOT.”  His voice echoed throughout the chamber, even after his body faded away.  “THE WAR IS COMING AND YOU MUST FIGHT OR PERISH.”

The heat of the Adamantine Forge faded and Durrak shivered in the chill that descended swiftly on the chamber.  He saw an opening beyond where Maegera had been standing moments before.  One of the strange metal butterflies was floating into a passageway that he could just barely see.  With determination to survive, he made his way into that tunnel.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 12

The gates of Denoria towered above them and Callindra couldn’t keep herself from gawking.  The walls were fully fifty feet high and the gates were open a full forty feet wide.  It was so thick that there were five separate gates that could be lowered if an invading force tried to break through.

Tryst was handling their entrance into the city as his credentials as a priest of Gode to pass the stringent requirements at the gate.  There was a chapter house of his faith here and he had been able to send messages ahead to them with a well-placed bit of coin.

“There’s a good place to stay called the Golden Mantle, it is a trusted establishment according to the guards at the gate.  You will be expected there, I sent a runner ahead to reserve you some rooms.”  Tryst said.  “Go and make yourselves at home.  I wish to go straight to the Chapter House and meet with the members of my order.”

“I need a bath and I need it now.”  Callindra said, trying to run her fingers through her hair and shuddering when she found it impossible.    “You can go and pray as long as you want if I get to go and get clean.”

“Since when were you so concerned about being all pretty and clean?”  Cronos asked, punching her in the shoulder.

“You could stand to get the stink of a few days without bathing on top the smell from a gods damned forest fire yourself brother mine.”  She said, giving him a punch that was noticeably stronger that the one he had given her.

“Hey!”  He said laughing, but rubbing his arm, “I don’t smell bad…”

“Right.”  Vilhylm said, “Keep telling yourself that.  We could all use a bath and a good meal.  Tryst, come and join us once you check in with your people.”

It was a short walk to the Inn, and as they drew closer Callindra began to have her doubts.  “I don’t think we belong here.  I mean look at these buildings.”  She said, pointing to the five story structures surrounding them.  All of them were immaculately painted and well cared for.  No doxies leaned out of second story windows, there wasn’t even any dung in the streets let alone garbage.

“Don’t worry little sister, Tryst is picking up the tab.”  Vilhylm said with a wry grin, “Just as long as his runner actually made it and we don’t get thrown out.”

The Golden Mantle was massive, taking up half a block and rising six stories.  The rambling structure seemed to have grown, multiple roof lines meeting and diverging but somehow looking grand and opulent in spite of the appearance that could have otherwise looked tacky.  At the entrance, a pair of guards wearing matching armor gave them matching skeptical looks.

“Gentlemen, I think perhaps you are looking for a different establishment.”  One of them says, stepping in front of the door and putting his hand on the hilt of the rather large sword at his side.  “We cater to a very specific clientele, there are plenty of places that serve travelers and adventurers closer to the gate.”

“Excuse me?”  Callindra said, her doubts momentarily overcome by ire at being called male. “You think that just because someone carries a sword and wears armor they’re automatically a man?”

“Uhhh…”  The guard looked at her and then glanced at his cohort, a slight blush coloring his cheeks.  “You were standing behind your companions miss, I didn’t see you.”

“THIS girl could cut your arms off before you were halfway through reaching for your sword.”  She said, “Especially if you don’t let her inside to take a bath.  We’ve been on the road for a week and I haven’t seen hot water for twice that.”

“Trust me man.”  Cronos said, “You don’t want to get between Callindra and her bath.”

“Callindra?”  The other guard asked, “You mean you’re the group that they sent a runner from the gate about?”  She scratched her chin and Callindra realized with belated chagrin that she was a woman.

“Yeah.”  Callindra said, “Tryst Te’Chern sent him.  This is Vilhylm and Cronos.”

“He didn’t mention anything about you being so … travel worn.”  The female guard said, “No matter, your suite is ready.  Please sign in at the front desk inside.”

“I am sorry, we’ve had a difficult week.”  Vilhylm said with an apologetic smile, “Her maybe more than the rest of us.”

Callindra mumbled something that might have been an apology and might have been a curse word and strode through the door, followed closely by her brothers.  Her soft leather shoes were quiet on the floor, but the man behind the desk looked up with a smile that might have been tattooed on.

“Ah, the exalted friends of the Church!  Welcome!”  He rang a small gold bell and a youth in a uniform seemed to appear by the desk.  “Alex, please take their bags to the suite and give them the tour.”

“Right this way miss, gents.”  The youth said, taking Callindra’s pack from her and leading the way up the stairs at a trot as though she wasn’t a filthy, armor wearing girl whose long hair had living flowers growing in it.

Too tired and dirty to argue, she followed him to a set of rooms that eclipsed anything she had ever imagined.  The floors had plush carpets, the beds had silk and they had their own private bathing chamber.

“There is hot water in the cistern enough for three baths.”  Alex said crisply, “I will have an attendant come up as soon as you are ready.”

“I don’t need help.”  She said, walking toward the bathing chamber like a moth to a candle flame.

“I’ll send one of the maids up to help.  Tallie I think is her name.”  Alex said, turning and moving swiftly from the room.

“Wow would you look at this place?”  Callindra said, spinning in a circle and laughing.  “I don’t believe it!  Gods and demons I have no idea how Tryst thinks he’s going to pay for all this, but I’m going to live it up before they try and collect.”

She walked into the bathroom and found a pleasantly plump maid in a gown that would have been modest if it hadn’t been unlaced halfway to her navel standing next to a steaming tub.  A flagon of wine with condensation beading invitingly on its sides was set next to the tub and the scent of fragrant herbal soap filled the air.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2; The Rise of Evil- Chapter 11

Everyone looked at her, and Callindra realized that she had been speaking as though she was in charge.  She pretended not to notice their scrutiny and puffed on her borrowed pipe.  Wiping away a tear that was threatening to spill from her eye, she adjusted herself on the cushions, settling Brightfang’s sheath more comfortably and shifting her injured leg.

“Well Lass.  Ya gotta point there.”  Malachi said. “I been captain a this ship for fifty years an it’s hard ta think about givin him up.”  He patted the floor fondly, “But I suppose all things come ta pass.”

“Give up your ship?”  She asked, confused.  “What do you mean give up your ship?”

“When I was designin this beauty a century ago I…”  He trailed off, looking at the expressions on their faces.  “Well it’s a long story an ya probably don’t want ta hear it now.  Suffice it ta say I needed a power source and Jorda gave me one.  Asked me ta keep it until tha ones she tasked would come for it.”

“She gave you a power source?”  Tryst asked, raising a golden eyebrow.  “What do you mean?”

“Ahhh.. maybe it’s better ta show ya.”  Malachi said, standing and moving toward the door.

“I’ll be fine.”  Callindra said, waving off her brother’s moves to help her.  “I’ve got to learn to move when I’m all messed up or else I’ll be easy prey any time I’ve been hurt.”  She struggled to her feet, wincing in pain and looked up to see approval in Malachi’s eyes.  He didn’t say a word, instead striding out of the cabin toward the ladder leading to the hold.

They followed him in silence other than the occasional grunt of discomfort as their injuries were strained by a difficult step.  Callindra did her best on the ladder, although the pain of bending her knee sent tears trickling down her face she made it to the bottom without assistance.

It was hot and loud below decks.  The scents of burning coal and hot metal, both old and stale assaulted her nose. Callindra sneezed so hard that the blast of air knocked Cronos off his feet as he stepped off the ladder.  He looked at her in surprise, shaking his head.

“Sorry, I guess something in the air is tickling my nose.”  She said, wincing.

Malachi gave her an inscrutable look, his mouth frowning slightly around the stem of his pipe.  “We ain’t burned coal since Jorda entrusted us with her gift, but the smell does still linger.  Some folk I knew once were sensitive to it like that.”

“Did the Goddess give you a piece of the clay mold that made the original human?”  Tryst breathed, “Why would she do such a thing?”

“Betimes the best place to hide sommat important be in plain sight.”  The Dwarf rumbled, “Sides which I ain’t in one place for more’n a day or so.  Nobbut would ever suspect it to be used in such a way.”

A whirring, clattering sound dominated all the other sounds as they approached the center of the ship.  In front of them, a complicated latticework of steel cables and wooden beams moved in steady rhythm.  This was the contraption that allowed the ship to fly.  At its heart was what appeared to be the lower torso of a human working a treadle at a furious rate.

“What in the name of the Absent Gods is that?”  Vilhylm said, staring at the strange sight.

“This be the heart a the Grungie and a marvel of engineering.”  Malachi said with a wide grin.  “But afore I had the legs he ran on coal and steam and quite frankly did no function as well as he could have.  Of course it ain’t just the wings, there’s a fair bit of wind magic at play as well.”

“Are they always so… big?”  Callindra asked, “The other bits aren’t really to scale.  Gods and demons, I don’t even know if we could carry them.  We certainly couldn’t hide the bedamned things.”  She paused, as if digesting what he had just said.  “Did you just say wind magic?”

“Indeed I did.  That was a gift from another, slightly less friendly Immortal.”  Malachi said, his eyes turning flat.  “But that ain’t a story I share.”

“Was his name Glarian?  No, can’t be… you said Immortal.”  She sighed, and a mischievous breeze untied the ribbon holding her hair in place, allowing it to fan out around her head.  The flowering vines growing through it smelled sweet.  “My Master is no God, he’s just an old man.  A talented and powerful one, but an old man nonetheless.  If he was a God he wouldn’t need rescuing.”

Malachi was looking at her with a strange expression on his face that was hard to read.  “I’m sure he ain’t the one I knew.  His bargains have more’n one sharp edge.  There ain’t a safe way to hold them.”

“If we take this artifact will your ship still be able to fly?”  Cronos asked, looking up from where he was inspecting the apparatus.  “It looks like it will, and handily at that.  You hardly need the support of these.  They just make it more convenient.”

“Not entirely true.”  The Dwarf said, a bit defensively.  “But also I was charged with handing over the artifact to the hero’s the Goddess had in mind when she put it in my care.”

Wordlessly, Tryst brought the small hand seemingly made of clay from his belt pouch and held it in his hand.  It spun around one full turn before stopping pointing directly at the legs powering the airship.  The thumb and all fingers but the index curled in as it ceased moving.

“I think that’s likely all the proof you need.”  Tryst said quietly.

After looking between them all for a few tense moments, Malachi sighed.  “You’re all so young.  I expected… well… when we land outside Denoria in two days’ time I’ll surrender the legs to you like I was charged to.”

Callindra blinked in surprise.  Now that the tension of the moment had passed, she processed what he had said.  “Two days to Denoria?  That can’t be, Denoria is at least two week’s travel away!”

Malachi chuckled, obviously happy to tout his ships’ prowess.  “This here lassie will cover the distance in less than two days but I don’t want to land her in the city so you’ll have to walk the last half day.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 10

“The wounds seem to be healing properly but I do not like the condition she is in.”  Tryst’s voice came to Callindra’s ears as though from down a hallway.  “This much healing without any food is taking a serious toll on her body; magic only accelerates the body’s natural processes, it doesn’t do anything the body can’t do already.”

“She will wake up, eat like a horse for a few days and be right as rain just like she has a dozen or more times.”  Cronos said, a curious edge to his voice.  “The Goddess wouldn’t give her something that healed her just to kill her slowly with it.”

“Malachi believes we’ll have smooth sailing for a few days at any rate.”  Vilhylm said, “That’ll give her some time to recover.”

Callindra cracked an eye and looked at her friends.  All of them sported bandages of one type or another, Cronos had one that wrapped around his head quite thoroughly and nearly obscured his face.  Vilhylm walked with a pronounced limp as he paced the floor and had strips of cloth wound around his chest, probably broken ribs.  Tryst’s left arm was purple with bruising from shoulder to wrist while his right forearm was tightly bound to his side.

“You three look like hell.”  She said, her voice coming out in a thick croak.  “Who do I have to stab to get some food around here?”

She was laying on her stomach due to the wounds on her back, her right hand was a mass of vines that sprouted tiny Brightstar flowers and her knee itched like there were a thousand mosquitos biting it just beneath the skin.  Her hair was loose and spilled over the side of the bed, the sunlight coming through the porthole bringing out the red notes in the otherwise unremarkable brown.  Someone had brushed it out recently.

Cronos approached with a steaming bowl of something that smelled like ambrosia as Vilhylm helped her sit up.  Her knee wouldn’t bend and her back was so stiff that it took her several minutes for it to relax enough that she could sit.  Awkwardly balancing the bowl on her lap with her leg stretched out she took the wide wooden spoon from the bowl of stew and began to devour it.

“Well, nothing is wrong with your appetite I see.”  Tryst said wryly, “Try to slow down so you don’t make yourself sick.”

“Thank the Winds I’m left handed.”  She said around a mouthful and as if in response a breeze promptly began teasing the ends of her hair, threatening to deposit them into her meal.  Before that could happen, she had finished the bowl drinking down the last of the broth and wiping it clean with a hunk thick black bread Cronos handed her.

“So this Malachi is the captain?”  She asked, accepting a mug of ale from Vilhylm.  It was a dark brew with an earthy flavor she associated with hazelnuts.

“Yes.  He is also the one who pulled you back onboard when you nearly fell over going after that sword of yours.”  Said Cronos, “What kind of fool’s errand was that?”

Callindra’s face colored slightly and she took another drink to hide it.  “He is my life.  I would be lost without him… my magic would devour me and likely take anyone standing around me with it.  If I didn’t have the control he offers I would be a danger to everyone.”  She reached out and touched Brightfang’s pommel stone with the tips of the fingers that extended from the mass of vines on her right hand.

“Aye, he is the captain.”  A gruff voice came from the door, “An he is wondering what exactly he picked up there in the forest.”

“I was going to wait to mention this captain Malachi, but you seem to have something onboard your ship that we have been tasked by the Goddess Jorda to acquire.”  Tryst said, giving the Dwarf a careful look.  “I am not certain which part it is, however I know there is certainly a portion of our quest here.”

Malachi gave them a level look, and then grunted.  “This cabin’s too small.  Come to mine.”

“I don’t think-“ Tryst began, but the Dwarf cut him off, glancing toward the walls significantly.

“I said come to my cabin.”  He said, pulling out a pipe with a wide, deep bowl and tamping it full of tac.  Without waiting, he turned and stumped out of the room reaching into his belt pouch for flint and steel.

“Can you help me to my feet?”  Callindra asked, “I need to get dressed in at least a shift if I’m going to walk out of here.  Just bandages is hardly proper attire for a meeting with the captain.”

Cronos chuckled, “Yeah, I’m sure most of the crew would appreciate watching you walk across the deck.”  He took one of his shirts out of his pack and helped her put it on.  “You don’t have any dresses, so this will have to do.

“Fits me like a tent.”  She grunted, awkwardly buckling Brightfang on around her waist since she couldn’t put the baldric on over her shoulder as normally did.  “Thanks Cronos.”

“Yeah, don’t worry about it.” He said with a smile, “Come on sister, let’s go and see what the captain wants.”

They walked the short distance to the admittedly larger cabin where Malachi waited for them at the slow shamble, the best they could do with their combined injuries.  When they reached the door, the scent of Karalan Imperialis wafted from the room.

“Get in here, I ain’t got all day.”  Malachi’s voice followed a large smoke ring that drifted out of the door.

Callindra was the first through the door, wishing she had taken the time to bring her own pipe.  “I’ve heard that few people smoke the Imperialis blend.”  She said, giving him an appraising look.

“Ah, a connoisseur.”  He said, “Well sit your skinny arse down and pack a bowl if ya will.”

The room was small but well appointed, a desk bolted to one wall and a bed folded up against the other.  A small bookshelf held a few tomes, each one strapped down with a leather thong to keep it in place.  A scattering of cushions lay on the floor for them to sit on.  The Dwarf was gesturing toward the desk as he spoke, and Callindra saw a pipe rack with a few long stemmed pipes resting next to a small wooden box of tac.

“I will take you up on that captain.”  She said, hobbling to the desk and picking up a pipe.  Brightfang kept banging into her knee as she walked making her wonder how anyone could wear a sword on their hip.  It was difficult to tamp the pipe full with only one hand, but after a few moments she had it burning and was settled comfortably on a cushion, her injured leg stretched out in front of her.

“Thank you for agreeing to speak with us Captain.”  Tryst said, “Our mission is of the utmost importance and I think you can help us achieve it.  I think you might even have been told to help us.”

Malachi leaned back on his cushions and sucked on his pipe, giving them a level, suspicious look through half closed eyes.  “Maybe.”

“I think perhaps you know more than you’re letting on.”  Vilhylm said, leaning on the wall just inside the door.  “But it seems you’re helping us anyway.  Jorda asked you to save us from the fire and you did so.”

“Aye, a perceptive one.”  He muttered, smoke coming out of his mouth with the words.  “I was indeed asked by a certain individual to give aid to a certain group.  She never said you were dangerous imbeciles who would all but destroy the Grungie did she?”

“Is your ship more important than the will of the gods?”  Tryst demanded, steel entering his voice.

Callindra chuckled and the men all glanced at her with frowns on their faces.  “Sorry, it’s just that all this dancing around the truth seems so trite when you consider what we are attempting to do.”  She blew a series of tiny smoke rings.  “Don’t you understand?  I guess I shouldn’t judge because I certainly didn’t.  Not until a month or so ago.

“The Gods are real!  Demons and devils and all that are real too… it’s not just the good things that we’ve been told about, but the bad too.  Something used to keep them at bay but now they’re fighting free of whatever that was.  I think that something was Onde.”  She looked at them, fear in her eyes.  “He’s gone.  Nobody knows where he is and the only way we can find him is by doing as Jorda asked.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Chapter 9

A gentle knock at the door made her relax slightly.  The voice that followed even more.

“Callindra?  Battle sister?  Are you awake?”  Tryst asked, his words muffled by the thick oak.

“Tryst.  I’m glad you warned me it was you.”  She said, her voice quiet and raspy, “I might have acted rashly otherwise.”

“I thought as much.”  He said, a smile in his voice.  “It’s almost like I know you or something.”

She lowered Brightfang and her body remembered its fatigue.  By using her blade and the wall for support she managed not to fall over outright.  As it was she had to stagger back to the bed and sit heavily.  “Well.  Are you coming in or not?”

Tryst entered, a slight frown creasing his brow.  “How are you feeling?”

“Like a spring breeze playing about in the daisies.”  She said, but then let herself relax and leaned back against the wall.  “Actually I’m famished.  What are the odds of a meal?”

“I’m sure I can find something.”  He said with a smile, “It is good that you are hungry, it’s a sign that you’re on the mend.  You took a nasty knock to the head.  I will see what I can get for you.”

Tryst was halfway out the door when her stomach rumbled like a thunderstorm, “I don’t know that you need to cook it first.”

He chuckled as he went out and Callindra closed her eyes, trying to get her limbs under control.  Her head wouldn’t stop throbbing and it was difficult to keep her thoughts focused.  The ship lurched hard to one side, throwing her to the floor.  Only her nearly inhuman reflexes saved her from cutting herself again, although she managed to smack her head on the floor, sending stars careening through her vision.

She got to her feet, stumbling drunkenly and wobbled to the door.  As her hand touched the latch, the sounds of combat erupted from outside.  Inhuman screeching accompanied battle cries and screams of pain, each one a lance into her temples.

Dragging herself to the door, she drew Brightfang and gritted her teeth against the pain throbbing in her head.  Kicking the door open, she ran out into the sunlight in nothing but her smallclothes.

The scene outside was chaos.  Beasts with the heads of deer and the bodies of eagles were swooping down upon the crew.  Her companions were battling them, and they were losing.  One of the monsters stooped toward her, wings folded in a delta shape.  With a snarl of defiance, Callindra whipped Brightfang in a series of flashing arcs.  A blast of air carrying the sharpened knives of frigid Nordji, the North Wind tore into the thing, shredding its wings and sending it tumbling from the sky.

A string of curses blistered the air and the ship heeled dangerously over to one side.  One of the sails was partially cut to ribbons and a large swath of the rigging hung as though sliced by a huge sword.  Oops.  Before she could react, another voice barked out orders and a dozen crossbows fired in unison.  Two more of the creatures fell from the sky, flapping weakly as their injuries kept them from maintaining altitude.

There were at least another dozen of them still in the air and a pair of them landed on the deck of the ship amidst the crossbowmen as they frantically worked the cranks on their weapons to reload.  They should, she thought idly have fired in ranks, not all together.  Her thoughts snapped back to the horrible reality of the situation when one of the monsters reached its head out and bit the nearest man’s face off with fanged teeth.

The spray of blood galvanized Callindra into action.  Ignoring the complaints of her body and the strange lurching motion of the ship underfoot, she sprinted across the deck and swung her sword with every fiber of strength she possessed.  As the creature raised its bloody muzzle from its grizzly repast, Brightfang hacked its head clean from its shoulders.  Its companion lunged forward, jaws gaping and Callindra threw her arm up in defense, an automatic and futile gesture.

The instant before it tore her arm off, a hammer the size of her head slammed into the monster’s body with the sound of breaking bones.  It fell sideways, twitching pitifully and the hammer was jerked back toward the one who had thrown it courtesy of a thin silver chain connected to its haft.  Before the monster recovered, Callindra dispatched it with a thrust of her sword.

A heavy weight slammed into her back and fire erupted down her spine.  She tried to roll with the blow, the effort sending another burst of pain through her injured back.  Her shirt fell open and her breast band, having been cut clean through fell to tangle around her legs.  To Callindra’s horror, Brightfang clattered from her hand and skittered toward the edge of the ship.

With a desperate cry, she flung herself recklessly across the deck.  Her hands reached for her blade’s hilt, missing him by a finger’s breadth and she keened in fear as he teetered on the edge of the deck.  With a desperate effort, she gripped the wood with her bare toes and lunged forward, one hand grabbing the sword by the blade just as it fell off the ship and the other gripping the rail.

The edge but deep into her right hand, but she refused to let go, even as she could feel tendons parting.  Letting go of the rail, Callindra took hold of the hilt, not paying attention to the danger as her body began to slide toward the edge.  Her right hand flopped uselessly when she tried to reach for the rail.  The ship lurched and she began to fall, only extreme luck and agility allowing her to hook her knee around one of the railing supports.

One of the monsters dove at her as she dangled from the side of the ship and she swung her blade with precise fury, severing one of the joints that kept a wing functional and sending it into a spin that carried it away from her.  Fire seemed to be burning in her knee joint and she felt dizzy from the various injuries she had sustained.  She tried to reach back, but without her right hand she couldn’t get a proper grip.

A large hand with short powerful fingers grasped her forearm just as she began to fall in earnest, pulling her back to safety.  “I told yeh, yer a bedamned fool girl.”  Callindra looked up into the eyes of the Dwarf who had saved her life.

“Yeah.  Probably.”  She said, and gratefully succumbed to unconsciousness.

Shirasiau Sai’Li – Part 2

Sai’Li tried to weigh her options.  On one hand, she was being evicted from the soft and wonderfully enticing life in the Blossom Houses but it would also free her from the rigors of her training and allow her to use the other talents she had been so carefully cultivating.  They had grown like one of the bonsai trees she had been tending for decades, the power they contained having been distilled into absolute perfection.

“I can create my own empire.”  She whispered to her reflection, “Father has honored me with this chance to prove myself.”

The mirrors she kept in her room to remind herself of her own existence.  Of her own mortality.  Of the fact that she was not precisely mortal, but much more so than her honored father.  His vampiric nature had given her unnatural gifts, and unnatural weaknesses.  She would find a way around it though, she must if she was to make her way in the world.

Perhaps that was her father’s goal.  Perhaps he wished her to overcome her weaknesses and establish herself in a position he could respect.  Of course it was much more likely that he merely wanted to weed out the weak.   That was likely why her sisters had been overlooked for this position.

Lian’Tiu was a full blood vampire, gleefully feasting upon the blood of the cattle and expanding the Family’s influence in any number of remarkable ways.  Rian’Zah was a half-blood like herself, but she had not been consigned to The Blossom Houses.  Of course Rian’Zah hadn’t taken well to the embrace of the mortals.  After the first two clients ended up horribly dead, her dear father had decided against such an assignment.

Sai’Li was the only one of his daughters who had been able to endure and eventually come to crave such contact.  Unlike her sisters, she had found the touch of mortals to be more than enticing.  It had become like a drug, the warmth their bodies could give bringing her back to the dancing, the shows and the seduction time after time.  And she was good at it.

Over the decades, her skill in the Houses had brought many secrets to her Family and well had she been rewarded for it.  But now she had begun to feel restless.  After a century of such work, Sai’Li had begun wishing for more.  The outside world was calling and now she had a chance to answer that call.

“Sha.  I require the Obi with the breaking wave.  Ling.  The Kimono with the ravens.”  She smiled, and for the first time her maidservants saw that smile spread to her eyes.  It was terrifying.  She moved behind her dressing screen and opened her top left bureau drawer.

“Pardon Lady, but your Honored Father has given you a gift.  It was his wish that you receive it upon returning to your chambers.”  Sha bowed low, holding a box wrapped with a silk ribbon forward.

Sai’Li took the package and found a pair of shimmering and nearly transparent kimono sleeves.  A note written in her father’s delicate and precise Kanji read ‘So that my Third Daughter may never be without the proper attire.’  She ran a hand over them and felt the thrill of magic running through them, begging to be attuned to her body.

Shivering, she drew on the sleeves and found that with an effort of will she could clothe herself in garb of her choosing.  The fabric whispered up over her body, forming into a perfectly fitting Kimono in pure white with an intricately embroidered pattern of ravens taking flight from a grove of blooming Sakura trees.  The Obi was an elegant grey and embroidered with her favorite traditional Great Wave pattern.

“Oh.”  She said softly, even that small of an expression being almost as outrageous as a shout.  For some this gift might seem frivolous, but for her it was beyond perfect.  Beneath the cloth was another piece of parchment and a small silk pouch.  ‘To ensure that my Third Daughter will complete her mission and honor her house in spite of mishap.’

Inside was a delicate bit of bone as thin as her finger and carved with swirling patterns.  It was a wand that she could use to restore what passed for her life force.  As she was not a full vampire, injuries to her person could not be restored by feasting on the blood of the masses, but the divine light of healing magic burned her flesh even as it burned the true undead.  Snapping open her fan, she quickly covered her face as she was unable to keep the broad smile from it.  This was proof positive that her honored Father wished her to succeed.

“Sha.  Ling.  You have served me with honor and dedication.”  She said from behind her fan, “I release you from your bondage of servitude with a gift of one thousand pieces of silver which I have placed in the top left drawer of my bureau.  Upon my honor, you are free to leave and make lives for yourselves.  Take back your names and depart this night with my blessing.  I fear I must begin learning to survive without attendants.”

The pair bowed low in unison without a single hint of regret, gratitude or relief.  Sai’Li sighed in regret behind her fan.  They truly were perfect servants, but there simply was not a place for them where she was going.  Such delicate flowers needed careful tending, she hoped they would find meaningful placement.  She would not speak to Father about that; he knew all too well how to take advantage of such things and she owed them at least a chance at freedom.

“My Lady, it pains us to leave your service.”  They said together, “However we are grateful that you have thought of our future.  We shall find a place and await your return.  We are loyal to your ladyship and the family.  If it was allowed we would accompany you, however we understand that we would be nothing but an impediment.  Please accept our apologies for not being worthy to serve you outside.”

She bowed in return, although hers was not nearly as deep.  “You honor me with your devotion.  Such dedication is more than admirable, it is deserving of a boon.  Name it and if it be within my power I shall grant it.”

“We require nothing.” Whispered Sha.

“Only to serve.”  Whispered Ling.

Sai’Li closed her fan and moved closer.  She kissed and embraced each of them, giving them a genuine smile.  “I feel undeserving of such praise.  I will make every effort to become worthy of it.  This I swear by my family’s honor and by my black heart.”

“We know when you call upon us that you will be a power to make the world tremble Lady.”  They said in unison, bowing so low that they bent double.

“I will recommend you to The House of Falling Sakura as attendants to the Madam.”  Sai’Li said, “You are loyal, perfect servants with stricture that you be returned to me upon successful completion of my tasks for the Family.  I can offer no higher praise to those in my service.”

“You are too kind my Lady.” They responded in unison, bowing so deeply their heads nearly touched the floor.

“My dears please.”  She implored them, “You honor me too much.”

“It is you who honors us Great Lady.”  Sha whispered.  “I am and will forever be Sha.”

“You have given us nothing but treatment above our station.”  Ling whispered.  “I am and forever will be Ling.”

“We live only to serve the Great Lady.”  They whispered in unison.

“Speak of this devotion to no one.”  Sai’Li cautioned, overcome with emotion at their words.  “It may be more than your lives are worth my children.  I welcome and will not betray your loyalty.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 8

The Council of Twelve was meeting and as both Storgar and Brenlena were not just members, but Speakers, Durrak was in attendance.  He wore the formal grey tabard with the thread of gold embroidered sigils of his lineage marching up the breast, mother’s family on the left and father’s family on the right.  They were both proud and ancient; the tabard was heavy with the weight of his family history.  Each of the other Twelve Clans had their own representatives who would speak here, but this time his mother had the honor of being the first heard.

She was standing at The Stone and addressing the assembled dignitaries, so Durrak was required to stand close, holding a tankard of ale in case she needed to wet her throat.  It was silly, neither of his parents had ever taken the offered drink, yet here he had to stand.  He hoped Brenlena was almost finished, he was exhausted.

“Krrakathanak is dangerous and needs to be stopped!”  She was saying, “He has already laid waste to nearly one hundred square miles of mountain range and he is moving this way.  Rumor has it that he is searching for a mate, and a breeding pair of black dragons is not something we want to have within a hundred leagues of here.”

Brenlena stood back from the podium two steps to signal she was finished and ready for any questions and reached out her hand.  Startled, he thrust the tankard into it so quickly he almost slopped some over the side.  She was resplendent in her Mithril chain and Adamantine breastplate.  He was proud to see that she also wore the Fullblade he had forged for her slanting across her back.

“A rousing speech as always Speaker, but who is it that will lead this mission?”  Durrak couldn’t see the questioner and didn’t recognize his voice, “Your duties are with the Kings Own Guardians and they must not leave the fortress.”

“I will lead it.”  Storgar’s voice boomed out into the cavern.  “Any who has the fortitude to follow me is welcome to prove themselves regardless of rank or station.”

Stunned silence greeted this pronouncement.  None had expected a volunteer and even fewer had thought it would be a Dwarf with a long lineage and no need to prove himself with deeds of daring and valor.  Storgar was a well-established battle general, having led many raids against goblin and orc in addition to having a noble family history.

A great shout rang out from outside the council chamber.  More than a hundred voices raised in a war chant.  Durrak shuddered, wondering how many of them would die, wondering if any of them would return.

“I call for the runes!”  The voice of Cairnara, Head Speaker cut through the noise and everyone fell silent as a door opened and the bent shape of the Moragainnag shuffled out.  The raven on her shoulder seemed to stare directly at Durrak, although he knew it was just his imagination.

She reached the edge of the Stone where a crystal pedestal with an iron bowl resting on top stood.  Reaching into the bowl, she picked up the handful of stone, bone and carved gem runes that rested there.  The raven ruffled its feathers and croaked as she threw them into the air.

“Death.”  The Moragainnag said, “Triumph.  Annihilation.  Fate.  The runes have spoken.”  This was the first time the results had been so unclear.  Silence reigned completely now, everyone waiting to hear what would happen.

“I call for a reading if we do not go.” Storgar said.  Although he didn’t raise his voice it was clearly heard throughout the entire chamber.

The raven croaked again and pecked The Moragainnag on the cheek before she reached into the bowl and picked up the stones again.  She tossed them again and stared into the bowl.  Shaking her head, she picked them up and threw them again, but this time most of them jumped out of the bowl, landing face down on the floor.

She turned an ashen face to look at the assembly.  “Death. Destruction.  Doom.  Chaos.  Annihilation.  Damnation.”  Breaking all protocol, she turned to Storgar and pointed her gnarled finger at him, “I charge you Storgar son of Glardin to go forth with any who dare to join you and bring this dragon to his final rest.  If you do not, all is lost.”

She hobbled out of the cavern, leaving the runes sitting on the floor.  The raven on her shoulder caught Durrak’s eye and held it until they passed out of the chamber.  He swore he could still feel the bird’s eye on him even after it was gone.

A low thrumming sound that seemed to permeate through her whole body greeted Callindra when she awakened.  Her entire body felt like she had been beaten with a burning stick.  She tried to open her eyes but it felt like a labor of years.

“What happened?  Tryst?  Are you there?”  She whispered through dry lips, as anxious fingers felt around for her sword.  No answer was immediately forthcoming and she struggled to rise, only to find that she had been strapped to the bed.

“Hey!”  She croaked, forcing her eyes open.  The room was tiny, with barely room for the bed and a small table.  Relief washed over her when she saw Brightfang sheathed and resting on the table, his pommel stone glittering in the light that streamed through the porthole on the wall.

With a determined effort, she wiggled an arm free and unbuckled the restraint across her chest and then the one across her hips.  They weren’t tight she realized, more just tight enough to keep her from sliding out of the narrow bed.  The room lurched and Callindra remembered that she was on a ship.  A flying ship.

Before she could get out of bed, she had to brush out the yards long tangle of her hair and carefully braid it.  Callindra had learned the hard way that if she didn’t, it would quickly get impossibly tangled and while at first she had found its length to be an annoyance she had gradually become accustomed to it.  It even seemed to be a bit of a badge of honor to her now, although she wished it would stop growing.

Her pack was at the foot of the bed and she rummaged for fresh clothes since all she had on were smallclothes.  A line of neat stitches ran down her thigh where her wayward sword had dug into her during her tumble across the deck, but the magic of Jorda’s gift had healed her, likely with some help from Tryst.  Only a thin scar remained where the deep slash had been.

“All the trouble I go through for you.”  She grumbled, giving the leather wrapped hilt of her slender blade a dark look.  His pommel stone glittered, but it was probably a trick of the light.  A sound outside the door made her react instinctively, taking a smooth step to the table, stripping the blade from his sheath and poising by the side of the door ready to strike.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 7

Callindra was still on edge, their escape had been narrow, but that wasn’t all that was bothering her.  It was as though she could always hear someone talking to her, whispering just barely beyond the limit of where she could understand the words.  It had made her jumpy and irritable, to the point where even Tryst was giving her space.

“Great, I’m sure they’ll be happy to work for their keep.”  Callindra said, giving the refugees a significant look.  None of them protested.

“Relax sister.”  Cronos said, giving her a good natured punch on the arm, “You don’t need to glare them to death after we did all the work getting them here safely.”

She sighed, “I’m sorry, I just have this weird feeling that something’s not right.”

“I trust your intuition.”  Tryst said, “But this place seems like a good, safe place for these folk.  At any rate they won’t go hungry and it’s certainly safer than if they traveled with us.”

Callindra looked around the farm with its busy people and green fields.  The sun was setting red on the horizon; a color like drying blood and she shivered.

“That’s just th smoke from th forest fire.”  The farmer said, leaning on the fence rail.  “Been burning for a couple days now.”

They all turned, following his gaze toward the mass of the High Forest with the towering form of the Grandfather Tree rising beyond it.  The haze of smoke was clear against the backdrop of the setting sun.  Callindra felt the dread inside her build.

“No.  The High Forest is burning.”  She whispered, “We did this.”

“What?”  Cronos said, giving her an incredulous look.  “We didn’t set any fires there.  Besides, don’t you think Jorda could take care of a little fire?”

“Yes, I would think that Jorda would have the ability to put out a fire you idiot.”  She said, losing her patience.  “Why do you think I’m so worried?”  Wind gusted and swirled around her, loosening the tie holding her waist long, wrist thick braid so that hair fanned out around her head.

“Be easy sister.”  Vilhylm said, putting a calming hand on her shoulder.  “No need to get upset.  We’ll head that direction at first light.”

“The Hand seems to be pointing back in that general direction as well.”  Tryst said, “If we’re going to find the rest of the pieces we need to keep following it toward the closest one.”

Callindra forced herself to relax, focusing on the first Korumn.  Inhale.  Exhale.  “I’m still not sure I’m OK with you calling me your sister.”  She said, giving Vilhylm a quizzical look.

“Well you’re as close to blood kin as we can have without sharing parents.”  Cronos said with a grin, “You’re even my big sister.”

“I’m only a year older than you Cronos.”  She said, allowing their playful banter to soothe away her worries for the moment.  “Tryst is older than I am and Vilhylm has got to have at least ten years on me.”

“Hey now, there’s no need to rub it in.”  Vilhylm said with a hearty chuckle.  “Come on, let’s see what kind of accommodations master Gild can give us for the night.”

“Oh not but th best hayloft for certain!”  Tom said with a hearty chuckle.  “And there’s a damn fine stew on.”

“Sounds wonderful compared to the burned meat and hard ground we’ve been enduring.” Callindra said, grinning in spite of her mood, “Anything’s better than my cooking.”

Pressing hard, they had arrived at the High Forest in two days.  The smoke had been getting steadily thicker and now a choking wall of it obscured their view of the roaring flames ahead.  All Callindra could do is stare in horror.

“Gods and Demons, what did we do?”  She breathed, the winds curling around her, blowing the smoke away from her face.

“This wasn’t us.”  Cronos said, “We didn’t start any fires damn it.”

Even as they watched, the fire grew, seeming to actively try to surround them.  With a cry of fear, Callindra lashed out with magic and the winds that were curling protectively around her burst forth, blasting a path through the flames.

“Stop it sister, you’re making the fire stronger!”  Tryst shouted over the increasing angry rumble and crackle of the flames.

Vilhylm had put a mask on, his body beginning to drip with mud and flung great handfuls of wet muck at the fire but the heat baked them to brick before they could do anything to smother the blaze.  Tryst stared at the wall of flames, spinning in a circle.

“We have to get out before it’s too late!”  Tryst yelled, looking around them at the shrinking gap.

“How did it get around us?”  Cronos said, breaking into a run.

“I think it’s alive.”  Callindra said, “Somehow it senses us.”  It was then that she saw the motes of pure emerald rippling through the smoke above their heads.

“It’s the Abyss!”  Tryst shouted, “We need to move!”

“To move where?”  Vilhylm asked, “It has surrounded us!”

With a supreme effort of will, Callindra drew in as much power as she could, spinning in circle with a gradual increase in speed until she was balanced on the ball of her right foot.  She released the power and the winds swirled in response, becoming a small whirlwind and keeping the raging flames at bay.

A roaring sound only barely audible over the flames made everyone look up.  Above them, a shape with a span of flapping wings too impossibly large to be anything but a dragon blocked out the sky as it hovered.  It took Callindra a moment to realize that she was looking at the wooden planks and decking of a sailing vessel.  When a rope ladder fell over the side, stopping a few feet from the ground she stopped caring how it was managing to float there.

“Get on!”  She shouted, sweat pouring down her face as she desperately concentrated.  “I can’t hold this wind forever!”

Cronos was the first to grab the ladder and begin to climb, closely followed by Vilhylm.  Tryst looked at her as though he might object, but the ship above them began to rock and sway, its massive wings flapping in an irregular beat to keep itself steady.  The torrent of air she was maintaining made the ladder begin to slide sideways toward the wall of flame Callindra was only barely keeping at bay.

As the priest in his gleaming maile ascended the ladder, the ship lurched and abruptly bobbed five feet higher off the ground.  The ladder was out of reach.  Desperately, Callindra brought the swirling torrent of air back in and beneath her in a rush.  It shot her into the air with a surprised scream.  Her clumsy attempt to merely raise up a few feet turned into a catapult shot and she flew a dozen feet past the rail of the ship, tumbling to the deck in a barely controlled roll.

“Do get that ladder up and us out of this bedamed torrent!”  A gruff voice sounded behind her.

“Aye Skip!”  Another voice responded.

The scent of Karalan Imperalius wafted into Callindra’s nostrils.  Her head was woozy from the impact and the massive expenditure of arcane energies.  She tried to focus her eyes on the figure standing above her.

“Yer a bedamed fool girl.”  It said in a basso rumble.  “Ya cut yerself up on that blade.  Pretty bad.  Yer bleedin all over Grungie’s deck, holdin onta that thing like it’s a baby or somethin.”

She looked down, and the last thing she saw before succumbing to unconsciousness was Brightfang’s hilt clutched in her hands, his blade buried in her thigh.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 2: The Rise of Evil – Chapter 6

They broke from their careful ranks and began to scramble over the stone arch, a few more falling screaming into the unknown depths.  Callindra forced herself to ignore them and to focus on the ranks of bipedal lizards who turned as one to focus on what had been happening behind them.

Emerald green ichor oozed from their mouths and they moved in earie unison.  Their motions were uncoordinated, almost as though someone was controlling them and didn’t quite know how to make them move properly.  Most unnerving was the absolute silence that accompanied their approach.

With a shout of defiance, Callindra pushed past the frightened townsfolk and imposed herself between them and the monsters.  She looked back at the pale faces of the guardsmen who she had been scouting with and growled, “Get up here and defend your family’s you cowards!”

This challenge seemed to stiffen their spines a touch and they lost some of their hesitancy.  The movements of their enemies began to smooth out but their unified movement remained, many of them falling off into the yawning chasm when the edge didn’t match up with their ranks.  Tryst and Vilhylm moved to flank her and bolts of Arcane Power flew from Cronos where he stood at the bridge head, chivying the people across.

“We need to keep them moving and confused.”  Vilhylm said, “If they keep having to move in other directions perhaps we can cause more of them to fall.”

With a grin, Callindra darted forward and summoned a vicious blast of wind from Brightfang’s edge, blowing half a dozen of them over the edge, but unfortunately this put her close enough to them to be nearly surrounded.  When she thought she might be overwhelmed, the contingent of guards she had shamed into fighting slammed into the monsters in a loosely organized wedge, hacking limbs from bodies and opening dreadful wounds as they chopped their way to her side.

“You’re late!”  She said, grinning fiercely at their leader.  He grinned back, throwing a mock salute when the claws of one of the lizard men wrapped around his neck from behind, cutting his throat to the spine and spraying her with his arterial blood.

It was all they could do to break free.  The floor became slick with blood and viscera, many of their companions were left motionless on the ground behind them and Callindra noted absently that she had sustained several rather severe wounds.  She had no time to feel the pain now though, and Jorda’s gift was doing its best to staunch the bleeding.

A shout from the bridge made her turn.  The last of the refugees was at the midpoint and Cronos was frantically waving at them.  Tryst and Vilhylm were fighting side by side, Tryst protecting the spear wielding Vilhylm with his shield while the tall, dark man efficiently skewered their enemies from a distance, an old military technique.

“Fall back to the bridge!”  She shouted to her dwindling escort.  “I can hold them here briefly!”

Some of them hesitated, a move that cost some their lives and others just wounds.  The rest fled in a disordered mob, leaving her to face the ravening horde on her own.  Raising Brightfang over her head, she whipped him down in a series of slashing arcs, calling on the Wind to gift her with speed.  She could feel it wrap around her, calling to her, entreating her to trust it.

To the horror of the onlookers, she turned and sprinted down the line of enemies fast enough that her long braid streamed out like a banner, the end snapping in the wind.  Instead of turning aside, she simply ran off the edge of the chasm closely followed by the two score monsters that were close on her heels.

The winds rose beneath her, blowing her hair out of its braid to lash around her in a confusing tangle, but as her enemies plunged silently to their deaths, she kept running.  Somehow the breezes gathered beneath her, allowing her feet to land on nothing but air.  It took an enormous amount of effort to maintain the concentration though, and by the time she had reached the bridge a mere score paces away, her body was trembling from the effort.

Strong hands steadied her, “That was quite a stunt.”  Vilhylm said.

“We can’t relax yet.”  She replied grimly, pointing to where the first line of monsters were advancing up the bottom of the bridge.

They moved much more carefully and slowly than they had before, and not with as much unified purpose.  Whatever held sway over them was having to be precise lest it lose the majority of its fighting force to the depths of the chasm.

“So what was this plan of yours Cronos?”  Callindra said, her voice tight with barely controlled fear and obvious exhaustion.

“We wait.  Just a few moments more should suffice.”  He began chanting under his breath the way he always did before he used magic.  She never understood why he needed to do such things, but then again he seemed disturbed by her silent magic and her lack of a spell book.

When their foes were three blade lengths away, Cronos finished his spell.  A jet of thick black liquid shot from his hands to coat the narrow bridge with a slippery tar like substance.  The lead lizard men continued forward and lost their balance immediately, falling into the depths below.

“OK, now we run before the spell wears off!”  Cronos said, grinning like a child.

Wishing she had a way of collapsing the entire bridge, Callindra turned to go.  She didn’t look back.

After a week of travel, they had managed to get the majority of the refugees to the farm of Tom Gild.  The farmer had survived the riots in Levora but one of his sons had been slain and another was gravely wounded.

“I’ll welcome th help!”  He had said, smiling at the several hundred people.  “Hells, I didn’t make it out with my team, barely survived myself.  Without the horses I was wondering how I’d be able to get th planting done, but if these folk are willing we can do it by hand and have enough that none of us need go hungry.”

Shirasiau Sai’Li

Shirasiau Sai’Li stood before the mirror in her dressing room, water dripping from her naked body as two attendants came to dry her with soft felted towels and powder her skin with talc.  She allowed her eyes to drift over the curves of her body and smiled in satisfaction.  She was perfect. The balance of beauty, grace and strength that had been achieved through countless hours of practice and training.

“Sha.   The dark blue eye makeup, ivory face paint and black lip covering today.”  She gestured with a hand that had inch long lacquered fingernails.  “Ling.  I desire the Kimono with the scenes of ocean.  The gray, seafoam green, surf blue and white.”

The two women retreated silently and returned with the requested accoutrements within a few moments.  They likely had anticipated her mood; good servants always did.  Oh how she would miss her servants.  After a half candlemark, she was dressed to her satisfaction and holding her parasol demurely in one hand as she descended the stairs to have tea with her father.

“My little Sai’Li.”  Shirasiau Kanimari, the Lord of the Silk Fortress and Master of the Saffron Trading Company greeted her with a smile that did not touch his eyes.  “How does my Third Daughter fare this morning?”

“I am well Father.”  She said with a formal bow.  “Please allow me to make the tea.”

Without waiting, she tucked her parasol into her Obi, moved to the sideboard and poured boiling water into a small cup, spooned the tea powder into it and whipped it into a froth.  She brought two warm cups of tea with a tall cone of froth, demurely sliding one of the cups across the table to him before kneeling on the tatami on her side of the table.

For a time, all was normal.  the beautiful birds in the garden outside sang, a soft breeze blew the scent of flowering trees into the room and Sai’Li savored the complex flavor of her tea.  Then her father interrupted the silence.

“I have a mission for you Third Daughter.  Our holdings are in danger now that this new land has appeared.”  Kanimari took up his cup and sipped, sighing in pure satisfaction, “As much as it pains me, this means one of my children must go forth and forge new pathways, set up new contacts and represent our Family.”

Sai’Li’s tea sat getting cold on the tabletop and she stared at him for a few heartbeats.  “Father you cannot mean-“

His hand slammed down on the tabletop, not hard enough to make the cups jump but with the open flat striking like a thunderclap.  “I will have obedience from my children.”  He remarked calmly, taking another sip of tea.

Her lower lip trembled even though she tried to stop it, “Father, how have I upset you?  What have I done to disappoint you?”

“Sai’Li, my darling, you have done nothing to upset or disappoint me.”  He said, taking another drink of his tea.  “I have chosen you because of your exceptional skill.”

The door opened and a servant walked carefully through it, holding a tray with bowls of Miso soup and sticky rice.  He set it on the table and began to bow and retreat.  Something caught Sai’Li’s attention and she moved a hand faster than the blink of an eye, taking her fan from the front of her Obi and striking him on the wrist.

A dagger clattered to the floor at his feet as he shrieked in pain as the razor edges the fan was tipped with sliced effortlessly through his flesh.  Green bubbling foam rose from the wound and the servant fell twitching to the floor.  Within a few moments, he was dead.

“Father.  This is most uncouth.”  Sai’Li said, standing, opening her fan in front of her mouth and giving him a look of mild reproach.  “I must insist that this kind of behavior be reserved for after morning tea.”

Kanimari laughed, a genuine and pleased sound.  “Now you see Third Daughter why I wish you to be our emissary on this mission.  Not only are you clever, you also have the reflexes and mercy of a hunting cobra.  You struck without hesitation and killed without question.”

“But father.  The rugged outdoors?  How will I survive?”  Her voice grew slightly desperate, “You do not really expect me to walk among savages and sleep on the ground?”

“I have of course taken care of that.”  He said with a wry smile.  “Ignis has agreed to be your escort, and I am sure we can find you a pavilion to sleep in.”

Sai’Li folded onto a couch with the delicate grace of a shower of Sakura petals.  “Honored father, you surely cannot mean it.  The scarred Dwarf?  The arsonist?  The crude one?”

“Kanimari, you didn’t mention she was such a prissy whelp.”  Ignis strode into the room accompanied by the smell of old smoke.  “Don’t expect we’ll be traveling much roads, not sure a pavilion or such a delicate flower will be able to manage. Gah, I’ll be making my favor owed a good one for this task.”

Kanimari’s eyes narrowed for a moment at the use of his given name, but… the Dwarf hadn’t given offense intentionally.  Or if he had, it was a calculated risk to show the depth of the favor he was expecting.

“I believe our conversation regarding the safety and security of wild areas was included in the risk and compensation analysis?”  He said, making a minute gesture with his hand.  “Please, won’t you sit?”

Sai’Li saw it and rose silently and gracefully from where she had reclined.  With a whisper of silk, she fixed another cup of tea.  Intuitively, she chose the Dragonfire tea, the sharpest flavor that had been roasted until it was heavy with smoke and bitter as an adder’s sting.

Ignis stumped around the table, nearly tripped over the dead body and paused, raising an eyebrow at Kanimari.  The man’s lips rose in a very slight smile that did not touch his eyes.

“An unfortunate accident.  This fool thought perhaps he might try and sink a knife into my Third Daughter’s back when she was not looking.  As you can see, though she may be a delicate flower, her thorns are long and sharp.

“These new and uncharted lands have great potential for development.”  Kanimari continued, “Of course you will wish to mitigate that development and secure some unspoiled land, perhaps to set up a new Circle since I have heard rumors that you were cast out of yours?”

Ignis grunted, snatching the porcelain cup of tea from the table as soon as Sai’Li put it down and tossing it back without tasting it.  She stared at him, horrified, but said nothing.

“Someday you’re gonna have to tell me who keeps feeding you these juicy tidbits.”  He said holding his cup out to Sai’Li as though he expected her to simply pour more tea into it.  At a gesture from Kanimari, she took it and prepared a second cup.  Despite the way he was treating her tea, the ceremony was sacred and she made a second perfect cup.

“If you pause to appreciate the complexity of this blend friend Dwarf, you may discover it has characters you admire.”  Sai’Li said as she set the tea on the table next to Ignis.

He took a mouthful and swished it around before swallowing.  “All I taste is smoke.  But of course, I was just out in a big fire in … well I don’t need to get into that do I?”

“Honored father, if I may I must retire to prepare for my exile.”  Sai’Li said mournfully, “With your permission I will withdraw that I may ready my things and put my affairs in order.

“Third Daughter, I have something for you before you depart.”  Kanimari said, his smile touched the corner of his eyes this time as he extended an envelope on a silver tray.

She took it, broke the seal with a lacquered nail and read it carefully.  Her eyes widened slightly; something that was as good as a startled shout in her family and she snapped her fan open in front of her face to hide the brief flash of emotion.

“You honor me father.  I shall, as always, endeavor to do my best to ensure the best interests of the Family and Saffron Trading are well represented.”  She bowed and backed up three paces before withdrawing.

Kanimari chuckled, a mirthless sound.  “Her sisters will be furious of course.”  He remarked to Ignis.

“I don’t give a wet rat for your family politics.”  The Dwarf said, drinking the rest of his tea in a gulp.  “You got that contract?”

Kanimari laughed again and produced a roll of parchment with a long and carefully worded contract on it.  With an effort of will, Ignis gestured, and the parchment vanished in a flash of flame and smoke.

“You got my word.  If that ain’t enough for ya then flame burn your thrice cursed mission to ash.”

The man snapped his fingers twice, his eyes not leaving the Dwarf’s face.  Servants came in to clean the table top with lavender scented water and another brought a small ramekin of steaming water with a slender ceramic jar inside.  Two tiny cups accompanied it.

“I had planned for this contingency of course.”  He said calmly, “We will seal the contract in a more traditional and Dwarven way.  With our word and with a drink.  I trust that hot sake will be acceptable?”