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Excerpts From the Memoirs of the End Times of Einn Boer

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

~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A. GIFT. FOR. A. TALENTED. SEEKER.”

“Who are you?” The Elf gasped.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of Actions and Consequences in the World of Einn Boer

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

~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You shall have them.” Drevlek answered.

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

“One shall suffice.  I know your ways.”

“Two.”

“Very well. Two.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Terevelen finds his heart’s desire

Taking a break from The Callindra Chronicles this week for a spooky story; it is approaching Halloween after all.  I played this character for a very brief time before the Dungeon Master and I had irreconcilable differences revolving around me asking questions, trying to play the character I chose with the skills his class and race gave him, and having the audacity to actually give feedback when he asked for it.  What cheek!  Anyway, the character in question ended up running from a fight and the DM’s refusal to allow me to in any reasonable way rejoin the party or return to safety I instead decided to leave the game and wrote this as my character’s exit.  I hope you enjoy.

~

The others rushed into combat, but something plucked at Terevelen’s vision.  No, not at his vision but at his intuition.  It was almost like a siren song, the seductive thread of arcane power calling to his Mage’s Sight.  The shouts and screams of the others faded from his attention as he incanted a spell.  Motes of light barely visible from where they were encapsulated inside bubbles of darkness.  This was energy he had only seen once or twice before, and it was forbidden power.

Walking almost in a trance, he followed the trail, watching as the motes became threads and the threads became tendrils and the tendrils led to something more.  The power was weak, but the allure was irresistible.  Terevelen stood before a hill with toppled stones that were once a grand archway.  The capstone sealing the entrance was long since smashed and time had worn away the runic carvings that had once covered it.

With trembling fingers, the Elf pushed the tall grass and weeds aside.  The air that breathed from the opening smelled of earth and mold, decay and faintly of death.  He was frightened and more than a little disgusted by the thought of entering a tomb, nonetheless Terevelen shivered and crawled beneath the fallen archway.

The crypt was small and anything of value had long since been pilfered by thieves or destroyed by the ravages of time.  Gold and gems had been prized from the walls and from the lid of the sarcophagus.  A stone slab had the remains of a parchment that had likely once been proudly displayed under glass but was now reduced to moldering dust.

The remains of a human corpse were scattered from looters removing what were likely richly embroidered robes, but the dark aura of forbidden power he had been sensing emanated from those bones.  It would be a laborious process, but Terevelen felt a need to re-assemble the skeleton.  Sitting down to concentrate, he began to gently shift one bone at a time, moving them back where they belonged.

He never noticed when the runes along the walls lit up.  He never noticed when the stones shifted back into place, cutting off all light.  Absorbed in his work, Terevelen forgot to eat or drink and after a time found he did not miss it.  All that mattered was this.  Humming to himself, he looked at his new body in satisfaction, briefly admiring the intricate tracework of black threads that crisscrossed his emaciated frame.

“Time.”  He whispered in his dry, broken voice.  “All I have is time now.  Time is all I need.  All the time is mine.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 20

“We have to get out quickly.”  She said, “They can’t have missed all that noise.”

“How do you plan to get us out?”  Holt asked.

“We will have a distraction when you signal for it.  I figure you can shoot an arrow or something.  The rest of them are waiting outside.”  She grinned at him, “I’m going to take us right out the front door.”

She sat and began taking deep, calming breaths with Shadowsliver across her knees.  Holt began gathering his equipment from racks while she meditated.  The air around her stilled as she slowly breathed in through her nose and out through her mouth.  Glarian’s… no Luftin’s words echoed in her mind. ‘The First Korumn is of the Breath.’

“Are you ready?”  Holt whispered, “What are you doing?”

Callindra opened her eyes and gave him a calm look.  “Please fire an arrow out the window to the alley directly across the square.”  Whatever he saw in her eyes made him swallow hard.

“Right.  I can do that.”  He said, stringing his longbow and taking an arrow from his quiver.  “Tell me when you’re ready.”

She stood in a smooth, languid motion and gently drew the spell from Shadowsliver’s blade.  The last time she’d used this spell was just before she’d seen Jorda murdered by Morde.  Her concentration wavered, but her meditation had served her well and she managed to keep control over the Weave.

Holt moved to the window and fired his arrow at her nod.  It passed through the barred window without even the sound of feathers cleaving the air.  He turned to give her a puzzled look and blinked at her apparent absence.  A moment later, she walked close enough and he could see her again.

“They won’t see us and likely won’t hear us either.”  She said, feeling the calmness in her voice from the magics she had wrought.  “The Winds will shelter me, and you too if you stay close.”

“I thought I knew who you were.”  He said, putting another arrow to the string of his bow.  “I believe I may have been mistaken.”

“Go ahead and ask questions after we’re out of here.”  Said Callindra, “I need to focus.”

Shouts of surprise, explosions and the clash of steel on steel came from outside and Callindra led her friend slowly to the door.  He lifted the bar and followed her through the door and she nearly lost her tenuous hold on the Weave.  Instead of a distraction, her brothers had started a war.

“We’re going to have to fight our way out.”  She said to Holt, cursing in Orcish again and surveying the scene.  “There’s no way we can get through there without them running into us.  I’ll lead.  You put an arrow in the eye of anyone I can’t reach in time.”

Callindra dropped her spell and ran ahead with her sword swinging instead.  Her first blow hamstrung a startled guard and her second cut into the neck of another who was turning to face them.  She screamed in pain as the impact of her sword strikes hit her injured hand and she almost dropped Shadowsliver.  She’d forgotten all about it in the rush to escape.

What she saw in the alleyway where her brothers had been froze her heart.  A horde of Taken with glowing green eyes were being held back by a single figure.  Cronos stood resolute against hundreds, a hand and a half sword in each hand flying in a blur as he cut limbs, heads, bodies and weapons.  Cronos and Kain faced the town guard, but their attacks lacked coordination and their foes weren’t restricted by the walls of an alley.

Gritting her teeth against the pain and her exhaustion, Callindra passed her hand down Shadowsliver’s blade and unleashed a blast of wind in the first and most basic spell she knew.  It slashed through two of the guards and knocked a third to the ground.  Holt fired arrows with nearly inhuman speed and accuracy even while running alongside her.

They managed to punch through the guards to reach the others and a shout from above drew Callindra’s attention.  A rope fell and Reed shouted from the roof top.

“Get the hell out of there!  More Taken are coming from the other side, this place is doomed!”

“Holt.  Go.”  She said, clumsily hacking at a guard with Shadowsliver in her right hand.  He opened his mouth but she glared.  “Putting the archer on the high ground is common god rotting sense.  You can cover us from up there.  Move!”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 19

A year ago, these words would have sent Callindra through the door in a fury.  Her losses and experience had taught her to bank the fires of her rage however, and she waited patiently instead.  The exertion of flying to the top of this place had drained her, but she needed an edge if she was going to survive and escape with Holt.  Closing her eyes, she touched Shadowsliver’s hilt and incanted a spell.

“You touch her.  You die.”  Holt’s voice reached her ears, sounding harsh as though he’d screamed it raw.  She was shocked by the level of anger in it to the point she almost lost her grip on the spell she was casting.

“Listen to the old grandfather, still feeling protective of the whelp.”  The honey sweet voice purred.  The sound was followed by the crack of kiln dried wood hitting flesh.  Callindra lost her temper and released her spell.

Everything seemed to slow as she borrowed the speed and fury of Njordi, the Great North Wind.  The door swung open with enough force that it shattered against the wall and she was through and halfway across the room before her targets had turned their heads.  Shadowsliver reached out in a perfect lunge, punching cleanly through the skull of a thin man clad only in a leather loincloth who stood beside a brazier filled with glowing coals and a variety of metal bits.

The impact hurt.  Callindra’s left hand felt as though she had punched a stone wall and she nearly lost her grip on his leather-bound hilt.  Gritting her teeth, she managed to maintain her concentration on the spell and ripped the blade free with a twist, breaking the man’s skull in twain.  With a practiced motion, she turned and hurled her sword at the wide woman who seemed to be made all of slabs of muscle.  She turned from bringing her hand back to deliver another blow with the wooden staff in her hand surprise turning to glee on her face.

It could have been the pain of impact, the speed of her motion or her horror at seeing Holt in the cell beyond the woman, bound in shackles.  It might have just been bad luck.  Whatever the reason, she saw her blade fly past her opponent’s neck, inflicting only a shallow cut.

Cursing, she tried to pull the blade back, but he had already passed through the bars and the sudden motion caused his chain to wrap around the bars of the cage.  Although she was moving much faster than the other woman, Callindra saw her smile as she turned and began to swing her staff.

In a reckless, desperate move she saw that the huge woman was trying to strike her feet so Callindra did the only thing she could think of.   Wrapping the chain around her left hand, she leaped into the air, turning a neat flip over the striking staff and the woman’s head while letting the chain loop around her neck at the same time.  With a wrench of her hips, she twisted in the air one and a half times before the chain jerked taunt and nearly tore her arms from their sockets.

The chain cut halfway through the woman’s throat, spraying blood into the chamber as Callindra bore her to the ground, screaming in pain and rage.  The spell fled as her concentration broke, but she kept the tension on the chain for another count of ten just to make sure the bitch was dead.

With a shake, she forced herself to let go of the chain.  She realized she was still snarling an unending string of curses in a low harsh language.  More of Kain’s native tongue had rubbed off on her than she’d thought; Orc was an excellent language to swear in.

“Callindra?”  Holt’s voice shook slightly, “By all the Gods and Demons how did you…  What did you… are you all right?”

“I’m fine.”  She snapped, before looking down at herself; clad in black and splattered with blood and knew her face was still set in a grimace of pain and rage.  “I’m fine.”  She said in a calmer tone of voice, “Let’s get you out.”

Her left hand throbbed and the fingers didn’t work the way they should as she untangled Shadowsliver’s chain from the bars and fumbled a ring of keys from the dead man’s belt.  Her hand twinged when she tried to turn the key in the lock and she had to use her right hand instead.  Once inside she began unlocking Holt’s bonds.  He watched her with hooded eyes.

“What happened there?”  He asked, his voice still hoarse.  “You were different.  I almost didn’t recognize you.”

“I lost my temper.  Bad things happen when I lose my temper.”  She said, fighting to keep the dregs of her anger from building on itself.  The keys fell from the numb fingers of her left hand and she bit back an orcish oath.  If only she had a god rotting sheath for her sword instead of having to carry him.

That thought made her freeze.  She did not want to put Shadowsliver, her life, her soul her companion down.  Taking a deep breath, Callindra picked up the keys with her right hand and unlocked the rest of Holt’s shackles.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 18

As soon as she got back into the room, she shut and bolted the door.  Her brothers in arms were all waiting for her, fully dressed and girded for battle.  She wasn’t sure she wanted all of them to be involved; but she also didn’t think she could get any of them to stay behind.

“Reed snuck into the women’s bath to chide me for my slothful ways.”  She said by way of greeting.  “The rascal said he’d be waiting behind in the alley for when we finally got our wits about us.  He seemed to think the law would burn this inn to the ground if that’s what it took to put me in my place.”

“We all got not so subtle warnings about curfew and how strict the town guard is from the serving girls.” Cronos said with a bemused look on his face.  “They all seem quite taken with your brash and bold self sister.”

“I’m sure your scarred and roguish face is appealing as well brother mine.”  She said, allowing a smile to turn up one corner of her mouth.  “But now we need to move quickly so that we can get him out and safe before they even suspect he’s gone.”

They tied ropes to the bed posts and dropped them down to the side street.  No watch patrols seemed to be making rounds inside the city, but they had been tipped off about their existence and so progressed carefully.

Reed was waiting for them in the shadows of a doorway and gave them a stern look when they arrived.  “You tryin to bring the entire guard down on us?”  He said in a low voice.  “I heard catfights what made less noise.”

“Lead on.”  Callindra said in the same low tone, knowing whispers tended to carry further but only remembering because he had done it first.  “I thought you wanted us to hurry.”

He glared at her, but slipped off down the dark street, moving from shadow to shadow with barely a sound.  She had to admit that at very least Reed made far less noise than her brothers did.  The little urchin wasn’t quieter than she was though.  Not much.

After a few tense minutes, they stopped at Reed’s raised hand.  He came back to them with obvious frustration on his face. As he did, Callindra noticed a lot of light coming from an alley ahead and got a sinking feeling in her stomach.

“The building they use for a jail’s in the middle of the square ahead.” He said grimly, “They got torches lit everywhere an a couple dozen guards.  We ain’t getting in.”

“Maybe you aren’t.”  Callindra said calmly, “But I am.  Once I have him free I’ll signal for a diversion, then we can escape.”

Before they could stop her, she slid a hand down Shadowsliver’s blade and drew upon the power of the Weave.  Stepping lightly off the cobblestones she began to run into the air.  It was a difficult working and she was sweating by the time she had gained enough altitude to be out of sight of the guards down in the torchlit square.

She landed on the roof silently and released the spell.  As she had hoped, this wasn’t really a proper jail, just a house made of stone.  The windows weren’t barred, and she was easily able to wedge one of them open and slip inside.  A strange sweet smell met her as she gently slid the window closed behind her.  She didn’t know what it was, but for some reason it made her skin crawl.

After looking around briefly, she opened the door and snuck down a hallway and a set of stairs.  The sound of the guards marching outside the building was almost loud enough to drown out the conversation happening just on the other side of the door.

“Just gut him and throw him in the pit.  I don’t care what that fatass mayor says.  This one is too damn much trouble.”  A sweet and beguiling voice said.  “His friends aren’t coming for him.  We won’t trap them so easily.”

“I will crush that little wench into paste.”  A low voice rumbled.  “Putting on airs, carrying a sword.  BONDING a weapon.  She will die.”

A year ago, these words would have sent Callindra through the door in a fury.  Her losses and experience had taught her to bank the fires of her rage however, and she waited patiently instead.  The exertion of flying to the top of this place had drained her, but she needed an edge if she was going to survive and escape with Holt.  Closing her eyes, she touched Shadowsliver’s hilt and incanted a spell.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 17

They followed him through the crowds to a large building with a wide open porch that stretched across the entire side that faced the street.  A number of people sat at tables lingering over drinks and plates of food.  Callindra strictly reminded herself that she needed a bath first.

“Show me to the baths first if you please Master Castille.”  She said, offering him a small stack of gold coins.

“Your coin isn’t necessary Callindra.”  He said, “If you truly have a healer his services are what I require for a night’s lodging.”

Kain stepped forward with a compassionate smile on his face.  “I will do what I can Innkeep.  Please show me to the one who requires healing.”

Thadrick gave him a surprised look, obviously not expecting the hulking half orc to be the healer.  He led them through doors and down hallways to a room with a heavy locked door.  Taking a key from where it hung around his neck he opened the door and opened it.

The scene beyond was one of horror.  A young person sat in the center of the room clad in torn rags rocking back and forth.  The figure did not look up as they entered, but kept the rhythmic motion, hands occasionally clawing at the clothing and the skin beneath.

“She has been thus ever since her mother died.”  Thadrick said softly, “My poor Lillian is the one who saw her change.  Imagine seeing the love in a mother’s face turn to murderous rage.”

“I fear there may be little I can do for her sir, but I will try.”  Kain went to sit across from the girl, folding his muscular bulk into a sitting position across from her.  She ignored him, but after a few moments of sitting silently a gentle white light began to shine around him and a low rumbling chant rolled from his lips.

Callindra was surprised to hear him speaking in his native Orcish and had no idea what the words were but they had a marked effect on the girl.  Her rocking slowed and stopped, then she raised her head to look at him through a curtain of stringy hair.  Kain reached out a huge clawed hand and she tentatively rested hers on his palm.

The light began to creep from his hand to hers, gradually flowing over her until it surrounded them both.  Kain didn’t stop chanting, but the tone became lower and slower.  After a few minutes Lillian’s eyes closed and the strain and fear on her face slowly faded.  By the time Kain’s chant finished she was sleeping peacefully, stretched out on the floor.  The scratches on her skin were healed over and she breathed easily.

“Illimin has granted me the grace to take her pain.”  He said in a weary voice.  “I do not know if it will last sir, nor do I know if taking those memories will give her peace, but I have done what I can.”

There were tears streaming down Thadrick’s face and he wordlessly took Kain’s hand in both of his.  After taking several deep breaths he wiped his face, “You are welcome to stay beneath my roof as long as you desire.”  He choked out.  “I’ll ask my boys to have a lookout for your friend.”

He picked up his daughter and gently put her in a bed on the far side of the room.  She only made the slightest sound of sleepy protest as he did so.

“Much appreciated Thadrick.”  Callindra said, drawing attention away from Kain who was obviously uncomfortable with the man’s thanks.  “If you would be so kind as to tell me where I might find the baths?”

The innkeeper carefully closed the door on his sleeping daughter and moved back up the corridor.  He opened a door to a large room with an iron key on his belt and gestured them inside.  “Ring the bell for anything you need.”  He said, “My staff will provide you with the best we have to offer.”

The others ordered food while Callindra asked to be shown the baths.  She was soaking in luxury with a tumbler of ale on the stone ledge next to her when a figure slipped in nearly silently.  If it hadn’t been for the light breeze from the outside that accompanied his entrance she might never have noticed.

“Reed.”  She said in a conversational tone of voice.  “Didn’t see you at the gate.”

“What in th bleeding hells are you doin in here?”  Reed hissed, “Takin a bath?  You getting all girly and stuff while they’re out there plotting ta kill you an yer mates?  Startin with th one what’s rotting inna cell?”

“What I’m doing is keeping up appearances.”  She said calmly, taking a deep swallow of ale.  “This is what they expect.  Once the sun goes down, we’ll go and retrieve Holt.  When we find him the next morning they won’t have anything to say about it since they specifically told me they hadn’t seen him or imprisoned him.  In front of half a city’s worth of witnesses.”

“As if they cares a rats balls for witness.”  Reed said, “They does what they wants and nobody says boo cause if they do they’re next.  You gotta get him and scram afore they burn down th god rotting inn.”

“They won’t burn down the inn Reed.”  She said calmly rinsing the last of the soap out of her raggedly cut hair.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 16

Callindra strode toward the gate, her armor freshly cleaned, her short hair held in place with wooden pins and Shadowsliver’s jet black length settled across her forearm in a nonthreatening posture.  She was flanked by her brothers; Cronos’s sword hilts bristling over his back and his ragged cloak swaying as he walked and Vilhylm shrouded by the rippling folds of his black cloak strode confidently on the other side.  The hulking form of Kain loomed behind her; his shock of green hair standing in its usual unruly bristle and his scimitar swinging easily at his side.

They must have made an imposing sight because the soldiers at the gate began to swing it shut.  Callindra twisted Shadowsliver through a set of complex motions and when she spoke her voice carried like thunder.

“Do not close the gate.  We come in peace, merely searching for our brother in arms.”  Instead of stopping, this only seemed to make them move faster.

With a curse, she called upon the Weave again, this time drawing the winds from inside the city in a sudden burst that tore the gates free of their grip and flung them wide.  The soldiers began scrambling for weapons and shouting for backup.  By the time they arrived at the gate they faced a forest of spear points.

“There is no need for this.”  Callindra said, disdain in her voice.  “If I wanted you dead you’d be dead.  I have no desire to fight against the living.  My quarrel is with the Taken.”

“Disarm and you will be allowed entrance.”  An imperious voice said from behind the soldiers.  “We do not allow hostile strangers to enter under arms.”

Callindra flipped Shadowsliver back to rest his blade against her left forearm, cradling his hilt in her hand and gesturing with her right to show the chain.  “I cannot put my weapon down.  I am bonded to him and he is tied to me.  Answer me this; has my brother Holt been captured by your guards?”

“I know of no person named Holt.”  The voice said, still sounding peevish.  “We have no extra for freebooting vagabonds, if that is all you wanted then move along before I have my men move you.”

“If you have wounded we have a healer.”  Callindra said easily as though she hadn’t heard his insults.  “If you still take gold or jewels in exchange for trade goods or services we would like to resupply before continuing on our journey.  Also, a night under a proper roof would be welcome as would a bath.  No establishment that we stay in need fear attack; we have fought many times and left only the rotting corpses of our enemies behind.”

At the mention of the healer, whispers rippled through the assembled guards and out past them to the small crowd that was beginning to gather behind them.  The more she talked, the more uneasy the guards became.

“You’re welcome to stay at my Inn lady.”  A jovial voice called from behind the rank of soldiers.  “We don’t have much extra, but we’ll spare what we can for one what can pay and give protection.”

“I am no Lady.”  Callindra said with a derisive snort.  “I will take you up on that offer innkeep.”  Without waiting for the soldiers to move, she began striding toward their spear points.  When the first she encountered was too shocked to down his spear she brushed it aside with an open-handed smack.  To her profound relief the others parted and allowed her to pass.

The man who faced her had clearly been much heavier at some point but now his extra skin sagged where it had once been supported by fat.  Nonetheless he appeared healthy enough and gave her a wide grin.

“Thadrick Castille at your service.”  He said, extending a hand.

“Callindra.”  She said, leaving off the rest of her name but taking his hand in a firm grip.  “I thank you for the offer of hospitality Master Castille.”

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 15

Once Lorin had gathered the shafts he could, they made their way through the quiet streets, barely pausing to check at intersections before moving forward.  After a half candlemark, Lorin knocked on a nondescript door set in the side of a nondescript wall and there was slight motion in an upstairs window.  The door slid silently open a few moments later and they slid inside.

A beautiful young human boy waited just inside the door with a bowl of water.  Lorin took some and splashed it on his face.  After a moment, Durrak did the same, feeling the blood of the Abyssal creatures he’d slain boil off his skin as though burned with a torch.

“Holy water?  Where do you be getting holy water?”  He asked, slightly shocked.  “I no do be seeing such a thing for ages.”

“I am a vessel that fills with the Light.”  The boy said in a solemn voice.  “The Light always shines brightest in the darkness.  I am glad that you have come Master Caverstorm.”

“No do be calling me by that name boy.”  Durrak frowned.  “We have no been introduced and I no do be taking truck with gods.”

“My apologies.”  The boy said, “I am called Kris.  Your reluctance to face your fate has but small impact on that fate.  Meaning no disrespect sir.”

“We have had a tiring few days Kris.  Please let us in and to the baths.”  Lorin said, pushing the boy gently aside.  “I have little desire to watch you and this meat grinder of a Dwarf engage in a theological fencing match in the hall’s entryway.”

Durrak gave the boy a level look but followed Lorin through a passageway and down a flight of stairs to a large communal bath.  After undressing and sluicing as much of the gore and grime first off his armor and then off his body, he scrubbed his with harsh lye soap.  It burned as it came in contact with the myriad of cuts he had earned in the fight; it was a good feeling.   He rinsed again before wading into the steaming water of the pool to soak.

“You certainly managed to make a rapid impression.”  Lorin said, giving him a quizzical look.  “What was all that about?”

“I no do wish to talk about it.”  Durrak said, laying back against the wall of the bath and reaching for his cigar pouch.  He withdrew one and took a drag on it, reveling in the harsh bite of the bright blue smoke.  “Be asking the brat if you wish.”

“Has something to do with that dragon and your clan eh?”  Lorin asked.  “I shouldn’t have asked.  Pass me a cigar?”

Durrak grunted and took a strangely twisted cheroot from the pouch that immediately burst into a copper colored flame and passed it to the Elf.  Lorin gave the cigar a dubious look but took it anyway.

“Where do those come from?”  He asked, smelling the slightly acrid smoke suspiciously.  “Why are they always lit when you take them out?”

“The do be coming from inside the pouch.”  Durrak said with a wry grin, “They do be lit because it do be a magic pouch.”

“I saw you putting things in there though.”  The Elf persisted, “Why do you do that?”

“Nothing do come from nothing.”  He said with a shrug, “The Dwarf who I did trade tales for it did be saying putting things in did be making it interesting.”

Lorin took a drag and his eyebrows rose in surprise.  “It tastes … like the heartblood of the first deer I stalked and took myself and like honey and … memories.”

Durrak lay back against the wall of the bath and tried to relax.  First he needed to find Cerioth the Black.  Then if he couldn’t kill her he would die trying and after that it would be time to settle up with Thraingaar.  Either way he would be reunited with his family soon.

The Callindra Chronicles Book 3: A Fall of Stars – Chapter 14

Durrak followed Lorin down a path that led to a sheer cliff that overlooked Starvale.  The city stretched out below them, much of it burned or smashed to rubble, but a surprising amount of it was intact.  The spheres floated serenely in the air, unmoved by the strong breeze blowing from the sea.

“There is a path down here.”  Lorin said, pointing.

“You do be pointing out a stair carved in stone to a Dwarf?”  Durrak said with a chuckle, “I am seeing it, despite the disrepair it do look safe enough.  Do this not be a bit exposed?”

“If there were defenders interested in killing us they would have little trouble.”  Lorin agreed, “However the Abyss doesn’t seem to have taken much notice of this stair and has made no attempt to defend the city from this angle.  I suspect if there were more of us using it with more frequency that would change.”

They made their way down the precariously narrow path carved into the cliff face, one with an Elf’s lightness of foot and the other with the surefootedness of a Dwarf treading stone.  As Lorin had predicted, the only danger came from the possibility of a misstep and not from an attack.

“We aren’t close to my lodging, however there are many ways to approach unnoticed by the Abyss.”  Lorin slid from shadow to shadow with a dancer’s grace.

Durrak didn’t have any trouble following him, but was noticeably less stealthy.  The things that noticed gave no warning before pouring out of the side streets and leaping from buildings.

If he hadn’t spent the last few years learning to respond instantly to attacks from unseen angles they likely would have overrun him.  If he hadn’t clad himself in Bonecrusher’s Brace so that the spikes and overlapping steel plates covered his body many of the misshapen creatures would likely still have landed debilitating blows.  Instead he roared a battle cry and hurled himself into combat.

His forward rush smashed three of the monsters into the wall of a building, killing two and sending the third stumbling away only to meet the hooked bill of his gisarme coming back the other direction.  As neatly as a child picking flowers, Durrak sliced the thing’s head off in a shower of greenish ichor.  Spinning in place, he cut cleanly through two more and halfway into the thigh of another.

When the last one pulled back with surprising strength he nearly lost his grip on his weapon.  An arrow fletched with brown feathers sprouted in the thing’s left eye and it fell to the cobblestones with limp finality.  Durrak allowed the momentum of the falling monster to give him an extra boost of speed and he wrenched his gisarme free with a twist of his body as he passed to crash into another group, sending some sprawling and others to meet with the nearby stone buildings with bone shattering force.

The fight was over as suddenly as it had begun, only the bodies of the strange humanoid spawn littered the street.  Lorin was carefully attempting to recover his arrows from them, cursing under his breath at a broken shaft or loose fletching.

“We do need to be moving.”  Durrak said, looking around at the empty streets.  “A fight of this do be attracting attention.”

“They don’t coordinate very well.”  Lorin said, “Once we kill them all in that size of an area it takes them at least a day to show up again and sometimes longer.”

Durrak kept up his vigil regardless but didn’t see anything moving.  It was eerily silent, especially after the shouts and clash of combat.  There wasn’t a single living thing in the city other than themselves, even the grass that might have grown in the cracks between cobblestones was dead and withered.